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2014-15 Atlanta Hawks Preview

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Atlanta Hawks organization is in flux and it's all their own doing.

Controlling owner Bruce Levenson sent an e-mail to general manager Danny Ferry in June of 2012 detailing the racial divide in attendance at Philips Arena. What started as a business strategy memo derailed quickly into a mind-boggling display of racism filled with plans to diminish the presence of African- Americans during, among other things, cheerleading routines, half-time shooting contests and yes, the kiss cam.

What prompted the discovery of this e-mail was a comment by Ferry at a team meeting when, while reading a scouting report about free agent Luol Deng, he said "he's a good guy over all, but he's not perfect. He's got some African in him. And I don't say that in a bad way."

The results of this debacle are that Levenson, who voluntarily turned himself into Commissioner Adam Silver, will sell his majority shares, and Ferry is on a leave of absence.

"I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion," Ferry said in a statement. "I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through."

And Deng is playing for the Miami Heat.

This void in leadership might be a problem as the season progresses, depending on how long Ferry is gone. The team has had money to spend in the last few offseasons, but doesn't have a lot to show for it.

Atlanta has been mired in mediocrity the last few seasons. The Hawks have been good enough to make the postseason, but never good enough to advance. Same story in 2013-14 when the Hawks grabbed the eighth seed, despite finishing under .500. They gave the sinking Indiana Pacers a good run, but fell in seven games.

The Hawks didn't do much in the offseason, at least not much to garner huge headlines. They littered their bench with solid second-unit guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore. The Hawks did well in the draft to get Michigan State's Adreian Payne, who could play right away if the Hawks weren't loaded up front.

There is talent in Atlanta, namely the trio of Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Al Horford.

The final name is interesting because some might have forgotten about him. Horford has torn both of his pectoral muscles in the last two-plus years. He played 11 games during the 2011-12 season and just 29 during the 2013-14 campaign. Horford is a two-time All-Star.

Millsap made his first All-Star squad last season and is consistently one of the most unappreciated talents in the game. Teague is emerging into that category as well.

DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver are fantastic role players.

This team has ingredients, but lacks the true superstar it takes to win the whole enchilada in this world of the NBA.

But before the Hawks can worry about the on-court product, the front office situation will need to be resolved.

CEO Steve Koonin has become the face of the organization. He has been vocal about how poorly the team has handled things this summer, including an open letter to fans and citizens of Atlanta.

"To be clear, I am angry that this has happened," he said. "I am deeply saddened and embarrassed that this has put a blemish on our team and our city, which has always been a diverse community with a history of coming together as one. We should build bridges through basketball, not divide our community and serve as a source of pain."

The Hawks are a disaster. Maybe the team can overcome it on the floor.

2013-14 Results: 38-44, 4th in Southeast; Lost in East quarterfinals to Indiana

ADDITIONS: G/F Thabo Sefolosha, F Adreian Payne, G Kent Bazemore

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Jeff Teague SG- Kyle Korver SF- DeMarre Carroll PF- Paul Millsap C- Al Horford

KEY RESERVES: G/F Thabo Sefolosha, G Kent Bazemore, F Mike Scott, F Elton Brand, C Pero Antic, G Shelvin Mack, G Dennis Schroder, F Adreian Payne

FRONTCOURT: Millsap made the All-Star team last season with a career-high average of 17.9 points. He also posted 8.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, which was also a personal best, and decent shooting numbers. Millsap's game evolved past the 3-point line where he attempted almost three a game and converted on 36 percent.

He's under-appreciated because there's no flash. Millsap is versatile, adequate on defense and could be in line for an even bigger season considering he's a free agent at the end of it. Millsap only took a two-year deal to come to the Hawks.

Horford made the All-Star team in both 2010 and 2011. He made the All-NBA Third team after the 2010-11 season and has finished in the top 10 in rebounding twice.

Horford has scored at a high level the last two seasons. He rebounds at a high level. He hasn't shot less than 52 percent from the floor since his second season in the league and, Horford has a good little jump shot.

Basically, Horford is one of the league's best centers, although he's still more of a natural power forward in the NBA. If he can keep his pectorals together, Horford should return to form.

Carroll blossomed last season when he finally got real minutes (32.1 per night). He scored 11.1 ppg and pulled down 5.5 rpg, which is a decent number for a small forward. Carroll is a big-time energy guy and plus defender.

BACKCOURT: Teague made another solid season in 2013-14. After signing a four- year offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks, which the Hawks matched, Teague's scoring jumped to 16.5 ppg. Teague's assist numbers aren't astronomical, but that's fine because the Hawks are very team-oriented in distribution. They finished second to the San Antonio Spurs in team assists.

Teague is a gamer. He's missed three games the last three seasons and can always be found attacking the basket. Teague isn't a great 3-point shooter, but he's an excellent free-throw shooter. His turnover numbers (2.9 per night) are a little high, but he's in the upper echelon of point guards.

Korver made his bones in the league as a long-range shooter, but he's evolved into a capable NBA starter. Korver almost played 34 minutes a game last season, which is probably a little high, but he scored 12 ppg. For the second time in his career, Korver led the league in 3-point percentage, hitting on 47 percent from beyond the arc.

Korver should benefit some from being a part of USA Basketball's training camp for the FIBA World Cup this summer. He didn't make the final cut, but it had to be a nice confidence boost to be included in that group.

When it comes to man-to-man defense, Korver is pretty terrible. But, as a help defender he's not so bad.

BENCH: Atlanta finished in the middle of the pack in bench scoring last season, but the Hawks' numbers should jump for 2014-15.

Sefolosha can't score anymore (actually, he never really could), but he can knock down an open three occasionally. Sefolosha is in Atlanta to defend. Carroll is a good perimeter defender, but Sefolosha adds another piece. He could finish out close guys to lock down the other team's best wing player.

Bazemore can score. When he was traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Los Angeles Lakers last season, his scoring average jumped to 13.1 ppg. He hit 37 percent of his 3-point attempts with the Lakers. Bazemore tore a tendon in his right foot during the season, but he should be alright for the Hawks.

Mack got a three-year deal with two guaranteed from the Hawks. He slid by Schroder for primary backup point guard duties, but it'll be a fight between the two again in the preseason.

Brand is nearing the end, but still has a role as a rebounder and occasional scorer in the interior.

Scott is a personal favorite. He almost got to 10 points per game off the bench last season, only playing 18 minutes. Scott is high volume and hits 31 percent from long range.

Antic is a very serviceable big man in just his second season.

Payne has a lot of skills, including deep shooting. It might be tough for him to crack this rather deep rotation, but Payne is an NBA player. Will he be ready to take over for Millsap if he leaves at the end of the season? Doubtful, but Payne has a lot of upside, despite being 23.

This group lost Lou Williams, one of the best bench scorers in the NBA. But, it's still pretty deep and while the names aren't marquee-level, they are productive.

COACHING: Mike Budenholzer did fine in his first season after a rocky start, including a DUI arrest. His pedigree is unmatched after working under Gregg Popovich all those years.

The players seemingly bought into his philosophy, which preaches ball movement and jump-shooting. Budenholzer didn't get his full roster last season, losing Horford after just 11 games.

He's just fine, although, he may have to become more of a face of the franchise with the problems in the hierarchy.

OUTLOOK: The Hawks are still stuck in mediocrity.

Horford's presence alone should account for more victories, and the bench acquisitions weren't sexy, but Sefolosha and Bazemore seem like great change of pace players on different sides of the ball.

All of these things should get Atlanta close to .500. That's going to be good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but that will be the team's peak.

Atlanta is nowhere near as good as Cleveland or Chicago, and the Hawks seem to trail Washington, Toronto, Miami and Charlotte. The seventh or eighth seed would be a logical landing spot for the Hawks.

Of course, things could really fall into an abyss if the problems upstairs seep into the players.