WHAT THEY TRIED IN 2017-18
Turn in a competitive season after encouraging thirtysomething Paul Millsap to walk during 2017 free agency (for no compensation), testing not only coach Mike Budenholzer’s taste for a wholesale rebuilding effort, but point man Dennis Schröder’s ability to dig in for a career as franchise focal point. Without Dwight Howard in position as Imaginary Fulcrum, the ball would move and expectations would be set: ATL’s gunna build from the ground up, this shit is post-Ilyasova, how many of you guys want to be around to see it through?
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2017-18
24-58, last in the Eastern Conference.
Everything crashed, as Budenholzer irritably insisted it would all along, nothing was going to work without Millsap’s enlightened ways around to guide and influence others. Schröder ran the show and performed as most expected, including the humble Hawks, the point guard just doesn’t yet own the vision to lead a comfortable NBA offense and Budenholzer (who split with ATL in April) didn’t want to hang long enough to find out what the replacement was gonna be like. Coach may have had a point, there.
OFFSEASON INS AND OUTS
Here: Trae Young (trade with Dallas, No. 5 pick in the NBA draft), Kevin Huerter (No. 19 pick), Omari Spellman (No. 30 pick). Jeremy Lin (deal with Brooklyn), Justin Anderson (deal with PHILA), Vince Carter (free agent, a year at $2.4 million, this has gone on for a while), Thomas Robinson (free agent, a year at $1.9 million), Cole Aldrich (free agent), Daniel Hamilton (free agent), Alex Poythress (two-way deal), Alex Len (two years and $8.5 million), Jaylen Adams (two-way deal).
Gone: Dennis Schröder (trade with OKC), Mike Muscala (trade with 76ers), Damion Lee (Warriors), Josh Magette (Croatian League), Malcolm Delaney (the league that China has), Antonius Cleveland (Chicago), Blythe Fayetteville (Hot Springs), Isaiah Taylor (Cleveland).
PLAN FOR 2018-19
Lloyd Pierce is the new coach, the true face of the franchise, the energy that will have to outlive all this. He’ll have help, the Hawks revamped the entire coaching staff and filled out the front office with all manner of strong helpers, coveted basketball minds. The group is personnel-prepared to feel proud of its standing among the other 29 — that doesn’t happen a whole hell of a lot with the Hawks. Already fast under Budenholzer, the Hawks will whip around in the search for NBA shape, relying heavily on rookie Trae Young to shoulder the usage. He turned 20 in September.
HOPE FOR 2018-19
With the entire team to himself, Young develops into an irascible floor manager, challenging teammates of all ages to mind the clock (that they’re currently on). Trae looks more like the harebrained version of Jason Williams in Sacramento, beautiful with bangs and bounce passes and insistence. John Collins appears the alternate Antonio McDyess in the first half prior to acting as the latest Thaddeus Young after the break. The pace never lets up, Pierce never lets us see him sweat.
FREAK FOR 2018-19
Trae Young’s shooting percentage runs well south of 40 percent as 2019 approaches, the rookie loses no respect but it does became fair to wonder if his best position is third guard. Jeremy Lin’s presence only adds to the cold apprehension chatting up Trae’s ceiling: Lin can help when he’s granted all the ball he wants, but the team Jeremy joins in 2019-20 will be his eighth in ten seasons. Collins’ comportment isn’t enough with so little else going on in the lineup around him. Nobody on the Hawks roster decided to smile for pictures on Media Day, save for Kent Bazemore, that’s gotta be worth something.
COME ON MAN LOOK ATThe Hawks are gonna blister this season, it’s the only way around such a thin roster.
The East will be similarly weak this year, perhaps its worst showing yet, mostly by design — no haughty outfit is set to take an unanticipated tumble, the collection will mostly be made up of acknowledged rebuilding squads and the typical array of go-getters in the middle. Too many League Pass nights are going to drag in the first few hours, before the Western powers can tip. Even with that late night release the combatants still scan as if they’re cannibalizing the Conference, if not the whole league.
Over half the NBA makes the playoffs but some pretty good teams with a ‘K’ in the radio flagship are gunna miss the postseason (and that happens every year now). The trend is unappealing, the West routinely triples the East in its amount of great teams per season, year after year since Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1999.
LeBron’s leaving of the snowy shores of Cleveland for Los Angeles’ Promise only rattles our last remaining excuse. That this has less to do with location and more to do with a collection of individuals, however flawed, committing to a series of conclusions. Each of them unique, all with good selling points (even the ones featuring Ike Austin), some just tarred (in recollection) with shitty luck.
Tough timing, dumb business and bad basketball isn’t exclusive to the East, the left side has plenty to be embarrassed about with scads of organizations that can’t stop stepping on what they never zipped up.
The East, currently entering its third decade of “minor,” feels different because it should. A prospect like Atlanta (playoffs in ten of the last 11 seasons, rebuilding intelligently and with alacrity, Paul Millsap played half-a-season with Denver last year) appears so much farther away than similarly-sniffed at clubs from Sacramento and Phoenix, based mostly on where these Hawks play.
Not because this is Atlanta, but because the Hawks are in the East. So they double a win total by 2020, the hell do 48 wins mean in the East?
In light of this frustration, as the columns roll and the mid-April mileage between Denver and Boston is calculated, we’ll have to rely on hoops to get us through.
We’ll have to go patient, spending the time trying to locate just why this new breed of front office saviors thought it was so great to go after their first make-up step in the first place.
Atlanta’s version is Trae Young.
C: Alex Len — clearly in the team’s plans and healthier than some of his pivotry counterparts to start the season, the 25-year old is a damn fine rebounder that trimmed up on his fouls and turnovers as that illustrious (Phoenix) career moved along. Could be a grower.
PF: John Collins — looked a class and a half above each of his teammates and opponents at Summer League. ATL did tremendous work in securing this guy at No. 19 in his draft, the second-year stud still hasn’t finished adding his “great” yet, John’s only just begun to shoot.
SF: Taurean Waller-Prince — the upshot to drafting 22-year olds in the mid-lottery is what they can do for you, nearly right away: Prince started all 82 games in his second season and ticked up to 30 minutes a night. Already defending, hitting 38 percent of his threes, and the Hawks liked using him as a flea-flicker last season — heaving the assist pass after the defense lined up to stop the run (on third-and-2).
SG: Kent Bazemore — did not hold up impeccably to scrutiny last season with all the bad Hawks he could handle, but that’s fine, you don’t play the Burns Bison for the entire date, you only break it out for selected licks. If he isn’t exhausted, the 29-year old (12.9 points, 39 percent from deep) will have all the fun he can handle this season.
PG: Trae Young — worth watching, not yet judging.
THERE WILL BE A BENCH
C: DeWayne Dedmon — runs-ins are many but he’ll love commiserating with coach Pierce (when the big man’s ankle heals).
C: Cole Aldrich — a hit, whenever he misses.
F: Kevin Huerter — top-flight Maryland shooter has the abilities to round into a multi-tooled option at this level, the cruddy Hawks wearying Huerter with possessions will help.
G: Jeremy Lin — has an entire season to develop what the other side of his hill will look like, that’s no shot, just the truth about’a 30-year old in a contract year coming off a patella tear. Lin has a nice career ahead of his as a long and luxurious combo guard, his efficiency in the wake of the knee injury will determine whether or not this hits with great teams, or Hawks ones.
F: Alex Poythress — tough player struggling to find a lasting gig at this level.
G/F: Justin Anderson — limping in with a broken left leg after offseason surgery, can contribute if everything shapes back up.
F: DeAndre’ Bembry — often way out of control, the only solution is “more minutes” (against way better players).
G: Tyler Dorsey — big shooter, improving maker.
F/C: Omari Spellman — Villanova winner already been kicked in the shin as a pro, could find revenge by March.
G: Daniel Hamilton — turnover-prone former Husky lad, his not-bad passing touch could stand a cornerin’ from Vince Carter.
C: Miles Plumlee — is now done with rebounding, but will also knock the ball out of bounds.
G: R.J. Hunter — shot 37 percent from deep on plenty of attempts in the NBA’s minor league last season, 2015’s No. 28 pick has found it tough to stick.
F: Thomas Robinson — looked good in limited amounts with the Lakers last year, probably won’t shoot 56 percent again but he can be trusted to end another team’s possession with a thick rebound.
G/F: Vince Carter — Hawks are so bad that NBA TV is using them as a development squad.
22-61, last in the East.
LET’S WATCH THISLots to appreciate here: Spud Webb spudding ahead, John Long somehow rescinding his decision to leap in mid-air, Dominique with a two-hand jam, some rabbit-ear squiggle on the SuperStation, plus the clearly-compromised Mike Fratello’s growing interest in forgiving foreign debts as a way to look past a little domestic treason.
Next up, speaking of which: Phoenix
(More to come.)