Atlanta Hawks 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 60-22, No. 1 Southeast Division, No. 1 Eastern Conference
Justin Holiday (SF) – Signed as a free agent
Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG) – Acquired via trade from the New York Knicks
Tiago Splitter (C) – Acquired via trade from the San Antonio Spurs
Walter Tavares (C) – Signed as a former stash pick (Gran Canaria)
DeMarre Carroll (SF) – Signed with Toronto Raptors as free agent
Austin Daye (SF) – Signed with Cleveland Cavaliers as free agent
John Jenkins (SG) – Signed with Dallas Mavericks as free agent
Pero Antic (C) – Signed with Fenerbahce as free agent
Elton Brand (PF) – Retired
Notable Staffing Changes
Danny Ferry – Former GM reached buyout agreement with Hawks
Mike Budenholzer – Promoted to President of Basketball Operations
Malik Rose – Hired as Manager of Basketball Operations
SBN Affiliate: Peachtree Hoops
2014-15 Season In Review
In Budenholzer’s second year as head coach, the Hawks exemplified team basketball, soaring to their best record in franchise history. It’s easy to forget that they were not even a .500 team in 2013-14. The 22 win improvement was second only to the Milwaukee Bucks (26 win improvement) and just beat out that of the newly star studded Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s amazing what a season of reasonable health from All-Star center and exceptional interior passer Al Horford can do for a team’s overall functionality. Seriously. The Hawks’ highest scorer (Paul Millsap) averaged just 16.7 points per game, but they still managed the sixth best offensive rating in the league.
The Hawks made history when all five starters were named Player of the Month for January, in which the Hawks became the first team to go entirely undefeated (17-0) in a calendar month. Shortly after, the Hawks also became the first team to have four All-Stars since the 2011 Boston Celtics. They would eventually receive criticism for not having a definitive leader or "go-to" scorer, but it seems fair to say that the role existed in a less conventional sense, as different players stepped up and down in necessitating circumstances. Like most of their achievements, the responsibility was shared.
The challenge of such a holistic system, however, is coping with the loss of components. When a team in its entirety must be counted on to match the efficacy a superstar that they don’t have, every injury takes a toll. The Hawks lost veteran wing Thabo Sefolosha to police brutality in early April and 3-point specialist Kyle Korver to a reckless Delly dive in the Eastern Conference Finals. Without them, they were swept by the Cavaliers, who were also dealing with injury, but still had LeBron James (and brilliant coaching, in fairness). The Hawks collapsed.
On October 9, Sefolosha was found not guilty of obstructing government administration. He was initially arrested by NYPD officers on April 8, the night Chris Copeland was stabbed outside a New York City club. During the arrest, officers broke his broke his right leg, which required surgery. Sefolosha reportedly plans to sue the city and the eight officers involved for up to $50 million. NBA media has come under fire, most notably by Bomani Jones, for its sparse coverage of this major story.
In free agency, the Hawks took a substantial blow when Carroll signed with the Toronto Raptors. Carroll, who had struggled to get his NBA career on the right track prior to his involvement with the Hawks, understandably jumped at the opportunity for real money, signing a fully guaranteed 4yr/$58M contract. The departure of Antic also hurt, as did the retirement of beloved journeyman Elton Brand, who has earned some rest after 16 seasons in the NBA.
Perhaps to the chagrin of Blazer fans, the Hawks replenished their frontcourt by trading for Tiago Splitter, which allowed the San Antonio Spurs to clear cap space in their pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge. Between the 6’11" splitter and the freshly added 7’3" Tavares, the Hawks should be able to cobble together a functional rotation of centers behind Horford without much difficulty.
PG: Jeff Teague | Dennis Schroder | Shelvin Mack
SG: Kyle Korver | Tim Hardaway Jr. | Kent Bazemore
SF: Thabo Sefolosha | Justin Holiday | Lamar Patterson*
PF: Paul Millssap | Mike Scott
C: Al Horford | Tiago Splitter | Mike Muscala | Walter Tavares
The Hawks will be fine. Unless a dark horse contender emerges in the east (looking at you, Bucks), there is such a tremendous talent gap between the top few teams and the rest of the field that the Hawks could enforce an "off-hand only" policy and still have a shot at seeds 5-8. Their biggest challenge will be replacing Carroll, who, in reality, was the weakest member of their starting five last season. A basketball team built on being an actual basketball team should be able to find a suitable sprocket to fill his spot in the chain.
The Hawks continue to dominate in the east, despite being generally underrated by pundits. Millsap and Horford will make the All-Star team again, but Teague and Korver will narrowly miss the cut. As a team, they will see a slight drop off. However, 50+ wins will not be a problem. Coach Bud will earn several votes for Coach of the Year, but will not become the first to win it back-to-back. The Hawks' absence of a go-to guy will remain the fallback narrative for lazy analysts.
Yesterday's Preview: Houston Rockets
Up Next: Golden State Warriors