Projected Finish: 50-32
There are a certain group of teams, I have always referred to as "Toxic Franchises." These teams find themselves most often in the NBA Draft Lottery, and usually ending up with the eleventh or twelfth selection. They may for a time period make the playoffs, but they are usually eliminated in the first round. They are never close to winning anything. You know the teams I am referring to; the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Grizzlies, (sorry to our buddies at 3 Shades of Blue but unfortunately true) Charlotte Bobcats.
Every once in a while a team gets to climb out of that primordial ooze, and become legitimate contenders. I covered the Cleveland Cavaliers in both phases. Before the arrival of the "Chosen One" you could hear the squeak of the players' sneakers in the nose bleed seats. When providence shined down on the Cavaliers, and they drafted LeBron James they had instant credibility.
The Hawks have gone around the task in another way, building around a free agent young star in Joe Johnson and then augmenting him with the NBA Draft, and trades. Still not sure whether Bibby is a good fit for this team, short or long term. The Hawks did not deserve to make the playoffs with their horrible season record. But they showed they belonged by taking the eventual NBA Champions Boston Celtics to seven games. The Hawks have arrived!
You know that old saying "I hate to say I told you so?" It's a lie! We love to say I told you so! It validates our beliefs, it tells not only ourselves but others, we know what we are saying. It gives us credibility, especially important to those of us who are in the media. I want you to trust what I am writing, that there is knowledge behind the words you see on your screen. That's how I gain your trust, and your loyalty. My credibility is my greatest asset, it served me well as I traversed the locker rooms of Cleveland's three professional sports teams. It allowed me to ask questions from athletes, that other reporters were afraid to ask. That trust does not come quickly, it must be earned.
Although it is still extremely early in the young NBA campaign, so far Atlanta has validated my faith in them. If you have not been following the standings, the Hawks have started out the season 6-0 as of this writing. Atlanta will take on the Boston Celtics Wednesday night, and that streak could very well end. However if it does, it still does not diminish what they have done to open their season. The Hawks are once again a viable NBA franchise, making Atlanta a viable NBA market.
Most of the early success is due to three players, shooting guard Joe Johnson, big man Al Horford, and veteran point guard Mike Bibby. Although I was unsure if Bibby was willing to buy into head coach Mike Woodson's game plan so far he has. Johnson is already an All-Star in the Association, and Horford is one in the making. Add forward Josh Smith , and Flip Murray who seems re-energized coming off the bench, the Hawks play tough every night.
Atlanta will not stay this hot all season. I think my preseason prediction of 50-32 will prove to be pretty accurate. But Atlanta has taken a moribund franchise and turned it into an exciting team. The person who is probably most excited about that fact is NBA Commissioner David Stern. He realizes that the stronger each individual team is, the stronger the Association as a whole will be.
There has been a whole lot of speculation about where Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James will end up in 2010 since the end of last season. Do you know what team NBA Commissioner Stern wants LBJ to sign with? The Cleveland Cavaliers, because if he doesn't you might as well sell the team, and shut down the Q Arena. The Cavaliers will never draw a single fan if LBJ leaves the team. The Cavaliers brain-trust knows it, as does the Commissioner. If LeBron James leaves Cleveland, the Cavaliers will be headed to Seattle. And truthfully, I don't know if Cleveland sports fans could maintain their sanity.
A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. The fact that the link that resides in Atlanta has gotten stronger is good for Atlanta, and good for the NBA.