When Danny Ferry was hired as the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, he wasted little time in beginning to make over a team that was desperately looking to get over the hump of being a borderline contender. Ferry was shrewd and quick in his dealings. Actually, he blasted out of the starting blocks; in his first week on the job, he miraculously unloaded Atlanta's two most notorious deals and in the process sent out $105 million in contracts while taking back only $23.5 million.
Despite an extremely small trade market for Joe Johnson, Ferry struck a deal by shipping the shooting guard and the $89 million remaining on his contract to Brooklyn for five players, including sharpshooter Anthony Morrow. Hours later, he shipped underachieving former No. 2 pick Marvin Williams to Utah for Devin Harris, whose $8.5 million would come off the books at season's end.
After his work was done, the Hawks returned just five regulars from last season and jumped into training camp with plans to run a more freewheeling, up-tempo style of offense, of which the players were thoroughly excited to be a part.
Where has that gotten us? After 14 games, Atlanta is 9-5. At this point last season, they were 10-4. But despite being slightly off last season's pace, the Hawks have the feel of a surprise team thanks in part to their recent six-game win streak.
Now pull back a bit to see the big picture. The Hawks seem to be caught in that holding pattern that exists between being a legit championship contender and a total rebuilding project. Atlanta has some interesting and talented, if not redundant players, who allow the Hawks to keep a competitive team on the floor yet give them enviable trade flexibility.
With tons of available cap space, they could be on the brink of being a team that could change the landscape of the NBA and could vault themselves into the thick of the title chase.
So how do the Hawks get to the next level? Here's a look at four things they must do to become title contenders.
1. Continue to develop Jeff Teague.
Teague has some serious star potential. In four seasons, he's blossomed from a little-used guard with questionable shot selection to a dangerous offensive weapon who's become an excellent facilitator and burgeoning defender. Teague in many ways is to the Hawks what Rajon Rondo is to the Celtics. He's the guy who complemented more established stars while learning how to play the NBA game as the coaching staff salivated over best-case scenarios. The coaches invested tons of time in developing his raw talent, and Teague has been a quick study.