The Atlanta Hawks may not have as much talent as Brooklyn or Milwaukee, but they earned respect this past spring when they made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
People often forget that it was the Hawks who started this whole mess in Philadelphia, by shocking the world and embarrassing them on basketball's biggest stage.
And while Atlanta never got to the final round, they proved they could be a threat in the NBA for years to come.
Ahead of the new campaign, Hawks forward John Collins spoke about what it meant for his team to expose the East's top seed last season.
It wasn’t just Embiid who angered the Hawks over the past few seasons. In 2018, while on a video game livestream, Sixers point guard Ben Simmons was trying to convince Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns to continue playing, but Towns wanted to stop because Minnesota was playing Atlanta the following day. Simmons said Towns had “plenty of time” to play the video game because the Wolves were playing the Hawks. Simmons then laughed at his joke.
Three years later, Simmons was the one people were laughing at with his performance against the Hawks in the playoffs — and Atlanta was the accelerant for the fire that happened in the Sixers organization this offseason with Simmons wanting out.
“I don’t think we’re the sole reason for what’s happening, but I feel like we shined a bright light on them and helped maybe expose or help show why Philly wasn’t doing what they were expected to do, which was get to the Finals, win championships and all of that good stuff,” Collins said. “It definitely gives us fuel to our fire, and I feel like it does put a big target on our backs knowing that we took down a big dog. I know other teams are going to be coming for us and be prepared for us.”
Following Atlanta's shocking Semi-Finals upset, the Sixers were sent into a tailspin. With Ben Simmons having been embarrassed, he shut down completely before eventually demanding a trade. Over the new few weeks and months, the situation would continue to destabilize, as Ben was, and continues to be, viewed as untradeable by the vast majority of the NBA community.
The season will start soon, and the situation between Philadelphia and their young star has still not been fully resolved and it'll be a miracle if they manage to get as far as they did a year ago.
It's funny now because, not long ago, Simmons and the 76ers looked down on the Hawks, who were still rebuilding at the time. Even now, John Collins and Trae Young are still getting the hang of how to maximize their skills at the NBA level.
Still, it is the Hawks who are laughing currently, as they can claim responsibility for the mess currently unfolding within the Sixers organization.
It's truly a remarkable situation all around and yet another reminder that anything can happen in the NBA.