Atlanta Hawks: To Tank or Not to Tank?


Indianapolis, IN, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) reacts to a foul call in a game against the Indiana Pacers in game five of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Atlanta 106-83. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

When Chad Ford sent the tweet below late into the night on Tuesday (or Wednesday morning), the majority of America probably just kept right on going with whatever it is that was occupying their time. However, the legion (if I can use that word) of Hawks fans, writers, and pundits was sent into a virtual frenzy by these words:

If you are like me, your first reaction to any implication of “tanking” from this version of the Hawks was “WHAT?!” and I wouldn’t blame you. After all, there has been palpable buzz around the team with the hiring of Mike Budenholzer (and the deification of Danny Ferry), $30 million in cap space, and the pursuit of Dwight Howard, among other free agents. Yes, there is a big drop-off in the free agent pool after Chris Paul, who is already heading back to LA, and Dwight Howard, but it seems inconceivable that the team with the most cap room to play with would simply sit back and tank the season.

For starters, the Hawks currently employ the services of Al Horford, and in my opinion, he would single-handedly submarine any tanking effort. This is a positive about Horford (in case that was unclear), as he is unquestionably a guy who is incapable of “coasting’, and because he’s a top-25 player in the league in my estimation, I can’t fathom a full-on tank job without an injury to Horford. In addition, wouldn’t it be a massive slap in the face to your best player who is signed on a very team-friendly contract to basically tell him to wait another year before competing?

Secondly, the concept of tanking, as a general principle, is very tough to swallow. We won’t dive into the fan dynamic of having to actually watch a terrible product all season, and the subsequent dive in the already oft-discussed attendance. Instead, I will remind you that even if the Hawks accrued the worst record in the NBA (which won’t happen while Al Horford is alive), the team would still only have a 25% chance of winning the Andrew Wiggins lottery. Twenty-five percent! For reference, go out and ask a diehard Boston Celtics fan how the 1997 Draft lottery worked out for them, and see if they don’t punch you in the face.

Chad Ford is most certainly working off of information that he has received from NBA insiders, but I would doubt (to the extreme) that anyone in the Hawks organization is openly discussing tanking. There are too many quality free agents (Pekovic, Millsap, Iguodala, etc.) on the market aside from Howard to just punt the rest of the process, and even if the Hawks simply brought Jeff Teague back and inked a reasonable big man (or sign-and-traded Josh Smith for Omer Asik), that’s a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference no matter what the rest of the ensemble is.

While any vision of Andrew Wiggins gliding along the wing in a Hawks uniform is a fun thought, I believe it would be highly unwise to throw away a prime season in Al Horford’s career and saddle a first-time head coach with a “tank”-level roster. We’ll find out soon enough.