Don't look now, but the Atlanta Hawks are creeping ever closer toward respectability. That this is the case is a testament to the power of good luck, because Atlanta has done virtually nothing right over the past few years.
They got almost nothing for Rasheed Wallace. They drafted two small forwards in 2004 after already acquiring Al Harrington (who they intend to re-sign this summer, against all logic). Then they drafted another small forward in Marvin Williams last summer instead of taking the Next Isiah Thomas in Chris Paul. Not only did the Hawks have the chance to take Paul and solve their point guard problems for the next 12 years, he actually wanted to play for them as well.
This was a miscue of epic proportions. Throw in the fact they overpaid for Joe Johnson to the tune of Boris Diaw and three draft picks (for a restricted free agent!) and you can see that the Hawks management has been just brutal over the past few seasons.
Despite all of the moronic moves, things are looking up in Atlanta. Johnson's ability to be a true superstar was in question, but he has been downright fantastic this year, particularly since the All-Star break. He's the only guy in the league, other than Iverson, to have games with at least 40 points and 10 assists, and he's done it twice (in addition to a game with 42 and 9). He fills up the stat sheet, makes big shots, gets other players involved, and plays defense. Hard not to like that.
Of course, it is equally hard not to imagine him playing the same backcourt with Paul, but that is the challenge. We need to look at what the Hawks do have, not what they don't have.
They have Johnson, a star perimeter player that is worth building around.
They have Josh Smith, an emerging star at small forward. Smith is a freakish talent who blocks shorts from the wing a la Andrei Kirilenko and Gerald Wallace. He also does a good job on the glass and his offensive game is coming around quickly. He hit a game-winning shot a few weeks ago and, out of nowhere, drained four three-pointers in a game last week. He couldn't hit the broadside of a barn earlier in the year, so it is great to see him coming along so quickly. He's inconsistent, but at age 20, looks to have a fantastic future.