With all due respect to Dallas Maverick haters everywhere, the Atlanta Hawks have to be the most disappointing team of the postseason. Sure, the Mavericks lost to a San Antonio Spurs team that couldn’t even grab one single game from the Phoenix Suns, but they didn’t look God awful ugly in their losses to the Spurs. The Atlanta Hawks, on the other hand, turned losing into a feat of epic proportions.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the Hawks getting swept out of the playoffs in their fourth and final loss to the Orlando Magic in Round Two. After all, the Hawks haven’t proven that they can win big time NBA Playoff series. In 2008, sure they took the Boston Celtics to seven games, but they got drubbed every time they went on the road, and you can’t win competitive series as the #3 seed if you can’t win on the road.
So what should the Hawks do? Should they continue with this group of guys that just don’t seem mature enough to win as a group? Perhaps the Hawks should learn from their own acquisition of a long-time NBA non-winner in Jamal Crawford, whose style never did contribute to a winning campaign until he got moved into a role in Atlanta, where he could do what he did best and leave the rest to someone else.
Josh Smith definitely needs to find himself a new role, because the one he has with the Atlanta Hawks just isn’t going to work going forward. He’s a guy who has no real offensive game outside of dunking and taking long-range two pointers. He can’t really pass—heck, he can’t really shoot. On the defensive side of the ball, he’s a great one-on-one defender and a guy who can get you a weak side shot block, but his help defense in the lane and on pick-n-rolls is about as suspect as his jumper.
Then you have Joe Johnson—God bless his soul. He is really a great player, perhaps one that does not get a big enough recognition for what he does—during the regular season. But during these playoffs, he has been anything but a super start. To be honest, I’m not sure he deserves maximum dollars when he hits the free agency market this summer. He’ll probably get it, but I wouldn’t want him for max dollars on my team.
I just don’t see how the Hawks can get better as a team so long as Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are their best players. At least one of them has to go, and it looks as if that guy is Joe Johnson. Although, Josh Smith was quietly paraded on the trading block last summer; a clear sign that Atlanta is already re-thinking the 5-year extension they gave him back in 2008.
If I were the Hawks, I would get rid of both of them. There’s no doubt Atlanta would have the inside track at re-signing Johnson, especially since he’s little less likely to get the maximum deal he was expecting prior to the start of these playoffs. However, it makes no sense to give him that kind of money when he can’t be the best guy on the court when it counts—at least not in the Hawks current system. Of course, I don’t know if you’d get it out of him in any system. Johnson’s best playoff games came a long time ago when he was playing with the Phoenix Suns. Perhaps he needs a true point guard to help him out when things get tough, and that just doesn’t exist in Atlanta right now.
And I would trade Josh Smith, too. Of course, I’m not sure that there would be any takers, but you would have to think you could get something back. He’s at least worth a mid-first rounder, because in the right system, he could be a great player. Rasheed Wallace was never a guy you could lean on as a primary or secondary offensive option game in and game out. However, in roles in which a few players were expected to do as much or more scoring than Wallace, Rasheed flourished. I think Josh Smith is the same way. If you let him do his hybrid mess to take advantage of mismatches when your best two players are the targets of the defense, then Smith can be really effective. Outside of that, he’s nothing more than trade bait to me.
So where does that leave the Hawks? Theoretically it would leave the Hawks with a lot of cap space. With Johnson off the books, the Hawks will have room to maneuver this summer and next. Not to mention, the Hawks could be a big beneficiary of a sign-and-trade deal if a team like Phoenix or Utah, teams both losing power forwards, wants to give one of those guys and take a flier out on the less talented, but cheaper, Josh Smith.
Cap space and in position to get a good free agent? That’s not a bad place to be, especially for a series of moves would help them out a lot more in the future. With the Hawks roster, a situation like that puts Atlanta back in the playoffs. At worst, they get swept out of the postseason, and that’s really no different from what they would probably do in 2011 anyway.
[[This article originally appeared on thesportswatchers]]