The Hawks are going to make the playoffs. No disrespect to Lawrence Frank and Dwane Casey, nor the organizations that made the sound decisions to hire them, but there are only ten teams I expect to try and make the playoffs in the East this season. Furthermore, I expect only two of those ten teams -- Miami and Chicago -- to be especially good, with a very compact group of teams finishing third through ninth in the conference.
I think the Christmas Day games lend early support to this opinion. Without Paul Pierce, the Celtics started Sasha Pavlovic and had Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, and Chris Wilcox in the rotation. The Knicks are concerned about replacing Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries. The Magic willingly traded Brandon Bass for Glen Davis, further weakening the supporting cast for (the possibly unsettled) Dwight Howard who might finish the season there. I'm not sure that Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Indiana aren't all going to finish ahead of at least one of Boston, New York, and Orlando.
So I'm optimistic about the Hawks for external reasons. And for internal reasons as well. The Hawks have two All-Star caliber players in the frontcourt, an essentially new two-way point guard, and two potentially above average wing players who should be healthier than last season. Yes, the bench is old and, until Kirk Hinrich returns, pretty much lacks anyone who can be counted on to do two things well every night but the bottom third of the Eastern Conference could be really terrible, thus allowing the Hawks, if* they take care of business, to marshal their strength for the sterner tests they'll face. Who knows, maybe Larry Drew's ability to make use of Jason Collins can extend to some of the other one-dimensional old players on the roster.
*a big if, I know
I anticipate the Hawks winning between 31 and 35 games. If they win more that, great, they'll probably be competing for the third seed in the East. That will be fun. If they win fewer than that, then the organization may finally have to come to terms with the work that needs to be done to create a championship-caliber team and decide to get a head start on the summer of 2013. Those efforts should be interesting in the short term and might provide the greatest long-term benefit to the franchise since Billy Knight drafted Al Horford.