Are the Hawks a team on the rise, or one that has reached its plateau? If you let the national media tell it, it’s the latter. More and more, I’m starting to agree. As a a true Hawks fan, and a realist, I’m bracing myself for yet another round 2 departure. It’s not that I don’t appreciate this year’s team, they’ve been great, easily the most watchable Hawks team since the ‘Nique era. They also succeeded in halting the franchise from being an ever-running Chris Paul or attendance joke.
But there’s still the matter of doing it in the playoffs. The Hawks still can’t be taken as a serious threat to even reach the Conference Finals, not with Orlando and Cleveland looming over them, especially not with a 1-6* record against the two teams.
It’s not just that though. It’s also this. Losing in round 2 is what we do. Before Cleveland and LeBron, there was Sprewell and the Knicks. Before that, Larry and the Celts. This franchise is forever running headlong into eventual conference champions, always faltering valiantly. Perhaps some teams are just more suited for the “up and coming challenger” role. JA Adande kept it all too real in this assessment of the Hawks’ playoff chances:
For a while, I thought the Atlanta Hawks were ready to make the natural progression from their first-round loss to the Celtics two years ago to last year’s second-round loss to the Cavaliers and advance to the conference finals this season. But it’s impossible to envision the Hawks’ beating Cleveland or Orlando. It doesn’t seem fair that a team that has come so far so fast has already reached it limit, but sometimes these things happen. Ask the Bucks or Nuggets of the ’80s or the Cleveland Cavaliers of the ’90s or the Sacramento Kings of the 2000s.
The Hawks could lose Joe Johnson to free agency, but that shouldn’t be envisioned as the worst-case scenario. The worst case might be bringing him back and paying full scale for a player who hasn’t shown he can carry a team to the conference finals. At least Johnson has good company. Dominique Wilkins never got the Hawks to the conference finals. Neither did Pete Maravich. Sometimes franchises just have a ceiling. Atlanta’s is in the second round.
Pretty brutal assessment, but one that’s hard to take issue with. Sometimes franchises just have a ceiling, ours is in the second round. But that means that the first round should be all the more enjoyable. Bring on those plucky Milwaukee Bucks, and may it be a hard fought series. While I do indeed “fear the deer”, I know that round 1 might be the last time this spring that the Highlight Factory is open. Oh well, you gotta take the memories when you can. Let’s go Hawks.
As for the last part, about Joe Johnson and the dilemma of whether or not to re-sign him: Isn’t it terrible that the worst-case scenario is probably better than the best-case scenario, which would be to let Joe walk, start Jamal Crawford and draft a young shooting guard?. Because that scenario looks like a 42 win team. We may never win a title with Joe Johnson as our franchise player, but we sure as hell won’t be a 50-win team without him next year.
* In games that matter. I’m not counting the 82nd game win over Cleveland since neither team was using lineups that we will see in the postseason.