--After years as a NBA afterthought, the Hawks are firmly entrenched as a playoff contender. All five starters and eight of the top nine players return from last season's Eastern Conference semifinals team, a group that piled up 47 wins en route to the franchise's best regular and postseason in over a decade. Veteran additions Jamal Crawford, Joe Smith and Jason Collins are expected to help fill the gaps, along with rookie point guard Jeff Teague.
"We've made our case on the floor," said sixth-year forward Josh Smith, the longest-tenured member of the team. "We haven't been able to hype our way into anything. So anything we've earned, wins, respect or whatever else, has come the hard way. We worked for it."
The rest of the league appears to have taken notice as well.
The Hawks have seven national TV games this season, equaling their haul over the last 11 years. And when the conversation turns to contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks are the first team mentioned after the holy trinity of Cleveland, Boston and Orlando.
For Marvin Williams it's a complete turnaround from what he experienced during his rookie season with the Hawks, when he, Joe Johnson and Zaza Pachulia joined a team coming off a 13-win season.
"It's definitely different but we did it the hard way, the right way," Williams said. "We teased the city a couple years ago with that series against Boston and the only thing on our minds last year was getting back to the playoffs again so we could take another step. We did that by beating Miami and then playing Cleveland in the second round. Now I think this city expects us to be a contender this year, to come back and take another step. And we should expect that too.
"There's no sense of playing if you don't have those kind of expectations and if you don't believe it down in your bones that you've got a chance to be one of those special teams. We know we're one of those teams."
--Hawks coach Mike Woodson admitted that his sixth team is his best, at least on paper. The challenge is putting it all together on the floor between now and the regular season opener against Indiana Oct. 28.
"It's really no different than how we did it last year," Woodson said. "The system is in place, in terms of how we want to play. We want to score more points, we want to rebound better and be a better defensive team. But everybody wants to do that.
"So it's really about all these new guys buying in the way Mo Evans and Flip Murray did last year. That's how you keep building on what we've started here is integrating your new players into the fabric of what's already in place and pushing for that next step."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This team went to the second round of the playoffs and won 47 games and all those guys are back. So it's not like there's a whole new group and we've all come in here together. But they make you feel welcome here, from the players to the coaches to the front office and even the people on the street. Seriously, it's weird the vibe you get from people. I'm sure the last couple of years it's been about getting to the playoffs. But all I'm hearing is championship. People expect us to take that next step. And I don't think they brought me here just for the regular season. I think they brought me, and all of us new guys, here to help this team go further. So we're going to be ready." -- G Jamal Crawford, on what's expected of him with the Hawks.