Change To Be The Same in Atlanta
(The Sports Network) The Atlanta Hawks and Josh Smith finally parted ways in the offseason.
After years of trade rumors and first-round playoff exits, Smith bolted Hot- lanta for a free-agent contract with the Detroit Pistons. Smith was the flagship for the Hawks franchise, but now, he's just a footnote in Atlanta history.
Armed with buckets of cash, general manager Danny Ferry didn't make too big of a splash in the free-agent market. He inked Paul Millsap, a very underrated power forward to replace Smith. After that, the Hawks brought in Elton Brand and DeMarre Carroll to fortify the second unit.
The Dwight Howard/Chris Paul plan Ferry detailed for season ticket holders never came to fruition.
The biggest change for Atlanta, other than Smith's Detroit departure, was the hiring of Mike Budenholzer. Ferry opted to not bring back Larry Drew and instead wrestled Budenholzer from Gregg Popovich's staff in San Antonio.
Budenholzer was Pop's top assistant for years and plucking fruit from the Pop coaching tree isn't a bad idea. Sadly, Budenholzer let the team down a bit in the offseason with a DUI arrest.
Who's In/Who's Out
Key Additions:F Paul Millsap, F Elton Brand, C Gustavo Ayon, F DeMarre Carroll, G Jared Cunningham, G Dennis Schroeder, G Royal Ivey, Mike Budenholzer (coach)
Key Losses: Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Zaza Pachulia, Jannero Pargo, Johan Petro, Josh Smith, DeShawn Stevenson, Jeremy Tyler
With the focus back on basketball, Ferry's and Budenholzer's main goal will be to substitute Millsap for Smith. The players are bit different, but both versatile.
Millsap is more of a big man than Smith, who is something of a swing man. Millsap and Al Horford, a former All-Star, who is more naturally suited to the power forward spot and not the center position, should be a pair of fantastic bruisers.
Ferry elected to keep the rest of the Hawks core intact, to some degree. He matched a restricted free-agent offer from the Milwaukee Bucks for Jeff Teague, an emerging point guard, and re-signed sharp-shooter Kyle Korver.
In the draft, Atlanta took Dennis Schroeder, a 20-year-old German point guard, skinny big man Lucas Nogueira and Bucknell big Mike Muscala. The two centers will play overseas this season, but Schroeder should serve as Teague's primary backup.
The Hawks have made the playoffs six seasons running. They've advanced three times, but never made the Eastern Conference Finals. Is it reasonable to expect such a performance again when the team replaced such a huge piece like Smith?
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Over the last three seasons as a significant contributor, Millsap has averaged 16.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg. Smith's numbers are slightly better and he was more well-rounded defensively. But Millsap is a much more natural power forward than Smith ever was. Smith had a tendency to wander out to the three- point line. Millsap makes his bones in the paint. Millsap is athletic, just not Smith athletic.
Horford averaged 17.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg and 1.1 spg last season. He shot 54 percent from the field. That's an awesome season, although his free-throw percentage sunk to 64 percent. Horford is one of the league's most-skilled big men, but doesn't get mentioned a lot in that conversation. With Millsap in town, Horford will get more help on the interior.
Korver was a starter for most of last season and, logically, his scoring improved. He averaged 10.9 ppg, which was his highest output since the 2006-07 season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Korver's not out there to blow by people. He's there to shoot three-pointers. He made 45 percent of them last season.
Teague signed an offer sheet with the Bucks to reunite with coach Drew. The Hawks matched and it was a solid decision. Last season, Teague improved to 14.6 ppg, 7.2 apg and 1.5 spg. He's a sensational free-throw shooter and average three-point shooter.
Williams is coming back after an ACL tear in January. His timetable for return is unknown, other than Ferry and Budenholzer both noting they will let him take his time, an idea Williams doesn't seem interested in following.
What To Expect
Expectations are low for the Hawks. They are nowhere near the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference.
But, Atlanta leads the pack in the next wave. Losing Smith was a blow, but he could wear on coaches and teammates. Replacing him with Millsap should be relatively seamless as Millsap is not a boat-rocker.
The Hawks should extend their consecutive playoff appearance streak to seven. Making the second round would be a shock, but Atlanta is an above .500 team. It's starting five is very strong and very tough and Budenholzer will be fine in the lead chair.