When the Hawks’ season ended, I did not want to write a “review piece” immediately. The way the team ended the season — blowing a very good opportunity to upset the 1-seed in the playoffs — sort of left a bad taste in the mouths of Hawks fans.
Now, almost three weeks later, I think I can give an appropriate view of what this season (on and off the court) meant and what to expect from future versions of the Hawks.
The Hawks were the 8-seed and they lost in the first round of the playoffs, but I see this season as a success. Despite a new head coach and a myriad of injuries that nearly sank the team, what the Hawks showed this season is that they really have an identity and a positive one at that. GM Danny Ferry started forging this identity last season, but with what is now mostly “his personnel”, the fans started to notice more of a team forming instead of just the “collection of individuals” that past squads resembled.
Coach Mike Budenholzer and his “pace and space” offensive system is something that works, even if the stats don’t completely bear that out because of the injuries the team suffered this season. Without Al Horford for most of the season, the Hawks still worked hard and were able to execute the offense even when the bench was deficient due to all of the ailing bodies. This is a promising sign for future seasons when (HOPEFULLY!!) the team is able to operate at close to full health for the majority of the season.
Strong impacts were also made off the court, too. Remember the Hawks’ recent deals with Audemars Piguet and Boingo in the past month? These aren’t just random sponsorships, but instead a concerted effort to improve the “brand” of the Atlanta Hawks. The technology in Philips Arena used to be miserable, but in the past two years, the Hawks have added new video screens and now these two corporate deals in a way that will improve the fan experience. Who knows, maybe the team will actually get a jumbotron from this millennium some time soon.
Robby Kalland and I discussed on Hardwood Paroxysm on what this all really means: it means people are actually starting to trust the Hawks. This isn’t just from the stand point of the front office and the players; we are finally seeing an ownership group that is putting their faces out there and making concerted efforts to improve the image of the team.
Two things that are tied together come from that improved image: better players and better fans. Take this tweet from Lang Greene for example:
Over past year I have spoken to numerous free agents to be about culture change in Atlanta since Danny Ferry's arrival. Most taking notice
— Lang Greene (@LangGreene) May 8, 2014
Paul Millsap and his 2-year/$19 million dollar contract are great, but what if that is just the start on free agents heading to Atlanta? Atlanta has always been an appealing city to NBA players, but what if they actually wanted it to be a permanent destination instead of just a party town?
And naturally, when the team is better and there seems to be a future to be optimistic about, the fans will start showing up in greater numbers. The Hawks have usually done well in filling up for playoff games, but something about the crowds during the Indiana series seemed different. The fans were louder and more prideful, creating an atmosphere that fired up the Atlanta players for the series.
This is a good start. Now the owners, Ferry, and Budenholzer need to keep working to make sure this great foundation that has been set does not turn into a condemned lot.
We all have to wait and see, but I believe this team has new heights to soar to in the future. And fortunately for them, I’m not alone in putting my trust in this team for what seems like the first time in decades.