And we in Bucksland think our team has issues …
The Atlanta Hawks’ self-imposed problems, the ones on display last April in the playoffs against the Bogut-less Bucks — the Hawks’ stand-around style of play, the schizophrenic focus, the haphazard, switch-heavy defense, the lack of size — have not gone away.
As the Hawks basically stood pat this summer (signing free agent Josh Powell? Really?) while firing coach Mike Woodson and hiring Woodson assistant Larry Drew, those problems festered as the Hawks played the softest schedule in the East based on opponent strength. Now they’re growing as the Hawks’ final 22 games include matchup after matchup against the league’s elite.
The Bulls blew out the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday night, 114-81. Afterward, Atlanta Journal Constitution sports columnist Mark Bradley declared it official: The 40-31 Hawks, still in possession of the #5 playoff seed in the East, the Sixers on their heels, have “tuned out” coach Drew, probably at about the 60-game mark. (Read Bradley article HERE.)
They’ve won 40 games because they still have talent; they’ve lost 15 home games because they don’t care enough to apply that talent when application requires effort. Stop shooting their beloved jump shots? Start guarding somebody? Why bother?
Say it again: Fifteen home losses for a team that boasts two All-Stars, a third player of All-Star caliber and the league’s reigning sixth man of the year. Fifteen home losses, nine of them by double figures. The NBA’s worst team shouldn’t be getting hammered like this at home on such a regular basis, let alone one that has been to the playoffs three years running and will get there again this spring.
The Bulls blowout was reminiscent of the Bucks destruction of Atlanta back in November. Challenge the Hawks, throw a sticky, physical defense in their grills, and they’re liable to quit on the game by halftime.
Since that game, of course, the 28-41 Bucks have had plenty of troubles of their own, but have played well enough in the last 10 games (6-4 with the Sacramento Kings on tap at the BC tonight) to satisfy that they haven’t tuned Scott Skiles out. The ever short-handed Bucks, after pushing the Hawks to seven last April, have split four games with Atlanta this season.
The Bucks know the Hawks well, and picking apart Bradley’s basic description of the Hawks is old hat here at the Jinx: Did the Hawks deserve two all-stars this season? Is Josh Smith’s game really “All-Star caliber?” Isn’t the Joe Johnson-centric offense rather elementary to guard half of the time? Should anyone really be surprised that the Bulls, Heat and Lakers are thumping the Hawks?
But it’s more fun when Hawks fans are doing the picking apart.
The comments beneath the story from Atlanta readers range from, “Why does Josh Smith’s shot selection stink?” … to “our All-Star is playing in New Orleans or New Jersey.” Woe be the Hawks brass who passed on point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 draft and selected with the #2 pick forward Marvin Williams, just turned 19 years old and with all of one season at North Carolina on his resume.
It’s still a bit shocking that the Bucks, with the #1 overall pick, actually considered taking Williams over Bogut, even for a minute.
Some of the most entertaining comments (from a Bucks perspective) are from the columnist, Bradley. (Who does that under sports blogs at daily newspapers? I’m convinced NBA fans in other cities have more fun than Bucks fans.) Here’s Bradley’s most telling take:
Here’s the problem: Can’t trade Joe because he makes too much; can’t trade Horford because he’s the heart of the team; can’t trade Jamal because he’s going to be a free agent; can’t trade Marvin because who’d want him?
By process of elimination, the only real candidate for a trade is Josh Smith, and he’s one of the most talented players in the league.
Here was the take tonight from TNT’s Chris Webber on “Inside the NBA”:
The Hawks problems “started in training camp” with the same roster that, last season was “small and bad,” Webber said. Coach Drew bears some responsibility for the bad part, but the roster problems were there when he took the job … “We’ve been saying it since last year [in the playoffs] … They don’t have a big man.”
Suffice it to say that the Hawks are in store for a quick exit from the playoffs, probably at the hands of the Magic or the Heat, and will hope to detonate their core this summer and rebuild around Horford. They might even get a big man worth playing and stop listing Horford as a center on the All-Star ballot. Bogut and the Bulls’ Joakim Noah would approve.
And with the Hawks likely desperate for change this off-season, it’s one more reason for Bucks GM John Hammond to exercise more patience with their still-developing young core than they did last summer.
Lockout possibilities aside, does either team really have other realistic choices?
(I’ve always thought the Hawks blew it in the summer of 2009 when they didn’t really get in on the bidding for unrestricted FA Andre Miller, took a pass on Ramon Sessions and resigned Mike Bibby, who translated via trade into Kirk Hinrich , no savior, no. How good would Sessions’ speed and penetration-first game look on the Hawks? Better than what they look like now.
But they’re still missing a big man in a league where the good ones aren’t exactly available for trades, even if the bait is Josh Smith. Sam Dalembert, anyone? Tyson Chandler? Nazr Mohammed? Nenad Krstic? Kurt Thomas? Joel Przybilla? Those are the top unrestricted free agent centers this summer, the brighter side of Kwame Brown and Erick Dampier, et. al. Now that I’m thinking about it, the Bucks could use a center, too, to back up Bogut.)