You know you have a little bit of a problem when your center rotation goes from Zaza Pachulia to Erick Dampier to occasionally Vladimir Radmanovic. Nothing spells bad defense quite the like the ladder two names and nothing says awful center rotation like the whole group.
I’m not going to sit here and rip on Zaza Pachulia, though. He’s been arguably my favorite Hawk since butting heads with Kevin Garnett in the 2008 playoff series. I respect his game and I respect his role on this team. He’s an energy guy. He’ll make tough plays, commit hard fouls, and piss off the opponent until they throw a ball at his back (that’s you, Big Z). With Al Horford out for the rest of the regular season, Pachulia has expanded his role and adapted rather well to the overall situation he’s put in. He’s rebounding at a pretty consistent clip and he’s never been given enough credit for his craftiness around the hoop, which is starting to show even more. He’s no Horford on defense, but he thrives off of contact. To blame Zaza Pachulia for the Hawks recent struggles down low is foolish, because we were thrown in quite the pickle after Al went down (for a good read on just how important Pachulia has been, check out Michael Cunningham’s AJC Hawks blog).
However, the Hawks had a few chances to remedy their situation to a certain degree. There was talk of signing Kenyon Martin, which I was extremely intrigued by. Kenyon Martin isn’t good anymore, I know that, but you can bet your grandma I’d take him over the sessile Erick Dampier. Martin took a visit to Atlanta and stopped by Philips Arena to talk with the team. He ultimately decided on the glitz and glam that now is the “Lob City” Clippers, and it’s not like I can blame him for the Hawks struggles down low, either. If I had no affection for the Hawks and I was a free agent, there is no doubt in my mind I would choose to play with Chris Paul over Jeff Teague.
If it’s not Pachulia’s fault, Martin’s fault, or even Erick Dampier’s fault, then the blame has to lay on someone or something else. It’s the management and ownership. I’ve always been the ASG’s and Sund’s harshest critic, but they really dropped the ball this short off season. Al Horford said repeatedly in training camp something along the lines of “I know we’re looking for more bigs” or “we sure could use a few more bigs.” Every time he was asked what the team was looking for, he was looking for help. Heaven forbid he gets injured, what would our big man rotation look like, right? Well heaven did not forbid, Horford went down, and now we’re stuck in a predicament because Atlanta management refused to go over the luxury tax in the offseason to get an extra abled body down low. Who knows, if management would have listened to their star player’s very reasonable request for a big man to opposite him, Horford might not even be injured at all. Guys like Samuel Dalembert, Kwame Brown, or even Josh McRoberts were sitting there in Free Agency ripe for the picking, but we refused to make a move. I understand crossing the luxury tax threshold is a scary thing for a team. Owners don’t want to pay that tax, but if it comes at the expense of truly competing then I’m all for it.
I’m not ready to burn Sund and the ASG at the stake though, because for some reason I’m in love with the completely unrelated Willie Green signing. They also have a chance to nab Kyrylo Fesenko who played for Utah last season. I have no idea how good or bad this guy is, but after seeing Jeremy Lin do his thing, taking a shot on a young guy who hasn’t had much of a shot doesn’t seem like the worst idea.
The Hawks were absolutely abused by the Grizzlies and the Lakers in the post in their games with them over the last week or two. Not only could they hardly get the ball inside, but they couldn’t stop Memphis or LA from getting the ball inside. Those are two of the NBA’s most talented front courts, but they completely destroyed and embarrassed our incredibly weak center rotation. I don’t blame the players we have. They’re doing everything they can. They’ve been put in a situation that they never expected to be in at the beginning of the season, and it certainly helps that Josh Smith is doing everything he can to defend his share of bigs and the paint as well. No blame falls on the players here, the blame falls on the management for putting these players in this situation. With such a thin front line, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were completely fatigued by the end of this track meet season and the start of the playoffs. Hopefully by then, Horford is back in full strength. Maybe next time they’ll listen to him.