NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

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Thumbnail image for Hawks_loss.jpgLast season: 53-29, three seed in the East. The Bucks pushed them seven games in the first round, then Orlando swept them in the second.

Head Coach: Larry Drew. Basically the Hawks decided to fire their coach and go for change by hiring the old coach’s right hand man. Interesting theory. Drew may have been the top assistant for just fired Mike Woodson, but swears he’s a different man with different plans. Maybe so. The real question is can Drew coax more out of essentially the same roster?

Key Departures: Woodson was the big one. The Hawks also had the rights to Josh Childress, who spurn their contract offer for Europe two seasons ago and now is now running with the Suns.

Key Additions: They kept Joe Johnson, who was a free agent. They’ll regret it in a few years, but they did it. Keeping Johnson was a Hawks priority and they made it a reality by making him higher paid than LeBron James this summer. But it’s not this year or next they’ll regret, it’s five years from now when he is still making max money but is performing like Michael Finley they’ll be sorry. Maybe the current Hawks ownership plans on being out the door by then, so it will not be their problem.

Larry Drew as coach is the one addition that matters. Also added to the roster were Josh Powell, Etan Thomas, Jason Collins and Jordan Crawford. Some small time role guys, nothing changes to the core.

Best case scenario: The Hawks jump into the elite of the East and compete for a title.

For that to happen: They make a trade for another elite player and the unwieldy ownership group decides to take on more salary. Seriously, that’s the only way it will happen. Because to expect more from the same roster is unrealistic. At best.

But lets say the roster does not change, what do they need to happen to take a step forward or three?

Better play at the point guard to start. Mike Bibby is your starter, but he has slipped over the years to a below average player. In a conference with Rajon Rondo, Jameer Nelson and Derrick Rose (just to name a few from teams at the top of the East) it’s going to be very difficult to make the jump with below average play at the point. Jeff Teague has been told to be more aggressive, be more selfish and take the job. Own it. He’s got talent, but we’ll see if he can.

Al Horford needs to take a leap forward, as well. Horford is already an All-Star, a guy who gave Atlanta 14 and 10 last season while taking on more of the offense and having his shooting percentage go up. He’s not a natural center forced to play against the beasts in the East (Dwight Howard, Shaq) but if the new motion offense in Atlanta can get him the ball in good positions to score he can take another step forward.

Larry Drew needs a system to get this team some easy buckets, rather than fighting through so much isolation ball to get them. That starts by getting the Hawks to run more (which ties into getting them to defend better, they were a pedestrian 13th in league last year in points given up per possession). In the half court, ball and player movement will allow the athletes on the Hawks to get some better, easier looks. All of it combined should mean more monster dunks from this athletic squad, which would be good for all of us.

Basically, the culture and system need to change for the Hawks to get more out of their talents. And that still may not be enough to make a big leap forward in the east.

More likely the Hawks will: To paraphrase Roger Daltrey: Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks.

They didn’t change the roster, they brought the same team back. They changed coaches but got the No. 2 guy from the old regime in. They are basically fielding the same team but expecting more in a conference that got a lot deeper and a lot tougher.

The things to watch are defense and point guard. If the Hawks can play better defense, convert that into some easy transition buckets, and get better play out of Jeff Teague (or Mike Bibby, although that is unlikely) at the point, they can improve. But even that keeps them on the second tier in the East.

The Hawks will be good, don’t think anything else. This is a quality roster. They will be fun to watch. They will win a lot of games. But if the expectation is to get out of the second round of the playoffs, then they will fall short. They remain good but not good enough.

Prediction: 51 wins. The Hawks will be as good or slightly better than last year, but as the East got deeper we dock them just a couple wins. In reality, they are in the regular season second tier in the East — along with Boston, Chicago and Milwaukee — who will finish between 48 and 55 wins. Health and who blends best fastest will determine the order. But they will be in for a tougher first round playoff series than last year, and that one went seven games.

Why did Kyrie Irving request trade from Cavaliers? ‘I will never pinpoint anything, because that’s not what real grownups do’

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Kyrie Irving said he requested a trade from the Cavaliers because he wanted to be happy and maximize his potential.

But why did he feel that couldn’t happen in Cleveland?

Irving hasn’t come close to directly answering that question, saying things like, “My intent, like I said, was for my best intentions.” Returning to Cleveland with the Celtics, Irving was again pressed to explain.

Irving, via MassLive:

Going forward, I kind of wanted to put that to rest in terms of everyone figuring out or trying to figure out and dive in and continue to dive into a narrative that they have no idea about and that probably will never, ever be divulged, because it’s not important. This was literally just a decision I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward. I don’t want to pinpoint anything. I will never pinpoint anything, because that’s not what real grownups do. They continue to move on with their life and and continue to progress, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.

Perhaps, Irving is just following Dwyane Wade‘s advice and taking the high road. But that won’t ease our collective curiosity. Fans will continue to speculate about why Irving wanted out, and reporters will continue to dig into it. Reporting and speculation have both centered on LeBron James.

If Irving eventually wants to set the record straight – and he doesn’t sound interested, lending credence to the theory he wanted to leave LeBron behind – everyone will be all ears.

Cavaliers to honor Kyrie Irving with video during tonight’s game

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers, stated no regard for LeBron James‘ feelings about it and slighted Cleveland as a sports city.

Yet, when Irving returns with the Celtics for tonight’s regular-season opener, the Cavs will honor him.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The Cavaliers intend to honor Kyrie Irving on Tuesday night with a video tribute during Cleveland’s season-opening tilt against Irving’s Boston Celtics.

According to a team source, the video is a “thank you” to Irving intended to show appreciation for all he accomplished in six seasons here.

Irving had a fantastic six-year run with the Cavaliers, and he hit the biggest shot in franchise history to end Cleveland’s title drought in 2016.

But he’s now a sports villain there (not to be mistaken for a bad person). Let the fans enjoy unconditionally booing him for a night. There will be time to honor him when the wounds of his exit aren’t so fresh.

If I were the Cavs, this would be the video I’d show to commemorate Irving’s return:

LeBron James: I think Dan Gilbert’s letter was racial

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LeBron James left a job for a more appealing one in 2010. His previous employer, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, infamously published a letter that called LeBron’s decision a “cowardly betrayal,” “shameful display of selfishness and betrayal,” “shocking act of disloyalty” and “heartless and callous action.” Most ridiculously, Gilbert wrote, “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.” Perhaps most hurtfully, Gilbert added LeBron’s choice “sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”

Remember, LeBron completed his contract with Gilbert’s Cavs then signed with the Heat. Gilbert’s reaction was beyond over the top.

It was also probably rooted in racial attitudes that persist since a time rich white men held complete control over the lives of young black men.

LeBron, via Mark Anthony Green of GQ:

Did you feel like Dan Gilbert’s letter was racial?

“Um, I did. I did. It was another conversation I had to have with my kids. It was unfortunate, because I believed in my heart that I had gave that city and that owner, at that point in time, everything that I had. Unfortunately, I felt like, at that point in time, as an organization, we could not bring in enough talent to help us get to what my vision was. A lot of people say they want to win, but they really don’t know how hard it takes, or a lot of people don’t have the vision. So, you know, I don’t really like to go back on that letter, but it pops in my head a few times here, a few times there. I mean, it’s just human nature. I think that had a lot to do with race at that time, too, and that was another opportunity for me to kind of just sit back and say, ‘Okay, well, how can we get better? How can we get better? How can I get better?’ And if it happens again, then you’re able to have an even more positive outlook on it. It wasn’t the notion of I wanted to do it my way. It was the notion of I’m gonna play this game, and I’m gonna prepare myself so damn hard that when I decide to do something off the court, I want to be able to do it because I’ve paid my dues.”

We’ve obviously come a long way since slavery, but the racism used to justify that evil practice lingers. In 2017, few want to be racist. Many more do racist things. Racism is basked into our society, and it will require thoughtful recognition of it to eradicate it.

Gilbert’s letter contained racial undertones, Gilbert attempting to assert a control of LeBron he didn’t rightfully possess. If Gilbert considered how his letter fit into historical context, maybe he wouldn’t have written it. Whether or not Gilbert intended to be racist matters only so much. He danced in racist tones to vilify LeBron.

Now, maybe Gilbert has progressed. He apologized to LeBron for the letter (while trying to woo LeBron back to Cleveland in 2014) and said he’s learning more about the level of racism in this country.

But there’s still an apparent lingering distrust by LeBron toward Gilbert, and LeBron saying he still sometimes thinks about the letter only enhances that. That could matter as LeBron heads toward free agency.

Gregg Popovich rants, calls President Trump a “soulless coward” after recent comments

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Every time he speaks, it seems President Trump says something that is outright, provably false — a lie, if you will. The latest came in a Rose Garden press conference Monday where, when asked about two fallen American soldiers in Niger, he said he would call and “If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls — a lot of them didn’t make calls — I like to make calls when it’s appropriate.” It didn’t take long for representatives from the former Obama administration — as well as the most recent Bush administration — to come out and say Trump was flat-out wrong, noting the numerous calls, letters, visits to troops at the hospital and more (all of which is easily verified). Even by the end of the same press conference, when pressed by reporters, Trump back pedaled saying maybe Obama did make calls, “I don’t know. That’s what I was told.”

That wasn’t near good enough for Air Force Academy graduate, frequent Trump critic, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He called up one of the people who understands the intersection of sports and politics, Dave Zirin of The Nation, and ranted.

“But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”

Popovich is a thoughtful man who highly prizes intellectual curiosity — he believes he needs to be worldly and understand it better just to properly lead a basketball team. If one is going to lead a nation — or, ostensibly, the world — one has to want to know about it, learn about it, respect its differences. Popovich has thought through things before he speaks. Trump does none of that, he goes by his gut and has no filter, and it makes him sort of Bizzaro Popovich. Which sets the Spurs’ coach off.

We can expect more rants from Pop, Steve Kerr, NBA players and a host of others over the course of the season. NBA players have been emboldened by Adam Silver and the league to speak out, and they will, knowing that with the NBA’s younger, more urban, and more diverse and global fanbase (compared to the NFL) they will not face much if any backlash.