Last season, the Atlanta Hawks took a big leap. Long a member of the under-cooked middle in the Eastern Conference - there for a good time, gone in the first round - last year's Hawks won 60 games and took the #1 seed to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, an untimely injury to DeMarre Carroll left them without their primary defender for LeBron James, and they were promptly swept by the Cavaliers.
So, what does the future hold for the Hawks? Carroll has jetted for the 6, but Atlanta has quietly added solid pieces in his stead: Tiago Splitter from the Spurs, Tim Hardaway Jr. from New York, and Justin Holiday from Golden State among others. They've also, most importantly, retained their core four of Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Kyle Korver, and Jeff Teague.
With all this, can Atlanta expect a repeat performance of last season? We talked to Kris Willis, site manager at Peachtree Hoops, to get the insight.
Q: First off, as a Hawks fan and writer, what can you tell Raptors fans about DeMarre Carroll and what can we expect from him?
A: First thing I will tell you is that you are going to love covering DeMarre Carroll and having the opportunity to watch him play every night. He is a warrior and that is the best way in my opinion to describe him. Carroll brings it every night defensively and will not back down from any challenge. Offensively he is a bit underrated. I think his work ethic is contagious and believe he will have a positive impact on the Raptors.
Q: The big off-season move was to resign Paul Millsap for 3-years, $59 million. What were your thoughts on the signing and value?
A: I think keeping Millsap was the most critical move for the Atlanta Hawks this off-season. It would have been really difficult for Atlanta to replace everything that Millsap brings to the table at both ends of the floor. Ideally Atlanta would have been able to keep both Millsap and Carroll, but given the situation I think they made the correct choice.
Q: With the Millsap deal, Atlanta kept their "Big 4" intact, but which of the other off-season acquisitions do you feel will make the most impact with this team?
A: I think the acquisition of Tiago Splitter is being overlooked. Atlanta has struggled with its frontcourt depth for the last couple of seasons and were able to acquire Splitter who brings size, good defense and championship experience for what amounted to a salary dump. I think this is a very significant addition that many are overlooking.
Q: In your mind, was last year’s 60-win season an aberration or is this Hawks team built to repeat that performance?
A: That is a really good question. 60 wins is kind of an arbitrary number in that a lot of things went right for the Hawks during the regular season last year. I think the East has gotten better and it may be difficult to reach that win total again this season. Now with that said, I think Atlanta has the pieces in place to contend in the Eastern Conference. We may see them regress slightly in the regular season but with the addition of Splitter and others, they may actually be better equipped for the playoffs.
Q: The consensus seems to be that the East will be looking up at the Cavaliers, but the Hawks have retained most of their pieces from last season. Do you think this team is underrated in the East’s playoff picture?
A: I think the Hawks and a lot of other Eastern Conference teams are being overlooked. I think the Cavaliers are extremely talented, but I also think there is more pressure with them. Teams like the Hawks, Raptors, Heat, Wizards and Bulls can be challenging opponents. Anytime you have LeBron James you are going to be the favorite but I'm not completely sure that it will be the run away that many are predicting.