Starting from 1985 up to 1989, the Hawks were one of the top teams in the NBA. They won 50 games or more in each year.
They won their third division title in 1986-87 season as they finished the season with 57-25 record. They failed to get past the semifinals of the Eastern Conference losing to eventual NBA Champions Boston and Detroit.
After the next years of mediocrity, they hired Lenny Wilkens in 1993 as the head coach. He led the team to win 57 games and won their fourth division title. Wilkens also won the Coach of the Year that season. The Hawks lost in the semifinals against the Indiana Pacers in six games. They traded Dominique Wilkins, who is the leading scorer of the franchise, for Danny Manning.
In 1995,Wilkens break the record of Red Auerbach for having the most victories by an NBA coach with 939 wins. With the help of the superstar Dikembe Mutombo, they finished the season of 1997 and 1998 with 50 or more wins. Mutombo won the defensive player of the year back-to-back in 1997-1998.
They traded Steve Smith to Portland for Isaiah Rider and Jim Jackson in 1999. Eventually they released Isaiah Rider because of his attitude and behavioural problems in and off the court. They also traded Jim Jackson the next season. These events had put the Hawks into a worse team and they would not return to qualify for the postseason for the next nine years.
In 2001, they drafted future All-Star Pau Gasol as the 3rd overall but the drafting rights were moved to the Memphis Grizzlies due to a trade involving Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
In March 2004, the franchise were sold to a group of executives called Atlanta Spirit LLC by Time Warner, along with Atlanta Thrashers(pro-hockey team).
Even after the change of ownership, the Hawks continued to struggle and eventually had the league’s worst record with a 13-win season in 2004-2005 season. The Hawks acquired Marvin Williams in the first round draft pick as the 2nd overall. The season before that, they got Josh Childress and Josh Smith who won the Slam Dunk Contest in 2005. In 2006 NBA draft, they selected Shelden Williams as the fifth overall pick.
In the offseason of 2005, the Hawks got Joe Johnson in exchange for Boris Diaw from the Phoenix Suns and two 1st round picks. They also got Zaza Pachulia from the Milwaukee Bucks.
In 2007 NBA Draft, they drafted the talented Domincan Republic player Al Horford as the third overall pick. Horford almost averaged double double and his contribution had helped Hawks to improve their season record. In 2008, they acquired guard Mike Bibby from the Sacramento Kings for Anthony Johnson, Tyron Lue, Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright and 2008 second round pick.
With their 37-45 record, they advanced to the playoffs in 2008. They shocked the Boston Celtics playing them until seven games. They lost in game seven 99-65. In 2009-10 season, they had their first winning season since 1998-99 and advacning in the playoffs.
In March 24, 2010, they clinched their 3rd straight postseason appearance finishing with 52-29 record. They defeated the Bucks in the first round but lost to the Magic in the second. In the offseason of 2010, they hired Larry Drew to replace Mike Woodson as the head coach. Al Horford and Joe Johnson were both included in the Eastern All-Star roster in 2011.