By hiring former Mike Woodson assistant Larry Drew as its next head coach, the Hawks sent a message: Things need to change around here … but not that much.
The Hawks have improved each year for the last five, including a 53-win campaign this season where they earned the No. 3 seed in the East. And even if All-Star Joe Johnson leaves in free agency, Atlanta still has a solid young core in Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague, plus a couple of solid vets in leadership positions, Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby.
Coach Drew doesn’t need to make a complete overhaul, but following a lackluster showing in the conference semifinals, some personnel tweaks and attitude adjustments are definitely in order. Here’s how the Hawks can gear up this summer for a deep playoff run in 2011:
1. Target John Salmons and Rudy Gay
Of course, that’s if Joe Johnson isn’t willing to take a pay cut from the $15 million he made this season or just wants to play somewhere else. You’re unlikely to find an immediate starter with the 24th pick in the Draft, and Crawford is perfect where he is coming off the bench. So if it’s not Johnson, the Hawks need a big-time scorer on the wing who can start at the two. Salmons is the natural fit, but Gay could also be a gigantic 6-9 guard. Most importantly? Bring in somebody who can get to the free-throw line when the offense is struggling. The Hawks offense was plagued by long stretches where they didn’t move the ball and relied too much on isolations. Worse than that, those possessions too often ended with J.J. or J.C. jacking a jumper rather than attacking the basket; Crawford averaged 4.0 FTA’s per game this year, while Johnson had just 3.5 a night. Meanwhile, Salmons went to the line 5.3 times per game in his stint with Milwaukee, and Gay made 5.0 trips for Memphis.
2. Put Michael Jordan in your Fave Five
Typically teams don’t like to trade within their conference (let alone their division), but the Hawks and Bobcats seem like natural business partners. The Hawks need a legit 7-footer who can start at center and allow Horford to move to power forward, and the Bobcats have Tyson Chandler (reportedly considering opting out of his $12 million deal). The Bobcats could use a veteran point guard and clutch shooter, and the Hawks have Bibby, who’s also a Jordan Brand guy. And if the Hawks feel Teague isn’t ready and want a better option at PG, the Bobcats have Ray Felton ready for a sign-and-trade. Don’t be surprised if Atlanta and Charlotte spend a lot of time on the phone this summer.
3. Hire a shooting coach for Josh Smith
The Hawks have been able to get away with playing Smith at the four, but they wouldn’t have to if he could shoot. Dennis Scott lives in Atlanta. So does Steve Smith, and Brent Barry, I believe. Hell, track down Henry James and see what he’s up to. There’s got to be some sniper in the A who can work with Smith on his shot.
What do you think the Hawks need to do this offseason?