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.”

 

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Nick Falzerano/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. 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 was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.