In a comment to my post yesterday about the Hawks, LD opines that the Hawks should not be winning right now:
Count me among those who think the Hawks' winning streak is a bad thing. It's not lottery position they're costing themselves, it's having a lottery pick at all. They lose their own pick to Phoenix if it's not in the top 3. With Indiana looking like they'll make the playoffs, that means the Hawks only pick in the top 14 will be their own, and they'll only keep it if their ping pong balls put them in the top three. From the results of the last week or so, they've gone from having a 12% chance at the top pick to less than 8%. While that seems like a de minimis shift, the chances of getting the 2nd or 3rd pick also drop. A week ago, the Hawks were tied with the Bucks, Bobcats and Sixers with for the third worst record, and only a game or so behind the Celtics. Now, they're behind two of those teams (Praise Iguodala). So their chances of having no pick at all in the lottery have increased from somewhere around 60% to closer to 80%. I think when the issue isn't having "a worse pick" but rather having "any pick", winning meaningless games late in the year is even worse. Now would be a good time for a Pacers collapse though - so the Hawks could snag Acie Law with the 14th pick.
I am certainly not one of those people who is averse to rooting against my favorite teams. I've been rooting against Michigan's basketball team for just about this entire season because I didn't want them to get a meaningless #10 seed in the tournament, a result that would have been a failure when the program was living up to expectations, but would now be treated as the equivalent of UCLA winning eight straight titles because of the depths to which Michigan has fallen as the result of bad coaching. Tommy Amaker's resume going into this year made it abundantly clear that he is a below-average basketball coach and Michigan will never win consistently with him. Thus, for the long-term health of the program, Michigan needed a bad enough season that Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman would be forced to fire him. Hopefully, 8-8 in a lousy Big Ten and not even being on the bubble will be sufficient, but you never know. I digress.
With that background out of the way, I am decidedly in favor of the Hawks continuing to win games, even if that decreases the chances of the team retaining its first round pick. If you assume counter-factually that the Hawks would have lost the last four games instead of winning them, they would have a 13.75% chance of winning the lottery, whereas right now they have a 4.3% chance of winning it. Thus, their winning streak has cut their chance of winning the lottery significantly, but keep in mind that their chances of winning the lottery were very small to begin with, even if they kept losing and finished with the third-worst record in the NBA. The NBA structures the lottery odds in such a way that the incentives to tank a season are not that great. Also, with four additional losses, the Hawks still would only be 1.5 games worse than Milwaukee or Charlotte, so their margin for error in retaining the 13.75% chance would be minimal.
More importantly, the Hawks are currently at a stage of rebuilding in which they don't really need more young players. I'd be an idiot to say that they couldn't use Greg Oden or Kevin Durant (although the latter would force them to deal Marvin Williams or Josh Childress at a cut rate, not that this would be a terrible problem to have, given Durant's talent). That said, the rest of the players in the Draft are good, but not so wonderful that they would change the Hawks' fortunes significantly. This is all about Oden and Durant and the Hawks' shot at either of them goes from long to longer by virtue of the recent winning streak.
Set against that marginal change in the odds is the fact that the Hawks' young players need to learn how to win. The young nucleus of Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Zaza Pachulia, Marvin Williams, and Josh Childress needs to develop confidence. Johnson's calf injury has turned out to be a blessing because the other young players are forced into greater roles with Johnson out and they're learning that they are capable of filling those roles quite well. This is a significant development for the team. With the teams in front of them all in various stages of free fall, a playoff bid isn't out of the question and that would be a major development for these players and this franchise. It's been so long since the Hawks were on top of the sports radar in this town for anything good. A strong finish to the season would change that. A strong finish would also make the team more attractive to players on other teams in the NBA, so the Hawks wouldn't have to overpay dramatically to acquire future Joe Johnsons. The team needs 1-2 established players more than it needs talented 19-year olds.
In the end, this is really more of an emotional issue for me than anything else. I went to ten games in 2004-5 when the Hawks won 13 all year. I went to 19 games in 2005-6 the Hawks won 26. I've lived through the never-ending rebuilding process. Now that the process is finally starting to bear fruit, I'm simply incapable of not enjoying the team playing well. Maybe that means that I'm being irrational about the negatives of the Hawks winning four in a row, but I'm having a hard time divorcing myself from the excitement of a bunch of young players maturing into the sort of players that we all hoped they could be. (I'm really thinking of Josh Smith here.)
All that said, my experience as a Hawks fan requires me to recite one of my favorite exchanges from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at this stage:
Walter Donovan: As you can now see, Dr. Jones, we are on the verge of completing a quest that began almost two thousand years ago. We're just one step away.
Indiana Jones: That's usually when the ground falls out from underneath your feet.