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Wednesday, August 7
 
Hawks should deal Terry for real two guard, too

By Chad Ford
ESPN.com

Editor's note: ESPN Insider's Chad Ford breaks down what last season's NBA lottery teams need to do to get to the playoffs. ESPN.com's "Fixer-Upper" series continues with the Atlanta Hawks.

Phoenix has the Suns, but it will be the Atlanta Hawks that will attempt to rise out of the ashes this year.

After pulling out a blockbuster trade that infused the team with youth on the front line, the Hawks had high hopes last season. But an injury to Theo Ratliff in training camp was more than a foreboding sign. Only three players -- Nazr Mohammed, Jacque Vaughn and Hanno Mottola -- suited up for all 82 games. Ratliff went on to miss 78 games. Chris Crawford missed 74. Alan Henderson missed 55. Dion Glover missed 25. Toni Kukoc missed 23 games.

Lon Kruger
Finally, Hawks coach Lon Kruger has the players. But will they stay healthy?
In the end, the Hawks led the league with 319 player games missed. It can't get much worse than that, can it? For now, the Hawks are cautiously optimistic. They point to teams like the Celtics and Nets who came back from injury-marred seasons to compete for the Eastern Conference championship.

For once the team seems to have all the goods. They have three prolific scorers in Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Glenn Robinson and Jason Terry. They have a huge frontcourt when you pair Rahim together with Ratliff and Mohammed. And after a year of Vaughn jokes, the team finally has a franchise-type point guard running the show in Dan Dickau.

How giddy are the Hawks about the upcoming season? The team announced an unprecedented playoff guarantee for full season-ticket holders for the upcoming season. And that was before they traded for Robinson. Should the team fail on its pledge to participate in the playoffs, full season-ticket holders will receive a check for $125 per seat.

Of course, given the Hawks' attendance last year, it's not as big of a risk as it seems. The Hawks ranked 27th in the league in attendance last season pulling in a paltry 12,344 fans per game. Fan interest is waning and the Hawks have to do something now -- while the East is still in a funk -- to capitalize on all of the talent they've assembled.

Will this be the year that the Hawks return to the playoffs? ESPN.com poured over depth charts, trade rumors, salary-cap information and even sought the advice of a few NBA general managers to give you the five things the Hawks must do to get back to the playoffs this season.

Jason Terry
Terry
Step 1: Move Terry while his value is still high.
Terry can light it up. No question. But name one 6-foot-2 shooting guard not named Iverson who has been successful in the league. Terry is no Iverson. Can he ever be a point guard? The Hawks still wonder. Though he showed progress late last season, most of the time the team was content to let Vaughn run things. I love Jacque, but that tells you something. The difference between the Hawks' play when Terry switches from the two to the one is palpable. With Dickau, the team now has a true point guard with a solid outside jumper. The problem is that the team can only play them on the court in limited stretches. If Terry plays the point, team chemistry and Dickau's development suffer. If Dickau plays and Terry sits, the team loses its second (now likely third behind the Big Dog) scorer. If they play together, defenses will gorge on a team that already ranked 25th in the league in points allowed. The Hawks already have plenty of scorers with the addition of Robinson and Dickau. What the team needs is an athletic, defensive-minded two guard who doesn't need the ball to make an impact.

There are plenty of decent candidates. The Wizards' Richard Hamilton gets it done at both ends. Denver's James Posey is available and the Nuggets are in desperate need for some backcourt scoring. But the best fit may be the Pacers' Ron Artest. It won't be easy to pry Artest away from the Pacers. He's a tenacious defender, always plays hard and showed an emerging offensive game last season. But the team is backlogged with swingmen. Al Harrington will likely get the starting nod at the three. The team is trying to find big minutes for Jonathan Bender, and Ron Mercer will be backing up Reggie Miller. If the Hawks were willing to take Austin Croshere off their hands, they might be able to make a deal. The Pacers were disappointed in rookie Jamaal Tinsley's ability to score from the point, and Terry, for all of his faults, can do that. To make the deal work cap wise, the Hawks would have to send Alan Henderson back to Indiana. While his contract is outrageous, it expires two years before Croshere's does.

Travis Best
Best
Step 2: Find a veteran point to mentor for Dickau.
The Hawks' success in making the playoffs will depend on how well Dickau adapts to the NBA. There was a reason he slipped to No. 28 in the draft. Teams worry about his ability to take his man off the dribble and his lack of quickness on the defensive end. They also wondered whether his body would be able to withstand the constant pounding in the pros. The Hawks, after seeing Dickau progress in the summer leagues, aren't too worried. But still, some veteran help would be nice. Travis Best is the "best" available point guard out there. He plays at a frantic pace, can score at will and has the playoff seasoning the team is looking for.

Nazr Mohammed
Mohammed
Step 3: Keep Nazr Mohammed around.
For some reason it seems like Mohammed's name has been on the trading block since he was shipped to the Hawks in the Theo Ratliff trade. With Ratliff out almost the entire time, Mohammed has been pretty solid in relief. In 28 games with the Hawks in 2001, Mohammed averaged 12.3 points and nine rebounds per game. Last season, his numbers dipped a bit to 9.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. But given that he played just 26 minutes a game, he still showed promise. Ratliff is now healthy and the Hawks believe that Mohammed could be traded at a premium given the dearth of big men around the league. But the team is flirting with disaster. If Ratliff's hip injury turns out to be chronic, the Hawks will be too thin up front to cover his absence. If the team is serious about going deep in the playoffs, then having one or two high-dollar role players are the price of admission.

Ira Newble
Newble
Step 4: Bring back Ira Newble.
The one bright side that came from all of the injuries suffered by the Hawks last season was the emergence of Ira Newble. Newble, a 6-foot-7 small forward, was the spark that kept the Hawks running during tough times. His numbers don't jump out at you, but his enthusiasm, tough defense and willingness to do the dirty work is exactly what the team needs to take them to the next level.

Those moves would give the Hawks this opening-day roster:

  • Point guard: Dan Dickau, Travis Best, Emanual Davis
  • Shooting guard: Ron Artest, DerMarr Johnson, Dion Glover
  • Small forward: Glenn Robinson, Ira Newble
  • Power forward: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Austin Croshere
  • Center: Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed

    Step 5: Employ a fantastic team doctor.
    The Hawks would have been serious playoff contenders last season had Ratliff, Kukoc, Glover, Henderson, and Davis remained healthy. This year, they add Robinson, who had a chronic ankle injury nag him all last season, and they know their fortunes remain tied to their health. The team doesn't have the depth or the experience to survive a major injury to one of their top three players. Coach Lon Kruger will have to be diligent in watching his team's minutes and making sure that this fragile team doesn't crack under growing pressure to rise out of the ashes.

    Chad Ford writes the daily NBA Insider column for ESPN Insider. To get a free 30-day trial, click here.







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