Monday morning, on November 5th, it was reported that the Hawks couldn't reach an agreement with Jeff Teague on an extension. The Hawks' 19th overall draft pick in 2009, Teague is just one sentence from the writing on the Phillips Arena walls. The Hawks are starting to look like a rebuilding project.
The trading away of Joe Johnson immediately comes to mind. As prolific an offensive weapon as he was for Atlanta, Johnson's loaded contract ($90 million over next four seasons) not only justified the move, but was received as more of a breath of fresh financial air. General manager Danny Ferry joined Atlanta's front office about a week before the trade was reported. As such, he was seen as something of a http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2012/07/02/joe-johnson-gone-marvin-g ne-danny-ferry-a-keeper/">hero by local media. Not long afterward, Ferry managed to send Marvin Williams to Utah. The key in both trades was not in the value of the talent that Atlanta got in return. One imagines the Hawks’ ledger lightened drastically after relieving themselves of Johnson’s contract, but they received even more cap space by way of a few expiring contracts. Marvin Williams had become less and less about “high potential” and more about hopeless optimism. After two productive seasons (‘07-’08, ‘08-’09), Williams never sustained his 14.8 ppg. Instead, Williams would prove underwhelming in his last three years as a Hawk, never crossing the 11 ppg barrier.
Johnson’s contract was a financial bane and Williams used up the Hawks’ organization’s patience with him. Taking on the likes of Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, and DeShawn Stevenson, Atlanta came away practically floating in weightless glee.
Underscoring all of this was a notable shift of focus towards the future. Josh Smith bolded this shift when he decided not to sign an extension with the Hawks before the early season deadline. Important to note here is that Atlanta’s all star forward didn’t outright pack it in. Nonetheless, the simple fact that Smith’s departure now looks more likely put a Bob Dylan voice to those Philips Arena walls: The times, they are a’changin!
Just as consistent as his head-scratch inducing shot selection has been Smith’s excellence at the dual role that is Atlanta’s defensive anchor and offensive high-flier. With his stat-stuffing ability and athleticism, Smith is as foundational a piece in the NBA as it gets. As such, he presents to other teams in the league an opportunity to snatch from the Hawks a rare commodity: the do-it-all NBA forward.
Atlanta hasn’t just been looking good on the accounting side of things. The team has held on to their now fully healed star Al Horford. Though last season saw him injured for the majority of the year, the forward from the University of Florida put together an eye-opening 2010-2011 campaign (15.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1 bpg). The Hawks also acquired free agent Lou Williams during the off season. The Hawks are just two games into the NBA season, but the acquisition of Williams is already paying off. To add to the positivity, the Hawks also made a good choice on draft night, taking Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins with the 23rd pick. Though Jenkins now plays behind Jeff Teague and Lou Williams, the possible departure of Teague would likely shift Williams to a more PG-focused role off the bench. Even if Williams were to start at shooting guard, 2nd strong would be Jenkins’ to lose. Given a bit of freedom, the dead-eye shooter out of Vanderbilt can endear himself to the Atlanta faithful and to his coaches.
Negatives, positives, non descripts, they all seemingly point to the same conclusion: the Hawks are starting over.