The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - October 29, 2009

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

"And away we go."
by Lang Whitaker

First of all, welcome back to The Last Word. This is my third season writing weekly columns for Hawks.com, and I'm pumped to be back. Ever since the Hawks brought me on board, we haven't missed the Playoffs, and I have no intention of letting that streak expire this season.

Thankfully, the Hawks appear to agree with me. I love what GM Rick Sund was able to do this summer, keeping all the key pieces from last season (and all at reasonable rates), adding Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith and Jason Collins (a.k.a. Collins the Greater) plus drafting Jeff Teague, who plays like a live wire out there. Seriously, this is the Hawks, this team with this lush, luxurious, deep bench? It's a little jarring. That Hawks squad that won 13 games just four years ago seems like such a distant memory, doesn't it?

Out of all the moves that happened this summer, the thing that meant the most to me was the willingness of Bibby, Zaza and Marvin to all re-up with Atlanta. They could've looked elsewhere, could've searched out more cash in different divisions, but they didn't: Them re-signing with the Hawks showed me that they all cared about continuing what they'd started with the Hawks; they silently co-signed their approval of Mike Woodson and Rick Sund and Atlanta Spirit and, most importantly, all of us Hawks fans. Five years ago, a lot of players weren't so hot on being Hawks. Now, these guys *want* to be a part of what's happening at the Highlight Factory.

Maybe the Hawks aren't as stacked as some of the other teams in the East, but we're right there. What's interesting is that most NBA pundits believe the Hawks will finish behind Cleveland, Boston and Orlando this season. Sure, those teams all added better players than they had last season, but Hawks fans should remember that simply adding better players doesn't automatically mean you've become a better team. (Remember back in the day when we picked up Theus and Moses?) A strong roster is great, but it's just as important to have a strong team, meaning guys who like each other and get along with each other. And the Hawks definitely have that.

My biggest issue with the Hawks right now is that I'm not sure what we can call this Hawks team. Are they a running team? A physical, bruising team? What are these Hawks? I was on WABE in Atlanta the other day, and they asked me what kind of identity the Hawks have. I didn't know the answer. I'm pretty sure Woody wants us to be a defense-first squad, like the Pistons were back in the early 2000's when Woody was an assistant coach for Larry Brown. But even while Woody stands and observes gravely from the sideline, the Hawks just aren't that kind of team.

The best NBA teams always have an identity, from the Showtime Lakers to the Bad Boy Pistons to the Bulls who...well, they had Michael Jordan. But the Hawks don't seem to have assumed any kind of identity of yet. Do the have an identity? Who are these Hawks?

Ready or not, we're fixing to find out.

MAILING IT IN...
This is the first column of the year, but I want to remind you folk to send in your emails, comments or questions each week. Even if you have questions for players, let me know and I'll try to get answers, even for the toughest questions. (Like last year when someone wanted me to ask Josh Smith why he shoots so much.) I want to involve you guys as much as possible, so drop me a line and let's have fun this season.

Catch you all next week...

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. 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.