Larry Drew’s Hawks are off to an unfortunate start

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The Atlanta Hawks seem destined to repeat their successes and failures of a year ago, and that perception should persist until Larry Drew is able to show us something about the Hawks that Mike Woodson never could. Given how little we know about Drew as a head coach, I can’t give you a compelling reason why he’s doomed to fail, but to assume that the roster and performance will remain more or less the same until they prove otherwise is a reasonable burden for Drew to bear.

It doesn’t help that the universe is clearly working against Drew. As he tries to break his team of their old ways and show them the light, it only makes sense that the very fabric of our existence would fold and contort to injure as many Hawks as possible. Atlanta just wasn’t meant to play good perimeter defense, and with a string of injuries to ATL’s core players through training camp and the preseason, the cosmos has ensured that the Hawks of old will also be the Hawks of new. From Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The Hawks finally started to shorten their injury list at practice Thursday. Jamal Crawford (back), Mo Evans (knee), Jason Collins (leg) and Williams (ill) all returned. Injuries to those players, plus starting center Al Horford, have made it tough to evaluate the Hawks. They’ve also hindered Drew’s efforts to install his new offense and alter his team’s approach to defense. “That part of it is tough,” Drew said. “But that’s just the way it is. You have to deal with it. When [the injured players] get back we will spend more teaching them to try to get them caught up.”

The Hawks haven’t had their full group of regulars for three preseason games. The closest they came was in the opener, when all of the expected rotation players except Crawford played much of the first half. Otherwise, Drew has had to make do. Drew had planned to let Horford play significant minutes at power forward. But that became less feasible with Horford limited by a balky ankle injured early in camp and also Collins’ injury. With Crawford and Teague both out, Drew had to play rookie Jordan Crawford at point guard at Detroit and Washington. Crawford, a shooting guard, hadn’t practiced at point guard.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Horford; he’s far too intelligent of a player for a little make-up work to derail him, and he wasn’t even part of the problem to begin with. I’m also going to pretend that Collins’ name is included for purely comedic reasons, or to indicate that Atlanta had one fewer practice big than they’d like.

But to have Crawford and Teague miss minutes at this critical juncture, given both players’ inability to defend on the perimeter (or in the paint, or in a house, or with a mouse, etc.) is potentially damning. Expecting Drew to immediately make effective defenders out of Crawford and Teague would be asking a bit much, but even an attempt to curb some of their poor habits by way of proper adjustment within the Hawks’ new defensive system could have ended with real, substantive progress. Additionally, even if those two were healthy, Horford’s presence completely changes how Atlanta would react to certain sequences defensively, leaving the whole preseason process half-empty in its potential benefit.

Maybe none of this will matter in the long run, but I fail to see how the Hawks’ recent string of minor injuries could be anything but negative. Best of luck, Larry Drew. Your task of improving Atlanta’s effectiveness on both ends of the court has been undercut from the start, and one can only hope that the team starts November better than they did October.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.

Kevin Durant: Don’t blame me for Nets, Magic and other teams stinking

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For the first time in NBA history, the NBA Finals will feature the same matchup for three straight years.

Among those responsible: Kevin Durant, who sunk the title-contending Thunder and gave the Warriors an even stronger grip on the Western Conference.

But don’t blame him for a lack of parity league-wide.

Durant, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“Like I’m the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn’t make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?” he said. “Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they’re not that good (laughs). I can’t play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It’s one more team that you probably would’ve thought would’ve been a contender. One more team. I couldn’t have made the (entire) East better. I couldn’t have made everybody (else) in the West better.”

Some teams will always be better than others. The Magic, Nets and more were mis-managed before Durant left Oklahoma City.

But I’m not even sure this is the right debate.

Does the NBA even have a parity problem to blame on Durant?

Cleveland and Golden State aren’t traditional powers. Before 2015, the Warriors hadn’t won a title since 1975 and the Cavaliers had never won one. Their ascension is proof of parity – that sound management and a little luck can lift teams from the basement.

Report: Clippers take Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor ‘very seriously’

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Want to laugh off that Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor?

The Clippers aren’t joining you.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Clippers should be concerned. Losing Paul would unravel their entire foundation, dropping them from the fringe of championship contention to out of the title picture completely. It could even help usher out Blake Griffin, who will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (To be fair, Paul leaving could also help convince Griffin to stay.)

About a month ago, the Clippers reportedly expected Paul to stay. They even reportedly struck a verbal agreement with him to re-sign before that. But they can’t officially sign him until July, and that leaves the door open for him to leave.

The Clippers should be heartened by their advantages – a prime market and a projected max offer of $205 million over five years.

The most another team projects to be able to offer is $152 million over four years, and San Antonio will have a hard time doing that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to shed two of those players to clear max cap space.

So, never say never, but the Clippers’ concern might be rooted more in the dire consequences of Paul leaving rather than the likelihood of it.