The challenge for teams like the Hawks in the superteam era
In the era of the superteam, it can seem to be a daunting task for smaller market teams like the Atlanta Hawks to vault themselves into contention and national recognition. Teams like the Warriors, Lakers (especially if they add Anthony Davis), Celtics, and Rockets reign supreme in today’s NBA, while middling market teams like Atlanta struggle to attract free agents and can either be stuck in mediocrity, or tank, which is the route that the Hawks have chosen.
While it may seem hopeless for a team like the Hawks not only to become contenders but to also generate attention from mainstream media, one must consider what is so fun to watch about the NBA to the casual fan in the first place.
Fans like seeing players who stand out from even the best athletes on the planet. The Milwaukee Bucks, historically a rather irrelevant team, got a Christmas Day game this season because of a man by the name of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can do seemingly superhuman things with the basketball in his hand. Because they have a marketable star player who is incredibly entertaining to watch, the Bucks have shifted to become a more marquee team that casual fans have an interest in watching.
The Houston Rockets are another team that generally are not seen as being large market. However, they have James Harden, who has made himself into an all-time great scorer and isolation threat (which fans love to watch and mimic at their local courts) and traded for fan favorite and widely respected point guard Chris Paul. Because of these two stars, the Rockets now consistently get some of the most national TV games per season, and are the subject of much debate and attention among all sports fans.
Even the Golden State Warriors were not a very marketable team just a few years ago, before the emergence of entertaining stars such as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and of course the highly controversial signing of Kevin Durant. While they are widely considered to be the villains now, Golden State still built themselves from a below-mediocre team spearheaded by an aging Nate Robinson to an undisputed NBA dynasty in just a few short years.
Drama certainly has the ability to create some national attention for a team, but it is probably not the most effective route to go about gaining recognition. For example, the Washington Wizards have plenty of locker room drama, yet no one cares about them. Drama only makes a team more interesting when they are already established as a marketable, must-see product, as in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers with the stir Jimmy Buttler has recently caused as well as the ongoing turmoil with the Markelle Fultz situation.
The Hawks will likely never be able to achieve the famed and glorified status of teams like the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers. Not even the Golden State Warriors will. However, they are heading down the right track to make themselves both competitive and attention-worthy in the contemporary NBA.
They’ve already drafted Trae Young, who electrified the country during his time at Oklahoma and has already produced many highlight-reel plays in an Atlanta uniform. They’re also putting themselves in prime position to have a chance to draft Zion Williamson, who would automatically launch them into the NBA spotlight and earn them a sling of national TV games. These two young stars would compliment each other on the court as well, which would lead the Hawks to becoming a contending team later on down the road, which is equally as important. Casual fans have a short leash with marquee bad teams until they become real contenders.
Atlanta hasn’t truly been in the national spotlight since the days of Dominique Wilkins. However, Travis Schlenk’s decision to tear the franchise down and build it back up from the ground could not have come at a better time, and they’ll have a great chance over the next few years to vault themselves into the upper echelon of both mainstream status and title contention.
Jackson Stone – @tdjs_network