Hawks will directly benefit from dysfunction among Eastern Conference teams

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The NBA season kicked off Tuesday night as the Bucks and Warriors came out victorious over the Nets and Lakers, respectively. The Hawks open their much anticipated 2021-22 season Thursday night in State Farm Arena against Luka Dončić and the Mavericks. The Hawks surprised the NBA world by making it within two games of the Finals last year, falling to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals; now, the excitement is palpable around Atlanta.

This is the most highly anticipated Hawks season in recent memory as Travis Schlenk re-signed John Collins and Lou Williams, and handed extensions to Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and Clint Capela. The core of this team — Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, and Jalen Johnson — are still on rookie deals. They are perfectly positioned to compete for championships presently and in the future; thanks to Schlenk and the ownership group.

Most media and gambling outlets have the Hawks competing for home-court advantage in the playoffs. BetOnline set the Hawks over/under win total at 46.5 — behind the Nets (55.5), Bucks (54.5), 76ers (51.5), Heat (48.5), and tied with the Celtics. ESPN’s NBA insiders gave their predictions for how the Eastern Conference would shake out, leaving the Hawks as the fifth seed behind the Nets (58-24), Bucks (57-25), 76ers (50-32), and Heat (49-33). NBA.com’s John Schumann recently put out his Eastern Conference power rankings, where he ranked the Hawks third behind Milwaukee and Brooklyn.

Regardless, Atlanta isn’t going to be underestimated this season after the league was put on notice last season. Still, I expect the Hawks to win over 50 games and be the third seed easily. The dysfunction in the Eastern Conference directly benefits the Hawks.

Kyrie Irving is the only player in the NBA who is unable to play this season because of his unwillingness to get the vaccine. New York City recently enacted a mandate requiring the vaccine to play at the Barclays Center and practice. Even with Irving, the Nets are a thin, top-heavy roster. But now, without him, Kevin Durant and James Harden will have a more difficult time competing with the likes of the Bucks.

Then there is the controversy brewing in nearby Philadelphia with Ben Simmons and the 76ers. After Trae Young and Kevin Huerter ended the so-called “Process,” Klutch Sports and Simmons made it evidently clear that he would never play another game in a Sixers uniform. Until about a week ago, when it was reported that Simmons would, in fact, show up to the facility. It seemed like the two sides would be able to come to an understanding.

Well, now it looks like Simmons just didn’t want to miss out on a paycheck. Doc Rivers kicked the former LSU Tiger out of a team practice after refusing multiple times to join a defensive drill, and the team suspended him one game. Eventually, there will come a trade, but I expect Rivers to keep Simmons away from the team until the front office can hammer out a deal. Still, in both of these dysfunctional situations, the Hawks are benefactors.






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