Editor’s note: This is the debut piece from our newest staff writer, Han Vance. Han is a well-respected author across multiple platforms, and we’re excited to have him aboard. Welcome, Han!
I remember when Hawks games were all about the star players on the opposing teams all too well. As a parking regional manager working downtown at the time and a then-resident of the far flung Atlanta suburbs, a solo trip to Philips Arena was an excuse to avoid a lengthy commute as much as a game day experience. We never made the playoffs; we never contended. Then, we finally became a playoff team.
This team may crack the postseason again but does not smell like a contender to me with former Florida Gator great Al Horford gone for the year with a pectoral muscle tear (the second such injury he has had in his relatively short professional career, only this time he completely ripped the other “pec”, not a common sports injury).
Think of this: Hawks fans actually cheered when the team dumped the salary of clutch guard Joe Johnson. They cheered when the team let super athletic big man Josh Smith walk. The franchise has not been able to attract name free agents throughout history and appears incapable of filling the shoes of those well above average players. In a recent game played in England featuring the scoring of an entire soccer season, Joe dropped 26 first-half points on his former employer in a blowout Nets win.
Sitting in a corporate suite a few weeks back when the Splash Brothers were in town from Golden State, I wondered how the Hawks would ever get over the big hurdle. On a rare cold shooting night for Steph Curry, the Warriors were still able to eke out a late win. No current player on Atlanta’s roster has the national prestige of the sharpshooting Curry, while our city offers such an illustrious lifestyle to NBA players that I have heard it said roughly a third of the league owns at least one home in The ATL. Where is the clear disconnection in playing for the Atlanta home team?
Losing is contagious. Winning is contagious. That is why head coach Mike Budenholzer was brought here from San Antonio and how he somehow survived the career pratfall of a DUI. He coached for years in one of the best regimes in professional sports, under a proven winner. Gregg Popovich (the head man in San Antonio) has the longest tenure of any coach in pro sports, and his Spurs have the rings.
Looking across the league standings, the Spurs are again atop the West and were a miraculous three-pointer from Miami’s Ray Allen from another ring last year. ATL All Day will be covering the intriguing Friday night Spurs-Hawks tilt. Coming off an epic home win over the Miami Heat after a little slump, the Hawks may be at a turning point leading to a solid playoffs run this year. But another quick trip to the playoffs won’t generate much lasting excitement, and this team is probably not ready to advance.
My man “Ice Teague” is an emerging force at the point. Paul Millsap has played over his head since joining the Hawks, far exceeding limited fan expectations. Korver is a premium NBA marksman. Coach Bud has them playing hard and playing together. Get Horford back healthy and better than ever next year, and the team has a few good pieces. But can they ever get a dominant free agent to wear the blue and red?