Kurt Helin

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After fallback season, Hawks look to rise again in East

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap tossed and turned much of the night.

He didn’t expect the summer to begin this soon.

Millsap and the Atlanta Hawks were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, capping a season that fell short of expectations from start to finish.

Now, the Hawks face some huge decisions, from figuring out a way to re-sign free agents-to-be Al Horford and Kent Bazemore to charting the future of the point guard position.

“It’s tough, especially when you expect more,” Millsap said Monday after the Hawks wrapped up their exit interviews with coach Mike Budenholzer. “We really felt like we had a good chance.”

But really, this playoff exit wasn’t much of a surprise. The Hawks struggled all season to find the sort of consistency that carried them a franchise-record 60 wins the previous year.

After slipping to a 48-34 record and fourth seed in the East, the Hawks did manage to get by injury depleted Boston in the opening round. That was it. LeBron James and the Cavaliers breezed past Atlanta in four straight games, the same result as the previous season when the teams met in the conference finals.

“For five or six years, whatever team LeBron James has been on, the East has been trying to figure out how to beat that team,” Budenholzer said. “We’re just like the rest of the East right now.”

The biggest priority for the Hawks is re-signing Horford and Bazemore, who are both unrestricted free agents.

Horford has spent his entire nine-year career with Atlanta, and it’s hard to imagine where the team would be without him. While he struggled in the playoffs, the 6-foot-10 center is the type of hybrid player that Budenholzer loves to have in his fast-paced offense, a big man who can run the court and even became a bit of a 3-point threat this season.

Bazemore was one of the most improved players in the league, a 6-5 bundle of energy who wasn’t even drafted out of college but averaged 11.6 points a game in his first year as a starter. While still raw, his potential upside that is off the charts.

“They’re two big pieces,” teammate Kyle Korver said. “Al has been the cornerstone of this team for a lot of years. What he brings to the table, there’s just not anyone really like him in the NBA. Baze is obviously just figuring out who he is as a player. I think he’ll keep on getting better.”

Horford would prefer to remain with the only NBA team he’s ever known, but he’s just starting to think about all the ramifications of the huge choice he’ll face this summer.

“I really haven’t had a chance to start thinking and talking about all this stuff, even with my family,” Horford said. “I had a rule this season: Focus on the team, focus on the now, I don’t want to hear anything about the summer. Now the summer is here.”

The Hawks are also facing a reckoning at point guard, where Jeff Teague is the longtime starter but Dennis Schroder is coming on strong. Tellingly, the 22-year-old German led the Hawks with 21 points in the season finale, Sunday’s 100-99 loss to the Cavs, and had the ball in his hands for a potential game-winning shot at the end.

Teague was merely a spectator, watching from the bench.

Budenholzer, who has the final say in personnel matters, could elect to keep both point guards for another season. But Teague’s trade value is probably as high as it’s going to get entering the final year of his contract. Schroder has made it clear he wants to be the starter someday.

While another sweep by the Cavaliers prompted inevitable questions about a major overhaul, that doesn’t seem likely. Budenholzer often talks about the importance of continuity, and he’s counting on getting a lot more next season from players such as center Tiago Splitter, who went down with a season-ending injury, and Tim Hardaway Jr., who barely played at all the first half of the season.

“Blowing it up is probably not the way to beat a team like Cleveland,” Budenholzer said. “We value what this group has done, the success that they’ve had.”

The core of the team may return.

But no one wants to go through this again.

“We all want more,” Budenholzer said. “I think it’s great that we’ve put ourselves in that position where there’s some expectations. People want and expect a lot of us. We expect that. Tomorrow, the challenge is to come in, get to work, find a way to get better, find a way to go to that next level.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

So you know, Sam Hinkie came in 10th in Executive of the Year voting

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Sam Hinkie’s “process” was always more popular, understood, appreciated, whatever-phrase-you-want, by the people in and around the league than by most fans and some of the media members.

Which explains why Hinkie received multiple votes for Executive of the Year. That would be the Sam Hinkie that Sixers ownership pushed to the side with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo, and eventually out the door with the hiring of Bryan Colangelo.

Hinkie received one second place and two third place votes for Executive of the Year, which was won by R.C. Buford of the Spurs. He came in 10th in the voting, ahead of Dennis Lindsey of the Jazz, Wes Wilcox of the Hawks, and John Hammond of the Bucks.

The voting for this award is done by the other NBA executives (unlike MVP, Rookie of the Year, and other awards voted on by select media members).

Hinkie took “getting bad to get good” to a new level, but in doing so made the Sixers worse in the short term than even he intended. He made mistakes: He did a poor job selling his plan to the public, he refused to spend enough to draw role-playing veterans to stabilize things on the court and in the locker room, and he may have missed on draft picks (the jury is still out on that).

But he also understood that to turn the Sixers around he was going to have to draft a superstar, and he put the organization in the best possible position to do just that. This is a team loaded with young players and draft picks, assets that the Colangelos likely will turn into a good team in a few years. They will bask in the glory, but they will do it standing on the foundation that Hinkie laid.


Sixers say Dario Saric still plans to play for Philadelphia next season


If I were Dario Saric’s agent, I would be telling him — begging him — to play one more season overseas. I can give him more than $10 million reasons it’s a good idea.

However, Saric has repeatedly said he plans to come to the NBA next season, bringing his 6’10” frame and guard-like skills.

Now Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo and coach Brett Brown are going to meet with him to convince Saric to do just that, Colangelo said onTCN’s Breakfast on Broad (via Jessica Camerato at CSNPhilly.com.)

Colangelo believes the shape of the roster, including who the Sixers select in the draft, could have an impact on Saric’s decision.

“We think this is good timing for him,” Colangelo said. “We hope that he does have a desire to be here.”

Here’s the math. If Saric comes to the NBA next season (two seasons after he was drafted) he is locked into the 2014 rookie scale, meaning his salary would be (via our own Dan Feldman).

2016-17: $2,318,280
2017-18: $2,422,560
2018-19: $2,526,840 (team option)
2019-20: $3,481,986 (team option)

For those of you counting at home, that’s about $4.7 million guaranteed and $10.8 for the four years of the contract. After three seasons, the Sixers could offer a contract extension beyond this deal, but he would be locked in for the rookie scale that fourth year.

However, if Saric waits one more season and comes over for the NBA’s 2017-18 season, he can negotiate any deal he can get from Philadelphia. This is what Tiago Splitter and Nikola Mirotic did, and Mirotic negotiated a 3-year deal worth $16.6 million last summer. That would be Mirotic, the 23rd pick in the draft who signed before the salary cap spike that will come the next two years in the NBA thanks to the new national television deal. Saric was the 12th pick. Conservatively, if Saric waits for a season he should be able to to get three years $21 million from the Sixers, or four years $28 million (that will be about the average NBA salary). That’s at least — at least — $10 million more guaranteed. If your argument is “he gets to his second contract faster coming over now” you are wrong — he would still be under his rookie deal through 2020, if he comes over next summer he can sign a three-year deal for $10 million more and he would still be a free agent in 2020.

Maybe it’s not all about the money with him, maybe Saric wants to be in the NBA that badly. If so, more power to him. But I’ll believe it when I see it. This is a business and staying overseas one more year is the smart business move.

Rockets coaching search update: Kenny Smith to be interviewed, Frank Vogel contacted

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The Houston Rockets’ wide-ranging coaching search just keeps marching along. We know there has been contact with Mike D’Antoni, Sam Cassell, Stephen Silas, Chris Finch and others.

Tuesday it’s the turn for a big name but a longshot — Kenny “The Jet” Smith — got his chance, reports Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

Monday it was David Blatt’s turn to pitch himself to Houston, and we also learn from Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronical Jeff Hornacek gets a shot on Tuesday as well

The guys conventional wisdom around the league at the front of the list — Frank Vogel and Jeff Van Gundy — are still in the wings.

It’s still early in the process, as evidence here is another report from Calvin Watkins about James Harden‘s involvement, or lack thereof, to this point.

The Houston Rockets, who are in the middle of a coaching search, have yet to present any of the candidates to star guard James Harden according to a source. Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said they would talk to Harden during the coaching search and free agency process.

The Rockets are taking their time. Which is smart, this is a big hire for them, but the Rockets are not the only team looking around right now and they don’t want their guy to get grabbed by someone else (not that Dave Joerger was).

Watch Kevin Durant drop career playoff best 41 on Spurs

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Kevin Durant struggled in the first half, with the Spurs defense seeming to have contained him on Sunday.

Second half Durant was as good as we have ever seen him — 29 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter when he shot 6-of-6. While Gregg Popovich would say the Spurs made some defensive mistakes on Durant, he also just hit ridiculous contested shots. He was vintage Kevin Durant.

And with that, the series is tied 2-2 heading back to San Antonio.