Joe Johnson & The Real Problem With The Hawks

By: 05.11.12
Josh Smith

Josh Smith (photo. Blake Peterson)

During the Joe Johnson era, the Hawks have fielded a core around him of Al Horford, J-Smoove and the budding Jeff Teague. Their regular season records have improved each year since 2005, sans the latest two: 26, 30, 37, 47, 53, 44, and 40 wins. They have made the playoffs the last five years, and haven’t gotten past the second round. For his part, Johnson has been named an All-Star by the coaches each of his six seasons as a Hawk, which speaks to how he is viewed and respected by those who gameplan against him. Even without a legit center and better role players, there’s no reason why the Hawks haven’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals. As the Celtics have aged, the Hawks have let the Pacers emerge as another threat to the Heat outside of the Bulls. They have stayed in a perpetual state of purgatory.

The Hawks have remained content for far too long. The core was established and capable of making real noise deep into the playoffs, but ownership decided to stick with Woodson as the coach for six seasons. While he increased their win totals steadily, his defensive schemes and simple offensive tactics were not good enough to propel the Hawks past the conference semi-finals. The onus lies on management. A radical coaching change was in order some time ago. When they hired Larry Drew in 2010, this move screamed mediocrity louder than a Gucci Mane album.

They failed to grasp the cultural vibe amongst the players. The owners should’ve picked up that distinction and brought in a coach with real credentials and swagger to light a fire under this chilled crew. I’m sorry, but Woodson looks like a long lost twin brother of Mike Brown. And Drew should’ve been sent packing back to Cali to join his son, Larry Drew II.

The one man, though, that would’ve changed the present realities was Alex Meruelo. He was handed the mike to speak but not the keys.

One of the most overlooked storylines this past offseason was Meruelo’s pending approval of coppin’ the Atlanta Hawks. Beyond the lockout news, the hierarchy of ownership dealings was in this order: the New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, and then the Hawks. Perhaps it was because the Atlanta fan base is rather indifferent, but this situation needed more coverage than it garnered. He was on the cusp of becoming the first Hispanic-American owner in the NBA. And in a city where transplants virtually dominate the scene, it would’ve taken one to somehow unite these people with Atlantians to support the team at The Highlight Factory.

In the brief news conference to announce the potential deal, he brought a glimmer of optimism and desire to this moribund franchise.

“I can’t promise you a championship tomorrow, but I can promise you that I will never give up,” Meruelo said at the time.

However, as quickly as his hopes rose into the public’s radar, they were shattered.

Less than three months after the potential move was first reported, it was revealed the league “isn’t sure Meruelo has the wherewithal to buy and run the team in the way an NBA needs to be run,” according to Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Whatever the details behind this rebuffed deal were, it remains unclear why this happened and whether the league did their due diligence and took the necessary time to make a prudent decision. This verdict’s ripple effects have and will continue to impact the future health and growth of the Hawks.

“The Atlanta Hawks are no longer for sale. We’re excited to remain as owners of the Hawks and are committed to building on our string of four straight playoff appearances,” stated Bruce Levenson in a team-issued statement soon thereafter.

Yeah, “build on four straight playoff appearances.” These owners have shown “commitment” to nothing more than being average. On the bench, they promoted a coach who has the same persona as his players. On the court, they signed cats that 29 other teams think are out the league: Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier and T-Mac. That’s the level of “commitment” the Hawks’ management believes in.

They must not know the Hawks have the second-longest championship drought (53 seasons, trailing the Sacramento Kings by seven years) in NBA history. The last time they won it all they resided in St. Louis… in 1958.

And rather than casting the blame on the shoulders of Joe Johnson as if he represents Joe Camel, Shaq and everyone else should look no further than the one cat that truly embodies what the Hawks have been and continue to be: Marvin Williams.

Or as The King himself T.I. once said in the “Live Your Life” joint:

“So live your life, hey
You steady chasin’ that paper
Just live your life, oh
Ain’t got no time for no haters.”

What does Atlanta need to do this summer? Blow it up or try it with this same core again?

Follow Freddy on Twitter at @RealFreddyMack.

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