Last Word with Lang - Hit First Every Night

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Hawks.com. Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com

Hit First Every Night
by Lang Whitaker

It was late Sunday night in Dallas, and the All-Star Game had just ended. In front of 108K people, the East had beaten the West, 141-139. Our own Joe Johnson, the guy who just a few years ago was being questioned as a franchise-level player, had started the All-Star Game and scored 10 points in 17 minutes.

Now, game over, Joe was sitting at a small table in a dining area underneath the stands. The NBA had turned the section into an interview room, and JJ was taking his turn fielding all kinds of wacky questions from people -- about the game, about the crowd, about which superpower he'd choose between having the ability to fly or invisibility. (For the record, Joe wondered why he couldn't have "both.")

With so many NBA people in one place for the weekend, and with the trade deadline looming, everyone spent the weekend chattering about the possibility of the Cavs making a trade. Amare? That was the hot rumor last weekend. Though as it has since turned out, they went for Antawn Jamison instead. Either way, everyone knew that even though the Cavs were the best team in the East, they were trying to make a move right now, to improve their team now because they couldn't really wait to let natural development run its course.

After a while, my main man Michael Cunningham from the AJC and I were the only two writers remaining there, deep inside the intergalactic Cowboys Stadium, around Joe. Mike asked JJ if he thought the other teams in the East besides Cleveland were going to make moves around the deadline.

"Probably not," said Joe. "The top teams, Boston and Orlando, they're pretty much set where they're at and feeling like they can win a championship with what they got."

I addressed the elephant in the Stadium and asked Joe the obvious follow-up question: What about the Hawks?

"I think we're solid," JJ said. "With what we've got, we've gotta be real scrappy and want it more than the next team. That's the only way we're gonna get over the top. We can't come out relaxed, being cool. We've gotta come out and hit first every night."

Solid's a good word to describe the Hawks. They haven't had a team this deep in recent memory, and they've managed to get guys to buy into roles and play their parts.

Now, I know some of you guys are frustrated that the Hawks didn't make any moves at the trade deadline, but, honestly, what did you want them to do? In some ways, Rick Sund already played the card that so many GMs are throwing on the table right now: Expiring contracts. Because there's such a huge free agent class this summer, and then the possibility of the CBA changing completely in 2011, a lot of GMs are trying to offload money right now. If you want to trade for a piece, GMs are willing to listen, provided you can give them an expiring contract in return that will come off their books. Going into this season, the Hawks had two of those expiring deals that were plum for trading: Acie Law and Speedy Claxton. Sund managed to swap those guys for Jamal Crawford, which I think all Hawks fans agree was a terrific trade. No, it wasn't a deadline deal -- it was better, it was a deal that let us have Jamal for the entire season.

I know Joe said he felt the Hawks are "solid" right now, and I agree. And I also understand that without any substantial expiring contracts, it's nearly impossible for the Hawks to do anything on the trade front.

HOWEVER! The one option that is available to the Hawks is signing one of these traded guys who is supposedly getting bought out -- a guy like Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Drew Gooden. Who wouldn't want one of these guys? They're bigs who can guard the rim, which, incidentally, is pretty much exactly what the Hawks could use off the bench. You don't have to give up anything to sign one, other than cash and a roster spot. We know the Hawks have a spare roster spot (two, actually). Now the question is whether the team feels it's financially worth it to try and sign one of these guys. And from what I hear, they might feel that way.

In a perfect world, I'd love to see something happen. But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world where money matters, where the future must be considered. The option is still out there, and until that door is closed and locked, let's don't completely discount it.

But in the meantime, take a look at the Hawks roster, because it seems like that's the most likely scenario of what we're going to be going to battle with when it comes time for the postseason. And while I think we've gotten over the hump when it comes to Boston, we still haven't solved the riddle of Cleveland or Orlando.

Maybe we sign someone, or maybe we get hot at the right time.

Or maybe we ride with what we have and figure out how to, as Joe said, "come out and hit first every night."

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Follow him on twitter at @langwhitaker. Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at lang@harris-pub.com.

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