Reason 56: Can the Atlanta Hawks elevate their game to the next level?
Since the 2008-09 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks have been centered in the middle of the pack heading into the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Hawks nabbed the fourth seed in the 2009 season, finished with the third best overall record in the conference in 2010, and were the No. 5 seed last season. It’s been somewhat of deja vu of what to expect from Atlanta heading into the NBA season – they’ll produce a nice 45-55 win season each year before falling early in postseason play. The Hawks were ousted in the conference semifinals in each of the past three seasons. But before penciling in the ballers from Atlanta as a No. 4 or 5 seed heading into next season, it’s important to point out that the Hawks are bringing back the main core of its team from a year ago. The electrifying scorer Jamal Crawford is the lone notable Hawk that is listed as an unrestricted free agent in 2011. Joe Johnson was signed to a maximum contract worth nearly $120 million over six years, and will be locked up as a Hawk for years to come. Al Horford has evolved into a double-double machine, while Josh Smith and Marvin Williams will still be suited up in Atlanta next season. Jeff Teague, who played extremely well in last season’s playoff series against the Chicago Bulls (15.8 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds in the series), could become the longtime floor general this team has been striving for. Crawford will be essential for Atlanta as well. Signing the 11-year veteran will provide the Hawks with a scoring machine that can create his own shot and provide a pivotal spark off the bench when need be. It’ll be tough to overcome the Bulls or Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, but the Hawks have been floating just outside the top tier for years. The 2012 season could become Atlanta’s year.