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Original Issue

9 Atlanta Hawks Thanks to an infusion of frontline talent, the playoffs no longer seem to be such a tall order

On the eve of the NBA draft last June, Shareef Abdur-Rahim
received a midnight phone call that sounded like one of those
too-good-to-be-true TV offers: Act now and you get not only the
18-in-one Blendermatic but also a handsome set of carving knives
and a plastic carrying case absolutely free. In Abdur-Rahim's
case, though, the news from Vancouver general manager Billy
Knight was that the 6'9" forward was receiving not only his
freedom from the hoops purgatory that is Grizzlies basketball but
also a fresh start on an up-and-coming playoff contender. And
wait, there's more: a one-way ticket to play for the franchise
he'd always dreamed of suiting up for! "Everybody in my family
was excited about it," says the 24-year-old Abdur-Rahim, who grew
up in Marietta, Ga. "You can't overstate the importance of just
being comfortable, in a city you don't mind living in and don't
want to pack up and leave at the end of the season."

Abdur-Rahim wasted little time in spreading his good vibes to the
rest of his new team. At the July press conference to announce
his acquisition, Abdur-Rahim met Hawks guard Jason Terry, who had
come out to show his enthusiasm for the trade (in which Atlanta
gave up Lorenzen Wright, Brevin Knight and the third pick in the
draft). The two exchanged numbers and soon after began meeting
for intense 9 a.m. workouts at the indoor court Abdur-Rahim has
in his home in Smyrna, a suburb of Atlanta. Shortly thereafter
Abdur-Rahim set to work coaxing other Hawks out of their summer
daze and into the team's practice facility. "His work ethic this
summer was so important," says coach Lon Kruger. "The way he went
at it in August and September was incredible, and it rubbed off
on all the other guys."

Management is hoping that Abdur-Rahim can have a similar effect
on the droves of hoops fans in Hotlanta who failed to show up at
Philips Arena on game nights last season, when the Hawks finished
with the worst record in franchise history and averaged a paltry
15,035 fans (26th in the NBA). G.M. Pete Babcock has given his
new star plenty of help, retooling the team completely since last
spring. Gone are Dikembe Mutombo and the bland squad of
half-court role players who began last season. In their place is
an up-tempo unit led by one of the best offensive front lines in
the East: Abdur-Rahim; Toni Kukoc, who posted All-Star numbers
after arriving from the 76ers in the Mutombo trade last February;
and Theo Ratliff, who came over in the same trade and has
recovered from a wrist injury that sidelined him for the season's
final two months. Though the trio won't be leading any
all-defensive squads, the new zone rules should minimize Kukoc's
defensive liabilities while playing to Ratliff's formidable
shot-swatting skills.

In the backcourt, budding star Terry had a breakout season last
year, with a team-high 21.9 points per game despite spending
much of his time getting hip-checked by the conga line of
defenders that opposing teams sent at him. The addition of
Abdur-Rahim, however, will draw double teams in the post,
freeing Terry to roam the wing and slash to the bucket on the
weak side. "When I heard about the trade, I was so excited,"
Terry says with a big smile. "The first thing I did was call
Mike [Bibby, Terry's college teammate at Arizona, who played
with Abdur-Rahim in Vancouver]. He said, 'You're going to love
playing with him.' Let me tell you, I believe him."

Unlike last season, the Hawks look not only like a playoff
contender but also like a team that could do some damage once
they get there. The arrival of their new star forward appears to
signal the dawn of a new era in Atlanta and might force even the
most disenchanted fans to fall under the spell of Shareefer


COLOR PHOTO: RON HOSKINS/NBA ENTERTAINMENT HOME RUN Obtaining Georgia native Abdur-Rahim (top) was a coup for the Hawks, who are desperate to put fans in the seats.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Hawks

"This is probably the most improved team in the league. The
Hawks have the best front line in the East, and they go eight or
nine deep.... It's a long way for them to climb, from 25 wins to
the playoffs, but it won't surprise me if they make it....
Shareef Abdur-Rahim is going to shine. In the West he had to
play against all of those great power forwards--Rasheed Wallace,
Antonio McDyess, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan--and he
still dropped big numbers. He's not going to have to deal with
that caliber of talent in the East.... I've got to think that
somewhere in Theo Ratliff's heart there is a burning desire to
prove himself after Philadelphia traded him away last year.
That's a good thing for Atlanta.... You could tell the Hawks
liked playing for Lon Kruger last season: They lost, but they
didn't play like losers.... The only question is about the point
guard. Emanual Davis is big, and if they go with him, he can
flip-flop on defense and guard the two and let Jason Terry guard
the one.... But the point guard might not matter so much if Toni
Kukoc is running the offense as a point forward. Kukoc hit 48%
of his three-pointers after he came to Atlanta last year. He can
shoot, he has scorers he can distribute to, and if he gets beat
defensively, he's got Theo back there protecting the rim. I
think this situation might bring out the best in Kukoc.... The
Hawks play 11 of their first 17 on the road, so they're going to
find out fast how good they are. If they can hold the ship
there, it will give them a lot of confidence."

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 25-57 (seventh in Central)
Coach: Lon Kruger (second season with Hawks)

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Toni Kukoc 11.1 ppg 4.0 rpg 3.1 apg 47.3 FG% 44.6 3FG%
PF Shareef
Abdur-Rahim 20.5 ppg 9.1 rpg 3.1 apg 1.11 spg 47.2 FG%
C Theo Ratliff 12.4 ppg 8.3 rpg 3.74 bpg 49.9 FG% 76.0 FT%
SG Jason Terry 19.7 ppg 4.9 apg 3.3 rpg 1.27 spg 43.6 FG%
PG Emanual Davis[1]5.8 ppg 2.2 apg 1.03 spg 41.8 FG% 39.4 3FG%

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

F Alan Henderson 10.5 ppg 5.6 rpg 0.7 apg 0.40 bpg 44.4 FG%
G Jacque Vaughn[1]6.1 ppg 3.9 apg 1.8 rpg 0.59 spg 43.3 FG%
C Nazr Mohammed 7.6 ppg 5.3 rpg 0.60 bpg 47.7 FG% 70.6 FT%
F Chris Crawford 6.8 ppg 2.3 rpg 0.8 apg 45.2 FG% 81.9 FT%
G Dion Glover 5.9 ppg 2.3 rpg 1.2 apg 0.86 spg 42.0 FG%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

"They have the best front line in the East, and they go eight or nine deep."