You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Hawks’ play will have to scream loud to get anybody’s attention


The Hawks aren’t oblivious to their standing in this perpetually humbled sports market. Two years ago at this time, they were everybody’s darling. Today, they have all the allure of a $1 scratch-off lottery ticket.

The pro football team is coming off a Super Bowl. The pro baseball team has modest expectations for this season but at least has tangible reasons to believe things are ascending. The pro basketball team? Atlanta responds with a collective: Feh.

“It’s not for everyone to believe in this team because they don’t come here, they don’t sweat, they don’t bleed,” Hawks forward Kent Bazemore said. “If there weren’t any non-believers it wouldn’t be fun. We’re trying to prove them wrong and make them chew on their words.”

There are 26 games left before the playoffs. The Hawks are 32-24 and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The odds appear against a mass chewing of words but this is a franchise accustomed to empty seats in the arena and skeptics outside of it..

They made two deals before the trade deadline. The first brought stretch power forward Ersan Ilyasova from Philadelphia for Tiago Splitter, who for two seasons was the Hawks’ official hologram. (There also was a swap of second-round picks.) The second trade sent Mike Scott to Phoenix for cash, possibly a role of quarters.

So the Hawks traded one guy (Splitter) who’s always too hurt to play and another guy (Scott) who’s not very good and has felony drug charges hanging over his pouty head.

This is the NBA equivalent of going through the refrigerator and throwing out old Chinese food.

Ilyasova could help. He averages 14.3 points per game. But let’s keep expectations in check. This is his fifth team since the start of last season (Detroit, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia). As a general rule, “game-changer” and “fifth team in two seasons” don’t intersect. The Hawks still don’t give the appearances of a team that will win more than one playoff round. If that.

I asked coach and team president Mike Budenholzer if he realizes there’s a city of skeptics to convert, or whether he’s not even concerned about that.

“I guess if I didn’t realize that … I’ll just say no. I’ll cut myself off,” he said.

What does he see that so few others do?

“Paul (Millsap) has obviously proven himself. When you see guys around Paul, particularly Dwight (Howard) and Dennis (Schroder), when they’re playing well and they’re at their peak, everybody plays off those three guys and I think we’re pretty good.”

Not a convincing argument but it’s all he’s got.

Barring a strong finish and an extended playoff run, Budenholzer will need stronger talking points in the offseason when he meets with majority owner Tony Ressler, partner Jesse Itzler and others and attempts to convince him why he should retain power over personnel decisions.

There is a need for this franchise to push reset, both on the roster and in the front office. As I wrote last week, point guard Dennis Schroder is the only proven building block for the future and this roster is expected to radically change with so many expiring contracts. Budenholzer remains unproven as a franchise architect, which is an issue with so many roster spots coming up and as many as 10 draft picks (five first rounders) available to them in the next three years.

Millsap is saying all the right things — that he loves playing for Budenholzer, that he wants to stay in Atlanta (which remains to be seen when negotiations start in the summer), that he believes in the Hawks’ future. Sounds like DeMarre Carroll, who’s now in Toronto. Sounds like Al Horford, who’s now in Boston.

“The ownership, coach Bud, the (Philips Arena) renovations, the practice center, you get a sense that this organization wants to be really good,” Millsap said. “That gives me hope for the future.”

Atlanta is a fickle sports market. Most of the conversation these days is divided between three subjects: What happened in the last football season, what’s going to happen in the baseball season and what will happen next football season.

The Hawks are like the guy on a street corner twirling a sign to try to lure you inside the store. This should be their window for attention but few are looking in their direction.

“That’s fine,” Millsap said. “I actually don’t care. We can’t focus on anybody outside of this gym.”

The Hawks need to significantly improve offensively to be a threat in the East. They rank 26th in the metric “offensive rating” (points per 100 possessions), 20th in scoring, 16th in field goal percentage, 25th in three-point shooting and 22nd in three-pointers made. They’re only 15th in point differential, which is remarkable for a team that’s eight games over .500).

The Hawks would lose playoff series to Cleveland or Boston (whom they play five times down the stretch). It remains to be seen if they can keep pace with Toronto or Washington (whom they’re 2-3 against with two games left). There are skeptics to convert. But they should be used to that by now.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Hawks

Collins the latest connection between Hawks, Wake Forest
Collins the latest connection between Hawks, Wake Forest

There is a connection between the Hawks and Wake Forest that goes beyond first-round draft pick John Collins. Some good. Some painful. There has been more of the good recently, for sure. However, there are vexing memories for many Hawks fans that involve the university and several twists of fate. Perhaps Collins can be the salve that finally closes...
Dream defense unable to slow Sky in 82-78 loss
Dream defense unable to slow Sky in 82-78 loss

Returning from a lackluster road trip and hosting the slumping Chicago Sky, the Atlanta Dream needed some home cooking on its annual Pride Night. It didn’t get it. The Dream’s offense couldn’t keep pace in an 82-78 loss Friday night at McCamish Pavilion. Atlanta (5-6) has lost five of its last six games. “Tough game to lose...
Dwight Howard reflects on time with Hawks in unofficial farewell
Dwight Howard reflects on time with Hawks in unofficial farewell

In an unofficial farewell before heading to Charlotte, Dwight Howard seemed disappointed, yet overridden with a sense of spiritual optimism. Surrounded by family and friends in his hometown, Howard accepted the Spirit of the League Champion award from the Urban League of Greater Atlanta at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Friday. Howard’s off-the-court...
Hawks’ summer league roster taking shape with 13 players
Hawks’ summer league roster taking shape with 13 players

The Hawks entry in next month’s Las Vegas Summer League is starting to take shape. The roster currently consists of 13 players. More could be added before the tournament begins next month. The entire draft classes from last year and this year are scheduled to be part of the team, with Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry, Isaia Cordinier, John Collins...
Memphis Grizzlies add St. Francis grad after NBA Draft
Memphis Grizzlies add St. Francis grad after NBA Draft

Kobi Simmons wasn’t one of the 60 basketball players to hear his name called Thursday night during the NBA Draft, but he’ll still get a shot at making the league. After going undrafted, Simmons — an Alpharetta native and graduate of St. Francis High School – signed a free agent deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, according to a...
More Stories