Three things to know: Lloyd Pierce pays price for Atlanta owners’ expectations

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The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Lloyd Pierce pays price for Atlanta owners’ expectations

The list of things that can get an NBA coach fired is longer than Santa’s naughty list (we assume the naughty list is longer than the nice one, right?). However, Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce missed the mark on a couple of items that have to be priorities for any coach.

First, have a strong relationship with the team’s star. In Atlanta, Pierce and franchise cornerstone Trae Young were not on the same page. Star players fill the building (when fans are allowed) and keep the money rolling in, which means making them happy is a franchise priority.

Second, keep ownership’s expectations in line with reality, then live up to them. Atlanta’s ownership spent big money last offseason bringing in Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, and Rajon Rondo (plus Clint Capela, going back to the last trade deadline). That outlay of cash meant ownership and the front office expected results, even if people outside the organization saw health questions and defensive issues with the roster.

Atlanta is 14-20 and 11th in the East, not even making the play-in games if the postseason started today — way below Atlanta’s internal expectations.

All of that combined led to Pierce being fired on Monday.

If you want to make the point that the Hawks have been unlucky and have the point differential of a 17-17 team (which would have them tied for fifth in the East), or that injuries hit the Atlanta roster hard and it’s not fair to judge Pierce on what he did with this makeshift roster, you’d be right. Gregg Popovich had Pierce’s back.

Life isn’t fair. The life of an NBA coach can be the opposite of fair. Ownership expected better results and the Hawks haven’t come close to meeting them. Someone was going to pay the price.

“Our goal was to have progress this season, to move forward, and it wasn’t happening as fast as we wanted it to,” Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said to reporters Tuesday, adding as a franchise they expected to make the playoffs. He said Pierce was fired because they “needed a change to change the trajectory” of the team.

This is how the NBA works: S*** rolls downhill.

Ownership spent money and wanted results they weren’t getting. The GM picked the players and wasn’t going to fire himself, but someone had to pay the price for failing to meet expectations. That was Pierce. The fact that those expensive veterans have been out — Gallinari, Bogdanovic, Dunn, and just drafted Onyeku Okongwu have all missed significant time — is irrelevant. So is the fact that team star Young doesn’t care about defense or consistently work hard off the ball on offense (how good a team can be with him as a centerpiece remains an open question — and don’t forget Atlanta traded the pick that would be Luka Doncic for Young and the pick that became Cam Redish).

Atlanta’s defense was the biggest on-court issue for Pierce (although the rotations had been questionable). Pierce was hired away from “The Process” 76ers where the defense was solid, but that never translated to the Hawks (25th in the league in defensive rating this season). There are going to be challenges setting up the defense on a team where Young is at point guard — and an injury to De’Andre Hunter this season has hurt — but the defensive issues are not new.

Nate McMillan takes over as the interim coach. He got the Pacers to overachieve on defense for a couple of seasons (although people are just starting to appreciate how much having Myles Turner helps on that end of the court).

If the Hawks get healthy and move up in the standings — they are just 1.5 games out of the play-in games and 3.5 games out of being in the playoffs outright without the play-in games in a tight Eastern Conference — McMillan will get credit. Whether that translates to him keeping the head coaching job beyond this season is a different question entirely.

2) James Harden is playing like an MVP and the Nets keep on winning

James Harden is not going to win the MVP this season. It’s unlikely he finishes in the top five — voters are not going to forget him showing up to training camp late and out of shape in Houston, demanding a trade, being a distraction, and sabotaging the Rockets’ season.

But since getting to Brooklyn, Harden has looked like an MVP.

Harden is averaging 25.3 points a game, a league-best 11.3 assists a game, and is adding 8.7 rebounds a night since coming to Brooklyn. Monday night he had a 30/14/15 triple-double with zero turnovers, leading the Nets to an overtime win against the Spurs.

With Kevin Durant still sidelined (he also has played like an MVP, but he’s now missed too many games to win it) and Kyrie Irving having an off night (9-of-24 shooting), a lot fell on Harden Monday. Again. And he continues to prove he can carry a franchise a long way.

3) Zion Williamson, Pelicans upset Jazz by going inside

Utah’s defense is based around Rudy Gobert owning the paint — he is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year for good reason.

Zion Williamson and the Pelicans went right at him and scored 74 points in the paint Monday night. Anyone who doubts Zion is the best interior scorer in the game right now just needs to watch him go into Gobert’s body and still finish. That will change any sane person’s mind.

Throw in a quality night on both ends from Lonzo Ball — 23 points, seven boards, eight assists, and good defense on Mike Conley — and 26 points from Brandon Ingram, and you have a New Orleans upset win.

New Orleans remains two games out of even making the play-in games in the West, and it will be a seller at the trade deadline (J.J. Redick and Eric Bledsoe are available), but it’s nights like this, when the team defends, that the potential in New Orleans is clear.

Joel Embiid has Olympic-sized decision to make: France or USA

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HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Joel Embiid has two choices: the red, white and blue of the U.S., or the blue, white and red of France.

An Olympic medal might hinge on his decision.

France is still hopeful that Embiid – the reigning NBA scoring champion – will choose to wear its colors for the 2024 Paris Olympics even though he recently became an American citizen, national team coach Vincent Collet said Thursday.

Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers star, may choose to play internationally for the U.S. or France, but not both. It was widely presumed that he would play for France at the Paris Games and possibly even next year’s Basketball World Cup in the Philippines, until Embiid revealed last week that he now has American citizenship as well.

“Now he has both nationalities, and he has to choose one basketball nationality, which is not the same,” Collet told The Associated Press. “So, that is a choice. Nobody can do anything to change it.”

Embiid told AP last week that it’s too early to think about a decision. By rule, he will eventually have to declare a choice to FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, if he decides that he wants to play at the Olympics or World Cup.

France is the reigning Olympic silver medalist and is planning to have a team featuring Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum – and, quite likely, top NBA draft prospect Victor Wembanyama – at the Paris Games. France’s plan is to essentially take what will be its Olympic roster to the World Cup next year.

Without Embiid, that French core has been extremely formidable. On top of the 2021 silver in Tokyo, France won bronze at the 2019 World Cup and silver again at this year’s European championships.

With Embiid, that group would figure to be even better. Collet said Boris Diaw, the general manager of the French national team, has been in contact with Embiid to discuss options.

“I know he met some of our players to discuss,” Collet said. “I think he should play with us. But we will see. We will respect his decision whatever it is.”

Embiid was born in Cameroon and has held French citizenship. He has a Brazilian girlfriend – their son is American – went to high school in Florida and played college basketball at Kansas.

The five-time NBA All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection has spent his entire pro career with Philadelphia, averaging 26.0 points in his first six seasons and a career-best 30.6 points on his way to the scoring crown last season.

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

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Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.