Last season: Same old, same old? Progress and a step back? Stumbling backwards into success? There’s got to be some sort of ridiculous phrase to describe the Hawks’ 2011 season. Their offense took a serious step back, despite all the talk of getting out of Mike Woodson’s system. Larry Drew took over, and the Hawks plummeted from 2nd in offensive rating to 2oth. They were an afterthought, a peaceful reminder that there were some teams out there who didn’t have trios of superstars, just trios of very good ones.
Then the playoffs. The Magic, who should have wiped the floor with them. But the Hawks and newly acquired at-the-deadline Kirk Hinrich had different plans. They disrupted, confused, and chortled the Magic’s perimeter attack while telling Dwight Howard, “do what you must, freak.” Howard did, but it wasn’t enough, especially when Jamal Crawford went gonzo. So despite taking a step back in games won, despite looking terrible on offense even in the playoffs, despite no significant improvement on defense, the Hawks made it as far as they have with this core of players.
Then the Bulls came, and despite a good showing, the Hawks exited rather quietly.
Since we last saw the Hawks: The Hawks have nine players left on contract. Jamal Crawford’s gone to seek somwhere more fun to throw up threes without a conscience (and hit them in huge moments I might add). Kirk Hinrich’s entering a contract year. At nine players, the Hawks have $66 million committed in salary. That’s with Jason Collins, Josh Powell, Etan Thomas and Hilton Armstrong all gone in free agency, presumably. Yes, the two words here are “Joe Johnson.”
When the lockout ends, the Hawks need to: All of my answers are implausible. Amnesty Joe Johnson? Give up a huge chunk of your offense and a very underrated defender. Trade Joe Johnson? No takers. Fire Larry Drew? He just took them to the second round semi-promised-land. Feature Al Horford in the offense more? His efficiency would drop with the usage increase. Strap a device that sends an electrical surge through Josh Smith whenever he shoots from further than 12 feet? Illegal in most states.
The Hawks are who they are. The most likely scenario has them ditching Josh Smith to try and get multiple pieces to build around Horford and Johnson, which will then of course coincide with Smith “realizing his potential” on a bigger stage. Clearly Jeff Teague is the future at point guard, which means that Hinrich is a very expensive backup at this point, despite his excellent play in the playoffs (a contender would benefit from adding Hinrich’s defensive experience). They should keep Magnum Rolle because his name’s awesome. Other than that, their options are limited.
Finding an offensive system that works in any capacity should be the top priority. Everything after that can get figured out. But the Hawks better pray that Larry Drew has more than he had last season, because the playoff run felt awfully player-inspired rather than coach-devised.