For many reasons, I love the city of Atlanta and the entire metro area, including, of course, my new Covington/Newton County sports home.
But as much as I hate to admit it, there’s one area – one large, huge, colossal area where my beloved home for the last 11 years is failing me.
Indulge me to take the long way around to explain.
You see, I grew up in Omaha, Neb. which is a mid-sized, Midwestern, blue collar city that, for all its charms, has one big void – no professional sports teams. No, semi-pro teams alone don’t count.
Of course in Nebraska, college football is king. So much so that many have pontificated that Omaha, with a metro-area population of close to 900,000 people, should never entertain the idea of a pro football team because it would rival the beloved Cornhuskers – and probably lose.
Whatever. There have been rumblings in times past of bringing in a Major League Baseball franchise, or even a NHL team. But it’s always been nothing more than a bunch of talk that often heats up in the sports doldrums summer months, and then fizzles out come late August, early September when the pigskin gets tossed around again.
So when I departed my old stomping grounds to head to the Peach State, I was beyond excited to reside in a city that calls itself home to several professional sports teams and many high-payed, high-profile professional athletes.
I grew up watching the domination of the Braves in the 90s. I called the Falcons my favorite football team when Jamal Anderson was doing the Dirty Bird and Michael Vick showed up from Virginia Tech. And, yes, even on the hardwood, I had an affinity with the human highlight film, Dominique Wilkins. The only hooper who could rival my affections for that dunk machine was, of course, the G.O.A.T. from Chicago.
So when I arrived here, I envisioned many years of cheering on pro sports teams and rooting them into championships. So far, however, the only question I have is: What do the front offices of Atlanta’s three major sports teams have against winning championships?
Particularly the Atlanta Hawks.
On Facebook I opined about my displeasure with the Hawks for trading Dwight Howard for what I called, “the equivalent of a pack of Now-N-Laters and a bag of Skittles.” Actually, the two players Atlanta received in return for Howard were Miles Plumlee (2.5 points per game last year) and Marco Belinelli (10.5ppg). I’ll call Belinelli the bag of Skittles, since I never really liked Now-N-Laters.
Let me interject that I was indeed one of those who vehemently opposed the Hawks’ signing of Howard in the first place. Why? Because he was on the downside of his career. Majorly. And it seemed just like the Hawks to pursue a league star only after he’s well past his prime.
Yet with Howard, the Hawks went 43-39 and somehow made the playoffs for the 11th straight season and Howard turned in a double-double average for the season. I guess I’ll take that.
But why, Atlanta? Why do you spend the money to bring in a washed up Howard only to ship him out after one season, leaving you with even less than you had the year before?
The first thought I had when news of this nonsensical trade came across my Twitter feed was that surely, the Hawks must be clearing cap space to go after some high profile free agent that could immediately bolster this team’s championship chances.
Two problems with that, though:
1.) With the exception of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, all of the game-changing free agents won’t be available until next season.
And 2.) It’s not like the Hawks’ front office has shown a track record of posturing itself to make splash transactions.
This phenomenon stretches back in time quite a ways to the head scratcher of all head scratching trades. That’s right, the day Atlanta brass said, “Hey, I know we’re in first place in the East right now with a 36-13 record, and Wilkins is still our leading scorer, but ummm, I hear this Danny Manning guy is pretty neat. And, hey, tell the Los Angeles Clippers to take our 1994 first round draft pick for good measure.”
But then imagine my surprise when I discovered that once upon a time, the Hawks (St. Louis Hawks at the time) held the rights to Bill Russell. Yeah, that Bill Russell. They swapped him for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.
Since then, the Hawks have been stuck in a quagmire of mediocrity. Other big talents have come and gone, and with maybe one or two exceptions, seemingly fell into better deals, better teams and played better ball away from Atlanta.
We’re talking guys like Pau Gasol, Steve Smith, Joe Johnson (although his contract was ridiculous), DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Kyle Korver. The list goes on.
Of course we had the bright spot 2014-15 season when Atlanta tallied a franchise record 60-win season with coach Mike Budenholzer, the Greg Popovich understudy.
And after the sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals at the hands of Cleveland, it was still one of those things where you looked at the Hawks and thought, “Man, finally we’ve got something here.” I remember thinking all that was missing was a true closer, and I believed Teague was steadily rounding into that guy.
That team slowly melted away, to the point where the only starter left from that squad is an aging Paul Millsap. Dennis Schroder at the guard spot is hit and miss, and although the Hawks made the playoffs, it still felt like just another lackluster year.
I sat and watched the NBA Draft Thursday night, trying to talk myself into feeling good about two decently solid draft picks in John Collins (Wake Forest) and Tyler Dorsey (Oregon) who was one of my favorite college players last year.
But it all felt empty. Because no matter what they did in the draft this year, this roster isn’t good enough for a deep playoff run, let alone a championship, and barring some major move, it won’t be for a while.
And here’s the thing: Because of the way the Draft has devolved into a dog-and-pony show of barely high school-graduated college players, you’re not going to build a championship roster through it.
Also, there’s nothing on this roster that would be worth trading for a big name. The only hope is that the Hawks’ brass would catch the same championship fever that this title starved city’s fans have, and maneuver around to go after a big named free agent next year.
So here’s my appeal to you, Atlanta Hawks front office: Blow the whole thing up. Tank the season. Empty out the dead dollars and position yourself to build a winner for the next two or three years. To me, it’s the only move that makes sense, unless for some inexplicable reason you just don’t want to win at the highest level.
I can show you about five million people in your backyard, however, who do.
Hawks fans deserve better. Atlanta natives deserve better. And for that matter, sports crazed Atlanta transplants from non-professional-sports having cities like me deserve better.
Atlanta’s too good of a city to have the kind of subpar professional sports teams (apologies to the 2016-17 Falcons) it has. And I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all suffered enough.
Gabriel Stovall is the Sports Editor for The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1, and follow our sports Twitter page @CovNewsSports.