Larry Drew and Josh Smith

The Atlanta Hawks are a bit of a mess


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.

Thabo Sefolosha’s lawyer: White police officer targeted black Hawks forward

Thabo Sefolosha
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NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer representing a professional basketball player arrested outside a New York City nightclub has told a jury his client was targeted because he’s black.

Attorney Alex Spiro said Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court that a white police officer saw a black man in a hoodie when he confronted the Atlanta Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha on April 8.

Sefolosha was arrested while leaving a Manhattan nightclub following a stabbing. He subsequently suffered a season-ending leg fracture after a confrontation with police.

A prosecutor said in opening statements that Sefolosha called an officer who repeatedly told him and others to leave a “midget.”

Sefolosha pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges. The Swiss citizen declined a plea deal from prosecutors.


DeMar DeRozan says he hates talking about free agency, takes pride in Raptors longevity

DeMar DeRozan
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DeMar DeRozan has a $10,050,000 player option for 2016-17. Given the rapidly escalating salary cap, it’s a practical certainty DeRozan will opt out and get a major raise.

But he says he doesn’t want to talk about it.

DeRozan, via Eric Koreen of the National Post:

“I hate that, honestly,” DeRozan said in a one-on-one interview. “I never speak about it. With me, I’ve always been that one player: I’ve been loyal. I’ve been every single thing you can think of here. I think people don’t understand how much pride I take in playing (in Toronto). A lot of times when I do get asked that, it kind of frustrates me.

“Everyday I wake up, I take pride in being the longest Raptor here. People bring up third or whatever in franchise scoring — there is so much stuff like that.”

This sounds awfully similar to LaMarcus Aldridge, who stated his desire last year to become the great Trail Blazer ever and then signed with the Spurs this summer.

Things change, and the impracticality of an extension ensures DeRozan will hit free agency. I believe he’s devoted to the Raptors right now, but his loyalty might change in the next nine months – especially once he sees contract offers from other suitors.

Toronto’s interest in DeRozan might fluctuate, too. He’s a nice player, but the Raptors haven’t won a playoff series with him despite winning the division the last two years. Depending how this season goes, Masai Ujiri might want to rework the roster significantly next summer, and letting DeRozan walk could create major cap space.

I believe DeRozan wants to return to the Raptors, and I believe they want to keep him. But so much can change between now and when both sides must make that call.