Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 12/21/11
When the head man says this is a "make or break" season for a team, the suspense has been lifted. And that's exactly what Hawks part-owner Michael Gearon Jr. has laid out for his team for the abbreviated 2011-12 NBA season. The Hawks' core of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams has this season to prove that it is capable of moving beyond the second round of the playoffs -- a place only the Hawks, Lakers and Celtics have been in each of the last three seasons -- and into the championship realm. If not now, then it's never for this group. And they know it. "That's the way it should be," Smith said. "At this stage of our careers, making the playoffs, making the second round and being satisfied with that is out of the question. I've been in this league too long to be happy with that. You're either competing for and winning championships or you're not. Getting better every year is fine, but if it's not about winning it all, what's the point?" The Hawks haven't exactly made "championship" moves in recent years. They've tweaked the roster here and there and added the right player for the right time. But there hasn't been a home run move to date, that one thing that pushes the franchise over the top. Patience is wearing thin, both within the organization and among the fan base at large. Another second-round trip is swell and all, but you can only play in the shallow end of the NBA pool for so long ... "There is no shortcut," head coach Larry Drew said. "It's going to take some serious muscle to get it done, and that goes for any team with designs on winning a championship. It's going to take some serious lifting on the part of every guy on the roster and every coach and the entire organization. I feel like we have the tools to compete. I really do." The Hawks' continuity combined with an abbreviated season would appear to be a factor working in their favor, but they did lose explosive sixth man Jamal Crawford (who departed via free agency and signed with Portland). And it's not as if the rest of the competition has been idle in the shortened offseason. "We all feel the pressure," Smith said. "We know that if we don't break down the barrier this season that we're going to look up and see some different faces around here. Who knows how it all ends? But there's no sense in banging your head against the same wall over and over again without better results." COACHING STAFF: Head coach -- Larry Drew, 2nd year overall (44-38), second with Hawks (44-38). Assistants -- Lester Conner, Bob Bender, Kenny Gattison, Tyrone Hill. LAST SEASON, REMEMBERED: 44-38 (3rd in the Southeast Division), defeated Orlando 4-2 in the first round, lost to Chicago in the Eastern Conference semifinals, 4-2. THIS SEASON, PREDICTED: 48-34, 2nd in the Southeast Division, Eastern Conference semifinals. POSSIBLE CHANGES, PREDICTED: The Hawks lost Jamal Crawford in free agency and will turn over the starting duties, at least for the start of the season, to third-year point guard Jeff Teague, who will need to score as well as run the team at a high level. NOTES, QUOTES F Josh Smith shed pounds during the offseason -- 30, to be exact -- and that has resulted in a leaner and quicker power forward than the one Hawks fans were used to seeing the last couple of seasons. Smith said the weight loss was not particularly by design but more a reaction to a lockout season spent primarily in Los Angeles and without the culinary comforts he'd grown accustomed to in Atlanta. "I was eating sushi, and that's what really did it," Smith said. "It worked out for the best. I'm leaner, quicker and still as strong as I've ever been. I won't have a problem doing what I do at this size." The addition of Tracy McGrady was one of the more curious signings of the condensed free agency period, mostly because he could very well be stepping into the role vacated by Jamal Crawford. As great a scorer as McGrady was earlier in his career, he is no longer that sort of prolific scoring machine. In fact, McGrady cannot be counted on to produce at a high level on a consistent basis to warrant any chatter of him "replacing" Crawford and the role he played for the Hawks the last two seasons. But that doesn't mean Hawks coach Larry Drew won't try to make it work. "If you go strictly by his history," Drew said, "T-Mac is a guy that we know has been able to do some different things scoring the basketball. We're asking him to play that role for us this season, and we will see what comes of it." MAIN REASON HAWKS CAN WIN: Continuity. The Hawks' insistence on keeping their core (mostly) intact has resulted in four straight trips to the playoffs and three straight trips to the second round. With the core group back, Drew has what he needs to field a team capable of competing in the Easter Conference. MAIN REASON HAWKS CAN LOSE: Lack of depth. For all of the lottery picks the Hawks had in recent years, there is not an abundance of quality depth on the roster. Youngsters like Acie Law IV and Jordan Crawford were used to acquire veterans in recent years, depleting the ranks a bit for a team that can ill afford to waste talent. QUOTE TO NOTE "It's going to be difficult to sign Jamal in a straight signing transaction. We are looking at other alternatives, of course. You always look at everything, but it's not nearly as easy as if you had four months. Four days instead of four months makes it more difficult." -- Hawks GM Rick Sund on why the Hawks weren't able to retain Jamal Crawford.
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