Last night was "Rookie Season Ticket Holder Camp" at Philips Arena, so my friend Daniel and I, imbued by the promise of free dinner, attended. The evening featured an opening talk by Billy Knight, who assured us that we should not worry about the Hawks' 0-9 record (something tells me that, in his heart of hearts, Billy is not quite so confident,) and then a tour of the arena. After the talk, I cornered Billy to ask him about the Hawks' defensive issues. After stroking my ego by saying that my concerns about the inability of the Hawks' perimeter defenders from keeping the ball out of the lane were exactly what Mike Woodson had been harping on to the team, he explained that in the NBA, penetration is to be expected and that the key to defense is the four players away from the ball helping out and knowing their roles. Billy went on to say that our team is struggling because players are not performing their roles on defense and this is why young teams never win in the NBA. As the team plays together more and more and they learn how to function as a unit, they ought to play better defense. All valid points, I thought. I wanted to then ask about Kevin Garnett and whether Knight would consider taking a rebuilding shortcut by acquiring him, but the line of people behind me led me to believe that this would not be a good idea.
Knight comes across as a really nice guy. He also has a sense of humor. On one occasion, he mentioned the three tight losses that the Hawks have had in their 0-9 start and that they won't lose in the same ways again. "We might find new ways to lose, but we won't lose that way." He also said that he looks at every guy on the street who's taller than him (Billy is probably 6'10; he's definitely taller than Marvin Williams) and tries to decide whether that guy can help the Hawks in the middle. I resisted the urge to ask if that was how we came to acquire John Edwards. I also resisted the urge to tell him that if he gives up looking for size and instead opts for short and Jewish, then I'm his guy.
Knight was also fairly honest. He said that Tyronne Lue has had to play a lot because Josh Childress is struggling and they haven't been able to play Childress and Joe Johnson together. He said that Tony Delk isn't going to play much of a role because he's redundant with Salim Stoudemire. He said that New York has called to ask about Al Harrington and he doesn't want to make a deal with them because they have nothing he really wants (or more precisely, they weren't offering anything he really wants, because I'd have to imagine that he'd be interested in a Harrington for Channing Frye deal.)
Marvin Williams and Salim Stoudemire were also present last night and both seemed like friendly, out-going guys who weren't bothered by mingling with the fans. Daniel, a huge Carolina fan (and for the purpose of this blog, "Carolina" refers to the University of North Carolina, the Carolina that has actually won things in its history,) talked to Marvin for a while about the Heels and the need for the Hawks to involve him more in the offense. I tried to think about some kind of angle to discuss with either Marvin or Salim, but since my alma mater has ceased playing competitive basketball, there wasn't much to go on. ("Hey Salim, I saw your cousin torch Michigan at the Palace at Auburn Hills in November 1994.") Anyway, I think the Hawks have assembled some fairly rootable personalities, which will help if and when the team starts winning.
The Hawks being the Hawks, they had to screw something up and last night, they ran out of food so roughly half the assembled crowd did not get their free dinner. (On the bright side, we now know where the terminated employees from FEMA have ended up.) They did have some height-challenged lackey running around apologizing, but the comedy of seeing a 5'4 man stand next to a 6'10 NBA general manager was not enough to fill my angry stomach. The fact that the arena tour started in the concessions area ("which the NBA has rated as the best in the league for options and price!") did not sate the starving barbarian hordes. Nor did the tour of the player's lounge, which has a buffet area so the team chef can get the young players to eat something other than the Meatnormous, make me any happier. I'm still waiting for my free dinner! (G-d, that last sentence might have forever defined me as an Ugly American.)