Ok fellow Hawks fans, the season is now over and it is time to look back and see what went right and what went wrong. We will also look at what the teams needs are going forward and discuss what are reasonable expectations for the 2009-2010 season.
What went right
- I think it is safe to say the Atlanta Hawks continued to improve in 2008-2009. Last season the team won 37 games and made the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade. This year the goal was to be better, get back to the playoffs, and win the first round. The Hawks achieved that by winning 47 games (a 10 game improvement) and beating the Miami Heat in round one. This is the 4th consecutive season under head coach Mike Woodson that the Hawks improved on the previous season win total. The Hawks also saw the continued development of Al Horford and Marvin Williams finally started to play like an NBA player, though still not a lottery pick. Rick Sund started his tenure off as GM of the Hawks by picking up veterans Mo Evans and Flip Murray. Both played exceptional for the Hawks off the bench and were big contributors towards winning the 4th seed. Went 31-10 at home which helped secure the 4th seed and home court the first round. Joe Johnson made his 3rd All-Star team back in February and the Hawks are behind only Cleveland in ticket renewals and sales for the 2009-2010 season so Hawks basketball is back in the ATL.
What went wrong
- Well lets start with the inconsistencies during the season. The Hawks continued to have problems playing like a cohesive unit consistently. Most nights they were on and the team soared. However more times than not, the Hawks played like they were not on the same page and that clearly falls at the feet of Mike Woodson. For a coach who is known as a disciplinarian he sure does have problems getting his message of defense across to the entire team. Al Horford seems to get it, but outside of him none of the regulars really bought into Woody's message this year. Also this team was like night and day between home and away. The Hawks were won of the best teams at home, but on the road they looked like a totally different team. Great teams that make strides and are championship contenders play .550-.600 ball on the road; the Hawks have yet to learn how to play even .500 on the road. The Hawks also played down to competetion at times. Loses to the Bobcats, Raptors, and Pacers and close games against the Kings, Thunder, and Clippers are a headache to fans who expect the team to easily handle these teams in route to a 50 win season. However that is not the case with the Hawks this season. The relationship between Mike Woodson and Josh Smith continues to be a distraction to this team and once again was just a rocky, if not worse, than in years past. This is something the front office needs to look at going forward. Speaking of Josh Smith, his immaturity continued to show this past season. A flare up in mid-Feburary got him tossed and then benched. At a game in Charlotte, he pulled the team behind closed doors and apologized. From that point on he was a better player down the stretch which helped the Hawks fend off a slight challenge from the Heat and 76ers for the 4th spot in the East. However Josh still needs to learn that his game is more inside than pulling up from the perimeter. Until he manages a jump shot, which will probably be never, he needs to continue to be the physical pressence inside that he has been when the Hawks are playing great basketball. The Hawks pushed the Boston Celtics to the brink of disaster in the 2008 first round. That exciting series set the tone for this season and the Hawks came out firing on all cylendars. However, the Hawks once again could not overcome the Celtics in 2008-2009, going 0-4. The take the next step and become a champion, you must master the current champions especially at home. The playoffs were supposed to bring out the excitement that came with the 2008 series against the Celtics and it did once game 1 against the Heat rolled around. However the Hawks came out flat in Games 2 & 3 and then got pushed to the brink in before winning in Game 7. In reality this team was much better than Miami and should have ended the series in 5 games. Unfortunately the Hawks lost their composure in Games 3 & 6 which gave the Heat second life. That series clearly took its toll and the Hawks never showed up against the Cavs which ended in a sweep. Cavs are clearly better, but the Hawks could have put up somewhat of a fight. The Hawks also need to decide whether or not Joe Johnson is their leader. He clearly had a lack luster second half and playoffs. His comments during the Cleveland series about the team knowing they could not beat the Cavs is not what a team leader needs to be saying publicly or privately.
What Improvements are Needed in 2009-2010
- The Hawks clearly need to figure out how to win consitently on the road. Playing .500 on the road is a start and see where it goes from there. If you don't get better on the road, you can forget about getting past the second round. Defense needs to be improved and a big man inside to grab 15-20 boards a night would help. Looking ahead to the upcoming Free Agent class, the Hawks have options and are under the cap enough to be big players. Some big men that are unrestricted FAs include: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Lamar Odom, Malik Allen, Jermaine O'Neal, and Carlos Boozer. The Hawks could really use one of these guys to help with the inside pressence and be a big rebounder. Some trade options could also include Amare Stoudamire, Tyson Chandler, and Chris Bosh. So the options are out there for the Hawks to improve the interior and be a more physical team. This move would also allow Al Horford to play his natural 4 position and be more of a scoring threat.
The Hawks clearly need a PG who can penetrate and cause defenses to breakdown. Unfortunately resigning Mike Bibby cannot be that option. Mike has played very well for the Hawks and helped a young team take a next step, but his game is declining and the Hawks need someone at point who can challenge defenses. Andre Miller is a FA this year and the Hawks should put all necessary resources together to get him. Ben Gordon could be looked at as well, but doubt he would leave Chicago as they clearly need him there. No clearl trade scenarios currently exist for a PG, but that could change as the draft approaches.
Flip Murray must be retained along with Zaza Pachulia. Thank god we can finally say good bye to the Speedy Claxton disaster.
Several sticky situations also need to be addressed. The touchy relationship between Smith and Woodson has clearly hit a tipping point where in Game 7 of the first round Mike Bibby clearly chastises Woodson when he suggests Bibby get onto Josh about his constant habit of taking a jump shot. Bibby correctly fired back that its not his job and Woodson should do that. Clearly this relationship is not going to improve and Rick Sund has a decision to make. Basically who stays and who goes? Woodson has coached this team back to life, but how far can he really take them? Clearly the Hawks would be wise to keep Smith and see if a more experienced, big name coach can get through to him and take the team to the next level. Woody has done his job, but now its time to turn this team over to a coach who can make the contenders. The Hawks also must decide whether to bring back Josh Childress who bolted for Greece last summer and has rumored to be wanting to come back or trade his rights for another piece off the bench. Also the Hawks must decide if Marvin Williams fits into the bigger pitcure or if he can be a trade piece for a C or PG.
If you do fire Woodson, who would you go after? Some big names who seem to be available are Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, and Avery Johnson. Each of these guys are disciplinarians who could get this team to the next level. A dark horse coach would be Mark Jackson, currently an NBA color analyst for ESPN. He has never held a head coaching gig, but could be someone who can connect with the team as a former player who is clearly respected.
The Hawks should use the draft to upgrade the depth of the bench, particularly the PG position. Outside of that don't expect much out of the draft.
Expectations for 2009-2010 Season
- Clearly the Hawks must sign a NBA PG who can replace Bibby and must also resign Murray and Pachulia. Anything less than this will result in the team going backwards over the last several years and that is unacceptable. The team may very well resign Bibby for a season or two at less money and take their chances with the big FA class of 2010 in which the Hawks have a chance to land a big name FA as they would be significantly under the salary cap. But it is clear that they need a PG to stay the course and continue to improve. Joe Johnson must bounce back and take full control of this team. He is paid to be the leader and must play like one. 50 wins should not be out of the question and the Hawks should be playing for the SouthEast Division. Anything less than the 4th seed is a bad season and the Hawks must make the effort to go deeper in the playoffs. Right now I can see this team picking up a PG and a C and winning 50 games in 2009-2010. Will that be enough to win the Southeast? Who knows, but it will definitely get them no less than 4th in the East and a trip back to the playoffs.