Larry Drew, Josh Smith, Kyle Korver

Hawks head coach Larry Drew says team ‘took a step back’ after loss to Suns

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PHOENIX — Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew was at a loss as to why his team, which had won four straight and six of its last seven, played so poorly against the Suns and lost 92-87 on Friday in Phoenix.

He needed only to take a walk through his postgame locker room to find some potential reasons why.

“I told the guys after the game, I thought we took a step back tonight,” Drew told reporters afterward. “We reverted to some bad habits. And what’s mind-boggling is the first three games of the road trip how well we played, how well we shared the ball, how well we executed; defensively, how active we’ve been. All those things, they took a back seat tonight.”

The Hawks have played well at times this season, but watching their entire body of work, you simply get the feeling that something isn’t right. Despite the fact that they currently sit in fourth place in the East, you also get the feeling that it would be a longshot for them to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

It may be that the team’s mental makeup isn’t well-suited for long-term success.

Nothing about the way the Hawks played Friday made you think of the word “focused.” After Drew spent his pregame meeting with the media talking up the recent play of Al Horford (and with good reason), the Hawks spent the first quarter with the ball being dominated by Jeff Teague and Josh Smith, who combined to shoot 3-8 from the field in the period, while turning the ball over four times.

Smith was the worst of the two, missing two three-pointers and throwing the ball away three times, while his teammates saved two more horrendous passes that easily could have resulted in additional turnovers. Smith finished the night with just five points on 2-11 shooting, including going 0-5 from three-point distance. He also finished with five turnovers to cancel out his five assists.

Horford did have five attempts in the first, but only one of those came on a play specifically designed to get him a good look inside; two came on 20-foot jumpers that were just Horford’s decision, one came on a pick-and-roll that he initiated and converted, and the other he made while converting on a fast break. He ended up with 20 points on 16 shots, but Teague had more shots than Horford at the half, and combined with Smith to finish a dismal 5-21 shooting.

The Suns have won three straight, and ended the Spurs’ 18-game home-winning streak with an overtime win in San Antonio on Wednesday. The lineups Phoenix threw out there on Friday, however, especially in the fourth quarter when Goran Dragic was unable to return due to a lower back bruise he suffered in the third, should have allowed the Hawks to gain control; they could not.

Phoenix finished the game with Kendall Marshall, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Wesley Johnson, and Jermaine O’Neal on the floor, all of whom played the entire fourth quarter. Those five had no trouble holding the 11-point lead that the Suns entered the final period with, as the Hawks were still down 10 with 2:21 to play. In fact, the closest Atlanta got was at the buzzer, when a three from Horford gave us the game’s final margin.

After it was over, had you entered the Hawks locker room without knowing the game’s outcome, you might have had a difficult time determining that this was where the losing team was getting dressed. The vibe was upbeat, positive, and loud, with animated conversations coming from both the shower area and the main room, and with plenty of guys smiling and joking around.

A towel-clad Ivan Johnson made a humorous remark when warning reporters to clear the way for him to get to his locker, and he and Smith spent several minutes discussing one of the game’s chippier incidents involving Johnson and Markieff Morris. The gist of the conversation was Smith mocking Morris for whatever bravado he was attempting to show, while saying “We all know he wasn’t going to do anything.” Johnson replied assertively, “He sure wasn’t.”

Smith changed his demeanor when the cameras and microphones were turned on, of course, and when I asked him if he believed what his coach had said, that the team took a step back with this loss, he didn’t necessarily see it that way.

“One game and you throw it out,” he said. “We were owed one of these games. You’re going to have games like this, it’s just our ability to bounce back from it. We can’t hang our heads and really dwell on it, we’ve got to look ahead.”

It was apparent that the players had moved on the moment this one was over.

Report: Jimmer Fredette, playing in China, engaging NBA teams on March return

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  Jimmer Fredette #32 of the New York Knicks in action against the Toronto Raptors during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 22, 2016 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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It has been six years since Jimmer Fredette entered the NBA with a cult following out of BYU. After five lackluster NBA seasons, will he get a sixth?

His play in China has generated buzz among those already inclined to support him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Errick McCollum is averaging more points per game in the Chinese Basketball Association and taking fewer shots than Fredette. Also averaging 30 points per game in China: MarShon Brooks, Jared Cunningham, Jabari Brown, Jamaal Franklin, Lester Hudson, Darius Adams and Dominique Jones.

In other words, a bunch of borderline NBA players who most likely belong outside the top league.

That includes Fredette, whose selfish style doesn’t lend itself to the smaller role he’d likely have to fill in the NBA.

It takes only one team to take a chance on Fredette, but I wouldn’t bank on immediate help or upside from the 28-year-old.

Report: Jim Buss initially promised to fix Lakers in only one year before being talked into three-year pledge

Los Angeles Lakers part-owner Jim Buss attends a news conference held to introduce the team's new draft picks, Monday, June 29, 2015, in El Segundo, Calif.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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The Lakers mercifully ended Jim Buss’ lousy tenure as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, promoting Magic Johnson to run the front office.

Maybe it could have happened sooner if his siblings just listened to him in the first place.

After the 2013-14 season, Jim pledged to re-sign if the Lakers weren’t “contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship … in three to four years.”

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Jim’s much-publicized promise to step down within three years—meaning this year—if the Lakers weren’t “in contention” was not what he originally said, according to sources close to the family.

When Jeanie asked Jim what they could do to hold him accountable, what Jim actually said first was:

“I only need one year.”

The others, knowing their brother so well, chuckled a bit and gave him a chance to amend his statement. He then made it “three years.”

The Lakers went 21-61 in 2014-15 and 17-65 in 2015-16. Jim was wholly incapable of engineering a quick turnaround.

But I understand Jeanie’s hesitancy to oust Jim. Their late father, Jerry, wanted Jim to run the front office. I’m sure Jeanie wanted Jim to have a fair shot at that opportunity.

However, she also should have realized that giving Jim three years meant setting back the franchise for far longer. The Lakers owe Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $102 million over the next three years — a substantial burden.

Paul George joining a blossoming Lakers team in 2018 is all the buzz, but Los Angeles doesn’t project to have enough cap space to sign him outright. It’d require dropping at least one positive asset, either directly or attached to Deng and/or Mozgov in a salary-dump trade.

That’s a reasonable tradeoff to land a star like George, but if Jim weren’t chasing wins late in his tenure, the maybe the Lakers could have had George and their full complement of recent draft picks.

Again, there was no simple answer here. The Busses wanted to let Jim try, and maybe family should have come first.

But Jim was too big of a dreamer, and even with his pledge extended to three years, he was still angling to keep his job after clearly failing in his stated mission. One way or another, this was bound to become a problem.

The Lakers just took a route where they’ll still feel the problem for years, even if Jim is now ousted from the front office.

 

Kings GM Vlade Divac: Pelicans were team that offered more for DeMarcus Cousins two days prior

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13:  Vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Sacramento Kings Vlade Divac attends the team's preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at T-Mobile Arena on October 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sacramento won 116-104. 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 Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac, explaining his modest return in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, said, “I had a better deal two days ago.”

That statement probably made Divac look more foolish than he should have. Cousins’ agents, wary of losing a designated-veteran-player extension only Sacramento could offer, were threatening not to re-sign with any team that traded for the center. That could dissuade a team from offering as much for Cousins, because any offer for him must account for the probability of him staying long-term. It’s unclear the Kings could have pushed through the earlier offer before the other team heard from Cousins’ agents and recanted.

But, in addition to causing uproar and mocking, Divac’s statement also sparked another question: What was that “better deal to days ago”?

Divac, via Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee;

When I was first talking with the Pelicans, it was about Buddy (Hield) and two first-round picks. I talked to DeMarcus’ agents (Dan Fegan and Jarinn Akana) to inform them we were having talks, negotiating terms, and they called teams and threatened them, saying that if Cousins was traded, he would not sign an extension. (Only the Kings could offer a fifth year, at a higher percentage of salary cap, because of Cousins’ designated veteran status.) They got scared and dropped it down to a second-round pick. I thought if I waited longer, I would get less. I needed to act.

Cousins signing a straight contract extension is practically infeasible. The Pelicans almost certainly won’t have enough cap space to offer a renegotiation-and-extension. He’ll probably become an unrestricted free agent in 2018 — which presents major risk for small-market New Orleans. (It’d be a bigger risk if the Pelicans blew up a quality team to land Cousins, which they very much didn’t.)

I don’t blame the Pelicans for lowering their offer once they heard from Cousins’ camp. I especially wouldn’t blame the Pelicans if they leveraged the agents’ threat, which should have come at no surprise, into a lesser offer to the Kings.

Instead of a deal based around Buddy Hield and two first-rounders, Sacramento got Hield, a first-rounder and a second-rounder. The second-rounder is this year’s 76ers’ selection, on pace to be No. 35 in a loaded draft. So, it’s far more valuable than the average second-rounder. We also don’t know what the protections would have been on the first-rounders in the earlier offer. The first-rounder actually conveyed is top-three protected this year, top-one protected the next three year and unprotected in 2021.

Still, with the prospect of DeMarcus Cousins leaving New Orleans next year, I would have loved to get my hands on another Pelicans first-rounder after his free agency.

Instead, the Kings settled for a package with far less upside.

Report: George Hill advised he can get ‘much better deal’ this summer than Jazz offered now

SAN ANTONIO,TX - NOVEMBER 01: George Hill #3 of the Utah Jazz pushes the ball during game between Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on November 1, 2016 in San Antonio, 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 Cortes/Getty Images)
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After last-day negotiations, the Jazz and George Hill didn’t agree on a renegotiation-and-extension.

Why?

Does he want to leave Utah? Do the Jazz not value him enough?

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

That doesn’t mean Hill doesn’t want to stay with the Jazz, sources tell The Tribune. In fact, Hill is fond of the franchise and Salt Lake City. He has been a leader in Utah’s locker room and is very close to Jazz star Gordon Hayward — both are from the Indianapolis area. He has developed friendships off the court in Salt Lake, and he enjoys playing for the Jazz.

The Jazz, sources say, are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Hill with the franchise.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

A much better deal? That might be in the eye of the beholder.

The most the Jazz could have offered Hill before last night’s midnight deadline was $88,684,652 — a $13,644,808 raise this season via renegotiation and a three-year, $75,039,844 extension.

As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Hill’s max contract projects to be worth about $177 million over five years if he re-signs or about $132 million over four years if he leaves.

Here’s what Hill’s max would have been in a renegotiation-and-extension and what his maxes project to be next summer:

Season Extension Re-sign Sign elsewhere
2016-17 $13,644,808
2017-18 $23,268,169 $30,600,000 $30,600,000
2018-19 $25,013,281 $33,048,000 $32,130,000
2019-20 $26,758,394 $35,496,000 $33,660,000
2020-21 $37,944,000 $35,190,000
2021-22 $40,392,000
Total $88,684,652 $177,480,000 $131,580,000

There’s no guarantee Hill will receive a max offer in free agency. Though he’s having an excellent season, he’ll be 31. Plus, he has played through multiple minor injuries this season. If one of those becomes major, he has no safety net.

And even if Hill receives higher-paying offers, those aren’t necessarily better offers. Does he want to leave Utah for the 76ers, Kings or Knicks? Those are the type of teams that are both desperate for a point guard and have max-level cap space.

Plus, if Hill signed a renegotiation-and-extension, he still could have earned some money on a new contract in 2020-21 and 2021-22. That has to be weighed against four- or five-year options in free agency.

I would have advised Hill to take the renegotiation-and-extension if the Jazz offered the max amount, but it’s an extremely close call. There’s definitely upside in Hill’s risk of bypassing an extension.

The best hope for Hill to secure a bigger contract with a good team is the Jazz. They hold his Bird Rights, so they can exceed the cap to re-sign him. They’re winning now, and he’s a big part of that. They also might have their point guard of the future already on the roster in Dante Exum. So, while a lucrative long-term contract for Hill might become an albatross on the backend, Utah would at least have the opportunity to reduce his role and elevate Exum rather than being stuck with no options.

Because Hill will be unrestricted, the Jazz should be proactive. They can’t idly wait for the market to determine Hill’s value and then try to match or barely beat it. By then, he might be gone.

Hill can use teams like Philadelphia, Sacramento and New York — maybe to get an offer he’s truly willing to accept, but at least to gain leverage over Utah.

There are many paths to Hill coming out ahead. Let’s acknowledge, though: Rejecting an extension is the more daring route.