Josh Smith

NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

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Last season: Just another Hawks season.

That’s the best way to put it after a year where despite losing Al Horford for the vast majority of the season, Atlanta managed to land a top four seed in the East. They had this bizarro season underneath the headline of “Boring.”

They would look awesome one night, as Josh Smith played at an elite level, and the team really gelled for long stretches. But then they would hit national TV and things would happen like the Heat not playing the Big 3 and still beating the Hawks, at home. It was like they were intentionally trying to look horrible at home.

Everyone was tired of the Hawks by season’s end. The inconsistent play, the isolation offense, the general blaise. The fans, the media, no one cared about them. They were supposed to lose in the first round, and they did.

But snuck under the talk of Ray Allen’s injury and Paul Pierce battling an MCL sprain along with a one-game suspension for Rajon Rondo was this: the Hawks played Boston tight. They were in that series, but the emotional lift from losing Rajon Rondo put a fire under the Celtics, and when they come out like that, they’re extremely difficult to beat. Meanhwhile, the Hawks’ bigest advantage against the Celtics was their size… and yet Horford took a few games to get back and then wasn’t 100 percent, and Zaza Pachulia, who always causes the Celtics issues, wasn’t around at all.

It was the kind of misfortune that creates a facade of failure. The Hawks were better than most people thought they were, but never good enough to matter, still.

Something had to change.

Key Departures: Joe Johnson has been an All-Star six times. Straight. Most people don’t really catch that, but it’s true. And Danny Ferry happily traded him for almost nothing after he took over the team as GM.

Johnson is an elite defender and at times can be a great scorer, but he’s also heavy on the isolation and not as efficient as he once was. Most importantly, the Hawks threw a max contract at him to keep him in 2010 that the Nets will be paying for at roughly the cost of the GDP of a small nation.

Ferry moved Marvin Williams to clear even more space, getting one of the most disappointing draft picks in team history and getting the memory out of people’s minds.

Jerry Stackhouse was let go, and Willie Green released in a sign-and-trade. Jason Collins was a very useful center the past two years but he also was not retained in free agency. Vlad Radmanovic, AKA VladRad, AKA Space Cadet, went to the Bulls.

Key Additions: In return for Johnson, Ferry took Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, and some filler, most of which has been waived or won’t see much time this season. The idea was clear. Create space from a team with none by any means necessary. Adding Morrow does give them a crack shooter, however.

He traded for Kyle Korver to add yet another shooter to a team that had very little last year and now has a ton.

For Williams, Ferry landed Devin Harris, giving him a capable backup point guard behind Teague, or a replacement if Teague doesn’t make the required leap.

The team signed Anthony Tolliver as a free agent to give them another stretch four and brought in Lou Williams to replace Willie Green.

They drafted John Jenkins who showed a lot of promise in Summer League.

Three keys to the Hawks season:
1) All-The-Time Teague: I’ve started referencing the phrase “Playoff Teague” the past two years because Jeff Teague is an entirely different player when the playoffs begin than during the regular season. He makes bigger shots, plays faster and harder, and blows you away with his athleticism and big-play ability. So why doesn’t he do that throughout the year? Why did he so often lose his job to Kirk Hinrich when Hinrich was healthy?

Teague has to become a consistent star this season, not something that’s easy for point guards in a point-guard dominant league. He has better shooters to drive and kick to, and will have a lot more freedom in the offense now that ISOJoe is working in Brooklyn. But Teague stil has to take every game as crucial and really lead this team. They can’t afford to just care about the big games, because they’re not going to win a lot of them with this crew.

Teague has to convince himself every game is on the big stage.

2) Is Josh Smith ready to be the guy? Josh Smith is in a contract year. He’s been passed over for All-Star spots despite being more than deserving, has been ridiculed for his penchant to take long-twos, and largely overlooked. He’s also played out of his mind the past two seasons.

Without Johnson, this is Josh Smith’s team. Al Horford will play a big role. Jeff Teague will direct the offense. But this is Josh Smith’s team now. He has to be more efficient, take a bigger load, and be willing to act as more of the finisher than set-up guy.

And, as always, stop with the long twos. For the love. The man is dominant in the post. This mid-range tyranny must end.

3) Will Drew open up the offense? He has a lightning-fast point guard who can drive and dish. He’s got a set of dominant post players in Horford and Smith. He’s got shooters galore with Morrow, Korver, and others.

But Larry Drew has stuck to the grind-it-out offense that kept his team mired in the mud. The team has athleticism and skill, and needs ball movement. There are no Kobe Bryants on this team, no LeBron James. But they have speciality players who can play well in their roles. This team may only go as far as Drew lets them. There has to be some imagination and push in the way the offense is set.

What Hawks fans should fear: Smith’s not elite. And without that, this team could fall prey to the “good enough to not be terrible, not good enough to do anything of note.” But then again, that’s where they’ve been for three years, so really what’s the difference?

The Hawks are moving towards an all-out rebuild eventually. This is the year in-between. But if the opportunity to snag a lottery pick comes available, bet that the Hawks will jump on it. Ferry knows he needs a new, legit star. He won’t hesitate to go get it via the draft.

How it likely works out: The Hawks could honestly wind up making the playoffs. They have good skill players, some athleticism, a good to great defensive coach and shooters. But they lack in total star power, we don’t know what Horford will look like after injury, whether Josh Smith will buy in, if Teague will make the leap, if Drew will open the offense up.

The Hawks won’t be terrible, but they may not be good either. This is one where we have to see what happens when you put all the ingredients in the oven.

And again, don’t discount the possibility of a midseason tank job. Ferry knows the long-term game here.

Prediction: 43-39, they’ll be right there for the eighth seed. Atlanta has a good set of players but not enough to be in the elite category. A long losing streak could be followed by a long winning streak, and much will depend on the health of their shooters. But Drew coaches defense so well, and Teague-Smith-Horford is enough to carry them to at least .500.

Report: Knicks have reached out to Frank Vogel to judge interest

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 4
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“So Frank, how do you feel about the triangle?”

Frank Vogel is not going to be unemployed for any longer than he wants. Larry Bird and the Pacers dumped him, but his ability to get teams to defend is going to have suitors lined up for his skills.

That includes the Knicks, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks have made contact with the agent for Frank Vogel, but have not yet requested an interview, according to a source close to the former Pacers coach.

According to the source, Knicks GM Steve Mills has done his due diligence in contacting Vogel’s reps. He expressed that Phil Jackson has not made a decision on how to proceed. The key to the exploratory phone call was finding out whether Vogel would have interest in the job, and it seems he does.

Kurt Rambis is still considered the front-runner for the Knicks job.

Jackson has said he wants someone he knows, and someone committed to running the triangle offense. The Lakers did employ Vogel as an advanced scout during the Jackson era, but don’t confuse that with any relationship between the two. Also, while Vogel’s Pacers ran some triangle action during his tenure, that was while Brian Shaw was his assistant. And that’s very different than jumping in with both feet full time.

Vogel also reportedly has interest in the Rockets job, a team farther along the path to contending and with a more stable management structure. But the Knicks are at least making the call, it’s a start.

Boris Diaw says sometimes Popovich leaves him in blowouts just to lose weight

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 21:  Boris Diaw #33 of the San Antonio Spurs during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on January 21, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Spurs defeated the Suns 117-89.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Conditioning has never been Boris Diaw‘s strength.

That’s being kind, the man ate his way out of Charlotte. Make no mistake, Diaw is a gifted player who has surprising athleticism plus a court vision and high hoops IQ that make him perfect for the Spurs, but Gregg Popovich gave him incentives to stay thin and Tony Parker joked about Diaw’s weight.

Now Diaw is getting in on the act, speaking to Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp.

“Sometimes we’re up 30,” Diaw says, “and (Popovich is) like, ‘I’m just going to leave you on the court so you can lose some weight.’”

If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at. Diaw has a coffee maker in his locker and , he’s not too worried about his image.

Diaw only saw a little more than eight minutes in Game 2 against the Thunder, which was not about conditioning and all about the matchup. Still, expect him to get more run in Game 3, he is one of those guys who makes the ball move for the Spurs and they need to get back to that.

Lakers’ GM Kupchak got “a chuckle” at idea team would trade top three pick

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak speaks to reporters at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, April 15, 2016. With Kobe Bryant's $25 million salary, ravenous shot selection and dominant personality gone from the basketball team after 20 years, Kupchak says he will meet with head coach Byron Scott and owner Jim Buss in a few days to discuss their options for the Lakers, which finished with the NBA's second-worst record at 17-65 in Bryant's farewell season. (AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
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The Lakers are going to be aggressive this off-season. Jim Buss, the guy with the final say on basketball operations, gave himself a deadline to get the Lakers “back into contention” (which is vaguely defined, but we can say at least the second round of the playoffs) and things need to happen sooner rather than later.

Would he be so aggressive as to trade a top 3 pick? That’s the rumor.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak did a media tour Friday and said on the Thompson and Trudell show on ESPN710 in Los Angeles not to bet on that. Via Serena Winters of Lakersnation.com.

The Lakers had the second-worst record in the NBA and with that have a 56 percent chance of having one of the top picks three picks in the draft after the NBA Draft Lottery May 17. If they fall to four or farther, the pick goes to the Sixers as the last remnants of the Steve Nash trade.

Would the Lakers move that pick? Depends on what the offer they get back is.

Would they love to trade that pick and someone like Julius Randle to land Paul George? Well, I would like to drive my Maserati over to pick up Scarlett Johansson for our night out. About the same odds of happening.

But the Lakers should explore the trade market. That’s just smart business. What they can’t do is get so wrapped up in the idea of getting good fast that they make bad decisions that haunt them down the line. Don’t overspend on players not ready to step up in their role, don’t trade assets for B-list guys that are a step sidewise but older and more expensive. Don’t sacrifice the foundation for a few short term wins. That said, the Lakers’ MO has never been the slow, patient build.

Kupchak also spoke about the need for an experienced assistant next to new coach Luke Walton (one with a defensive pedigree) and the Lakers’ plans to do better in free agency this time around. Via Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.

Byron Scott: D’Angelo Russell acted ‘entitled’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 1:  Head coach Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers and D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 1, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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D'Angelo Russell‘s leaked video of Nick Young redeemed Byron Scott.

Of all the silly things Scott said – and continues to say – labeling Russell immature turned out somewhat valid.

But in taking a victory lap on that assessment, the former Lakers coach exposed a huge problem with his player-development and communication skills.

Scott, via The Dan Patrick Show:

Some of these guys, when they come into the league, they think they’re entitled. And I thought that’s how he felt when he first got with us. He almost tried to act like he was a veteran, and I tried to make sure that he knew that he wasn’t a veteran. You have to earn your stripes. So, yeah, there were times where I was a little tough on him just to bring him back down to earth, to let him know that this is not an easy task when you’re in the NBA. That’s the easy part is getting there. The hardest part is staying there, getting better and better and better. So, yeah, I had some tough love for the young man. But just like I told him, “When I stop talking to you, that’s going to be a problem.”

Like the time Scott didn’t talk to Russell about losing his starting job? Or the time Scott didn’t talk to Russell about putting him back into the starting lineup? Or the time Scott didn’t talk to Russell about the Young video?