NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

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Last season: 44-38, fifth seed in the East. Took out the Orlando Magic in six in the first round, before losing in six to the Chicago Bulls in the second.

Head Coach: Larry Drew

Key Departures: Jamal Crawford is technically still with the Hawks, but several reports have him trying to decide between Portland, the Knicks, or the Kings in free agency.

Key Additions: Tracy McGrady, Vladimir Radmanovic

Best case scenario: The Hawks make another trip to the second round of the playoffs, led by the emergence of Jeff Teague at point guard, along with Al Horford and Josh Smith playing to their strengths instead of to their desires.

Teague played well in last year’s playoff series against the Bulls, and if given the starting nod from day one as expected, should be able to provide some continuity and solid defense at the point guard position. Horford and Smith regressed offensively a season ago, and whether that was due to having to adjust to Larry Drew’s new system or simply preferring to shoot jumpers (and in Smith’s case, three-pointers) will be seen soon enough.

Joe Johnson is the team’s leading scorer, but Atlanta has always had one of the more balanced offenses in the league. He’s capable of increasing his level of production, but only if his bigs can play more traditional roles — at least some of the time — offensively. And the addition of Tracy McGrady, who was serviceable by most accounts last season, should help in that regard off the bench.

For that to happen: Horford and Smith need to use their size, skill, and athleticism in the paint to punish teams down low for easy baskets. That didn’t happen last season, and as pointed out by NBA.com’s StatsCube, it was a big reason the Hawks dropped from third in offensive efficiency the previous season all the way down to 21st a year ago.

If Drew can get them to buy in, Atlanta should go from a below average offensive team to an above average one, which would drastically improve its long-term prospects. The team was middling defensively in the regular season, but managed to slow Dwight Howard and the Magic enough in the playoffs to advance.

More likely the Hawks will: Struggle to be as good as they were last season. Even if the obvious improvements that need to be made are taken into account, the loss of Crawford’s scoring and the expected rise of the Knicks in the East are going to make it tough for Atlanta to remain in that four-to-five seed range. The team’s best hope to compete for fifth is that the Magic trade Dwight Howard for spare parts at some point this season, although at least as of today the Magic appear to be preparing to begin the season with him on the roster.

Prediction: 36-30, fifth place in the East.

Kobe Bryant nicknamed himself ‘Black Mamba’ to cope with aftermath of rape allegation

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In 2003, Kobe Bryant had sex with a woman – who, per Bryant’s own later statement – did not view the encounter as consensual.

Charges against him were dropped after the accuser refused to testify. He settled a civil suit with her.

Kent Babb of The Washington Post:

In the case’s aftermath, a landmark sexual assault scandal during the emerging 24-hour news cycle, Bryant’s jersey sales plummeted and McDonald’s and Coca-Cola cut ties.

“They didn’t want the gritty s—,” he says now. “And most people still don’t.”

Creating an alternate persona, he says now, was the only way he could mentally move beyond the events of Colorado.

“I don’t know what would’ve happened had I not figured it out,” he says. “Because the whole process for me was trying to figure out how to cope with this. I wasn’t going to be passive and let this thing just swallow me up. You’ve got a responsibility: family, baby, organization, whole city, yourself — how do you figure out how to overcome this? Or just deal with it and not drown from this thing? And so it was this constant quest: to figure out how do you do that, how do you do that, how do you do that? So I was bound to figure something out because I was so obsessively concerned about it.”

“During the Colorado situation, I said: ‘You know what? I’m just going to be me. I’m just going to be me.’ F— it. If I don’t like a question from a reporter, I’m going to say it,” he says. “If they ask me a question about this thing, I’m just going to tell them the truth.”

His fist strikes the desk.

“Like me or don’t like me for me.”

With that in mind, some within Bryant’s circle suggest he has convinced himself that Colorado either never happened or that, if he continues flooding his résumé with accomplishments, the public will neither remember nor care.

If that’s Bryant’s approach, he has been successful.

He played 12 more seasons after his case, making the All-Star team each year. He won won an Oscar. He regained many of his sponsorships and remains an effective endorser in retirement.

Bryant is beloved in most circles. His “Black Mamba” nickname is generally untainted, despite its origin.

The question: Why?

In the #MeToo era, others have been castigated for far less. Bryant admitted to what I’d call a reasonable definition of rape! Yet, he isn’t shunned.

I don’t know how Bryant has internally reconciled what happened in Colorado. Calling it the “gritty s—” doesn’t indicate the proper level of introspection. Neither does lamenting how difficult the situation was for him, as if he’s the victim. There was a woman hurt in all this, including receiving death threats after she came forward.

But Bryant hasn’t directly addressed the situation publicly since his statement admitting to sex she didn’t view as consensual. The portion of Babb’s article quoted above is as close as he has gotten. Per Babb, Bryant also refused to answer more specific questions.

So, why have so many people willingly glossed over Bryant’s past?

I’m open to Bryant redeeming himself. What happened in Colorado needn’t solely define him.

But it’s part of his story. If his accomplishments in basketball and entertainment – not his explanation of what happened in Colorado and how he’s grown from it – allow the public to move on, that’d be a shame.

It is a shame.

Report: Bucks’ John Henson out at least 12 weeks

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A year ago, John Henson and the Bucks were ready to move on from each other.

But Milwaukee kept him, and he started at center for last season’s playoff team. The Bucks signed Brook Lopez to start over him this year, but Henson has thrived as a backup. He has provided strong defense and even developed into a willing 3-point shooter to fit Mike Budenholzer’s system.

But, now Milwaukee will lose Henson for a while.

Bucks release:

Bucks center John Henson will be sidelined with a torn left wrist ligament. Henson initially aggravated his wrist at Portland on Nov. 6. He was able to play in the next three games before reporting additional discomfort in Wednesday night’s game vs. Memphis.

Yesterday, Henson was evaluated by Bucks orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Carole Vetter of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network. The evaluation confirmed the injury and surgery will be scheduled in the near future. His status will be updated following surgery.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a significant blow for Milwaukee, which has started 10-4 and has the NBA’s best scoring margin by a considerable margin.

Thon Maker will likely slide into the rotation. Christian Wood could get a chance behind Lopez, too. Ersan Ilyasova might play more at center.

The Bucks have a decent number of options.

But for a team rolling, any disruption to the status quo is unwelcomed.

Carmelo Anthony’s Rockets tenure ends as an oddity

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Carmelo Anthony played 20-39 minutes in each of Houston’s first 10 games.

Then, the Rockets determined he couldn’t play for them at all.

It’s a steep drop from major contributor to exile. There was apparently no middle ground for Anthony and Houston, which finally acknowledged the forward is finished with the team.

Anthony averaged 29.4 minutes per game with Houston. The last time someone received so much playing time and lasted fewer than 15 games with a team before getting waived during a season? Dennis Rodman with the Mavericks in 2000.

Rodman, then 38, signed with Dallas in February. He got ejected from two games and suspended for another. He twice challenged then-NBA commissioner David Stern to a fight, even saying the two should be naked for the brawl. Then, Rodman accused Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of being too chummy with his players. Dallas went 3-9 with Rodman playing 32.4 minutes per game before waiving him in March. The Mavericks (40-42) missed the playoffs by four games.

At least it wasn’t that bad for Anthony and the Rockets.

But Anthony’s tenure in Houston still shows fragility.

Anthony is barely a year removed from literally laughing at the idea of coming off the bench. He struggled with accepting a buyout because of how it’d look. He still has outdated ideas about who he is as a player.

Though Anthony accepted a reserve role with the Rockets, he still received major minutes and took plenty of shots. Houston didn’t waste time trying to coax him into a narrower role. The Rockets just paid deference to Anthony’s future-Hall of Fame status, maybe internally considered his friendship with Chris Paul and cut bait.

Anthony just isn’t good enough anymore. He’s a defensive liability with poor all-around production. Even his scoring has become substandard. There’s nothing to hang his hat on.

Anthony now joins the list of former stars who seemingly got jobs based on prior accomplishments then quickly proved they could no longer hack it. But even by that standard, Houston moved on historically quickly.

Here’s everyone who made at least five-time All-Star teams then lasted fewer than 30 games in a stint with a team:

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Where Anthony goes from here is unclear. It’s easier to find teams that don’t want him than do. Tracy McGrady called on him to retire.

If Anthony finds a new team, Houston could waive him or trade him there. If not, it’d be more cost-efficient for the Rockets to trade him – with a sweetener like cash or draft considerations – than waive him, which would lock in a luxury-taxable cap hit.

The bad news for Anthony: Most of the stints in the above chart came during the player’s final season.

Houston gave him a heck of a shot with no shortage of playing time. Then promptly gave up on him. It’s hard to get past the absurdity of that.

But the Rockets will try.

Kevin Durant on relationship with Draymond Green: ‘Don’t ask me about that again’ (video)

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After their heated argument, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are on the same page in at least one regard: They won’t answer questions about each other.

At least Green explained himself before shutting down follow-up questions. Durant wouldn’t address it at all. He was terse.

Really healthy situation Golden State has going.

Of course, the Warriors also have a ridiculous amount of talent. That will help them win, feel good about themselves and get past this.

But until Golden State starts winning, this isn’t going away.