As a site, we ranked all the NBA teams from worst to best for our release of season previews. Day twenty-one’s release of a season preview ends up being the 2014-2015 season Eastern Conference runner-up, Atlanta Hawks. Saeed Ghassemzadeh will provide a recap of their past season, an offseason recap, and then finally the season preview all of us fans are eager for.
Last season’s record: 60-22
Playoff Status: Lost 4-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals
The 2014-15 season for the Atlanta Hawks was one for the records. No one, not even the most die-hard Hawks fans, expected the success the team experienced during the season. Al Horford had a season ending shoulder injury in 2013, and the team finished below .500, and lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Indiana Pacers. The new season got off to a rocky start, when owner Bruce Levenson and General Manager Danny Ferry left their positions due to leaked information containing racially sensitive remarks. And at the start of the regular season, the Hawks went just 7-6 in their first 13 games. Then, however, they embarked on a 9 game winning streak, and after a blowout loss against Milwaukee in late December, the team completely reversed course. Following the loss, the Hawks went on a 19 game win streak, and went undefeated in the month of January. Their starting 5 of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford were named the Eastern Conference Players of the Month for January, and only Carroll was not named an All-Star. Second year coach Mike Budenholzer won the Coach of the Year award after guiding the Hawks to a franchise best 60 wins, as well as the Southeast Division Crown and the top seed in the East. In the midst of this, Thabo Sefolosha was arrested and subsequently broke his ankle in the arrest process. He was lost for the season and was a key part of the Hawks’ rotation. In the Playoffs, Atlanta was able to beat the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards 4-2 in the first two rounds, despite the inspired play of the Nets and the late game heroics of Washington’s Paul Pierce. However, the Hawks, out of gas and injured, fell to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 4-0 sweep, and ended their best season in franchise history. Going into the offseason, the Hawks were looking to retain Millsap and Carroll, both of whom are unrestricted free agents.
In the Draft, the Hawks had the 15th pick. This pick belongs to the Nets; however, in the Joe Johnson trade a few seasons ago, the Hawks got the right to swap picks with the Nets. As such, the Nets had to settle for the 29th pick while Atlanta got a pick just outside the lottery. On Draft Night, the Hawks selected SF Kelly Oubre Jr., potentially a replacement for Carroll if the Hawks could not resign him. Minutes later, however, news broke that the Hawks engaged in a three team trade with New York and Washington, and traded Oubre Jr. for shooter Tim Hardaway Jr. (from New York), and 2 second rounds picks (from Washington). The Hawks hope that Hardaway Jr. can benefit from the offense run in Atlanta by getting more open looks, but his defense will leave a lot to be desired. The Hawks later drafted Marcus Eriksson and Dimitrios Agravanis, and both are expected to be stashed overseas.
In Free Agency, the Hawks had to choose between signing Carroll and Millsap. Since the Hawks did not have the Full Bird Rights to both players, they could not go over the cap to resign both. Atlanta decided to go with Millsap, the more proven and experienced player. Millsap was signed to a 3 year, $60 million contract. Since Carroll was not able to land a contract in Atlanta for his price, he signed with the Toronto Raptors on a 4 year, $58 million deal. To offset the loss of Carroll, a modern day success story as a “3 and D” player, the Hawks will have to play Millsap more at the small forward position. This led to Atlanta’s acquisition of Tiago Splitter from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for a second round pick. The Spurs wanted to make cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Hawks needed someone to productively back-up Millsap and Horford. Also, coach Budenholzer has familiarity with Splitter from his days as an assistant coach at San Antonio. Previous backup center Pero Antic was not able to effectively support the starting frontcourt last year. The Hawks rounded out their offseason by signing quality depth pieces, Justin Holiday, Lamar Patterson, and veteran Jason Richardson.
Going into the 2015-16 season, expectations for the Hawks will be high, as they are expected to build off of a successful prior season. The addition of Tiago Splitter off the bench, as well as the supporting cast of Dennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Thabo Sefolosha, will be helpful throughout the long NBA season. However, the loss of Carroll is perhaps the biggest thing that will be missing next season. Carroll was the grit and grind of this team last season, with his hard-nosed defense and offensive progression. His loss, coupled with the fact that Atlanta has no real replacement for him, means that the Hawks could take a step back this season. While they are still going to be a playoff team in the mediocre Eastern Conference, it is hard to see them keeping up with the Cavaliers and the Bulls at the top of the conference. The Hawks will remain competitive, thanks in no small part to their team-oriented offense; however, this season will most likely not have the same success as last season.
By: Saeed Ghassemzadeh
Edited By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17