In case you missed it — maybe because you just stopped paying attention after Game 2 — the Hawks were bounced from the playoffs Sunday. They played with effort and at times they played very well but lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 100-99. So that makes two straight postseasons they were swept by LeBron James and his minions. (Streaks: The Hawks have lost 11 straight to Cleveland overall and are 0-12 all-time in playoff games against James.)
For my column on the game and why I believe the Hawks need major change, click here.
Here are my thoughts about this franchise heading into the offseason:
1. TONY RESSLER, YOU’RE UP: Former general manager Danny Ferry did a wonderful job making the Hawks relevant and coach Mike Budenholzer proved his worth by implementing new offensive and defensive systems and leading the team to 60 wins and the Eastern Conference finals in only his second season. But this year was a step back, and the Hawks have the potential of rolling back down hill in a hurry if significant change isn’t made. What nobody knows is where Ressler stands in all this. He’s a businessman and he’s mandating upgrades in the arena. That’s fine. But will he have the same mandates on the court? He lives in California but he is a basketball fan, he’s a weekend player and I believe he has a passion for his Atlanta-based team. That needs to translate into money. Atlanta fans will ignore the Hawks again if they don’t do something to get people’s attention. Obviously, landing Kevin Durant is a long shot. But they need something or someone at or near that level. They need new/fresh/exciting. They need a reason to make people watch again (and buy tickets). That likely means breaking up this core. That also may mean changing the front office.
2. GRANT HILL, STEP FORWARD: In full disclosure, I’m not the biggest Wes Wilcox fan. I’m not convinced he brings much to the table. He was Ferry’s assistant general manager and a secondary role might be where he fits best. Wilcox is now the general manager. A case could be made he’s still in a secondary role because Budenholzer is the president of basketball operations, but before Ferry’s departure there were two people ahead of Wilcox. The Hawks need help in the personnel department. They need powerful voices in the room, even if Budenholzer ultimately will have control of the roster. I would love to see part owner Grant Hill get out of the TV business and step into a major role in basketball operations. To this point, he has not shown a desire to do so. The Hawks need an outside-the-box thinker and a stronger people in personnel because as terrific a coach as Budenholzer is, there’s too much on his plate. It’s difficult for one person in any sport to be both defacto general manager and coach and do both jobs objectively because the two often have different agendas. (An old saying: Coaches want to win today, general managers want to win tomorrow.)
3. AL HORFORD DECISION ISN’T EASY: Some fans aren’t convinced Horford, who is headed for unrestricted free agency, is worth the money and will hamstring them in the future. They might be right. Others are concerned letting Horford leave will set this team back. They might be right, too. I like Horford. He’s a solid player, a good leader and low maintenance. But he’s not a superstar. He’s a player you want on your team but to be a contender he probably needs to be your third best player. Paul Millsap gets an edge on Horford because he’s a more consistent scorer. Horford is a power forward playing center. But Millsap is a power forward. So the only way keeping both works is if the Hawks acquire a great scorer for small forward, a spot currently occupied by Kent Bazemore. Otherwise, Horford (or Millsap) have to go, because the Hawks need more size. Cleveland’s size destroyed them in the series, particularly on the offensive boards. Admittedly, I’m waffling on Horford. I’m just saying if they give him a max deal (which he probably would get on the open market), they better have a plan to fix everything else. And if they let him go or deal him in a sign-and-trade, well they better have a plan to replace him AND fix everything else. The Hawks can give Horford a five-year contract while other teams can only give four. That’s why a sign-and-trade is a more likely scenario then Horford just walking, if you go on the assumption he’s not back. But I’m guessing he is back.
4. KENT BAZEMORE COULD BE GONE: The Hawks would be better served with Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver coming off the bench. But Bazemore is an unrestricted free agent, like Horford, and somebody is going to pay him significant money (as Toronto did to DeMarre Carroll). That can’t be the Hawks because they need more scoring from the “3” spot than Bazemore can provide, and they can’t give him a huge raise and then tell him he’s not starting. So letting him walk or a sign-and-trade is more likely. Korver is 35 and can’t get open or make shots like he used to. We saw the beginning of the fade in the playoffs last season. He can still be a valuable player in a reserve role. Taking him out of the starting lineup in Games 3 and 4 vs. Cleveland (for defensive purposes for Thabo Sefolosha) was foreshadowing by Budenholzer.
5. THE POINT GUARD QUESTION: Dennis Schroder is too inconsistent to take over for Jeff Teague at point guard. Teague has a year left on his contract at $8 million so he would be easy to trade. But it might be best to keep him for one more year and focus on fixing the shooting guard and small forward (and/or center) positions — unless the Hawks believe they can find a better point guard out there. Teague also struggles from consistency problems which is why he’s probably not the long-term answer.
The Hawks have payroll flexibility. They have unlimited trade options with almost every player on the roster. I would view Millsap as the only player definitely not going anywhere. But if the Hawks come back with the same core next season, they’re going to have problems.
Recent ramblings from the Digital Jukebox
- Hawks need major change, lack a go-to star
- Hello, Game 4. Goodbye, Hawks’ season? History says yes
- When Hawks’ season wrap up, Mike Budenholzer may need some help
- Hawks better but Cavaliers are on another level
- There’s a kernel of truth to what Charles Barkley says about Hawks
- Rest of series for Hawks is about big picture
- It’s about time Coppolella, Hart take ownership of Braves’ problems
- Falcons have issues but Blank may be right about playoff projection
- Full Q&A with Arthur Blank on his health, draft and playoffs
- Arthur Blank: Falcons will be playoff team in 2016
- Magic Johnson pitches for LeBron, Durant to Lakers (uh, tampering?)
- Breaking! Hawks are big underdogs to LeBron James, Cavaliers
- Hawks’ defense gets its stiffest test: LeBron James
- One for the history books: Hawks eliminate Celtics
- Have Hawks figured out winning formula?
- Hawks stood tall by going small vs. Celtics
- Falcons needs to get it right with defensive picks
- Braves reportedly have tried to trade Olivera (who has zero value)
- One-man basketball won’t get job done for Hawks
- As Hawks look to rebound, some thoughts on Game 4 vs. Celtics
- Hawks would be wise to stay cool after Thomas’ slap
- Hawks’ Schroder: ‘I’m not going to let nobody slap me in my face’
- Hawks not making it easy on themselves
- Hawks will try to buck history in Game 3 against Boston
- Bigger surprise than Braves’ record: Freeman hitting .163
- Liberty CEO’s comments reaffirm: Braves need new ownership
- Matt Ryan says he’s confident in Kyle Shanahan, Falcons’ offense
- Only one side of Olivera-Wood trade is around for Braves-Dodgers series
- Jacob Eason good but 93,000 is real highlight of Georgia’s spring
- Hawks go into playoffs knowing changes to core may be ahead