The Atlanta Hawks should be one of those NBA teams whose present doesn’t really matter. There are a depressing number of such teams when you really start to think about it, and the Hawks fit the definition perfectly — a nice collection of players, almost all of whom are on expiring contracts, playing for a franchise with 1.5 of its two Hawk eyes on future cap space. This team could win 48 games, snag the no. 4 seed and win a playoff round. But would it really matter?
What if it did? The Hawks are 10-5 and thriving on defense — originally thought to be a weakness — in an Eastern Conference that hasn't played out as expected. The Nets and Knicks have surpassed the Pacers and Celtics in the race for no. 2 behind Miami, with the Knicks emerging as the early front-runner for that spot. But New York is old and already banged-up, with the Amar’e Stoudemire dilemma hovering over all their success. No one knows when Danny Granger, Andrew Bynum, or Derrick Rose will play again this season. Is it ridiculous to think Team Expiring Contracts could be playing in the conference finals — close enough to June that one ill-timed injury or some other lucky break can put a team in a place even they didn't expect to reach?
“We are a confident bunch,” Hawks forward Josh Smith tells Grantland. “We have enough talent to do it. We’re unselfish, and when guys are willing to sacrifice and buy in, you can have success. If we can keep this chemistry up, we’re gonna have a shot to be in the conference finals.”