Author: Rob Mahoney

Larry Drew and Josh Smith

The Atlanta Hawks are a bit of a mess


Even with their best player out of action, the Atlanta Hawks had no business being completely eviscerated by the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. Philly is a solid team, but Atlanta is supposedly superior. They’re supposedly worthy of their decent seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, even if their efficiency differential puts them just a tick above those very same Sixers who embarrassed the Hawks on their own home floor.

The Hawks are regarded in a particular way because of their now-recurring standing as a playoff team. Their multiple All-Star selections (some deserved, some not) and a fortunate win-loss record don’t hurt either, but more sophisticated — and telling — measures of team success paint a darker story of the Hawks’ season. Atlanta has some serious issues, with roots lying in the team’s collective effort, the roster’s construction, and rookie head coach Larry Drew’s handling of the Hawks’ rotation. Winning games by slim margins can only disguise that for so long, and only now are Drew and his team really starting to look inward.

According to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Drew appears ready to shake things up, if only superficially:

“It is just totally unacceptable to come out and play with that type energy, that type so-called passion, to play almost as if they don’t care,” Drew said. “And that’s a reflection of me. If that’s the case, then I am going to have to make some changes to my starting lineup. I’ve seen that way too often, and if that’s the way we are going to start basketball games, I am not going to sit here and take it. I am going to make some changes.”

I think it’d be difficult for any basketball coach to sweep such a glaring loss under the rug, but I suppose some credit is due to Drew for meaning business. He’s going to make an effort to improve his team, even if swapping out the starters may not do much to actually change the Hawks’ performance. There are obviously some moves that can be made (I’ve preached the virtue of giving Jeff Teague some of Mike Bibby’s minutes in this very space) to subtly improve Atlanta’s performance, but for the most part, the Hawks are doomed by the limitations of their roster. The effort level of poor perimeter defenders still matters, but it’s not like Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford will suddenly transform into lockdown wings. The Hawks roster doesn’t have much room to grow internally, which would theoretically put pressure on Rick Sund to make some kind of move to salvage this team. Again via Michael Cunningham, Drew seems to see the need to some kind of roster move:

The Hawks are a good team so a blockbuster deal isn’t necessarily in order. But Drew acknowledged there have been internal discussions about how to shore up the team’s weaknesses through the trade market.

“With the trade deadline coming up, there is always discussion about possible trades, personnel changing,” he said. “There is always that dialogue going on about looking to improve the team. ‘Would this be a good fit? Would that be a good fit?’ There is always that possibility. Certainly at this stage we have to continue to explore those possibilities. I don’t think at this stage . . . at least I don’t feel comfortable, totally comfortable with where we are after 52 games. We have had some bad losses here at home. That may be a sign, I don’t know. I never want to throw out the possibility of making our team better.”

In a sense, the Hawks are a bit helpless. They need to make a trade but likely won’t, and then their head coach will lament the limitations of a team that simply can’t do much better. Atlanta’s players aren’t playing their best, per se, but even their best wouldn’t put them in a terribly competitive position. The Hawks are merely good, and for both better and worse, that isn’t likely to change. Woe is the NBA’s middle ground, where team officials feel no pressure to address their roster’s more glaring problems, nor the temptation to properly rebuild. The Hawks will make the playoffs, but seem incapable of accomplishing anything more.

Warriors asking about Nene, just because

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets
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I suppose it never hurts to ask. Despite their lack of compatible assets, the Golden State Warriors are reportedly inquiring as to the availability of Nene, the highly efficient pivot who could make all of the Dubs’ dreams come true. From Marcus Thompson II of the San Jose Mercury News:

According to multiple sources, the Warriors have inquired about Nene, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center from Brazil. But the Nuggets would have to agree to trade him, and Nene would have to agree to a contract extension because he is a pending free agent. So he remains a relative dream. “We have to look at what we have,” Warriors coach Keith Smart said. “We can’t wish and hope for something we don’t have.”

It’s hard to blame the Warriors for trying; Nene is a productive scorer and a pretty skilled on-ball post defender, and should Denver end up moving Carmelo Anthony before the trade deadline, Nene could be shipped out soon after. However, acquiring Nene would prove difficult even without the aforementioned contract extension. Unless the Warriors are looking to part ways with one of their top players, they likely lack the assets to pull in such a significant prize. Golden State doesn’t have access to its draft picks for trade purposes (via Ball Don’t Lie) for the foreseeable future, meaning the Warriors would have to make a deal worth the Nuggets’ time in real, tangible assets. Role players won’t do, and expiring contracts can be found elsewhere. There’s no real, compelling reason for the Nuggets to stay on the line unless Monta Ellis, Steph Curry, or perhaps David Lee were involved, but that’s incredibly unlikely given Nene’s contract status.

Golden State couldn’t have known until they tried, but now they’ve tried, and they should know what was obvious all along: Denver isn’t going to just give Nene away, no matter how badly another team might need him.

Matt Bonner will teach you fundamentals, change your life

Matt Bonner
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Last week the Spurs dropped a hell of a teaser on their official website. Rather than pimping the kind of softball interviews or rosy recaps that usually populate online team hubs, San Antonio put together an incredible instructional video series, with Matt Bonner starring as a video mentor. The preview in itself was promising, but the actual three-part video, which dropped today, is even better than anyone could have dreamed. There is absolutely nothing else for me to add, other than the fact that this video (remember, soak in all three segments) is required viewing for all denizens of this corner of the internet, and that Matt Bonner — in no small part due to the efforts of The Basketball Jones crew — is quickly climbing the ranks of the NBA funnymen.

Otis Smith content with LeBron’s jumper-driven explosion

Otis Smith, Orlando Magic

LeBron James dominated the Miami Heat’s Thursday night game against the Orlando Magic. After hitting his first 11 shots and dropping 23 on Orlando in the first quarter alone, James finished with 51 points (on a mere 25 shots), 14 rebounds, and eight assists and led the Heat to a win that wasn’t quite as close as the final margin suggests. It was an incredible and historic individual performance, and hopefully those who watched LeBron do his thing were fully aware of the night’s magnitude.

Still, it was a bit odd that even though LeBron James put up one of the most dominant and efficient nights of his career, he did so while shooting almost exclusively jumpers. I’m not sure there’s a book on how to defend LeBron James, but if one were written, the contents of its pages would detail the virtue of forcing James to take as many long jumpers as possible. He’s a capable jumpshooter, but those looks put much less pressure on any defense tasked with stopping him, and generally lead to less efficient offensive performance than his drives to the basket.

Technically, the Magic did exactly what they should have done, and yet James torched them nonetheless. Magic GM Otis Smith can apparently sleep soundly knowing that fact, judging from this quote via Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:

A night after LeBron James said he was inspired by Magic GM Otis Smith’s [off-season] comments to score 51 points against Orlando Thursday night, Smith joked Friday, “I’d let LeBron score 52 if all he took were jump shots.” James made 17-of-25 shots in Miami’s 104-100 win, most of them from the outside, seldom taking his 6-8, 260-pound frame inside. “He could score 100 if all he took were jumpers,” Smith said.

It wasn’t a matter of scheme that killed Orlando, just a matter of LeBron.

Detroit deactivates Rip Hamilton

Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Lakers

Just when you think there isn’t any love to be lost at all between the Detroit Pistons and Rip Hamilton, news arrives in the latest tear in the once-strong relationship between franchise and player. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Detroit has formally deactivated Hamilton, removing even the slightest possibility that he’ll touch the court as a member of Pistons anytime soon. Then again, maybe this is a mere formality; Hamilton hasn’t played in any of the Pistons’ last 12 games, so in this case the line between DNP-CD and DNP-Inactive is rather slim.

If there was somehow any doubt of the tenuousness of these relations, it should now be promptly removed. Hamilton looks to be quite available for any team that wants him, though at this point in his career Rip is neither the scorer nor the defender he once was. It’s hard to say exactly what Hamilton is worth in his present state — even the minutes he’s received this season have come inconsistently, and his role has hardly provided him firm footing on the year — but he seems like little more than an average player with a bloated contract. Hamilton is due $12.7 million next season, and at least nine $9.0 million in the following year (that year is only partially guaranteed, meaning his team could choose to cut him and pay $9.0 million salary, or keep him and pay the full $12.7 million for that season as well). That’s a lot of shekels for mediocrity, so any borderline team looking to add talent at the trade deadline should think long and hard before taking on that kind of salary commitment.

Hamilton could become Detroit’s own Eddy Curry. If there aren’t any takers at this season’s trade deadline (which seems likely given his contract and concerns over a new collective bargaining agreement), Hamilton could become contractual dead weight. Detroit could be left with no other choice than to let Hamilton keep clogging up their cap room until his deal expires, which is a bit of a problem considering their currently underwhelming core and lack of avenues to improve.