“Never Trust the Hawks”
That phrase has been, more or less, my programmed response to every unexplainable Hawks collapse or ascension over the past decade. I use it to describe the indescribable, to substantiate the unsubstantial. The Hawks are, after all, the epitome of a paradox. There is no sense to them, and if history has taught us anything, there never will be. The personification of untrustworthiness, the Hawks always seem like they are somewhere lost in the wind, somewhere helplessly floating between terrible and mediocre, somewhere drifting into the abyss known as NBA limbo—where mediocrity dwellers sit, middled-out in conference play, just waiting to bottom-out, only to middle-out once again.
This has been my life as a Hawks fan, blogger, and analyst. This is why I’ve fully endorsed the “Never Trust the Hawks” DDL movement. It’s why I’m never satisfied with this team, why I can’t be satisfied with this team, until there is something to trust— and I don’t have the exact qualifications for what is to be deemed trustworthy.
I’m aware that I’ll probably never get around to a significant point while writing this, but I need to write it anyway. I need to rant, to ramble, to just explain where I’m coming from with whatever I’m trying to say. I need to write this, and I don’t even know what it’s about. But still, it needs to be done.
I’ve followed Atlanta sports my entire life. I haven’t always been emotionally invested in them, though. The only championship game an Atlanta sports team has played in that I’m old enough to remember, well, I was too focused on pissing my brothers off to root for transcendence in a fleeting moment. I wanted the Denver Broncos to win because I wasn’t even 10 years old and I thought it would be funny to see a house full of disappointed fans. I know, terrible and heartless, right? Little did I know at the time that the city I’ve grown to call my hometown wouldn’t make it to a championship game again in the next 15 years.
I enjoyed rubbing in Denver’s 1998 Superbowl victory to my brother and his friends, but now that I think about it, I would have rather cried myself to sleep—I would have rather experienced my first true sports defeat for my hometown team, I would have rather been there with my brother, sulking like the rest of the city, instead of rubbing the loss in. I missed my chance to feel like I was robbed, to feel that a year should have been our year.
I’ve never felt robbed, though. I’ve never felt like a year should have been our year—and that goes for the Hawks, Thrashers (RIP), Braves, and Falcons. Well, at least until now. I feel like this is the Falcons’ year. This is my chance to make up for lost time, to catch up on heartbreak or rejoice in victory. And maybe it’s the Falcons recent success that has triggered my current befuddlement in regard to the Hawks. The fact that I’m seeing greatness—Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Sean Weatherspoon, and Tony Gonzalez—develop before my very eyes, that I’m seeing an Atlanta team finally embrace the challenge of putting this city back on the map, maybe that’s influenced my frustration. Maybe it’s the Hawks losing 8 of their last 11, maybe some combination thereof, but for the first time ever, I feel a sense of entitlement. I shouldn’t feel it, but I do, and I want the Hawks to give me more.
Yeah, it’s selfish, and yeah, it’s premature given that this was designed to be a transition year. Yes, I should understand that building a championship team takes time, but I do more importantly understand that building a championship team takes a star player, a transcendent player. Scoff all you want, but a team isn’t getting anywhere without one. To the playoffs? Sure. To the Conference Finals? Maybe? To the NBA Finals? If the stars align. To hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy? Not a chance.
It’s a flawed concept to think that all teams without a superstar should just throw in the towel and tank deep into the lottery. If that were the case, the league would have no middle ground, would have no limbo, even though those middled-out teams are the stabilizing force of the NBA. It’s no fun to watch 25 tanking teams while the top 2 or 3 squads from each conference duke it out for a chance in June. It’s important that teams embrace their mediocre destiny, embrace their prescribed decade or so of prosaic disposition.
The Hawks have done that, everyone. They’ve been doing that for decades. Atlanta has never made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Their basketball is as mediocre as it gets. They are THE poster-child of a historically ordinary and average NBA team.
I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want a lackluster history that only adds to the general despising of this city as a sports town. I don’t want the Dominique Wilkins years to be this franchise’s peak. Why do we have to live vicariously through Nique to experience any excitement? It’s not because the fans are terrible, it’s because the product has been unappealing. It’s been a mix of solid, but boring basketball with horrific basketball. That’s the Hawks for you.
Maybe my opinion just mirrors that of the typical Atlanta sports fan—one who would rather be amazed by athletes than win games. As Rembert Browne has stated before, the holy triumvirate of Atlanta sports is Hank Aaron, Michael Vick (I’d like to add Deion Sanders to this group), and Dominique Wilkins. Did any of those guys ever win a championship? No. But did those guys give the city something to cheer for, something to identify with? Yes. Atlanta is a flashy sports town. Fans want the flash first and the wins second. If the two can come together, then everything else is gravy.
The reason the Hawks should cater to the city’s desire for the spectacular is because basketball is the most personal of all the professional sports. Personalities are so important to NBA pundits and fans, so dissected and reviewed—a real presence in the city, a real spokesperson would truly have Atlanta buzzing like it was when #7 was suiting up on Sundays.
The Hawks don’t have that guy, though. They don’t have that personality. They have exciting players, kind of, but they don’t have THAT guy. The question is, how do you get that guy, because he isn’t going to fall directly into your lap (unless of course, Dwight Howard, you feel the need to return to your prior dominance and sign in Atlanta this off-season).
For a city like Atlanta, the draft is the answer. You need to get lucky and you need to be smart. It takes a perfect storm to find that perfect building block, and the Hawks haven’t had one of those in, well, forever (Petit doesn’t count because that was the St. Louis Hawks). But to get a guy like that in the draft, to get a guy who can transcend the boundaries of everyday stardom, that takes a high draft pick—that takes losing everything the Hawks have now, all of these assets, for a puncher’s chance to achieve something marvelous.
It isn’t worth it. I’ll be the first to say that. Breaking up this core completely sends Atlanta straight to the lottery, sure, but it would take years to dig out of that hole. Those years would be further used to humiliate the Hawks and the city of Atlanta. It’s as simple as that. It isn’t worth it, but does that simultaneously mean it’s not necessary? Of course not.
I don’t know if Josh Smith should be traded. He confuses me more than any other player I have ever watched. But if Smith is indeed traded, what do the Hawks really have to work with or work for? Teague, Horford, and likely a re-signed Korver would be the primary holdovers. Can you piece together a solid team from that core and maybe sign another borderline all star to go with them? Sure! But where does that put them? Where does that send the Hawks? Right back to where they’ve been since their relocation to Atlanta. Smack in the middle of the conference—NBA limbo.
So if Josh Smith is not traded, fine, good, great, grand, all the better! Make a run for Dwight in free agency, and if you miss out on him, well there’s still cap space and there’s still moveable pieces. If Josh is gone though, whether that be through free agency or via trade, the Hawks will be primed to just assert their mediocrity with a new set of players. That’s not what we should want. The question is: Is it worth being terrible for a few years if through that terribleness something bigger, better, and brighter is achievable, but still unlikely?
I don’t know the answer to that question.
But I also know that I have absolutely no clue as to what the future will hold for this team. It all seems, from our perspective, relatively arbitrary. You can’t trust the Hawks to do anything here, but isn’t that how it’s always been?
You can never trust the Hawks.