The NBA season is just weeks away and the Atlanta Hawks will kickoff training camp with its annual media day festivities on Monday. Practices begin on Tuesday with the focus on incorporating many new additions to the roster with several key holdovers. As the season approaches, here are some storylines that we will be following this season:
Will Josh Smith be in an Atlanta uniform beyond this season?
Smith reportedly rescinded his trade demand and now becomes the face of the Hawks franchise with Joe Johnson now in Brooklyn. The Hawks have ample salary cap space available next summer and figure to be major players in free agency. That may start by re-signing Smith but at what cost? Can he take the next step and become a franchise player that the Hawks can build around? This is the single biggest question surrounding the Hawks and will be the driving storyline for the season.
Will Larry Drew coach the Hawks beyond this season?
Smith is not the only key individual with the Hawks that is on the last year of their contract. Atlanta picked up Drew's option shortly after last season's playoff loss to the Boston Celtics. However, the move was hardly a vote of confidence and Drew will once again likely be worrying about his future once the season comes to an end. For now new general manager Danny Ferry and Drew seem to be on the same page but with so many faces changing in such a short time its easy to wonder if Drew will be the next to go.
Who starts and does it matter?
Joe Johnson, Kirk Hinrich are Marvin Williams are gone which leaves the Hawks looking for two starters to join Jeff Teague Josh Smith and Al Horford. The departures of Williams and Johnson have left Atlanta with a hole at the small forward position. The Hawks have a number of options in the back court and it is a very real possibility that someone like DeShawn Stevenson, Kyle Korver or Anthony Morrow ends up in the starting lineup at small forward. Drew could also opt to go big placing Smith at the small forward position, slide Al Horford to power forward and start Zaza Pachulia. However, a lack of depth in the frontcourt may preclude that from being a regular option.
How will Al Horford play coming off last season's injury?
Al Horford missed nearly all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle. He returned in the playoffs and competed with the Dominican Republic in the last chance Olympic qualifier over the summer. With Joe Johnson gone, the team needs Horford to stay healthy more than ever. Horford is finally in position to receive more touches on the offensive end of the floor and the Hawks have to hope that he takes advantage.
How much will the Hawks miss Joe Johnson?
Yes the Hawks will miss Joe Johnson but the effect might not be quite as apparent. Without Johnson there will be a shift in philosophy and further adoption of Drew's motion offense. That is good news for players like Horford and Smith who are both excellent and willing passers. The Hawks brought in a number of shooters including Korver, Morrow and rookie John Jenkins. That should help spread the floor and make any defense pay for collapsing inside on Smith and Horford. Lou Williams will be called on to replace some of the scoring punch left behind by Johnson but his knack for getting to the free throw line could make Atlanta much more efficient offensively.
One area where the Hawks could struggle to replace Johnson is defensively particularly against big guards and small forwards. Atlanta invited Damian James, James Anderson and Anthony Tolliver to training camp to compete for a spot on the regular season roster. It's likely that whoever performs the best defensively during the preseason could end up finding their way onto the regular season roster.
The time is now for Jeff Teague.
Like Smith and Drew, this season is could be somewhat of an audition for point guard Jeff Teague who will enter restricted free agency at season's end. Teague has made strides since breaking out against Chicago in the 2010 playoffs. He started all 66 games last season at point guard for Larry Drew averaging 12.6 points and 4.9 assists. The trade of Johnson will put the ball in Teague's hands much more this season while Ferry and company pay close attention to how he drives the team. If he performs well then he could be looking at a nice contract next offseason. If not the Hawks could be looking to use some of their ample cap room on a long-term solution at point guard.