Monday, October 8, 2012

No Regard Presidential Previews: Atlanta Hawks (Jimmy Carter)

Oh the season. Oh the season! Election or NBA, both are upon us. We're getting into the spirit by bringing you our season previews (with a little help from the presidents). One per day for the next 30 days—which will bring us to the Day of Reckoning. So please join us on the campaign trail as we shake hands, kiss babies and sink jumpers.

“It is that unique self-definition which has given us an exceptional appeal, but it also imposes on us a special obligation, to take on those moral duties which, when assumed, seem invariably to be in our own best interests.” - Jimmy Carter

I once worked on the ad sales/marketing side of an ancient magazine going through a “rebranding,” so I’ve heard plenty of talk in my time on “destroying expectations,” “engaging with a new audience” and “changing perceptions.”

Jimmy Carter, perhaps more than any other president, has utilized those principles in his post-POTUS life to create a new image of his legacy that trumps the notions that had existed before. When he exited the White House after one term in 1981, Carter was seen by a majority of Americans as an ineffective leader, one who couldn’t handle the rigors of dealing with challenges like the Iran hostage crisis and an economic downturn. But since that time, Carter has seen a great deal of success with his humanitarian efforts—starting the Carter Center to encourage democracy and peaceful political resolutions, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. By focusing his life after presidency on the idealistic goals he couldn’t gain Congressional support for in office, he has essentially rebranded himself as a hero of the center-left—a peacemaker and all-around good dude—thereby replacing the vision of failure many Americans had of him (and that many conservatives still do). His name is no longer synonymous with “ineffectiveness.” It is synonymous with “compassion” and “goodwill.”

Like Jimmy Carter, the Atlanta Hawks are currently primed for a reinvention that will change everything you know about them. For years, they have been seen as underachievers, a team that has always been good enough for a top four playoff seed but that lacks the competitive fire to truly ever get anything done. This offseason, by shipping Joe Johnson to Brooklyn, the Hawks made a gesture both symbolic and potentially effectual. Johnson was the embodiment of the Hawks spirit: a six-time All Star who could never quite achieve household name status and whose peak lay just below the line that separates good from great.

Now, the Hawks find themselves with somewhat of a blank slate and the pieces to turn the mundane into the sublime. Josh Smith was an absolute monster on both ends of the floor last year; indeed, his season was criminally underrated by the world at large. When he was on, it was really something special to watch. Smith is now the undisputed star of this team, and if he can continue to perform at the level he was at six months ago, he may truly blossom into one of the very best frontcourt players in the league. It won’t hurt that he has a young, exciting point guard who can run the floor with him in Jeff Teague. Teague has a lot of work left in proving he can be consistent during the regular season, but he has shown flashes during the playoffs of being able to direct an offense and make big guard plays as well as any other point in the league.

Helping Smith and Teague will be a healthy-for-now Al Horford and a newly acquired pair of long-range specialists, Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow. These are two guys who the Hawks won’t be able to trust for 35 minutes a game, but when they’re on the court, they will spread the defense in a way the team hasn’t been able to do in recent years.

Of course, most people would probably say this is a worse Hawks team than the one that battled the Celtics this past spring. Johnson, although frustratingly on the eternal brink of next-leveldom, was the most consistent scorer the team had, their undisputed best offensive player. So those people are probably right. This is a team that will not make the playoffs as easily as it is used to. But the hope is, if they do indeed make the playoffs, they will use the opportunity to show a new passion and an excitingness and attitude that not only gets them to the second round, but recasts them in the eyes of underwhelmed fans.

If the Hawks can steal a seat atop the fire currently lighting the asses of their city’s football team, they may match their previous winning records—and may do so in a way that makes the world think differently about them. It is now up to them to invoke Georgia’s proudest son and reinvent themselves as a team that accomplishes big, exciting things on a national stage. It’s time to actively change the conversation and build a new reputation.

Rushed Pull-Up Jumpers

Pokemon who the team should adopt as its new mascot: Fearow

Headline we’ll be most sick of reading: “Josh Smith continues being great, but is he elite?”

Headline we’re most looking forward to: “DeShawn Stevenson gets Abraham Lincoln neck tattoo changed to Jimmy Carter neck tattoo after being disappointed by Spielberg film”

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you enter the pearly gates?: “This is better than the All-Star Game anyway, isn’t it, Josh?”