Five burning questions and answers about the immediate future of the Atlanta Hawks in the wake of their 92-80 loss Saturday night in Game 7 in Indiana:
1. How will the Hawks ultimately grade this season?
I know long-suffering Hawks fans are devastated. They rue allowing themselves to get their hopes up after Atlanta won both Game 1 and Game 5 on the road and gave itself a chance in Game 6 to close out the East's top seed at home. They're inevitably bound to see this as merely just another disappointment for a franchise that can scarcely imagine what the Eastern Conference finals feel like.
Let's not forget what this gutty little 38-win squad accomplished.
The Hawks managed to keep the big-market Knicks out of the playoffs and and plunged Indiana into a full-fledged crisis that, until Game 7, made 7-foot Roy Hibbert seem borderline invisible.
The Hawks also achieved all that without their best player -- Al Horford hasn't played a minute since Dec. 26 -- and just introduced a popular new logo change as well.
Bearing all that in mind, it's difficult not to see this season as a success for rookie coach Mike Budenholzer, who quickly proved that plenty rubbed off during those nearly two decades working at the elbow of Gregg Popovich.
2. So what sort of offseason do you envision from Danny Ferry?
The Hawks, to be frank, are one of the toughest teams to read in the matters.
Ferry, like Budenholzer, was schooled in the San Antonio system, where mere ruminations about who to call up on a 10-day from the D-League are treated as matters of national security.
Yet those who know Ferry best expect him to operate much like he did last season. Which is to say that the Hawks are likely to let everyone around the league know they have lots of assets and are willing to use them in the trade market if the opportunity presents itself.
The Hawks want another major piece. They know they need at least one more even if Horford makes a fast and full recovery from the two unfortunate shoulder separations he's endured these past two seasons.
3. What about the Hawks' cap space?
The Hawks should have plenty of it depending on where the salary cap number officially lands in July, but expect them to use it cautiously again. Until he can secure that so-called major piece, count on Ferry to favor flexibility.
Using last summer as a guide, you'll recall they tried to force their way into the Dwight Howard sweepstakes -- which actually began with dreams of trying to make a double swoop for both Howard and Chris Paul -- before ultimately settling for the likes of that sneaky good two-year deal worth $19 million awarded to Paul Millsap.
Which is regarded, despite Millsap's forgettable Game 7 in Indy on Saturday night, as one of the league's smartest contracts.
4. Can't you give us the name of at least one marquee free agent Atlanta is expected to pursue?
There have been some recent rumbles on the personnel grapevine that the Hawks will lob themselves into the bidding for Detroit Pistons restricted free agent Greg Monroe.
The close ties between Monroe's agent, David Falk, and Falk's former star client Ferry make such rumbles inevitable.
Whether that chatter morphs into full-fledged courtship remains to be seen.
5. What else Hawk-y is on your mind?
No one in last June's rookie class intrigues me more. If you're intent on spotlighting disappointments with the 2013-14 Hawks, Schroder's inability to establish himself as a clear backup to the best Jeff Teague certainly qualifies.
So a summer of development for Schroder would represent the most welcome in-house developments Atlanta could wish for that doesn't have to do with Horford's health.
PS -- Can you once and for all explain that #eventhehawks hashtag you were promoting all season?
It was actually started by some creative Hawks fans last July during Dwight Howard's free agency.
As Dwight's decision approached, I apparently tweeted something to the effect that "even the Hawks' hadn't yet been informed that they were all the way out of the running, despite the growing sense that Howard was Houston-bound.
And that prompted some tortured Hawks souls, in wonderfully self-deprecating fashion, to turn #eventhehawks into a mantra of sorts.
I'm not sure exactly who was the first to bring it into being, but please consider this a hearty thank you from yours truly to all who've playfully embraced it.
Which encouraged me to have a little fun with it.