The Hawks Have a Perception Problem

Two years ago, the Hawks were sitting pretty as the best team with the best record in the Eastern Conference. The only thing to ruffle their feathers was the Thabo Sefolosha broken leg by cop injury. And the collective media shout that no way, no how, hell would have to freeze over before they beat LeBron James.

In the first round of the 2015 playoffs, the Hawks struggled with an underwhelming Brooklyn Nets team with an outdated and marginalized Deron Williams. In the second round, they let Paul Pierce get off a couple of last second shots but they prevailed in D.C. when Pierce’s last second bomb missed. In the Eastern Conference Finals, everything that was predicted was true. They couldn’t stop LeBron James. They couldn’t stop J.R. Smith. There was that dirty play by Matthew Dellavedova on Kyle Korver, ending his playoffs. There was the injury to DeMarre Carroll that set the Hawks back on offense and defense. They had no answer for the Cavs star players and size and it wasn’t much of a series.

That summer, the Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll to free agency. In back door channels, they were peddling Jeff Teague. They acquired Tiago Splitter but he wasn’t much of an impact and was injured and then gone via trade.

They let Jeff Teague go via trade. They let Al Horford go when they wouldn’t pay him a 5th year. They put a lot of their marbles in the Dennis Schroder basket.  And Dwight Howard. They overpaid Kent Bazemore. They traded in-season Kyle Korver and weren’t paying attention to MIke Dunleavy’s career. For some reason they thought he would magically transform.  Their focus this past season was much different than their 60 win year when everything was pretty much sewn up and they were waiting for the playoffs to begin. They had no such luxury. They lost in the first round, wouldn’t play Howard in the 4th quarter and he grumbled and griped as he likes to do. Then he was traded for a bag of chips. Paul Millsap, the heart of the team, was allowed to walk.

What are you doing Atlanta?

Rebuilding. But in a messy way that has zero cohesion. It’s difficult to make sense of what type of team they want. Up-tempo or deliberate. Their pieces, individually, may fit. But as a collective unit they are struggling for an identity.

Add in to this mix a lawsuit by a member of the security team who alleges that black celebrity performers were treated differently than white performers and that he was fired for racial reasons. The Hawks vehemently deny it but at this point it doesn’t really matter.  The Hawks history has yet to disappear into thin air, one in which black customers were singled out by former President Bruce Levenson who was a little bit ticked at too many black season ticket holders. In January, demoted GM Wes Wilcox made a “joke” about angry black women, using his wife as the bait. Not to mention the Danny Ferry-Luol Deng tempest. It creates a portrait of a franchise that struggles internally and externally. The Hawks already have a causal fanbase. Last season, the only teams with worse home attendance than the Hawks were Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Minnesota and Denver.  Hawks home games had 85% capacity.

Nothing the Hawks are doing this off-season is giving anyone confidence they know right from left. Dewayne Dedmon  doesn’t really matter but they’ll celebrate his inclusion off the free agent pile. They let Tim Hardaway Jr. walk instead of overpaying him $71 million, so perhaps that was their big free agent splash. Subtraction because of money. But then again, waiving Mike Dunleavy was a plus. Someone upstairs is keeping a tight fist on the purse strings.

Isn’t it funny (or ironic) that it took years for the Hawks to build a team that could win 60 wins. And it took two years to tear it to pieces. Of that team, no one is left.

What is left is expected to win 36.5 games according to Vegas. Not good enough to make the playoffs. Not bad enough for a top-5 pick. So no-man’s land for the Hawks, the seven rings of Dante’s Hell, which isn’t perception at all. But reality.

photo via llananba