For years, there has been a desire for the Atlanta Hawks to become relevant. They are low down in the pecking order in Georgia sports, way behind the major football teams in the state and also always behind the Braves and Falcons.
The thought was the Hawks needed a big name to become relevant. They needed to sign Dwight Howard. It didn’t happen. They needed to sign Chris Paul. It didn’t happen. They needed another Dominique Wilkins.
That will never happen.
As it turns out, the Hawks didn’t need any of those big name players to gain our attention.
Instead, the big name we should all know is Mike Budenholzer. He’s the head coach. Coach Bud, as he is called, only has been around for a year-and-a-half, but he might be the main character who is making this franchise, dare we say ... relevant.
Atlanta is the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Now, it’s early. Atlanta is still seven games away from the midway point in the season, but for a Hawks team to be on track for 60 wins is astonishing. And again, this is not a team full of big-named players.
There is no Wilkins, Steve Smith or Dikembe Mutombo on this team. This is truly a team -- talented players who play very well together each and every night. In a league built around stars, that’s refreshing.
Budenholzer deserves credit for that, and why should we be surprised. He came from San Antonio, where he was a longtime assistant to Gregg Popovich, who has won five NBA championships as a head coach. While Popovich always has had stars, his teams have been trademarked by being fundamentally sound and not having to rely on one player to win games.
That’s the plan Budenholzer is following, and it is working. The Hawks have a lot of very good players, and point guard Jeff Teague might be their star. After years of wanting a true point guard, the Hawks have one with Teague, who is averaging 17 points and seven assists per game.
Then there’s Paul Millsap, a solid player for many years with Utah who has become even better in Atlanta. Al Horford is the leader, the player who has been around the longest. He’s healthy now and is playing well.
Kyle Korver is the shooter. He’s getting more minutes than at any point in his career and is taking advantage of it. They also have solid defenders in DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha and a young, talented point guard in Dennis Schroder.
It’s just a good team, and yes, now that football season is over, we need to watch the Hawks. While they have the best team in the East right now, there is still a lot of basketball to be played. We all know how long the playoffs are, but Atlanta is starting to get attention around the league as a team that might be good enough to really make a run.
Remember, this franchise never has had a team reach the conference finals. Never. That’s a long time. And to think the Hawks, without a true star marquee player, are in position to be serious contenders is really exciting. No, the Eastern Conference is not great, but maybe that opens the door for Atlanta to become the great team to emerge during the long playoffs.
All those years the Hawks had good teams -- like in the 1980s with Wilkins, Doc Rivers and Kevin Willis -- they were blocked by teams that had Hall of Famers like Larry Bird. Then it happened again in the 1990s when the Hawks had a nice nucleus of Mutombo, Smith and Mookie Blaylock. There was some guy named Michael Jordan who got in their way.
So maybe this is Atlanta’s time. Maybe no one is in Atlanta’s way now and it is the team to beat. It’s just up to us to finally take notice of a team that plays good basketball and might, just might, be special.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.