Sefolosha returns to Hawks, hoping to move on after arrest

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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Thabo Sefolosha stood along the baseline, a basketball under his right arm as he watched a drill on the first day of training camp for the Atlanta Hawks.

Just routine stuff.

But Sefolosha is relishing every moment of his return to the court, anything to help him move on from a disputed arrest by New York City police that he said led to a broken right leg and knocked him out of the playoffs.

“It’s been a long road,” he said. “It was definitely tough watching from the sideline in the playoffs, not being able to help the team.”

Sefolosha was a key contributor off the bench, a defensive stopper who helped the Hawks to a franchise-record 60 wins and the top seed in the East. Without him, Atlanta still managed to reach the conference final for the first time, but his absence on the perimeter became apparent as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers romped to a four-game sweep.

“Sometimes you look out there, and you feel like his arms and legs are everywhere,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Solid seems like a boring word, but he’s really a good, solid defender who does a lot of things within whatever scheme you’re doing.”

During the final week of the regular season, Sefolosha and then-teammate Pero Antic made a late-night stop at a Manhattan nightclub popular with athletes and celebrities. Police arrived after another NBA player, Chris Copeland, was stabbed during an altercation.

There was no indication the Atlanta players were with Copeland or had anything to do with the stabbing, but officers say they interfered with the crime scene. They were both arrested and, at some point, Sefolosha wound up with a broken fibula and torn ligaments.

The charges against Antic have since been dropped, but Sefolosha turned down a lenient plea-bargain that would have required him to do a single day of community service. His trial is scheduled for Monday in New York.

“I’m very confident,” Sefolosha said. “But at the same time it’s not something I’m used to. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but I’m confident and I know in my heart that I (did not do) anything wrong.”

The burden of the case – and the possibility of a civil lawsuit against police – is a distraction Sefolosha would prefer not to have as he prepares for a new season and the chance to move into the Hawks’ starting lineup.

“It’s definitely on my mind,” he said. “It’s not the best time to be dealing with all this. But it’s got to be done. I’m trying to be strong for my family and my teammates and my team, and trying to do what’s right.”

Sefolosha seems the most logical candidate to take over at small forward for DeMarre Carroll, who left the Hawks for a $60 million contract with Toronto.

Yet there are questions about Sefolosha’s offensive skills.

“I think offensively he’s a little bit underrated as far as his decision-making and passing, his slashing and understanding timing,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve just got to continue to work with his shooting and get him to where he’s making shots and he’s comfortable there.”

While Sefolosha has been cleared to take part in all activities, he acknowledged that he’s not yet at 100 percent. His minutes will be limited in camp and during preseason games.

“It’s been only 5 1-2 months,” Sefolosha said,. “I’m still building strength and building confidence.”

The Hawks have other candidates. Kent Bazemore is a bit undersized for the position, but he played well in the playoffs after Carroll was slowed by an ankle injury. The Hawks also have newcomer Tim Hardaway Jr., acquired from the New York Knicks.

Kyle Korver, another Atlanta player coming back from an injury, has been getting a lot of one-on-one time with Sefolosha during the rehab process.

“I want Thabo to be on my team again,” Korver said. “He looks great. He’s shooting the ball really good. … I think he’s going to have a great year.”

Sefolosha is certainly ready to move on.

He wants to be known for what he does on the court, not for an incident that has been linked to other racially charged incidents involving police.

However, Sefolosha, a native of Switzerland who is black, did say it has opened his eyes “to some degree.”

“I’m the same person. I will continue to be the same person,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m still in the middle of it. But hopefully it will be a thing of the past soon.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.