NBA AM: Are The Hawks Starting To Unravel?
Quietly, and without much mainstream attention, the Atlanta Hawks have become one of the NBA’s most successful franchises since the 2008 campaign.
With four consecutive playoff appearances under their belts, the question doesn’t revolve on if the Hawks will be among the yearly pool of postseason participants, but whether the club can finally make the jump into the ranks of the elite.
Heading into the 2012 All-Star break the 19-13 Hawks are currently sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference standings and are poised to add another playoff berth to their clip.
But looming beneath the impressive record to start the season may be the telltale signs the team is beginning to come apart at the seams.
The Injuries Are Mounting
One of the keys for maintaining long-term success is the ability to avoid the injury bug. The Hawks have benefited tremendously over the last few years since all of their keys cogs have managed to avoid missing significant time due to nagging ailments.
However, this season got off to a rough start with the team losing All-Star center Al Horford for up to four months with a torn pectoral muscle after just eleven games.
To make matters worse, the team will also be without the services of center Jason Collins for another month as he recovers from a torn ligament in his left elbow.
The veteran, who was monumental in the club’s defensive effort versus Dwight Howard in the 2011 playoffs, was injured on February 2nd against Memphis and could be sidelined until early April. This leaves the club extremely thin on the interior with Zaza Pachulia serving as the only healthy center on the roster with a guaranteed contract.
If the playoffs were to begin today, the Hawks would face Howard and the Magic again in the first round without the arsenal of big bodies used last season which was successful in eliminating Orlando.
All-Star guard Joe Johnson is also hobbling as we enter the break. The eleven-year veteran will miss the team’s next two games (New York and Orlando) with tendinitis in his ailing left knee. Johnson has led Atlanta in scoring the past seven seasons and the club cannot afford to lose his scoring ability, especially with Horford sidelined.
Decreasing Morale In The Locker Room
The Hawks have remained relatively tabloid free since their ascent in the Eastern Conference standings began, but this season there are multiple storylines picking up national attention.
Forward Josh Smith entered the season reportedly unhappy with the way he was being treated by the team’s fan base, local media and the organization itself when the club has faced struggled recently.
Although Smith recently told HOOPSWORLD he felt good about his place within the organization compared to start of the season, he also made it clear that ultimately he wants to win and that plays a factor in his psyche.
After starting with one of the league’s best records the Hawks continue to drop in the standings losing seven of their last 10 games with New York and Orlando on deck this week without the injured Johnson.
Former All-Star forward Tracy McGrady signed a one-year deal this past offseason seemingly willing to provide a spark off the bench as a role player for the club.
Unfortunately McGrady’s early talk on just fitting in and causing no waves in a limited role was short-lived. The two-time league scoring champion openly voiced his frustration with a lack of consistent playing time by telling Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the following this past weekend:
“I’m tired of this [expletive]. You can put that in the paper, I don’t give a [expletive]. If you don’t feel I can help, come tell me that. He [coach Larry Drew] ain’t told me nothing. I just want to help these guys win, man, which I know I can. But, damn, four minutes?”
Next, completely out of the blue a report from ESPNs Chris Broussard on Monday implied forward Marvin Williams was so frustrated with the organization that he’d like a change of scenery.
Frustration abounds in Atlanta right now, and sources say Marvin Williams wants out because he wants to play somewhere where he’ll have an increased role offensively. Williams is averaging just 9.6 points per game, his lowest since his rookie season.
Williams’ frustration with a reduced role isn’t surprising. He has told HOOPSWORLD numerous times over the past two seasons of his desire to remain a starter and keep the minutes associated with being a key contributor – but has never mentioned wanting out of Atlanta.
So far this season Williams is playing the lowest minutes per game (24.2) of his professional career.
In a nutshell, Joe Johnson is hobbling, Al Horford is out for the season (could return playoffs), Zaza Pachulia remains the only legitimate center on the roster (veteran Erick Dampier is on his second 10-day contract), Tracy McGrady is frustrated with his playing time at small forward, Marvin Williams is also frustrated with his role at the same position and could want out of town if reports are true. Josh Smith is happy with the organization but if things keep going south in the win column will that feeling hold?
The pressure is undoubtedly on second-year head coach Larry Drew to keep the ship upright and running smooth down the stretch. If he can’t, the team could be the victims of a late season collapse.
Joel Przybilla Headed Back To Portland? Quality big men still run at a premium in the modern NBA and with that being the case teams are looking for them as they solidify their frontcourts for the late season push.
One team in the market for a quality backup center is the Portland Trail Blazers.
The team is actively pursuing free agent center Joel Przybilla who also played with the club from 2005-2010.
According to his agent, Bill Duffy, a return to Portland makes sense.
“I think Portland is always the sentimental favorite for obvious reasons,” Duffy told Jason Quick of The Oregonian. “Joel has a home here and he had the best years of his career here. And at this particular time, it looks like he is needed, too.”
Blazers acting general manager Chad Buchanan confirmed the need expressed by Duffy and feels Przybilla would be a welcome addition.
“Joel knows how we feel about him,” Buchanan said. “And we are always looking for ways to improve our team.”
According to the report, the Blazers have offered the 32 year old center a contract for the remainder of the season.
But there’s a lot of ground to cover before we get to that point.
As it stands right now the Blazers already have 15 players on their roster which is the league maximum. If Przybilla does decide to sign, the most likely cut player will be second year guard Armon Johnson.
Przybilla, who hasn’t played since last March, would also have to pass a team physical which isn’t a given due to the history of his ailing right knee (two ruptured patella tendons).
The eleven year veteran has also received interest from Chicago, Miami and Milwaukee according to sources since early January.
Eric Gordon Eyeing His Hometown Indiana Pacers? The Indiana Pacers continue to be one of the Eastern Conference’s rising teams with an emerging core of Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, Paul George, Darren Collison and David West.
Within that group are three former or current All-Stars (Hibbert, Granger and West) with two guys (Collison and George) who possess All-Star level talent.
The only thing lacking is the addition of a top-tier shooting guard to the lineup. It is also no secret the Pacers are actively looking to fill this void.
One player expected to receive interest from the organization is New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon, who starred at North Central High School and collegiately at Indiana University.
Gordon is expected to become a restricted free agent this summer after failing to reach an extension agreement with the Hornets in January and the idea of going back home to play has crossed his mind.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Gordon told Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star regarding his impending free agency. “It’s all about whatever happens, happens. Coming back here [Indiana] would be a lot of pressure, but I think it would be good for the fans. We’ll see. You never know where this summer will take me.”
It is important to note that even if Gordon hits restricted free agency the Hornets will have the right to match any offer made by an opposing team for his services under the collective bargaining agreement.
The Hornets are expected to do everything in their power to re-sign Gordon and view the high scoring guard as a key piece of their foundation of the future.
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