There are places you go and teams you play and you figure, no matter how difficult it's supposed to be on the road, you're going to win. Mike Bibby remembers how it was as a woebegone Vancouver Grizzly, and he recalls how it was when his mighty Sacramento Kings would enter Philips Arena. "We'd come [into Atlanta] expecting to win," Bibby said Monday. "I don't think that's the way it is now."
This used to be the NBA's version of Boot Hill, where careers came to die. On Monday, the Hawks re-introduced two free agents who could have signed to play elsewhere but chose to remain Hawks . And that, as coach Mike Woodson would say, is huge. It's the surest sign yet that this is becoming, slowly but inexorably, a Basketball town.
Said Rick Sund, the Hawks' general manager: "When push comes to shove, there's something special here. And they [Bibby and Zaza Pachulia] have been a part of it."
No matter what happens with Marvin Williams, the Hawks have negotiated this potentially perilous offseason and have actually improved themselves. They'll have at least six of their top eight players from last season in uniform come autumn, and they'll have Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague, too. In a conference where the top three teams have all made major moves, the Hawks have lost no ground. They might well have gained.
Said Bibby: "[Cleveland, Orlando and Boston] are really doing stuff to make their teams better, but we've done things to make our team better."
"Everyone's loading up in the East," Woodson said. But he also said this: "Every year [over the past five] we've grown. We're headed in the right direction. You know the dynamics of Basketball --- the expectations are going to be even higher now, and I understand that. And I'm up for the challenge."
No matter what you think of Williams' talent --- and it is considerable --- the key to this offseason was keeping Bibby, and that happened with such an absence of fuss as to beggar belief. (These same Hawks , as we know, managed to mess up everything from re-signing Jon Koncak to trading for Joe Johnson to keeping Josh Childress.)
But none of that is happening now. Good things are happening, so many good things that there cannot help but be an even better team down the road. "We've improved each year I've been here," said Pachulia, who arrived in August 2005. "We've had a better record every year . . . We've had a taste of the playoffs and now we've made the second round, and we know how that feels. And I feel confident this team has the potential to go even further."
Pachulia could have gone to another team and perhaps become a starter, but he opted to stay and play behind Al Horford because he likes it here. Bibby could surely have gotten more money from another club, but he chose the Hawks because, he said, "it's a situation where I feel comfortable."
Imagine that. The club that traded Steve Smith for J.R. Rider and dealt Rasheed Wallace after one game has become a comfort zone. Guys now like playing here, and they like it because they now have the expectation of success.
"When I came here five years ago, the buzz was not in the air when it came to the Hawks ," Woodson said.
But there is one now. There absolutely is.