Posts Tagged ‘Marvin Williams’

Report: Nets, Hornets talk Joe Johnson trade

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Will Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King pull the trigger this time?

The Nets have been looking to unload one or more of their three biggest contracts for a while now. Last week, they reportedly came close to dealing Brook Lopez to Oklahoma City in a three-team trade, but pulled out because they were hesitant to take back Lance Stephenson.

Now, they may be bringing Stephenson home to Brooklyn in a different trade. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Nets and Hornets are in discussions to swap Joe Johnson for Stephenson and a couple of his teammates …

The Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets have restarted trade discussions, this time focused on guard Joe Johnson, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Hornets and Nets are discussing a larger package that would likely include guards Lance Stephenson and Gerald Henderson and forward Marvin Williams, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Johnson said Saturday that he has tendinitis in his right knee and left ankle. But he would be a boost to a Charlotte offense that ranks 28th in efficiency. The Hornets have won nine of their last 11 games to make a charge toward a playoff spot, but have done it with some ugly basketball.

The deal wouldn’t save the Nets much money (assuming Henderson exercises his player option next season), but it would give them some added depth in the wake of the news that they’ve lost Mirza Teletovic for the season, and it would make them a little more flexible if they want to make future deals. The Henderson/Stephenson/Williams trio would conceivably give them more shooting, but none of the three have shot particularly well this season.

Wojnarowski additionally reports that the Nets have talked with the Denver Nuggets about a deal for Lopez.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 | Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings | Waiters believes he has grown | Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly?

No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:

Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”

Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”

Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”

More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”

 

Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:

Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.

Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.

“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.

***

No. 2: Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:

“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.

If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.

Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.

“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”

The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.

Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.

“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”

“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”

A Pistons teammate who suffered a shared his experience with the Detroit Free Press:

Jonas Jerebko, who tore his Achilles in 2010 in the first preseason game of his second season, said he had a chance to talk to Jennings.

He wouldn’t say what was discussed, but recalled his injury.

“It was like learning to walk again,” Jerebko said with a slight chuckle. “You really started off there, but you know we have the best in the business with [physical therapist] Arnie Kander.”

***

No. 3: Waiters believes he has grownDion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.

“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”

Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.

The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.

“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”

While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.

“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”

***

No. 4: Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.

In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.

That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.

Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.

So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Washington’s John Wall wants Ray Allen to join the Wizards, but the All-Star point guard is busy enough without adding recruiting duties. … Brooklyn’s players and coaches admit they were shocked to learn of forward Mirza Teletovic’s season-ending condition … Houston’s Jason Terry still intends to play until he’s 40, and he’s surprised Shawn Marion won’t. … The photographer who first snapped Michael Jordan in that iconic, soaring pose is suing Nike over its use of the Jumpman logo. … Charlotte’s Marvin Williams did suffer a concussion when he took that elbow from New York’s Jason Smith.

 

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford


VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA – The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.

20141010_improvement

Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically.

NBA.com spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense

NBA.com: Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?

20141010_passes

Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there.

NBA.com: Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in.

NBA.com: What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack.

NBA.com: Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.

20141010_cha_offense

Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things.

NBA.com: Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J

NBA.com: But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?

20141010_cha_assist

Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way.

NBA.com: Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future.

NBA.com: Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.

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Balance and priorities as a head coach

NBA.com: Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again.

NBA.com: Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never.

NBA.com: You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well.

NBA.com: How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense.

NBA.com: What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year.

NBA.com: In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany.

NBA.com: Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority.

NBA.com: So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

More than ever, shooting at a premium


VIDEO: Pistons: Augustin And Butler Introduction

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if you want to win, you have to be able to shoot. There are lots of factors that go into good offense and good defense, but the most important are how well you shoot and how well you defend shots.

Over the last two seasons, 3-point shooting has taken a big jump. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the league took from 22.2 to 22.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range. Then in 2012-13, that number jumped to 24.3 percent. And last season, it jumped again to 25.9 percent.

The correlation between 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency is strong. And shooting a lot of threes is almost as important as shooting them well.

Ten of the top 15 offenses in the league were above average in terms of 3-point percentage and the percentage of their total shots that were threes. Four of the other five were in the top 10 in one or the other. And teams that didn’t shot threes well or often were generally bad offensive teams.

3-point shooting and offensive efficiency, 2013-14

Team 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank OffRtg Rank
L.A. Clippers 693 1,966 35.2% 22 29.1% 9 109.4 1
Miami 665 1,829 36.4% 12 29.2% 6 109.0 2
Dallas 721 1,877 38.4% 2 27.4% 13 109.0 3
Houston 779 2,179 35.8% 16 33.0% 1 108.6 4
Portland 770 2,071 37.2% 10 29.0% 10 108.3 5
San Antonio 698 1,757 39.7% 1 25.7% 16 108.2 6
Oklahoma City 664 1,839 36.1% 14 27.1% 14 108.1 7
Phoenix 765 2,055 37.2% 8 30.0% 5 107.1 8
Toronto 713 1,917 37.2% 9 28.5% 11 105.8 9
Minnesota 600 1,757 34.1% 26 24.5% 19 105.6 10
New York 759 2,038 37.2% 7 30.2% 3 105.4 11
Golden State 774 2,037 38.0% 4 29.1% 8 105.3 12
New Orleans 486 1,303 37.3% 6 19.3% 29 104.7 13
Brooklyn 709 1,922 36.9% 11 30.1% 4 104.4 14
Atlanta 768 2,116 36.3% 13 31.6% 2 103.4 15
Memphis 405 1,147 35.3% 19 17.1% 30 103.3 16
Denver 702 1,959 35.8% 15 27.8% 12 103.3 17
Washington 647 1,704 38.0% 5 24.6% 18 103.3 18
Detroit 507 1,580 32.1% 29 22.2% 26 102.9 19
Sacramento 491 1,475 33.3% 27 21.8% 28 102.9 20
L.A. Lakers 774 2,032 38.1% 3 29.1% 7 101.9 21
Indiana 550 1,542 35.7% 17 23.5% 23 101.5 22
Cleveland 584 1,640 35.6% 18 23.6% 21 101.3 23
Charlotte 516 1,471 35.1% 23 21.9% 27 101.2 24
Utah 543 1,577 34.4% 25 23.7% 20 100.6 25
Milwaukee 548 1,553 35.3% 20 23.1% 24 100.2 26
Boston 575 1,729 33.3% 28 25.1% 17 99.7 27
Chicago 508 1,459 34.8% 24 22.2% 25 99.7 28
Orlando 563 1,596 35.3% 21 23.5% 22 99.3 29
Philadelphia 577 1,847 31.2% 30 25.8% 15 96.8 30
TOTAL 19,054 52,974 36.0% 25.9% 104.0

 

Top 5 3P% Top 5 %FGA Top 5 OffRtg
6-10 3P% 6-10 %FGA 6-10 OffRtg
Above-avg 3P% Above-avg %FGA Above-avg OffRtg

%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. Minnesota had a top-10 offense without shooting threes well or often. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, getting to the free throw line often, and grabbing lots of offensive rebounds.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were top 10 in both 3-point percentage and percentage of shots that were threes, but were a bottom 10 offense overall, because they didn’t get to the line much and were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

Threes aren’t everything, but three is greater than two. And if you have shooting threats on the perimeter, other guys have more space to operate inside. The teams near the bottom of the table above know that to win more games, they have to score more efficiently. And to do that, they need more shooting in their rotation.

Here’s how some of them addressed their lack of shooting…

Detroit Pistons

OffRtg: 102.9 (19), 3PT%: 32.1% (29), 3PA%: 22.2% (26)
If the Sixers hadn’t played conscious-less offense at the league’s fastest pace, the Pistons would have ranked dead last in 3-point percentage. Josh Smith took 265 threes at a 26 percent clip, partly because Joe Dumars thought he could play small forward and partly because he lacks self-awareness. Of 315 players in NBA history who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, Smith ranks 314th (ahead of only Charles Barkley) in 3-point percentage.

So priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy is to get Smith to stop shooting threes, or get him to shoot threes for some other team. If we don’t consider Smith a small forward (and we shouldn’t), Detroit would have a frontcourt log-jam if Greg Monroe (a restricted free agent) is brought back. Though it’s not completely up to Van Gundy (he would need a trade partner), a choice between Monroe and Smith needs to be made.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t have many other options from beyond the arc last season. So Van Gundy added four shooters in free agency, signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to contracts that will pay them about $15 million this year. Of the 70 available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, those four ranked 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th respectively in 3-point percentage, all shooting better than 39 percent.

There’s still a question of how much of that shooting can be on the floor at one time. If Smith is traded, then the Pistons can play a decent amount of minutes with Butler or Luigi Datome playing stretch four. But in that scenario, their defense (which was already awful last season) would suffer.

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 99.7 (28), 3PT%: 34.8% (24), 3PA%: 22.2% (25)
The Pistons grabbed the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter from last season (Augustin), who will be replaced by Derrick Rose. Rose has never been a very good shooter, but obviously creates a lot more open shots for the guys around him than Augustin or Kirk Hinrich.

That will benefit Jimmy Butler (who regressed from distance last season), Mike Dunleavy (who took a smaller step back), Tony Snell (who was pretty shaky as a rookie) and rookie Doug McDermott.

In his four seasons in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau has never had a big man who can step out beyond the arc. But the Bulls’ other rotation rookie – Nikola Miroticshot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons for Real Madrid. So he gives the Bulls the ability to space the floor more than they ever have in this system.

The Bulls also added Aaron Brooks, who, at 38.7 percent, ranked 20th among available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. But if Brooks is playing a lot, it would mean that there’s another issue with Rose.

Charlotte Hornets

OffRtg: 101.2 (24), 3PT%: 35.1% (23), 3PA%: 21.9% (27)
Josh McRoberts (36.1 percent) and Marvin Williams (35.9 percent) shot about the same from 3-point range last season. But that was the first time McRoberts was a high-volume shooter from distance, while Williams has had a more consistent history.

And he should get more open shots playing off of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson than he did in Utah. But neither Walker nor Stephenson is a very good 3-point shooter themselves and the Hornets lost their best 3-point shooter from last season – Anthony Tolliver – in free agency.

The hope is that, with Stephenson taking some of the ball-handling burden away, Walker can improve as a shooter. Gerald Henderson‘s 3-point percentage has improved every season, and a healthy Jeffery Taylor could help. Still, without any much proven shooting on the roster, the Hornets’ offense has a ceiling.

Cleveland Cavaliers

OffRtg: 101.3 (23), 3PT%: 35.6% (18), 3PA%: 23.6% (21)
LeBron James changes everything. And the biggest beneficiary could be Dion Waiters, who shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season. With James attacking the basket and drawing multiple defenders, Waiters will get a ton of open looks.

James himself shot a ridiculous 48.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, so he should be able to play off Kyrie Irving pretty well and make the Cavs a more potent team from deep. Mike Miller (45.9 percent) will obviously do the same.

It’s Irving who will have to adjust to playing off the ball. He shot just 32.1 on catch-and-shoot threes last season. And at this point, the Cavs don’t have a second forward that can both shoot threes and defend the four (the Shane Battier role). Anthony Bennett could develop into that role and Kevin Love would obviously be that guy if the Cavs pull of a trade with Minnesota.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.5 (22), 3PT%: 35.7% (17), 3PA%: 23.5% (23)
There was a lot of bad shooting (and bad offense, in general) in the Central Division last season. The Pacers poached C.J. Miles (39 percent on threes over the last two seasons) from Cleveland and added a stretch big in Damjan Rudez, but lost Stephenson’s playmaking.

So there’s a ton of pressure on Paul George to create open shots for everybody else. Unless another shake-up is in store, it’s hard to see the Pacers escaping the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 103.3 (16), 3PT%: 35.3% (19), 3PA%: 17.1% (30)
The Grizzlies replaced Mike Miller (44.4 percent from three over the last three seasons) with Vince Carter (39.2 percent). That’s a slight downgrade from beyond the arc, but Carter brings more playmaking to take some of the load off of Mike Conley.

Still, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince remain integral parts of the Grizzlies’ rotation. So unless Jon Leuer emerges as a reliable stretch four off the bench, they lack the ability to put more than two (and occasionally three) shooters on the floor at once. They’ve ranked last in made 3-pointers for two straight seasons and could definitely make it three in a row.

New Orleans Pelicans

OffRtg: 104.7 (17), 3PT%: 37.3% (6), 3PA%: 19.3% (29)
Those are some strange numbers. Great shooting, but only the Grizzlies attempted fewer threes.

The absences of Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday over the last 50 games of the season was a huge issue. Another was that two of the Pelicans’ best 3-point shooters – Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow – played the same position and spent just 192 minutes on the floor together, while Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu – two perimeter guys who can’t shoot a lick – ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes played.

Evans still takes a starting perimeter position (and $11 million of salary) without supplying a reliable jumper. And replacing Jason Smith with Omer Asik also hurts floor spacing. But the Pels were ridiculously good offensively (and awful defensively) in limited minutes with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor last season, Aminu has been replaced by John Salmons, and better health will go a long way.

Additional notes

  • As noted above, the Pistons added four guys who ranked in the top 20 in 3-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts) among available free agents. The only other team that added (not re-signed) more than one was the Clippers, who added Jordan Farmar (3rd) and Spencer Hawes (5th). The Mavericks added Richard Jefferson (7th) and re-signed Dirk Nowitzki (13th), the Suns added Anthony Tolliver (6th) and re-signed P.J. Tucker (19th), and the Spurs re-signed both Patty Mills (4th) and Boris Diaw (10th).
  • The Cavs (Hawes and Miles) and Lakers (Farmar and Meeks) were the two teams that lost two of the top 20.
  • Of those 70 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only three shot above the league average (36.0 percent) and are still available. Those three are Chris Douglas-Roberts (38.6 percent), Ray Allen (37.5 percent) and Mo Williams (36.9 percent).

Ex-Hawks teammates Smith, Horford ponder what might have been

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Al Horford talks about his relationship with former teammate Josh Smith

ATLANTA — As different as they were and are, as players and people, the chemistry was undeniable. And it was instantaneous on the court for both Josh Smith and Al Horford, the former staples in the Atlanta Hawks’ frontcourt for six seasons.

Most folks agree they both played out of their comfort zones — Horford at center and Smith as some sort of hybrid power/small forward — but they did it with and energy and fervor. That duo fueled six straight playoff trips that spanned from Horford’s rookie season in 2007-08 through last season, Smith’s ninth and final campaign with his hometown team. After a first-round loss at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, Smith left town for free-agent riches in Detroit that weren’t available here.

Nearly a full season later, the No. 8-seeded Hawks host the playoff-eliminated Pistons tonight (7:30 ET, League Pass) in a make-up game that was postponed because of a snowstorm. Neither Horford nor Smith are expected to suit up for due to injuries. Still, the questions linger.

Were they friends … or merely co-workers? Was their a rift between them that made working together for say another six years impossible … or was their split precipitated simply by the business of the NBA? And what might have been if the Hawks had decided to build around and play through their undersized frontcourt stars from the start?

“I think we both have only wanted the best for each other in life,” Smith said of his relationship with Horford. “He’s a little different from what I’m accustomed to off the court, in terms of just our personalities and where we come from, but we were always cool on and off the court. We fed off of each other. Even when he made those All-Star teams when I was here, it was like I made it I was so excited for him. It took some of the sting away for me knowing that one of us was representing for our team. And that chemistry was instant because it equaled success. Playing with a guy of his caliber and feeding off of each other each and every night … it was special.”

The answers to those questions, and plenty more, flow freely from both men now that they’ve had some time to reflect on just how hard it is to sustain playoff-level success. The pain and disappointment of seasons filled with injury and unmet expectations have a way of clearing the past’s haze.

“I think we had different personalities, definitely. Josh is probably louder or whatever and I’m probably more laid back, but we got along because we’re both competitors and wanted to win,” Horford said. “He’s very smart. He’s a very smart basketball player. He gets the game and understands the game. I learned so much from him. We had a good relationship. It was definitely good.

“His mom and my mom would have karaoke nights, so I would definitely be over there hanging out with them and things like that. It was good, we definitely had a good relationship. Josh is a good guy. Like you said, there probably wasn’t a lot of emotion going on, but I respect his game and I respect him.”


VIDEO: Josh Smith had big hopes for himself in his first season in Detroit

Smith believes there was more they could have accomplished together, had they been allowed to finish what they started.

“I don’t think we hit a ceiling as teammates,” he said. “I think we didn’t necessarily get the opportunity to maximize our potential together. I think it could have worked. We could have a been a smaller version of the twin-towers down there on the block where we were both getting featured. Who knows what it might have been? You never know … until you have a coach who says these are the guys we’re going to go through every night and we’ll see what happens.”

The Hawks should be headed back to the playoffs, provided they survive the next two weeks. But they’ll have to do so without Horford, who tore his right pectoral muscle on Dec. 26 and has not played since. He tore his left pectoral muscle in 2011 and eventually came back for the playoffs, but he’s already ruled out trying to do so this time around. Paul Millsap, Smith’s replacement in the lineup, was an All-Star berth this season. But he’s never gotten the chance to develop the sort of chemistry with Horford that Smith had.

The Pistons, picked by many to be one of the upstarts in the Eastern Conference this season after adding Smith and Brandon Jennings to a core that included promising young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, struggled mightily to start 2013-14. They never mounted a comeback in the standings, coach Maurice Cheeks was fired 50 games into the season and now, it’s no secret that longtime Pistons boss Joe Dumars is expected to resign sometime soon.

Smith will shoulder much of the burden in Detroit. As the team’s highest paid player, the player Dumars targeted and landed in free agency, he’s paid to carry that weight. And he’s fine with that. He believes the Pistons can do what the Hawks once did: turn a struggling outfit into a playoff regular.

Talented big men in Drummond and Monroe are good building blocks, but the Pistons must work through whatever issues arise and cultivate the right chemistry, the kind Smith and Horford used to use to torment opposing big men.

“The thing that stood out to me was how they could both rebound and push the ball in transition,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the Smith/Hoford combo. “They could find each other and have plays that made them special. But they could find shooters on the perimeter, too. And just to have two big guys that could really rebound and push and make plays in transition, the ballhandling and passing, it made them different and unique.”

It was the differences that clicked with Smith and Horford. But there were plenty of similarities as well. Most notably, they are both fiercely loyal family men, and that included their extended, work families. Their mothers became fast friends while they were teammates, with those karaoke nights, dinners and card-playing parties at the center of many gatherings. Their moms, Paulette Smith and Arelis Reynoso, were perhaps even better friends off the court than their sons.

“My mother is an open-arms type of person, always wanting to cook for somebody and hang out,” Smith said. “When Al’s mom came here she was the same way, so naturally they embraced each other. And it was great to see. You never forget how someone treats your family. And I consider Al and his entire family as an extended part of my own, and I always will.”


VIDEO: Josh Smith’s high-flying ways have continued in Detroit

Back And Forth With Bones: Bulls-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an email exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-6 Chicago Bulls and the 1-14 Utah Jazz on NBA TV.

Pregame

Schuhmann: I think this game qualifies as the Saddest Matchup of the Season. The Bulls just lost Derrick Rose for the year and the Jazz are 1-14, having trailed three of their last four games by at least 28 points. But somebody has to win tonight!

Chicago has actually been much better defensively with Rose off the floor, and Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler is a pretty strong defensive backcourt. But for the time being, they’re also without Butler. So Marquis Teague and Tony Snell will each have a chance to prove they belong in the rotation. Long-term, they should be OK defensively, and they’ve been pretty poor offensively thus far, but they won’t be able to get much better without Rose.

And obviously, this puts more pressure on Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to play big minutes and stay healthy. Noah’s minutes (29.3) are down below where he was two years ago (30.4) after a big increase last season (36.8), but I wonder if they go back up now that Rose is out.

Utah had two of their better offensive games upon Trey Burke‘s arrival, but they’ve actually been at their best with Diante Garrett playing point. This guy is a plus-24 for a team that’s been outscored by 67 points since he arrived.

Chicago can get points on second chances. They rank third in offensive rebounding percentage and the Jazz rank 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. It’s strange that Utah is such a bad rebounding team with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (who’s out with a sprained ankle) up front. They’re actually worse with both of them on the floor than they are overall, but we talked a couple of weeks ago about how they extend out too much on their pick-and-roll coverage.

What are you looking for tonight?

Barry: So many things going wrong for both of these teams. Both are coming off very embarrassing performances and have a number of players in the role of proving they belong to be in the rotation, if not in the NBA.

The Kanter loss for the Jazz will greatly affect their ability to score points. Burke is trying to get his legs and conditioning back after just one start. And beginning his career with a team under these circumstances is very very tough.

I guess this game boils down to the identity of the teams. The Bulls have one and Utah has yet to establish one. I look for the Bulls to respond in a way that they have in the past without Rose. Even though the makeup of this team is different, they should be able to pull this game out with the experience of their roster.


(more…)

Back And Forth With Bones: Nuggets-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 0-7 Utah Jazz try to get off the schneid, hosting the 1-4 Denver Nuggets on NBA TV.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, tonight we have the Nuggets and Jazz, who are arguably the two worst teams in the league right now. There are better games on League Pass, but this one isn’t without some intrigue.

Denver has obviously undergone a stylistic change under Brian Shaw. After attempting over 45 percent of their shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, they’ve attempted just 32 percent of their shots from there this year. They’re down to 10th and 20th in fast break points and offensive rebounding percentage respectively, after leading the league in both of those categories last year.

Their frontcourt rotation has been a mess without Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler (who is supposed to return tonight). I believe Shaw wants to work the offense through their bigs, but I don’t see any bigs on that roster that can function as a focal point offensively.

Meanwhile, I thought the Jazz would be better defensively after seeing their numbers with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the floor last season, but they rank 27th on that end, unable to get boards or keep their opponents off the line. Offensively, Gordon Hayward has the goods, but this team can’t hit a shot from the outside.

So, questions for you:
1. Are you on board with what Shaw is trying to do? Is it just a matter of time (and health) before the Nuggets get on track, or do they need to get back to running and attacking the basket?
2. Do the Jazz have more ability to be a decent offensive team (maybe the shots will start falling at some point) or a decent defensive team (as the bigs develop)?


VIDEO: Jazz broadcaster David Locke discusses Utah’s tough season

Barry: The Jazz are absolutely horrible at getting ball to go through the hoop, important that you can do that — it is called scoring. Last in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

They’re getting exposed at point guard and can’t put pressure on opposing teams, most of which have pretty good ones, especially in the West.

It’s new territory for the team in terms of bearing heavy minutes, when and how to conserve legs and effort. Bigs worried about picking up scoring takes away rebounding focus. It will be interesting to see if they play confident or embarrassed to open up the game.

For the Nuggets, Shaw is still trying to find rotations that mesh with injuries to key players (Gallo, Kenneth Faried and now JaVale McGee). There’s no way Denver can play through bigs, so it will be interesting to see how Brian is managing the guard play.

Ty Lawson is playing a ton of minutes. Randy Foye next, but top three gunners are Ty (85 FGA), Nate Robinson (45), and Foye (44). They’re losing a bit of a defensive mentality/flexibility with Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala gone.

Karl loved misfits, mismatches and mental games. It’s hard for new coach to get there without a better understanding, but even tougher when the old coach won a bunch too!

1st quarter

The Jazz got off to a strong start, scoring 26 points on a stretch of 16 possessions in the middle of the first quarter. The Nuggets shot just 8-for-21 in the period, but were only down six.

Schuhmann: The Nuggets are trying to post up Faried early on. I don’t get it.

Barry: And apparently are afraid to touch the paint on the defensive end. Some of the possessions are leaving them with bad floor balance and Jazz looking to run with purpose to score to start a game they really need to win.


VIDEO: Derrick Favors gets up to reject J.J. Hickson

They need a release from the winless start and a close game doesn’t do it.

Schuhmann: Turnovers have been an issue for the Jazz – 2nd highest rate in the league – and they don’t have any through 18 possessions. Favors looks more comfortable in the post than any of the Denver bigs.

Barry: Great patience vs. Mozgov. Fatigue moves the last two, but he responds with a block.

Barry: Good first quarter, but guys got a little tired for Jazz. Feels like Denver got away with one.

2nd quarter (UTA leads 26-20)

The Jazz scored on just three of their first 14 possessions and committed seven turnovers in the period after committing none in the first. The Nuggets had turnover issues of their own, but went on a 19-8 run late in the period to take a five point lead. Four points from Hayward made it a one-point game at the half.

Schuhmann: The Denver offense looks best when Lawson is attacking off the dribble. Not sure what else they can rely on.

Barry: They’ve just lost a lot of dynamic play on the wings with Brewer/Iggy gone and utility/tough matchups in Chandler/Gallo. You can see how they bog down.

Barry: But I do see signs of DHO (dribble hand-offs) and use of the pinch post in the Nuggets’ offense.


VIDEO: Andre Miller loses Jamaal Tinsley with a crafty crossover move

Schuhmann: That move by Andre Miller made my night.

Barry: And his.

Barry: Interesting for Utah to try to take advantage of Hayward in the post on Miller when doubles don’t result in anything good, because the Jazz can’t shoot it from distance.

Schuhmann: 10 combined turnovers in first six minutes of the second quarter. I’m starting to understand why these teams are a combined 1-11.


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson posterizes Jazz forward Marvin Williams

Halftime (DEN leads 46-45)


VIDEO: First half highlights from Nuggets-Jazz

Schuhmann: The Nuggets got things going in the second quarter when they – one – took care of the ball and – two – attacked the basket. 19 of their 26 points came in the paint or at the line.

Barry: And there lies the problem. Kanter and Favors will need to learn how to patrol and control the lower defensive box. Tonight, they are not having to deal with stretch bigs. It’s a technique/muscle game that they are struggling with.

Barry: Some worrisome numbers from PG for the Jazz. Lawson’s numbers at the half (eight points and six assists) might end up being more than the Lucas/Tinsley combo for the game. No playmaking to promote flow for the Jazz. All plays on one’s own to score.

3rd quarter

With the Jazz continuing to struggle offensively, the Nugget built a seven-point lead. But Favors scored seven straight points late in the period to keep it close.

Schuhmann: Lots of Favors in the post again. No double-teams = no ball movement. Denver willing to live with single coverage everywhere.

Schuhmann: Jazz had some pick-and-roll success in the third with a couple of nifty big-to-big passes between Favors and Gobert. Gets the defense moving more than straight post-ups.

Barry: When you can load up elbows and boxes the Jazz have very little room to find offense.

4th quarter (DEN leads 70-68)

The Jazz took a brief lead on an Alec Burks three-point play, but the Nuggets answered with a 10-1 run and scored 13 times in a 15-possession stretch to put the game away.

Barry: Penalty at 10:18 for the Jazz.


VIDEO: Nate Robinson lobs and Kenneth Faried finishes it off

Barry: Great dime by Nate. Pressure mounting on the Jazz, 0-7 and being down at home. Expect some roster change out of this timeout as Ty won’t want to put more pressure on guys to finish it out.

Barry: And there they are…

Barry: Offensive rebounds are crushing the Jazz.

Schuhmann: Yep. Pick-and-rolls are putting their bigs out of position.

Barry: But no reason to be extended that far. Strange injury to Manimal, if he doesn’t come back Utah will have a chance.

Barry: More Dre. Good call by B-Shaw.

Barry: Andre is fantastic… Great drive and shot before Gobert could get feet set to block. And Manimal is back. Not good for the Jazz.

Barry: Utah bigs just seem unaware of how far they are extending. They’re opening up drives and offensive rebounds for Denver. For the last three minutes, Ty can dictate tempo, whereas Utah has no point.

Final: Nuggets 100, Jazz 81


VIDEO: Nuggets pick up road win in Utah

Lawson led Denver with 17 points and 10 assists. Faried added 15 points and 13 rebounds and Miller added another 15 points off the bench for the Nuggets, who had a 48-36 advantage in the paint, a 52-35 advantage on the glass, and a 23-16 edge at the free throw line. Favors finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, but the Jazz shot a brutal 3-for-17 from 3-point range and are shooting 23 percent from beyond the arc through eight games.

Schuhmann: It’s tough to score with no penetration and no shooting. We saw some decent post-ups from Favors, but the bigs don’t demand a double-team down there.

Denver looked good when they went to last year’s formula of dribble penetration from the point guards and crashing the glass, though with Brewer and Iguodala gone, they’ve lost a lot of their potency on the break. I’m not a fan of trying to work through Faried or Hickson in the post, but they went away from that in the second half. Of course, we can’t really evaluate their D from a game against the Jazz.

Barry: No, but the Horns set seemed to open up basic opportunities for Denver. They will look much different when they have a full complement of players.

But the Jazz have reasons for concern, as Trey Burke is not going to come in and take the Western Conference PG position by storm.

Hawks Will Rebuild From Scratch





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The locals will talk about it forever.

What would the Hawks have been like with Chris Paul or Deron Williams instead of Marvin Williams? Or Rudy Gay or Brandon Roy instead of Shelden Williams or basically anyone other than Speedy Claxton?

Conference finals appearances instead of first round exits? Global recognition of a basketball brand reborn with superstar talent instead of a league laughingstock (after a 13-win season in 2004-05) and the team that can always be counted on not to come through when they should?

Hypothetical questions with no clear-cut answers make the Hawks’ past every bit as murky as their immediate future. They enter free agency this summer with only six players under contract, four Draft picks (two in each round) and approximately $33.1 million in cap space for their GM, Danny Ferry, to work with in rebuilding the roster.

The Hawks choices in the Draft and free agency have come to define the franchise over the past eight years more so than anything they have actually done on the court. They ended an eight-year playoff drought after the 2007-08 season with a core group of Joe JohnsonJosh SmithAl HorfordMike BibbyJosh ChildressMarvin WilliamsZaza PachuliaShelden Williams and Acie Law. That group kicked off a run of six straight playoff appearance that came crashing to an ugly end Friday night at Philips Arena in a Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers in their first round series.

It was the official end to not only their season but also an era for the Hawks, who have just three players — Horford, Lou Williams and rookie John Jenkins — under guaranteed contacts for next season. Even Hawks coach Larry Drew, who has been on staff (the last three as head coach) throughout this entire era, does not have a contract for next season.

We’ve seen the last of these Hawks as we know them, Drew acknowledged as much after the Game 6 loss.

“Even with the injuries to Zaza and Lou, we were able to juggle some things around, move people around,” Drew said. “And we stayed together. We did not fragment. We stayed together even when it got tough. A lot of people didn’t predict us to make the playoffs. No one gave us a chance, but this group hung in there. They persevered and I’m really proud of them.”

It was an honorable finish to a tumultuous season for all involved. A team loaded with three times as many pending free agents as players under guaranteed contracts, has issues that go above and beyond the professionalism required to do the job under those circumstances.

That said, Ferry is sticking to his plan. He’s going to be rebuilding basically from scratch, with nine players heading into free agency July 1.

Smith, one of the only remaining building blocks from the franchise’s last rebuild and a long-time source of division within the franchise (some folks loved the hometown kid who flashed signs of being an All-Star caliber player over the years while others loathed the enigmatic performer who clashed with his coaches and drove fans nuts with his play), going into the summer as one of the marquee names on the market.

It’s time for Smith and the Hawks to go their separate ways, amicably, of course. Everyone involved knows that it’s time for a mutual parting of the ways for the good of all involved.

Point guard Jeff Teague is a restricted free agent and while he’s shown loads of improvement since Drew took over for Woodson, there remain questions about whether or not he is best suited as the starting point guard for this team.

Ferry can make a clean break from the Hawks’ recent past, from all of the second-guessing, head-scratching and eye-rolling that has surrounded the Hawks for years. No one will vilify him for cleaning up the mess made before he arrived last summer, the one he started clean up himself by moving both Johnson and Marvin Williams in trades last summer.

It’s the uncertainty of what’s to come, however, that makes skeptical Hawks fans nervous. There will be big fish on the free agent market, guys like Los Angeles Lakers’ big man and Atlanta native Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul, stars capable of turning an uncertain situation around by signing their names on the dotted line.

The Hawks have the necessary resources to pursue those two, who will be first and second, in whatever order, on every free agent wish list of a team with money to spend this summer.

The summer of 2013 is the Hawks’ biggest since the summer of 2005, when Johnson (sign-and-trade) and Marvin Williams (No. 2 pick overall in the Draft) were added to the mix. That was the beginning of a painstaking rebuilding process that ultimately led to six straight playoff appearances, the second-best stretch of its kind in the Hawks’ Atlanta history.

For a franchise that has endured a recent stretch of complete insignificance during that playoff drought, followed by the past six postseason runs, a return to the non-playoff abyss is a bit frightening.

That’s what made the end of Friday night so bittersweet for Horford, who has only known the playoffs during his time with the Hawks and in the league.

“I feel for our fans,” he said. “I know they wanted us to do better. I felt like, as a team, we did about as much as we could. We had some adversity and we handled it well. We had a good season, looking at the big picture. One thing I appreciate about these guys was how they competed. Even tonight, we could’ve gone the other way. That is something I’m proud of the guys for.”

The “guys” will look a lot different next season.

In fact, Horford might be one of the only truly familiar faces around if Ferry carries out his master plan.

Playoffs Snapshot — April 12

Here’s a look at some of the more important playoff implications in Friday night’s games:

LAKERS (vs. Golden State, 10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): With the battle for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference down to the final three games, the Lakers (42-37) face a Golden State team that is currently seeded sixth, just a half-game up on the Rockets … A Lakers win and a Jazz loss to the Timberwolves would put L.A. up two games with two to play … Kobe Bryant scored 47 points while playing all 48 minutes in Wednesday night’s 113-106 win in Portland … The Lakers are up 2-1 in the season series.

JAZZ (vs. Minnesota, 9:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Jazz (41-38) have lost control of the race with the Lakers for the No. 8 seed and can’t lose focus in the first of consecutive games against the wounded Timberwolves … Utah leads season series 2-0 … Utah needs to win out and hope for an L.A. loss … A short bench missing Enes Kanter, Marvin Williams and Alec Burks was costly in Wednesday night’s loss to OKC … This could be the final home game for Jazz free-agents-to-be Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

THUNDER (at Portland, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV): Thunder (58-21) show no inclination to take their foot off the pedal in the fight for No. 1 seed in the West … Holding tie-breaker over the Spurs, they now control the race … After whipping the Warriors on Thursday night — and getting plenty of rest for the starters — OKC wraps up a back-to-back and closes out road schedule … Thunder are 3-0 against the Blazers this season, who went flat in a loss to the Lakers on Wednesday night … Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant (28.3 ppg.) says he’s OK giving up title to Carmelo Anthony.

SPURS (vs. Sacramento, 8:30 ET, League Pass): Even if the Spurs (57-21) win out, they need OKC to stumble once to reclaim the top spot in the West … But do they really care? Tony Parker is in a tug o’ war with coach Gregg Popovich over whether he’ll play … Parker sat out Wednesday’s loss at Denver with a sore neck and other assorted ailments and Pop says that championship teams must be able to win on the road anyway … Boris Diaw’s back injury puts DeJuan Blair back into the rotation and could slide Kawhi Leonard into minutes at power forward … They lead series with Kings 3-0. (more…)

Horford, Hawks Soaring Post Deadline





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In the moments after last Thursday’s trade deadline, when Hawks general manager Danny Ferry emerged from the team’s war room without anything major to report, he laid out a reasoned plan for why the Hawks didn’t do anything significant.

His explanation for not trading Josh Smith, who had been the subject of most of the biggest and best trade rumors heading into the deadline, probably sounded cliché to most.

But Ferry was just speaking the truth — as he sees it — when he made his case.

“We were in an unusual situation with Josh’s contract, our cap space and flexibility going forward, having a good team right now,” Ferry said. “There were a lot of factors that played into this. The main factor is we value Josh. He’s been important to our group this year and we want to finish the year strong. Hopefully, we play well and we’re a solid playoff team in the future.”

Ferry wasn’t necessarily referring to the Hawks’ immediate future. But the players obviously got the message after nothing major happened on deadline day. They’ve won three straight since the deadline, six of their last seven games and have moved into a tie for fourth place with the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Al Horford, still smarting from not making the All-Star team, posted his career-best sixth straight game of 20 or more points (23) and grabbed a career-high tying 22 rebounds in Monday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons. Smith added 23, Jeff Teague 20 and 12 assists and role players Kyle Korver (15 points) and Devin Harris (11) chipped in again with big contributions off the bench.

The Hawks are playing with the same energy that drove them earlier this season. Fueled by doubts that they would remain in the playoff mix after Joe Johnson (Brooklyn) and Marvin Williams (Utah) were traded away in the offseason, they smashed the competition early, scoring big road wins over Oklahoma City and Memphis in the first few weeks of the season.

They struggled in January as the trade rumors heated up around the same time they lost Lou Williams, the team’s biggest offseason acquisition, for the season with a knee injury.

But like they have done so many times the past six seasons, the Hawks continue to do what no thinks them capable of, and that’s grind away against all odds. Coach Larry Drew has done an impressive job of holding things together with a roster filled with players who are probably not in the Hawks’ long-term plans.

That stubbornness/resilience is part of what makes this mismatched group so intriguing.

“We are playing with an edge,” Smith told reporters after the win over the Pistons. “We are playing confident. Whenever we are playing confident like that and just having fun out there, it’s fun to be a part of.”

Getting Smith to buy in for the remainder of this season, and perhaps beyond, is one of Ferry’s main objectives in the coming weeks and months. There were trades on the table for the Hawks, names like Paul Pierce and Amar’e Stoudemire were tossed around, but nothing that included the complete package of assets Ferry was looking for in exchange for a player he values the way he does Smith.

“You weigh everything as you make decisions with your roster and with trades,” Ferry said. “I understand the media and the bloggers and the people who are NBA junkies, it was a very Josh-focused trade deadline here in Atlanta. But we talked about a lot of different things. We did a couple different things. We weighed the positives and negatives of each of our opportunities, and with our situation we felt the best decision was to stand pat, based off some of the things we were looking at.”

The Hawks are looking at nothing but opportunity right now. They are two games behind the New York Knicks for the third spot in the Eastern Conference, and just 2 1/2 games behind the Indiana Pacers for No. 2. The Miami Heat have a comfortable cushion over the rest of the field.

But that No. 2 spot could very well be up for grabs over the next two months. And the Hawks should be right in the middle of that chase, provided they keep doing what they’ve been doing of late.