The Hawks had a successful season. At the same time, there was a sour taste left after they were swept by Cleveland. Was this team a fluke & what needs to happen for them to take the next step?
Why Did The Hawks Fall Short?
Part of the reason the Hawks fell short was their injuries. Jeff Teague hurt his ankle just before the playoffs, Paul Millsap had a bad shoulder, Kyle Korver was lost in the Eastern Conference final and DeMarre Carroll also badly sprained his knee. And that’s on top of losing defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha right before the playoffs. All of those issues became a problem. However, the bigger issue is that the Hawks simply ran out of gas. This is a team that started the year 49-12 but then went 11-10 down the stretch of the season. Early on, they were moving the ball crisply, playing excellent defense and relying on balanced inside-out efforts to maul opponents. But by the time the season wore down, this was a team that had lost their confidence. They labored in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets, barely got by the Washington Wizards in the second round and then faced reality in the conference final. We’ll have to see if they can regain the swagger they had early in the 2014-15 season.
Hawks Must Keep Free Agents
The first key to the Hawks being able to maintain their contender status is their ability to keep core players. Millsap and Carroll are free agents and the Hawks would be wise to keep them. Will it be tough? Yes. But if they fail to do so, that means they’ll lose the players that finished second and third in playoff scoring for them. They will have cap space as they head into the offseason with just $39.2 million on the books. Elton Brand, John Jenkins, Pero Antic, John Salmons, Mike Muscala, Austin Daye and Jarrell Eddie are all coming off the books. If they can bring back Carroll and Millsap, they’ll again be among the East favorites next season. If not, this team is going to take a big step back.
Hawks Must Add A Piece Or Too
So if the team is kept intact, how close are the Hawks to a championship? Well, they won 60 games, so the answer that they aren’t far off.
The main issue is the Hawks have to find a crunch time performer. In the regular season, they had different players that stepped up at different times and that was fine. In the playoffs, it became evident that they didn’t know where to look for the game-winning shots. It would be nice if they had an elite shooting guard who was the go-to in those situation. That would allow them to either move Korver to the bench or limit him a little bit. It’s clear that he wasn’t the same player in the postseason.
The good news is that the Hawks have the 15th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. That can be used to get a guy like Devin Booker or maybe Sam Dekker. That could give them another weapon who can come in and be one of the final pieces.
However, if the Hawks do lose Carroll, Millsap or both, they are going to take a big step back. At that point, the team will be a skeleton of Teague, Horford and Korver and that’s really not much. They’ll be a second-round Eastern Conference playoff team.