AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Hawks’ rebuild jumping off with John Collins

Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES – John Collins rose from his seat as the Rising Stars media session ended and groaned.

“I feel like an old man,” the 20-year-old rookie said to nobody in particular.

Hawks teammate Kent Bazemore had been warning him of this for a while. Collins, the No. 19 pick in last year’s draft, arrived in Atlanta bursting with athleticism and energy. The big man tried to dunk everything in practices and walkthroughs, even as the veteran Bazemore warned against it.

“He’s dunking and windmilling,” Bazemore said. “It’s like, ‘Dude, just save it. Save it. We know you can jump. Just lay it in.'”

After a couple months, Collins began heeding Bazemore’s advice.

Maybe it’ll help Collins soar at the optimal time.

The Hawks face a long road ahead. How many current Atlanta players will remain on the roster when the team next makes the playoffs? The answer might be zero. But Collins is the safest bet.

Collins – who turned 20 on Sept. 23 – is on track to lead the Hawks in win shares. The only players so young to lead a team in win shares: Karl-Anthony Towns (2015-16 Timberwolves), Kyrie Irving (2011-12 Cavaliers), Kevin Durant (2008-09 Thunder), Dwight Howard (2004-05 and 2005-06 Magic), LeBron James (2004-05 Cavaliers) and John Drew (1974-75 Hawks).

Atlanta is on pace to win just 24 games. So, obviously Collins leading the team in win shares means only so much.

But his early success has gotten so much of the Hawks’ hopes to be pinned on him.

Taurean Prince, the No. 12 pick in 2016 who had a promising rookie year, has stalled as he assumes a bigger role this season. Another 2016 first-rounder, DeAndre Bembry, has provided little value. Dennis Schroder, though still just 24, must progress to provide surplus value on his four-year, $62 million contract extension.

By contrast, Collins is the only one of Atlanta’s potential building blocks selected by current general manager Travis Schlenk, who took over last spring

“The way I’ve been playing, obviously people are going to expect a certain way for me to play going forward and are going to expect for me to progress and get better,” Collins said. “So, obviously, it’s a little bit of pressure.”

If he’s feeling it, he’s not showing it in the midst of a trying season for his team.

“He comes into work every day with – he’s just upbeat, kind of excited, happy, wants to get better,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s the human that I think I’m most excited about.

“When you’re maybe not having those tangible results at the end of games, if you have kind of the right mentality, the right disposition, and you get up the next morning, and you come to work excited about getting better and improving, really I think it’s the way to live life. And he’s certainly just, I think, naturally has been given that.”

That makes Collins an ideal early piece in Atlanta’s rebuild. His powerful dunks enthrall fans, and his teammates seem to like him, repeatedly kidding him about his endorsements.

Reinforcements should arrive soon.

The Hawks have all their own first-round picks plus Houston’s this year, Minnesota’s lottery-protected this year and Cleveland’s top-10-protected next year. Based on Basketball-Reference projections, the expected yield this year: No. 4 (Hawks), No. 22 (Timberwolves) and No. 30 (Rockets). The Cavaliers’ pick, which is also top-10 protected in 2020 and becomes second-rounders if it doesn’t convey that year, will obviously depend on LeBron James’ offseason decision.

And it’s too early to give up on Prince, who still shows promise. Schroder has become steadier as a playmaker, developed a nice mid-range shot and might look better in a smaller role. Bembry isn’t completely a lost cause.

But Collins, somewhat by default, has become the centerpiece of the Hawks’ youth movement.

He’s an elite finisher – including highlight dunks – and good offensive rebounder. He has looked surprisingly adept as a rim protector so far, and he’s nimble enough to become adequate switching onto the perimeter. His ball skills – shooting from mid-range, passing, dribbling – need development, and he must eventually become felt more defensively, including on the glass.

Atlanta is bringing him along slowly. Collins averages just 23 minutes per game (a redeeming factor in his team lead in win shares), as veterans Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova (bought out and signed with the 76ers) have earned playing time ahead of the rookie. Collins’ usage percentage is also just a below-average 18. (That limited role allows Collins to focus on his strengths and also helps explain his win-share lead.)

Like with everything else, Collins is eager for more minutes and responsibility. But he also sounds happy to defer Budenholzer’s growth plan.

“I’m in a blessed situation right now to be able to play professional basketball,” Collins said. “Whether we win no games or whether we win all 82 games, to be able to have the job I have is definitely a blessing. So, always have to be happy about that.”

With long endorsement list, LeBron James remains highest earning NBA player

Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images
1 Comment

LeBron James came to Los Angeles not just to chase another title and some legacy with the Lakers, but to position himself off-the-court now and for when he retires. It was a business move, not just a basketball one.

Business is good.

Counting salary and endorsements, LeBron will make $92.4 million this season, making him the highest-earning NBA player, according to Forbes Magazine. This is the sixth straight season LeBron has topped their list.

Here are the top 10 earning NBA players as calculated by Forbes:

  1. LeBron James, $94.2 million ($37.4 million salary, $55 million endorsements)
  2. Stephen Curry, $85.2 million ($40.2 million salary, $45 million endorsements)
  3. Kevin Durant, $73.2 million ($38.2 million salary, $35 million endorsements)
  4. Russell Westbrook, $56.5 million ($38.5 million salary, $18 million endorsements)
  5. James Harden, $55.2 million ($38.2 million salary, $17 million endorsements)
  6. Kyrie Irving, $51.7 million ($31.7 million salary, $20 million endorsements)
  7. Klay Thompson, $47.7 million ($32.7 million salary, $15 million endorsements)
  8. Chris Paul, $46.5 million ($38.5 million salary, $8 million endorsements)
  9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, $45.8 million ($25.8 million salary, $20 million endorsements)
  10. Damian Lillard, $43.8 million ($29.8 million salary, $14 million endorsements)

No real surprises on that list, just expect Antetokounmpo to climb it fast as more endorsements roll in and he gets a bump to a new supermax salary in a couple of years (five years, $247 million). With LeBron and Durant both having production companies, they likely will stay e up at the top for as long as they keep playing.

Will LeBron’s stumbles with China impact his bottom line much? That’s an unknown and something interesting to watch, but it’s not slowing him down yet, and probably won’t be more than a small dent.

Also, don’t be shocked if Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Anthony Davis start to appear on this list after their moves to Los Angeles. While being in a big market doesn’t help as much as endorsements as it used to, being in that market on elite teams is going to add to the exposure, and that’s what companies will be drawn to.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: If Bucks underperform whether to re-sign ‘becomes a lot more difficult’

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
2 Comments

Around the league, the consensus among team executives is Giannis Antetokounmpo is almost a lock to sign a super-max contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks next summer.

Almost.

Which is why other teams are keeping an eye on the situation, just in case.

The Bucks are a contending team and the only home Antetokounmpo has known in the United States — the only place he has ever been able to live comfortably and happily with his family — but he keeps leaving the door just a little open. He did that at the end of last season. He did it again over the summer speaking a Harvard University professor who was researching the Bucks turnaround and the challenges of a small market team in the NBA. Via the Journal Sentinel.

“I want the Bucks to build a winning culture,” Antetokounmpo is quoted as saying. “So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”

Define “underperforming.” Do the Bucks need to make the NBA Finals? What if they lose in a close seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to Philadelphia? Anything short of the conference finals — barring a major injury, of course — would be a disappointment. Is this Antetokounmpo just keeping pressure on the organization to spend and put together a winner?

Leaving Milwaukee would mean leaving a lot of money on the table — only the Bucks can re-sign Antetokounmpo to a five-year, $247 million supermax contract next summer. Bucks GM Jon Horst said Milwaukee will offer it (then got fined for saying they would offer it, even though it’s obvious). If Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign it, the Bucks will be forced to consider trading him (or lose him for nothing), or find a way to win him over before his contract ends in 2021.

Because of money, comfort level, and playing for a contender, most teams don’t think Antetokounmpo is going anywhere as a free agent next summer.

But they are watching. Just in case.

Jamal Crawford makes not-so-subtle pitch on Twitter for spot on Lakers roster

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Lakers have made LeBron James their point guard this season, the shot creator with the ball in his hands.

That worked with limited success in a season-opening loss to the Clippers. LeBron tried to force-feed the ball to Anthony Davis much of the night (leading to five turnovers). The Clippers adjusted to defend LeBron/Davis actions as the game wore on — switching but having the big man stay back and daring LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender, neither of which he did well. When Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee was on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing, so the Clippers clogged the paint. In the end, LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night, including 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter.

Laker coach Frank Vogel was stuck because he didn’t have another good playmaking option (his next best guys for that, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma, are both out injured).

Free agent Jamal Crawford has an idea and voiced it on Twitter.

Crawford is one of the best veteran free agents available

And no, this is not going to happen.

The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts already and the one non-guaranteed they are carrying is Howard (teams can only carry 15 players). If the Lakers waived Howard they would need to replace him with another center. The Lakers could eat the contract of Troy Daniels or Jared Dudley to create a roster spot for a free agent, but they are nowhere near making that kind of move yet. Even if they were, Crawford might not be the guy, he creates shots more for himself than others.

Crawford could help the right team, the man can still get buckets off the bench. He averaged 7.9 points per game last season and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last year. There are downsides — Crawford is 39, has slowed in recent years, and his defense is not good — but in the right role he can help.

Just not the Lakers.

Good try, though.

Draymond Green opens up about, takes blame for last season’s rift with Kevin Durant

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
2 Comments

At the time last November, some wondered if Draymond Green‘s on-court, over-the-top argument with Kevin Durant — which extended into the locker room, where Green reportedly called Durant a “b****” and questioned his commitment to the Warriors because of KD’s pending free agency — would doom the Warriors down the line in the playoffs.

Green was more worried about what it would do to his friendship with Durant.

That’s what Green said on The Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, a  joint interview with Green and Warriors GM Bob Myers. Green also said the team suspending him for a game ultimately forced him to step back and think about the incident.

“I started to tell myself in my mind, ‘Wow, [Myers is] flipping on me,’ and it just felt like, ‘Wow, OK, is this not the guy I’ve known for all these years? Is he turning on me?’ And I started to tell myself all of these things, and then everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God, the Warriors sided with Kevin Durant.’…

“I just had to accept the fact that I was wrong. And once I was able to get over my stubbornness and accept the fact that I was wrong, I was able to move on. I lost [Durant’s] trust. How do I get that back? Not so we can win a championship or we can win some games … but I actually loved this guy, like that’s really my brother. And so not knowing what’s next in our relationship bothered me more.”

Green said he eventually apologized to Durant and he thought the relationship was repaired. However, Green added that Durant’s comments to the Wall Street Journal this summer that he never felt he fit in with the guys in Golden State really bothered him.

The Green and Durant incident ultimately did not cost the Warriors a title, worn-down ligaments and tendons that snapped did that (as well as an outstanding Raptors team).

Did what Green said push Durant out the door, ultimately to Brooklyn? Only Durant knows the answer to that, but it felt like KD was eyeing the door before Green got in his face.

As for their relationship, if Shaq and Kobe can get along now there’s no reason to worry about Durant and Green.