Divesting themselves of Joe Johnson over the summer offered the Hawks a win before the season even tipped off. For as much as Johnson, who was traded to the Nets, was responsible for sending Atlanta to five straight playoffs, his contract ($19.8 million this season) made it nearly impossible to add the complementary pieces necessary to get past the second round. With the additional savings new G.M. Danny Ferry realized by trading the No. 2 pick in 2005, Marvin Williams, to Utah, the Hawks could have up to $30 million to use in free agency next summer, when Chris Paul and Atlanta native Dwight Howard hit the market.
In the meantime the Hawks will see how far their own free-agent-to-be, Josh Smith, can take a roster filled with productive, yet disposable, players. Smith has shown a growing maturity of late, eschewing the spectacular play for the smart one. He'll be quick to embrace the idea of making the team his own.
COACH: Larry Drew (3rd season with Hawks)
2011--12 RECORD: 40--26 (2nd in Southeast)
OFFENSE: 96.6 ppg (17th)
DEFENSE: 93.2 ppg (6th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 17.5 ppg (28th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE HAWKS
For years Hawks fans have complained that Josh Smith has not made an All-Star team. Last year they finally had an argument. When Al Horford went down, Josh needed to be the guy in the frontcourt, and he played like it, to his credit. The changes have been subtle—not taking as many bad shots, not being as careless with the basketball. He's always wanted to be the guy, and now he's got the chance.... Al is a building-block type. He's always in the right place, he's always communicating on defense, and he covers for teammates' mistakes.... A big part of Jeff Teague's breakout last season was confidence. He's always been a much better penetrator than jump shooter, and in the past you played him almost solely to drive. His form is unorthodox—it almost looks like a shot put—but he was good enough on the perimeter that you had to guard him.... Lou Williams is point-guard-sized, but he's really a shooting guard in terms of his game. With guys like that, the best fit is to come off the bench and give the second unit offensive punch. As a coach, you hate to sub your starters out and leave no scoring on the floor. Williams can help ease that move.
Smith and Al Horford form one of the East's most dynamic frontcourts, lifting Atlanta into the middle of the playoff bracket.
Smith keeps trying to prove he's a three-point shooter (career: 27.8%), and he's shipped off at the trade deadline.
Total steals plus blocked shots per game for Josh Smith, one of three players with a combined defensive average of 3.00 or higher. The others were Serge Ibaka (4.15) and Dwight Howard (3.65).
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (SMITH)
JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (TEAGUE)