Sunday December 9th, 2018 5:43PM

Hawks hit new low with 13-69 finish

By The Associated Press
<p>The Atlanta Hawks' hopes that better times are coming are based largely on the belief that things couldn't get any worse.</p><p>At 13-69, the Hawks just missed becoming only the fourth team in league history to lose 70 games. Even so, they finished with the worst record in the league and in franchise history _ by far.</p><p>The Hawks didn't even win half as many games as the previous year, a 28-win season in 2003-04 that had been the second-worst in Atlanta history.</p><p>Under first-year coach Mike Woodson, the Hawks obliterated the previous standards of misery established by coach Terry Stotts last year and Lon Kruger's 2000-01 team, which won 25 games.</p><p>By dismantling the team under Stotts _ trading Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and, after the 2003-04 season, Stephen Jackson _ management had modest expectations this year. But 13-69?</p><p>The worst season in Hawks history _ in their time in Atlanta, St. Louis, Milwaukee or Tri-Cities _ didn't even include back-to-back wins. The Hawks are left out of the playoffs for the sixth straight year.</p><p>"It's not always going to be this way," Woodson said, repeating the promise he said he told players before their final game at Philadelphia _ a loss, of course.</p><p>The Hawks will have the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft and, after this year's trade of Antoine Walker, ample funds to compete in the free-agent market. The most glaring need is a post player, though the team also must find a point guard, especially if Tyronn Lue is not re-signed.</p><p>Wing players Josh Childress and NBA Slam Dunk champion Josh Smith managed to withstand the deluge of losses and still improve through their rookie seasons. They are the foundation of the team.</p><p>Childress and Smith were first-round picks by general manager Billy Knight last year. Two more rookies, guards Royal Ivey and Donta Smith, may have shown enough potential to return as backups.</p><p>Forward Al Harrington, who was leading the team with 17.5 points per game when he was placed on injured reserve on April 7, also has another year on his contract.</p><p>Harrington, Childress and Smith are almost certain starters next season. The rest is anybody's guess.</p><p>"This will be a different team next year, there's no doubt about it in my mind," Woodson said. "You can't stay pat with the same team. ... We have to get better from a talent standpoint, and we will, eventually. ... Not to take anything away from these guys, but we just aren't talented enough yet."</p><p>The Hawks' lack of experience showed as they often competed early but faded late in games.</p><p>Woodson, the former top assistant for Larry Brown in Detroit, was hired on the strength of his reputation working with young players.</p><p>Though he had to rely on an unusual mix of veterans, including guard Tony Delk and 42-year-old center Kevin Willis and such fill-in players as Jason Collier and Tom Gugliotta, Woodson knew his first year would be largely judged on the progress of the rookies, especially Smith and Childress.</p><p>"As a coach, I see the light at the end of the tunnel with the group, because I see what's happening with our young guys," Woodson said.</p><p>In the last 35 games, Childress averaged 14.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. He recorded 12 double-doubles in that stretch to lift his overall averages to 10.1 and 6.9.</p><p>Smith averaged 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds and ranked first among rookies with 1.95 blocked shots per game. He also ranked among the rookie leaders in highlight-worthy dunks.</p><p>"You never like losing, but I will say that for me as an owner, and even more as a fan, we were a heck of a lot more exciting to watch," said Michael Gearon Jr., one of the Atlanta-based members of the ownership group.</p><p>"We're more entertaining. We're more athletic. We're young. We're underdogs. And we're only going to get better. So I can't say at the end of the season that this has been horrible."</p><p>Gearon said Woodson "has grown and learned a lot. I think he's done a good job of handling the kids."</p><p>Smith averaged 16 points and 8.6 rebounds in the final 14 games but, after Walker was traded to the Celtics on Feb. 24, the team lacked a go-to player.</p><p>"It changes every night," Childress said.</p><p>"The more comfortable we get with each other and the more comfortable everybody gets with themselves and the better we get individually, then we will be able to do it," he said.</p><p>Added Childress: "There are parts of the experience you can enjoy, but you can't enjoy losing like we lost. I know I can't. ... It's just hard to accept the fact that you're losing."</p><p>Woodson said his final instructions to his players were "to watch each and every playoff game, each series, because it could be us there one day."</p>
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