The first part of that sentence states:
The 2008-09 Atlanta Hawks are.
Yes they are. I wanted to get that out before the legions came in full tilt to position themselves on the bandwagon. To a wary watcher, a watcher who has seen the consistent inconsistency that Atlanta sports have displayed over the years, this comes as quite a shock. Of course I knew that this team would improve from last year (contrary to many "pundits"). That seven game playoff series against Boston isn't a fluke, contrary to many "pundits", who insist on ignoring that accomplishment. I knew that losing Josh Childress was leavened by the gains of Flip Murray and Maurice Evans. In fact, I even knew that those two were infinitely better than Childress. The main differences between Childress and Mo and Flip:
1) Mo brings much needed three point shooting.
2) While Childress was a better rebounder, Flip is a playmaker. He is the second best playmaker on the Hawks (outside of Cool) right now, and he anchors the bench. A cagey veteran (hear that term thrown around a lot, huh?), he is fearless if nothing else. You couldn't say the same thing about Chill.
3) Mo and Flip are old youth, meaning that they have been around the block while still remaining relatively young. That is IMPORTANT. By the way, these points not knocks on Childress. He has been an outstanding player for the Hawks and he is a real cool cat. My conversations with him have been nothing short of candid, and he is always respectful when conversing with the media. I wish him the best in Greece and he definitely made the right move in matriculating over there. This is just a situation of having pieces fit, and it turns out the Flip and Mo fits better than Childress. That simple.
So Flip and Mo's contributions come as no surprise, to me anyway. What is most astounding is the cohesion that this team is playing with right now. There has been much ado about their defense, but I have always said that defense comes from chemistry. Knowing where your teammate will be and trusting them to be there and them actually being there. Long arms, active hands and relentless rebounders go a long way too, and the Hawks do not have a shortage of those. You know how the good basketball teams seem to have this connection, this joy of playing for each other, rather than the name on the front of the jersey. That is where this team is right now.
They beat two 50 win teams on the road this season. They straight beat down a Toronto Raptor team that typically gives them problems. Before the game in the media room, I was chatting with AJC Hawks beat writer Sekou Smith about the Hawks (what else would we talk about?).
"Toronto is my sleeper team this year," I said.
"Yea, they have talent. Calderon always give them problems," Sekou replied.
"No, I'm not just talking about top four teams in the East. I have them really being a contender this year."
The Hawks later proved how foolish my statements were. They gave the Raptors what Dominique Wilkins called, "an old-fashioned beat down." After the game, like any game, the locker rooms were a tale in contrast. Toronto was stunned, with a sullen Calderon telling me after the game that "we were just spanked. Tonight, they just beat us." Nothing deep, but the countenance and body language told the story: Toronto came into the game knowing nothing about this year's Hawks.
I should have been focusing more on the Hawks before the game and their real shot of winning 50 games this year. That's the better story; that's the season that will give Joe Johnson MVP notice, Josh Smith All-Star consideration, and Mike Woodson Coach of The Year nominations. But as always, I remained stuck in the Atlanta Way of doing things: provide an illusory titillation, and then let down.
But up is down. Left is right. Barack is president. Anything can happen. Yes, that includes the Hawks being a real NBA threat.