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Hawks eager to build on last season

ATLANTA - Joe Johnson swaggered onto the practice court at Philips Arena, looked around at the supporting cast and was reminded of his former team.

He was there when the Phoenix Suns went from 29 wins to 62 in a single season.

He believes the Hawks are on the verge of a similar breakthrough.

'We've got a great nucleus here,' Johnson said. 'With the additions we made this summer, we're definitely going to be a pretty good team.'

Coming off their first postseason appearance in nine years, the Hawks reported for training camp Monday with a new sense of optimism.

They can stick out their chests a bit after taking the NBA champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs. They certainly appear to be the best pro team in Atlanta, quite a change for a franchise that played in the shadow of the Braves and Falcons for so long.

'This city deserves a consistent, winning team,' Atlanta native Josh Smith said. 'We feel like we can be that team everyone brags on.'

Before everyone gets carried away, though, let's remember this is largely the same group that went 37-45 a year ago, one of the worst records ever for a playoff team.

Also, a few troubling signs cropped up during the offseason, ruining some of the good feelings that came out of the spirited effort against the Celtics.

General manager Billy Knight abruptly resigned, apparently after losing a power struggle over the future of coach Mike Woodson (who returned with a new contract). Josh Childress, the team's valuable sixth man, shocked the Hawks by taking an offer to play in Greece. The only major free-agent signings were role players Maurice Evans and Flip Murray.

There's also lingering concerns that ownership - a large, unwieldy group embroiled in a nasty court fight with a former partner - is running this team on the cheap, unwilling to dole out the sort of big dollars needed to take the Hawks to the next level.