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.

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.