Alex Len

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Hawks show even more commitment to rebuilding their way

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hawks put two players on All-Rookie teams then had two top-10 picks in the following draft.

What a way to get a rebuild rolling.

But like last year, Atlanta’s high-draft maneuvering leaves plenty of room for second-guessing.

Last year, the Hawks traded No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Trae Young and a future first-rounder. That deal and another losing season gave Atlanta the Nos. 8 and 10 picks in this year’s draft.

The Hawks wanted De'Andre Hunter, who probably wasn’t falling that far. So, they paid a premium to get him. Atlanta traded the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks and a potential future first-rounder and took Solomon Hill‘s burdensome contract for the No. 4 pick (Hunter) and a late second-rounder or two.

That’s generally too much to trade up from No. 8 to No. 4. Hunter doesn’t impress me enough for that to be an exception. That said, his defense and complementary offense should fit well between reigning All-Rookie teamers Young and Kevin Huerter and 2018 All-Rookie second-teamer John Collins.

At No. 10, the Hawks took Cameron Reddish. That’s fine value there, and he’s another wing who should fit well if he develops.

The only other team in the modern-draft era (since 1966) with two All-Rookie selections and two top-10 picks in the same year was the 2000 Bulls. They had Rookie of the Year Elton Brand and All-Rookie second-teamer Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace). Then, Chicago got No. 4 pick Marcus Fizer and No. 8 pick Jamal Crawford in the draft.

But the Bulls languished for several more years. There are no guarantees in rebuilds.

Part of Chicago’s problem: The 2000 draft was historically weak. Fizer was a bust, and Crawford has had a fine sub-star career. But there were no great options available.

Atlanta might face the same issue. This draft looks poor after the first couple picks. It might have been the wrong year to have two high selections. However, we’re often terrible at assessing overall draft quality in the present. Time will tell on this draft.

Another Bulls problem: They lacked direction. Just a year later, they traded Brand for an even younger Tyson Chandler, the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft out of high school. Later that season, they traded Artest in a package for veteran Jalen Rose.

It seems the Hawks won’t have that problem. They appear fully committed to their vision.

General manager Travis Schlenk took over in 2017. Atlanta was coming off 10 straight postseason appearances, only one year removed from a playoff-series victory and just two years removed from a 60-win season.

Now, only DeAndre’ Bembry remains from the roster Schlenk inherited just two years ago. The last two players to go, Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore, got moved this summer.

The Hawks traded Prince and took Allen Crabbe‘s undesirable $18.5 million expiring contract to get the Nets’ No. 17 pick and a lottery-protected future first-rounder. That’s solid value for Atlanta. The Hawks clearly didn’t want to make a decision on Prince, whom Schlenk never selected and who’s up for a rookie-scale contract extension.

In a more curious decision, Atlanta traded Bazemore to the Trail Blazers for Evan Turner. Bazemore is better than Turner. Both players are similarly aged and paid on expiring contracts. The Hawks will seemingly use Turner as their backup point guard, a position he can handle better than Bazemore. But there were real backup point guards available in free agency. Unless this was just a favor to get Bazemore to a better team, I don’t get it.

At least the trade probably won’t affect Atlanta long-term.

Ditto the Hawks dealing Solomon Hill’s and Miles Plumlee‘s expiring contracts for Chandler Parsons‘ expiring contract. Parsons’ knees seem shot.

Signing Vince Carter to a minimum deal also probably won’t matter.

Getting Jabari Parker on a two-year, $13 million deal with a player option might mean a little more. But I’m not convinced it’ll mean much. Parker just hasn’t found traction since two ACL tears. He has shown flashes and is just 24. There’s at least a small chance this works out.

Another likely low-consequence move: Trading Omari Spellman to the Warriors for Damian Jones and a future second-rounder. Teams rarely give up on a first-rounder as quickly as the Hawks did Spellman, the No. 30 pick last year. Jones is entering the final year of his rookie-scale contract and hasn’t gotten healthy yet in his career. The distant second-rounder is probably the prize. I somewhat trust the team that had a chance to evaluate Spellman’s approach first-hand all of season. Atlanta also got a replacement developmental center in No. 34 pick Bruno Fernando.

Fernando might even play behind Alex Len and John Collins, who will get minutes at power forward. Center is thin after the Hawks lost Dewayne Dedmon to the Kings.

It’s too soon for the Hawks to concern themselves with that, though. They’re still assembling a young core. It’s OK if every piece is not yet placed.

Meandering around the edges was fine and forgettable. Reddish and Hunter were the important pickups. The big bet this summer was on Hunter, and I just found the cost too steep.

Offseason grade: C-

Trae Young scores 49 but it’s not enough, Zach LaVine’s 47 lifts Bulls past Hawks in 4 OTs

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ATLANTA (AP) — The Chicago Bulls are playing their best basketball of the season at a time many might have thought the focus would be shifting to the NBA draft lottery.

The wins are making Lauri Markkanen hungry for more.

Markkanen made three free throws to give Chicago the lead for good, Zach LaVine scored a career-high 47 points and the Bulls overcame Trae Young‘s career-high 49 points to beat the Atlanta Hawks 168-161 in four overtimes Friday night.

Each team set franchise records for points in a game.

Markkanen finished with 31 points and 17 rebounds. He snapped a 159-all tie by making the three free throws after he was fouled by Alex Len.

“It was great fun,” Markkanen said. “It should make us feel more hungry. We can do it.”

The Bulls (18-45) have won five of six but still rank only 13th of 15 Eastern Conference teams – one spot behind Atlanta (21-42).

LaVine said the game was exhausting.

“I’ve never been part of a game that long,” LaVine said. “… I airballed one because I was so damn tired.”

LaVine was impressed with Young, the rookie who had his third straight game of setting or matching his career scoring high after back-to-back games with 36 points.

“Trae Young is an incredible talent,” LaVine said. “You can already see. He has the `it’ factor.”

Young’s tiebreaking, step-back 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining in regulation forced the first overtime. The rookie’s last-second layup tied it at 140 to force the second overtime.

Young had 16 assists, eight rebounds and nine turnovers. Otherwise, his line was very similar to LaVine’s.

Young made 17 of 33 shots including six 3-points. LaVine made 17 of 35 shots with six 3s. Each played almost 56 minutes.

“That was a fun game to play, probably one of the most fun games I’ve played in my career,” Young said. ” … I’m proud of the way we fought. We came up short but I love the way we fought.”

Young and DeAndre Bembry had turnovers in the final 30 seconds of the third overtime, preventing the Hawks from an opportunity to snap a 155-all tie.

Ryan Arcidiacono‘s 3-pointer forced the third overtime.

James Harden scores 28 against Hawks, 30-point streak ends

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden isn’t exactly lamenting the end of his impressive scoring run.

Harden had 28 points, snapping his 32-game streak with at least 30 while the Houston Rockets beat the Atlanta Hawks 119-111 on Monday night.

He’s glad it’s over, too – especially since he had no expectation of matching Wilt Chamberlain’s 65-game streak, the longest in NBA history. Harden’s stretch with 30 or more points ranks second.

“Yeah I am. It was cool but I knew I wasn’t going to get to No. 1,” Harden said before walking away chuckling.

Houston overcame a scoring outburst from Hawks rookie Trae Young, who set career highs with eight 3-pointers and 36 points.

Harden returned after missing Saturday’s win over Golden State with a neck injury and missed all 10 3-pointers he attempted.

“This was the first time I was able to move it since a few days,” he said. “So it kind of felt good to go out there and just move it and run around. I hadn’t really done any movement or working out. I’ve been in bed really.”

He got to 28 points with 23.3 seconds left and had the ball on Houston’s last possession but did not attempt a shot from half court with the game in hand. When asked if the injury affected his shot he said: “I don’t care. Made shots, missed shots, we won the game.”

Harden last came up short of 30 points in a Dec. 11 win over Portland, when he had 29. During the streak, he scored 50 or more points four times, including a career-high 61 in a win at the Knicks on Jan. 23.

“Eventually it was going to have to end one of these days,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s unbelievable. He’ll start another one.”

Chris Paul added 20 points, and Eric Gordon hit four 3-pointers for 16 points.

The Hawks cut the lead to five on a basket by John Collins with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining. Harden missed his 10th 3-pointer seconds after that, but Harden was fouled on a 3-pointer on the next possession and made all of the free throws to make it 115-107.

Atlanta scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, with five points including a long 3-pointer from Young, to cut the lead to one. P.J. Tucker got the Rockets going again when he made a 3-pointer to make it 98-94 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.

Young’s hot shooting continued after that when he made his seventh 3 to cut the lead to one again.

Harden made four quick points later in the quarter, but Young was at it again after that, sinking his eighth 3-pointer to cut the lead to 107-102 with about five minutes left.

Young said he couldn’t appreciate his big night since the Hawks came up short.

“For me, I’ve grown up with a dad who raised me that winning is the only thing that matters,” he said. “So for me, of course you want to play well, of course you want to do well in the game and help your team, but at the end of the day I don’t feel good about it.”

Vince Carter got the Hawks within one with a 3-pointer later in the third quarter before Houston scored five quick points, capped by a basket from Harden to make it 82-76 with about four minutes left in the third.

Alex Len added a 3 for Atlanta after that but the Rockets padded the lead to 90-79 with an 8-0 run.

The Hawks got within seven late in the third, but Paul made a shot while being foul and completed the 3-point play to leave Houston up 95-85 entering the fourth.

 

Suns executive James Jones: Focus has shifted to NBA players, not draft

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The Suns are 7-24.

At least they’ll get a prime draft pick to add young talent to grow with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. That’s Phoenix best path toward meaningful success.

Or…

Suns front-office chief James Jones, via Arizona Sports 98.7:

“Yeah, we have to worry about what happens in the draft but our primary focus is on this team currently and what we can do,” he told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo on Wednesday. “We have a bunch of young players in this draft. We’ve been deep in the draft, we’ve drafted a lot of players over the years and our focus has shifted more to development of these players and looking at NBA players that we possibly can add to this team.”

“We shifted focus,” Jones said. “I think in the past our primary focus — a great amount of our time was spent turning over every stone as it relates to players and college players, but college players don’t win NBA games. NBA players do, so that’s where our focus is now.”

I get why the Suns want to be done with the draft. This will be Phoenix’s ninth straight season outside the playoffs. That should have provided enough lottery picks to stock the roster.

But since 2011, the Suns have gotten Markieff Morris, Kendall Marshall, Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges from the lottery. That’s not good enough.

Phoenix is still multiple steps from winning. Trying to shortcut the process will only push the goal further away. That type of thinking is what led to misguided signings like Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley. The Suns should be realistic about where they are in team-building.

And maybe they are. Perhaps, Jones is just saying what he thinks should be said. The Suns are trying to sell tickets and secure taxpayer funding for arena upgrades, after all.

But this also might be Phoenix’s actual approach. Suns owner Robert Sarver is notoriously impatient. After Jones’ comments, the Suns traded Ariza to the Wizards without getting a draft pick (netting only Kelly Oubre).

The best thing the Suns can do is nail their upcoming high first-round pick. That should be their primary focus.

Jones saying otherwise ought to terrify Phoenix fans.

Five players most likely to be traded this season

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Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves

Even with all the reported issues in negotiation between Minnesota and other teams, Butler must make this list. He wants out, and Tom Thibodeau at least said he’d honor Butler’s trade request. It’s unclear precisely what Thibodeau means by that, but Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor could always get involved, and he’s more likely to deal Butler.

In the interest of variety, the rest of this list will ignore players with heightened trade alerts simply due to Butler’s availability. Minnesota could use this as a method to unload Gorgui Dieng. The Timberwolves could get another point guard then deal Jeff Teague or Tyus Jones. The Heat are reportedly talking about trading Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic and/or Josh Richardson for Butler.

Kyle Korver, Cavaliers

Even after losing LeBron James, Cleveland is trying to maintain perception of legitimacy. That could mean trading the 37-year-old Korver to a winner. He’s still a dangerous 3-point shooter, and his contract – $7.56 million salary this season, $3.44 million of $7.5 million guaranteed next season – is quite manageable. The Cavs could see trading Korver to a contender as doing right by him, a move that would be respected around the league. And they’d get positive assets for a player extremely unlikely to contribute to their next winning team.

Marquese Chriss, Rockets

Chriss just got traded from the Suns to Houston, but don’t assume he’ll stick there all season. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey loves to wheel and deal and is especially willing to shuffle players during the season. There’s probably a place for Chriss to develop his tools in the NBA, but it might not be on a championship contender. The 21-year-old has looked so far from understanding the game well enough to help at the highest levels. If he shines with the Rockets early, they could trade him for someone more experienced and dependable. If he doesn’t play well (or maybe even if he does), Houston might just want to unload his $3,206,160 salary considering his the luxury-tax hit.

Courtney Lee, Knicks

Lee denies he wants to be traded, but he can still see the writing on the wall: He no longer fits in New York. The Knicks are rebuilding and eying 2019 free agency. Lee is 32 and due $12,759,670 in 2019-20. That salary might make Lee difficult to move, but he can still play. Plenty of teams can use another 3-and-D wing.

Dewayne Dedmon, Hawks

Dedmon is a helpful player on an expiring ($7.2 million ) contract who’s stuck on a bad team – usually a set of factors that lead to a trade. But few good teams need a center, so his market is more limited. Dedmon’s combination of production and salary give him an edge in trade likelihood over other centers on expiring contracts on bad teams: Magic’s Nikola Vucevic, Bulls’ Robin Lopez, Kings’ Kosta Koufos. Atlanta also already has John Collins, Omari Spellman and Alex Len. The Hawks should want to get what they can for Dedmon then give more playing time to those younger bigs.