A 50-win season seemed reasonable to Hawks coach Mike Woodson this time a year ago.
His team was coming off a rousing performance against Boston in the first round of the playoffs, but the external expectations for his Hawks were non-existent.
Things have changed dramatically since then. The Hawks are coming off of a 47-win season and back-to-back playoff appearances. Expectations for the 2009-10 season are higher than they’ve been for the Hawks in a decade, with the bulk of last season’s team returning.
So where do the Hawks stack up in an improved Eastern Conference?
Woodson discussed that and more with the AJC as the team wrapped up its rookie/free-agent mini-camp Thursday.
Q. Free agency is obviously still going on, but how comfortable are you with the roster, as it stands now, heading into training camp?
A. I feel comfortable. I feel like we've bettered our team by bringing in Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague and then keeping Mike Bibby and Zaza Pachulia in the fold, but we still have a lot of work to do in terms of helping out our [big men]. We need a few more bigs to solidify our team as we move towards camp. We still have the rest of the summer to look at free-agent bigs and figure out who makes sense for our team. That's of the utmost importance to our team right now, but I love our nucleus.
Q. Where do you think your team fits in the Eastern Conference landscape with all that’s gone on in places like Cleveland, Boston and Orlando?
A. I shot my mouth off a little bit last year. I made bold statements saying we should win 50 games and lock up one of the top four spots. That could be tough this year. Things have changed dramatically. Teams behind us like Washington, Chicago, Toronto, Detroit and Indiana are all making a move. Again, I feel good about our team. And if we can add a couple more veterans to help our cause, I think we'll be in that same mix we were last year when we had to earn our way to that No. 4 seed.
Q. You keep mentioning adding a couple more veterans. With Crawford and Teague and perhaps these added veterans, does your playing rotation have to expand from eight guys to say 10 or 11?
A. Without a doubt. Without a doubt. It definitely stretches the rotation. And more importantly, it shores us up if someone gets hurt the way Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams all did last year. We got caught with our pants down in the playoffs against Cleveland because Al wasn't healthy, Joe [Johnson] wasn't healthy and Marvin wasn't healthy. That's not taking anything away from the guys we had as reserves last year. They're young guys, too, and they're still trying to figure things out. It's tough to throw them into those types of positions and expect them to always play above their heads.
Q. When you see marquee names like Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace and others moved around the way they have been this summer is that a signal that you need to do more than just “add pieces”?
A. It's huge when players of that magnitude are going to teams that are already solidified. Boston got a taste of it a couple a years ago and won a title. And they are still feeling it. They're going for it now. They loaded up. Orlando went to the NBA Finals and fell a bit short so they loaded up for another run. Cleveland thought they should have been in the Finals and came up short, so they loaded up. The Lakers win the title and then they go out and get Ron Artest. And the list goes on and on. Hell, I'd love to do the same things, but we're committed to what we're doing and it's worked for us, so I don't see any reason to change now.
Q. You and your staff are entering the final year of your contracts without any assurance that you’ll be here beyond this season. Does that allow you the freedom to push and grind forward the way you have in the past?
A. I can't worry about that. I'm not happy about it. Not at all. I don't think anybody on this staff should be worried about a contract based on what we've done here the past five years, but it is what it is. We're going to continue to work and do what we do. I haven't worried about that in the past, and I'm not going to worry about that now. We've got business to tend to on the court. We're trying to win a title here. Everything else will take care of itself in the end, as long as you're pushing toward that ultimate goal.
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