Atlanta Hawks new GM faces some tricky personnel issues

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ATLANTA (AP) — Travis Schlenk knows what it takes to win a championship.

He’s also a realist.

Just over a week after he was hired as general manager and head of basketball operations by the Atlanta Hawks, Schlenk was formally introduced by his new team Friday at Philips Arena, facing a host of issues ranging from re-signing free agent Paul Millsap to figuring out a role for Dwight Howard.

Hawks owner Tony Ressler gushed over Schlenk’s qualifications, saying he clearly stood out among the 8-to-10 candidates interviewed by the team.

Schlenk spent a dozen years with Golden State, helping build a team that won the title in 2015 and is playing in its third straight NBA Finals. He worked his way up to director of player personnel and spent the last five years as the top assistant to general manager Bob Myers.

Now, Schlenk has a team of his own.

“The breadth of experience that Travis had – having every job in a basketball operations, understanding what everyone does in basketball operations, having that championship pedigree, having the type of mentors and colleagues that Travis has had – he separated himself in our discussions,” Ressler said.

While taking over a team that has made 10 straight playoff appearances, Schlenk also must cope with some major personnel issues and a sense that this is a franchise in decline after a record 60-win campaign in 2014-15, when the Hawks were top seed in the East and reached the conference finals.

This season, Atlanta went 43-39 and was knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs.

Schlenk said one of his top priorities is bringing back Millsap, a four-time All-Star who opted out of the final year of his contract.

But perhaps the most pressing issue is Howard, who still has two more years on his contract. Once one of the league’s most dominating players, the 6-foot-11 center endured a disappointing debut season with the Hawks and looked totally out of place by the playoffs.

Struggling to adapt to coach Mike Budenholzer’s motion offense, Howard averaged just eight points per game against the Washington Wizards – and didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter of the series-deciding loss.

Schlenk wants to find a way to make it work. He has yet to speak with Howard in person, but the two have exchanged text messages.

“I certainly plan to sit down,” the new GM said. “I don’t judge people on what I hear. I judge people when I have a chance to sit down and talk to them. But he’s one of the most productive big guys in the league, so he’s important to us.”

Schlenk is also stepping into what could be an uncomfortable situation, claiming authority over player personnel decisions that had been held by Budenholzer.

After a series of questionable moves, which included the signing of Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million deal and making a four-year, $70 million commitment to former D-League player Kent Bazemore (who lost his starting job late in the season), Ressler stripped Budenholzer of his title as president of basketball operations and demoted general manager Wes Wilcox – who was essentially Budenholzer’s top lieutenant – to an advisor role.

Budenholzer did not attend the news conference, but the team was quick to point out that wasn’t a sign of discontent: the coach was attending his son’s high school graduation.

While conceding that he didn’t know Budenholzer all that well before being hired by the Hawks, Schlenk said the two had met extensively this week to begin ironing out their roles and what they expect from each other.

“I have no reason to believe that there’ll be any issues with coach and I,” Schlenk said. “I’m here to help him. It’s a partnership. We’re in this together. I can’t be successful in my job in he’s not successful in his job. I think we’re going to have a very strong working relationship.”

While noting that it took seven years to build a championship team at Golden State, Schlenk said the Hawks have many of the elements needed to reach that goal, including a committed owner, a new practice facility and the ongoing $190 million renovation of Philips Arena, as well as long-term plans to develop the blighted area around the team’s home.

“We want to build a championship-quality team that’s sustainable,” he said. “We want to be in the conversation every year as a franchise than can compete for a championship.”

 

Adam Silver likes NBA teams moving away from term ‘owner,’ prefers ‘governor’

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Warriors star Draymond Green has objected to using the term “owner.” The 76ers use “managing partner,” not “owner,” as Josh Harris’ title.

Does NBA commissioner Adam Silver like teams moving away from the term owner?

Silver, via TMZ:

I do. I don’t want to overreact to the term because, as I’ve said earlier, people end up twisting themselves into knots avoiding the use of the word owner. But, we moved away from that term years ago in the league. We call our team owners governor of the team and alternate governors. So, I think it makes sense. As I’ve said, I don’t want to overreact, and you’ll find the word throughout memos over the past decade in the NBA. But I’m sensitive to it, and I think to the extent teams are moving away from the term, we’ll stick with using governor.

Players have gone both ways. I think a few players have actually spoken out and said the greatest thing that ever happened was when Michael Jordan was able to call himself an owner. But, of course, Draymond Green has been very public about the fact that we should be moving away from the term, and I completely respect that.

The elephant in the room: Slavery. The history of white people owning black people is the subtext to this entire discussion. Slavery looms over a league where most owners are white and most player are black.

However, the term “owner” here doesn’t refer to owning the players, but owning the team. “Ownership” has far wider historically usage than slavery. In most fields, “owning” companies – which NBA teams are – doesn’t generate backlash.

Are we too loose with the term “owner” in sports? Perhaps. It’s common to say something like, “Players should strongly consider their potential owners in free agency” rather than “players should strongly consider their potential team’s owners in free agency.”

But there are power differences between players and owners/managing partners/governors/whatever you want to call them. Unless addressing the actual underlying issues, changing terms will accomplish nothing.

Those power dynamics are why the Warriors referred to Mark Stevens as “Mr. Stevens” and Kyle Lowry as Kyle Lowry after Stevens pushed Lowry during the NBA Finals. Those power dynamics are why Donald Sterling took guests into the Clippers’ locker room to ogle players. Those power dynamics are why LeBron James is remembered as the bad guy from The Decision despite Dan Gilbert’s wild letter.

There will always be differences between players and owners. Owners have more money and staying power. But the NBA can create a better, fairer environment for its players.

It’ll just require deeper consideration than a simple word change.

Report: Knicks will roll over cap space if they don’t sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard

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The Knicks are chasing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. New York will reportedly get a meeting with Kawhi Leonard.

But Irving appears headed to the Nets, and Durant might follow. Leonard appears to favor the Raptors in a two-team race with the Clippers.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

New York still believes it’s in the hunt for Kawhi Leonard, Irving and Durant. But, according to a source, the Knicks will punt their $70 million-plus in cap space if they can’t land one of those Tier A free agents.

This plan would require patience Knicks owner James Dolan has rarely shown. The Knicks have missed the playoffs six straight years. Twice during that span – including last season – they posted their worst record in franchise history (17-65). Dolan publicly proclaimed confidence New York would sign major free agents this summer.

He’d really allow the Knicks to delay winning even further?

New York is positioned to wait until 2020 free agency (though Joakim Noah‘s cap hit will remain on the books after an avoidable error). R.J. Barrett and Kevin Knox will still be on relatively cheap rookie-scale contracts. As a second-round pick, Mitchell Robinson is even lower-paid. If they sign players to only one-year contracts this offseason, the Knicks will once again have massive cap room.

But good players generally want multi-year deals. So, New York would be choosing among a far more limited pool of free agents. Another gloomy season would likely await.

And then the 2020 free-agent class looks weak. Especially with Anthony Davis already on the Lakers, there probably won’t be an attainable superstar for the Knicks. There might not even be an attainable star.

Then what? Sacrifice the 2020-21 season to gear up for 2021 free agency? Maybe Barrett, Knox and Robinson develop and send New York on a different track, but that’s far from assured.

The genius of this plan is it allows Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to keep their jobs while the team continues to stink. There would be no expectations of winning anytime soon – as long as Dolan abides.

Report: Kyrie Irving doesn’t like living in Boston

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Has Kyrie Irving been in contact with the Boston Celtics about his free agency? We have reports that say that Irving has “ghosted” the Celtics… and of course we have counter reports that say just the opposite.

It’s hard to believe anything that swirls around Irving, one of the more enigmatic and tiring personalities in the NBA. At the very least, Irving has appeared to send signals that he is looking to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Chief among them being that Irving recently fired his longtime representation and signed with Roc Nation, which has a close partnership with the Brooklyn front office.

Boston has had a hard time getting free agents to come to play for the franchise, and that’s before they had a standing beef with Klutch Sports. According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, one of our Irving’s problems with the Celtics was that he simply didn’t like living in Boston.

Via ESPN:

“Kyrie Irving didn’t like Boston. I’ve been told this by many people. He didn’t like living in Boston — he just didn’t. By the end he had issues with Brad, by the end he had issues with Danny… by the end he had issues with pretty much all of us.”

We have heard rumors that things started to go wrong in the Celtics locker room when coach Brad Stevens seemed to openly favor injured star Gordon Hayward a bit too heavily (Hayward played for Stevens at Butler in college).

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge has the propensity to rub folks the wrong way. He makes whatever decision he thinks is the best from a basketball perspective, relationships be damned. We learned that with the Isaiah Thomas trade.

At this juncture it seems unlikely that Irving will return to the Celtics. Meanwhile, we will probably continue to get stories like this out of Boston.

Chris Paul: “I never asked for a trade” and says he’s happy to be in Houston

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With Golden State laid low by injuries (and maybe a defection), Houston should be the team stepping to the front of the line saying “it’s our turn” in the West.

Instead, the Rockets two stars — James Harden and Chris Paul — are feuding, ownership is turning coach Mike D’Antoni into a lame duck, and everyone without a fantastic beard hears their name in trade rumors.

The Harden/Paul feud is real, but Paul tried to downplay it at a charity event in Los Angeles over the weekend, denying a trade request and saying he was happy to be in Houston, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.”

“I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”

The report goes on to note Paul was asked if he had to work things out with Harden and he kind of danced around that question but said the issues were around a season-ending loss. Certainly, two straight years of being bounced by the Warriors has the Rockets frustrated. However, there is also a style issue: Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul can’t be as efficient that way anymore and prefers a more fluid offense (and more pick-and-roll for him). Coach D’Antoni gives a lot of leeway to Harden.

Harden and Paul need to work their issues out because Paul is nearly untradable (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener with a pick or young player). Paul still has value on the court — a master floor general he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. There simply are not teams interested in trading for Paul.

Houston could head into next season the favorites in the West. Part of that depends on how things shake out in free agency (does Kawhi Leonard come West, for example), but a lot of it is just the Rockets getting their act together. I expect Paul and Harden to figure things out, at least well enough to make it work. Mostly because they don’t have a choice. Paul isn’t going anywhere, whether he asked to leave or not.