Atlanta Hawks season preview: Josh Smith, Al Horford get their turn as leaders

Kevin C. Cox

The Atlanta Hawks saw many offseason changes to its roster after the arrival of Danny Ferry as general manager. Now its Josh Smith and Al Horford's turn to lead the team.

With the arrival of Danny Ferry as general manager, the Atlanta Hawks made significant changes to core group of players and heads into a somewhat uncertain season but with a far more optimistic financial outlook. By trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, Ferry unlocked significant cap relief and instantly makes the Hawks a major player in free agency next summer.

Atlanta isn't completely starting over however and returns a good nucleus centered around All-Star center Al Horford and should have been an All-Star Josh Smith. Those two combined with the further maturation of Jeff Teague at point guard has the Hawks hoping any slippage in the standings is minimal.

Here is a quick rundown of the returning players from last season's roster:

Josh Smith - Enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2012 and hopes to continue that stellar play and parlay it into a big contract next offseason. His desire to leave Atlanta the last two seasons has been well chronicled but he has softened that stance with Ferry now in charge. Even with that said, expect Smith's contract status to be a driving storyline for the team this season.

Al Horford - Played just 11 games last season before suffering a torn pectoral muscle that cost him the rest of the regular season. He returned in the playoffs against the Celtics but is now recovered and ready to play a bigger role with the team this season. Horford's passing ability fits nicely in Larry Drew's motion offensive system so expect he and Smith to once again flourish this season.

Jeff Teague - This season could be somewhat of a make or break season for Teague as he enters restricted free agency next season. Atlanta has positioned itself to be a major player in free agency next summer and Teague needs to show Ferry and the organization that he is the answer at the point guard position. Teague started all 66 games last season for the Hawks and finished with averages of 12.6 points and 4.9 assists per game. Without Joe Johnson around, Teague will have more opportunities and needs to show that he can lead the team both offensively and defensively.

Zaza Pachulia - Pressed into a starting role last season after Al Horford's injury, Pachulia played well and finished with averages of 7.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He likely will return to the bench this season and serve as Horford's backup at center. Also look for Pachulia to make a few starts during the season alongside Horford when Larry Drew elects to use a big lineup. Pachulia provides wonderful depth at a difficult position.

Ivan Johnson - Calling Johnson a veteran might be a stretch given that he is entering his second NBA season. However, at 28 years of age, there isn't much that the well-traveled Johnson hasn't seen. For a while it was uncertain whether or not Johnson would be back with the team but he finally agreed to the team's qualifying offer and is back for a second season. Johnson averaged 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds off the bench last season and figures to be one of the top backups behind both Horford and Smith.

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