The curtain comes down on the Atlanta Hawks season on Wednesday as the Hawks head on over to Memphis to open up the 2010-11 slate against the Memphis Grizzlies (8:00 PM, SportSouth HD, 97.9 FM). The Grizz are very much like the Hawks were three or four years ago, young and talented with a lot of potential and on the cusp of making waves in the Western Conference.
With third-year point guard Mike Conley, small forward Rudy Gay and shooting guard O.J. Mayo, complimenting All-Star power forward Zach Randolph, who averaged 20.8 points per game last season, it's possible that there could be a BBQ playoff party on Beale Street this year.
Memphis walked all over its preseason opposition, taking all seven games of its exhibition slate for the first time in franchise history. But the Grizzlies, who return all five starters for just the second time in team history, have not had much success in their season openers. Memphis, which finished 40-42 last season, is just 2-13 lifetime in the first game of the season and 3-12 in home openers.
Enter the Hawks, who enter the season opener taking seven of the last eight from their northern neighbors.
Atlanta has gone from contender to barley mentioned in the powerhouse NBA Southeast Division. Yes, I used the terms powerhouse and Southeast Division in the same sentence - something that was unfathomable when the division was created seven years ago. For those of you who were chilling next to Usama Bin Laden in some cave in Pakistan, the Miami Heat went off and pulled a New York Yankees, grabbing the best talent money could buy in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to compliment Dwyane Wade in South Beach. The Orlando Magic boast Atlanta-area star Dwight Howard and a strong supporting cast. The Charlotte Bobcats are looking to make it back to the playoffs for a second straight year.
The Hawks stayed stuck in neutral in the offseason. Atlanta signed SG Joe Johnson to a six-year, $123.7 million max deal and returns their solid core of five, which includes PG Mike Bibby, SF Marvin Williams, PF Josh Smith and C Al Horford.
Disgruntled NBA Sixth Man of the Year G Jamal Crawford highlights what is a rather deep Atlanta bench that hopes to take another step forward this season with the addition of first round pick G Jordan Crawford, G/F Pape Sy and C Etan Thomas. The Hawks also help to get more productive minutes off the bench from G Jeff Teague as well as continued production from C Zaza Pachulia and F Maurice Evans.
The biggest change to the Atlanta lineup is behind the scenes, where coach Mike Woodson was relieved of his duties and replaced by assistant Larry Drew. Drew is trying to deprogram the Hawks from Woodson's defense-first/isolation offense approach that centered around Johnson and transform the team into more of a run and gun club that uses a lot more pick-and-rolls and movement to generate offense.
While the Hawks sure have the athleticism to make the transformation with ease, the devil is in the details. And if the preseason is any indication, there may be a little bit of a rocky road ahead until Atlanta gets acclimated to the new system. The Hawks struggled to an Eastern Conference-worst 2-5 record in the preseason and were blown out by the division rival Bobcats in their last exhibition game.
The secret to Atlanta's success will be how quickly the Hawks make the transformation. The talent is definitely there for the Hawks to compete in the East and maybe even put a scare or two into the Boston Celtics, the Magic and the Heat when they come to Philips Arena. However, if the team continues to hesitate when running the new offense and if the club lapses back into isolation-land, it could be a troubling season for Atlanta's basketball team.
Nevertheless, look for the Hawks, who had a 34-7 record at the Highlight Factory last season, to continue their success in Atlanta. They should also be around the .500 mark away from Philips Arena. At the end of the day, it should be much of the same from the Hawks, who should end up somewhere between fourth and sixth in the East.
SB Nation will be here with you the whole way with Live blogs of key games, previews and analysis of all goings on as the Hawks try to soar back into the mix in the East. It all begins with tonight's game in Memphis. So pull up a chair, grab a cold brew and let's get going. It's going to be one heck of a ride.