Hawks, Blazers Stuck Below Elite Level
These two franchises are no stranger to mediocrity.
by Shlomo Sprung | @SprungonSports
We can all agree that the Hawks and Blazers are both very good teams with a lot of talented players. But the two clubs always seem to be just below contending status in the second tier of their respective conferences. Atlanta and Portland both have really good players who can’t be considered great; just below what I would consider the top tier of elite NBA players. Portland has Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge as top players while Atlanta has the trio of Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith. But these two franchises are have already reached their potential with their current cores and have reached their respective ceilings for very different reasons.
Portland has a history of amassing really talented rosters of very good players; just look at guys like Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, Jerryd Bayless and Nicholas Batum over the years. But management never made that huge move to cash some of those chips in for an elite player that would have catapulted the Blazers into elite company in the Western Conference.
Every year near the trade deadline, the Blazers are usually one of those teams with considerable buzz regarding their pursuit of an elite player. They could have cashed in their chips on Amar’e Stoudamire at last year’s trade deadline but stood pat and lost to STAT’s Phoenix Suns in the playoffs. Now Outlaw and Bayless are gone and Fernandez has expressed displeasure about his status with the team and the team never pulled a trigger on that huge trade that would have given the Blazers an upgrade Beyonce would have been proud of.
The great fans in Oregon deserve a championship-caliber team but it may never happen with the roster that’s currently constructed. Team executives recently told CBS insider Ken Berger that they wanted to trade veterans like Andre Miller and Marcus Camby so they can go into the possible lockout period a younger and more financially flexible team. The signing of Wesley Matthews helped that but it’s hard to envision him catapulting the team from really good to elite.
The Atlanta Hawks have a similar problem. They have a really good young core with Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith, and have a decent supporting cast. Jamal Crawford (who sometimes leads the team in scoring), Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams fill their roles but it’s really hard to see how they can get past the first or second round of the playoffs every year with this team. They don’t have that go-to player like Eastern Conference elites Boston (Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo), Orlando (Dwight Howard), Miami (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) and even Chicago (Derrick Rose). Those are four teams that will be better than the Hawks in the conference for the foreseeable future unless dramatic changes are made. The extension with Joe Johnson and future big-money deals that will have to be made in the future to preserve their core players only reinforces the point that this team has likely reached its ceiling unless one of the players transform themselves into an elite game changer like Rondo did.
But one point my editor brought up is that maybe being a really good team is good enough for the fan bases of the Hawks and Blazers. The Atlanta fans suffered through so many losing seasons and downright putrid teams in the ATL that maybe the fans are content with the Hawks’ current situation as a solid but not spectacular team. I’m sure the Atlanta fans have something to say about this. Perhaps the devoted Blazers fans are cool with just having a playoff team every year but not a contender, though I doubt that.
Both the Hawks and Blazers seem stuck in their current situations and their window of opportunity to compete for a championship is likely closed.