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Morning Shootaround — Sept. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets | Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number | Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota | Jack ready to lead Nets

No. 1: Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets The Houston Rockets advanced to the Western Conference finals last season, and as part of their efforts to strengthen their squad for the coming season, they traded for former Denver point guard Ty Lawson, who had been charged with two driving violations and would seem to benefit from a change of scenery. As Lawson told Fox 26 in Houston, he’s looking forward to playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale and feels he can help push the Rockets to the next level

Guard Ty Lawson, acquired by the Houston Rockets in a trade with the Denver Nuggets in July, is already building a relationship with head coach Kevin McHale.

The two had dinner while Lawson was in Houston last week.

“Kevin McHale, he’s a cool coach,” Lawson said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. “I sat down and had dinner with him, probably like a week ago.

“He just keeps everything real. He’s played before, so he knows what we’re going through. He makes everything straight forward, no grey areas. It was fun. We talked about everything, not just basketball, just life. He even had some stories when he used to play. It was a fun dinner.

“So I’m excited to play for him.”

Lawson believes the trade to the Rockets will be good for his career.

“It’s a huge chance,” Lawson said. “(The Rockets) went to the Western Conference Finals and could have won, but you just needed a couple of extra pieces. So I’m excited to be playing in a situation where I know I have a chance to win.”

Lawson recently completed a 30-day program for alcohol rehabilitation after getting two DUIs in a seven-month span.

Rockets guard James Harden said at his basketball camp last month he spent some time with Lawson in California, and has no concerns about Ty’s off-the-court issues.

“He’s more focused that ever,” Harden told reporters in August.”

Lawson agreed.

“Definitely, I’ve been through a couple of things, going through it,” Lawson said. “He used to hang out with me. He knows the person I am. I feel like he has no worries about me or my game. So I’m just ready.”

Lawson looks forward to playing with Harden, especially because they are close friends and considers the move to Houston as a breath of fresh air.

“Oh yeah for sure,” Lawson said. “I was like before I even came to the team I was talking to James. I was like ‘man get me over there.’ I’ll be that piece to (help) get over the hump. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.”

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No. 2: Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number During a ceremony yesterday to announce “Dikembe Mutombo Day” in Atlanta, the Hawks surprised their former center by announcing their plans to retire Mutombo’s number 55. As Chris Vivlamore writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mutombo was caught off guard by the announcement, but couldn’t have been happier

Dikembe Mutombo was at a loss for words.

The former center and soon to be Hall of Famer will have his No. 55 retired by the Hawks. The announcement was made by Hawks CEO Steve Koonin during a ceremony in Fulton County Tuesday declaring Sept. 1, 2015 as Dikembe Mutombo Day. The news came as a complete surprise to Mutombo.

Mutomobo’s No. 55 will be raised to the Philips Arena rafters on Nov. 24 during a nationally televised game against the Celtics.

“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”

Mutombo played from 1996-2001 as part of an 18-year NBA career. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week.

“When you look at the history of the Hawks and you see a player who made such a positive contribution, who is going to be Hall of Famer and who resides in Atlanta, it was two simple (phone) calls,” Koonin said. “One to (general manager) Wes (Wilcox) and one to Bud (president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer) saying what you think? They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.”

Mutombo will have the fourth jersey number retired by the franchise joining No. 9 of Bob Pettit, No. 21 of Dominique Wilkins and No. 23 of Lou Hudson.

Mutombo was an eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year during his NBA tenure. He is the league’s second leading shot blocker and is 19th in rebounds. He was a two-time winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award by the league for his many humanitarian efforts.

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No. 3: Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota — At four seasons in and at 24 years old, Ricky Rubio is still in the early stages of his NBA career. But the NBA rumor mill never stops, and this summer, with the Wolves still rebuilding, Rubio’s name has popped up a few times as a player being targeted by other franchises. While in Dubai at a basketball camp this week, Rubio spoke to Gulf News and said if it’s up to him, he plans to stick around in Minnesota

But Rubio, in Dubai to add star power to the BasicBall Academy summer camps at the Dubai World Trade Centre, denied he was about to move to the Big Apple or anywhere else.

He told Gulf News he believes he will stay with his first and so far only NBA team.

“I have confidence that the team wants me but you know in this league anybody can get traded,” said the flashy playmaker. “You don’t listen to the rumours. You just live day-by-day and that’s it.”

When asked if he wanted to stay with the long-suffering Timberwolves, Rubio gave a firm: “Yes.”

And why wouldn’t he? It is an exciting time to be a Minnesota Timberwolf — even after a 16-win season in which they failed to make the NBA play-offs for the 11th straight time, the longest streak in the league.

The reasons for optimism include a pair of youngsters for whom the NBA sky is the limit at this stage of their fledgling careers.

Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, 20, is coming off a superb debut campaign, in which he showed in flashes why he was once considered North America’s best high-school prospect since LeBron James. The 6ft 8in Canadian displayed the skill and athleticism to suggest he could soon become one of the league’s best wing defenders, as well as one of its most versatile scorers.

Next season, Wiggins will be joined by skilled seven-footer Karl-Anthony Towns, the first pick in July’s NBA Draft and a potential future star.

And Rubio, himself still only 24, said he can’t wait to take the court with the emerging duo.

“They have a lot of talent,” said the 6ft 4in guard. “I have a little bit more experience than them that I can share. I really can teach them what I learned. They have a great future and I can help them achieve their goals.

“I like to have athletic players next to me, the way I play. It suits my game.

“[Wiggins] can be as good as he wants. He has a lot of talent. What surprised me about last season is the quickness of how he adapted to the league. He was fearless about the big stage, to play against LeBron James and the bigger names. There are a lot of ways he can score. It is hard to stop him. If you stop one of the ways he scores, he can score in other ways.

“I have seen [Towns] working out this summer in Minnesota. I can tell he is a great player and not just like a big centre, he can really shoot the ball, he can play in the pick-and-pop and he is really going to surprise some people.

“We have a lot of young talent with a big future but we have got to start doing it because it has been a building process for the last couple of years. We have to start putting it on paper and start winning games.”

***

No. 4: Jack ready to lead Nets The NBA is a point guard-heavy league right now, which means if you don’t have an elite point guard, you’re going to, at the very least, struggle night after night against some of the league’s top talent. This summer, the Brooklyn Nets bought out former All-Star point guard Deron Williams, and next season will hand over the reins to… Jarrett Jack? Jack certainly believes he’s the man for the job, as he explained to the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps

Though Jack is more than confident he will be able to prove his detractors wrong, he’s also aware that no matter what he says now, those questions won’t be answered until the regular season begins.

“It does [motivate me], but it’s not like I’ve got the article pinned up on my wall,” Jack said Tuesday after an appearance at a Nets basketball camp in Southampton. “But my thing is that all you can do is show and prove … wait for the opportunities and then take advantage of it, and just help your team win. That’s the only way you’re going to get people to realize it.

“When the season comes and I have my opportunities to go out there and show them that I believe different … that’s the response. You don’t have to respond to it, because your play is going to be the response to whatever they think.”

For a Nets team that will enter this season full of questions, the one surrounding its point-guard play — and whether the trio of floor generals it has assembled will be good enough to get it back into the playoffs — is as important as any outside of the health of Brook Lopez.

There were few tears shed when Deron Williams was bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer, allowing him to return home to Dallas. Though Williams’ personality won’t be missed, he was productive last season, averaging 13.0 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

Jack, on the other hand, had the worst plus-minus of any player on an NBA playoff team, with the Nets being outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions when he played, compared to outscoring their opponents by three points per 100 possessions when he sat.

“You never want that attached to your name,” Jack said. “It’s something I have to improve on. … Hopefully this year I can reverse it.”

The Nets are banking on it, as well as the fact that Jack, who went to Las Vegas last month with Joe Johnson to organize a team workout while the Nets were playing there during the NBA’s annual summer league — will help lead a group that will have better chemistry and cohesion this season with the lingering questions about Williams now behind them.

Jack simply sees it as an opportunity to prove he’s a full-time starter in the NBA, something he hasn’t done since starting 39 of 45 games for New Orleans in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

“I’m definitely excited,” Jack said. “I’m super excited for training camp to get here, and these daily tests I’m going to have to show people what I can do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Bledsoe says the Suns want a playoff berth, and they’re “not trying to get the last spot, either” … Carmelo Anthony has partnered with Vice media to launch his own sports channel … The Pennsylvania community he called home came out to remember Darryl Dawkins yesterday

Hawks to retire Mutombo’s No. 55

HANG TIME BEACH HOUSE — For once, Dikembe Mutombo didn’t see it coming.

During a ceremony on Tuesday morning in Atlanta to name September 1, 2015 Dikembe Mutombo Day, the Atlanta Hawks surprised their former center by announcing plans to retire his number 55.

Mutombo, who played for the Hawks from 1996-2001, anchored several of the Hawks’ best teams, including a 56-win campaign in ’96-97. While Mutombo’s time as a Hawk — less than 5 seasons — was relatively short, he made an immediate impact on the Atlanta sports community, with his distinctive voice and signature finger wag following blocked shots. Mutombo has continued to have a presence in Atlanta since his playing days, making his home in the area and raising money for his eponymous foundation.

According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks will retire Mutombo’s number on Nov. 24, when the Hawks host the Boston Celtics. Mutombo’s 55 will join other retired Hawks numbers of Lou Hudson (23), Bob Pettit (9) and Dominique Wilkins (21).

As Vivlamore writes, Mutombo was shocked by the announcement from Hawks CEO Steve Koonin

“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”

Mutombo played from 1996-2001 as part of an 18-year NBA career. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week.

“When you look at the history of the Hawks and you see a player who made such a positive contribution, who is going to be Hall of Famer and who resides in Atlanta, it was two simple (phone) calls,” Koonin said. “One to (general manager) Wes (Wilcox) and one to Bud (president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer) saying what you think? They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.”

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin backs a 66-game season | Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks | Next challenge for Valanciunas

No. 1: Griffin says 66 games is ideal NBA season length — The 2011-12 NBA season was a 66-game slate that some considered the perfect amount of games for the regular season. Since that lockout-shortened season, the NBA has resumed its regular, 82-game schedule and shows no signs of changing that anytime soon. CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger recently caught up with several of the NBA’s stars and, in a Q&A session, asked them what the ideal length of a season would be. Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin was the lone player who voiced support for a shorter season:

If money were no object, what would the ideal length of the NBA regular season be?

Griffin: Sixty-six, spread over the same amount of time [as the current 82-game season]. Fatigue and injuries, and better product. If you have less games, less back-to-backs, the product’s better. The fans will appreciate it more. You see those college guys playing so hard, but they play 36 games in the same amount of time we play 82 almost. I just think it would be a better product.

John Wall: I just enjoy playing. I enjoy loving the game, so it doesn’t matter to me. I think [82 games] is cool … if you get more breaks. They did a great job of giving us more time at the All-Star break, giving us a couple of more days.

Draymond Green: I don’t know if you can necessarily say there’s a better way because it’s never been done. Within the course of the 82, some people catch their stride, as you saw the season before last year. The Spurs caught their stride in like the last 35-40 games. If you’re not playing 82, do they catch their stride? Are they world champions? Who knows? So it’s kind of hard to judge. I think it’s a slippery slope when you get to assessing that because, yeah, what was the lockout year, 66? So you saw that, but you also saw three games in three days, which you can’t judge off that, either. And then there’s going to be an unhappy party, because the owners aren’t going to make as much money, which means the players won’t make as much money. So I think it’s a slippery slope. At the end of the day, our league has done great. Is that something to really tinker with? Probably not. Is there really a reason to? Yeah, guys get tired. But are you going to get tired if there’s 65 games? Probably so. I just think that’s a tough subject.

Chris Paul: Money is an object, though. When we were kids playing AAU, we’d play five games in a day and wouldn’t think twice about it. I don’t know what the right number is. We’ve been playing 82 for a while though, huh? As far as I can remember. That’d be tough [to change].

Kenneth Faried: I think 82 is the proper length. We’ve been playing this game for so long and it’s been 82. [Michael] Jordan played 82. They played more preseason games, so they cut the preseason games and training camp down, which is good for us. But at the same time, these guys before us were playing 20-plus years and they were playing 82 and still being All-Stars and still having big names — Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and those guys. So guys who’ve done it before us, they’ve already paved the way, so we just have to follow in their footsteps as much as we can.

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No. 2: Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks — If you thought this summer’s free agency period was full of news, wait until next summer. Several big names will be hitting the market, Atlanta Hawks All-Star big man Al Horford among that group. In a chat with SI.com’s Jeremy Woo, Horford reflected on Atlanta’s successful 2014-15 campaign, its offseason moves and his own future with the team going forward:

SI.com: Looking back, how would you describe last season?

Horford: It was a great season for our team. I felt like everything started to come together as far as coach’s system. I feel like we really all were able to sink in and play the way he wanted us to play. And it showed—[it was] the first time we made it to the Eastern Conference finals in Hawks history. Now, we’re looking to build on that and try to be the best team we can.

SI.com: Have you had the chance to go back and watch any of the Cleveland series? [The Hawks were swept in four games.]

Horford: Honestly, no. They obviously dominated us, they were the better team. I don’t need to see that, I know what we need to do, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our whole team. So this is the time to do it. Individually, I’m working on my game and trying to get better for the upcoming season.

SI.com: How big was it for the Hawks to be able to keep Paul Millsap?

Horford: It was very important. I think that was the priority for us, to make sure we brought Paul back. Being able to add Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway, really was big. Unfortunately, we lost DeMarre [Carroll, who signed long-term with Toronto]—he’s such a great player, but it was the type of thing he couldn’t turn down, and it’s what’s best for him and his family.

SI.com: What will it take for the team to sustain that success?

Horford: Being healthy, that’s the number one thing for our team. For the most part, we were healthy as a team last season. Two is to be able to keep playing the way we play, being a good defensive team, sharing the ball on offense. We had a lot of success doing those two things, and even though they’re simple, that’s what carried us.

SI.com: Considering the new additions to the team, what are some of the things you look for as far as fitting in?

Horford: I think for them, it’s just being able to get comfortable with the system. We’re just looking for them to impact the game and impact winning, and when you have a guy like Tiago Splitter, an experienced big man, I feel like he’ll be able to help us right away. Tim [Hardaway] I feel like has a lot of potential, and I’m very excited to see him playing in the system. I feel like he’ll be able to help us a lot.

SI.com: Lastly, I know you’ve said you’re waiting after the season to figure out your contract situation. What led you to that decision? [Horford will be a free agent in 2016.]

Horford: For me, I’m very happy in Atlanta. It’s one of those things where I don’t want any contract talks to be a distraction for my team and me. I feel like my focus this year is for us to build and be better. Since we can’t do anything right now, we’ll wait until the season’s over and then we can start talking about all that.

 

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No. 3: Valanciunas gets his deal … now he needs to play some ‘D’ — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is one of the more promising young big men in the NBA. In his three seasons in the league, Valanciunas has grown steadily as an offensive threat and rebounder, but his defense and rim-protection are lagging behind in development. The Raptors gave Valanciunas a $64-million contract extension yesterday, providing the big man with a secure future in Toronto. As Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reports, though, Valanciunas’ value relative to the deal will show up in how he defends going forward:

Whether or not the new contract extension signed by Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas makes good economic sense is secondary to one fact not in dispute.

There is vast room for the 23-year-old to improve as a player, and whether he makes $16 million as season or $16 a season won’t matter a lick if his development stalls.

Everyone connected with the Raptors knows it, and it was the underlying theme to the day when the Lithuanian big man inked a four-year, $64-million contract extension with the only NBA team he’s known.

“It depends on me,” he said during a hastily called news conference at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday afternoon.

“I have to get better defensively.”

If he can — and there’s no physical reason he shouldn’t be able to — it will make things vastly better for the Raptors and coach Dwane Casey, who barely used Valanciunas in the fourth quarter of any game last season because of perceived shortcomings.

“Everyone in the whole world knew we fell on defence, and how can we get it back to where we were and hopefully better is by maybe doing something different,” general manager Masai Ujiri said.

“That’s coaching, and it’s left to coach Casey and we’re confident he’s put together the right people and he’s identified some of the issues.”

The deal is another step in an expensive summer of moves for Ujiri. Coming off the four-games-and-out playoff elimination at the hands of the Washington Wizards he’s added DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million), Cory Joseph (four years, $30 million), Bismack Biyombo (two years, $6 million) and Luis Scola (one year, $3 million) while saying goodbye to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez.

The general manager has a window until Oct. 31 to think about a contract extension for Terrence Ross, and has at least thought about the possibility.

“We’ll keep monitoring and see how things get done, if anything happens,” Ujiri said. “We’ve had a little bit of discussion.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has reportedly changed agents … Golden State Warriors rookie forward Kevon Looney (hip surgery) will be out 4-6 months … Former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer could be playing in China next season … Good Q&A with Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic …  The 2004 Detroit Pistons will be a part of NBA2K16’s classic teams this year

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Rockets’ acquisition of Ty Lawson, who is welcomed by Harden

NEWS OF THE MORNING

‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ | Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback | NBA dreams vs. European careers | Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson

No. 1: ‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ — Generally here at the Hang Time HQ, we try to focus these Morning Shootarounds on topics around the Association that pack significant news value or delve into the NBA’s many fascinating feature angles. Every once in a while, though, we have to present something for no better reason than its goofiness. And of course, the photos and/or video it generates on social media. So without further ado, here’s an update from Complex.com on veteran San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, his alter ego “Red Mamba,” and how he spent his Saturday at the Rock On Festival back home in Concord, N.H., commemorating that city’s 250th anniversary. It is worth noting that the executive director of the Rock On Foundation, which presented the free one-day festival, is Matt’s brother Luke:

San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner nicknames himself as “The Red Mamba.” This is likely because of two reasons: First, he perfectly fits the prototype for the old term “redheaded stepchild.” Second, the nickname “Black Mamba” was already taken.
But Bonner apparently compensates in deejaying— and creating ridiculous costumes— for what he lacks in originality when creating self-donned monikers. The two-time NBA champion dressed up like a caped crusader and deejayed a set at Concord, New Hampshire’s annual Rock On Festival.
Surely, he’s no DJ Premier nor Kid Capri, but according to the Twitter reactions from this event, The Red Mamba made his hometown crowd proud as they danced to his selections ranging from artists like The Isley Brothers, Taylor Swift, David Bowie, to Outkast.

***

No. 2: Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback — When we last saw Nikoloz Tskitishvili, he was being waived out of the NBA in July 2006, a few months past his 23rd birthday. The slender 7-footer selected No. 5 overall by Denver in 2002 was considered a draft bust then and now, nine years after his fifth NBA team gave up on him, he regularly appears on lists of the biggest flops in league history. Unlike a lot of those unfortunate (and undeniably talented) fellows, though, Tskitishvili is still of a mind and body to do something to change opinions. At least, that’s why he was in Las Vegas, hoping to attract interest via Summer League for an NBA comeback. That’s where Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post caught up with older, wiser former phenom:

His body is bigger and leaner. He’s smarter. He’s much more mature.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili is trying to convince his lunch guest at the Hard Rock Hotel that he should get another chance in the NBA, listing the reasons this time will be different.

“I just turned 32, but I’m better,” he said. “I’m better at this age. I got stronger. I’ve got confidence. I got smarter.”

And, as Tskitishvili admits, he did little in his three seasons in Denver to convince anyone he belonged on an NBA court. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds and shot 30 percent in 143 games. He was 19 years old, a 7-footer lean and not close to being ready mentally and physically for the NBA when the Nuggets drafted him. Thirteen years later, he still carries the burden of failed expectations.
“It’s very tough to make that decision, to draft a young guy with no experience, not ready physically, mentally,” Tskitishvili said. “You risk a lot. They trusted me so much, but I didn’t give them a chance.”

Kiki Vandeweghe, then the Nuggets’ general manager, made the call that would haunt the franchise.

“I feel like it was my fault, not Kiki’s fault,” Tskitishvili said. “I had to take care of myself better and stay patient. I should have listened to him. I used to tell him: ‘I want to get traded. I want to get a new chance.’ He was against that. This is why I respect that guy. He liked me, he loved me and I should have listened to him.”

Vandeweghe was in his first year as Denver’s GM.

“We had a lot of things going on at that time,” Vandeweghe said in a phone interview. “We had the Nene-Antonio McDyess (trade) with the Knicks. We had about five other deals that were close to happening. We had one other small deal. And then focused on the draft. I had not seen Skita play basketball in person. And so that’s not something that I probably would repeat ever, drafting somebody I hadn’t seen.”

Tskitishvili was in Las Vegas recently for summer-league play. He continues to show up nine years after he last played in the league, hoping for a longshot chance to prove his worth.

“I’m 100 times better than I was,” he said. “It’s just very difficult for teams to understand that, because they are looking at the number, the age. If you ask me, this is the best shape I’ve ever been in and the best I’ve been playing in my career.”

And if he got to choose a team to make his comeback? Yes, it would be the Nuggets.

“If I could get a chance to show that it was not a mistake …” he said, his voice trailing.

***

No. 3: NBA dreams vs. European careers — Tskitishvili was a Euro prospect who got a chance, however pressurized, to chase his dream of playing in the world’s greatest basketball league. But a lot of players in Orlando and Las Vegas in the offseason face the flip side of that dynamic, deciding between their pursuit of an NBA dream vs. a legitimate livelihood playing the game overseas. Our own Ian Thomsen delved into that quandary through the eyes and experiences of one such player in particular, undrafted Davidson product Tyler Kalinoski. It’s worth checking out the full story here on NBA.com, but here are some highlights:

“I don’t know if scary is the right word,” he was saying. “It’s a game of chess, of making the right moves. You never know what is going to be the right decision.”

Kalinoski, a high-energy 6-4 guard, was used to exceeding expectations. As Davidson’s final recruit four years ago — discovered at the last minute when a higher-rated player failed to qualify academically — he had risen to become the Atlantic 10 player of the year while contributing in all areas. He had always seemed to know where he was going, even if others failed to recognize his potential. But this next step was something different.

“In college you know where you’re going to be,” Kalinoski said. “But now, really for the first time in my life, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing next year. So it’s exciting because of all the possibilities. But I’m also getting kind of anxious about where I’m going to be.”

He was surrounded by all kinds of virtual doorways. Several of them led directly to a variety of career paths in Europe — two professional clubs in Belgium, one in Italy, another in France. Those clubs were pursuing him, and he was grateful for their interest; but at the same time, what intrigued him most of all were the less-welcoming portals that might lead to a career in the NBA. He had gone undrafted in June, he knew the NBA was a longshot, and still he did not want to walk away from the possibility.

He was 22 years old, with a face that looked even younger. He was wearing with pride the red cap and T-shirt that had been supplied by his Summer League team, the Miami Heat. He was setting out on his own with more questions than answers.

Was he going to go play in Europe? Or hold out for the NBA?

One of [agent Kenny] Grant‘s specialties was to help young American players make the most complicated decision: To choose the fork in the road that separated the dream of playing in the NBA from the reality of a career in Europe. The strategy for Kalinoski entering his first summer of professional basketball was to create maximum exposure on both sides of the ocean. Summer League was the perfect venue because it was swarming with European coaches and executives in addition to the host NBA teams.

“We are willing to ride with whatever Tyler wants to do,” Grant said. “We give our advice, but we respect that people have their dream. If it works, if it doesn’t work, we’re okay with it either way. We will go forward with what we have. You don’t want someone to go forward with regrets.”

During the opening weekend of Summer League in Orlando, the coach of the French club Elan Chalon wanted to speak with Kalinoski. Their meeting went well, and Chalon became Kalinoski’s most aggressive and persistent recruiter.

“Some people go to Europe and they’re really happy playing there,” Grant said. “Others, it’s not for them. With these European teams, if you don’t show interest, they’re gone.”

***

No. 4: Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson — Most of the Houston Rockets players, coaches and executives, and certainly the vast majority of their fans, have only unanswered questions about Ty Lawson and what the troubled former Denver Nuggets point guard might bring to their team this season. But Houston’s All-Star guard James Harden feels he already has a few answers and believes in Lawson as a solid acquisition because he had a chance to meet up with him in California recently. He spoke to the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen over the weekend about it:

Harden and new Rockets guard Ty Lawson “spent some time together,” enough for Harden to be convinced that his new teammate will overcome his off-court issues and be a valuable addition to the Rockets’ backcourt.

“Ty is definitely going to help us,” Harden said during a break in the Kroger Unplug and Play James Harden Basketball ProCamp in The Woodlands on Saturday. “He gives us that quickness, that speed, playmaking ability, something that we were missing, especially deep in the playoffs. We’re going to welcome him with open arms. We’re happy to have him.”

Lawson completed a 30-day rehabilitation program ordered after his second DUI arrest this year. Harden said he has already spent enough time with Lawson to be “not at all” concerned that Lawson will have similar issues.

“He’s out in California right now working out,” Harden said. “We’re happy to have him. He’s going to be a great addition to our team. I’ve been with him these last couple weeks. He’s more focused than ever. He has a great opportunity with a really good team to showcase his talents and help us with that push that we need.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: He’s no Deron Williams, at least not the Williams who used to make NBA All-Star teams, but journeyman Jarrett Jack will be logging more minutes at point guard for the Brooklyn Nets in Williams’ absence. And he feels ready for a greater leadership role. … Veteran guard Jason Richardson, at 34, isn’t getting any guarantees but he will get a contract with and a serious look from the Atlanta Hawks. … Former Miami wing Dorrell Wright still is on the Heat’s radar. … When Michael Jordan signed his first Nike endorsement deal for $2.5 million, the shoe-and-apparel company required a opt-out clause if the NBA newcomer didn’t translate into profits. Thirty years later, the Jordan Brand – generating an estimated $2.5 billion in annual revenues – will get its own store in Chicago. …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 13


VIDEO: NBA TV takes a look at the 2015-16 opening week schedule

2015-16 schedule set | Report: Hawks to hire Rose | Family, health will factor into LeBron’s Olympic decision

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Schedule set for 2015-16 season — The NBA’s offseason, as usual, featured plenty of players shuffling off to new locales. With the summer roster tinkering more or less done, the next thing on most fans’ minds was the release of the 2015-16 schedule to see when these new faces would hit the court. Our Sekou Smith breaks down the new schedule, which features said new guys in new places as well as some familiar ones — like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant — returning to the court: 

Playoff rematches between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls and the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans, the return of injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant highlight the first nights of the 2015-16 NBA schedule, the full version of which was released Wednesday.

The celebrated Christmas Day schedule includes a Finals rematch between LeBron James and the Cavaliers facing reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors at Oracle Arena; Pelicans star Anthony Davis taking his talents and team to Miami to face a revamped Heat team; Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls visiting Oklahoma City to face Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and a healthy Thunder crew; a Texas-sized rivalry game with Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs visiting James HardenDwight Howard and the Houston Rockets and the Staples Center showdown featuring the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin facing off against Bryant and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers.

The ten-game Martin Luther King Day slate includes the Warriors making their lone regular season trip to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers (on TNT), the Pelicans traveling to Memphis to face the Grizzlies (ESPN) and the Rockets and Clippers (TNT) rekindling their rivalry in the final game of the day at the Staples Center.

The schedule also features a week-long All-Star break for the second year in a row.

With a directive from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to be mindful of player rest and recuperation, NBA Senior Vice President, Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe said the changes were the product of a painstaking process that has produced the “best schedule” he’s seen.

“You’re dealing with 30 teams playing 82 games, so just the mathematics will tell you’re limited when talking about all the arenas, team travel and local business and other considerations,” VanDeWeghe said. “There are all sorts of things you are looking at. I must say, our broadcast partners at ABC, ESPN and Turner have all been cooperative. They added games to Thursday and opened up windows on Saturday and Sunday and that’s been great for us. And we were still able to keep the extra days after All-Star Weekend. There were a lot of competing factors involved and in addition to the reductions in the four-in-five night sets and the back-to-backs, the travel time is reduced. Obviously, teams will not think the schedule is right over different stretches but we’ve had more cooperation across the board than we’ve ever had, and the numbers bear it out. Between the efforts of all involved I think we’ve come up with a schedule that’s I can tell you is the best I’ve seen.”

 

*** (more…)

Blogtable: Playoff teams poised for a fall?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team



VIDEOSteve Smith takes stock of the NBA offseason

> Which of last season’s playoff teams is in for the biggest dropoff in 2015-16? Name one from each conference, please.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com I could start by asking for our working definition of “big,” because in the East, the Brooklyn Nets could win 38 games again (or something close) and slip out of the playoffs with another sub-.500 record. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks could fall from 60 victories down to 50 or fewer in the wake of roster changes, yet still claim a top-4 seed. In the West, the obvious candidate figures to do both: Portland will tumble from the playoffs and win a lot less often than last season (51-31). Four of five starters gone, that’s all the heavy analysis needed.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn and Portland. The Nets will be down there scraping the bottom of the East barrel with Philly. Portland won’t fall as far, but the drop will be harder for a team that looked like a rising contender two seasons ago before losing 4 of 5 starters over the summer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, this is easy, like summertime. The Blazers are due for a sizable dip after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. We’re talking a possible 20-game slide. And then there’s Brooklyn. While the Nets probably won’t fall much from winning 38 games a year ago, making the playoffs again as a 30-something-win team will be sketchy, even in the shoddy East. Just imagine how poor they’d be had they kept Deron Williams.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Brooklyn and Portland are the obvious answers. The Nets were the eight seed in the weaker conference and weren’t even that good. They had the point differential (minus-236 for the season) of a 31-win team, with a bunch of narrow wins and blowout losses. And though he had the worst season of his career, Brooklyn was a much better team when Deron Williams was running point than when Jarrett Jack (the new starter) was out there. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are quality players, but they need a real point guard to maximize their production. The Blazers have the point guard (used with a pick the Nets traded for Gerald Wallace), but not much else after losing four starters in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Portland Trail Blazers will have to work a miracle not to take a giant step back given who and what they lost this summer. Damian Lillard is one of my favorite players in the game today, but without the core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Lillard together this season, I can see some struggles for coach Terry Stotts and his crew. The Atlanta Hawks are going to be a playoff team and one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but a 60-win team again … I don’t know if they’ll be able to match the majesty of the finest season in franchise history. They had so many things fall into place last season. I just don’t know if they can count on all of those good things lining up the way they did for a second straight season, given all that has happened since they melted down against Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: After dominating the East during the regular season, the Hawks are going to find it difficult to win 60 games again in the absence of DeMarre Carroll – especially with several conference rivals appearing to have improved this summer. Even so, Atlanta is certain to return to the playoffs – the same can’t be said of the Blazers, who have already gone younger since the departure of Aldridge.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The obvious team to watch in the West is the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez and traded Nic Batum, and now have to figure out a path to rebuilding around Damian Lillard. In the East, how about the Atlanta Hawks? Which is to say, I don’t think they’ll miss the playoffs entirely or anything like that, but last season they had that magical January, had a mostly injury-free regular season, and ended up winning 60 games. This year they’ll have to learn how to get along without DeMarre Carroll, hope they get lucky lucky with health, and have to play most of the season with a target on their backs. A 50-win season would still put them in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, and it would also be a significant drop from last year.

Morning Shootaround — August 2


VIDEO: Team World rallies past Team Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa | Knicks to sign Vujacic | Teague making impact off-court

No. 1: Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa Yesterday’s NBA Africa 2015 exhibition game was a success by any measure, but the game’s signature moment may have come midway through the second quarter when Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo checked into the game. As our Shaun Powell writes, it was a moment that almost didn’t happen

Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, the greatest players Africa ever produced, were asked by league organizers to come out of retirement and make a cameo in the exhibition. Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer and Mutombo will be enshrined next month. They would suit up for Team Africa, a squad of players with African blood, against Team World. Their jerseys, along with one belonging to the late Manute Bol, hung ceremoniously in the rafters above the court inside the arena.

Therefore: A simple and brilliant request, right?

Brilliant, yes. Not so simple.

Mutombo was receptive. Olajuwon said no. Olajuwon is 52, Mutumbo 49. They are fit and trim, but as basketball players, they were finished. It was not going to happen. Organizers pleaded. The answer, up to the day before tipoff, was no from Olajuwon. Truth be told? Both were afraid of being embarrassed on TV, in front of fans who knew them as legends. Neither wanted to play like chumps.

And then: Olajuwon weakened. He brought along his two pre-teenaged boys, who never saw him play, and so he agreed.

When they checked in midway through the second quarter wearing their throwbacks — Rockets for Olajuwon, multi-colored Nuggets for Mutombo — the NBA Africa game had its signature moment, its energy, its second-loudest applause of the day.

The biggest bedlam? That burst arrived when Olajuwon reeled back to 1993, executed the Dream Shake that froze Nik Vucevic, faded and shot a 15-footer that kissed the rim and fell in. Cray-zy. The crowd pounced. Players on both benches jumped.

“I made the move, I made the shot, it went in,” said Olajuwon. “I missed my first shot and was happy to make the next one. And I was really happy to participate.”

After a minute of action, Olajuwon playfully grabbed his chest, Fred Sanford-style. Gregg Popovich, who knows about coaching old players with the Spurs, did the humanitarian thing and allowed Olajuwon to wobble back to the bench and into re-retirement.

As for Mutombo? Didn’t one trademark basketball moment deserve another? As in, a blocked shot and finger wag? Popovich drew up a defensive play that you’ll never see in a Spurs game. He ordered his players to allow guard Trey Burke to reach the rim, where Mutombo awaited. The trap was set but the mouse didn’t cooperate. Burke passed the ball.

“So many of these young players don’t want to see themselves on YouTube,” said Mutombo, “so they run away.”

***

No. 2: Knicks to sign Vujacic The Knicks have made no secret that they’re trying to find players who fit into their “Triangle” offensive system. So who better to add to their roster than former two-time champ Sasha Vujacic, who played for Phil Jackson‘s Lakers? As Ian Begley writes, signing Vujacic should help the Knicks stretch opposing defenses

Vujacic played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004 to 2011. He spent five of those seasons playing under Knicks president and then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and four playing alongside Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played point guard for the Lakers.

Vujacic, 31, has played overseas for much of the past four seasons. His lone NBA stint during that stretch was in 2013-14, when he played 10 minutes over two games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming he makes the regular-season roster, Vujacic could give the Knicks a needed threat from the perimeter.

He is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA. Vujacic is also familiar with the Knicks’ triangle offense thanks to his time in Los Angeles. So he could help the Knicks’ younger players adapt to the system.

The 6-foot-7 Vujacic is the latest player coached by Jackson to sign a deal with the Knicks. New York has also signed former Lakers Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga — but none of those players had long stints with the team.

With Vujacic on board, the Knicks have 12 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Counting Langston Galloway, who has a partially guaranteed deal but is expected to make the regular-season roster, they have two open spots.

***

No. 3: Teague making impact off-court Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague took a visit last summer to Atlanta’s Hughes Spalding Children’s Hopsital, and ended up raising thousands of dollars for the hospital throughout the season. Teague has continued the partnership, and as Chris Vivlamore writes, Teague says the association has grown into something “beautiful”…

The Hawks guard felt compelled to donate $20 for each assist he had the previous season, a sum of $11,260. He felt he could do more. Teague and the hospital set up a program where he would match the figure again this year and challenge others to do the same. Those who matched his $20 per assist total would be All-Star sponsors. Others could give $2 per assist ($1,126) as Teammate sponsors. The money benefits the Hughes Spalding Hospital, according to a hospital representative.

“I went on a visit to Children’s to try to give the kids a little inspiration,” Teague said recently. “They go through a lot. I wanted to go there, see the kids, interact with them and have them interact with me. When I got there, I was touched. I wanted to do whatever I could to help out. That’s when we came up with the program.”

The giving will culminate with Teague’s inaugural Hoops for Hughes dinner Aug. 15 at Maggiano’s Buckhead. The event will feature a dinner, question-and-answer session, photographs with Teague and more for those who gave this year.

“When I met Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks during a recent visit to Hughes Spalding, his thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion impressed me even more than him being a young basketball superstar,” said Julia Jones, vice president for operations at Hughes Spalding. “His sensitivity towards the children we care for and his concern for their needs was very genuine. He seemed truly interested in gaining a greater understanding of the important work that is being done at Hughes Spalding and committed to supporting that work in every way he can.”

Teague said the Hawks also donated to the cause.

There are plans to continue the program next year — and for years to come. Teague finished last season with 620 assists in the regular season and playoffs combined. He finished 10th in the NBA in regular-season assists with 513 and added 107 more in the postseason. His donation will be $12,400. He will ask others to match or give $1,260 at $2 per assist.

“I just wanted to give back,” Teague said. “I didn’t think it would grow into something like this. It’s a beautiful thing. At first it was just something I wanted to do from my heart. I just wanted to give back. Now, it’s grown into something beautiful and large.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Derrick Rose is reportedly undecided on playing for Team USA … Glen Davis may be willing to sign a contract overseas if he doesn’t sign an NBA deal … Pacers center Jordan Hill was charged with driving violations outside Atlanta.

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Steve Smith has the story of Lakers rookie Larry Nance, Jr.

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls | How will Rivers use the bench he’s built? | Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics | KG to start for Wolves in Season No. 21

No. 1: Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls — After four straight seasons of ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Chicago Bulls fell to 11th last season. Fred Hoiberg is supposed to change up the offense upon taking over for Tom Thibodeau, but Pau Gasol knows that his team can’t lose focus on the defensive end of the floor, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes

Bulls center Pau Gasol doesn’t know if his role will change next year under new coach Fred Hoiberg and his uptempo offensive system. He doesn’t even know if he’ll start.

But what the NBA veteran does know is the team can’t forget about former coach Tom Thibodeau’s calling card: Defense.

Hoiberg is known for a particular brand of basketball that encourages 3-point shooting and quick decisions, but while the Bulls offense under Thibodeau had too many lulls, they still managed to score 100.8 points per game. Hoiberg hired veteran NBA assistant coach Jim Boylen to help with the defense.

“Well, I think offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” Gasol said on a conference call from South Africa, where he’s taking part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders event, which culminates with the first-ever NBA exhibition in Africa on Aug. 1. “We have a lot of talent offensively, and I think we’ll play with better flow offensively with Fred. We’ll have more freedom to play in transition and explore our abilities as individuals and as a team. As long as we understand that defense wins championships and makes the difference, and make sure we don’t neglect that side, we should be fine.”

***

No. 2: How will Rivers sort out the bench he’s built? — Though he had little flexibility going into the summer, Clippers president Doc Rivers restructured his bench, adding Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, among others. The L.A. Times‘ Ben Bolch now wonders how Rivers will make all the pieces work together. He enlisted NBA TV analysts Mike Fratello and Stu Jackson to help him sort through the questions…

Stephenson comes with a history of having blown in LeBron James ear’ during a game. He’s also generated whispers about being a bad teammate, leading to more questions from Fratello.

“How is he going to fit in with the chemistry of this team and how will he handle the star factor of Chris Paul, of Blake Griffin, of Pierce’s experience and his Hall of Fame background?” Fratello asked. “How is he going to fit in with all that and does he bounce back from having a disappointing year last year? Has he grown up, has he matured, is he going to be a contributor?”

Jackson, a former coach and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies who is an analyst for NBA TV, said the presence of Paul, Griffin and Pierce should act as a buffer against bad behavior because they have created a culture of success and expectations.

“Teams that have veteran leadership can absorb almost any player into their culture and their environment,” Jackson said.

***

No. 3: Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics — After initially saying that he was done as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team after the 2012 Olympics, Mike Krzyzewski came back for four more years. Now, as the team prepares to gather in Las Vegas for a three-day camp, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo makes it clear, in a Q & A with Yahoo’s Marc Spears, that he’ll need a new coach after next year’s Olympics in Rio.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

***

No. 4: KG to start for Wolves in season No. 21Kevin Garnett played in just five games after returning to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February. The Wolves have a crowded frontcourt, with No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica joining Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Re-signed to a two-year deal, Garnett will join Robert Parish and Kevin Willis as the only players in NBA history to play more than 20 seasons, but won’t be coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie year. In a Q & A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders says that KG is a starter.

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

Does that include Towns, or is he a center? A hybrid? Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter. He’s a player. Good teams have guys that can play multiple positions. It makes them harder to guard. Besides, it’s not what position you play. It’s what position you can guard. Some nights, Towns will guard power forwards and KG will guard centers. Some nights, it will be the other way around.

It’s apparently Q & A day in Minnesota, because point guard Ricky Rubio also talked at length with Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver

SI: What excites you about 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns?

RR: “I like guys who can shoot the ball. Having Kevin Love really helped stretch the floor. I think Towns is a better fit [than No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor] because of that. Okafor is more like [Nikola] Pekovic, a strong guy down in the post. Towns is a guy we don’t have.”

SI: How do you see this developing core group of you, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine playing together?

RR: “We’re pretty young, first of all. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’re athletic, we’re starving, we’re hungry. That’s something that’s going to show in practice and the games. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. A point guard who can pass the ball to athletic wings and big guys who can do a lot of damage in the post. In the case of Towns, he can really shoot the ball and run up and down too. I think it will be fun basketball, exciting.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s been too long since we got an update from the Sixers on Joel EmbiidThe Pelicans still need to get Norris Cole re-signed … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha are both making progress as they recover from season-ending injuries … Perry Jones is happy to have a fresh start in Boston … The Thunder signed 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis after sending him to the D-League for a year … Could the Warriors get Kevin Durant next summer?

Bazemore, Hawks not looking back as they strive for more success


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks about the Hawks’ new uniforms

By Nick Margiasso IV, NBA.com

The Hawks had a pretty unforgettable season in 2014-15. So, how do they follow it up this campaign?

By forgetting about it.

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore and his teammates are ready to turn the page, confident they know the way now after pushing their success to a high point.

“The good thing about pro sports is that every season is a new season,” the third-year defensive specialist said. “We understand what it takes to win 60 games in this league. It’s not any extra pressure or anything different other than to go out and play hard. Every team starts out 0-0 and has the same 82-game grind.”

Bazemore, and surely the Hawks’ faithful, are clamoring to see how the new pieces (and old pieces) fit with the proven ones going into a new season. Whether the squad can keep building on the league’s second-longest playoff streak (behind the Spurs) will largely be up to those fresh faces and how ex-Spurs assistant and reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer maneuvers them into his plan.

“We get Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha back, we added Tiago Splitter, Justin Holiday and Tim Hardaway Jr. — it’s going to be interesting” Bazemore said. “But now we are young, deep, long and athletic. We have a group of guys that will be ready to roll night-in and night-out.”

A lot is made of chemistry in the NBA, especially it would seem on a sort of star-less group like the Hawks, but Bazemore downplays the effort it takes to build that up. If you’re ready to play, it’ll come in due time around Philips Arena, it seems.

“Continuity is not as pertinent in the NBA as people think it is,” Bazemore said. “With all the new money, players want more and teams are trying to move people around to open things up, most teams aren’t bringing the same guys back every year.

“If you love winning, it brings everyone together. You can have the best character people in the world, but winning plays a big part in that chemistry.”

Bazemore is focused on being one of those locked-in, winning players that bring a successful mentality every night. He’s determined to better his nearly across-the-board best campaign of 2014-15 — career highs in games played, minutes, rebounds, steals and blocks — by doing what he knows best.

“I’m just going to continue to try to be one of the best defenders in the NBA,” Bazemore said. “I’ve been doing a lot of alternate training this offseason, playing tennis, golf and certain things to shape my brain to think differently.

“Basketball is always go, go, go, but the best players can see it differently and slow it down. So, I think working on tempo and other things is going to take my game to the next level.”

With talk like that, Budenholzer may have found himself just the kind of floor presence that will be in tune with the mentality the Hawks are betting on to keep on their pedestal atop the East.

Top 5 Free Agents of 2015 (by position)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This time two days from now, we’ll be in the throes of the wild and wacky Free Agency season that marks every NBA summer. Who will change addresses? Who will stay put? Who knows. What we do know is that these are the players, in one man’s opinion, that are sure to be on the wish lists of teams with salary cap space to spare this offseason.

*** FREE AGENCY COVERAGE JUNE 30 ON NBA TV: The Starters, 6:30 ET | Free Agent Fever, 7 ET & 11:30 ET ***

Point Guards


VIDEO: Goran Dragic puts up a fantastic game against the Suns in Miami

1. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat (Unrestricted Free Agent, Player Option) — The mercurial Dragic is the template for the modern point guard and will be treated as such by suitors this summer.

2. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (Restricted Free Agent) — Young (25) and just scratching the surface of what he can do running a team as a starter.

3. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns (RFA) — More scorer than facilitator, Knight is an ideal fit alongside Eric Bledsoe in the Suns’ up-tempo attack.

4. Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks (UFA) — Will a disastrous finish to his season in Dallas cost the hard-nosed Rondo this summer?

5. Ish Smith, Philadelphia 76ers (UFA) — Quality production in limited opportunities suggest there is much more to Smith’s game than meets the eye.

Shooting Guards


VIDEO: Jimmy Butler was the Kia Most Improved Player of the Year Award winner in 2014-15

1. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (RFA) — The top guard, regardless of position, on the market this summer, Butler gambled on himself and it should pay off handsomely.

2. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (UFA, Player Option) — Even at 33 with all of the wear and tear of 12 seasons in the league, Wade remains one of the league’s most versatile and dynamic players.

3. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (UFA) — An ideal fit for the role he played with the Spurs, Green’s skill-set is a fit anywhere in today’s NBA.

4. Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks (UFA) — Another casualty of a somewhat lost season in Dallas, Ellis in search of the right fit for a tweener who shot just 28 percent from deep last season.

5. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers (UFA) — An Achilles injury ended his season early, but the rugged and relentless Matthews remains a top priority for the Trail Blazers.

Centers


VIDEO: Marc Gasol has become the focal point of a contending team in Memphis

1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (UFA) — The Grizzlies’ famed grit-and-grind approach does not work without their All-NBA center in the middle of the mix.

2. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (UFA) — A defensive force in need of an offensive arsenal to match, Jordan’s not a lock to return to Los Angeles … at least not with the Clippers.

3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (UFA) — Still near the top of his and the big man game after 18 outstanding seasons in the league, Duncan has the energy for at least one more title chase.

4. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons (UFA) — Monroe is the ideal 5-man for the small-ball era, with his face-up game and ability to bang in the paint.

5. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets (UFA) — An elite scorer, Lopez is still coveted in a game that isn’t as reliant on dominant big men as it once was.

Small Forwards


VIDEO: LeBron James’ best plays from the 2015 playoffs

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (UFA, Player Option) — The best player on the planet will be paid as such while also leveraging his power to affect change (on the roster and beyond) in Cleveland.

2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (RFA) — The future of the program in San Antonio, Leonard is poised to become the leader of the pack in every way imaginable for the Spurs.

3. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks (UFA) — His development as a knock-down (40 percent) shooter from beyond the 3-point line adds to his versatility and value on the open market.

4. Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic (RFA) — Harris has loads of admirers in front offices around the league, folks who appreciate his production for a young (22) hybrid who has still has a high ceiling.

5. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (RFA) — A knock down shooter from deep (41 percent) and from the line (86 percent), Middleton showed his mettle in the postseason by serving as the Bucks’ catalyst.

Power Forwards


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge’s highlights from 2014-15

1. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (UFA) — Aldridge is everything a team could want in a modern power forward, complete with range to the 3-point line and the ability to dominate inside as well.

2. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (UFA, Player Option) — The Cavaliers’ Finals run without him was revealing, but also a reminder of what they were lacking without the ultimate floor-spacer in the lineup.

3. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (UFA) — Few players have raised their stock the past two seasons the way Millsap did by assuming a dominant role for a Hawks team that rolled to the best season in franchise history.

4. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (RFA) — The Warriors’ championship, and Green’s role in helping make it happen, will be factored into the huge raise he is set to cash in on this summer.

5. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers (RFA) — A ringing endorsement from LeBron James always helps, but wasn’t needed for a player who dominated the glass the way Thompson did in the playoffs.


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