Why I’d rather be the Braves than the Hawks

Sometimes it takes a pair of far-away eyes to illuminate what's happening under your nose. Jay Greeson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted Monday the differing arcs of two Atlanta sports franchises: The Braves are terrible but might get really good someday, while the Hawks have been pretty good for nearly a decade without sniffing a championship. Which, Greeson asked, would you rather be?

This set me to thinking, always a dangerous thing. My first thought: I wouldn't wish what's happening with the 2016 Braves on any team. They entered Wednesday's game on a pace to go 37-125 overall and — pause for thudding effect — 5-76 at home. But the Braves we see now (assuming we can still bear to watch) aren't the Braves we'll be seeing next year or even this July.

The worst team in the majors has built what's regarded as the best minor-league system. Just last October, three teams made the playoffs — the Mets, the Cubs and the Astros — that had committed to similar raze-to-rebuild projects. There's no hope for this Braves season, but 2017 should be better and 2018 and beyond could be very good — assuming that what worked for the Cubs and Mets works here

For better or worse, the Braves have a plan: They decided when they fired Frank Wren as general manager in September 2014 that they couldn’t chase big-ticket free agents and couldn’t subsist on what had become a failed farm crop. They committed to tearing it up and starting over, knowing that the here and now would be ugly. (Not that they expected 7-24.)

The Hawks have made the playoffs nine years running. No other NBA East team can say the same. They won a postseason series in five of those nine trips; they made the Eastern Conference finals last year. They tore up one Core Four and built a better one. But four of those five excursions beyond Round 1 have ended in sweeps, three by Cleveland. They have become the utter definition of being Never Good Enough.

As we speak, the Hawks are deciding whether to retain their latest status quo. They faced a similar decision in 2010. The choice was to re-sign Joe Johnson. Two years later, a different GM dumped Johnson and his $119 million contract on the Nets. If the Hawks opt to keep Al Horford, they could have to pay $145 million — and that wouldn't necessarily bring them closer to a title.

Danny Ferry, the GM who built the second Core Four, is gone. The man in charge is Mike Budenholzer, whom Ferry hired as coach. No post-Ferry personnel decision has been particularly inspired, and it mightn’t have mattered anyway. The NBA is a superstar’s league. Nobody trades for superstars. You get lucky in the lottery or pay mega-millions in free agency. (And they have to want to sign with you.)

The best player in baseball is Mike Trout. His Angels are 13-19. They have baseball's sixth-highest payroll. They've lost pitcher Garrett Richards to injury, prompting Wednesday's deal for the Braves' Jhoulys Chacin. (Former Brave Andrelton Simmons is also hurt.) ESPN's Keith Law deemed the Angels' farm system "the worst I've ever seen." Crazy as it sounds, there's thought they might need to trade Trout.

The Braves’ redo isn’t contingent on lottery luck or free agency. They’ve sold assets for younger and cheaper assets. The talent they’ve amassed isn’t yet enough to stock a down-the-road playoff team, but their surplus of pitching can buy bats. If there’s never a guarantee that any rebuild will work, rebuilds tend to go better in baseball than in basketball.

The Hawks aren’t apt to get past LeBron James until they find their LeBron, which might never happen. That’s the reason I can see the Braves in the World Series before I can imagine the Hawks playing for the NBA title: In baseball, you don’t need a LeBron.