Hawks management would like to make the playoffs, but it’s not that big a deal

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Right now, the Knicks are playing with some passion — after stumbling and bumbling (to quote Clyde) through the first three quarters of the season, they have played better and picked up key wins (such as blowing out Brooklyn Wednesday) to battle back into the eighth seed in the playoff chase.

The Atlanta Hawks have lost seven of their last eight games, which is on top of losing 14-of-15 in a streak through most of February and into early March. They are playing like the team everyone expected them to be after losing Al Horford for the season… except they weren’t that team when Horford first went down. Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague helped sparked a team that would not just collapse. But as the injuries continued to pile up so have the losses.

And their management doesn’t really seem to care.

At least that’s how it sounded when GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer spoke about it to the New York Times.

“Candidly, I don’t pay the amount of attention to the standings that you would expect,” (Ferry) said.

Ferry’s admission reflects a viewpoint in the Hawks’ front office that landing the final berth would constitute no grand achievement. The team is a construction site — first-year coach, revamped system, retouched roster with more changes imminent — and expectations were tamped down even before injuries ravaged the squad….

“We’re really just focused on building our habits,” (Budenholzer) said. “I know the standings. There’s not a lot of time and energy I put into it.”

Ferry tried to clarify his statement when he was on SiriusXM NBA Radio with hosts Frank Isola and Sam Mitchell Thursday.

“Yeah, we want to make the playoffs.  We’re frustrated that we’re sitting here in this battle for the 8th seed.  We’ve had a ton of injuries, losing Al Horford early, but really we would have been a higher seed before this had we not had the compounded injuries over the last six to eight weeks where we’ve had five guys out for a good part of it all at once, different guys.  So it’s been a frustrating second half of the year for us.  We felt like there was a real opportunity for us in the East if we could have stayed healthy to be one of those teams with home court advantage and be in the mix.  That hasn’t happened.  That being said, yes, we want to be in the playoffs.  It would be a great experience, especially for our young players, but our group in general, to be in the playoffs.  Obviously, playing a team like Miami if that’s who we’d end up playing is a great challenge but certainly one we would embrace.”

He went on to say even in San Antonio or Cleveland he didn’t check the standings.

You can argue this makes sense — aside a little more cash in the door because of a couple more home games, and a little more experience, what do the Hawks get out of getting swept by the Heat or Pacers in the first round of the playoffs? The focus should be on the long play in Atlanta.

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But part of what Ferry and Budenholzer need to establish in Atlanta is a winning culture, one that fights and scraps for everything. That is part of the process. That’s what they came from in San Antonio (even if Gregg Popovich does it in more low key way), that’s what you see in Chicago. The players execute it but the attitude starts at the top and everyone is on the same page. It’s something fans can get behind.

In the end, the Hawks need a lot more talent to win big in the NBA and Ferry needs to be focused on that as the priority in the big picture. But you want to put that talent on a team that plays with passion.

Like the Knicks are showing right now as they pass the Hawks in the standings.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.