Atlanta is apparently very, very desperate for another center

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The Hawks were long linked to Shaquille O’Neal, but despite the Hawk’s need for a big, strong post defender (to tackle the challenges Al Horford is ill-suited for) and some interior scoring (ATL was 21st in the league in field goal attempts at the rim last season), it wasn’t meant to be. O’Neal is now a Celtic, and he’ll have tons of fun tangoing for minutes next season with Jermaine O’Neal and the recovering Kendrick Perkins.

To the Hawks’ credit, they drew the line for Al Horford’s benefit (link via Hoopinion). Shaq doesn’t deserve to start over Horford even if the Hawks lack an interior presence to deal with the the league’s giants, and going with Al over Shaq was the right move.

So instead of O’Neal, the Hawks will look to Plan B. Or, judging by the talent of their targets, Plan Q, at the very least. According to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks are looking at signing Francisco Elson, Josh Boone, or Brian Skinner to fill in minutes at the middle. These are harsh times, and teams looking for bigs are finding the remaining pool of useful free agents rather meager.

O’Neal may only vaguely resemble the player he once was, but he’s still much, much better than any of the Hawks’ remaining options. Shaq is still a reasonably effective low-post threat even at his advanced age, and while concerns over his pick-and-roll D are both well-known and very valid, he does have some defensive application.

Boone? A wiry non-rebounder that exists in never-ending state of biting on pump fakes. Elson? Stuck without particularly usable size or mobility (He’s 7’0”, but would you know it?), and lacking in the offensive utility that could secure him a roster spot. Skinner? Fantastic beard, and perhaps the best player of the three. Still, all Atlanta has at center right now is Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, and Jason Collins. Skinner may not be an awful option for a third center, but if the Hawks signed Collins, they would have two low-quality Cs in reserve, without adding any quality bigs.

Right now, Atlanta can’t win. They’re set to be a tad soft inside once again despite Al Horford’s best efforts (and Zaza doing what Zaza does), and the only heroes on the horizon are highlighted by their generally ineffective largeness or quirks in their coiffure/facial hair stylings. Well done as always, Hawks. They may  end up getting bigger, but they’re still not getting any better.

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164

Devin Booker to replace Nerlens Noel in Rising Stars at All-Star Weeekend

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Sixers big man Nerlens Noel — who has looked much improved this season once Ish Smith was feeding him the rock on offense — sat out the Sixers game Wednesday night due to tendonitis in his right knee. After he missed his rookie season with knee issues, you can understand why the Sixers want him to be cautious.

Noel is going to sit out All-Star Weekend as well — he had been scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, but he is going to sit that out and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns will take his place, the league has announced (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic broke that story).

Booker has been one of the few bright spots for the Suns this season, averaging 10.6 points a game and shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He will play for the USA in the World vs. USA format of the Rising Stars Challenge (the former rookie/sophomore game, featuring first and second year players).

With Emmanuel Mudiay replacing Patrick Beverley, NBA reveals Skills Challenge bracket

Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley (2) knocks the ball away from Denver Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the first half of a NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Out: Defending champion Patrick Beverley.

In: Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA confirmed the Rockets guard would miss the Skills Challenge and that Mudiay would replace him. The league also release the bracket:

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My picks:

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

  • Isaiah Thomas over C.J. McCollum
  • Anthony Davis over Draymond Green

Final

  • Isaiah Thomas over Anthony Davis

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.