Projected record: 41-41 (8th in East)
Head coach: Mike Budenholzer
Projected record: 41-41 (8th)
2013-14 record: 38-44
2013-14 ORtg: 103.4 (15th)
2013-14 DRtg: 104.1 (T-14th)
Players in: Kent Bazemore, Adreian Payne, Dexter Pittman, Thabo Sefolosha, rights to Walter Taveras
Players out: Gustavo Ayon, Cartier Martin, Lou Williams, rights to Lucas Nogueira, rights to Sofoklis Schortsanitis
Projected Starting Lineup: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford
Remember when the Hawks were boring? When they were early-round playoff fodder year after year, without so much as a whisper from Atlanta? So much for that. Now, they’re embroiled in the biggest front-office scandal since Donald Sterling’s infamous tapes leaked.
Hawks owner Bruce Levenson set himself up to sell the team, turning himself in for a racially charged email he sent trying to figure out how to get more white fans into the arena. Then, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry was caught on audio saying “He has a little African in him, not in a bad way, but he’s a guy who would have a nice store out front, but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back” about Sudanese-born forward and 2013-14 winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award Luol Deng. Ferry is on indefinite leave from the team as head coach Mike Budenholzer runs basketball operations in the interim, and the team tries to improve on a 41-41 campaign last season.
There’s hope. The Hawks got out to a solid 16-13 start last season, a record that ranked them third in the Eastern Conference, as other potential contenders floundered. But they lost Al Horford, their star center, to a leg injury after the first 29 games, and the Hawks tumbled out of the playoff race entirely, finishing at 38-44 and enduring one ugly 1-14 stretch that bridged the All-Star Break. But Horford is back, and allegedly fully healthy, putting this team in a prime spot to contend in a fluctuating Eastern Conference.
Horford is one of the league’s best among big men at putting the ball in the hoop. He’s comfortable out to midrange, shooting an excellent 49.6 percent from 16-23 feet before his injury, and even experimented with a few corner three-pointers last season with varying success. Adding a seven-footer that puts up 18.6 points on 56.7 percent shooting won’t hurt. They could easily slide up to the fifth seed, depending on how the rest of the Eastern Conference shakes out.
But is Horford’s inclusion into the lineup enough to help the Hawks contend? Barring health issues, they should be better this year, as point guard Jeff Teague develops and Horford re-integrates into a scheme that put up solid numbers with him on the court. But the Hawks barely hovered over .500 even with Horford and All-Star Paul Millsap, and didn’t fare much better the year earlier. Losing Lou Williams, a possession-eater off the bench, should help their offense in the second unit.
They’re mostly stagnant from last season, save Horford’s return, and their few additions aren’t the type that’s going to change Atlanta’s fortunes drastically: Thabo Sefolosha is a solid perimeter defender but not a game-changer, Adreian Payne is a rookie big man with nice touch outside, but he’s not one of the heralded gems of the 2014 class, and Kent Bazemore is better known for his slightly off-court production than his actual on-court production.
Off the court, the Hawks are a mess, with a GM in abesntia and an owner looking to sell his team after turning himself in. But on the court, they’re as neat, tidy, and mediocre as ever. Call another .500 season poetic justice.