Sam Amico, the founder and editor of AmicoHoops.net and a broadcast journalist for Fox Sports Ohio, will write a weekly feature for Hoops Rumors with news, rumors and insight from around the NBA. If you missed last week’s edition, click here. Here’s this week’s edition:
When the Hawks cruised to the best record in the Eastern Conference at the NBA All-Star break, few outside the organization believed.
When the Hawks finished 60-22 to earn the top seed in the East, no one really seemed to care.
And when the Hawks had to fight their way to playoff wins over the Nets and Wizards, the doubters stood proud.
Sure enough, the Hawks were swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the conference finals.
Now? Well, the Hawks are down a valuable starter — as forward DeMarre Carroll bolted for the Raptors in free agency. They landed center Tiago Splitter in a trade with the Spurs, and fended off the Magic’s free agent offer for power forward Paul Millsap.
They also officially promoted head coach Mike Budenholzer to head of basketball operations after agreeing to buyout with former general manager Danny Ferry.
Other than that, everything is primarily the same.
Budenholzer actually held down his current dual role all of last season — Ferry having been gone on an “indefinite leave of absence” for repeating a controversial scouting report on free agent target Luol Deng, now with the Heat. That makes Budenholzer sort of the Gregg Popovich of the Hawks, and the Hawks sort of the Spurs of the East.
After all, the Hawks play a very Spurs-like brand of basketball, moving the ball, making the extra pass and confusing opponents who occasionally just wait for someone, anyone, to take a bad shot. Like the Spurs, the Hawks rarely do.
As Hawks swingman and three-point shooter extraordinaire Kyle Korver told Grantland’s Zach Lowe back in June, the Hawks are a system team. And sometimes, that can really take you places.
“I’ve been on teams where it’s all about one guy,” Korver told Lowe. “This is way more fun. I believe in this vision, and I think we’re eventually gonna get it done.”
Back to the Spurs comparison.
Unlike the five-time champions and their winning contingent of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, the Hawks have just two players with Finals experience. One is Splitter, who is expected to back up Al Horford in the pivot, and the other is swingman Thabo Sefolosha — who missed the last season’s playoff run after breaking his leg in a late-night incident.
So it’s safe to say regardless of how well the Hawks play in the regular season, the doubts will remain.
Star-less and soaring on
A lot of organizations would kill for the type of year the Hawks put together in 2014/15. It was a season full of accomplishment and fun, and for one of the few times in team history, a season that had the city buzzing about pro basketball.
Now, the Hawks are a little harder to peg.
No one seemed to believe they could win a title without — to use Korver’s words — that “one guy.” Everyone seemed to point out that the NBA is a superstar-driven league — and it was James and the Cavs (and not the Hawks) who possessed that shining star.
Well, guess what? The Hawks enter the season without a star. Granted, they have some really good ones in Horford, Millsap, Korver and perhaps best of all, point guard Jeff Teague.
But a LeBron or Kobe Bryant? Forget it.
And guess what else? To the Hawks, that still doesn’t really matter. It’s rare for teams to go from the No. 8 playoff seed (as the Hawks were in 2013/14) one year to winning a title the next. Often, you have to take your lumps in the postseason before getting all the way to the top.
And sometimes, it can be done without a top-five player. Especially if you have a top-five game plan.
“Everybody would like a superstar,” Budenholzer told Lowe, “but I definitely think you can win the way we are doing it.”
The Hawks have proven they can indeed win the way they are doing it through the grueling 82-game regular season. They proved they can do it through two rounds of the playoffs.
But is it enough to actually go all the way? Is it enough to continue the good thing they had going?
One thing’s for certain, the Hawks are determined to find out, and they’re determined to find out by doing it their own way.