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.

Magic Johnson shrugs off concern about Lonzo Ball realty series

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Lonzo Ball has yet to play in one NBA game, yet he has his own signature shoe line, and he — along with his father LaVar Ball and the rest of his family — have their own reality show on FaceBook. Lonzo told me he doesn’t foresee this show, nor his bombastic father, being a problem with his teammates or on the court.

Magic Johnson agrees with that. At least for now.

The head of Lakers’ basketball operations said as training camp opened that he’s not worried about the show Ball in the Family being a distraction. If it is, he’ll step in, he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Only time I am going to concern myself with what [Lonzo] does off the court is if it is affecting his play on the court,” Johnson said at the Lakers’ media day when asked about Ball’s reality Facebook series, “Ball in the Family.”

“Right now, I think it is awesome,” Johnson said. “His family is great. They came out Saturday, we had a big Laker picnic. … His dad is wonderful with me, and I am cool with him. … I think [Lonzo] is tired of all this [hype]. He is just like me; I just want to play and I think he wants to play, and then Saturday night [for the Lakers’ preseason opener], sold out, in Anaheim, wow!”

It’s Magic’s job to put a positive spin on things.

That said, he’s right. The Lakers (and every NBA team) have dealt with overinvolved parents before and know how to create some space for the player to focus on the game. Locker rooms have a way of sorting themselves out in these kinds of situations. Plus, the Lakers have been down the reality show road before (when Lamar Odom married Khloe Kardashian), and while that had an ugly ending, it wasn’t for lack of Lakers’ players and others in the organization trying to step in and help. (Odom just wasn’t yet in a place to accept help.)

Soon LaVar will be focused on his other sons and Lonzo, who appears practiced at tuning his father out and focusing on what is in front of him, will have the grind of the NBA schedule to worry about.

Former NBA player Chuck Person named in college basketball bribery scandal

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The recruitment of major college athletes — and then the steering of the handful that get to go pro to shoe companies and agents — is a sleazy business. It makes HBO’s “The Duece” look like Disneyland. It’s something sports fans know but largely turn a blind eye to until it forces its way into the headlines.

It turned up in the headlines Tuesday when four college assistant coaches from major universities were charged by federal prosecutors in a bribery scandal along with a representative of Adidas and others to steer players to specific agents or a financial handler.

Former NBA Rookie of the Year Chuck Person, now an assistant coach at Auburn, was among those named in the scandal.

Person is making headlines because he’s the biggest name in the scandal. He is charged with accepting approximately $91,500 from a business manager, who has flipped and is working with prosecutors. This “business manager, offered bribes to Person to steer players toward his services, as well as another person charged in the scandal.

Person told prosecutors he gave $18,500 of the money he took to two players’ families, according to the filings.

Person was the No. 4 pick in the 1986 NBA draft and went on to win Rookie of the Year, followed by a 13-year NBA career. He made $22.9 million over the course of his career.

PBT Podcast: Cavaliers, Bucks, Central Division Preview with Dan Feldman

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LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East — I’m not picking against his team to win the Eastern Conference until someone beats them. This year’s Cavaliers may be deeper than previous years.

However, much of the Central Division is intriguing this season. Milwaukee is a team that, on paper, should take a step forward, but never seem to do that two years in a row. Still, they have Giannis Antetokounmpo and that makes them must watch. Detroit has one of the best centers in the game in Andre Drummond, and they have Marcus Smart on the roster now, but can Reggie Jackson bounce back? Then there are the Bulls and Pacers, both of whom are rebuilding.

Kurt Helin and Detroit-based Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down the Central Division in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Reports: Dwyane Wade “leaning heavily” toward joining Cavaliers

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This race may have been decided before it ever started.

While Miami has the draw of home, and Paul George and Russell Westbrook have come hard at him, it seems Dwyane Wade always knew where he wanted to be after Chicago — reunited with LeBron James. Just now in Cleveland. From Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Dwyane Wade is leaning heavily toward the Cavaliers as his new team once he clears waivers and may have already decided on a reunion with LeBron James, league sources with knowledge of Wade’s thinking told cleveland.com…

Wade has given no indication publicly what he will do, and at least three teams — the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and his old team the Miami Heat — are interested in him. His agent is taking calls from those teams and others, and Wade told the Associated Press he would do his due diligence as well.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed this.

This is not a shock.

What does Wade want in a destination? A chance to make another run at a ring, minutes, and a comfort level with the organization. Cleveland provides all of those, plus easy access to the Gravy Fries at Greenhouse Tavern (which may not be on Wade’s in-season approved list by his nutritionist).

Even without Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are and should be the favorite to come out of the East, then take their swings at the Warriors (or whoever comes out of the West, I feel obligated to write just to be nice to the folks in Houston and Oklahoma City). The Cavaliers are smack in the middle of the NBA’s second tier. Wade averaged an efficient 18.3 points per game for the Bulls last season, and he can for stretches still dial-up his vintage self and dominate games.

Wade would probably start at the two over J.R. Smith, and even if he came off the bench he could get just about all the minutes his aging knees will handle. That said, I’m not sure the Cavs can play Wade and Derrick Rose together, particularly during the playoffs, due to spacing and defensive issues. And obviously, with his good friend LeBron there, Wade has comfort with the organization (just don’t expect him to sign more than a one-year deal).

This was always the most likely outcome, Wade and LeBron together again for one more run.