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NBA Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Aside from the front office apocalypse, things look promising.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Hawks: Prediction: 3rd in the Eastern Conference

2014 Record: 38-44

Coach: Mike Budenholzer

Significant Additions: F Adreian Payne (draft), G Thabo Sefolosha (trade), G Kent Bazemore (free agent)

Significant Subtractions: G Lou Williams (trade), F Cartier Martin (free agent), C Lucas Nogueria (trade)

Projected Starters: C Al Horford, F Paul Millsap, F DeMarre Carroll, G Kyle Korver, G Jeff Teague (8/10):
Horford is the key to everything here. If he regains his old form, then the Hawks instantly have one of the better starting fives in the conference. He and Millsap had good chemistry from the very beginning last season and the Hawks had a good record before he went down. Horford can score and doesn't have any real weakness except durability. Millsap is kind of a miniature Horford and has extended his range out to the three-point line, but his size and athleticism hurts him on the other end of the floor. Carroll is one of the better wing defenders in the league and he takes pressure off Korver in that regard, allowing him to check the second-best guy. Carroll's improved his shooting enough to where you keep on the floor for starter's minutes. Korver set an NBA record for making at least one three for 127 consecutive games. The rest of his game is better and more multi-faceted than he gets credit for and he should only flourish with having Horford back to draw attention inside and space the floor better for him. Teague is pretty much at the fringe of what you can get away with at point guard, especially as a shooter, but he nearly doubled his free throw attempts from 2.8 per game to 4.8, which was essentially the entire reason he had a career season in 2014. Teague has been very durable for two straight season, and there is value in that.

Projected Reserves (5/10):
Having Horford back in the lineup will push Pero Antic back to the bench, which is a blessing for us all. I'm not quite sure what the Hawks see in him because he doesn't seem to have any discernible skills and was terrible in the playoffs. He's allegedly a credible three-point shooter and helped take Roy Hibbert off the court with the way he spaced the floor, but he shot .327 from out there and that was on wide open looks. He certainly doesn't offer any kind of rim protection. The Hawks re-signed Elton Brand, 35, and the unheralded Mike Scott, and the two power forwards offer skills that are opposite to what you might expect. Brand actually led the team in shot-blocking despite playing less than 20 minutes a night and was a factor on the boards. Scott, meanwhile, wasn't too helpful in most respects but he jacked up eight shots in 18.5 minutes-per-game and scored 9.6 per game. To supplant the front line even more, the Hawks drafted Adreian Payne out of Michigan State. He's got enough size to play either the four or the five and is a crafty scorer, even out to the three-point line. He's a so-so athlete though, not especially explosive nor coordinated. Everyone will root for Payne because of his story, but early signs haven't been very encouraging.

The Hawks front office did poke around at free agent small forwards (no really, it was in the news and everything), but ultimately they must have been satisfied with Carroll's leap forward last season because they don't even have a real backup three on the roster. Instead they'll try to fill in with a pair of acquisitions who are really twos. Kent Bazemore, 25, is a bit undersized, but he was a freewheeling scorer on a Lakers squad playing out the string last year. Thabo Sefolosha has ideal size, but he missed most of last year with injuries and was terrible when he did play, to the point where Thunder coach Scooter Brooks had to bench him in the Western Conference Finals. The situation isn't much better at backup point, where Shelvin Mack and Dennis Schroder will be battling for minutes behind Teague. Schroder was billed as the "German Rajon Rondo," and maybe that just means he's really good at Connect Four because that comp isn't translating on the court. Mack has more of an idea with the ball, but doesn't have Schroder's length and athleticism to bother anyone much on the other end.

Coach/Front Office Rating (7.5/10):
The Hawks off-season from a front office standpoint was about as bad as it gets. One of the team's owners, Bruce Levenson, will be selling his shares in the team after self-reporting an email with some racist elements in it about Atlanta's fan base. Levenson turned himself in after the Hawks as an organization decided to scrutinize all of their emails on file to make sure they were above board in the wake of the Donald Sterling scandal with the Clippers. Around this same time General Manager Danny Ferry got in trouble for reading/making racist comments about Luol Deng during a conference call with fellow team execs. He's been placed on an indefinite leave of absence but Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has said he won't be firing Ferry and numerous prominent people around the league like Raptors GM Masai Ujuri, Spurs GM R.C. Buford and Magic Johnson have come to Ferry's defense. In the meantime, coach Mike Budenholzer, a polar opposite from Byron Scott when it comes to three-pointer zealotry, will be the acting general manager. He did a great job of shifting on the fly when Horford went down and finding a "five-out" philosophy (borrowed from Don Nelson, I'm sure) that gave the Pacers fits. It's going to be exciting to watch Bud with a full team, though I worry he'll be overextended by the forced front office role. One thing I like is that Ferry and Bud are already trying to instill the "corporate knowledge" philosophy of the Spurs by trying to maintain continuity. The Hawks retained people who played 86 percent of their minutes last season, fourth overall and tops of anyone in the East.

Team Rating: 70 (2.5x Starters Rating + 1.5x Reserves Rating + Coach Rating) x 2 = 70

Did You Know:
Ferry got busted, deservedly so, for saying that Deng "has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out the back."

That sounds pretty racist. Here is a list of explanations Ferry could've used to save himself.

1. "He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he was literally born in the Sudan, which is located in the continent of Africa. Actually, my research indicates he has a substantial amount of African in him, and by 'substantial,' I mean he's entirely of African, which I'm explaining in case any of you were curious where Luol Deng was from."

2. "He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he enjoys warm weather."

3. "He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but I've heard he doesn't find soccer boring."

4. "He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but cartographers have grossly misrepresented his size for centuries. He's actually 14'5" and weighs 532 pounds."

5.  He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way... and not in a good way. Not in any way. Hey look over there at that cute puppy!" /runs off