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The signing of Dwight Howard sent a message to the city of Atlanta and the entire NBA. The Hawks will no longer settle for 4th place finishes and 2nd round exits. Following the trade of Jeff Teague and the exit of Al Horford, Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard are ushering in an era of Hawks basketball that will strive for much more than mediocrity.
The Hawks have become infamous for staying too quiet in free agency. Seemingly, the previous ownership was too scared to take risks and this prevented the Hawks from being true contenders for a championship. Then, one year ago, Tony Ressler bought the team. He is a different type of owner. He wants to take risks, make trades and sign big names. He knows that if the Hawks want a championship, they need an aggressive attitude both on and off the court.
The reason for the lack of movement by the old ownership is understandable. Since 2008, the Hawks have made the playoffs nine straight times, the longest such streak in the Eastern Conference. When a team makes the playoffs nine straight times, they get comfortable. The Hawks never had to rebuild and get a great player early in the draft, but neither did they have the skill to win a championship. While the trio of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Lou Williams almost guaranteed the Hawks a playoff spot, the team was not a real contender. The same could be said about the more recent trio of Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and Jeff Teague. These are three all-star players, some of the best to play in the Hawks uniform, but this trio was not championship material. When teams get to the playoffs on such a consistent basis, the prospect of changing things is daunting. If changes don’t work , all of a sudden a team can dramatically decline. With this in mind, the mediocrity of a first round, six game series exit does not sound so bad. And that was the problem with the old ownership. In no way am I saying that this year’s team of Howard, Millsap and Schroder will win a championship. However, these risky moves may be the building blocks of something really special. Furthermore, after the summer league, Taurean Prince and Deandre Bembry are looking like possible steals. Dennis Schroder is still only 22 and Bazemore re-signed very enthusiastically. Pairing those up-and-comers with three time all-star Paul Millsap and three time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard could turn the Hawks into a serious contender when the younger players acclimatize to the NBA.
When Dwight Howard was signed by the Hawks on July 2nd, many Hawks fans were angry. Many feel he is lazy, doesn’t want to win, and will be a cancer in the locker room. It is absolutely true that he has had some problems on his past two teams, the Lakers and the Rockets. But those situations were very different from the one he will enjoy with the Hawks. The Lakers had Kobe, and he shot a lot. Dwight Howard simply could not get accustomed to a program where one player completely dominates the offense. Then, he went to the Rockets. He had not gotten along with Kobe, who was by far his team’s first option, yet he still went to a team that offered the same situation with James Harden. Once again he had a hard time getting along with the Rockets top man, who plays much like Kobe. He was not a villain before he went to these teams. It is no coincidence that when he went to LA and Houston, both of which already had a bona fide star who dominated their offences, that he became unhappy. Fortunately for Dwight, the Hawks game plan is to share the ball and spread the scoring. Pick and rolls and lots of assists, with no other big- shot star to fight with Dwight.
Moreover, Dwight is from Atlanta and he wants, more than anything, to bring a championship to his hometown. He chose a new number, the number eight, that in the bible is a symbol for new beginnings and this is representative of his attitude. Howard wants to put his past troubles behind him and recreate himself as a hero for Atlanta, rather than be the villain of the NBA. When he and Kent Bazemore both cried of joy at their first press conference after signing their contracts, it showed a side of Howard that has never been seen before. The Dwight Howard that is supposed the destroy locker room may, in this new situation, actually give the Hawks the motivation and heart that is needed for a championship team.