One man's happiness: getting to play out of position on a bad team
By L. Jon Wertheim
Team Page | Conference ranking: 14 | Overall ranking: 27
Jason Terry is so taken with his hometown that he has Seattle's area code -- 206 -- tattooed on his chest. Don't be surprised if Atlanta's 404 soon adorns his willowy 6'2" frame as well. Over the summer a number of teams made runs at him, including the Jazz, which signed him to an offer sheet worth $22.5 million over three years. When Atlanta matched, Terry exhaled in relief. "All along I was hoping to stay," says Terry, who lives with his wife and two daughters in tony Buckhead. "Great food, lots to do, nice weather. Atlanta's got everything."
Everything, that is, except a successful NBA team. In fact, the Hawks' best hope for respectability rests on the slender shoulders of Terry, their underrated and unconventional point guard. His 7.4 assists per game ranked sixth in the NBA in 2002-03, a season in which he moved from his natural position of shooting guard to the point. "In our system," says coach Terry Stotts, "JT can push it sometimes and spot up [as a shooting guard] other times." Terry uses his quickness to get off teardrop layups and set up a jumper that's really a glorified set shot. For good measure, he's durable, having missed just six games in his four-year career, which makes him an anomaly on a team plagued by injuries.
Last year the Hawks played like doves and couldn't make good on their money-back guarantee to make the playoffs, but there is a distinct sense that a new era is at hand. Billy Knight has replaced Pete Babcock as G.M., and last month AOL Time Warner sold the team to an Atlanta-based investment group for $250 million. Terry isn't making any postseason promises for next spring, but he guarantees this: "We're going to play together, play as a family and play hard." Hey, it's a start.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Hawks
"At least with Glenn Robinson gone to the 76ers they won't have to deal with his negativity after losses. But the guy they'll miss more than Big Dog is Ira Newble [now with the Cavaliers], who at least tried to shut down his man one-on-one.... Shareef Abdur-Rahim had back surgery over the summer, but even when he gets in shape he'll get you only so many wins. He's not a big fourth-quarter scorer, he moves more like a center than a power forward and down the stretch he doesn't make the right reads defensively. He freezes and lets the back door slip open, or he doesn't chase a rebound, or he misses a rotation. He's a terrific guy, but you just can't depend on him.... Theo Ratliff came back from two years of injuries to lead the league in blocks, but that number isn't so impressive on a losing team -- so many guys were driving free and clear to the basket that he couldn't help but block some of those shots.... I'm guessing Terry Stotts will use the old Seattle traps and junk defenses; the last thing he wants is teams executing half-court sets and exposing his bad defenders. Terry is more structured than his predecessor, Lon Kruger, and he can teach NBA fundamentals. They went 24-31 after he took over last year, but he has little to work with. They didn't make any big personnel moves during the summer because they were waiting for the team to be sold.... Jason Terry isn't a true point guard. They need another playmaker to move the ball and create shots. Maybe they can get that from Boris Diaw, the rookie from France, but that's asking a lot of the 21st pick.... The Hawks will have to take advantage of the nights when opponents are unprepared and won't have their legs because they have been out to the strip clubs the night before. That's probably going to be Atlanta's best defense: the strip club trap."
Issue date: October 27, 2003