Posts Tagged ‘Hawks’

Opportunity knocks for Teague, Hawks


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew believes Jeff Teague and the Hawks are poised for big things this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.

He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.

He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.

Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.

I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …

NBA.com:  The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?

Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back  and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.

NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?

Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands. (more…)

Long road to recovery looms for Hawks, city officials and team’s fans


VIDEO: The GameTime guys discuss what’s next for the Hawks’ front office

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Say this for the city of Atlanta and its NBA franchise: at a time of crisis, the response has been swift and comprehensive.

Team officials, civic leaders, fans, the local media and even the city’s mayor have all rallied to the rescue of a franchise in need of an immediate pick-me-up in the wake of the Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry dramas.

It’s been impressive. It’s the one time I can remember in a decade of living and working in Atlanta that there was this kind of focus and attention on the well-being of the Hawks.

The fact it took a dumpster fire of epic proportions to bring these people together is what spoils it for me. There are lots of good people who will end up paying dearly for the missteps and mistakes of someone else (Levenson and Ferry in particular).

Ownership — at least controlling interest — will change hands. There are always casualties when that happens.

Jobs will be lost.

Reputations will be tarnished … forever.

The lives of people who aren’t directly involved have been and will continue to be turned upside down.

And when training camp opens in a few weeks, the focus will be on the circus going on around the team instead of the team itself!

Levenson, Ferry, Michael Gearon Jr. and other members of the organization won’t be on the hook come media day. That responsibility will fall upon Atlanta’s players and coaches, who had absolutely nothing to do with the mess that has been made.

So with all due respect to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed — who insists all involved will be better in the end because of this cratering of a franchise — the city and the Hawks’ fan base, there is no happy ending in sight. Not even with beloved Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins in the fold in a legitimate decision-making position within the new structure, whatever that might be.

Ferry meeting with local clergy and civic leaders behind closed doors won’t heal the public trust that has been breached by his discriminatory and destructive comments regarding Miami Heat forward Luol Deng.

While the attentions of the rest of the sports world and the 24-hour news cycle shifts to even more drama in the NFL, folks here will be left to sort through the wreckage of an Atlanta Spirit organization that seemed poised for big things in the 2014-15 season. A strong playoff showing without Al Horford in uniform gave Hawks fans plenty of hope to chew on during the offseason.

Even without making a huge splash in free agency, there remained a sense of optimism surrounding the on-court product (Paul Millsap emerged as an All-Star, Jeff Teague showed signs of being an elite-level point guard and coach Mike Budenholzer proved that system basketball works when administered properly).

Now Budenholzer has to assume duties he never signed up for as the day-to-day steward of the Hawks’ basketball operations, while Ferry continues his indefinite leave of absence.

What you have left is a skeptical fan base, the one that has been disrespected at every turn, wondering where it fits into this basketball soap opera. Paying customers who felt the Hawks were relevant have been given reason to question everything about the franchise and how it is run. Potential customers (yes, that’s ultimately what fans are) now have even more reason to ignore the city’s most consistent playoff outfit.

Hawks part-owner and CEO Steve Koonin will have to dig into his deep reservoir of tactics to sell what’s going on right now to the local public. I know this because I live among them. I hear from them regularly about this team at gas stations, grocery stores, school functions and church. The question is always the same: “what’s up with the Hawks?”

A shake of the head is all I can offer now, because I’m honestly not sure.

I’ve watched the relationship between a diverse and vibrant city and what has largely been an equally vibrant team the past seven years, run on parallel tracks … for the most part. The same basic questions Levenson had about the apathy of a certain segment of the fan base is the same question, without the racial or ethnic distinctions, of course, I’ve struggled with the past decade.

I’ve seen lovable losers in other NBA cities get 10 times the love the Hawks receive with the second-longest playoff streak in the league (behind the reigning-champion San Antonio Spurs) as a selling point.

The disconnect has always been about the perception of who and what the Hawks are to the locals and beyond and the reality of who and what they are to the people that matter most: those willing to spend their time and money venturing to Philips Arena to watch games in person.

Fixing that disconnect and repairing that breach requires transparency the Hawks have yet to commit to. Then and only then will I buy this talk of a happy ending for all involved.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 13



VIDEO: The GameTime crew makes predictions for FIBA final

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Klay paves the way | Korver speaks with Deng | Serbia not in awe | Billups a tough Hall call

No. 1: Thompson shows his stuff to the world — There have been few days when the multi-talented Anthony Davis and the uber-hustling Kenneth Faried haven’t been part of the highlight videos for Team USA out of the FIBA World Cup. But as the Americans prepare to face Serbia on Sunday in the gold medal game, it’s time to acknowledge that the consistent contributions of Klay Thompson to the effort. The Warriors guard started out the offseason with his name being part of trade talks to lure Kevin Love to Golden State. Now, our own Sekou Smith relates, Thompson is using the whole summer as an experience to take his game and his career to the next level:

Thompson’s contributions off the U.S. bench, a role he probably hasn’t had to play at any point in his basketball career since before high school, if ever, could pay huge dividends when this tournament is over and he goes back to his role as one of the stars for the Warriors.
“You expose yourself to different stages of basketball,” Stephen Curry said of the benefits Thompson will gain from this medal run with the U.S. National Team. “It’s beneficial because you’re being called on to play a different role, to be a scorer off the bench and it’s just different. It adds a little bit of character and charisma to your game. And that should translate to even more success when we get back to Golden State.”
This has definitely been a character building summer for Thompson and other guys used to starting and the spotlight that comes with it in the NBA. He’s perhaps a better defender than anyone imagined. He’s stepped up to the challenge on defense night after night, while serving as the team’s most consistent scoring threat off the bench as well, averaging 12.8 points while shooting 66 percent on his 2-point shots and 41 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
We’ve gotten a glimpse of his game, the entire scope of his game, in ways we don’t normally get to see in the NBA.
“He’s been a lockdown defender for us, no doubt,” James Harden said. “Scoring is never going to be a problem for him. It’s not an issue for this team. So it says something when you see guys working hard on defense and trying to make an impact any way they can.”
That’s the spirit of the program, the one Jerry Colangelo and Coach K have tried to foster from the start. And the results have worked beautifully. The U.S, takes a 62-game win streak into Sunday’s gold medal game, having put together a flawless run in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006.

***

No. 2: Deng says Hawks not racist Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Hawks guard Kyle Korver, who is also a member of the executive board of the National Basketball Players Assocation, following a conversation the veteran guard had with Luol Deng, who is at the center of the Danny Ferry controversy. Korver said he hopes the Hawks can put the issue behind them and that Deng does not believe Ferry is motivated by racism:

Q. What is your reaction to everything that has happened?
A. My thoughts are, when I got traded to the Hawks, I didn’t want to come here because all I knew was what I had heard, about bad culture and no fans and no excitement in the city. So I didn’t want to come to Atlanta. At all. I was bummed to leave Chicago. But by the next summer, I chose to re-sign and come back to Atlanta. After a year of watching what Danny (Ferry) was doing and the people he was bringing in. Everything I saw, was so attractive to me and I really believed in it. I believed that he was going to turn things around. I saw that Atlanta was an incredible city, and that there was so much potential here to both raise my family and help build a great basketball culture. I had some opportunities to go to places that were already established and played really good basketball but I wanted to come back here and be a part of building this. I think in all this, I’m hopeful that when the dust settles, it keeps on going. I really do believe in what has gone on in the two years that I have been here. I think anyone who knows the game and has watched the transformation would agree with me. But it’s just sad what’s all going on. That all this has happened has really bummed me out.
Q. You were teammates with Luol Deng. Would you care to comment about what was said about him? Have you reached out to him?
A. Yeah we did speak. Luol is such a good guy. And he’s been through so much in life that I don’t really think this has really even phased him. He told me that he didn’t think that Danny or anyone with the Hawks was racist. He said he was shocked when he heard what was said, but that sometimes things just slip out. It was pretty amazing, really. He just wants everything to move on. He wants to get back to basketball.

***

No. 3: Serbia says USA will have to earn gold medal — When France upset hometown favorite Spain in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup, the knee-jerk reaction around much of the basketball planet was that Team USA could making room in their luggage for those gold medals. However Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops says the history of international basketball and the particular pride of the Serbians could make things interesting in Sunday’s gold medal game. In other words, the Americans must be careful not to get caught in a trap:

But here they are now, playing for the gold medal after defeating the team that defeated Spain.
They are much older than the Americans. They have a player who once played for the Nets in East Rutherford, N.J. (Nenad Krstic). They have a point guard, Milos Teodosic, who is a lock for First Team All-Tournament (he scored 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting against France).
Most importantly, they have nothing to lose.
And when all the pressure is on the other team, as it will be for the United States on Sunday, it can be an enormous equalizer. Just ask Spain.
“We’re not going to be scared, for sure,” Krstic said. “Some players never get this chance — the chance to do something great in our lives.”
A previous generation of Serbians got that chance and capitalized on it in 2002, even if one of them — Divac — got a gold medal after one of the worst games of his life.
Another generation, Djordjevic’s generation, put a scare into the Americans in 1996 when everyone thought it would be another 20 years before anyone would even come close to defeating Team USA.
The Serbians played a huge role in making the basketball universe change less than two decades ago, which allows us to remind everyone of this famous quote: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Just a few words of caution heading into Sunday’s game.
Do yourself a favor and turn off the football for two hours and see what happens. When the Serbs are involved in a gold medal game, you really never know what you are going to get.
“If they beat us, when it is over I will shake their hands,” Djordjevic told me. “But we are going to play our game.”

Read more at http://www.sheridanhoops.com/2014/09/12/sheridan-serbia-coach-on-team-usa-prove-you-are-better/#yTv5JLmTPPyalJhA.99

***

No. 4: Is Billups Hall of Fame worthy? — We all know him as Mr. Big Shot and the driving force in the middle of the Pistons 2004 team that shocked Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to win the championship. But is being the MVP of The Finals and five All-Star seasons enough to get Chauncey Billups a spot in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question raised by our Scott Howard-Cooper:

He was a leader in 17 seasons with seven teams, filled with positive intangibles that never reach the box score. He was a difference maker in attitude alone as Detroit won the title in 2004 and Denver reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, a locker-room presence chosen by the league as the first winner of the Twyman-Stokes Award in 2013 as the “player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team.”
He was even the kind of person chosen by the media as winner of the 2008 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for charity work.
Billups’ strongest attribute cannot be measured. Now, get two sets of voters — one that determines the finalists, another in a second round of voting that chooses the inductees — to put that into tangible terms on the ballot when Billups becomes eligible to be nominated for the first time as part of the Class of 2019.
Which makes two problems.
Besides the first issue, 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 41.5 percent from the field, with one top-five finish in assists average and a lot of years less than 42-percent shooting, does not get anyone inducted.
Five All-Star appearances, three as a Piston and two with the hometown Nuggets, is a big credibility boost. Being named second-team All-Defense twice, second-team All-NBA once and third-team All-NBA twice will matter. Having a lead role on a championship team — while being named Finals MVP — and also winning a gold medal with the United States in the 2010 world championships will count for a lot.
But being a positive force of energy is what set Billups apart and made him a player to emulate more than the gaudy numbers usually required for a serious Hall bid. It’s why there is a very good chance he will be in the conversation when the time comes, but not get across the line, a good talent with unique qualities but not historic.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With the return of LeBron-mania to Cleveland, the Cavaliers will hold a lottery for the sale of individual game tickets this season…The Clippers re-signed veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu and plan to add Sam Cassell and Mike Woodson as assistant coaches on Doc Rivers staff…Tobias Harris hopes to stay in Orlando with the Magic for the long haul…Film critics and Maverick teammates Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and others will fly to Germany next week for the premiere of Dirk Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Atlanta paper lands Ferry audio recording discussing Deng

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after his Luol Deng comments were released.

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after new audio was released.

NBA.com staff

Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has obtained the audio recording of the already infamous conference call that landed Hawks general manager Danny Ferry in hot water, and in it … well, you’ll just have to listen to it and make up your mind.

Was Ferry, as he claimed, reading off scouting reports on free agent Luol Deng when he says the player “has a little African in him”? Or was that Ferry simply winging it, speaking off the top of his head, in his own words, as many on Twitter surmised Thursday night after the AJC snagged the audio?

Whatever the case, the heat is being turned up on Ferry, at least in some corners. Though Ferry has his backers who say he is not a racist — our own David Aldridge is among them, and commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today that, in his opinion, Ferry’s comments do not merit his firing — others are insisting that Ferry step down. One of the owners of the Hawks, Michael Gearon Jr., called for his dismissal back in June. Gearon, among many other Hawks’ front-office executives, was on the call with Ferry.

One of the more thoughtful takes on the whole ugly situation has come from Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri, who spoke directly to Ferry about the incident, as reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Ujiri (who is from Nigeria) knows Deng (who hails from South Sudan) well. They have traveled through Africa together.

I spoke to Danny myself about this. He started off by apologizing to Luol. He apologized to me and apologized for any insult he’d offered to African people in general. He explained the incident as best he could to me. There are some things about that conversation I would like to keep between the two of us, but I came away feeling like I’d understood what he had to say.

Here is what I have to say:

I have no idea what is happening in the Atlanta Hawks organization, but I do know how the scouting world works. We all have different ways of sharing information about players and different vocabularies to do so. It crossed a line here.

That said, we are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all make mistakes.

You discover a person’s true character in their ability to learn from and then move on from those mistakes. One of the truly important things we must learn is how to forgive.

Danny’s mistake will remain tied to him for a long time. What he’s said can’t be unsaid, but we must measure his heart. If he has made an honest, isolated error, we should forgive and move on.

Will that kind of thinking be enough to save Ferry’s job?

Here’s the audio from the AJC. There’s some NSFW words in there.


SOURCE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

 

 

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

More Summer Dreaming: MVP | Coach | DPOY | Sixth Man | Most Improved | Rookie

Now we’re into the part of our Summer Dreaming series where we’ve saved everybody eight months of waiting and handed out all of the official NBA awards for 2015. Next up is a look at a few off-the-record categories, starting with Comeback Player of the Year, which the league has not handed out since the 1984-85 season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant showed some magic before his injury last season

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — Go ahead, point to those 36 candles he just blew out on his birthday cake. Point to the torn Achilles’ tendon, the fractured kneecap, more miles on his body than an old pickup truck. But you might want to do that pointing from a distance, because the most relentless, driven, refuse-to-face-reality player in the league is apt to bite off that finger. There are all sorts of reasons to doubt that he can return as the player he once was. But, truth is, he won’t even try. While he’s got to carry the load for this revamped — OK, stripped-down-for-spare-parts Lakers team — he’s likely to do it closer to the basket. New coach Byron Scott wants Kobe to use his post skills and smarts to go to work on the inside and put less wear and tear on his body. It’s not likely that Bryant can work miracles and get the Lakers to the playoffs. But he’ll show a lot more than anybody has a right to expect from a  player in his 19th NBA season.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011

Derrick Rose, Bulls — How quickly they turn. In 2011 he was the toast of Chicago as the youngest player ever named MVP. They were starting to line up artists to create the statue that would go up next to Michael Jordan outside the United Center one day. Now Rose has played just 10 games in the past two seasons due to injuries to both knees and a lot of the so-called loyalists are ready to turn the page and call him injury-prone. Remember, though, that he’ll be just 26 in October and that puts him a decade ahead of Kobe Bryant … plenty of time to return to form. He’s coming back to a team that’s added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott to a core of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. It says here that playing with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup will prove to be a benefit in the long run, getting Rose needed minutes and a chance to get back on track before dueling it out with LeBron James and the Cavs for Eastern Conference supremacy.


VIDEO: A coaching change in Brooklyn could be right to Brook Lopez’s liking

Brook Lopez, Nets – A broken right foot last December sidelined him for the season. A short time later then-coach Jason Kidd went to a small-ball lineup that turned the Nets’ season around and got them to the playoffs. But Kidd is gone to Milwaukee, replaced by Lionel Hollins, who got the most out of the Grizzlies by going into the low post with the grind-it-out talents of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Lopez is Hollins’ kind of center, a big man with solid fundamentals who knows his way around the basket. Lopez has reportedly dropped 15 pounds during his rehab, looking noticeably lighter and a bit quicker in workouts. However, you can expect Hollins to slow the pace of the offense and make the most of Lopez’ ability, especially at the defensive end.


VIDEO: Al Horford sat down with NBA.com’s Sekou Smith early last season

Al Horford, Hawks — Just when the hard work was starting to pay off with back-to-back selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2010 and 2011, Horford virtually lost of two of the next three seasons due to an unusual injury — torn pectoral muscles, left side in 2012 and right side in 2013. In his absence, first-year coach Mike Budenholzer got the Hawks to buy into his share-the-ball beliefs that he brought over from San Antonio, and that got Atlanta into the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Hawks have definitely overpaid to put Thabo Sefolosha out on the floor as a needed wing defender. But if they’re going to take a step back up in the improving Eastern Conference, it will be Horford getting back to his old double-double self (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) from the 2012-13 season. His injuries have definitely drawn less attention than Bryant, Rose and maybe even Lopez, but his loss was just as significant to his team.


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert was a Defensive Player of the Year nominee

Roy Hibbert, Pacers — No broken bones, no torn ligaments, just a shattered confidence and reputation and a franchise left in pieces. Hibbert’s crisis of self-doubt resulted in his game falling faster than a piano off the rooftop of a skyscraper. When he was one of the league’s top rim-protectors in 2012-13, Hibbert solidified the Indiana defense, enabling the Pacers to sniff at the heels of the then-defending champion Heat. When he felt neglected in the offense over the second half of last season, the Pacers were a disjointed mess. Now they’ve lost the injured Paul George, likely for the season, and Lance Stephenson took the free-agent dollars and fled to Charlotte. That means the Pacers clearly don’t have the talent to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference. Still, this is an opportunity for Hibbert to accept the challenge and the burden as a leader and to start to lay a new foundation for the future. This time, at least, he should get his shots.


VIDEO: Deron Williams turns around Chris Paul in this play from 2013-14

Deron Williams, Nets — It wasn’t that long ago when some scouts would have tabbed Williams as the best all-around point guard in the league. He has size, the ability to break down defenses and he can both get to the rim and nail his open jumpers. But that hasn’t been on display much since he joined the Nets. Now the soon-to-be 30-year-old is trying to overcome a series of ankle surgeries that have clearly slowed him down and made his whopping contract one of the most unrewarding in the league. New coach Hollins is not one to baby his players. He’ll lean heavily on Williams to run the offense and be the leader. But a slower tempo could be just what’s needed for a return to previous All-Star form.

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line. (more…)

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

The new (LeBron) world order in the East


VIDEO: LeBron’s homecoming means a return to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings for the Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Take the words of LeBron James as gospel on what will become of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the hometown hero back in the mix. As LeBron told SI.com, this is just the first step of the process:

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.

The Cavaliers’ metamorphosis from lottery outfit to true championship contender won’t happen overnight. While Las Vegas and everyone else seems to have forgotten about the San Antonio Spurs (the team that smashed the two-time defending champion Heat in The Finals last month), LeBron’s keen eye for history allows him to see that.

Even with LeBron, the Cavs might not be the best team in what could be a loaded Central Division next season.

Don’t forget, the Cavaliers couldn’t even make the playoffs in a watered down Eastern Conference last season. And the Atlanta Hawks made it to the playoffs last season with just 38 wins.

LeBron’s belief in the Cavaliers’ core group won’t necessarily be enough to push them past the Indiana Pacers, the team  that owned the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, or the potentially revamped Chicago Bulls, were they to secure the services of free-agent Carmelo Anthony and get a healthy season from one-time league MVP Derrick Rose.

No one should forget about the Toronto Raptors, winners of the Atlantic Division, or Washington Wizards, a surprise Eastern Conference semifinalist after knocking off the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams retained their marquee free agents — Kyle Lowry in Toronto and Marcin Gortat in Washington —  and will both be a year wiser and better.

Still, LeBron’s arrival changes the Eastern Conference landscape the same way it did four years ago when he showed up in Miami and (along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) turned a middle of the road Heat team into a contender.

Forget what that Cavaliers’ roster looks like today. Focus on what it could look like when the Cavs are done exploring their options. Swing a Kevin Love deal and add veterans and LeBron-friendlies like Mike Miller and Ray Allen, and perhaps that process LeBron mentioned can be accelerated.

The one thing that was true in 2010 about LeBron and his approach remains true this time around: He cannot do it alone. Wade and Bosh were crucial then and Irving and Wiggins will serve as his chief aides this time around. Love would certainly be the X-factor, but with or without Love, there is a new world order in the East.

Here’s an early look at the top eight in the Eastern Conference (as of this moment):

1) Indiana – Even with all of their dysfunction at the end of the season, the Pacers remain the most formidable roadblock for contenders in the Eastern Conference.

2) Cleveland – They get a big edge from the LeBron bump … YES, he means that much to whatever team he’s on. And that’s before we see what else the Cavs can come up with this summer.

3) Chicago – Carmelo pushes them up to a near tie for the No. 2 spot. Toss in Pau Gasol and we’re talking about a possible new No. 1. But there is much work to be done in the Windy City.

4) Toronto — Masai Ujiri is in the midst of changing the culture in Toronto, the most important step being his successful effort to keep Lowry in the fold.

5) Washington — Trevor Ariza remains an important piece for the Wizards, but he’s replaceable if a deal cannot be struck. The Wizards have as strong a young backcourt tandem in John Wall and Bradley Beal as there is in the East.

6) Charlotte – The addition of Gordon Hayward, if the Utah Jazz don’t match the $63 million offer sheet, does not vault the Hornets into the top half of the playoff chase.

7) Atlanta – The return of Al Horford from injury is more important than just about any free-agent signing the Hawks could execute this summer.

8) Miami – They lost out on LeBron but will keep Bosh and Wade as Pat Riley tries to repair the damage of the departure of the best player on the planet.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

 

Hawks snag Sefolosha on 3-year deal


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive wiz and the ultimate system guy for the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some of Danny Ferry‘s best work as general manager of the Hawks has come during these summer months, when many of his colleagues are spending lavishly for players Ferry is busy bargain hunting for players who perfectly fit the Atlanta Hawks’ system.

Ferry might have found his latest gem in defensive wiz Thabo Sefolosha, who agreed to terms on a 3-year, $12 million deal earlier today, as first reported by RealGM.

Sefolosha, a starter in Oklahoma City the last five seasons, fills the void on the wings for the Hawks, who traded veteran reserve guard Lou Williams to Toronto earlier this week.  Sefolosha averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 61 starts last season and served as Thunder’s defensive ace on opposing team’s best perimeter player.

The Hawks proved last year, their first under coach Mike Budenholzer, that they could plug different players into their system and get fantastic results. Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star nod in his first season with the Hawks while guys like DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack had standout seasons. 

Sefolosha was a mainstay in that Thunder lineup during that franchise’s rise from lottery outfit to legitimate contender, working alongside the reigning KIA MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

The Hawks have an offensive specialist on the perimeter in veteran shooter Kyle Korver. Sefolosha gives them kindred spirit on the defensive side and a player versatile enough to fit into whatever small-ball, Spurs-lite scheme Budenholzer has in mind for the future.

Once again, Ferry is loading the cupboard with great fits at reasonable prices, the same as he did last summer when the Hawks were flush with cap space and spent wisely (if at all).

Diaw finally finds comfort zone


VIDEO: Tony Parker on the words of wisdom he had for his longtime friend Boris Diaw earlier in his career

MIAMI — The first nervous steps of Boris Diaw‘s NBA career were tough to watch.

The talent was obvious: A 6-foot-8 basketball savant with point guard skills and the size, length and ability to play as many as four positions. What was also clear is that Diaw’s understanding of the game was beyond that of a normal rookie. The Atlanta Hawks’ front office knew it, which is one of the main reasons they selected the young French prospect with the 21st pick in the 2003 Draft.

But there was glitch in the system. Diaw’s coaches had no idea how to use him. The Hawks, at the time, hadn’t figured out how to use a player with Diaw’s hybrid skill set. They couldn’t figure out if he was a point guard or a center or whatever was in between. So they tried him everywhere, from point guard to center … and sometimes all in the same half of the same game.

“Well, I did a little bit of everything,” Diaw said with a smile Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the day after helping his San Antonio Spurs to a 2-1 lead over the Miami Heat with a huge Game 3 win in The Finals. “It was helping me to learn pretty much every position. I remember starting the game at the five and going out to do the [opening] tip and then playing point guard during the same game.”

It was a testament to his polish and professionalism at such a young age that the Hawks leaned on him that way, not to mention their sheer desperation, what with a roster that was being rebuilt from the ground up at the time. Diaw, however, wasn’t necessarily ready for a role like that. He’d played at the highest level professionally in France but needed time to adjust his game to the NBA, time he didn’t get in Atlanta.

Back then his teammates whispered about how long he’d last, whether or not he was truly cut out for the NBA and if and when he’d scurry back to Europe.

It wasn’t until much later in his career, after he left Atlanta via the controversial Joe Johnson sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix in the summer of 2005, that Diaw’s best was revealed. He earned the league’s Most Improved Player Award in 2006 the with the Suns, thriving in Mike D’Antoni‘s free-flowing system.

He opened some eyes around the league as the NBA game was evolving into its current form, with floor spacers and a global style that has been the trademark of the top international leagues for years.

San Antonio has proved to be the ideal fit, complete with playing alongside his friend since childhood Tony Parker and in a system that prizes ball-sharing and versatility like no other system in the league. That would explain Spurs coach Gregg Popovich inserting Diaw into the starting lineup before Game 3. His presence forces the Heat into some uncomfortable matchups, specifically for Chris Bosh, who cannot take advantage of Diaw on the perimeter the way he can Tiago Splitter or even Tim Duncan.

In fact, Diaw ends up with the advantage because he can play inside and out while also serving as an extra ballhandler and facilitator and rebounding like a power forward and guarding both in the paint and on the perimeter. He’s one of the best and most creative passers in the league, big man or not. And he’s unselfish to a fault, making him the ideal teammate in today’s NBA.

Again, the Spurs’ system (impact over stats and detail over flash) and Pop’s methods, are the perfect fit.

“Every coach is different, everybody has a different philosophy,” Diaw said. “I’ve had a lot of teams and a lot of coaches in my career. So it’s definitely gratifying when you get a coach like Pop recognizing a little bit of the background and the way we play in Europe, the way we share the ball and not so much the one-on-one basketball. It’s just a lot of fun to play on this team.”

The best part, for both Diaw and Parker, is the chance to realize their hoop dreams together. They won gold at EuroBasket last year as leaders  of the French national team and are two games away from winning a Larry O’Brien trophy together with the Spurs.

“For me it’s a little bit different,” Parker said of Diaw’s career renaissance with the Spurs. “Everything that you see him do today I’ve seen him do it the last four or five years doing that. He was playing great basketball in Phoenix and had some rough years with the Bobcats. When the Spurs asked me about Boris and should we take him, I was like ‘he’ll be a great fit for our team.’ I’m so happy for him, to see him blossom at the big stage. And everybody can see what he’s doing and what he’s capable of.

Diaw’s work with the French national team should not be overlooked. Parker said it was a career-changing time for Diaw, who has made adjustments to his game and lifestyle in the wake of that huge summer.

“It was a big thing for us and I think it made Boris keep improving and keep getting better,” Parker said. “Since he’s been with us we have high expectations every game. We want to win a championship. So it made him be even more focused and take care of his body. He’s got a chef and he’s being very healthy and is playing his best basketball right now. As his friend since I’m 14 years old, it’s like a dream to win a gold medal with the national team and  this year have another opportunity to win a championship. You have to put it in perspective … when we grew up there were not a lot of European guys in the NBA. I never thought I’d be with him on the same team and being two wins away from winning a championship.”

If Parker didn’t, no one did.