NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks


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.

Report: Jrue Holiday’s wife, Lauren Holiday, undergoes successful brain surgery

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 31:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball during a game against the Golden State Warriors at the Smoothie King Center on October 31, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is away from the team as his wife, Lauren Holiday, battles a brain tumor.

First, Lauren gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Now, more good news.

John Reid of The Times-Picayune:

Hopefully, the Holidays continue to find good health.

Sixers coach Brett Brown says he expects Ben Simmons back in January

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A Jones fracture — the broken bone in the foot that Philadelphia rookie Ben Simmons recently has surgery to repair — is difficult to put on a recovery timeline. That part of the foot (the outside of the foot closer to the ankle) does not get good blood flow and that can slow recovery. Plus with a prized rookie, the Sixers have a history of being cautious — and Simmons’ agent may want to be even more cautious.

But Brett Brown, the Sixers coach, said he expects Simmons back on the court in January.

Here is what he told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

On Friday, coach Brett Brown confirmed that the first overall pick is scheduled to return in January. League sources previously said that Simmons would be out for three months.

“It’s not doom and gloom,” Brown said when asked when asked how his team is adjusting to its various injuries at the moment. “Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd [Bayless]. Jahlil [Okafor] is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game.”

It’s certainly possible Simmons is back in January, but even if it takes a little longer than that — say closer to the All-Star break — Brown would certainly work with it. As Brown told us when he joined PBT for a podcast, he wants to spend a lot of this season seeing how his young, athletic front line can play together? Can Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric all play together in a big front line? How do Simmons and Embiid mesh? Simmons and Saric? Where does Nerlens Noel fit in all this once he returns?

Until Brown gets guys healthy and on the court it’s impossible to know.

For all our sakes, I hope Simmons is back in January. And if he is, the possibility of him still winning Rookie of the Year exists.

Report: Cavaliers trying to trade Mo Williams rather than waive and pay him

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 05:  Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Ian Clark #21 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Mo Williams slyly backed the Cavaliers into a corner by opting into the final year of his contract, not retiring and undergoing surgery.

Look past the noise, and it’s pretty simple. Williams is under contract for a guaranteed $2,194,500 this season, and because he’s recovering from surgery, it’d be difficult for Cleveland to suspend him for not reporting. Just what does reporting look like for someone recovering from surgery?

This is obviously a fiasco for the Cavs, who face a steep luxury-tax bill and roster crunch. They don’t want Williams worsening either dilemma.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in impasse with guard Mo Williams and it has left them scouring the league for a trade partner so they don’t have to swallow millions, sources told

The Cavs, who were caught off guard by the decision, have not had meaningful discussions with Williams on a buyout agreement, sources said.

Needing both a roster spot and a backup point guard, the Cavs are in a squeeze as the regular season opener looms. They are looking to attach guard Jordan McRae to Williams in trades, sources said.

Williams has negative trade value. I doubt McRae carries much trade value, let alone enough to offset the anchor of Williams.

It’s too late for Cleveland to stretch Williams’ salary. He has little incentive to negotiate a buyout. At this point, he’ll probably get all his remaining salary (though a buyout would be guaranteed and avoid the possibility of fines and suspensions reducing his payout).

The Cavaliers would do well to trade Williams to another team to waive him. The Cavs project to save $6,328,892 ($2,194,500 and $4,134,392 in luxury tax) by dumping Williams rather than waiving him themselves. They could even send another team Williams’ full $2,194,500 salary to take him and still come far ahead financially. Essentially, the other team would break even in such a deal. So, why would the other team do it? Cleveland would also have to send more – additional cash, draft picks or a player like McRae.

With multiple teams below the salary floor, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a taker.

But whatever positive assets the Cavaliers trade to dump Williams would be assets they can’t use in a trade for a healthy, productive point guard.

Williams is going to make life more difficult for the Cavs. The only question now is just how much more.

Knicks waive Lou Amundson, four others to keep Ron Baker

New York Knicks guard Ron Baker (31) goes to the basket against Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) and guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Ron Baker was one of the top undrafted players, and the Knicks scooped him up quickly.

They probably didn’t realize just how much they’d need him.

New York’s rotation point guards are Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings, who both carry unsettling injury histories. Additionally, Rose missed most of the preseason while successfully defending himself in a rape lawsuit.

The Knicks can’t afford to go without a third point guard, and Chasson Randle‘s injury left Baker.

But because the they have 15 players with guaranteed salaries – Baker isn’t one – the Knicks had to waive Lou Amundson, who just signed a guaranteed deal. New York also waived Randle, J.P. Tokoto, Damien Inglis and Cleanthony Early, none of whom had fully guaranteed salaries.

Other candidates with guaranteed salaries who could’ve been waived: Sasha Vujacic, Marshall Plumlee and Maurice Ndour.

The bigger mystery than why the Knicks chose Amundson to waive is why they gave him a fully guaranteed contract in the first place.