The Atlanta Hawks are currently sitting at 23-21 and the three seed in the East. The three seed represents that the Hawks are one of the conference’s best teams. That’s impressive, unless you’re in the East.
Currently the six, seven and eight seeds in the East have losing records, but they would still make the playoffs if the season ended today. Those teams would be guaranteed no chance at the draft lottery unless they have trade rights to another bottom feeder’s draft pick. And that’s exactly what the Hawks have.
The beauty of the Joe Johnson trade was not just in removing his awful salary from the books, but also in acquiring the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ first round picks in the 2014 and 2015 drafts.
As a point of clarity, they are just the rights to swap picks. The trade does not entitle the Hawks to the Nets first round pick unless the Hawks give their first round pick to the Nets in return. The Nets started the season horribly, leaving many Hawks fans excited about the possibilities of finishing the season with a chance at the lottery. The Nets were so horrific, that the odds of getting the first overall pick were not too far-fetched either.
Then the Nets got hot. They went from the bottom of the East to a playoff team. Their record sits at 20-23, but they have won nine of their last ten. The Hawks only have three more victories and there is still over 40 games left for each team.
With the injury bug that has lingered in the Hawks locker room, it’s very possible the Nets could finish with a better record than the Hawks. If both end up as 4 or 5 seeds, all the Hawks get is a playoff spot where they can make a run, although unlikely, and a lousy pick.
The pro in tanking are a shot at a high draft pick in the draft. Not just a normal draft; most people are considering this draft to be the most superstar-filled draft since 2003. Most feel the Hawks can’t make a deep run in the East without star center Al Horford, especially with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers at the top. Let’s keep in mind though that the Hawks did just recently beat the Pacers and Heat in the same week and just yesterday took the Oklahoma City Thunder to the last few seconds. Although they lost to OKC, they were missing players causing them to start Shelvin Mack and Gustavo Ayon.
The positives to not tanking are simple. Hawks make the playoffs.
But then what? They lose in the first or second round like they always do? If that proves to be the case, the Hawks would finish the season eliminated from the playoffs and sitting with a 20th pick in a draft were they surely want a lottery pick.
That scenario is not all that bad. What if the Hawks shock the world and defeat the ageing Heat in the second round but lose to the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals?
The Hawks would show they are a team that is almost ready to take that next step like the Pacers were last season when they took Miami to seven. With only a few players guaranteed contracts for the 2014-2015 season, the Hawks will have money to spend in free agency. The problem the Hawks have had in the past was luring big names to Atlanta, mainly because they couldn’t offer success or a legitimate chance to win a ring.
Maybe if the Hawks can put together a playoff run similar to the Pacers and the Memphis Grizzlies of last year’s playoffs, then they might finally be able to add a big piece through free agency and use their late pick on a solid role player.
I say try to turn some heads. The Nets could still tank and the Hawks are quickly adapting to Coach Mike Budenholzer’s system even without Horford. They beat the Heat and Pacers without Horford, so give it another shot come playoff time.