Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
In this edition, we will relive the greatest Atlanta Hawks moment of the 21st century: the Hawks’ 60-win season in 2014-15, which ended in an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
Greatest Atlanta Hawks Moment of the 21st Century: The 2014-15 Season
From 2000-2007, the Atlanta Hawks totaled 0 playoff appearances. Since 2007, they have yet to miss the playoffs. Beginning with a 37(!!) win playoff appearance in 2007, the Hawks had always been thought of as a 6 or 7-seed that never wavered.
Anchored by a pair of extremely talented wing players in Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, they were thought of as an up-and-coming team in the East. The reason for optimism was their rash of high-end lottery picks. Marvin Williams and Al Horford were the pieces that were going to bring Atlanta over the hump.
Williams, well, he didn’t pan out in the ATL. Horford, on the other hand, turned into the star of the 2014-15 team.
But it took more to get to that point. Johnson got flipped over to future a “super-team”, the Brooklyn Nets, for what amounted to nothing of value for the Hawks. Kyle Korver and Lou Williams each joined the team in the off-season of 2012 to bolster the backcourt alongside a young Jeff Teague.
Preparing for Takeoff
Three more moves completed the final move for the 60-win Hawks, all of which happened during the 2013 off-season.
First up was to find a new captain for the ship. Larry Drew had done an admirable job but former-Spurs executive and second-year Hawks GM Danny Ferry felt that San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer could implement the best system for Atlanta’s future.
Step two was the Josh Smith decision. Smith did not fit into the incoming Budenholzer system so questions lingered as to whether he was done in Atlanta. Ultimately, he was, leaving for Detroit on a 4-year, $54 million deal following a polarizing career in Georgia’s Capital.
The final piece was a Smith replacement. Insert Paul Millsap. Very few realized what this meant for the Hawks, as Millsap, still underrated back then, brought versatility on both ends of the court, something integral in a Spurs-esque system.
Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver. DeMarre Carroll. Paul Millsap. Al Horford. Lou Williams. Coach Bud. Put it all together and what do you get? A 38-44 team that squaked into the playoffs. But that’s not why this team is remembered.
It’s the next season. Everything came together for this group. They won their division for the first time since 1994. They went 17-0 in the month of January coinciding with THEIR ENTIRE STARTING FIVE WINNING “PLAYER” OF THE MONTH. Four of those five (sans Carroll) were NBA All-Stars. By season’s end, they had a better record than a LeBron-James Cleveland team despite not having any “superstars”.
Once the playoffs rolled around, experts legitmately had questions as to who was the favorite heading into the playoffs. The Hawks beat both the Nets and the Wizards 4-2 as Cleveland and Atlanta seemed destined for a match-up in the Eastern Conference Finals. I want to try and describe the series to you, but I don’t think I can do it better than Atlanta native 2 Chainz:
— Tity Boi (2 Chainz) (@2chainz) May 27, 2015
Despite the sour ending, this Atlanta team should not be forgotten. They won the most games in franchise history. They made an improvement of 22 games from the season before. The inspired a faithless group of Atlanta fans to believe in a team.
Following the unthinkable 2014-15 season, Hawks fans, and the city of Atlanta as a whole was torn apart. None of the starters remain from that team heading into the 2017-18 season, having left to earn a combined $342 million. As then-Grantlander Rembert Brown, notorious Atlanta sports fan, said: “Destruction and rebuilding are central to the Atlanta mythology.”
Embed from Getty Images