Soaring Down Towards the Ground (Atlanta Hawks Preview)

    This is the first of 30 previews discussing each team entering the 2016-17 Season. The stories are all fictitious as well. Enjoy!

Head Coach Mike Budenholzer
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

     The first thing Coach Bud heard when he walked into the practice facility was the thud of a basketball down the court. "Who could be here right now?" thought Coach Bud, "It's summer." Looking up he saw that it was none other than prized offseason acquisition, Dwight Howard. "Dwight" said Coach Bud, "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be out enjoying your summer break?". Howard paused his intense training routine and looked at Coach Bud, "Sorry Coach. I was in Atlanta hanging out with the family and I felt like coming in here to put some shots in. Coach Ham said it was alright." Coach Bud nodded his head and said, "I appreciate this effort, but next time ask me. Is that clear?". The veteran center nodded his head and got back to his routine.

Can Dwight regain his Orlando form?

      As Coach Bud walked away, he found himself impressed by Dwight and his decision to sacrifice his free time to better his game. It's that sort of work ethic that wasn't present in Dwight for a while now. "Could he be improving mentally?" thought Coach Bud. It was known around the league that Dwight wasn't the best center in the league as it had been a long time since Dwight was considered to be great. In fact, many wondered why the Hawks had signed Howard to a 3 year $70.5 million dollar contract. The Hawks were derided for taking a chance on a center that had been everything but a top ten center in the league. Howard went from being considered the best center and one of the best centers in the league to a free agency afterthought all in the span of 4 years.  A combination of injuries and poor work ethic doomed Howard during his time in Houston. 

The Hawks have been swept by the Cavs two years in a row in the playoffs.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

     Having gone 48-34 the previous year only to lose to the Cavs again, Bud knew that changes needed to be made. He signed Dwight Howard, let franchise stalwart Al Horford leave, and traded away Jeff Teague. "Would that be enough?" he thought, "Could they beat the Cavs with this roster, nay, make this a series against the Cavs?"  Widely regarded throughout the league as one of the top coaches in the NBA, Bud is a part of the Popovich coaching tree (one that also includes coaches like Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry) having spent almost 17 years as an assistant coach for the Spurs before leaving for the Hawks job. In his second year, the Hawks won a franchise record 60 games culminating in 4 members of the starting 5 making the All-Star Game (Teague, Horford, Paul Millsap, and Kyle Korver). However, they were quickly and mercilessly dispatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now entering his third year, Bud and the Hawks face a lot of questions. Will they ever be able to beat the Cavs in the playoffs? Is their 60 win season an outlier or the norm? How will new acquisition Dwight Howard fare in his 3rd team in 4 years?

Prediction: 45-37, 5th seed, dispatched in first round by Pacers in 6.

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