Last year this time, the Atlanta Hawks were in the midst of upheaval in the front office and uncertainty on the court. Coming off another first round exit in the playoffs, hopes were skeptical among fans concerning if the team was on the right path.
While fans might’ve been on the fence about the team’s future, the team felt different. It usually goes that way. The first step towards changing the Hawks past was to do some house cleaning.
After Danny Ferry resigned, coach Mike Budenholzer took over the role of President of Basketball Operations. Last year, Budenholzer morphed the Atlanta Hawks into an East Coast version of the team where he used to be part of the coaching staff, the San Antonio Spurs.
A new attitude came over the Hawks organization. It took some time, but eventually all the changes made internally began to show on the court.
While most teams were looking to replicate the Miami Heat super-teams, the Hawks took a different route. Where their line-up lacked flash, it packed punch. Building around an undersized but skilled front-court consisting of Al Horford and Paul Millsap, the Hawks out-worked almost every other team in the league last year.
Atlanta went onto rip off a 19-game winning streak. They finished 60-22 record, the best record in franchise history. Their achilles heel has always been the playoffs. Somehow, the Hawks as an organization typically find a way to stumble when the playoffs hit. Last season, the team exercised those demons, too.
Their run ended at the hands of Lebron James in the Eastern Conference Finals, no shame in that, even if Atlanta was the higher seed. But the excitement created by the run that Hawks went on last season hasn’t dulled with fans.
Instant success like that can be a gift and curse. Fans, players, and the organization now have a new swag to them that they have to maintain. At the Hawks media day this week, Coach Bud addressed some of those questions with the press.
This year’s team will look a little different from last years. There will be a few new faces joining last years core.
The departure of DeMarre Carroll will hurt the Hawks. The Junkyard was a 40-minute a night, three-and-D player who took his career-high 12.6 points per game to Toronto in the off-season after being offered an four-year, $60 million dollar contract.
To fill his void, the Hawks will be relying on the help of Thabo Sefolosha, who missed the playoffs last year thanks to a leg injury and new comer Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway Jr., coming off a great rookie year with the New York Knicks last season, came via trade. The combination of the two should do well to replace what Carroll brought to the table, so long as Sefolosha doesn’t get tackled by police, again.
Another new face that Hawk fans will get to know this season is one who’s pretty familiar with Coach Bud and his system.
Tiago Splitter was picked up in the off-season. Splitter not only brings an extra body at the center spot and championship pedigree, but his familiarity with coach Bud from his days in San Antonio. His 7’1 frame can also be used to let All-Star Al Horford play more at the power forward spot and stop having to fight with player taller than him every night.
Coach Budenholzer wants to build a versatile roster from across the team. One of the players that he was banking on, Jason Richardson, decided to retire before training camp. That leaves space from one of the new comers like Earl Barron and Justin Holiday a fighter’s chance of making the team.
These new pieces are great and getting a healthy Thabo will be a huge help during the season, but the biggest move made by the Hawks during the off-season was re-signing All-Star forward Paul Millsap. It would’ve been hard for Atlanta to have kept both Carroll and Paul Millsap without tying up too much money, but it would’ve been a disaster to lose both. So it was important that the Hawks bring Millsap back and lock him in as the second option in the paint along with Horford.
A championship team is nothing with solid guard play and the Hawks have that in double. Jeff Teague showed that he could play at an elite level nightly last year. Averaging 16.7 points per night and multiple dimes, Teague led the balanced attack Hawks to 60 wins.
When the playoffs came, Teague excelled. The same can be said for his back up and sometimes backcourt mate, Dennis Schroder. Schroder made big strides in his second year in the league. Coming off a stellar run with the German national team, Schroder is expected to make an even bigger piece of the Hawks puzzle this year. Coach Budenholzer even hinted at the two playing together some this season.
Last season, Atlanta set a new standard for winning in the city of Atlanta. While another 60-win season might be out of the question this year, expecting another deep run through playoffs is not. If the team can stay healthy, they can easily challenge the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavilers for the next few years.
I guess you can say that the Highlight Factory will be open for business in Atlanta for the forseeable future.