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Sizing up the East: Atlanta

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff  September 7, 2010 03:24 PM

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The Hawks are at an awkward point. They matured over three seasons to the point that they became regular-season assassins last year. They were young and brash enough to talk trash about the Celtics before the start season (something about Al Horford, Paul Pierce and $50,000). They smacked the Celtics in four meetings last year. They earned the third seed in the East and looked like they were ready to take their post as one of the best teams in the Conference. Then the playoffs came, they nearly collapsed against an Andrew Bogut-less Bucks team and were absolutely embarrassed in four straight losses to the Magic.

The solution? Keep the core together, but fire the head coach. They re-signed Joe Johnson to a $120 million max deal, but they parted ways with the coach that turned helped turn the team around and rather than looking outside the organization for someone that could inject some new life, they found Woodson’s replacement in house. Woodson’s assistant Larry Drew became a zero-sum head coach, and his job now is to keep a Hawks team that was on the rise from hitting a plateau.

Mix in the trade demands of last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford and the Hawks don’t look nearly as threatening as they did at the start of last season.

Key adds:Josh Powell (Lakers), Jordan Crawford (27th pick, Xavier), Etan Thomas

Key losses: Mike Woodson (coach)

Celtics games: Nov. 22 at Atlanta, Dec. 16 at Boston, Apr. 1 at Atlanta

Strengths:They're easily one of the most athletic teams in the league.They swept the Celtics last season, and there were times when Josh Smith looked like he was running suicides past Kevin Garnett. Scoring’s not a problem (101.7 points a night), and they’re learning to win on the road (12 road wins in 07-08, 16 in 08-09 and 19 last season).

Weaknesses: Dwight Howard pretty much exposed the Hawks' biggest weakness when he shot 72 percent in the Magic’s second-round series against the Hawks. The Hawks might be the Celtics’ kryptonite but they’re helpless against teams with any kind of inside presence. Orlando dominated them, Cleveland did the same in the regular season. They struck out trying to bring in Shaq, and they wound up with Thomas, a veteran big who played just over 20 games with the young Thunder last season.

The Crawford Situation
Ray Allen said it pretty plainly last season. The toughest part about the Hawks is that with Jamal Crawford it’s like they have a starter in reserve -- or 18 points a night in their back pocket. “It’s like cooking the books,” Allen said. But now, Crawford’s the one taking issue with the numbers. In the last year of his contract, he’s due 10.1 million dollars this season but he wants an extension offer from Atlanta or a trade if they can’t make one that he considers fair.

From Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Crawford, whose current contract expires after the season, asked the Hawks for an extension last month, but has yet to receive an answer from the team. If the Hawks balk at offering Crawford what he considers an extension reflecting his market value then he would rather play elsewhere for the final season of his contract, according to the person familiar with the circumstances.

The person did not want to be identified because neither Crawford nor the Hawks have commented on his desire for an extension. Hawks general manager Rick Sund, who is on vacation, declined comment Friday through a team spokesman. Crawford's agent is set to meet with Sund next week.

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