The term “roller coaster” is an apt description of the last 12 months for the Atlanta Hawks. After losing to the Boston Celtics in an injury-ravaged first round effort, the Hawks hired a new general manager and simultaneously began an new era.
The Hawks started the offseason with 6 players under contract for 2012-13: Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. Those six players totaled over $58 millions dollars in committed salary for the season, exceeding the salary cap, and there would be a tight squeeze to use exceptions to fit in the remaining 7-9 players for less than $70 million dollars, the luxury tax level. No matter the outcome, it seemed like the Hawks would be locked into a simply a mediocre, non-championship level team for the upcoming 3-5 seasons.
Then, rumors of a blockbuster trade involving sending Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets began circulating on Twitter and other social media. Brooklyn was a team searching for pieces to entice Deron Williams to re-sign with his team of the past 1 ½ seasons. Seeing an opportunity to rid what looked to be a future albatross contract, the Hawks jumped on it, even if it meant having little to no return in the form of marginal players. The result was a massive clearing of future salary commitments, even if the sight of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams in different jerseys was rather jarring at first.
The draft for Atlanta had the common theme of older, college-seasoned entrants. John Jenkins of Vanderbilt and Mike Scott of Virginia both arrived in the Las Vegas Summer League with questions about the amount of playing time, or in the case of Mike Scott if he would make the final 15 man roster.
There were guards aplenty on the opening day roster, with the additions of Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson and Anthony Morrow in the offseason, which made for a difficult situation for Coach Larry Drew to appease all parties involved. The Hawks have endured injuries, trade rumors, and yet remain in the thick of the action in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks began the season ablaze, winning 20 of the first 30 games. Spirits were high in a roster that shared the ball and had many different offensive options that contributed nearly evenly. That was subsequently followed a by hapless 2-8 stretch, including the road game in Brooklyn where Lou Williams was knocked out for the rest of the season. Since then, it’s been a long, steady climb back up the standings, where the Hawks currently find themselves fifth behind only the Heat, Knicks, Pacers and Nets.
The result has been the sixth straight playoff appearance for the Atlanta Hawks, tied for the longest streak in the Eastern Conference. Despite this, there remains a glass ceiling that the Atlanta version of the franchise has yet to bust through. Forget the championship; can Hawks reach an Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in their almost 50 year history in Atlanta? It seems improbable, but the 8th seeded Philadelphia 76ers almost pulled that very feat last season. That’s why you watch the games.