The Hawks season quietly ended last night with a 98-84 loss to the Orlando Magic. Gone is the feel good of a 53 win regular season and all that is left remaining are unanswered questions heading into the off season. The Hawks gave a better effort in game four, gone was a lot of the laziness and lackadaisical attitude that led them to be booed by their home crowd in game three.
Still the Hawks flaws were on full display in game four. The highly iso driven offensive system that is employed by the Hawks offensively is a complete and utter failure. Ultimately the lack of imagination on the offensive end has been as big a factor as any in the Hawks demise this postseason. When not in an iso, they ran the same pin down play for Joe Johnson over and over clearly signifying that they didn’t have anything else to throw at the Magic.
Defensively the Hawks were systematically taken apart by the Magic’s offensive execution. The Magic run their system flawlessly where the extra pass is made routinely. We are not just talking about two passes in a possession, instead we are talking about sometimes five or six passes. They are crisp and they are with a purpose and the defense is exploited and taken advantage of routinely. Of course it helps to have Dwight Howard in the low post but the difference in Stan Van Gundy’s system and Mike Woodson’s system in this series is like comparing Duke’s offensive system to a grade school team. The Magic shot 16 of 37 from three point range. They take the ball to the basket or they get a good look at a three which is clearly more efficient than shooting dribble created twenty one foot jump shots that the Hawks are so proficient at.
Many questions will face this Hawks team during this off season. The first of which will be made on Mike Woodson and whether or not the Hawks will offer him an opportunity to come back. At this point I would have to think that is highly unlikely scenario. Offensive and Defensive schemes aside, usually when a team stops giving effort then the writing is on the wall for the coach. The Hawks were beaten in this series by an average of 25 points. They completely stopped playing in games one and three. You can’t have that as a professional team. Even a high school coach isn’t going to survive when his team starts to do that with regularity.When you also factor in the Hawks always seemed to be behind the other team scheme wise then all signs point to a new fresh start from the bench. I would love to see a high level coach give this team an identity. Sadly because of the other questions surrounding this team that may not ever happen.
The second question focuses on Joe Johnson. Joe is a free agent this season in one of the biggest years for free agents. During the regular season I was sure that right or wrong the Hawks were going to bring back Joe Johnson no matter what the cost. There is now some doubt surrounding that. However, I am not ready to say that this team doesn’t need Joe Johnson. National pundits and my contemporary bloggers may laugh at me for this but the fact is the Hawks unless a sign and trade happens can’t replace Joe Johnson. Sure Jamal Crawford could be placed into the starting lineup but that completely obliterates the bench. Sorry Hawks fans you don’t get better by letting Joe walk.
Now with that said I am not for nor have I ever been giving Joe a max contract extension. At his age and wear and tear that contract would become an albatross to the Hawks by its end. Joe’s struggles in the playoffs have probably hurt his stock a little bit around the league and the Hawks will just have to sit back and see what kind of offers he gets. Will Joe turn down more money if it is to go to a rebuilding team? The only person that can answer that is Joe himself. I would have to believe that any new coach that the Hawks had would factor into that decision. That said I don’t see him taking a bigger contract with a rebuilding team like New Jersey rather than staying with the Hawks. Now if an up and coming team like Chicago comes calling then that is where the decision ultimately will come in.
The Hawks need to come to common ground with Joe on a contract. One that hopefully is beneficial to both parties. That may not even be possible given this seasons free agent landscape. Also we truly don’t know what Joe’s desires are now given his reaction to the boo birds at Phillips arena. Joe was booed the first time he touched the ball in game four and then again on his way off the floor. I wonder how many die hard fans were doing the booing. Or if the booing was coming from the less than supportive fan that only shows up at playoff time just to announce what is wrong with this team. While part of Joe’s struggles might have been of his own doing, I saw him placed in a variety of bad situations throughout the playoffs. I would like to see what he would do given a new coach with a plan on offense.
The third question I have will probably not be a common question in the blogosphere or in the national media but it surrounds Josh Smith. In my mind he backed up in the playoffs. In my mind he undid all of the progress he made throughout the regular season. Maybe the numbers didn’t back up but he took his effort or lack there of and constant pouting and crying to a new level. Now Josh is awarded a pass because he is young and he is from Atlanta. I give no such passes. It is no secret that there was or is a lack of respect between Josh and Mike Woodson and maybe that is the problem. Josh needs to keep in mind that right now everyone looks to Mike Woodson and Joe Johnson as the problems with this team. There is a good chance that one or perhaps both could be gone this off season. With their departure a whole new world of opportunity will open up for Smith as he will yet again be asked to take his game to another level. He just needs to remember that if it fails again next time it will fall squarely on his shoulders. A veteran coach is not going to put up with his defensive lapses and ill timed shot selection.
Thus is the theme of the off season. Uncertainty. If the coaching position does in fact open up then this is surely to be a desirable job for someone. The nucleus is young and with or without Joe, the young core of Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Jamal Crawford is not bad for a start. Hopefully this can still be a team on the rise. They need size and they need a point guard. They have pieces like Smith or Marvin Williams that could be used to acquire what is needed. Now all that remains is to see what path GM Rick Sund chooses. One things for certain though. The Off Season has begun.