Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hawks v. Celtics: Series Preview

Between travel and my pessimistic anticipation of the series against the Celtics I've got nothing accomplished here for days. Abandoned drafts of posts have piled up as tip-off approaches and it's come time where I have to make a choice, put fingers to keyboard, and hit "publish post."

If you want to read how the Hawks could possibly compete in this series, please read what I
wrote for the Hawks Blog Roundtable, convened by Micah Hart.

In short, the Hawks are not going to win this series. The Hawks are probably not going to win a game in this series. There are a variety of reasons for this, some to do with the Hawks and some to do with the Celtics. The Hawks are in the playoffs by virtue of several years of high draft picks making them sightly less bad of a basketball team than seven other Eastern Conference teams. The Celtics are in the playoffs because their organization demanded that they challenge for a championship. The Celtics took a more difficult path yet also achieved their goal with far more ease than did the Hawks.

I don't know precisely why the Hawks are as mediocre as they are. I've varied (as have you who have commented here over the course of the season) the primary direction of my frustration from players to the head coach to the general manager to ownership but there's no precise way to allocate responsibility. Mostly I go off of the last infuriating or disappointing thing I've read. There was plenty of that this week but I made a conscious decision not to create a post for each ridiculous thing I read someone associated with the Hawks say, such as in 
Mike Woodson's interview with Sekou Smith:
Q. It's no secret you've had some dust ups with many of the players you've coached. In hindsight do you wish you'd have handled things any differently?

A. The one thing I would hope at the end of the day, if I'm here coaching or not coaching, is that those players respected me. None of these players can ever say that I didn't give them a chance to play and I wasn't fair. They might not have gotten as much playing time as they wanted to get. But they can't say I wasn't fair. Because I've played guys when they probably shouldn't have played, when they weren't even ready. And sometimes that can be detrimental to a player because if he's not ready and you play him you damage him for the rest of his career. So yeah, I've been tough. But I think when you're coaching a young team you've got to be tough. They might look at it as tough but I look at it as coaching.
The contradictory qualities of that answer shine through. I was fair (in that I played guys who shouldn't be playing). I was tough (as a substitute for teaching young players how to succeed). I gave young players chances (whether they deserved them or not, whether or not it would, in the grand scheme of things, hinder their development). That is the answer of a man lacking a plan and it provides insight into how this team is so rudderless.

Later in the same interview, Woodson reveals himself to be as shameless as he appears to be clueless:
Q. Do you think by making the playoffs you [and your staff] have made a case for new contracts that will allow you to continue the progress that's been made to this point?

A. No doubt. There's no doubt we made a case. When I took this job we vowed to get this team into the playoffs and we're in. Now I have no control over ownership and what their decision is. And I'm not going to sit here and strain myself and worry about it. My thing is, I hope, again, that my players respect what I've done and I hope they want me back. That's more important than anything else to me.
You can't pin the blame solely on Woodson. There's the waste of the 2005 and 2006 Drafts. This is a dysfunctional franchise. How is a Hawks fan (or more likely, someone considering investing their time and energy in becoming a Hawks fan) supposed to respond to Joe Johnson's quote following the loss to the Heat in the 82nd game:
"These games don’t matter. We accomplished our goal and these last two games, just throw them in the bag and don’t even worry about them. We just have to be ready to get up and go for the playoffs."
On the one hand, the players have accomplished something. Joe Johnson played on a 26-win team here. Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams have never played for a competent franchise. One has to look hard to find legitimate NBA players on the bench. 

On the other hand, how hard can you root for a team that's satisfied enough with 37 wins to express a sense of entitlement. It became a joke as he season progressed how the players and coaches would explain away almost every one of their 45 losses with some variation on "We weren't ready to play." or "We just didn't have the energy tonight." Now, they're going to take a few days off to celebrate the eighth-seed in the playoffs yet be ready to match the ready-to-get-up-and-go-ness of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce?

I could be wrong. I would gladly be wrong. But I don't think that once this series tips off at 8:30 EDT it will stay competitive for very long. The difference between to the two teams, both over the entire regular season and in their three
meetings this year is vast. I wrote after the second of those three games that Garnett combined the talents of Josh Smith and Al Horford while also adding a jump shot. Though I think that given the proper support from their organization, Smith and Horford could anchor a team that is competitive in at least the first round of the playoffs as early as next year I fear we'll spend the next week watching a few talented, inexperienced players we've come to admire look, in the end, hopelessly outclassed.

Ballhype: hype it up!


Anonymous said...

The Celtics were as bad as the Hawks for many years. This year they made a bold, intelligent gamble in the trade market and the results speak for themselves. If Billy Knight had had the clue to draft Chris Paul instead of the bad joke that is Marvin Williams, the Hawks could be right there with the Celtics as one of the top 3 seeds in the east with an actual chance of making it deep in the playoffs.

Anyway I see reason for hope. The Hawks assuming they resign Josh Smith and Josh Childress have a core group that could consistently make the playoff. But they badly need a new coach who isn't scared to death of his players fouling out and will let his young bench players have playing time to develop instead of making Johnson and Bibby play 44 minutes a game. Oh and playing a bit of defense would help too.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I watched the first game. The Hawks were outclassed at every position for nearly the entire game. I'm willing to hang it in for this season.

The commentary from TNT was amusing, at least. Made it obvious that national NBA broadcasters don't know Mike Woodson.

Anonymous said...

First game was pretty much as expected. The Hawks are exactly as much worse than the Celtics as their record indicates. Game 2 won't be any different. Best case scenario is the Hawks almost win game 3 before falling by 10 points in the last 3 minutes. Grats to the Hawks for finally making it back to the playoffs. Now get a real bench and a real coach.

Anonymous said...

Wow.... After watching this series go to a game seven, all I can say is your "Series Preview" serves as great comedy.