It must be spring, that wonderful time of year when the Atlanta Hawks play a few playoff games then head home for the offseason.
The Washington Wizards beat the Hawks 115-99 in Game 6 on Friday night to send Atlanta packing after a season of transition. Gone were Al Horford and Kyle Korver, with Dwight Howard on the scene instead.
As the Hawks look back on 2016-17 and ahead to what's next, here's a simple four-step plan to turn Atlanta from Eastern also-ran into a conference finals contender.
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Convince Dwight Howard to play the right way
We can save Howard — if he wants to be saved.
For some reason, the Atlanta big man still thinks he can post up with his back to the basket, demand the ball and turn over his left shoulder for either a drive to the rim or righty hook. And the Hawks enable Howard's worst instincts, calling plays based around his post game.
That has to stop. Howard is one of the better pick-and-roll big men in the NBA. He has an above-average ball-handler in Dennis Schroder. There is no reason Atlanta should do anything other than run a 1-5 pick-and-roll when Howard is on the court.
Unless he figures that out, the Hawks aren't going anywhere in the Eastern Conference.
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Let coach Mike Budenholzer concentrate on coaching
Budenholzer is one of several NBA coaches who are also their own team presidents, a byproduct of Danny Ferry's fall in Atlanta.
Unfortunately, the league is too complicated for one man to take on all that responsibility, even if he has a nominal GM in Wes Wilcox.
Asking Budenholzer to take on those responsibilities until the dust cleared was one thing. Counting on him to manage the draft, execute the Hawks' free agency plans and still find time to coach up the players is a recipe for disaster.
As a former Spurs assistant, Budenholzer should appreciate being the Gregg Popovich to someone else's R.C. Buford.
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Re-sign Paul Millsap
Millsap's future in Atlanta seemed up in the air around the trade deadline, but the Hawks have made it clear they want to bring back their All-Star power forward at any cost.
That's the right approach. Millsap's versatility is key in the modern NBA. He can stretch the floor out to the 3-point line or bang with traditional fours — and he can do both on the same possession.
If Howard's playing the way he should, Millsap is the perfect complement to Atlanta's pick-and-roll attack. The only caveat is the Hawks should try to get Millsap to take a little bit of a discount so Atlanta can add one free agent in particular ...
Add J.J. Redick in free agency
Depending on how they play out their cap holds, their draft picks and which free agents they re-sign, the Hawks could have enough cap space to add two solid starters ... or one big-name player.
Let's be honest, though — no one who makes you a championship contender overnight is coming to Atlanta. J.J. Redick, on the other hand, would be a fantastic addition for the Hawks. They'll need to add a bit of 3-point shooting around our proposed pick-and-roll system, and Redick is one of the best shooters in the NBA.
He's also an outstanding team defender who would work well with Kent Bazemore on the wings.
A Schroder-Redick-Bazemore-Millsap-Howard lineup might not be a title contender, but that's more than enough to make an Eastern Conference finals. And once you're that deep into the postseason, anything is possible — even for Atlanta.
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