#5 Atlanta Hawks A late arrival--forward LaPhonso Ellis--gives coach Lenny Wilkens the player he sorely needed

February 08, 1999

It's really not the kind of slogan you'd rush out and put on a
T-shirt, a poster or the cover of a media guide. But after
taking his team through its second practice of the season, coach
Lenny Wilkens stood at midcourt and summed up his outlook for
the 1998-99 season thusly: "I really don't think we're going to
be as bad as people think we are."

It would be easy to believe the lack of hype, if only because
the Hawks have made a point of disappointing. Last year they
started with a team-record 11 straight wins before injuries, a
stagnant offense and lack of depth pulled them down. Atlanta
went 2-13 against the league's top five teams and lost to the
Hornets in the first round of the playoffs. "We've got our work
cut out for us this year," added Wilkens. "The guys who come in
late will just have to catch up."

Fortunately for Wilkens, there were some late arrivals, and they
will help immensely. Three days after the start of camp the
Hawks re-signed power forward Alan Henderson to a seven-year,
$45 million contract. Winner of the NBA's most improved player
award last season, Henderson injects high energy into the Hawks'
attack, which tends toward the soporific. Then on Jan. 30,
Atlanta strengthened its small forward spot--long its weakest
link--by signing 28-year-old LaPhonso Ellis to a two-year, $3.75
million deal. "We stole a player," says center Dikembe Mutombo
of his former Nuggets teammate. "He's going to be a big, big
help to our team."

In Mutombo, the NBA's only three-time Defensive Player of the
Year, and point guard Mookie Blaylock, who has led the league in
steals the last two seasons, the Hawks are well fortified on D.
But even with the signing of Ellis, they need more offensive
punch. Guard Steve Smith has carried the team at times, but his
creaky knees limit his effectiveness over the long haul. "We
just ran out of gas last year," the 29-year-old Smith says. "We
need to fix that first and see what happens."

Smith will get some support from second-year guard Ed Gray, who
reported to camp with more muscle and less attitude; he was
suspended for three games and docked $50,000 in fines and lost
pay last year for not following team rules. Gray also showed no
lingering effects from the broken right foot he suffered in
January 1998.

The Hawks should get an infusion of young talent next season
when, as a result of making several deals in recent years, they
could have as many as four first-round draft picks. At about the
same time they plan to move into the new, 20,000-seat Atlanta
Arena downtown. Don't think that Wilkens, though, will be
content to sit back. "We'll do whatever it takes," he says. "You
can count on that. I know we have some holes, but I am not one
to say, 'Wait until next year.'"

--David Fleming

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Clutch grab Mutombo, who wanted help in the frontcourt, is high on the pickup of Ellis.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF LaPhonso Ellis[+] 80 14.3 ppg 7.2 rpg 2.8 apg 40.7 FG%
PF Alan Henderson 56 14.3 ppg 6.4 rpg 1.1 apg 48.5 FG%
C Dikembe Mutombo 15 13.4 ppg 11.4 rpg 3.38 bpg 53.7 FG%
SG Steve Smith 31 20.1 ppg 4.2 rpg 4.0 apg 1.03 spg
PG Mookie Blaylock 42 13.2 ppg 6.7 apg 4.9 rpg 2.61 spg

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 25

G Ed Gray 162 7.6 ppg 1.5 rpg 38.1 FG% 39.1 3FG%
F Roshown McLeod (R)[+] 203 15.3 ppg 5.6 rpg 1.17 spg 41.1 3FG%
F Tyrone Corbin 224 10.2 ppg 4.6 rpg 2.2 apg 1.33 spg

1997-98 Record: 50-32 (fourth in Central)
Coach: Lenny Wilkens (sixth season with Hawks)

[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics at Duke)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)