What a ride. Although the results weren't what we hoped for this season, it was still a lot of fun. I truly appreciate your support all season long. We have tons of incredible content and programming planned for this summer, but before we move to the offseason, it's time to break out the scalpels and diagnose what went wrong for the Atlanta Hawks this season.
October (2-2 in Preseason) (3-3 in Regular Season)
From August through September, the Hawks organization opened up the checkbook and took care of the Southeastern Division Champs - Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, and Kevin Huerter all got paid. Few changes were made during the offseason besides adding Delon Wright and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
To borrow a phrase from Scoop B, the Hawks were "walking around like Jordan" at NBA Media Day in late September. Head coach Nate McMillan called for sacrifice among his players. One of the main concerns at the time was the Hawks depth and keeping every player happy.
Despite saying all the right things publicly, McMillan allowed bad habits to take root early in the season. Apathetic attitudes gave way to early losses. While Clint Capela later admitted that the team lacked enthusiasm, it's Trae Young's comments from November 4 that hung around the Hawks necks all season.
After falling to the Utah Jazz 116-98, Young told the media, "I think guys are learning that. We're no longer the hunters. It's regular season. I'm not going to lie, it's a lot more boring than the playoffs. You got to find that motivation to play like the playoffs."
To make matters worse, De'Andre Hunter went down with a wrist injury and would miss 26 games. So now the team was without both Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu who was recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery.
As a sign of the up-and-down times to come, the Hawks dropped six straight games before winning 7 consecutive contests in late November. Right on cue, the streak ended with a disappointing home loss to the Knicks.
The holiday season was a nightmare for the Hawks. As an ominous sign of things to come, Nate McMillan missed his return to Indiana on December 1, out of an abundance of caution following his son testing positive for Covid. Assistant coach Chris Jent filled in to help the Hawks steal a road win, but a tsunami wave was building and the entire NBA was standing on the beachfront.
By December 17, the NBA had placed 63 players in Health & Safety Protocols and the worst of the wave was yet to come. In fact, the Hawks had gone unscathed. That was until Trae Young became the first player on the roster to enter the league protocols on December 19.
From there, the highly contagious virus spread like wildfire in the locker room. Every player (including some coaches and team personnel) except for De'Andre Hunter eventually tested positive for Covid. At one point, 13 Hawks players were in the protocols at the same time.
No games were postponed due to the Hawks' players' absences, which forced General Manager Travis Schlenk to sign a slew of G-League players and free agents to 10-day contracts. At one point, the Hawks had the largest roster in NBA history.
The start of the new year brought more challenges. The Hawks dropped six of their first seven games, which prompted Travis Schlenk to give a blistering interview on 92.9 FM The Game.
Schlenk said, "There's no sense of urgency to make a stop. There's no sense of accountability that 'I'm going to stop my guy.' It's just not there... it doesn't bother them. I hope it's a switch we can flip, but I don't know at this point." Go back and read his full comments from the interview, in retrospect, it was incredibly prophetic.
One week after the Schlenk dropped the diss track, he finally cut bait on Cam Reddish. After quietly requesting a trade the prior summer, Reddish got his wish and was dealt to the New York Knicks where he found little playing time before eventually suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
Shortly after the Reddish trade, the Hawks got their players out of the league protocols and both De'Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu returned from injury. They went on another seven-game winning streak in late January which improved their record to 24-25 before dropping the final game of January to the Toronto Raptors.
Despite playing inconsistent and visibly going through the motions some nights, the team remained unfazed by their position in the standings. The mantra remained the same, "We'll win when it counts."
The Hawks started February 2-4 which ratcheted trade rumors up to a fever pitch. Legitimate sources indicated that Atlanta's front office had serious negotiations with the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, and most notably, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Although Ben Simmons had not played in an NBA game since the Hawks eliminated the 76ers in the 2021 Playoffs, the 6'10" point guard became the center of discussions between Travis Schlenk and 76ers General Manager Daryl Morey. The Hawks package would have been built around John Collins plus additional players and picks. Thanks to James Harden wanting out of Brooklyn, the deal never came to fruition.
While the rest of the Eastern Conference got better at the trade deadline, the Hawks stood pat. Schlenk explained that the team was on a hot streak and he still believed in them. "We know this group has the ability to be successful, as we saw last year. And we want to give them that opportunity to prove it to the world they can do it again."
The Hawks dropped the next two games and John Collins suffered a nasty finger and foot injury which sidelined him through the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Trae Young caught a flight to Cleveland, Ohio where he participated in the 3-Point Contest and started in the All-Star Game for the second time in his career.
On March 1, the Hawks lost to the Boston Celtics by a score of 107-98. In his post-game remarks, Trae Young told the media, "You put us in a series versus anybody, and we get to really analyze you and stuff like that. I feel like it's going to be tough to beat us, and we're not just an easy out. I just want to be in the best position at the end of the year when it comes to that"
To be fair, the Hawks played their best basketball in March. They still dropped two road games to the Detroit Pistons but they were making progress. Young averaged 29.4 points and 10.5 assists per game. A decisive 131-107 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 31 put the Hawks at 40-37 on the year.
While the Hawks ramped up for the postseason, the status of John Collins injured remained unclear. The messaging surrounding Collins has been all over the place. Starting when McMillan admitted that he wasn't telling us everything about Collins' health following the Clippers game on March 11. Then on March 17, we learned that Collins took it upon himself to seek a second medical opinion outside of the organization. On March 29, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said there was still no timetable for his return.
April (3-2) (2-0 in Play-In) (1-4 in Playoffs)
On Friday, April 1, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin revealed in a radio interview that Collins had been working out with the team in a limited way. Hours later, the Hawks PR Team put out a statement that said, "His [Collins] return to basketball activity will be dependent on upcoming follow-up appointments with foot and finger specialists and consultation with the team’s medical staff. His status will be updated as appropriate."
The Hawks won three of their last five regular season games to squeak into the Play-In Tournament. They blew out the Charlotte Hornets 132-103 at home and completed an emotional comeback to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-101 on the road.
After hyperextending his right knee, Clint Capela received good news from the MRI performed on Saturday, April 16. 'The Swiss Bank' didn't suffer any damage to the knee and would be re-evaluated in one week. Even better, John Collins would play in Game One of the Miami Heat series.
We all know what happened in the Heat series. The Hawks got outplayed and outcoached. The Heat started the series by bullying Trae Young who averaged 15.4 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 6.2 turnovers in five games. The Hawks lost game four at home and game give in Miami even though the Heat were without Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry.
This unceremonious playoff exit is a blessing and a curse. The silver lining is that it shed light on what the Hawks must work on if they are to contend for another conference championship. The roster needs to be overhauled, and a better brand of basketball must be installed.
On the other hand, the level of disrespect and doubt Young will receive this offseason will far exceed what is warranted, but that comes with being a superstar. The pendulum always swings, and Young has kicked butt for so long that it was only time for the 23-year-old to have a bad stretch.
The Hawks season will be remembered as a cautionary tale of complacency and hubris. Put simply, the organization got high off media hype and became unresponsive to vital signs something was wrong. Even worse, several players regressed while the rookies barely got off the bench.
The good news is they have a 23-year-old point guard whose skill is only exceeded by his work ethic. There's always next year, let's just hope the blissful mistakes of 2021 are not repeated in 2022.
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