This week, the Hawks officially resigned Jason Collins to fill the third center/bench warmer spot on their roster. The move had been previously reported by fanhouse but just became official. Also becoming official this week is the Hawks' plan to maintain their current roster construction, for better or worse, regardless of the cost. Expect to see Jason Collins use in almost exactly the same way he was use last year-less than 200 minutes the entire year, exclusively to pick up fouls against Dwight Howard and the occasional other big man who gives the Hawks' trouble.
That makes this move exceedingly unimportant-and that's the real point. The Hawks are doing their best to bring the same same team from last season so that they might gain some continuity. The soundbytes are completely uninspiring-Rick Sund insists that this is a young team with tons of upside, even as he hands out a huge contract to Joe Johnson for his declining years (which has been thoroughly discussed, but it deserves to be mentioned yet again-he's making more money than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). Mike Bibby is not young, Jamal Crawford is not young, even Josh Smith is approaching middle-aged for an NBA player. There are limits to how much natural growth is going to improve the quality of this roster.
Rick Sund has made comments, notably on 680 the fan this morning, stating that he wants to follow the San Antonio model of letting a team grow together as one cohesive unit. That's all well and good, every organization wants to be the Spurs, at least on paper. But the truth is that the Spurs did things that the Hawks aren't going to be able to emulate. Namely, they lost their star player to injury in the 1996-97 season, giving them first overall pick which they use on Tim Duncan, who became, if not the best player in the NBA, at least top 5 for a long stretch of time. Immediately following that, they had BOTH Robinson and Duncan, which inevitably resulted in two championships while the pair were playing together.
The decision to build around Tim Duncan is a completely solid, defensible decision. Building around Joe Johnson is much less defensible, and after paying Joe Johnson like no other basketball player in Atlanta history, it's clear that he's the supposed centerpiece of the roster. He is what he is-a second tier star, perhaps the third or fourth most talented shooting guard in the NBA. He's not the sort of player that you plug in as a centerpiece and hope he'll carry you to a championship. His results from the playoffs the last two years have demonstrated nothing other than that he won't carry a team into the Finals.
The Spurs have done some other things that the Hawks haven't demonstrated a capacity to emulate. Beyond lacking the true centerpiece star, they don't get value out of the draft. Aside from taking Josh Smith six years ago and Al Horford three years ago, they've failed to get much at all out of their draft choices (apologies to Josh Childress, who is a fine player, but left town for virtually nothing at the end). While the Spurs secured Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in the draft, Tony Parker with the 28th pick in the draft, and DeJuan Blair with the 37th pick in the draft, the Hawks' best selection outside of the top 20 might be Solomon Jones. While we're waiting to see what Jeff Teague might be capable of, Tony Parker stepped in as a starter in his first year.
The only significant difference between this roster and last year's roster is this: Everyone is one year older. In some cases, this is good-another year for Horford and Marvin to develop could signal a breakout. But Joe Johnson is older, Mike Bibby is older, Jamal Crawford is older, and Mo Evans is older. Each of those are on the back half of their careers, and perhaps even in the decline phase, while you can't expect large steps forward for more than one or two of the younger part of the rotation. The upside of this team is the exact same upside of last year's: Hope everyone stays healthy and that Howard or James misses the playoffs with an injury so you can reach the conference finals. That's the simple truth-there are two teams who are so much better than the Hawks that they have no hope of overcoming them except by fluke.
There's one other difference: Ownership is paying $3 million more (at least) to field this year's roster of the exact same pieces. Obviously, they're content with what they have since we're putting out a playoff roster. In the NBA, however, merely reaching the playoffs is a fairly hollow achievement in itself-more than half the league makes the playoffs every single year, unlike other sports. Success can be measured variably, but to be satisfied with being competitive rather contending is to cast a dim light on competitive sports in general. Joe Johnson was under the belief that the Hawks would try to find the right pieces to add in order to improve the roster around him. I doubt anyone believes Josh Powell is that piece.