Ersan Ilyasova

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Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia may miss Eurobasket with ankle injury

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When the Golden State Warriors won the title last June, Zaza Pachulia walked around the court with the Georgian flag draped around his shoulders. He’s a man proud of his nation, and he was excited to represent them this summer in EuroBasket (after his government awarded him the Order of Honor after winning the title).

But it looks like you can add Pachulia to the insanely long list of guys out for the European championships. Pachulia has suffered an ankle injury, and while it’s not serious enough to slow him in Golden State’s training camp in a month, it could be keeping off the Georgian team for the tournament, according to his coach.

A final decision will come over the weekend.

Here’s a partial list of the players missing this EuroBasket: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari, Enes Kanter, Marcin Gortat Ersan Ilyasova, Omar Asik, Andrea Bargnani, Nicolas Batum, Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Mirotic, and Sergio Llull. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

We’ll still be watching, but some of the drama has been sucked out of the event.

Hawks commit more earnestly to rebuild, but enough?

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hawks were pretty good without a clear path forward.

Now, they’re pretty bad without a clear path forward.

Luckily for them – and despite their best efforts – they might be bad enough.

Atlanta continued its descent from its 60-win peak two years ago by losing its two best players. The Hawks let Paul Millsap leave for the Nuggets and traded Dwight Howard to the Hornets in what could be described as a salary rearrangement more than a salary dump.

After multiple half-measures toward rebuilding – refusing to offer Al Horford the max, trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for first-round picks – Atlanta finally committed.

Kind of.

The Hawks hedged against full-on tanking by signing Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova. Those two big men – Dedmon in his prime, Ilyasova close enough to it – supply enough hustle and basketball intelligence to sabotage a proper tank. Coach Mike Budenholzer, whose teams tend to exceed the sum of their parts, won’t help Atlanta bottom out.

I can see breaking up a team with a playoff chance to torpedo high into the lottery. The Hawks aren’t doing that – not purposefully, at least. It appears they’re trying to remain credibly competitive, which could only undermine their rebuild.

Atlanta is rebuilding around Dennis Schroder, John Collins, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry. The Hawks also have all their own first-rounders plus protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves, and Cavaliers. But the Houston pick is the only one of those extras that can ever land in the top 10, and that’s just top-three protected this season, a season in which the Rockets project to pick in the low 20s.

Simply, this is not an encouraging asset pool to begin a rebuild with. Atlanta would benefit greatly from a high 2018 pick.

The Hawks just don’t seem interested enough in securing one.

They also lost Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha in free agency. Like the 32-year-old Millsap, the 33-year-old Sefolosha had no place on a team mostly rebuilding. The 25-year-old Hardaway could have fit into the next era or even as a trade chip, but not on the four-year, $71 million offer sheet the Knicks signed him to. Though Atlanta wisely passed on matching, it’s a shame to lose an asset for nothing.

That’s really the story of the Hawks’ descent. Millsap, Horford, Sefolosha and DeMarre Carroll all walked in free agency. Atlanta was always reluctant to trade those players for value while it could.

I’m trying to grade only this offseason, not prior decisions. General manager Travis Schlenk took over this offseason, and he has the runway for a patient rebuild.

The Hawks wisely got a first-rounder for taking and buying out Jamal Crawford. Could they have found similar deals rather than signing Dedmon and Ilyasova? Could they have signed younger players instead?

The Hawks might hope they can trade Dedmon (two years, $12.3 million) and Ilyasova (one-year, $6 million) for even greater value, but that comes with complications. Dedmon has a $6.3 million player option for next season, so if his deal goes south, Atlanta is on the hook for another year. (If it goes well, Dedmon will become an unrestricted free agent and – fitting the theme – could just leave.) As a returning player on a one-year contract, Ilyasova can veto any trade.

If the Hawks had re-signed Millsap (and maybe Sefolosha, too), they could have made a decent case to return to the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Atlanta has the NBA’s second-longest active playoff streak, 10 seasons. That isn’t nothing, and continuing it would have been fine.

If the Hawks tried to return to the playoffs and failed, they would have ended up in a similar position to where they are now – somewhere in the lottery, but not necessarily high in it. They could have even traded Millsap – whose Denver deal guarantees him just $61 million over two years – for value.

If the future is murky either way, I’d rather be better in the interim.

Perhaps, Atlanta just tired of losing in the first or second round (though ownership and management has recently changed). That would have been the team’s likely ceiling if it re-signed Millsap.

But I just don’t see winning about 30 games as more pleasurable than reaching the playoffs, even with an early-round exit. A 30-win season doesn’t bring enough value in the draft to offset the difference.

Here’s the good news: The Hawks’ hedging probably didn’t go far enough. They might be downright terrible, anyway – positioning them to draft the elite young talent they badly need to galvanize their rebuild.

This was a D+ effort that stumbled into a slightly more favorable position – i.e., a team that struggles more than it expects.

Offseason grade: C-

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk: ‘We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row’

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The Hawks let their best player (Paul Millsap) leave without offering him a contract. They traded their second-best player (Dwight Howard) in a salary dump that reduced the payroll only slightly. They also watched other key contributors (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha) depart in free agency.

At least Atlanta could rebuild around Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins and what appeared increasingly likely to be a high first-round pick.

Except the Hawks signed veterans Dewayne Dedmon (1+1) and Ersan Ilyasova (one-year) to contract that help the team this year without providing long-term value.

What is Atlanta doing?

New Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, via Shaun Powell of NBA.com:

“We want to continue the success we’ve had, but realize we might have to take a step back,” Schlenk said. “We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row. We realize that young players in this league take their lumps but we don’t want to send the message that we’re (fine) with losing.”

Competitive people involved in running NBA teams and casual fans don’t want to tank. But it seems the Hawks are missing an opportunity.

Their young core is fine, but hardly inspiring. An additional high first-round pick could bring everything together, but Dedmon and Ilyasova just make it less likely Atlanta bottoms out – without significantly increasing the odds of gratifying short-term success. Even in this Eastern Conference, it’s unlikely the Hawks sneak into the playoffs. Picking in the middle of the lottery could doom Atlanta onto the treadmill of mediocrity.

To be fair, the Hawks aren’t reliant on only their own first-round pick. They’re also owed protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves and Cavaliers. But only the Houston pick can ever land in the top 10, and it’s just top-three protected for 2018. Most likely, the Rockets win a lot next season and convey a pick in the mid-to-high 20s in the upcoming draft.

Atlanta’s own pick is, by far, the team’s most valuable mechanism for adding premier young talent. But the Hawks have downgraded the value of that pick in the name of not wanting to sink too low in the short term. That’s not a tradeoff I would have made.

Wizards pull away from Hawks in high-fouling Game 2

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The Wizards glared. They talked trash. They flexed. They skipped. They pumped their arms. They high-fived fans. They popped jerseys.

This wasn’t MMA, double or otherwise. The refs wouldn’t let it be.

This was showmanship of professional wrestling – and a very real win.

Washington preened at every opportunity – not many between a seemingly unending cascade of foul calls – in a 109-101 Game 2 victory over the Hawks on Wednesday. John Wall (32 points and nine assists) matched a career playoff scoring high, set in Game 1, and unofficially led his team in swagger outbursts.

The Wizards capitalized on their first home-court advantage since 1979, winning twice in Washington before heading to Atlanta for Game 3 Saturday. Teams up 2-0 with two home wins in a best-of-seven series have won 94% of the time.

The Wizards and Hawks grinded through eight ties, 14 lead changes and 55 fouls – a foul every 52 seconds. For perspective, refs called a foul every 2:26 during the regular season.

Paul Millsap (27 points on 14-of-15 free-throw shooting) needed no adjusting to the style he sought and hunted fouls relentlessly. For a while, it seemed it’d work, with the Hawks turning a 10-point deficit into a seven-point lead in the third quarter.

But Brandon Jennings (10 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes) got hot at the right time, and Bradley Beal (31 points) finally warmed up in the fourth quarter.

There will be moments Atlanta wishes it had back. Kent Bazemore committed a two costly turnovers when the Hawks tried to play just a couple minutes without a traditional point guard. Dwight Howard (six points, seven rebounds, three turnovers and four fouls) looked ineffective, and he played fewer than 20 minutes, none in the fourth quarter. Dennis Schroder (23 points) kept attacking the rim, faring better with Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Muscala spacing the floor. Will Atlanta deemphasize the paint-clogging Howard in Game 3?

And will the Hawks stop drawing so many fouls? After taking 39 free throws in Game 1 (to Washington’s 17), they attempted 38 (to Washington’s 33) in Game 2.

No team has taken so many free throws (77) in the first two games of a series and lost both since the 2008 Mavericks, who eventually lost to the New Orleans Hornets in five games in the first round.

If you don’t win like this, when will you?

Magic fire general manager Rob Hennigan

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Everyoneeven Rob Hennigan — saw this coming.

The underwhelming-turned-embarrassing tenure of the Magic general manager has ended.

John Denton of the team’s official website:

Magic CEO Alex Martins announced the firings of General Manager Rob Hennigan and Assistant GM Scott Perry.

Assistant GM Matt Lloyd, a Magic employee for five years, will serve as the franchise’s interim GM until a full-time successor is chosen. Lloyd, who worked for the Chicago Bulls for 13 years prior to joining the Magic, is expected to be a candidate for the long-term position.

The Magic went 20-62, 23-59, 25-57, 35-47 and 29-53 and missed the playoffs every year under Hennigan, which is bad enough. Compounding problems: None of the first-round picks gained by those poor records — Andrew NicholsonVictor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid PaytonMario Hezonja — have become stars.

That didn’t stop Hennigan from trying to push in his chips this season. Last summer, he acquired Serge Ibaka (via trade of Victor Oladipo, No. 11 pick and Ersan Ilyasova), Bismack Biyombo (four-year, $72 million contract), Jeff Green (one-year, $15 million contract) and D.J. Augustin (four-year, $29 million contract).

The result? Gordon, Orlando’s most promising player, spent most of the season playing out of position, at small forward rather than power forward. And the Magic kept losing. Hennigan flipped Ibaka to the Raptors for Terrence Ross and a later first-round pick, but the damage was already done.

It’s still not too hard to find someone who still believes in the 35-year-old Hennigan’s acumen. But five years was plenty of time to show it, and he never did.