Customary in the aftermath of elimination is much somber and unsolicited advice on what the ousted team must do next to be better.
There has to be a ready fix out there, somewhere, right? If only the organization was a little smarter or a little more imaginative. If only it would listen to me.
But what if there is no fix? What if there is no option out there that will fundamentally alter the team’s place in the food chain?
Take, for instance, the Hawks.
Time for some good, old-fashioned abject hopelessness.
OK, we all know that unless they acquire a dynamic star player, one who is the end-of-game answer for when all else fails, they are likely to remain in that NBA purgatory of being just pretty good. It is a position with which they are quite familiar.
But recognizing that and doing something about it are two very different propositions.
They don’t mass produce such players. Stars of that magnitude are in shorter supply than mercy in a Jason Statham movie. In the upcoming free agent market there is maybe one real difference maker – Kevin Durant – and even he has yet to show he can lift a team to championship heights. And there has been no hint, no proffered scenario that he has him coming to Atlanta. Kidnapping apparently is out of the question.
A burly center like Detroit’s Andre Drummond could help the Hawks mix, but he’s a restricted free agent and the Pistons are committed to keeping him.
A scorer like Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan? Nice piece, but then what?
Bringing center Dwight Howard home? Maybe a good idea five years ago, if then.
We step back and wonder what the Hawks will do next with their own parts: To sign or not to sign Al Horford? How much is Kent Bazemore worth? What to do with the tandem of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder – all the more intriguing as Teague spent the last moments of the season on the bench?
But, really, what does any of that matter? All the Hawks will be doing is moving around pieces and still coming up with no combination capable of beating Cleveland.
Like the rest of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks are going nowhere until the Cavs erode. They are stuck and will remain stuck behind Cleveland unless LeBron James takes his talents to oh, say, the LoDo District (Denver) or The River District (Sacramento) or Venice Beach (Los Angeles) – somewhere far, far away from this time zone. No way the Cavs let James, who has an opt-out in his contract, leave town again.
The Cavs have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love signed through 2019. Tristan Thompson, Mr. Offensive Rebound, is signed through 2020. They have between one to two more years of complimentary pieces such as Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and J.R. Smith.
Turning 32 in December, James has a few more good years in him. The Cavs seem to have stumbled onto reliable leadership when they made the mid-season coaching change to Tyronn Lue. Unless Cleveland is beset by a key injury or some kind of internal meltdown, there may be no overcoming it for years to come.
Such bleak pessimism, such surrender before the first transaction of the 2016-17 season is not a common reaction in the aftermath of elimination. We want to believe that for every short-coming there is a remedy.
But for the Hawks, I just can’t envision anything significantly different for the near future.