This past January, the Atlanta Hawks looked to be leaders of an NBA revolution. Without a superstar or even many years together, they were working from a blueprint of selflessness and intelligence that was all but unbeatable. They put together a 19-game winning streak to go lossless in the month, and rode their mid-season dominance to 60 wins, the most in the Eastern Conference.
Today, many fans may be forgetting all that. The Hawks are merely LeBron James’ latest victim, after he and his Cavaliers swept them out of the conference finals and sent them home for the summer.
Even before Cleveland snuffed out their flame, though, Atlanta had looked like a shadow of their regular-season selves this spring. Injuries piled up for them quickly in the postseason. Some of them were bad enough to take players out for the year (Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha), while the rest of them were just making their active players worse (DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Mike Scott).
Some may take the Hawks’ swift exit as a referendum on their formula. In at least one way, this is probably true: If nothing else, Atlanta peaked far too early. Had that brilliant team in January been up against LeBron, we would have been watching a terrific version of playoff basketball. But the Hawks didn’t have the resolve or stamina to keep up the blistering pace they’d set.
What this loss doesn’t do is prove that you need a superstar to go to the Finals. Had the Hawks played well, there’d be an argument there — but the performance they put in was an iteration of team basketball that lands well below the standard they’d set for themselves. Now, they face an uncertain future together.
Carroll and Millsap are both free agents this summer. Many have assumed both will be back to keep the Hawks’ front five together, because of the friendliness and cohesion thats visible among this cast. But neither player has ever made the kind of money that multiple suitors will show them this July, so we’ll have to wait and see how they react when that happens.
— John Wilmes