Hawks show uncharacteristic sensibility with signing of Tracy McGrady

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Teams aren’t technically allowed to come to agreements with free agents just yet, but Tracy McGrady is reportedly locked in to join the Atlanta Hawks nonetheless. But, before anyone engages in the usual snark-fest that ensues whenever McGrady’s name comes up, they should honestly consider the terms and return on this deal.

McGrady may not have the ability to dribble-penetrating ability that Atlanta so desperately needs, but he’s an incredibly cost-efficient addition capable of hedging against the seemingly inevitable loss of Jamal Crawford. The Hawks aren’t in a position where re-signing Crawford makes financial sense; they already have $66 million in salary committed for this season and $62 million committed next year, meaning that Crawford’s deal would likely push a solid — but firmly non-contending — team over the luxury tax line. Even beyond the practical consideration of overpaying a dwindling, inefficient scorer like Crawford, the financial realities for a tax-averse team like Atlanta make a re-signing a virtual impossibility.

Such is the reality for a franchise that presented Joe Johnson with a golden effigy on the first day of free agency last season, invested in Marvin Williams to the tune of $8 million a year, and took every shortcut there is to take in team construction.

All of which makes McGrady — who will join the Hawks on a one-year, minimum salary deal — an oddly reasonable signing. McGrady didn’t score quite as much as Crawford did last season, but that’s largely because he didn’t dominate the ball in the fashion Crawford often does. The hazard of employing Crawford is the same as it’s ever been: he tends to control the ball whether his team intends for him to or not, and they’re forced to live with the ill-advised jumpers that seem to always result. McGrady is a bit more prudent, as he used significantly fewer possessions while making a greater percentage of his shots than Crawford last season. The scoring output wasn’t the same on a per-game basis, but McGrady’s rounder skill set (he averaged 5.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season) helps to off-set some of what Atlanta will lose in pure scoring volume.

Thanks to his age and injury history, McGrady is an easy target for criticism. But he actually put together a pretty solid — if quiet — campaign for the Detroit Pistons last season, complete with a bit of a defensive turnaround. McGrady’s defensive reputation is rather putrid, but last season he held his positional opposites to a below average Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and made a dramatic difference in his team’s defensive performance*. That one-year performance could be a bit flukey, but regardless, I find it hard to believe that McGrady could possibly be a lesser perimeter defender than Crawford.

For the league minimum, this is very likely the best the Hawks could possibly do. McGrady isn’t what he once was (and certainly isn’t Crawford), but this is a smart, economical move for a team with such a cluttered cap sheet.

(H/T to ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh)

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.