The Atlanta Hawks got their heads handed to them Saturday night by the Washington Wizards. A 32-point beatdown. That would be loss number four in a row. They are stumbling toward the playoffs, and this is not a team anybody has seen flip the switch.
The last two of those losses were without Josh Smith — but he is still the story.
Larry Drew is on the hot seat for the Hawks — this team has taken a step backwards this season — but the bigger problem is that he may have lost the locker room because he could not control Smoove, Sam Amick reports at Sports Illustrated.
And then there is the not-so-obvious sensitive spot: the Josh Smith factor. Drew has been unable to stop the veteran from being a season-long disruption and undermining his position with his other players in the process. Add to that the relative affordability of cutting him loose (he’s owed $1.5 million for next season, lockout notwithstanding), and Drew is looking very vulnerable unless he can lead a deep postseason run.
Where is the veteran leadership on this team? Either Joe Johnson has no faith in Drew either or he didn’t have enough backbone to stand up to Smith and tell him to get in line.
The Hawks defense this season was exactly the same as last season statistically — they gave up 106.7 points per 100 possessions both times.
But Drew came in promising more ball movement in the offense, no more iso-Joe, and the team never seemed to buy into it. That or they were incapable of executing it (meaning they are unwilling or incapable passers). Either way, the offense went from 111.9 points per 100 possessions last season (second best in the league) to 106.5 this season. The results are 44 wins (and they should probably not have that many), which is down from 53 last season.
Drew is and should be in some hot water. Drew and Hawks fans can dream that a healthy Jason Collins can body up Dwight Howard and lead the Hawks to a first-round upset of the Magic. And that winning cures all ills. But that seems about as likely as getting the Golden Ticket to visit the Wonka factory.
If Smoove is a locker room problem, the issues in Atlanta are running deeper than Drew or no Drew and will be much harder to fix than management may realize. Especially in an organization known for over-valuing what they have.
DeMarcus Cousins picking the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA. You know they were felt in Houston, where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is admittedly obsessed with beating Golden State.
Morey on The Dan Patrick Show:
I was really curious. Bob is really good at his job, and he likes to take smart gambles like I do. So, I understood the move. But it’s gonna be interesting. Coach Kerr is one of the best, too. So, it’s a little scary. They’ll probably figure out how to make it work, but it’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work. But we do that well and so do they, obviously. They’re gonna be a tough out again, obviously. They’re arguably the best team in NBA history. They’re on their path to maybe be able to make that argument.
Cousins isn’t a seamless fit with the Warriors.
They like to run, and Cousins doesn’t always sprint up court – even before his torn Achilles. Their offense is predicated on quick ball movement, and Cousins likes to survey the floor. They have more efficient scoring options in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Cousins is used to being a focal point. They like to switch defensively, and Cousins isn’t as comfortable guarding on the perimeter.
But Cousins is so talented, and the Warriors can afford to be patient as he recovers from his injury. They’re elite already.
I also believe Golden State will slow its tempo and play more traditional defense as its core ages. Cousins might fit better with next season’s Warriors than previous iterations of the team.
So, I think Morey is spot on. Golden State general manager Bob Myers was targeting wings for a reason. The Warriors didn’t exactly need another center – especially a slow-paced, ball-dominant, offensive-minded one. But when Cousins fell into their lap, signing him was well worth the relatively low cost.
The New Orleans Pelicans look like a playoff team (or at least a potential one in the deep West). They have the superstar in Anthony Davis, and he’s part of a well-fitting front line with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. The Pelicans also are strong at the point guard spot with Jrue Holiday starting.
Where New Orleans need help is the wing. They had hoped Solomon Hill could be the man there, but he has not stayed healthy or panned out. E’Twaun Moore filled in for him, but was overmatched covering larger players at the three. Darius Miller can give them minutes but is not the answer. Pelicans GM Dell Demps wanted to make a move this summer, but up against the salary cap they didn’t have to room to chase quality free agents.
So look for them to try and pull off an in-season trade, reports Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate.
History (and several league sources) indicates Demps is waiting for a midseason trade to strike. As teams around the league see their postseason prospects dim, and grow eager to exchange a quality player for expiring salaries or the Pelicans’ always-endangered first round pick, there’s opportunity to shore up their most glaring weakness.
It’s exactly what Demps did to acquire Cousins from Sacramento in 2017 and Mirotic a year later from Chicago. Both are impactful veterans who were added without surrendering foundational players.
Various sources and several reports said the Pelicans were active in trade talks this summer, notably with the tanking Atlanta Hawks for Kent Bazemore. But with so few teams eager to dump quality players before opening tip, hoping to make a playoff run of their own, the cost was too steep.
Demps know the Pelicans are on the clock — Davis has this season and one more on his contract (there is a player option for a third season, but he almost certainly will opt out at that point). The Pelicans can offer him the “super max” contract at that point, and Davis has said he wants to stay and win in New Orleans, but if the team struggles and/or he gets a sense that ownership is not all-in on winning, he could choose to look around as a free agent.
Which means Demps and the Pelicans will do what it takes to win now, and a move at the trade deadline is possible. The Hawks still will listen to offers for Bazemore, and other wings will become available. It’s just something to watch as we head into the season.
After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.
Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.
Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:
To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.
But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.
Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.
Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.
Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:
Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.
Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.
Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.
But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.
The Rich Eisen Show:
I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.
Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.
The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.
What’s next for Johnson?
Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.
I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.
Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.
It’s on Johnson to maximize it.