Author: Kurt Helin

Danny Ferry

Report: Hawks GM Danny Ferry said of Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him”


This was the first domino that has ended with Bruce Levenson selling his majority share of the Atlanta Hawks.

It was a conference call in June where owners were being informed of potential free agents the Hawks could chase this summer when team general manager Danny Ferry allegedly said this about Luol Deng, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

“He’s still a young guy overall,” Ferry said, league sources with direct knowledge of the probe told Yahoo. “He’s a good guy overall. But he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

That is just clearly, blatantly unacceptable. It should make you cringe.

Deng was born in what is now South Sudan where he was fortunate to get out during one civil war. He is almost universally seen around the league as one of the better, more high character guys out there — he has helped organize many humanitarian missions to his troubled native country, not to mention other parts of the continent and globe. The Hawks did meet with him but Deng chose to sign in Miami.

Ferry has apologized.

Ferry allegedly read that line straight from a scouting report, but that doesn’t really matter, it shouldn’t have been written in the first place and should have been edited long before it got to a meeting with owners. The scout that wrote it should be in trouble.

The comment made some of the owners on the conference call uncomfortable, particularly in a post Donald Sterling world where the NBA was going to have zero tolerance for race issues.

The owners called for and started an investigation on bigoted things in organizational correspondence — and remember that there has been a lot of infighting within the Atlanta Spirit ownership group for years. No punches were going to be pulled.

That investigation found the 2012 email Levenson had sent out that crudely and, in a rather oversimplified way, tried to say the Hawks needed to bring in more white fans and make the in arena experience less African-American. The email talked about black cheerleaders, music played at the games and other steps.

The league was informed of the email and on Sunday Levenson apologized and said he would sell his majority stake in the team. His phone has been ringing off the hook (he’s going to turn a big profit here).

Ferry is getting a fine for his comments according to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin but Ferry keeps his job. It was Ferry’s poor choice of words (or lack of editing) that was the first domino to fall.

But it will not be the last.

Team USA’s Spanish vacation over, this week things get serious

Mike Krzyzewski, DeMar DeRozan

So far Team USA’s vacation in Spain has been a relaxing romp — they are 6-0 at the FIBA World Cup in Spain and the closest game finished with a 21-point USA win. The Americans felt no stress and had plenty of time to take in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and nosh on gambas al ajillo.

Team USA has averaged 99.5 points a game on 52.7 percent shooting as a team. Their pressure defense has overwhelmed everyone they faced and they have the best defensive points per possessions allowed in the tournament. More importantly, the depth and versatility of the American roster has allowed them to just beat their opponents at their own games.

Now the vacation part of the trip ends — starting Tuesday this is a business trip for Team USA.

There have been cracks in the USA armor — a stagnant halfcourt offense, defenders getting lost (they switch screens a lot and the communication has been an issue, defenders get lost on backcuts) — but they have not faced anyone who can exploit it.

Frankly, only Spain has the talent and system to exploit the flaws enough to beat Team USA, however the Americans will not see the host nation until next Sunday’s World Cup final.

Prior to that this week Team USA will see two teams that have the skill to pick at those flaws, to play the blueprint that gave the USA trouble against Turkey for a half. Team USA should win those games, likely handily, but if the Americans do not start to fix those flaws Spain will rip them wide open.

The Americans cannot just flip the switch against Spain.

First up for the Americans is Goran Dragic (and his brother Zoran Dragic) and the Slovenian team — a squad Team USA overran and beat by 30 in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden. On the surface it doesn’t look like much of a test, but there are a couple things at play here. First, Slovenia has seen the Americans and their system before, they will not be as overwhelmed and intimidated.

Also, the Slovenians run a lot of pick-and-rolls and that has been a minefield for Team USA — starting Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and James Harden always meant perimeter defense was going to be an issue. The Americans are running a very Tom Thibodeau influenced system where they are going under most picks, but Turkey zig-zagged off picks, which caused problems, and Turkey showed if you run some back cuts defenders get lost and easy shots open up. Slovenia runs a system offense and will look for these kind of actions, and the Dragic brothers have the skills to make the Americans work.

It’s not that Slovenia will win, but if they are getting a lot of clean looks and open layups, it will be a bad sign of things to come. This game will be closer than the game in New York a few weeks back.

Next up on Thursday will come either Turkey — who laid out the blueprint for beating Team USA (remember Turkey led by five at the half) — or a Lithuanian team that runs a good system and has talent. Lithuania rolls out NBA big men in the Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas and the Rockets’ Donatas Motiejunas, which would make the American front line works. Lithuania would be another real test for the Americans, but they don’t really have the talent to exploit the flaws enough to win.

Everything still points to a USA vs. Spain World Cup final Sunday in Madrid. They have clearly been the two best teams in the tournament.

Spain has Pau Gasol, who is having a tournament MVP level run, along with his brother Marc Gasol, and they bring Serge Ibaka off the bench. That front line is a serious challenge for the American front line of Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins (a group which has owned the glass so far). For guards the Spanish have Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Sergio Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Navarro, and on the wing there is Rudy Fernandez — they have great shooting, as well guys who are unselfish. They have guys who match up with the American wings (this is where they miss Paul George and Kevin Durant, they miss the size).

Also, all those Spanish players have played together for at least six years on the national team — they know their system. Their big men pass well and you can expect a lot of back cuts and pick-and-rolls, you have guards who can handle the Americans’ athleticism and pressure and not buckle. Lose your man on defense and they will get and hit the open shot.

Bottom line, the Americans need to play better against Spain than they have so far to beat them.

Which means Team USA needs to clean up their flaws against Slovenia and whoever they play Thursday. If they just try to flip the switch against Spain, it will not end well.

Hawks GM Danny Ferry to face internal disciplinary action over comment he repeated

Danny Ferry

The fallout around the Atlanta Hawks continues.

During a recent internal investigation of the Hawks it was found that back in 2012 majority owner Bruce Levenson sent a rambling, crass email to other members of the Hawks front office and business side discussing ways to bring in more fans to Hawks, games, specifically white fans. He said he thought the black crowd at the games was scaring off the white fan base that would buy season seats. Levenson himself called the email “inappropriate and offensive” in his statement Sunday where he said he will sell his share of the team. (At a huge profit we should add, he basically gets a golden parachute out of this mess.)

The Hawks CEO told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that there were other incidents out of that investigation that would lead to punishments, and that includes team GM Danny Ferry.

Sunday night, Hawks co-owner and CEO Steve Koonin said other disciplinary action will be taken, including against general manager Danny Ferry….

According to Koonin, the Hawks held a meeting in early June to discuss free agency. At that meeting, a player was being discussed and Ferry cited a background report that included an “offensive and racist” remark.

“Instead of editing it, he said the comment,” Koonin said.

That’s what is going to land Ferry with some kind of punishment, which will be internal and not made public.

This is the NBA walking on eggshells in a post-Sterling world. It is why other owners are concerned — they don’t want to see themselves or their guys next on this slippery slope. But that also doesn’t make it wrong — there should be a zero-tolerance policy towards bigoted comments and actions.

What that means is there will be more fallout from around the league. And with the Hawks.

Hawks owner Levenson stepping aside has owners concerned about a “slippery slope”

Bruce Levenson

Donald Sterling had to go as owner of the Clippers. Aside it being the right thing to do after decades of embarrassing and racist acts, the fact is that for the other 29 owners he had become bad for business. Sponsors were staying away, players were talking boycott, it was going to be a mess if he stayed.

But those same owners also didn’t like the idea of them having to vote him out for a taped private conversation (Shelly Sterling’s sale of the team was much cleaner). They would have done it, but Mark Cuban put it this way speaking to the New York Post when this first broke last April.

“I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It’s a very, very slippery slope.”

That new age caught up with its first guy.

Sunday Atlanta Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson announced he is selling his share of the Hawks due to a 2012 email he sent to other key members of the Hawks front office basically saying to grow the crowd at Hawks games they needed to find ways to make it more white, less African-American. (What the Hawks need to do is just sell more tickets period, they were 28th in attendance last season). The email was poorly worded, crass, and rambling — and you can be sure that other teams have had similar internal discussions. The issues he discusses are something the league itself has tried to deal with — remember David Stern hired a Republican strategist to consult on how to make the league more “red state friendly” and not long after the player dress code went into place. But Levenson turned himself in and now will sell his share of the team (at a healthy profit).

Other owners are wondering where they could be on Cuban’s slippery slope. Adrian Wojnarowski has a great story on this at Yahoo Sports.

All around the league, owners started to take inventory on loose memos, audio and video remnants of speaking engagements and staff meetings. From race to gay rights to fears of camera phones getting turned on them half-cocked in bars well past midnight, there were assuredly more than a few owners dispatching high-level cleaning crews to try and retrieve and expunge past indiscretions….

Once the NBA delivered its proclamation on Sunday, there were some unmistakable sighs of relief throughout the league. As one high-ranking team official texted within moments of the Levenson announcement, “It isn’t my guy!” Everyone’s heart stopped pounding so furiously, thrilled they had survived one more round of cuts in the roulette the post-Donald Sterling era has brought the NBA.

Yes, they survived the weekend, but Monday will come, and all around the NBA they’ll start wondering and starting worrying again: Am I next?

Somebody will be. This is a league with business owners who fight gay marriage, have strong political opinions, and there is even a Russian oligarch as an owner. There are other skeletons.

And how is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver going to handle it when the next Levenson doesn’t decide to just cash in and walk away, what happens if he fights to stay?

The fallout from Donald Sterling’s exit is not over around the NBA.

Report: Suns targeting Goran Dragic’s brother Zoran


Goran Dragic, who is coming off a breakout season in Phoenix, has been masterful for Slovenia this World Cup (and that happens to be Team USA’s opponent Tuesday). He’s averaged 16.5 points a game on 58.8 percent shooting, hit 38.5 percent from three and dished out 4.3 assists a game.

His brother Zoran Dragic has been his team’s second best player — 13.5 points a game on 53 percent shooting overall, and he’s shooting 45 percent from three. The pairing of the brothers has given Slovenia one of the best offenses in the World Cup.

Now the Suns might try to pair them up in the NBA, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources here in Spain told this weekend that the Phoenix Suns are indeed among the three NBA teams expressing the most serious interest in signing Goran Dragic’s younger brother Zoran….

European media reports have pegged the Indiana Pacers as another suitor for Zoran Dragic.

This makes a lot of sense for the Suns, mostly because of the unsettled nature of the Eric Bledsoe situation (that relationship has deteriorated and he may sign the qualifying offer) and in keeping Goran Dragic a Sun as he is a free agent next summer and will have multiple suitors.

According to the report, Zoran Dragic can get out of his contract with Spanish side Unicaja Malaga, although he is going to have to pay some of the buyout as it is larger than NBA teams are allowed to pitch in.

After his play in this tournament a few NBA teams will come knocking, but Phoenix has all the right reasons to be motivated to get a deal done.