I haven't been this pumped heading into a Hawks season since 99-00 season, better known as the year of the failed JR Rider experiment. Hopefully this year goes the EXACT OPPOSITE of that one (54-28 if you're keeping score).
Quick thoughts re: the local basketball collective on what is, as I watch the Celtics get handed their rings by a beaming David Stern, beginning to feel like Christmas Eve. If college football is like combining JW Blue, sex with a pornstar, a meal at The Palm and a Bob Dylan concert; then the NBA is like combining JW Black, sex with a stripper, a meal at the Sugo's and an Eminem concert circa 2004. In other words, its fucking awesome.
1. I've been to every big game of the Richt era, attended multiple Braves playoffs games in the 90's, sat in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium and was even in the Omni when the Atlanta Knights clinched the Turner Cup...and yet, I've never enjoyed or had a better time at a sporting event than I did during Games 3 and 6 of the Boston series. I don't think there is a community more starved for quality basketball than Atlanta, and those three games last spring showed just how rowdy an atmosphere exciting playoff basketball brings to this city. I would not miss a playoff game this year.
2. Like an ex-girlfriend you just wish would move away, maybe it's a good thing for Josh Childress to be 20,000 miles away from me. He's toyed with my emotions too damn much over the last few years. I resented him his first couple of years, mainly because Billy Knight was dumb enough to take him over Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala. As time went on, I grew to appreciate his strengths and accept him for what he was: a good bench player that did everything well and nothing great. but always seemed to have a knack for coming up with a big play or being at the right spot at the right time. Then he up and bolts to Greece. Not saying I blame him, the hookup he got contained everything short of his own Greek shipping heiress.
Anyways, NBA writers and analysts have turned this into the second coming of the ABA losing Dr. J to the NBA. It's Josh Childress. I haven't seen this much overreaction by folks over a bench player since Brent Barry (the X-factor!!!) to the Spurs a few years had folks thinking they'd just landed St. Peter himself to come off the bench. Again, it's Josh Childress. He's replaceable. But unfortunately....
3. The Hawks choose to replace him with a bunch of 9th and 10th men, and according to most pundits have one of the worst, if not the worst, benches in the league. Early preseason game reports on Flip Murray and Mo Evans have been promising, so I'm definitely hopeful, but kind of in the same way that I am about the Braves' bullpen every March.
4. One guy who won't be included in that bench is Randolph Morris, the wild-card free agent signing that can't catch a break since committing to Kentucky (in as much as a 22-year-old millionaire can't catch a break), who has played his way out of the rotation. Apparently his year with the Knicks taught him plenty. Morris has really established himself as the MC Ren to AAU teammates' Dwight Howard and Josh Smith's Dr. Dre and Ice Cube.
5. As far as the starting five go, I may be a homer in saying this, but I love these guys. I believe Horford has the opportunity to be one of the league's elite big men, maybe as soon as this season. While nothing would surprise me this season in terms of Josh Smith's production going up or taking a step back this season, it's a lock that he will remain one of the most exciting players in the L to watch. Let's just hope he doesn't go Kirilenko on us. We may know what we're getting with JoeJ at this point, and all-star caliber play is fine with me. I remain an ardent Marvin Williams supporter (seriously, everyone can rag on the Hawks for taking him over Paul/Deron, but he was the clear-cut #1 or 2 prospect heading into that draft. Every team would have done likewise), but I'm cautiously optimistic that his jumper has improved this season. Hopefully, an improved jumper from Marvin means less outside shots (and more penetration) from Smith. There may be a few better starting fives out there, but there's not one I enjoy watching more. Yes, I realize that makes me either insane or a FreeDarko apostle.
6. That rant on how much I love our starting five brings me to my final point of this here rambling...Coach Mike Woodson. There's plenty of better Hawks bloggers that can count the ways Coach Woody and his 1980's Indiana halfcourt-offense are a terrible fit for his personnel, so I won't go into it. The ownership situation has obviously handcuffed this franchise into pursuing an elite or innovative coach that could truly take advantage of this athletic roster. As a Hawks fan, trust me, it's better not to think of these things. Let's just hope Woodson can find a balance between running his starters ragged like a twice-divorced Texas high school football coach during two-a-days; and allowing some of the younger talent on the bench (Acie Law, and umm Zaza) to develop without putting the squad at a competitive disadvantage. Again, Cautiously Optimistic...it's my personal slogan for this season.
Prediction: Mediocre to bad bench, a poor fit for a head coach, but five very good starters, four of whose games are still improving as they haven't hit their primes yet, and a point guard who will have a full season to gel with his teammates. I'm seeing a .500 team and a four game improvement over last season, to wit a 41-41 record. And for all the (truthful) talk of the Eastern Conference being much improved, a .500 record will get you in the playoffs this year. Believe that.