ATLANTA — In the end, the Atlanta Hawks put a pretty ending on an ugly game but could not stem the inevitable.
Now comes the unknown.
The Hawks gave first-year general manager Danny Ferry all the information he will need entering an offseason full of questions, as they were eliminated Friday in Game 6 of their first-round series by Indiana, 81-73, at Philips Arena.
Hawks coach Larry Drew, in the final year of his contract, ranks among those who is unlikely to return, a topic that he addressed following the game. Prior to earning the head job, Drew was an assistant for six seasons.
“As the game is winding down, you certainly try to reflect upon the season,” he said. “You know the group that you have, there’s a chance that your guys, that particular group, probably won’t get together again. This will probably be the last time this group, including myself, this is the last time we’ll probably be together.”
For Ferry, whose mission it is to build (or rebuild) the Hawks, one would have to conclude that he has seen enough from this team in its current form, as the Hawks have been eliminated in the first round two years in a row. Few players are under contract for next season — namely, Al Horford, Lou Williams and rookie John Jenkins with the team retaining options on a few others and Jeff Teague having the status of a restricted free agent — giving Ferry license to completely retool the roster once again.
Last year Ferry took over at the end of June, just days before the NBA Draft. Almost immediately, he began a roster transformation, trading perennial All-Star Joe Johnson to Brooklyn for a slew of players with expiring contracts. He did the same with Marvin Williams, the second overall pick in the 2005 draft, sending him to Utah.
The likes of Devin Harris, Kyle Korver and Zaza Pachulia all could be gone.
In addition to Drew, the biggest name whose status remains up in the air is that of forward Josh Smith. An Atlanta native, Smith has played nine seasons with the Hawks and will be an unrestricted free agent in July. It seems doubtful that he will return, as he has spoken of his desire to be paid as a max-dollars player. Smith was unwilling to offer prognostications on his future following the game in which he shot 5-for-16 for the second game in a row (both losses) and committed four turnovers, all in a wretched second quarter during which the Hawks shot 1-for-15.
Smith was asked what went through his mind as he walked off the court.
“You know, what I could’ve did better in order to extend this season,” he said. “It was really nothing, like I said, as far as like thinking in the near future where I’m going. It was just kind of a thought process, what if. But you never know until July comes.”
In recent seasons, Smith has become a lightning rod for fans, who direct their frustration with the team at him, particularly with his penchant for taking long jump shots (often off the mark). When he missed a three-pointer with 37 seconds left in first half, boos began to rain down.
While Drew and Smith have not necessarily seen eye to eye all the time, both men took the high road on Friday.
“With Josh Smith, I think we need to remember a lot of people talk about his (shot) selection, him being out on perimeter … but he brings a lot of other things to the table,” Drew said. “His effort against an All-Star in Paul George I thought was absolutely phenomenal. There’s not many guys, given his size and he gives up, I think, speed and quickness-wise, I think with Paul, I thought he battled him and challenged him.
“Josh is very versatile guy… I think we just need to remember that alone. He’s a guy that does a lot of things, not just going to look at what we perceive to be his faults but all the other tangibles he brings to the table.”
Asked to offer his take on whether Drew deserved to be back, Smith opted not to take a shot.
“I feel like I don’t never believe in taking food off another man’s table,” Smith said. “I think everybody should be-resigning and hired, if you ask me.”
After a first quarter in which they trailed 21-20, the second quarter proved a nightmare. That shooting debacle extended into the third quarter, as the Hawks made just one of 21 shots at one point. The deficit grew as large as 19.
To their credit, the Hawks rallied, getting as close as four points with 3:43 left in regulation, but could not complete the comeback.
For the second straight game, they shot 33.3 percent. To an extent, it was a miracle that they finished with that high of a percentage. By intermission, they were shooting 23 percent.
In giving something of an obituary on the team, Drew talked about his pride in their season and in their effort in the series, noting that two key players were lost to injuries, Williams and Pachulia.
Horford, one of the few set to return, praised Drew, but realizes that the team will take on a new look next fall when the team convenes for training camp.
“Yeah, there’s going to be some changes,” Horford said. “I think that everybody knows that. It’s going to be a just matter of what they want to do with everything.”