The Atlanta Hawks had one of those “just flush it and move on” games Wednesday night. They were terrible on both ends of the court, but particularly on offense where Trae Young was 3-of-12, the team shot 6-of-30 from three, and everyone looked listless. The entire Hawks roster played like they were planning where to go get drinks after the game. Nobody’s mind was in it.
That frustrated Hawks’ assistant coach Melvin Hunt, who took it out on a chair during a timeout.
“It’s been a long road for me the last couple years. I just really put in the work to finally get healthy and to be able to start,” he said. “I’m never going to quit. No matter what, I’ve been through real-life situations that are bigger than basketball.”
Tuesday, Thomas talked about why he chose Washington this past summer.
"I chose the Wizards because they looked me in the eye and told me they would give me an opportunity and I can’t thank them enough.”
“I chose the Wizards because they looked me in the eye and told me they would give me an opportunity and I can’t thank them enough. I know who I am, I’m one of the best basketball players in the world. It doesn’t affect me. I approach the game the same way. But, I mean, I am happy to be starting.”
It was mostly the opportunity — Thomas hoped for a chance to prove himself last season in Denver but the emergence of Jamal Murray cut that back. In Washington — with John Wall injured and Tomas Satoransky off to Chicago — Thomas is going to get his chance. And on a one-year deal if he plays well he can get paid next summer.
There’s a lot of people around the league — and a lot of fellow players — rooting for Thomas to earn that next paycheck.
Jim Boylen has Bulls’ players punching in at work. Literally. There is a time clock.
Jim Boylen wanted to bring some old school toughness to Chicago when he took over as coach. However, he stumbled early, learning that with the modern player, the days of “I say jump and you say how high” are long gone. There needs to be more open communication and a coach needs to earn buy-in from his players (and in the NBA, those elite players have more power than the coach).
At the top of the list: Boylen has installed an old-school, factory-worker style time clock in the Bulls’ facility where players punch in on the clock to go to work each day.
And three days before the start of this year’s training camp, Boylen brought in another memory of his factory days. He ordered a time clock. He had it painted from green to red and inscribed with “Chicago Bulls” in white letters on the front. On the sides are Bulls logos. It sits on a north wall inside the Advocate Center, just off the training room, steps away from the weight room. To the right, resting in two small adjacent grey placeholders, are the players’ time cards. Each one is red and white, with the player’s name and his jersey number at the top. The custom-made cards also are adorned with a Bulls logo.
“So when guys come through the doors they punch in now,” Boylen said. “Punching in to work.”
It’s one of a number of things that seem odd from the outside, but what matters is there appears to be real buy-in from the players. That is leading to a needed culture change in Chicago.
There has been a palpable shift inside the Advocate Center, a whole new attitude and atmosphere. Players raved about it throughout training camp and the preseason. The vibe, they say, is just different.
Ultimately, the proof comes on the court, but these Bulls are poised to be in the mix for a playoff spot in the East. They get a full season of Lauri Markkanen, a year older and more mature Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr., and Chicago made a smart pickup grabbing Tomas Satoransky out of Washington to play point guard.
The Bulls are going to surprise a lot of people and be good this season. Maybe playoffs good, but certainly entertaining and competitive. Which is a big step forward.
Boylen gets a lot of credit for that. Him and his time clock.
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.
I’m reluctant to declare whether a team should or shouldn’t trade a player. It depends on so many factors outsiders don’t know. Mainly, what are other teams offering (or demanding in salary dumps)? The return (or cost in salary dumps) is essential to any trade evaluation.
But the Wizards should have traded Bradley Beal.
Beal is a young star locked up two more seasons and plays a position, shooting guard, in demand around the league. Look at the astronomical returns Anthony Davis and Paul George generated for the Pelicans and Thunder. It’s hard to believe Beal wouldn’t have fetched something similar.
Of course, Washington would like to build around Beal. Right now, he’s saying all the right things about staying.
But the Wizards will likely stink next season. After living through that experience, will Beal actually want to stay long-term? I would’ve rather traded him this summer with an additional season on his contract than wait to find out.
That was never in the cards, especially because Washington went through key portions of the offseason without a permanent front-office leader. That was a failure of Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. He fired Ernie Grunfeld in April and didn’t remove Tommy Sheppard’s interim title until mid-July, once free agency had quieted. This is a 365-day-a-year job. Washington missed opportunities.
Sheppard’s big move was drafting Rui Hachimura No. 9. I rated Hachimura No. 25 on my board. That could just be a difference of opinion. But I fear the Sheppard – unsure of his long-term status – gravitated toward the player with major marketing upside. If Hachimura struggles, it won’t matter that he’s Japanese.
The Wizards had to get creative to form even this barely tolerable roster.
They used most of their mid-level exception on Ish Smith (two years, $12 million). He should be fine as a stop-gap starting point guard. However, I suspect many of contributions will come just through his professionalism amid a losing season.
Washington jumped into the Anthony Davis trade when the Lakers wanted to clear cap space for a run at Kawhi Leonard. The Wizards got a second-rounder for taking Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones. Washington got another young prospect, No. 42 pick Admiral Schofield, for effectively taking $1 million of dead salary from the 76ers.
These new veterans likely aren’t good enough to get the Wizards anywhere. The new young players carry only limited promise.
Washington’s short- and long-term hopes rest mostly on Beal – as long as he accepts that burden.
Offseason grade: D+
Are the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls the future of the Eastern Conference?
This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.
This season, the Eastern Conference shapes up to be a showdown between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Joel Embiid. Two long and athletic teams that know how to defend. Both have questions — how will the losses of Jimmy Butler for the Sixers and Malcolm Brogdon for the Bucks impact them? — and there are teams like Boston and Indiana hanging on the fringes trying to get in the conversation, but the East is shaping up as a two-team race at the top.
The other question in the East: Who’s got next?
The Bucks and the Sixers are relatively young, they should be at the top for years, but what young teams are on the rise in the East and look like they could be coming for the Bucks and Sixers in a few years?
Atlanta and Chicago.
There’s a long road still to travel still, and plenty that can derail these teams, but the Hawks and Bulls have the potential to make that elite status. Let’s look at them.
“I made the declaration earlier this summer that Collins and Young ould be this generation’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash. I stand by that. Collins may not be as strong and polished offensively as Stoudemire, but they play with the same force around the basket. Every time Collins dunks, you wonder what the basket ever did to him to deserve that assault.”
Young plays with a flash and style you just can’t take your eyes off of. He has shooting range out to the parking lot, impressive and improving handles, and the kind of court vision that cannot be taught. He must become a better defender, he’s got to score more efficiently around the rim, and the calls for him to be an All-Star in his second NBA season, at age 21, may be jumping the gun, but Young is poised to be one of the faces of the league.
The chemistry with Young and Collins can be everything for this team, and the foundation of a contender.
Around them they have Kevin Huerter as a potential long-term backcourt mate with Young, they added a solid young center who suddenly could hit threes last season in Alex Len, and on the wing they drafted a couple of guys with potential in DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish, hoping at least one of them develops into the No. 3 guy next to Collins and Young. (A lot of teams were not as high on Hunter as the Hawks heading into the draft, but Reddish could be a steal at No. 10.)
Those young players have landed in one of the best player development systems in the NBA — that’s why Lloyd Pierce was brought in as coach last season, and he delivered. He has found a great balance of letting guys learn and accountability, the kind of tough-but-fair teacher everyone respected in school. The Hawks are building something that feels real and lasting.
Is this the year they make the leap? Last year they had 29 wins, and the usual trajectory would have the Hawks mid-30s this season, which in the East likely keeps them on the fringes of the playoff chase most of the season. But a leap is coming, one up above .500. Maybe this season, more likely the following season, but it’s coming. The potential trajectory for this team looks like a rocket to the moon.
Let’s be upfront here: I have less faith the Bulls eventually can reach the upper echelons of the NBA than I am the Hawks, and the primary reason is I don’t trust fully GarPax in the front office. Yes, they have built an impressive young team with potential, but if I told you in four years the front office had screwed up the chances, would anyone really be shocked?
But make no mistake, this team has potential.
That starts along the frontline — Lauri Markkanen is very good at basketball. He averaged 18.9 points a game and nine rebounds a game, shooting 36.1 percent from three, all at age 21. He’s entering his third NBA season and we could see a leap in his game. Next to him is second-year man Wendell Carter, who averaged 10.3 points and seven rebounds a game, and more importantly, was the kind of rim protector any good team needs in the modern NBA. Together, that’s a very good frontcourt of the future, one that fits the modern game.
Scoring on the wing comes in bunches from Zach LaVine, who showed he more than a dunk contest guy. He took more than five threes a game and shot 37.4 percent, he is a good passer who keeps the ball moving, and is at least trying on defense. Next to him is a quality wing in Otto Porter, who averaged 13.9 points per game last season, shot 40 percent from three, and could become a free agent next summer (although don’t bet on him opting out of $28.5 million).
The point of the future will be Coby White, who has a world of potential but it’s going to take a few years of work to get there.
This summer the Bulls made two pickups that — in my mind — will vault them into the playoffs this season. One is point guard Tomas Satoransky, who Washington let walk (one of their confusing moves) and will be the guy that knows how to start plays, hit threes, defend, and just go get a bucket now and again when they need it. He played well for stretches with the Wizards when John Wall was out. The other quality pickup is Thaddeus Young, who was critical to the Pacers’ defense last season, plus he just is a glue guy on the offensive end who can be a backup four and give them quality minutes (don’t be shocked if he closes games for Jim Boylen at times).
The Bulls have a young but reasonably well-rounded roster, and while they won 22 games last season they could be in the high 30s this season and pushing for a playoff spot in the East. It’s a big leap.