The New Orleans Saints don't play in the same town and don't even play the same sport. However, the Atlanta Hawks are looking to the Saints as inspiration after the one-time laughingstock of the NFL won their first Super Bowl title last Sunday.
Like the Saints, the Hawks have often been one of the NBA's sad-sack franchises. They have never won an NBA title in their 42-year history since moving from St. Louis and last reached the conference finals in 1970.
However, the Hawks are having one of their best seasons as their 33-18 record puts them on a pace for a 53-win year. They haven't won more games since going 56-26 in 1996-97.
"When you see a team like that do something that nobody thought they could do, it makes you think we can do the same thing," Atlanta guard Jamal Crawford said of the Saints. "Why not? It's possible, especially when you look at the steps this franchise has taken. I wonder what that feels like to win a championship? We'll see what happens. But I certainly don't see us capping out. We're continuing to get better. We're continuing to gel. We're about 50 games into the season and everybody is understanding his role. We're starting to understand what it takes to win."
The Hawks have never won more than one playoff series in a season, so they might be thinking pretty big by talking title. Still, players are like fans in many respects and seeing a team unexpectedly win a championship with a number of players cast off by other teams gives them hope that anything is possible.
"The Saints have a bunch of guys most people haven't heard of but they had a confidence and a swagger about themselves in the playoffs," forward Josh Smith said. "That's what we need to have when we play the likes of Boston and Cleveland. That confidence goes a long way. Like I've always said, impossible is nothing. You can't give up on your dream. Here you've got a football team that's hardly ever been past the first round and they just won a championship. You start to realize, we can get it done. We can be the sleeper.
"Even when Detroit won the championship in 2004, they weren't a losing franchise or anything, but they pretty much came out of nowhere and overcame huge odds to beat the Lakers. If we can get hot after the All-Star break, I think we've got a chance to do something special."
Atlanta GM Rick Sund likes his team so much that he says it is highly doubtful he will make a trade before the Feb. 18 deadline, which all but rules out dealing guard Joe Johnson, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
"People are talking about us as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and that's what we strive for,“ Sund said. “If there is something out there that will make us better, we'll look at it. Do I anticipate (a trade)? No, I don't."
Standing pat would be just fine with coach Mike Woodson.
“This is the time of year when everybody looks at deals but I like our team in terms of being in the hunt," Woodson said. “We are a better team than last year."
Bobcats Buyers, Not Sellers, This Time Around
Speaking of the trade deadline, the Charlotte Bobcats will be approaching it from a different angle than in other years. The Bobcats will be looking to add help, particularly at power forward, and have been linked to a number of players in trade rumors, including the Celtics' Glen Davis, the Bulls' Tyrus Thomas and the Knicks' Jordan Hill. Charlotte's primary trade bait is backup point guard D.J. Augustin.
Bobcats coach Larry Brown realizes that if a deal gets done, it will probably happen very close to the deadline.
“Based on my experience, they posture now and then, right around the All-Star Game, things get heated up and you find out what they're really willing to do,“ Brown said. “They value players a lot more now than in five days."
Meanwhile, Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince is being mentioned in plenty of rumors. He seems to be a viable trade candidate with one year left on his contract at $11 million along with championship experience and good heath after being sidelined by a back injury for most of the first half of the season.
"I'm pretty sure it goes for guys all around the league," Prince said of trade speculation. “It's something that happens and you have to move on from it. I haven't been paying much attention to it. My family does more than I do."
The Kings are also looking to deal and reportedly have their eyes on a pair of centers, the 76ers' Samuel Dalembert and the Hornets' Emeka Okafor. The Kings would love to trade small forward Andres Nocioni, who will be hard to deal with a contract that runs through 2012, but are more likely to find a taker for forward Kenny Thomas, who has an expiring contract.
Lakers Roll On Without Bryant
It might difficult for L.A. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant to make a case for being the NBA's Most Valuable Player this season since his team is now 3-0 with him on the bench. Bryant sat out his third straight game with a sprained ankle on Wednesday night yet the Lakers rolled to a 96-81 victory over the Jazz after also beating the Trail Blazers and Spurs with their superstar on the bench.
“That's something we talked about, that need to step up and perform," Bryant said. “It doesn’t put any pressure on me to come back early. I can take my time and make sure it's healthy."
Bryant hadn't missed a game since Dec. 8, 2006 against the Hawks, when he was also hobbled by a sprained ankle. While Bryant takes pride in playing every game, he also realizes that he isn't getting any younger at 31 and the Lakers could play until June again in their quest to win a second straight NBA title.
“If it can heal while I'm playing, I'll play," Bryant said. "But if it's the type of injury that playing will make it worse, I won't play. If I can move and get to the basket, I'm good. That's the key. I can't do that yet."
Rivers Gaining Tenure in Boston
The Celtics' Doc Rivers finds himself as having the third-longest tenure of any NBA coach following Mike Dunleavy's decision to concentrate solely on his GM duties with the Clippers. Only the Jazz's Jerry Sloan and Spurs' Gregg Popovich have coached their teams longer than Rivers, who is in his sixth season.
“That's unbelievable," Rivers said. “That's surprising. There are some guys out there that clearly should be doing this a lot longer than me. You know how this league is. It's a talent-based league. If you have enough of it and do your job with it then you stay."
Rivers is well aware of that fact. The Celtics went 33-49 and 24-58 in his first two seasons then improved to 66-16 and won the NBA title in 2007-08 after adding forward Kevin Garnett and guard Ray Allen during the previous offseason.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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