Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is looking to bring the team out of the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks didn't get the big fish they coveted, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but they did use their ample cap space to sign a steady power forward to replace the departed Josh Smith, as well as beef up their bench. They still have $4 million in cap space and another $9 million coming off the books next summer, without any key players leaving.
Before they can worry about that, however, they have to go through this season. And this season appears to be another one in the middle of the pack.
Head Coach: Finally, long time Greg Popovich disciple Mike Budenholzer makes the big time after seventeen seasons as an assistant. I have been advocating for a team to hire Bud for two or three years and I think Atlanta made the right decision here.
Last Season’s Record: 44-38. The Hawks earned the sixth seed in the playoffs and were eliminated in the first round by the Indiana Pacers.
Key Player Losses: Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia. Josh Smith had been flirting with leaving the Hawks for a season or two now, and at the trade deadline he even told them he would not re-sign. Atlanta decided to keep him anyways, and try and call his bluff, but turns out he wasn't bluffing and ended up signing with the Detroit Pistons. Harris went back to Dallas and Pachulia back to Milwaukee.
Key Player Additions: Paul Millsap, Gustavo Ayon, Elton Brand. Brand helps beef up their bench, and Millsap fills the role that Smith left behind. Ayon was fantastic in the EuroBasket Americas tournament, winning the MVP award and leading Mexico to the title.
Best Player: Al Horford. He is a former All-Star who is perennially in the conversation to be one again. He's been playing out of position at center, something that won't change with Millsap in town, but he still led the team in points and rebounds (averaging a double-double), and was second on the team in blocks. He's a very consistent player and he is the undisputed leader on this team.
Worst Player: Well, Johan Petro is gone, so I'm going to go with Mike Scott. Despite having the nickname "The Boss," Scott only averaged 4.6 points and 2.8 rebounds last season, and had a plus/minus of -1.1.
Player due to breakthrough: Jeff Teague. Teague is a star in the making. He averaged 14.6 points, 7.2 assists and 1.5 last season, all career hights. He also shot the ball fantastically; 45% from the field, 36% from three-point territory and 88% from the free throw line, also a career high. He also averaged a career high in turnovers, though, at 2.9, a number you'd like to see go down a bit.
The Starters: Al Horford will stay at center as Millsap will replace Josh Smith at power forward. Kyle Korver will most likely spend most of the season at small forward, with Lou Williams and Jeff Teague in the backcourt.
Random Seattle Connection: Damien Wilkins is a former Supersonic.
Best Case Scenario for the Season: Some seem to think the Hawks are a trade or two away from a full-on tank job. I don't think they would have gone out and gotten Paul Millsap and Elton Brand if that was their plan. Danny Ferry is pushing for the playoffs and I think they have a good shot at making them once again. Their best case scenario is probably a sixth seed again, with Miami, Brooklyn, New York, Indiana and Chicago all poised to finish ahead of them. Detroit could possibly eclipse them as well, but this best case scenario, which I see as a six seed.
Worst Case Scenario for the Season: The worst thing that could happen to Atlanta is just missing the playoffs. This draft is one where you can still get talent late, but there is game-changing talent at the top. Missing the playoffs while simultaneously missing out on one of those talents would be the thing the Hawks most have to fear.
Projection: 44-38, seventh seed in the playoffs and another early exit.
Prediction: While the Hawks will miss Josh Smith's defense, they will not miss him shooting them out of games. Millsap doesn't have Smith's athleticism, but he is a much more efficient, and consistent, player. Their bench is pretty solid with Ayon, Brand, John Jenkins and rookie Dennis Schroeder. There a lot of new pieces on this roster, including a new coach, and the biggest question will be how well, and how quickly, they put it all together. The biggest question Hawks fans should be asking is where do they go from here? Millsap and Brand aren't exactly spring chickens anymore and you have to wonder what kind of improvements they can make to push the team to that next level. Assuming they don't make any moves this year, they will have roughly $13 million in cap space next summer and could sign a second-tier free agent and fill out the roster with mid-level guys to team up with the nice core of players they already have.
Atlanta Hawks: Peachtree Hoops
Charlotte Bobcats: Rufus on Fire
Miami Heat: Hot Hot Hoops | Sports Agent Blog
Orlando Magic: Orlando Pinstriped Post | Orlando Magic Daily
Washington Wizards: Bullets Forever