Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Silver Lining

I look forward to John Hollinger articles about the Hawks because Hollinger has a statistically-oriented approach and he’s that rarest of national writers who shows more than a passing interest in the local professional basketball collective.  Hollinger is typically pessimistic realistic about the Hawks and he has written some of the best criticism of Atlanta Spirit, so it was something of a surprise to see this title to his article the morning after the Hawks took their umpteenth whuppin’ of the season, thus ending an unexpectedly interesting playoff run. 

The main focus of Hollinger’s optimism is the fact that Jeff Teague emerged in the series against the Bulls.  The prospect of playing Derrick Rose brought the best out of Teague.  Whether Teague genuinely improved this spring or this ability has always been present and the Hawks haven’t mined that talent, we’ll never know.  Hollinger describes the possibilities that Teague now provides:

In doing so, this also opens up new options for the Hawks that we hardly saw all season. Atlanta can play Teague at the point, Kirk Hinrich at shooting guard and Joe Johnson at small forward -- a look that puts a top-notch scorer, a defensive ace and a penetrating, ball-pushing point guard on the court at once. Or the Hawks can roll with a Teague-Jamal Crawford-Johnson triumvirate (if Crawford returns) on the perimeter that even the defensive-minded Bulls struggled to match up against at times.

Every since Billy Knight first assembled this team, the vision was for a young, athletic team that could get up and down the floor and score in transition.  In part, the Hawks have never been good enough defensively to make that happen, but they have also lacked the right point guard to run.  Is Teague finally that guy?

Hollinger also points out that the possible move of the Thrashers to Winnipeg could have benefits for the Hawks in two respects:

Heck, even the hockey news might be good news for the Hawks. Sure, it’s not exactly positive for a city’s sports reputation when its history entails losing franchises to both Alberta and Manitoba, but the financial constraints that have limited some of the Hawks’ dealings in recent years could perhaps ease a bit if they can (A) unload the money pit called the Thrashers and (B) eliminate some of the competition for Hawks seats. (For the record, an owner I spoke with had nothing to add beyond “we’re looking for solutions” when asked about the rumored move of the NHL’s Thrashers to Winnipeg.)

I had always thought about the potential loss of the Thrashers as a negative for Atlanta Spirit because it lowers the value of their operating rights of Philips Arena to have one major tenant instead of two, but I can see the counter.  First, Atlanta Spirit will get an infusion of cash from the sale, which gives them the ability to spend on the Hawks this off-season.*  Second, they can focus all of their energies on one team.  (Whether that’s a good thing is another matter entirely.)  Third, Philips Arena is a cashcow for concerts, so maybe having more available dates will be a net positive.  Fourth, the owners will stop bleeding money on the hockey team.  They’re bleeding money because of their own mismanagement of the Thrashers, but to paraphrase William Munny, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.  This market is big and diverse enough to support both an NBA and NHL team, but if it has to choose between the two, I’ll take the NBA.  The city has an established African-American elite and middle class rivaled only by New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and DC.  It ought to have an NBA franchise for which making it to the sixth game of the conference semifinals isn’t a massive accomplishment.

* – The difference between the Hawks and Bulls wasn’t so much in the starting fives.  Chicago had the best player on the court, but the Hawks have a more balanced lineup.  The differences came in all of the accoutrements that a spendthrift owner will buy, namely a coveted head coach and quality pieces on the bench.  If the Hawks would have signed Tom Thibodeau last summer and the Bulls would have gone for the cheap, internal option, how would this series have played out?  As a practical matter, Thibodeau wouldn’t have been a stylistic change from Mike Woodson (although he’s obviously better at coaching defense) and therefore would have been an unlikely option (not to mention the fact that the Hawks wouldn’t have had the “come coach Derrick Rose” selling point), but the point remains that the Hawks went cheap on the coach.

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