For what they were trying to do, the Atlanta Hawks have had a good – meaning bad – season. They’re tied with Dallas for the NBA’s worst record. They’re headed for the draft lottery and maybe the No. 1 pick. Being the Hawks, they’re still capable of messing things up.
On Dec. 22, the Hawks were 7-25, 1½ games behind the Mavericks, who held the league’s second-worst record. Only three teams – those two plus Memphis – had fewer than 10 wins. But look again.
The Hawks are 17-37. They’re one of eight teams with fewer than 20 wins. They’re tied for last (hooray) but only two games from ninth-worst (ouch). Here’s the difference eight lottery places could make:
At No. 1, the Hawks would have their choice of Arizona’s 7-foot-1 Deandre Ayton, the nation’s second-best freshman; Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, the nation’s best freshman; Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., who might have been the nation’s best freshman had he not exited the Tigers’ opener after two minutes with a hip injury, or Luka Doncic, an 18-year-old wing from Slovenia playing for Real Madrid. Those four have separated from the rest of this presumptive draft class. Picking at No. 9, they’d all be gone.
The Hawks hold three first-round selections in this draft, the other two coming from Minnesota in the Adreian Payne deal and from Houston (via the L.A. Clippers). Those teams have the league’s sixth- and second-best records, meaning the Hawks aren’t apt to find a franchise-changer with those two picks. If you’re tanking, your fervent hope is to position yourself to change the franchise.
As we speak, the Hawks are on course. If you finish with the league’s worst record, you can fall no lower than No. 4 in the lottery, meaning that at worst the Hawks would be able to land one of the aforementioned Big Four. If you finish with the fifth-worst record, there’s no such assurance.
The Hawks are 6-6 over their past 12 games. That, I’m afraid to say, won’t cut it. The trade deadline is Thursday, and we’re about to see a tank-a-thon unlike any in NBA history. Any club under .500 – and 12 of the 30 teams are – is going to be selling. If you’re selling, you’re not interested in buying any player apt to help you win in the short term. Get ready for a mad scramble to the bottom.
And the Hawks – I know this sounds weird, but tanking takes us to Bizarro World – are playing too well for comfort. They just beat 18-35 Memphis by 26 points. Last week they beat Minnesota, the fourth-best team in the Western Conference. On Sunday they beat the Knicks after trailing by six points with 2:16 remaining. In another year, such doings would be encouraging. When you’re chasing the No. 1 pick, they’re cringe-worthy.
If you’re going to tank, be the best (meaning the worst) tanker. The bad thing about the Hawks’ offseason roster-paring is that there’s not much left to sell. But I’d find something, or else I’d fire Mike Budenholzer. This silly winning must cease.