Hawks management would like to make the playoffs, but it’s not that big a deal

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Right now, the Knicks are playing with some passion — after stumbling and bumbling (to quote Clyde) through the first three quarters of the season, they have played better and picked up key wins (such as blowing out Brooklyn Wednesday) to battle back into the eighth seed in the playoff chase.

The Atlanta Hawks have lost seven of their last eight games, which is on top of losing 14-of-15 in a streak through most of February and into early March. They are playing like the team everyone expected them to be after losing Al Horford for the season… except they weren’t that team when Horford first went down. Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague helped sparked a team that would not just collapse. But as the injuries continued to pile up so have the losses.

And their management doesn’t really seem to care.

At least that’s how it sounded when GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer spoke about it to the New York Times.

“Candidly, I don’t pay the amount of attention to the standings that you would expect,” (Ferry) said.

Ferry’s admission reflects a viewpoint in the Hawks’ front office that landing the final berth would constitute no grand achievement. The team is a construction site — first-year coach, revamped system, retouched roster with more changes imminent — and expectations were tamped down even before injuries ravaged the squad….

“We’re really just focused on building our habits,” (Budenholzer) said. “I know the standings. There’s not a lot of time and energy I put into it.”

Ferry tried to clarify his statement when he was on SiriusXM NBA Radio with hosts Frank Isola and Sam Mitchell Thursday.

“Yeah, we want to make the playoffs.  We’re frustrated that we’re sitting here in this battle for the 8th seed.  We’ve had a ton of injuries, losing Al Horford early, but really we would have been a higher seed before this had we not had the compounded injuries over the last six to eight weeks where we’ve had five guys out for a good part of it all at once, different guys.  So it’s been a frustrating second half of the year for us.  We felt like there was a real opportunity for us in the East if we could have stayed healthy to be one of those teams with home court advantage and be in the mix.  That hasn’t happened.  That being said, yes, we want to be in the playoffs.  It would be a great experience, especially for our young players, but our group in general, to be in the playoffs.  Obviously, playing a team like Miami if that’s who we’d end up playing is a great challenge but certainly one we would embrace.”

He went on to say even in San Antonio or Cleveland he didn’t check the standings.

You can argue this makes sense — aside a little more cash in the door because of a couple more home games, and a little more experience, what do the Hawks get out of getting swept by the Heat or Pacers in the first round of the playoffs? The focus should be on the long play in Atlanta.

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But part of what Ferry and Budenholzer need to establish in Atlanta is a winning culture, one that fights and scraps for everything. That is part of the process. That’s what they came from in San Antonio (even if Gregg Popovich does it in more low key way), that’s what you see in Chicago. The players execute it but the attitude starts at the top and everyone is on the same page. It’s something fans can get behind.

In the end, the Hawks need a lot more talent to win big in the NBA and Ferry needs to be focused on that as the priority in the big picture. But you want to put that talent on a team that plays with passion.

Like the Knicks are showing right now as they pass the Hawks in the standings.

New Orleans Saints fire Pelicans’ team physician

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The Pelicans have been crushed by injuries the last few years.

Why? That’s an incredibly complex question.

But the New Orleans Saints – who share an owner (Tom Benson), a front-office leader (Mickey Loomis) and other staff with the Pelicans – have found culprits for their own injury woes.

Mike Triplett of ESPN:

The Saints have fired team orthopedists Deryk Jones and Misty Suri, per source, after it was discovered that CB Delvin Breaux has a fractured fibula and will require surgery expected to sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. Breaux was originally diagnosed with a contusion

Suri is a Pelicans team physician.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Fairly or not, Suri – after the Saints deemed him unacceptable – will be in the crosshairs if he keeps his job with the the Pelicans and their injury woes continue.

Rumor: LeBron James ‘100 percent’ leaving Cavaliers next summer

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Chris Sheridan was ahead of the crowd in 2014, reporting LeBron James would likely leave the Heat for the Cavaliers – which obviously happened.

But Sheridan called it a “90 percent chance,” a small – but large enough – hedge. He also said LeBron would announce the decision on LeBron’s personal website. Of course, LeBron revealed his choice in a Sports Illustrated essay.

So, maybe Sheridan knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he doesn’t.

But the longtime NBA writer just fanned the flames of the already hot LeBron-leaving-Cleveland rumors.

Sheridan:

There have already been plenty of warning signs about LeBron’s relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, which didn’t restart in a great place.

It’s entirely believable LeBron would leave Cleveland, in large part due to Gilbert.

But it’s also fun to speculate about that salacious storyline.

Maybe Sheridan or his source got carried away for that very reason. Or maybe they know something.

Neither possibility should be discounted.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant betting odds favorites to win MVP

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Unlike the early projections for the NBA title next season, the MVP race seems wide open.

Russell Westbrook put up ridiculous numbers on his way to the award last season, but now he is going to share the rock with Paul George. James Harden made a legitimate case and would have won most seasons, but now he will have the ball in his hands less with Chris Paul running the show.

Who is going to win? Westbrook and Golden State’s Kevin Durant are the early betting line favorites, with these odds courtesy of online gaming site Bovada.

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 7/2
Kevin Durant (GS) 9/2
Kawhi Leonard (SAN) 13/2
LeBron James (CLE) 15/2
James Harden (HOU) 8/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 17/2
Steph Curry (GS) 11/1
Anthony Davis (NOP) 16/1
Paul George (OKC) 25/1
Chris Paul (HOU) 25/1
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 25/1
DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 33/1
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 33/1
John Wall (WAS) 33/1
Blake Griffin (LAC) 40/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 40/1
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 50/1
Joel Embiid (PHI) 50/1
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 50/1
Damian Lillard (POR) 50/1
Draymond Green (GS) 60/1
Ben Simmons (PHI) 66/1
Gordon Hayward (BOS) 70/1
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 75/1
Jimmy Butler (MIN) 75/1
Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 75/1
Kevin Love (CLE) 100/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 100/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 100/1

Yes, it is far too early to discuss this. As a voter, I don’t even start to make a list of serious candidates until midway through the season (then that list evolves as the season wears on). But it’s fun to speculate about.

To me, the smartest bet on the board seems to be Kawhi Leonard — he could have won last year, and if anything the Spurs are going to ask more of him this season. I think Harden has a chance to win it this season even with CP3, same with Westbrook, but it feels less likely. It’s hard to imagine one Warrior being picked above the others for the award. If Giannis Antetokounmpo finds his jumper it could happen, but that feels more like something a couple seasons away. Same with Karl-Anthony Towns being in consideration.

If you’re going to bet on Kevin Love, just donate that money to charity where it will do some good.

If Jeff Hornacek doesn’t work out with Knicks, is David Blatt next in line?

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It’s not fair to judge Jeff Hornacek of his first season as coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson made some poor roster decisions — don’t hire a coach that likes to play fast then go sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and then there was the on again, off again, on again triangle offense looming over everything.

This season Hornacek will sink or swim on his own terms, and his ability to develop Kristaps Porzingis into a true franchise cornerstone and put Tim Hardaway Jr. and other young players in good positions around them.

If not, is former Cavaliers coach David Blatt lurking? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says it’s something to watch.

Blatt, who has enjoyed tremendous success abroad, owns an impressive resume. No question about it. But you know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And Blatt has connections with people in high places inside the Knicks front office, namely team president Steve Mills and newly hired front office executive Craig Robinson…

Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results. That begins with Hornacek repairing his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, who did not connect with the head coach last season and ultimately skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, Hornacek and Mills in April.

Repairing that relationship with Porzingis is crucial. We’ll see if Hornacek can do that and get this team moving in the right direction.

Blatt wants to return to the NBA, but his he the guy to connect with Porzingis? Blatt’s problems in Cleveland had far less to do with Xs and Os than it did relationships with players — Blatt was saying he wanted to team to play faster long before Tyronn Lue said that when he took over, but Lue could get players to buy in and listen. Blatt couldn’t. Blatt came in expecting to be handed respect, touting his European resume (that NBA players shrugged at), and demanding deference rather than building partnerships with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Blatt came off as needing to be the smartest guy in the room, always. Basically, Blatt could not handle the player/power dynamic in the NBA (coming out of Europe, where coaches have absolute power, like an American college coach). Has he learned how to deal with it?

Before we get to that question, Hornaced gets his shot. The real test for the Knicks comes after Christmas, when they spend most of a couple of weeks on the road (due to the Grammys coming to Madison Square Garden), it’s a tough couple of weeks, and the team could struggle in that stretch and not recover. Hornacek has to have the team playing well enough, and buying in enough by then, to survive that trip. Do that and he will stick around. If not, the sharks are circling.