Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 12/30/11
Compare the Hawks to two of their opponents this week the Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets and it's not too pretty of a picture. The Wizards and Nets will almost surely be drafting in the 2012 lottery, while the Hawks will make yet another trip to the playoffs, but both teams are more promising and, somehow, more relevant than Atlanta. Remember the 2008 playoffs when the young Hawks took Boston and its team of OG veterans the eventual champs to seven games in the first round? The Hawks were hot. Al Horford was a productive rookie, fresh off back-to-back championships with Florida. Josh Smith, in his fourth year, had morphed into a legit all-around force (the fact that he was so mercurial was somewhat of a good thing, back then). And Joe Johnson had made his second straight All-Star team. They were young upstarts, a team full of athletes with the collective talent and confidence necessary to scare the league's older, elite squads. That's not the Hawks, anymore. As Johnson said recently, "We've been here long enough. We're no longer a young team. We've been around the block. We've been through the trenches. We know what to expect." The 2008-era Hawks seems to be where the Wizards are headed I repeat "seem" to be "headed." The Hawks' victory Wednesday over the Wizards was more like a brush-off, a flick. The explanation for the 18-point win was simple: Atlanta is discernibly better than Washington. The Hawks are more skilled, experienced, familiar better in the way that perennial playoff squads are better than perennial lottery teams. The Wizards are still more relevant, though. The Wizards have a chest full of young players with high ceilings, specifically John Wall and Javale McGee. But, they often exhibit the collective hoops IQ of the hardwood floors they play on. McGee tried to dunk from the free throw line last season during an actual game; sometimes Wall plays like a cross between a wind-up toy and the Tasmanian Devil. Nic Young and Andray Blatche are what you'd call "talents" and not "players." Young plays without a conscience, Blatche without composure. Still, Wizards fans likely look at their pieces and say, "In a couple years, if and when these kids figure it out, we're going to be really good." Few things in sports are as romantic as the notion of promise and the Wiz have a lot. That's where the Hawks used to be. Nowadays, five seasons into the "Joe, Josh and Al" era, the promise is gone. They've figured out whatever it is that youngsters need to figure out and they're good just without the "really" qualifier. Atlanta opened its season by embarrassing the Nets 106-70. Why the blowout? Well, Atlanta is good and New Jersey is bad. But the Nets have cache. They have a Russian billionaire for an owner, the buzz of their upcoming move to Brooklyn and they stay in the news because Dwight Howard has reportedly said that he prefers to be traded to less than a handful of teams, one of which is the Nets. The sad thing is that Atlanta had reportedly engaged in some brief trade talks before they were swiftly shuttered due to Howard's disinterest in playing for the Hawks. It's sad because Howard is from Atlanta. There's no doubt that Atlanta would have to gut its roster (parting with some combination of the Joe-Josh-Al trio) to make the trade, which isn't a welcoming thought for Howard, but stars have said "make it work" before. It seems as though Howard has no interest in Orlando and Atlanta making a deal work. He doesn't want to come home. Think about that. The New Jersey Nets one of the NBA's historically hapless franchises and currently one of the NBA's worst squads is a more desirable destination for an ATL homeboy than his hometown Hawks. That says a lot. The Hawks are in a weirdly unenviable place. For so many years they were the dangerous young team. Now they're "just" a good team with essentially the same players. There's a staleness and ho-hum quality to where they are and where they can go. The Hawks wouldn't move the national needle with a five-game losing streak or a five-game winning streak. Good teams are not immune to lethargy. In fact, it's the middle-rung squads good, but not great that suffer from it the most. Adding veterans Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse were Atlanta's splash moves. And, true, they will help. For a team that has never really had a vocal leader, McGrady and Stackhouse are more important additions than many are crediting. (As coach Larry Drew said, "They're not afraid to step on any toes and that's one of the most important parts of veteran leadership. They're not afraid to call guys out and we haven't had that before.") Horford and Smith are entering their primes, Johnson is still in his. Young point guard Jeff Teague has a lot of room to grow. The Hawks can be better this season, but their "better" might still just be "good" and not as "good" as the Knicks or Heat or Bulls or Celtics maybe not even as "good" as a healthy Milwaukee or the "upstart" Pacers. "I think this is the make-or-break year for us," said Horford. "We don't want to regress. We want to get over that hump and if we don't then it won't be a successful season." This is the Hawks' reality. No longer young enough to warrant curious interest and not great or compelling enough to arrest hoops fans' attentions. They're just solid. Competitive. Respectable. Good. But these guys have been good for several seasons. At what point is "good" no longer good enough? "You can feel it, man," said Johnson. "You can feel the pressure and us players can feel it more than anybody else. But I think the sky's the limit for us. We just all have to believe." Is the sky really the limit? Or are the Hawks' heads a little tender from banging it against the ceiling?
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Pete Carroll refutes report that Kam Chancellor will miss rest of season

Pete Carroll not ruling out possibility Kam Chancellor injury is career-ending

Top prospect Anfernee Simons may enter NBA Draft

Kam Chancellor will miss remainder of 2017 season with neck injury

It's all on Russell Wilson as injuries decimate Legion of Boom

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Simone Biles criticism leads to apology from Gabby Douglas

Lonzo Ball explains why he skipped Lakers-Suns fight

Dale Earnhardt Jr. shares early-career regrets

LaVar Ball downplays President Trump’s role in helping son

Philip Rivers cleared to play Sunday against Bills

Simone Biles blasts Gabby Douglas over response to sexual abuse post

Sports & Politics Intersect: Is Jerry out of his league?

The 'An I, Tonya for an eye (or knee)' quiz

Should the Broncos make Tyrod Taylor their next quarterback?

15 mid-majors you need to know before you hear about them in March

NCAA college football 2017 Week 12 predictions

NFL Week 11 predictions

Follow Ben Simmons as he leads us to the NBA's unknown future

The Saints flipped the script to revive their season

The 15 best and 15 worst MLB signings of the last decade

The 'It's a major award!' quiz

Vikings' unnecessary quarterback conundrum is Mike Zimmer's doing

Time to admit the Blues are good, but can they be great?

All Sports News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Sports & Politics Intersect: Is Jerry out of his league?

15 mid-majors you need to know before you hear about them in March

The 'An I, Tonya for an eye (or knee)' quiz

Should the Broncos make Tyrod Taylor their next quarterback?

The 15 best and 15 worst MLB signings of the last decade

The 'It's a major award!' quiz

Follow Ben Simmons as he leads us to the NBA's unknown future

The Saints flipped the script to revive their season

NFL Week 11 predictions

NCAA college football 2017 Week 12 predictions

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker