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Three questions the Atlanta Hawks must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 43-39 and made the playoffs for the 10th straight year, but had the point difference of a 39-43 team and lost in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Atlanta completed the breakup of the starting lineup that won 60 games a couple years ago, letting Paul Millsap leave in free agency (after trading Kyle Korver at the deadline last season). The Hawks also traded Dwight Howard in a salary dump rearrangement. New general manager Travis Schlenk is clearly rebuilding, adding No. 19 pick John Collins and an extra future first-rounder (acquired for renting cap space to pay a bought-out Jamal Crawford). But Atlanta isn’t jumping full speed into tanking. The Hawks also signed competitive veterans Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova.

THREE QUESTIONS THE HAWKS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Atlanta compete or tank? The Hawks look far closer to being the NBA’s worst team than a playoff qualifier. It’s hard to see a Mike Budenholzer-coached team starting the season tanking. But if Atlanta can’t surpass outside expectations, the strategy could change. When – or even if – that happens could play a large part in how this season looks.

In a weak Eastern Conference, it’s at least plausible the Hawks remain in the playoff race for a while. Veterans like Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli can play.

But if Atlanta drops in the standings, their playing time could get turned over to rawer young players, who’d likely sink the Hawks even further.

2) Is Dennis Schroder – or anyone – a long-term piece? There isn’t a single player on this team to feel confident will still be in Atlanta when the Hawks next win a playoff series, or even just make the playoffs. The Hawks slid into this rebuild after a long postseason streak, which means they haven’t had a top-10 pick in a decade.

Schroder is the closest thing to a blue-chip prospect on this roster, and he’s the only one earning big money (starting a four-year, $62 million extension this season). So, there’s a little more attention on him.

But John Collins, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry are all indefinite keepers, too.

If Atlanta isn’t going to make the playoffs, success could be identifying which players to build around long-term.

3) Will Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova establish trade value? Dedmon and Ilyasova are hedges against rebuilding and the early favorites to start at power forward and center. These are proud veterans who will help the team right now – and work against the Hawks securing a high draft pick.

So, why sign those two?

Because Atlanta is surely holding out hope to be good. Teams rarely start the season tanking without first taking a shot at defying expectations.

But also maybe because Dedmon and Ilyasova will have positive trade value. If the Hawks fall out of the playoff race, they might look to deal Dedmon (two years, $12.3 million with a player option) and Ilyasova (one year, $6 million) to winners for younger players and picks. Ilyasova can block any trade, but if Atlanta sinks far enough, why wouldn’t he approve a trade to a better team, the only type of team that’d be interested in him?

Sixers Jabari Parker upgraded to “probable,” will decide after warm ups

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.