For much of the regular season, the Hawks were the "other" team playing better than .500 in the Eastern Conference (outside the Heat and the Pacers).
Despite letting Josh Smith walk in free agency and seeing Al Horford go down with injury, the Hawks kept plugging away. They were not one of the teams allegedly tanking for draft picks, they wanted to remain in the Playoff hunt and keep the flexibility through decent young players on short contracts whom they could trade for bigger pieces. Guys like Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap should be enough to make a Playoff push.
It has been, but not without bumps in the road.
Horford's injury has put a ton of pressure on the Hawks and the East has been getting a bit better. Atlanta has fallen to 26-32 on the year, eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Playoff dreams are slipping away as the Hawks have won just one of their past 12 games. There is a little bit of cushion remaining, but Cleveland and New York are still pushing Atlanta for that final playoff spot.
The job Mike Budenholzer has done keeping this injury-plagued ship together for so long has been quite amazing. It does very much harken back to his time with the Spurs. Atlanta has been able to survive for so long because Budenholzer has tried to build a team with plug-and-play capabilities like the system used in San Antonio.
"I think any team, any organization has a system that they believe in," Budenholzer said. "I think it's critical to the success of that team. Now without a couple guys, what we believe in will be tested. I think hopefully there has been a lot of carryover from training camp to the practices to the games. It's something where everyone participates, everybody is a part of it. They read, they play basketball. Hopefully we have enough to still find ways to be successful."
The Hawks have certainly been tested in this stretch of the season. And nobody likely expected them to pass through this season near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta is very much establishing the system that the organization will be about in the future. And considering how much talent is left to acquire to get the Hawks where they want to go, Budenholzer deserves some credit for a decent season from this team.
The Hawks are surely disappointed with how the team has fallen off. But the foundations for this team appear to be set.
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