Like we are currently seeing in the NFL, the 2011 NBA off-season is up in the air with a lockout looming. Free agency could be delayed and completely restructured depending on the new agreement reached by the owners and players. Still, The Sports Bank continues to break down all thirty NBA teams to see what areas they need to address in the off-season. The Atlanta Hawks regressed this past season and now find themselves in a tough salary cap situation thanks to the monster contract they gave Joe Johnson last summer.
By: David Kay
Atlanta Hawks (44-38 last season)
’10-’11 Season in Review:
Rather than losing Joe Johnson via free agency last off-season, the Hawks threw a max contract his way, convincing him to stay in Atlanta. How did Johnson respond… by posting his worst numbers since arriving in the A-T-L. That dip in production played a part in the once rising Hawks franchise taking a step backwards. They finished nine games worse than they did a year ago but were still able to win their opening round playoff series against the Magic before falling to Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Johnson was not the only Hawk to digress this past season. Jamal Crawford struggled to match his production from the 2009-2010 season when he was named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. Marvin Williams once again failed to the turn the corner and is proving to be a big disappointment as the second overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Mike Bibby was a shell of his old self and was eventually dealt to Washington for Kirk Hinrich who was not much of an up-grade and left Atlanta short-handed in their second round series as he was straddled to the bench with injury.
There were some positives along the way though for first year head coach Larry Drew. Josh Smith remained an all-around force on the floor and actually showed slightly improved maturity despite the fact he still thinks he is a dangerous jump shooter. Al Horford continued to produce at a high level though it is becoming more evident that his destiny as a pro might be better suited off at power forward rather than center. Second year point guard Jeff Teague showed flashes especially in the post-season.
Depth was a major issue for the Hawks especially after the trade with the Wizards that sent role player Mo Evans and last year’s first round pick Jordan Crawford to the district. Atlanta struggled to find consistent production outside of their top eight players and brought in journeymen veterans who failed to get the job done.
With a ton of money tied up in their big name players, the Hawks have to find an affordable way to improve which could be a challenge depending on how the new rules in the CBA are structured. If the rules tighten up, Atlanta could be headed for another year of regressing.
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Al Horford/Zaza Pachulia
PF: Josh Smith
SF: Marvin Williams/Pape Sy
SG: Joe Johnson
PG: Jeff Teague/Kirk Hinrich
SG-Jamal Crawford (UFA)
C-Jason Collins (UFA)
SF-Damien Wilkins (UFA)
C-Josh Powell (UFA)
C-Hilton Armstrong (UFA)
C-Etan Thomas (UFA)
PF-Magnum Rolle (UFA)
’11-’12 Team Salary: Approximately $64.3 million
1. Re-Sign Crawford:
Since Atlanta is already massively over the cap, they cannot afford to go out on the market and find a suitable replacement for unrestricted free agent Jamal Crawford. However, since they are already in a tight financial situation with a likely shrinking, possible hard cap being put into place, it is uncertain as to whether or not the Hawks will be able to pay Crawford his market value. If Crawford ends up signing elsewhere, Atlanta will have to find a wing scorer who can provide a punch off the bench or carry the second unit when needed.
2. Defensive Minded Center:
Jason Collins actually started 28 games at center for the Hawks. If that does not aptly describe how starved they were for a defensive presence in the middle, maybe this will… Atlanta paraded a plethora of journeymen centers (Hilton Armstrong, Etan Thomas, Josh Powell) on the floor trying to fill a hole in the middle. Again, with their already high payroll and no first round pick, finding a legit big man who can play a meaningful role might be difficult.
3. Round out the Roster:
We have already touched on a back-up shooting guard and center, but with only eight players under contract for next season, Atlanta needs bodies at pretty much every position. They could use a back-up power forward, shooter on the wing, and up-grade at small forward. I would not be surprised if they dangle Kirk Hinrich’s expiring contract for a couple of players or even try and trade one of their big contracts like Josh Smith in hopes of adding more depth.
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CHECK OUT THE SPORTS BANK’S 2011 NBA MOCK DRAFT
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.