Hawks Fall Short, Look to The Future
By Taylor Gantt
As the final few seconds ticked off the clock in the Eastern Conference Finals, Hawks fans were left wondering where, exactly, the dream season slid off the tracks. After dominating the competition for the majority of their record-setting 60-win season, Atlanta struggled through the first two rounds of the playoffs before ultimately being swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Injuries played a major role in unseating the Hawks as one of the premier teams in the league. With only a few weeks until the playoffs, Thabo Sefolosha, the team’s best defender, had his leg broken during an altercation with police officers outside of a New York City nightclub. Once the playoffs began, several players suffered injuries that either limited them or took them off the court completely: Al Horford (finger), Paul Millsap (shoulder), DeMarre Carroll (leg), and Kyle Korver (leg).
Granted, no team is completely healthy by the end of an arduous NBA season (the Cavaliers provide ample proof of that fact). However, the Hawks’ success was predicated on contributions from all of their key players instead of just one primary star. Although the depleted Hawks battled valiantly against Cleveland, they were unable to mount enough offense to counteract the brilliance of LeBron and his supporting cast.
With the 2014-2015 season at an end, the organization is at a critical juncture. The ultimate question going into next season is simply this: Do the Atlanta Hawks reload with the same core group of players or are major changes needed to propel the team to the next level?
Despite the unprecedented success that the Hawks enjoyed this year, many around the league feel that a team with no definitive superstar can rise only so high. Atlanta’s current roster is filled with talented players, but none of them are greater than the sum of the squad’s parts. Simply put, the team’s greatest strength also serves as one of its biggest hindrances. As constructed, there is no transcendent star player who can put the team on his back and consistently create his own offense. While Teague, Korver, and Horford often show flashes of dominance, no player averaged more than 17 points a game during the season. Skeptics thereby conclude that while the Hawks have potential, their lack of a bona fide superstar will inevitably hold them back.
It can be hard for a Hawks fan to hear the criticisms lobbed at a team that accomplished so much this season. However, I do believe that the Hawks must make adjustments in order to remain viable. Obviously, some of the younger talents on the squad like Dennis Schröder and Mike Muscala will continue to mature and improve as their careers progress. The team will have to decide the future of two big contributors who are both eligible for free agency: DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap. While the Hawks have the financial means to retain them, both will command considerable salaries in order to keep them around. If the Hawks are inclined to move on from these two starters, Teague, Horford, and Korver will remain as the pillars for the organization. While the 2015 free-agency period won’t provide an abundance of talent to choose from, stars like Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, and LaMarcus Aldridge could all be looking for a new place to call home. Alternatively, the Hawks may hold off until the 2016 offseason (when the Kevin Durant sweepstakes will be in full swing) to make their big move.
No matter what the Hawks decide to do, the momentum created by this past season leaves the team with significant expectations for the future. With the city fully behind the team, the organization is now tasked with maintaining a high quality of performance in the years to come. Whether the team gets the band back together for the next few years or makes significant changes to the current structure, the Atlanta Hawks will enter 2016 as front-runners in the Eastern Conference.
And although these expectations are definitely unfamiliar, they are most certainly not unwelcome.