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30 Teams, 30 Days: Can Hawks' upward swing persist?

POSTED: Sep 29, 2015 9:39 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell

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2014-15 Hawks Top 10 Plays

Relive the top moments from the Hawks' journey through the 2014-15 season.

Since the Warriors grabbed their first NBA title in 40 years in June, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the summer break. NBA.com will evaluate the state of each franchise in the month of September with a look at 30 teams in 30 days.

Today's Team: Atlanta Hawks | All 30 Teams

Who's gone: DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic

Who's new: Tim Hardaway Jr., Tiago Splitter, Justin Holiday

The Lowdown: It's very understandable why some might see the Hawks' biggest threat in 2015-16 as Cleveland. But maybe their other battle is against the 2014-15 Hawks, who won 60 games and reached the East finals for the first time in franchise history. Seriously, how can this Hawks team top that one?

These Hawks didn't add any players of major significance in the offseason, won't have the element of surprise anymore, and will have Kyle Korver coming off surgery and a poor finish to his All-Star season. These Hawks also lost DeMarre Carroll, a pit bull who meant so much to the system with his 3-point shooting and defense, who went to Toronto, one of Atlanta's competitors in the East.

Therefore, the Hawks could go from 60 wins to 50 and then punch out earlier in the playoffs. Would anyone be surprised by that?

And yet if that happens, it wouldn't qualify as a bad season. In a sense, it would be ... progress, in the big picture. This is a franchise that has struggled to fill Philips Arena for years and hasn't had a superstar since Dominique Wilkins. This is a franchise that, despite the attractiveness of Atlanta as a city (affordability, weather, shopping, nightlife), the Hawks never convinced an A-list free agent to sign up.

Top 10 Plays of the Atlanta Hawks' 19-Game Win Streak

Take a look back at the best plays from the Atlanta Hawks' franchise-record 19-game win streak.

Some of that had to do with the direction of the franchise and quality of ownership. Maybe those issues have been put to rest now that the Hawks have changed hands and, for the most part, made excellent personnel moves of late -- although the guy responsible for those moves, Danny Ferry, is gone. Mike Budenholzer is pulling double duty as coach and GM.

Budenholzer's first few decisions, made this summer, were designed to maintain the status quo. The Hawks reached deep to re-sign Paul Millsap, then balked when the Raptors gave $15 million a year to Carroll. To replace Carroll, the Hawks decided to patch the wing position with Kent Bazemore, a springy athletic demon who has developed nicely but remains untested, and former Knick Tim Hardaway, Jr., who brings a 3-point touch yet defensive lapses to town.

There's also the hope Thabo Sefelosha bounces back from an unfortunate broken right fibula suffered during his late-night scrap with the NYPD. That would give the Hawks a pair of solid defenders in Sefelosha and Bazemore along with Hardaway's deep shooting to fill the void left by Carroll.

Mike Budenholzer Interview

Mike Budenholzer talks with Sekou Smith during Hawks media day.

Keep in mind that Carroll was merely a role player on the Hawks and two years ago was little more than a bit player in Utah. However, the Hawks are a "system" team, meaning there's no reliance on a singular player for success and so every role counts. They're built for 3-point shooting and defense, precisely what Carroll offered in lumps.

"Obviously with DeMarre gone," said Al Horford, "we're going to need some guys to step in."

The Hawks were lucky in 2014-15 because, until the playoffs, they steered clear of the injury monster. That allowed them to run the table for an entire month and stave off a late challenge by LeBron James and Cleveland for the best record in the East. Assuming good health next season and a smoother transition under a new coach and returning superstar, the Cavs won't fall in the rear view mirror next time. Besides, they swept Atlanta in the East finals. Clearly, Cleveland is superior. And maybe the Bulls are as well.

But the Hawks didn't chase LaMarcus Aldridge and instead accepted Tiago Splitter as part of a Spurs' salary dump to get Aldridge. Splitter was a budget pick-up who will give Atlanta its first natural center in quite some time. He'll allow Horford to slide to power forward, although the Hawks can't go long stretches with a Splitter-Horford-Millsap front line because Millsap proved in the playoffs he cannot guard quick small forwards.

"We're excited about Tiago," Horford said. "His leadership we feel is going to be great for our team."

Overall, the summer was uneventful for the Hawks. They didn't drastically upgrade or downgrade themselves. Their wish, then, is to once again go deep in the playoffs, regardless of the number of regular-season wins. Keep the momentum going. Ride the ride.

Based on their level of summer activity, can they come close to duplicating what was a historic season for the franchise? Yes, if certain factors fall their way. But they are no closer to a championship than last spring when LeBron flicked them away.

Coming Next: Golden State Warriors

To check out the rest of the series schedule, click here.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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