Hawks strike out again

July 6, 2013 

We all knew the Atlanta Hawks were a longshot in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. We’ve heard for years that, for whatever reason, Howard just didn’t want to come back home and play in Atlanta, and his decision Friday to go to Houston instead confirmed those rumors.

The fact the Hawks couldn’t attract Howard is no reflection on general manager Danny Ferry, who undoubtedly gave it a valiant effort to convince Howard the Hawks needed him in the worst way. Ferry and new head coach Mike Budenholzer could be the most stable duo running the Hawks in decades, and yet it still wasn’t enough to convince Howard they can build a championship team.

But does this say something about the Hawks’ franchise, which is easily the least interesting in the state of Georgia? Are they just spinning their wheels for no reason? Have the Hawks become the Mississippi State Bulldogs of the NBA?

You know what I’m talking about. Mississippi State’s football program is largely irrelevant. They’ll win once in a while, but for the most part it’s an afterthought in a conference full of teams that are just better. After having a bit of success, they’ll fall back into obscurity and no one will ever notice.

The Hawks have been interesting a couple of times. First, back in the 1980s, Dominique Wilkins became a star and was the best player to ever wear the uniform. Then, in the mid-1990s, Atlanta shocked the NBA by pulling Dikembe Mutombo away from the Denver Nuggets.

And then you can make an argument the Hawks had our attention the past few years, when the rebuilding project of the past decade resulted in a .579 winning percentage for the past five seasons. It was good, but, yet again, not good enough.

The Hawks have never made it to the Eastern Conference finals. Never. The franchise has been in Atlanta since 1968. That’s 45 years.

Why should we think they ever will? Honestly, until the Hawks get lucky in the draft and find a star, they’re going to be stuck in this purgatory of the NBA for a while.

They had their shot to get a star in the 2005 draft. They had the second pick in the first round, but instead of picking Chris Paul or even Deron Williams, two point guards who are now stars in the NBA, the Hawks took forward Marvin Williams.

How could that one player, Paul, have changed things?

Well, the NBA is built around stars. The Clippers got Paul to complement Blake Griffin. The Rockets wanted Howard to complement James Harden. Having Paul would have attracted a player like Howard to Atlanta, but instead the Hawks were once against stuck wondering, “What if?”

Ferry does deserve our patience. He pulled off the Joe Johnson trade last summer, and that should give him some currency to try and build a roster. Ferry added young pieces in the draft that have potential. He re-signed Kyle Korver, a shrewd move. And he added Paul Millsap, who is a nice player. Millsap is a power forward, however, which might mean Al Horford could be stuck at center for a while longer.

The Hawks might have more cap room to chase a free agent next summer, when the market is again expected to be flooded with talent. But will it even matter? Can this franchise be interesting enough to draw anyone besides the mediocre players that have flooded Atlanta’s rosters for years? It’s Ferry’s job to make it more relevant, and no one expects it to be easy.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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