MIKE BIBBY knew that he was going to be traded last season, and he was hoping to go to a contender. The Hawks, who hadn't been to the playoffs since 1999, weren't exactly what he had in mind. By acquiring Bibby, though, inexperienced, point-guard-deficient Atlanta got just what it needed to end that drought.
At 30, Bibby lacks the speed he had in guiding the Kings to five straight postseason appearances and within a game of the 2002 Finals. But he still knows how to run a club. With him as the primary ball handler the Hawks' scoring average increased from 94.8 points to 103.5, and they extended the Celtics to seven games in the first round.
Bibby's biggest contribution to that series, however, came off the court, when he called out Celtics fans for being "bandwagon jumpers" and drew the ire of the TD Banknorth Garden crowds. "He took the pressure off these young players who had never been to the playoffs and put it all on himself," says coach Mike Woodson. "He helped our guys relax and play."
Despite his positive impact on the franchise, Bibby may find himself on the move again come the February trade deadline. If he or the team is playing poorly, his expiring $14.5 million salary will be too valuable a bargaining chip for the Hawks not to use.
Wherever he finishes the season, Bibby wants to prove that he's fully recovered from a torn left-thumb ligament he suffered last October. "I'm going into my 11th year," he says, "but people who really know basketball know that I can still play. Everyone is going to see that this year."
A rival scout on the HAWKS: Who is their lead player? Joe Johnson tends to not take the last shot as much as you'd expect from a franchise guy. He's a good third player on a contending team—not someone you build around.... I think Al Horford is a Buck Williams type. Every time I've seen Horford, he has played hard the whole game. His stroke is a little jerky, but he can make midrange jumpers. I can do without some of his histrionics, but they're not bad for this team, which doesn't have a lot of guys with that intensity.... When Josh Smith played well last year it was mainly because he quit shooting threes. He can be dominant, but he also goes through games where he seems lost, and if he makes a couple of mistakes and Mike Woodson yells at him, then he's gone. Whether they're a 35-win or a 45-win team depends on him being able to figure it out every night.... Marvin Williams improved his jump shot last year, but he needs to post up small forwards more often and not just be a big body on the perimeter.
Since the franchise moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968, only two Hawks rookies have played more minutes than Al Horford (2,540) did last season: Pete Maravich (2,926) and Dominique Wilkins (2,697).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G-F Maurice Evans*, F-C Zaza Pachulia, G Acie Law, G Flip Murray*, C Randolph Morris*
Record: 37--45 (8th in East)
Points scored: 98.2 (15th in NBA)
Points allowed: 100.0 (15th)
Coach: Mike Woodson (fifth season with Hawks)
BOB ROSATO (OPPOSITE)
RENT-A-GUARD? Bibby (above), who may be trade bait again come February, will create plenty of open-court chances for the acrobatic Smith (opposite) in the meantime.
NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES