The Last Word With Lang Whitaker | May 1, 2008

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam
Magazine, a columnist for, and most importantly, a
die-hard Hawks fan. For 2007-08 , Lang will be sharing his
thoughts on the team in an exclusive column for Check
back every Wednesday throughout the season to read his latest
musings, and read him every day at

"Turning The Corner"
by Lang Whitaker

Lang Whitaker

  • We Gotta Compete - 04/24/08
  • Out
    For Revenge
    - 04/16/08
  • Get Fired Up! - 04/10/08
  • A
    Change In Culture
    - 04/02/08

  • Time To Grow Up
    - 03/26/08

  • Defense Must Improve
    - 3/20/08

  • Hawks Haven't Quit
    - 3/12/08
  • A
    Big Week Ahead
    - 3/5/08

  • It's Billy's Call
    - 2/27/08
  • The
    - 2/21/08

  • Horford For ROY
    - 2/13/08

  • Shaking Things Up
    - 2/06/08

  • What To Do?
    - 1/30/08
  • A
    Frustrated Fan
    - 1/23/08
  • I'd
    Be A Good Coach
    - 1/16/08

  • Fans Like Job?
    - 1/9/08

  • Climbing The Ladder
    - 1/3/08
  • A
    Holiday Poem
    - 12/27/07

  • Dude's A Keeper
    - 12/19/07

  • Smoove Maturing
    - 12/12/07
  • We
    Need JJ
    - 12/5/07
  • The
    Facts Of Life
    - 11/28/07
  • A
    Jazz Ensemble
    - 11/21/07

  • Still Baby Birds
    - 11/14/07

  • A Good 1-2
    - 11/07/07

  • Why I Am Here
    - 10/31/07
  • Well, I didn't see that coming. Come on, tell the truth: You had no idea that
    was going to happen either. After the Hawks got pounded in Games 1 and 2 up in
    Boston, even I, perhaps the universe's most optimistic Hawks fan, didn't think
    the Hawks were going to be able to win one game against Boston, much less even
    up the series.

    But they did it. Somehow, some way, by hook or by crook, the Hawks managed to
    beat Boston twice, convincingly. I was lucky enough to be in Atlanta for both
    games. As I drove up to Philips Arena about three hours before Game Three, I saw
    a bunch of people walking down Marietta Street wearing Hawks jerseys and hats,
    something I don't remember seeing since back in the late '90s. Seriously? Was
    this really happening? The city was getting back on board with the Hawks.

    I can't really blame the casual fans for turning their backs the last few years,
    because as this crew has come together, the Hawks haven't been much fun to
    watch. That changed for good in
    The Hawks made play after play against the best defensive team in the NBA.
    Zaza stood
    up to KG
    , Josh Smith looked like he was
    back in the
    dunk contest
    and Mike Bibby shook off his Boston blues and led his team
    like a veteran point guard should. Plus, The Highlight Factory was rocking.
    After Game Three ended I escaped to the relative quiet of the Hawks locker room,
    and I noticed my right ear was almost completely deaf, like I'd been seated by
    the speakers at a Li'l Wayne concert. You know the Celtics weren't expecting to
    be confronted like that.

    We also can't say enough about Joe Johnson, who has literally carried this team
    for three years and deserves more than one game like his

    Game Four performance
    . And he definitely deserved better than to have
    Dick Bavetta saddle him with a questionable second foul early in Game Five last

    Our Hawks may have lost Game Five, but I truly believe we turned a corner over
    the last week. NBA teams generally don't improve by leaps and bounds
    instantaneously -- it takes one guy learning how to defend a pick and roll,
    another guy improving his jumper, this guy getting stronger, that guy figuring
    out how to pass out of double-teams. Those pieces continue to mesh and improve,
    and slowly but surely, NBA teams get better. Or you can mortgage your future and
    get better immediately, like Boston did, while simultaneously acknowledging that
    three years from now your team is going to be bereft of stars and draft picks. I
    prefer trying to build for something long-term, and that's the way Atlanta
    Spirit has been going about their business.

    Building for the future, however, is going to take some spending this
    summer...wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. We'll get into that stuff next week.

    For now, tomorrow night in Atlanta is Game Six, and the Hawks have a legitimate
    chance of tying this series up. That'll leave a Game Seven on Sunday in Boston.
    And in one game, as the Hawks have proved time and again, anything and
    everything can happen.

    I'm hoping for a Game Six win so we can take it back to Boston for Game Seven
    and have our own damn tea party.

    But here's hoping the Hawks can make this one a sweet tea party.


    Reader Mitch writes...

    Longtime Hawks fan, going back to the St. Louis days of '67!

    What a long drought it's been, in all ways. Oy.

    Watching the Boston Massacres of recent days brought back indelible memories of
    the last significant Hawks/Celtic tilts played at the garden, from the Dominique
    Era. Those teams, on occasion, gave the Boston Five as much as they could
    handle, but ... the Bad Guys always came out on top. Those road rims seem to
    repel Hawks' FG attempts in an uncanny way. Whatever offense the team was
    running often ended up with 'Nique getting swarmed with nowhere to go, forcing
    up a terrible shot. The athletic, running, high-flying team that I loved -- so
    successful during the late 80's regular seasons -- was ill-suited for the
    precision, half-court style that wins out in the playoff grind. (That's a polite
    way of saying the Hawks underachieved in the playoffs ... whether against the
    Celtics or the Pistons).

    Then that team was no more. And things changed ... changed some more ... and
    slowly got much, much worse.

    But now ... a return to the Playoffs! Strike up the band! Unfurl the banners!
    Declare a city holiday! Right?

    This current team has in no way come close to giving anything resembling
    competition so far. Watching them on TV -- a rare event in Chicago -- was
    anything but pleasant; a reminder of how ugly the NBA game has de-evolved. Maybe
    my standards are too high (Jordan-era Bulls spoiled a lot of hoops fans around
    here?), but just to reach the Playoffs with a 36-46 record (or whatever it was),
    and play so poorly, in this paltry eastern division, is an achievement that has
    to be kept in perspective. My hoops fan friends, who barely know any players on
    the Hawks roster, are stunned at how poorly they played. Even against arguably
    the best in the East. I assure them that they occasionally do look like a
    quality team ... but not now.

    This playoff thing, such as it is, is a step. But there are many more to come.

    Thanks for writing in, Mitch. And I hope you liked Games 3 and 4 as much as you
    disliked 1 and 2.

    Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and
    writes daily at
    . He can be reached at
    The best email he receives each week will run in this column.