Atlanta Hawks new GM faces some tricky personnel issues

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ATLANTA (AP) — Travis Schlenk knows what it takes to win a championship.

He’s also a realist.

Just over a week after he was hired as general manager and head of basketball operations by the Atlanta Hawks, Schlenk was formally introduced by his new team Friday at Philips Arena, facing a host of issues ranging from re-signing free agent Paul Millsap to figuring out a role for Dwight Howard.

Hawks owner Tony Ressler gushed over Schlenk’s qualifications, saying he clearly stood out among the 8-to-10 candidates interviewed by the team.

Schlenk spent a dozen years with Golden State, helping build a team that won the title in 2015 and is playing in its third straight NBA Finals. He worked his way up to director of player personnel and spent the last five years as the top assistant to general manager Bob Myers.

Now, Schlenk has a team of his own.

“The breadth of experience that Travis had – having every job in a basketball operations, understanding what everyone does in basketball operations, having that championship pedigree, having the type of mentors and colleagues that Travis has had – he separated himself in our discussions,” Ressler said.

While taking over a team that has made 10 straight playoff appearances, Schlenk also must cope with some major personnel issues and a sense that this is a franchise in decline after a record 60-win campaign in 2014-15, when the Hawks were top seed in the East and reached the conference finals.

This season, Atlanta went 43-39 and was knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs.

Schlenk said one of his top priorities is bringing back Millsap, a four-time All-Star who opted out of the final year of his contract.

But perhaps the most pressing issue is Howard, who still has two more years on his contract. Once one of the league’s most dominating players, the 6-foot-11 center endured a disappointing debut season with the Hawks and looked totally out of place by the playoffs.

Struggling to adapt to coach Mike Budenholzer’s motion offense, Howard averaged just eight points per game against the Washington Wizards – and didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter of the series-deciding loss.

Schlenk wants to find a way to make it work. He has yet to speak with Howard in person, but the two have exchanged text messages.

“I certainly plan to sit down,” the new GM said. “I don’t judge people on what I hear. I judge people when I have a chance to sit down and talk to them. But he’s one of the most productive big guys in the league, so he’s important to us.”

Schlenk is also stepping into what could be an uncomfortable situation, claiming authority over player personnel decisions that had been held by Budenholzer.

After a series of questionable moves, which included the signing of Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million deal and making a four-year, $70 million commitment to former D-League player Kent Bazemore (who lost his starting job late in the season), Ressler stripped Budenholzer of his title as president of basketball operations and demoted general manager Wes Wilcox – who was essentially Budenholzer’s top lieutenant – to an advisor role.

Budenholzer did not attend the news conference, but the team was quick to point out that wasn’t a sign of discontent: the coach was attending his son’s high school graduation.

While conceding that he didn’t know Budenholzer all that well before being hired by the Hawks, Schlenk said the two had met extensively this week to begin ironing out their roles and what they expect from each other.

“I have no reason to believe that there’ll be any issues with coach and I,” Schlenk said. “I’m here to help him. It’s a partnership. We’re in this together. I can’t be successful in my job in he’s not successful in his job. I think we’re going to have a very strong working relationship.”

While noting that it took seven years to build a championship team at Golden State, Schlenk said the Hawks have many of the elements needed to reach that goal, including a committed owner, a new practice facility and the ongoing $190 million renovation of Philips Arena, as well as long-term plans to develop the blighted area around the team’s home.

“We want to build a championship-quality team that’s sustainable,” he said. “We want to be in the conversation every year as a franchise than can compete for a championship.”

 

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.