Around the NBA: 01/25/11
To sit and wait, and wait in the virtual waiting room is an unenviable task. For those unfamiliar with the process, the virtual waiting room (or VWR for its miserable inhabitants) is the room one virtually waits in when tickets go on sale for a concert or an upcoming sports season. There is no precise moment as to how long one has to stay in the room. In my limited exposure to such a painstaking process, I found it difficult to stay interested in a wait that had no definitive ending time. Though I've never seen what the virtual waiting room looks like, my assumption is the room has three-year-old issues of Golf Digest on the coffee table and a sound system that plays only Phil Collins, Rod Stewart, and Sting.
Certain organizations, in initial attempts to step out of the throes of irrelevance will find their team in a virtual waiting room. They've drafted solidly (but didn't have the good fortune of the number one overall pick), made sound trades (but not organization-changers), and are a relatively fun team to watch. Said team comfortably glides into the fourth or fifth seed in their respective conference each year. No one picks said team to advance to the conference finals, let alone playing for the LOBT.
Yes, that group of tall men huddled in the corner of the virtual waiting room as you anxiously wait for your Michael Buble tickets are the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks have been consistently competitive these past four seasons. One rung below the Eastern Conference super powers of the Celtics, Magic, and until this season, the Cavaliers, the Hawks were the dog that no matter how athletic, how entertaining, never had quite enough to catch its tail, or advance to the conference finals.
There exists a collective anticipation for the Hawks to take that next step. Joe Johnson is a great shooter. Josh Smith is athletic dominance personified in the post. Marvin Williams is a matchup nightmare. Al Horford is a junkyard dog as a power forward. Jamal Crawford can fill it up with anyone. Yes, the chorus of each mainstay's attributes as a basketball player has been defined. The sum of the parts are good, and I'll even give you very good should you favor the annoying craft of arguing semantics, but this identifier cannot be disguised as greatness. Their inability to attain superiority in failing to take that next step is enough to make that distinction.
So what will it take to break down the door in this VWR for the Hawks to play in a touchstone series that really matters?
To their credit, the Hawks explored different options. Gone was head coach Mike Woodson after the team's loss to Orlando in the conference semi-finals. In came assistant Larry Drew to assume the head coaching position. Drew was an assistant on the Hawks since 2004. He is certainly familiar with the team and has seen players like Smith and Horford develop. The hope was to remove the stagnancy that characterized the last two years of the Woodson era.
The results haven't fleshed themselves out just yet. Drew's in his first year and has the Hawks in the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Do I detect a hint of Mike Woodson in the team's record?
On the player personnel side, the team, in anticipation of leaving the dance without a date, any date, signed Johnson to a maximum contract last offseason. Johnson is a good shooter with solid range who can put up 40, given enough open looks and sagging defenders, but can you, with good faith, ever say Joe Johnson has the possibility to be the best player on an NBA Championship team? He is the ideal compliment to a player like LeBron, or Durant, but he's being paid to play like the best player on a championship team.
The best medicine at this point is tinkering. Yes, a meddlesome and wasteful practice for a team on the rise, tinkering is the elixir for a squad in traction, the same squad that has drained all the talent and chemistry from its existing core of players. The Hawks have to take a chance on an expiring contract for the short-term. Work the Rubik's Cube by trying to catch lightning in a bottle and find the right mix of players for the last few months of the season, like the Suns did to land Shaquille O'Neal in the 2008 season. I'll always credit Steve Kerr for making the move. Tired of being relegated to elimination in the second or third round, Kerr made a move he prefaced by saying he would either look like a genius or an idiot after. The results weren't flattering, but Kerr's goal was explicit: win the NBA Championship.
Should the opportunity present itself for the Hawks, make a move to go for it all. Who wants to play for second? The worst thing imaginable is to stand pat. Standing pat brought the Hawks to this level. What's the point of huddling around the table without rolling the dice? After three seasons, those chairs in the virtual waiting room must be getting pretty uncomfortable about now, and really, how many times can you listen to "Two Hearts" without wanting to put your head through a storm door?
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.