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Report: Hawks having ‘serious internal discussions’ about trading Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver

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In the seven years between 2008 and 2014, 10 teams  made the playoffs at least five times:

  1. Spurs
  2. Hawks
  3. Celtics
  4. Bulls
  5. Mavericks
  6. Nuggets
  7. Lakers
  8. Heat
  9. Thunder
  10. Magic

Atlanta – which joins San Antonio as the only ones to reach the postseason all seven years – is the only team on the list not to reach even the conference finals in that span.

The Hawks: Often good, never great.

Until last year.

Atlanta won a franchise-record 60 games and reached the conference finals for the first time. (Its last comparable playoff advancement came in 1970, when it reached the division finals, before the league split into conferences.) The Hawks had four All-Stars: Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver – all of whom returned for this season.

But Atlanta has fallen back into the heap of good, not great, teams in the East. The Hawks are 30-24 and fifth in the conference, 1.5 games from both third and seventh.

Where do they go from here?

Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Atlanta Hawks are engaged in serious internal discussions ahead of the Feb. 18 trade deadline about the future direction of their team and their core players, including three All-Stars from their historic 2014-15 team: Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.

Sources close to the organization emphasize that if the Hawks become active in the next week, it will not be to “blow it up,” but rather an attempt to exchange their existing players for commensurate, if younger, talent.

Those sources also said head coach/president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer isn’t inclined to dismantle a team less than nine months removed from a conference finals appearance.

So, Atlanta wants to trade it players for equally talented replacements who are younger (and, therefore, probably cheaper)? Good luck with that.

It’s instructive that the Hawks are thinking about a shakeup, and this article contains plenty of detail worth exploring. But it seems unlikely their line of thinking actually leads to a major move.

The most pressing concern is Horford, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Already linked to the Pistons, he will likely draw multiple max offers – projected to be worth more than $145 million over five years from the Hawks and $108 million over four years from other teams.

Arnovitz and Windhorst:

Sources say that while ownership has pledged to both spend and to entrust the Hawks’ basketball minds to make basketball decisions, that figure, along with the overall tab — which would be one of the richest contracts in the NBA — has the Hawks’ brass a bit skittish.

It’s reasonable to be concerned. Horford turns 30 this summer, and while he also has a high basketball IQ, athleticism influences his on-court excellence. This is a tricky time to have a star up for a big contract.

The Hawks could face a question many teams in this position must answer: Would you rather “overpay” him or not have him at all?

I’d lean toward biting the bullet and paying Horford. The cap is skyrocketing, and with many players locked into old-money contracts, teams will have plenty to spend on free agents the next couple years. Horford, a borderline All-Star annually, is a huge part of Atlanta’s success. It’d be too difficult to replace him.

Plus, teams too often overthink committing big money to single player based on financial hesitation (though it has been less of a problem lately). The Hawks will probably spend a similar overall amount the next five years, anyway. Who cares whether Horford receives a huge share of that expenditure or it’s split equally among multiple lesser players based on overal spending? You can put just five players on the court. Generally, I’d rather sink more assets into fewer players.

But it all depends what the Hawks do with the rest of their roster. If they trade Korver and/or Teague to take a short-term step back, Horford could leave. Losing Horford for nothing is the worst-case scenario.

Atlanta’s best bet for getting a significant return in a Horford trade is working with him and his agent to find a team where he’d want to re-sign. The NBA prohibits any under-the-table agreements, but they happen. If Horford pledges to re-sign with a team, it will – justifiably – offer the Hawks more in a trade.

Short of that, I doubt they’ll get enough to justify dealing him. It’s just not worth it for other teams to offer Atlanta much now when they can try signing him outright in the summer.

A Teague trade seems most likely, because the Hawks already have his younger replacement on the roster – Dennis Schröder, who has made his desire to become a starting point guard well known.

Arnovitz and Windhorst:

Sources say the Indiana Pacers have made inquiries and have dangled guard George Hill as a possible swap. The Magic are also potential suitors for Teague, sources confirmed.

I’m not sure what Hill – who’s older than Teague – accomplishes for Atlanta. Both players make $8 million this year and next. Hill is a better defender and capable of playing shooting guard, but neither fact trumps the age difference. The Pacers would have to offer more.

Teague would improve the Magic’s backcourt shooting, which they desperately need. More importantly, this could signal Orlando isn’t completely sold on Elfrid Payton as its point guard of the future.

The Knicks are also reportedly interested in Teague, but they’re linked to any available point guard – and lack assets to get one now.

Finally, there’s Korver, who’s sneakily old – 35 next month. With him shooting nearly a career-low 38.3% on 3-pointers – great for almost everyone else – this seems like a bad time to trade him. But if a team wants help winning right now and values Korver highly, the Hawks should listen.

The downside of dealing Korver for younger players and/or draft picks is sending a signal that causes Horford to leave in free agency. So, if the Hawks trade Korver, they should consider trading Horford. And if they deal Horford, why not get more of the roster on the same timeline and also trade Teague?

One of the Hawks’ best on-court attributes is their cohesion, and building their roster is similarly related. If one domino falls, others could follow. The more Atlanta disrupts this roster, the more additional moves could make sense.

But given Budenholzer’s attitude and the team’s newfound connection with fans – especially important with a new owner – my guess is the Hawks try to keep their core in tact.

Good, not great, isn’t so bad.

Will Toronto give Pascal Siakam a max extension?

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In his third year in the league last season, Pascal Siakam made a leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, became a shot creator, played quality wing defense, and he was a key part of the Raptors earning the right to have a parade and hoist a championship banner. He earned that Most Improved Player trophy.

Siakam is Toronto’s future after a summer where Kawhi Leonard left.

Siakam also is eligible for an extension right now.

Should the Raptors give him the max of five years, $170 million? A number of executives around the league told Frank Urbina of Hoopshype that Siakam may be worth that number.

A Western Conference coach agreed: “With Toronto in the situation that they’re in, no longer having Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green, Pascal Siakam may be a safe bet for them and they may want to give him a max extension to lock him up. I’ve been impressed with his development; he’s improved into a highly, highly serviceable player who’s very efficient and does a lot for that team. From the outside looking in, it seems like he’ll be able to continue his development too. He seems highly motivated and very grateful to be in the situation he’s in and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Is “highly serviceable” worth the max? The two players who got that money this summer were Ben Simmons in Philly and Jamal Murray in Denver. Most of the GMs spoken to for the article would try to extend him for less than the full max.

“I think they’re going to try to extend him,” one current Eastern Conference GM said. “I haven’t talked to Toronto, but he’s obviously a huge piece for them, helped them win a championship, he’s getting better, he’s young, he’s athletic and he can shoot. They’re going to try to extend him. Do I think he’s a max player? No. Do I think he’s a good player? Certainly. It’ll come down to what he thinks he’s worth, and I’m sure his agents have called around to see what kind of offers he could get if he enters restricted free agency.”

Another Western Conference executive agreed that he’s not worth the max, telling HoopsHype: “Out of Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield, [the main candidates remaining for a rookie-scale extension], I don’t think any of them will get the max or deserve the max. If I was running each team, I would force them to play it out. In some situations, keeping their cap holds is so much more beneficial. You should only extend if you get a below-market-value deal or if it’s a no-brainer extension.”

If the Raptors come in at less than the max with an offer, Siakam may just want to play out this season and head into restricted free agency next summer. If he has another strong season, when he hits the market in a down year for free agents he may find a team willing to make a max or near max offer and Toronto will have to match or let him walk. Essentially, Siakam would bet on himself.

We’ll see if Toronto and Siakam’s people can find a number that works for both sides, the deadline is Oct. 21. The sides are talking, but its more likely this rolls into next summer.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.