Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The Atlanta Hawks are doing it right.
That sounds weird though, doesn’t it?
After unloading Joe Johnson’s heinous contract on the Brooklyn Nets after the 2011-12 season, general manager Danny Ferry began accumulating expiring contracts and good, cheap players. Rebuilding on the fly is never easy and is near-impossible in the NBA, but Ferry seems to have done just that.
One could quibble with calling Ferry’s task a true rebuild, with stars like Josh Smith and Al Horford on the roster last year. But anytime an organization trades their consensus (whether the consensus is true or not is another issue) best player on a max contract for spare parts, it’s difficult to argue with the term “rebuilding”.
When Ferry accepted the job as Atlanta’s general manager in June of 2012, he immediately and correctly identified his biggest problem: the four years and $75+ million still owed to Johnson. Pretty much the entire league understood that Johnson was being paid superstar money to be a borderline star at best, and Ferry took advantage of the Net’s desire to make a big splash prior to moving into their new home in Brooklyn and rolling out their new uniforms, etc.
He gladly took back a slew of expiring contracts, Houston’s lottery-protected first round pick in 2013, and a Brooklyn second-rounder in 2017, and exalted the jettisoning of the league’s worst contract. He rounded out the rest of last year’s roster with respectable signings and smart accounting moves, and the Hawks made the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. (For what it’s worth, they only won five games less than Brooklyn. Funny how these things tend to work out, isn’t it?)
The Hawks had an interesting off-season as well. In a widely-lauded move, Ferry brought aboard San Antonio’s top assistant coach, Mike Budenholzer, to run the squad in Atlanta. The Popovich coaching tree is vast, and Budenholzer seems likely to be the latest success story, as his roster sets up nicely in a weak conference and a fairly thin division.
Atlanta re-signed sharpshooter Kyle Korver, albeit to a steep four year, $24 million deal. While the going rate for long range specialists is at an all-time high, it’s still fair to call this a questionable cap decision. In addition, the Hawks matched Milwaukee’s offer to restricted free agent guard Jeff Teague, ultimately bringing him back on a four year, $32 million contract.
Teague is a very good player, and there is no doubt that he a quality starter at worst. But $8 million per year for a player that has never been terribly efficient as a starter and despite being just 24 years old, probably doesn’t have a whole lot more projectability left. It’s another iffy call, and Ferry made the decision to go ahead and re-clog all of the cap room that he worked so hard to clear just one calender year prior.
All that said, a rotation including Teague, Lou Williams, Paul Millsap (signed to a very-savvy two year, $19 million deal), Al Horford, Korver, Elton Brand (on another savvy contract — one year, $4 million), John Jenkins, and Gustavo Ayon is decidedly solid and extremely deep. In fact, the current roster seems to have a destiny very similar to the ‘Iso Joe’ Johnson squads of years past: yearly trips to the playoffs, possibly the second round, but never further.
They’ll get to the playoffs in a significantly different way than they did when they relied largely on Iso Joe, as Budenholzer will run an offense that is predicated more on movement and cutting, and the current personal will fit that style nicely. The Hawks will surprise with how solid they are, but they’ll ultimately lack the firepower to do too much damage in the playoffs.
Best Case Scenario
This is a good, solid team. They’ll beat up in-division foes Charlotte and Orlando, and should fairly easily best Washington as well. It’s very hard for me to see them finishing lower than sixth in the conference, with the Knicks and Nets being the teams they could move ahead of en route to the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
I’ll say 50-53 wins is a best case, but that could be enough for the fourth seed. They could squeak into the third spot depending on Chicago’s reintroduction to Derrick Rose, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on that.
Worst Case Scenario
I know I said that the sixth seed seems to be their destiny, but I feel pretty confident in saying that Atlanta’s worst case still involves them making the postseason. Detroit, Cleveland, and Toronto are the teams that will likely be on the Hawks’ heels, but Atlanta shouldn’t have a problem holding that trio off.
They won’t win less than 44-47 games, and I’d say that a seven or eight seed would be as poorly as they’ll finish.
Most Likely Outcome
There isn’t a very large range between their best and worst case scenarios, but assuming relative health, this team seems destined for a fifth or sixth seed, and somewhere between 48-51 wins. If they can manage the fourth seed, they’ll have a shot at the second round of the playoffs, but it won’t be an easy go of it against the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
|Atlanta Hawks (13)|
|Toronto Raptors (22)||Cleveland Cavaliers (17)||Washington Wizards (19)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Detroit Pistons (18)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
Philadelphia 76ers (30)
|Milwaukee Bucks (20)||Orlando Magic (27)|
|Denver Nuggets (15)||Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Portland Trail Blazers (16)||Sacramento Kings (25)||New Orleans Pelicans (14)|
Utah Jazz (29)
Phoenix Suns (28)
|Dallas Mavericks (21)|