Image by: Keith Allison
By Thomas Stone
The Atlanta Hawks were supposed to struggle some without star guard Joe Johnson. Over the summer, Johnson traded the sweet peaches of Georgia for the grimy Subways of Brooklyn, leaving his long-occupied streets of Atlanta behind in search of a championship.
Through the collateral damage of the Johnson’s departure, the Hawks weren’t supposed to be better, or even be the same squad. In fact, many predicted that the team would completely fall apart.
To the chagrin of some, the Hawks are doing OK without JJ. After 38 games this season, Atlanta holds the sixth spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a record of 22-16. Recently, they were losers of six of seven games, but ended that streak with a win against Johnson’s new team, the Brooklyn Nets.
Although Johnson represented another dimension of the Hawks offense, they could still count on forward Josh Smith, who just so happens to be the team’s leading scorer.
This year, Smith is averaging 16.5 points per game, two points away from his career high of 18, a feat he accomplished just one year ago.
Smith & Lesson?
But while the Hawks are enjoying modest success sans Johnson, Smith’s attitude off the floor may derail their chances of a playoff run. Recently, Smith was suspended one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team” and the Hawks may look to trade him.
Smith is in the last year of his five-year, $58 million deal, a trade due to monetary and behavior reasons would seem to make sense. Rumors that he will be traded have flown for awhile, but now that the NBA trade deadline is approaching, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry may actually pull the trigger.
So, if Smith is traded, or even if he stays, are the Hawks as “good” as their record states?
The Envelope Please
The quick answer is no.
Atlanta has been an average team at best for years. They have made the playoffs every year since the 2006-07 season, but have yet to actually make any noise in the postseason.
Because they play in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, the Hawks can always lay claim to at least the eighth playoff spot. The top belongs to the Miami Heat, usually the Boston Celtics, and now, maybe, the New York Knicks.
Plus, when it comes to playoff chatter and championship talk, the Hawks are never mentioned.
Bird’s Eye View
As much as fans in Atlanta hope and wish for the Hawks to take that next step, I’m afraid that it will not happen this season and maybe never as the roster is currently constructed.
Another tell-tale sign – head coach Larry Drew’s coaching seat is a little warm as he is working on the last year of his contract just like Smith.
For the 2012-13 season, there are just simply too many road blocks for the Hawks to overcome. There is the enigma of Josh Smith, the uncertainty surrounding Larry Drew, and trying to beat teams like the Heat and Knicks.
The Hawks, while sporting a pretty good record, just aren’t what they seem to be.