The Atlanta Hawks have been down this road before. Starting over seems to be a recurring theme for a franchise that just cant seem to get it right.
Thats what theyre going to have to do again -- start over. The first-round series loss to Indiana proved what we already knew: This group of players hasnt worked, and they need to try again.
This was supposed to be a transition year. New general manager Danny Ferry had gotten a lot of the dirty work out of the way last summer when he traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. Those moves would open up a lot of money for this summer, in the hopes of giving the team a new identity.
Whether Josh Smith would be part of that future would be left up to him -- of how he played and whether he would prove hes a max-contract player. And, unfortunately for him, Smith proved hes just not worthy of that label.
Its a shame, really. Hes a hometown kid. Smith is a fan favorite because of that, much like Brian McCann is with the Braves. But Smith is yet another representation of the difference between good and great.
Weve seen him be good for a very long time, and, at times, Smith has been great. But a max-contract player needs to be great most of the time and avoid the inconsistency that has plagued Smith from his years as a young player.
Hes a veteran now, and weve needed to see less of that inconsistency. Instead, it plagued him even in this series with the Pacers. In Game 4, Smith led the Hawks to a victory with a 29-point performance. He added 11 rebounds and four assists. But then in the final two games of the series, Smith had 14 points and shot 5-16 from the floor in each game. When the Hawks needed him the most, Smith was not a marquee player.
And its not like Atlanta was playing the Miami Heat. They were playing the Pacers -- a very good team, but not a great team.
So now Smith will undoubtedly ask for the max contract from the Hawks, which will be politely rejected, and hell ride off into the sunset to find someone dumb enough to give him a huge deal.
This season wasnt supposed to be special. It was pretty decent, considering the injuries to Lou Williams, Zaza Pachulia and Devin Harris. But this was a necessary evil to get to the postseason of all postseasons -- when the Hawks would have significant cap room to rebuild the roster.
Remember when the Hawks tried it in the late 1980s? They didnt believe Tree Rollins and Randy Wittman were good fits with Dominique Wilkins, Doc Rivers and Kevin Willis. So they brought in Moses Malone and Reggie Theus. Thats really didnt work out too well.
Then, in the late 1990s, after the trio of Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock hit a wall, the Hawks started over with names like Jason Terry, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and DeMarr Johnson.
That didnt work out too well, either.
So now, Ferry must start another chapter in Hawks history. His first issue will be the head coach, as he must decide the future of Larry Drew. I think Ferry will bring in his own man. He inherited Drew as head coach, and while Drew is not the worst coach to ever roam the Hawks sidelines, he has done little to make you believe he can make this team a champion -- even with a new cast of characters.
Atlanta needs a coach who can draw free agents. Phil Jackson is a dream, and it probably wont happen. But get a coach that players will want to play for, and Drew doesnt fit that bill.
The Hawks will have the 17th and 18th picks in the first round, which presents a good chance to draft talented players. But its the free agency, with all the cap room, that will be fun to watch.
Well see what Ferry has up his sleeve, but theres little doubt after what we saw in the series with Indiana that a restart is again needed.
No. 21 -- Wilkins -- isnt walking through that door to play anytime soon. But Ferry needs to find someone like Wilkins to make this team relevant again.
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