By MICHAEL DAY
Humans want to fix things. It is what we do, so after the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Atlanta Hawks again in this year’s playoffs, it is only natural for the decision makers of the Hawks to start mulling over potential solutions to fix the team. The current NBA method used to solve a flawed roster is to completely start over, which usually involves trading away any player who can actually play basketball for future draft picks or cash. The team will lose more games; therefore, produce a better lottery pick that will net the coveted “Star” (e.g. LeBron James, Kevin Durant etc.). Hopefully, the people running the Hawks stay #TrueToAtlanta and decide not to execute this plan.
Let’s travel back in time to the days when Netscape versus Internet Explorer was actually a thing. This was before the endless advertising frames that plague today’s web browsing experience, when someone could actually read the text off of a web page without fear of his or her computer completely locking up due to the sheer volume of videos loading. Ah, the “Good Old Days”.
Netscape wanted to push their browser to new heights and crush Microsoft’s Internet Explorer once and for all. That’s when a fateful decision was made that brought on the downfall of Netscape. The Netscape leadership decided to completely start from scratch and ditch their current code base. In other words, all the hard work the Netscape engineers, programmers, and testers put in to make the current browser was cast aside for brand new code. They decided to tear their house down and start over, when all that was really needed was to change a few walls, add a few rooms here and there, and then schedule the open house to show off the new product. Unfortunately, starting over threw away all of the old fixes for problems already encountered. Yes, all the hard-fought lessons learned – the competitive advantage gone. Joel Spolsky explains this scenario in greater detail on his website in case anyone is interested. Completely rebuilding the Hawks will tear down all of the hard-fought victories and lessons learned. Why do this?
The Atlanta Hawks were not a bad team this year. They made the playoffs, right? They won 48 games. Yes, they need some help, but like the house analogy, the Hawks only need to add a few rooms and maybe knock out a wall or two instead of a complete overhaul. There is no doubt that there are decisions to make regarding the roster. No one denies this as Al Horford, Kent Bazemore, Kirk Hinrich, and Kris Humphries are free agents. Jeff Teague also brings trade rumors to the table. Managing players and contracts is no easy task, but let’s go over a few examples of teams that were either forced or willingly decided to completely rebuild their rosters.
The Orlando Magic were forced into trading Dwight Howard in 2012. The coach didn’t get along with the star player, and the star player didn’t get along with the coach – the sad, repeated tale of a superstar and coach locked in a power struggle. Here is the haul the Magic received: Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Josh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga. They also received five additional picks: first round pick (2014), conditional first and second round pick (2015), and a conditional first round pick in 2017. Out of that list of players, only Nikola Vucevic is still with the team, but that doesn’t discount the total number of players and draft picks. In other words, the team received six players plus conditional draft picks. Far more than what most teams would get for trading a star player, and yet the Orlando Magic have not made the playoffs since this trade, three years and counting, and they play in the Eastern Conference where a decent team should easily make the playoffs.
Speaking of star players who did not get along with their coaches, Deron Williams,formerly of the Utah Jazz, was a lead actor in this story as well. Williams and his former coach Jerry Sloan did not get along. Not only did Jerry Sloan quit coaching the Jazz, but the Jazz also lost Williams. They traded Williams to Brooklyn for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, and two draft picks (Enis Kanter and Gorgui Dieng) in 2011, which by the way, was the last Utah Jazz playoff appearance. Sure, the Jazz are on the right track now, but they’ve spent five years rebuilding and how many more years are required before they make the playoffs?
The Minnesota Timberwolves last made the playoffs in the 2003-04 season. One can argue that this was when the rebuild mode actually started; however, the team still had Kevin Garnett, a sure Hall of Fame player on the roster until 2007. The decision was made to trade Kevin Garnett. This turned out well for Kevin Garnett as he was traded to the Boston Celtics where he got to play on multiple championship teams. With regards to the Timberwolves, though, the trade didn’t exactly return equal value. The Timberwolves received Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, and Theo Ratliff, along with two future draft picks (Wayne Ellington and Johnny Flynn). Anyone think Minnesota received equal value here? The best player in this deal for Minnesota, Al Jefferson, was traded to the Utah Jazz for Kosta Koufos in 2010. Yet again, even with a star player as a trade asset, the received players did not make up for the loss, and the team is still rebuilding as they are going through the same process again after trading Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. The Timberwolves received Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a $6.3 million trade exception. This trade looks better, but they still haven’t made the playoffs in 12 years. The closest they’ve come to a winning record in that time span is 40 wins against 42 defeats.
Do we even need to bring up the Philadelphia 76ers, a team in perpetual rebuild mode? All of the lottery picks, the trades for cash, the accumulation of players, for what? So far, none of those “brilliant” moves by the equally “brilliant” Sam Hinkie provided a single playoff game experience for the 76ers or their fans the last four years. Here is what was produced(W-L): 34-48 (not too shabby for the 76ers), 19-63, 18-64, and 10-72. Congratulations, that method definitely secured several lottery picks. About the playoffs, though, when does that happen?
Bring on the Boston Celtics – the best case rebuilding scenario of the past few years. After they made their title run, they were able to trade Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and D.J. White for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans, and three first round draft picks (2014, 2016, and 2018). (The Celtics can also swap first round picks with Brooklyn in 2017.) The key in this trade was the draft picks. The Celtics were able to parlay their one losing season in 2013-14 (25-57) to get a higher value first round pick. This pick plus the Brooklyn picks produced a playoff roster and while this is technically correct, one of the playoff seasons featured a 40 win Celtic team. As for the best season the Celtics have had since the trade, this past year, guess who ousted the Celtics in the playoffs? The Atlanta Hawks.
The above rebuild scenarios show that even with a star player to use as a trade asset, the resulting rosters did not produce better results. Not only did the rosters not produce championship caliber rosters, the teams did not even make the playoffs – the lone exception, the Boston Celtics lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs this year. What makes rebuilding even worse for the Hawks is that the only player mentioned in trade scenarios is Jeff Teague, and while Jeff Teague is a nice player, he will not garner the same trade value as the above scenarios. How does completely starting over make sense for a team that can’t offer a star player to get a large haul of draft picks, and not only that, but even with a large haul, the results are not impressive. One team out of the sample size of five made the playoffs, and the team that made the playoffs this past year was ousted by Atlanta. Getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers was no fun, but does anyone think missing the playoffs for three years is fun? No, how about five, six, or even 12 years? Nah, didn’t think so. Completely starting over is not the correct move for the Atlanta Hawks. Stay #TrueToAtlanta and make minor roster adjustments to keep the team going in the right direction.