Grantland’s Zach Lowe released his winners and losers from NBA free agency. Among the losers were the Atlanta Hawks, but not because of the deals of Thabo Sefelosha and Kent Bazemore. Instead, Lowe penned this on how the Hawks’ front office is having trouble even meeting with free agents:
No one will take Atlanta’s money, despite a good core of players, a very good coaching staff, and an innovative style of play Mike Budenholzer has only just begun installing. Some stars won’t even meet with them. I almost wanted to hug Budenholzer when I saw him in Vegas. The most common theory among insiders for Atlanta’s lack of appeal is that players see the Hawks as a dull franchise with a dead crowd and a limited postseason history that almost always involves NBA TV.
That will turn around at some point, but just about everyone Atlanta has approached so far rebuffed the Hawks’ invitation to get in on the ground floor.
I have always been an ardent defender of the Hawks’ turnout for the other reason that Lowe mentions: the Atlanta version of the Hawks franchise has never really won anything of significance; no titles, no appearances in the Finals, hell, not even an appearance in the Conference Finals for the Atlanta faithful to hang their hats on.
The Hawks have four “championship” banners hanging up in Philips Arena. All four celebrate a division championship, which I don’t think is an accomplishment you should scoff at, as it is a nice accolade. It usually means that your team is in the top four in the conference and that they have some sort of chance of making it to the Conference Finals.
However… that’s it. The best thing the team can celebrate is winning their divison, and they have only done that four times in 45 years. Consider this: the most recent banner that they have put up for that type of success was in the 1993-94 season. I was one year old when the Hawks won that division title, meaning that a whole generation of Hawks fans have not even seen the team accomplish THAT.
So where are the Hawks at now? The team has made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons, which is the longest streak in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks have never really had a great team in that span, but even after seven years of early playoffs exits, the fans of the team have entered a state of cautious optimism with regards to the future. Most of the fan base is pleased with the way general manager Danny Ferry and head coach Mike Budenholzer are running things.
Ferry and Budenholzer might not be enough for the Hawks to succeed without some help from the fans, though. I have always thought that if the team acquires a superstar player or gets into the title race, then the fans will start to show out, even when that period of higher success ends. However, with what Lowe is reporting, this school of thought might not work for the Hawks; they need the fans BEFORE the arrival of success.
The Hawks have the pieces in the front office. They have some great pieces on the court. But what they need to elevate to the next level, according to Lowe, is for the fans to bet on that cautious optimism.
The Hawks have been eliminated from the playoffs in consecutive seasons by the Indiana Pacers, who are not exactly the biggest draw in the NBA. Philips Arena was still packed and noisy — cheering for the Hawks! — for those two series. For the Hawks to shake that reputation of a “dead crowd”, the fans need to translate that noise to the regular season. They need to make it’s not a surprise when games are sold out.
So if Hawks fans want the team to finally reach that next level and if they want their attendance to cease being a joke to the average national media pundit, then they need to go all-in on Ferry, Budenholzer, and this team. The Hawks are currently in the middle-tier of the NBA and to improve, the fans need to take that risk.
Because when you’re in the middle, the path to prosperity can’t be ventured by standing pat.