Posts Tagged ‘Marvin Williams’

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.


Hawks’ Smith Headlines Trade Deadline Rumblings





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Josh Smith‘s days of playing before an ambivalent crowd at Philips Arena are numbered. If we’re reading the trade deadline tea leaves correctly, he might even be down to his final 48 minutes there on Wednesday night when the Hawks host the Heat.

The Hawks’ attempts to convince Smith to stick around until the summer, when he’d be a free agent, have not slowed a number of teams pursuing the versatile power forward.

In fact, the list of teams with reported interest in Smith seems to grow with every tick of the trade deadline clock. The Hawks have let it be known that they are willing to move the Atlanta native by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. And a player with his unique arsenal of skills can fit in any system.

The Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers are all either in full-blown pursuit or monitoring the situation closely in the hopes of landing Smith via trade … or perhaps later via free agency. That leaves the Hawks in the position of being very selective with their decision, while also needing to act now. There will be fewer potential trade partners to work with in July, courtesy of the particulars of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The max-deal conversation that has raged for weeks was, like many things in the Twitter era, not fully understood by most of the people. They were simply repeating the stories of Smith and the Hawks agreeing to disagree about his value to the team that drafted him with the 17th pick overall in the 2004 Draft.

Smith never said he demanded a max deal or else from the Hawks. A source close to Smith confirmed that the conversation between the two sides never ventured into that realm. Smith simply answered a question the way you’d expect any competitive NBA player to answer it when presented with the premise of “Do you think you are worth max money?”

The funny thing is the Hawks, spanning two different front office regimes, have never really made clear what monetary value they have assigned to Smith. His current deal — he’s in the final year of a five-year, $58 million contract — was one the Hawks had to match after the Memphis Grizzlies made a play for him as a restricted free agent in 2008. It’s a bargain for a player who has been as productive as he has during that time.

Since basically his first season, Smith has been on the proverbial trade market every February. And the Hawks have drafted player after player (Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Al Horford) who were supposed to supplant Smith as the team’s best option at his position. Yet Smith has been steady. For every knock on his game — the ill-advised jump shots no one wants him to take, the spotty decision-making and the well-publicized dust-ups with coaches Mike Woodson and Larry Drew — there are things Smith and only a handful of other players can do on a given night.

Two players in the entire league average better than 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Reigning league MVP LeBron James is one of them and Smith is the other. Smith is the only player averaging better than 17, 8, 4 and one block (he actually averages 2.1).

When the Hawks traded six-time All-Star Joe Johnson to the Nets last summer, the playoff forecast for the franchise changed dramatically. Smith and Horford were left to lead a team of good role players that few people expected to be among the Eastern Conference’s best teams early this season.

There is a high probability that Hawks fans who have grown disenchanted with Smith’s game over the nearly nine years he’s played before hometown crowds. That throng will get their wish and see him move on. It’s up to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry to sort through the mess and find the right deal (with the most assets — players, draft picks, etc. — they can get for their best player).

And all indications are that’s exactly what he’ll do by Thursday’s deadline. (more…)

Hawks Hot On NFL Falcons’ Tails In ATL

HANG TIME MIDWEST – The Atlanta Hawks and their fans (hey, they know who they are) probably are too busy enjoying this nine-victories-in-10-tries ride to focus on teams other than the one they’re facing that night. But if they wanted to, hoo boy, could they have some laughs at the Los Angeles Lakers’ expense.

While Lakersland wrings its hands over its glamour team’s 9-11 start, the Hawks are flying below pretty much everyone’s radar at 12-5. That puts them third in the Eastern Conference, slotting in where we might normally expect to see the Boston Celtics or the Indiana Pacers.

Even as the Lakers were going through their massive offseason makeover – adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, among others – in pursuit of an insta-contender, the Hawks were undertaking a more traditional tear-down-and-rebuild. Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, two central pieces of a squad that made five straight playoff appearances, were traded away more for salary-cap maneuverability than talent returned. New Atlanta GM Danny Ferry appeared to just be getting going.

Now he and the Hawks might be closer to a destination than they could have predicted. Coach Larry Drew, whose job security was bandied about during a 2-3 start, sounded in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story like he hadn’t seen this coming.

“I knew these guys as individuals,” Drew said. “I knew what their skill level and their talent was. The big question was, would it all fit? Would they mesh together?”

The offense, with Drew opting to speed things up now that the “iso-Joe” focus through Johnson is gone, still is coming along. The Hawks rank just 13th in offensive rating (104.6) and are 28th in offensive rebounding, while making only 69.6 percent of their free throws.

But defensively, Atlanta is a unit. Sixth in defensive rating, second in opponents’ turnover percentage (16.5 percent), all the while giving away points through fouls and free throws at a stingy pace (Hawks opponents average only 20.4 FTA).

Point guard Jeff Teague ranks 10th in assists percentage. Al Horford already has played more games than he did in 2011-12 (torn pectoral muscle), at a higher level (16.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg) than in his first five seasons. Then there’s Josh Smith, finally looking like a cornerstone player even as he heads toward unrestricted free agency. Smith is making more 3-pointers (38.1 percent) while taking fewer, his blocked shots are back above 2.0 and he’s enjoying himself so much that signing elsewhere might not appeal to him the way it once might have. As Smith told the AJC’s Jeff Schultz:

“No disrespect to anybody else. But when you’re willing to do stuff [together] off the court, it creates a different kind of bond. Guys really care for each other. It makes us want to help each other out on the defensive end that much more.”

And to think, it’s all happening without Howard, the All-Star center Atlanta coveted but a fellow who has his hands full now – and his freedom looming – out West.

If the Atlanta native wants to add the Hawks to his short list of possible destinations for 2013-14, it will be a different club than the one he and others anticipated a few months ago.

Wizards Fall To 0-12 … And Counting

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Along the maddening trail to 0-12, there have been the gut-punches — three points combined in consecutive overtime losses to Charlotte (double OT) and at Atlanta, a near-22-point comeback at Dallas, four points at Indiana, OT at Boston and a three-point home loss to the Celtics.

Close was not the case Monday night at Verizon Center. The still-winless Washington Wizards, still without point guard John Wall, were run out of their own gym by the surging San Antonio Spurs, 118-92, the largest margin of defeat in an already defeated season.

Adding insult to injury, former Wizards big man Andray Blatche, who’s still pocketing $23 million from the franchise after being amnestied in July and eventually signed by Brooklynis taking cheap shots at his old team in the media and through his own brand of bastardized English on Twitter:

Such is the depressing life of the Wizards. Team president Ernie Grunfeld‘s dumping of high-priced Rashard Lewis for veterans Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor has been a disaster. The hailed return of Nene lasted two games before yet another departure to rest his problematic foot. In Nene’s limited floor time of 49 minutes, Washington is a plus-31, so the big fella can definitely help pound out a ‘W’ if he can stay on the court.

Still, Randy Wittman‘s bunch must now be viewed as a serious contender to crash the league record for consecutive losses to start a season. Just two seasons ago, the Wizards lost 25 consecutive road games to start the season, the third-longest such skid in NBA history. Last season they started 0-8.

Now they’re two-thirds to 0-18, the worst start ever by an NBA team and owned by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets. The lockout-shortened 1999 Los Angeles Clippers and the 1988-89 expansion Miami Heat started 0-17. These Wizards are the 12th team in NBA history to start a season with 12 consecutive losses.

They’ll try to avoid a baker’s dozen at home Wednesday night against a smarting Portland team that dropped an ugly one at Detroit on Monday night.

How realistic is 0-18 or — gasp! — worse? Here’s their next six: vs. Portland, at New York, vs. Miami, at Atlanta, vs. Golden State, at New Orleans. Those six teams are a combined 49-34, and the worst of the lot, the Hornets (4-9), beat the Clippers in L.A. on Monday.

Then comes this hefty four-pack: at Houston, vs. Los Angeles Lakers, at Miami, vs. Atlanta.

Before the Wizards fell to 0-7 nearly two weeks ago following a 107-101 defeat at Dallas where they reversed a blowout, but couldn’t tie it up in the final minute, first-year Washington forward Martell Webster said he and his teammates, many of them new to the team as well, are determined to turn around the moribund franchise.

“Who else is going to do it?” Webster said. “It’s easy when things don’t go well to start blaming and start pointing fingers, but I don’t believe in that. When you think about it with your family, when you have problems you don’t point fingers, you work to resolve the problem as a family, as a unit, and I think that’s the most important thing. We’re a family, a unit and we’re not going to point fingers. We’re going to take accountability and responsibility for all of our individual actions, but at the end of the day we’re settling the problem ourselves.”

Still, there’s little doubt that as the losses mount so does the mental anguish.

Back To Future With Favors On Bench

On the official score sheet, it was the midway point through the fourth quarter on Monday night.

In the minds of those laying the foundational bricks for the Jazz, it was a hopeful glimpse into the future.

Denver’s Danilo Gallinari had missed a 3-point shot from the left wing and Enes Kanter was there to gobble up the rebound. He looked up and fired a pass to Jamaal Tinsley, who was in a full sprint up the sideline. Tinsley swung it across the court to a sprinting Gordon Hayward and, with barely time for the ball to settle into his hands, Hayward hit the runaway freight train that was Derrick Favors barreling back on the left with a perfect feed for a slam dunk.

Six seconds, three passes, two points and not once did the ball hit the floor.

Some day down the line this should be a steady part of the Utah offensive diet — a huge helping of the 6-foot-10 Favors filling the lane on the fast break and filling up the box score.

In his third season, Favors is tugging at the reins to get loose, and eventually there will come a time when coach Ty Corbin won’t be able to keep him out of the starting lineup.

There were plenty who thought that time for the third-year power forward was the beginning of this season, and they were ready to move veteran Paul Millsap or center Al Jefferson to make room.

With his team playing unevenly a little more than a week ago, Corbin made his own move to put Favors into the starting lineup in place of Marvin Williams in an attempt to go big across the front line with Millsap and Jefferson.

However, that experiment lasted only two games — wins over Washington and Houston — as Favors could not find a comfort zone with his fellow bigs, shooting just 3-for-10 and 2-for-7, respectively. Favors’ overall scoring and rebounding numbers did not go up as his minutes stayed roughly the same, and the move actually left the Jazz more vulnerable defensively with Millsap at a decided disadvantage trying to keep up with opposing small forwards.

Perhaps the biggest downside to using all of the big men together as starters was making the Jazz more deliberate and ponderous on offense at a time when the league is more about quickness and pace.

Favors scored 16 and grabbed 14 rebounds in his first game back as a reserve in Friday’s win over the Kings, then was handcuffed by foul trouble and didn’t manage a field goal in the rematch the next night in Sacramento.

With the Nuggets running the floor and making shots, they built a 16-point lead on Utah Monday night. Then, Favors came on strong — scoring 12 of his 19 points and playing powerfully around the basket to spark a second-half comeback in a 105-103 win.

The win kept the Jazz 6-0 at home, the first time they’ve started that quick since the 2008-09 season, and yet they remain rather inept on the road and appear in their current state no threat to be much different than the just-better-than-.500 team that sneaked into the No. 8 spot in the playoffs last season.

Without a sudden change in character, it will keep the heat on the Jazz to think about moving Millsap or Jefferson ahead of the February trade deadline.

Though it’s consistency out of him that would force the issue, it’s a thought that gets more tempting every time the Jazz run a break that end with Favors barreling toward the hoop with another glimpse of the future.