Hawks head coach Larry Drew says team ‘took a step back’ after loss to Suns

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PHOENIX — Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew was at a loss as to why his team, which had won four straight and six of its last seven, played so poorly against the Suns and lost 92-87 on Friday in Phoenix.

He needed only to take a walk through his postgame locker room to find some potential reasons why.

“I told the guys after the game, I thought we took a step back tonight,” Drew told reporters afterward. “We reverted to some bad habits. And what’s mind-boggling is the first three games of the road trip how well we played, how well we shared the ball, how well we executed; defensively, how active we’ve been. All those things, they took a back seat tonight.”

The Hawks have played well at times this season, but watching their entire body of work, you simply get the feeling that something isn’t right. Despite the fact that they currently sit in fourth place in the East, you also get the feeling that it would be a longshot for them to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

It may be that the team’s mental makeup isn’t well-suited for long-term success.

Nothing about the way the Hawks played Friday made you think of the word “focused.” After Drew spent his pregame meeting with the media talking up the recent play of Al Horford (and with good reason), the Hawks spent the first quarter with the ball being dominated by Jeff Teague and Josh Smith, who combined to shoot 3-8 from the field in the period, while turning the ball over four times.

Smith was the worst of the two, missing two three-pointers and throwing the ball away three times, while his teammates saved two more horrendous passes that easily could have resulted in additional turnovers. Smith finished the night with just five points on 2-11 shooting, including going 0-5 from three-point distance. He also finished with five turnovers to cancel out his five assists.

Horford did have five attempts in the first, but only one of those came on a play specifically designed to get him a good look inside; two came on 20-foot jumpers that were just Horford’s decision, one came on a pick-and-roll that he initiated and converted, and the other he made while converting on a fast break. He ended up with 20 points on 16 shots, but Teague had more shots than Horford at the half, and combined with Smith to finish a dismal 5-21 shooting.

The Suns have won three straight, and ended the Spurs’ 18-game home-winning streak with an overtime win in San Antonio on Wednesday. The lineups Phoenix threw out there on Friday, however, especially in the fourth quarter when Goran Dragic was unable to return due to a lower back bruise he suffered in the third, should have allowed the Hawks to gain control; they could not.

Phoenix finished the game with Kendall Marshall, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Wesley Johnson, and Jermaine O’Neal on the floor, all of whom played the entire fourth quarter. Those five had no trouble holding the 11-point lead that the Suns entered the final period with, as the Hawks were still down 10 with 2:21 to play. In fact, the closest Atlanta got was at the buzzer, when a three from Horford gave us the game’s final margin.

After it was over, had you entered the Hawks locker room without knowing the game’s outcome, you might have had a difficult time determining that this was where the losing team was getting dressed. The vibe was upbeat, positive, and loud, with animated conversations coming from both the shower area and the main room, and with plenty of guys smiling and joking around.

A towel-clad Ivan Johnson made a humorous remark when warning reporters to clear the way for him to get to his locker, and he and Smith spent several minutes discussing one of the game’s chippier incidents involving Johnson and Markieff Morris. The gist of the conversation was Smith mocking Morris for whatever bravado he was attempting to show, while saying “We all know he wasn’t going to do anything.” Johnson replied assertively, “He sure wasn’t.”

Smith changed his demeanor when the cameras and microphones were turned on, of course, and when I asked him if he believed what his coach had said, that the team took a step back with this loss, he didn’t necessarily see it that way.

“One game and you throw it out,” he said. “We were owed one of these games. You’re going to have games like this, it’s just our ability to bounce back from it. We can’t hang our heads and really dwell on it, we’ve got to look ahead.”

It was apparent that the players had moved on the moment this one was over.

NBA in London: Wizards vs Knicks in January

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LONDON (AP) — The NBA will return to London next year with a regular-season game between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks.

Tickets for the Jan. 17 game at the O2 Arena will go on sale in the fall.

It will be the NBA’s ninth regular-season game in London, all sellouts. The Knicks have played there twice, facing the Detroit Pistons in 2013 and the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015. This will be the first game in London for the Wizards.

International players on the rosters include Wizards center Marcin Gortat of Poland, Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia and Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina, who was born in Belgium to Rwandan parents and grew up in France.

The game will be shown by the NBA’s broadcast partners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and on NBA League Pass International.

 

Adam Silver of some fans’ distaste for Warriors: “I get it” but adds team drafted well

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As the Warriors were sweeping past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals, the lack of competitiveness of that series became a talking point. LeBron James, for all his greatness (especially before punching that whiteboard, which was asking for it) could not get this team a win. Superteams like the Warriors are not good for the NBA, the league needs more competitiveness, the argument goes.

Adam Silver feels your pain.

To a degree. He said he gets concerns, but added that the NBA has always been a league of dynasties, and that while Kevin Durant was a free agent the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Silver was on ESPN radio’s Golic and Wingo show Wednesday and said this:

“I get it in terms of Kevin Durant going [to the Warriors in 2016]. It was a bit of an aberration in our system; we had a spike in our cap, it enabled them to have additional cap room. The Warriors will tell you they would have figured out a way to get it done anyway,” he said….

“I’ve said repeatedly, let’s also celebrate excellence. Ownership, the job Bob Myers has done as a GM, Steve Kerr, of course, one of the great coaches in our league. Steph Curry, drafted; Klay Thompson, drafted; Draymond Green drafted 35th by Golden State Warriors,” Silver said.

Silver said the NBA doesn’t “want to go about breaking up teams just to break them up, just to force some sort of parity that is kind of unnatural,” but he said the league and its players can talk about changes to the player-movement system.

First, player movement is good for the league — why do you think the NBA offseason is so compelling? Shorter contracts, players willing to shift teams, it is why the NBA wins the offseason every year. Fans love it. Why would the league even consider cutting that off? Even small market owners are not that short-sighted.

In the interview, Silver then went on to mention a hard salary cap, something he brought up a few times speaking with the media at the NBA Finals. Silver works at the pleasure of the NBA owners, which suggests there is at least a faction of them that wants to go aggressively at a hard cap in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. It would never get approved by the players (and the owners know that), but Silver and some owners enjoy rattling sabers.

It also would not bring parity to the NBA. It’s not the nature of the sport. If you draft/sign LeBron you are going to win more games than you lose because he is the best basketball player in the world and he gets to touch the ball 100 times a game and influence the outcome. The same is basically true of Kevin Durant and James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the games’ other handful of truly elite players. It’s as if the Nationals got to pitch Max Scherzer every night — they’d win a lot more games.

And stars have always paired up to win — Bill Russell and Cousy, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and James Worthy), Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen, Shaq and Kobe. The NBA has always been about dynasties.

Behind Durant and the hard cap talk seems to be the real issue — owners and some fans don’t like players exercising power about where they play and who they play with. Owners who draft a player want to control his rights as long as they can, but players are not just the pawns of guys in suits in front offices anymore. They are working to control their own destiny. If Kawhi Leonard is not happy in San Antonio, he will force his way out to a place he wants to be — and take less money to do it. That is a change from the past. LeBron formed a super team in Miami (and could again this summer). Durant decided to join an organic one in Golden State. Chris Paul forced his way to play with Harden in Houston.

That dynamic is not going to change, either.

Mo Bamba really doesn’t want to go to Memphis

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It’s the time of year when agents try to influence what team drafts their client. Ultimately, the teams have the power here — if they want a player they can draft him and hold onto his rights until he agrees to play for them. (The only way out is for a player to sit out every level of basketball for a season, domestic and overseas, then re-enter the draft with a diminished status.)

That doesn’t stop agents from trying. The withhold medical information. They refuse to let their player workout for the team. Or, they just tell the team their player doesn’t want to be there. A number of players have done that with Sacramento.

Mohamed Bamba is doing that with Memphis. That’s according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony on Memphis radio.

With a “let’s make the playoffs next season/keep the status quo” mentality in Memphis, Bamba is not really a fit anyway. Bamba may have the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft, but he also has farther to go to reach that ceiling than almost anyone in this draft. He has the potential to be a defensive force, but he has to get his legs and core much stronger. He is incredibly raw on offense. Looking at a guy who was at times casual in his play in college, will he put in the work to get there?

Who would make more sense for the Grizzlies at No. 4? Jaren Jackson Jr. for one, but…

Memphis also may be more likely to trade their pick than anyone in the top five. Considering their options, the Grizzlies may see that as the best option, if they get a decent offer.

Report: Charlotte trading Dwight Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov

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When Mitch Kupchak was hired as the new general manager in Charlotte, the big question was could he convince Michael Jordan it was time to rebuild the Hornets. The Kemba Walker/Dwight Howard team won 36 games last season, and even though there seemed to be potential on the roster the team had made the playoffs just twice in the past five seasons (and been bounced in the first round both times).

It appears the answer is yes.

The first step, move Dwight Howard and his $23.8 million salary for next season, which is happening with a trade to Brooklyn, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Charlotte Hornets have agreed to send Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for center Timofey Mozgov, two future second-round picks and cash, league sources told ESPN…

The Hornets will receive the Nets’ second-round pick (No. 45) in Thursday’s NBA draft and a 2021 second-round pick, league sources said.

Mozgov has two years and $32.7 million left on his contract. Charlotte general manager Mitch Kupchak signed Mozgov to the four-year, $64 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers two years ago.

Technically this trade can’t be completed until July 6, when the NBA’s signing moratorium ends at the start of free agency. The Hornets will pick for the Nets on Thursday night in the second round then complete the trade on July 6.

The Hornets were a team pushing the luxury tax (yes, seriously) and this move saves money in the short term and gets them away from that tax line.

Look for the Hornets to consider trading Kemba Walker too, either around the draft or before the trade deadline next year. Or at least they should, he can walk as a free agent in 2019 and that would leave them stuck. There were rumors the other players in the Charlotte locker room were not Howard fans, this could have been a move to appease the veterans. That still does not make this team better.

The Nets will save nearly $17 million in salary for the 2019-20 season and they can open up two max contract slots. Not that they are going to land Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard or the other elite free agents of that summer, but Brooklyn will have the leverage to go after the right players (think restricted free agents they can poach) who will fit with their future.

Also, they get a big man in Howard who was solid last season for the Hornets while nobody was looking — he averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. Coach Steve Clifford put Howard back in his comfort zones, didn’t ask him to do too much, and with that Howard played well, he had a PER of 20.5.

Howard’s going to love hamming it up in Brooklyn off the court.

On the court, the Nets have who they believe to be the center of their future in Jarrett Allen, who came on through his rookie season as he got more and more run. Howard and Allen will split time at the five, but will Howard handle coming off the bench?. If the Nets can get a healthy Jeremy Lin, growth from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a little more (or anything, really) out of Allen Crabbe, some throwback games from DeMarre Carrol, and the Nets could be an entertaining team to watch next season.