Mike Bibby (above), who may be trade bait again come February, will create plenty of open-court chances for the acrobatic Josh Smith in the meantime.
Since the franchise moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968, only two Hawks rookies have played more minutes than Al Horford (2,540) did last season: Pete Maravich (2,926) and Dominique Wilkins (2,697).
Record: 37-45 (8th in East) Points scored: 98.2 (15th in NBA) Points allowed: 100.0 (15th)
A midseason pickup launched them on a surprise run. An encore won't be as easy
Mike Bibby knew that he was going to be traded last season, and he was hopingto go to a contender. The Hawks, who hadn't been to the playoffs since 1999,weren't exactly what he had in mind. By acquiring Bibby, though, inexperienced,point-guard-deficient Atlanta got just what it needed to end that drought.
At 30, Bibby lacks the speed he had in guiding the Kings to five straightpostseason appearances and within a game of the 2002 Finals. But he still knowshow to run a club. With him as the primary ball handler the Hawks' scoringaverage increased from 94.8 points to 103.5, and they extended the Celtics toseven games in the first round.
Bibby's biggest contribution to that series, however, came off the court,when he called out Celtics fans for being "bandwagon jumpers" and drew the ireof the TD Banknorth Garden crowds. "He took the pressure off these young playerswho had never been to the playoffs and put it all on himself," says coach MikeWoodson. "He helped our guys relax and play."
Despite his positive impact on the franchise, Bibby may find himself on themove again come the February trade deadline. If he or the team is playing poorly, hisexpiring $14.5 million salary will be too valuable a bargaining chip forthe Hawks not to use.
Wherever he finishes the season, Bibby wants to prove that he's fullyrecovered from a torn left-thumb ligament he suffered last October. "I'm goinginto my 11th year," he says, "but people who really know basketball know that Ican still play. Everyone is going to see that this year." -- ArashMarkazi
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