Larry Drew and Josh Smith

The Atlanta Hawks are a bit of a mess

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Even with their best player out of action, the Atlanta Hawks had no business being completely eviscerated by the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. Philly is a solid team, but Atlanta is supposedly superior. They’re supposedly worthy of their decent seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, even if their efficiency differential puts them just a tick above those very same Sixers who embarrassed the Hawks on their own home floor.

The Hawks are regarded in a particular way because of their now-recurring standing as a playoff team. Their multiple All-Star selections (some deserved, some not) and a fortunate win-loss record don’t hurt either, but more sophisticated — and telling — measures of team success paint a darker story of the Hawks’ season. Atlanta has some serious issues, with roots lying in the team’s collective effort, the roster’s construction, and rookie head coach Larry Drew’s handling of the Hawks’ rotation. Winning games by slim margins can only disguise that for so long, and only now are Drew and his team really starting to look inward.

According to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Drew appears ready to shake things up, if only superficially:

“It is just totally unacceptable to come out and play with that type energy, that type so-called passion, to play almost as if they don’t care,” Drew said. “And that’s a reflection of me. If that’s the case, then I am going to have to make some changes to my starting lineup. I’ve seen that way too often, and if that’s the way we are going to start basketball games, I am not going to sit here and take it. I am going to make some changes.”

I think it’d be difficult for any basketball coach to sweep such a glaring loss under the rug, but I suppose some credit is due to Drew for meaning business. He’s going to make an effort to improve his team, even if swapping out the starters may not do much to actually change the Hawks’ performance. There are obviously some moves that can be made (I’ve preached the virtue of giving Jeff Teague some of Mike Bibby’s minutes in this very space) to subtly improve Atlanta’s performance, but for the most part, the Hawks are doomed by the limitations of their roster. The effort level of poor perimeter defenders still matters, but it’s not like Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford will suddenly transform into lockdown wings. The Hawks roster doesn’t have much room to grow internally, which would theoretically put pressure on Rick Sund to make some kind of move to salvage this team. Again via Michael Cunningham, Drew seems to see the need to some kind of roster move:

The Hawks are a good team so a blockbuster deal isn’t necessarily in order. But Drew acknowledged there have been internal discussions about how to shore up the team’s weaknesses through the trade market.

“With the trade deadline coming up, there is always discussion about possible trades, personnel changing,” he said. “There is always that dialogue going on about looking to improve the team. ‘Would this be a good fit? Would that be a good fit?’ There is always that possibility. Certainly at this stage we have to continue to explore those possibilities. I don’t think at this stage . . . at least I don’t feel comfortable, totally comfortable with where we are after 52 games. We have had some bad losses here at home. That may be a sign, I don’t know. I never want to throw out the possibility of making our team better.”

In a sense, the Hawks are a bit helpless. They need to make a trade but likely won’t, and then their head coach will lament the limitations of a team that simply can’t do much better. Atlanta’s players aren’t playing their best, per se, but even their best wouldn’t put them in a terribly competitive position. The Hawks are merely good, and for both better and worse, that isn’t likely to change. Woe is the NBA’s middle ground, where team officials feel no pressure to address their roster’s more glaring problems, nor the temptation to properly rebuild. The Hawks will make the playoffs, but seem incapable of accomplishing anything more.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.

NBA rookies name Kevin Durant their favorite player

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses with his new jersey during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant faced tremendous backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

But not from NBA rookies.

In the league’s annual rookie survey, a plurality of first-year players voted Durant their favorite player:

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State — 29.7%

T-2. Carmelo Anthony, New York — 9.4%

LeBron James, Cleveland — 9.4%

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City — 9.4%

T-5. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio — 6.3%

Kobe Bryant (retired) — 6.3%

Paul George, Indiana — 6.3%

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers — 6.3%

T-9. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota — 4.7%

Others receiving votes: Vince Carter, Memphis; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

This is the third straight year Durant has claimed the top spot, matching LeBron and Kobe for combined wins in the six years this question was asked of rookies:

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This is further evidence: If you resent Kevin Durant for exercising his right to switch employers after nine years with a company that acquired him by producing an awful product, you’re out of touch. Follow the kids’ lead and get with it.

Jason Terry: Luke Walton ‘utterly declined’ my offer to provide Lakers veteran leadership

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  Guard Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  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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Before signing with the Bucks, Jason Terry said he reached out to multiple contenders.

He also spoke with the Lakers.

Terry tried to leverage his relationship with Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played at Arizona (though their time there didn’t overlap).

Terry on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

I called my good friend Luke. I told him if he needed any help, veteran leadership, in that capacity – Lakers – with an ability to coach at the end of my deal, then that was something I would be looking forward to. He utterly declined, and I respect him for that.

Gotta love a guy who announces to the world his pitch of providing veteran leadership was “utterly declined.”

The Lakers should be just fine with Jose Calderon and Luol Deng.