** Introducing: The Hawks’ latest roster addition! **
((abridged version, since I had too much fun this morning out on the BeltLine. Let's Go Hawks!))
With the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets, we’ve got two skeleton crews clashing at the Barclays Center for a Saturday matinee (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). As a Hawks fan, you’ll be forgiven if your support in the next two contests tilts toward the gentlemen in black-and-white.
It’s not at all about having reservations with rooting against Kenny Atkinson, the fun-loving former Hawks assistant who’s in his second season running the show in The Big Borough.
Like his most recent head-coaching boss, Coach Kenny is amidst an ownership change, as Mikhail Prokhorov hands over the controlling-stake papers to a fellow billionaire, Joseph Tsai (no relation to the band that sang, “If I Ever Fell in Love”). The Alibaba co-founder may or may not have his own ideas about how to run an NBA club, and those plans may or may not include Atkinson, or Brooklyn’s Kiwi GM Sean Marks.
With such uncertainty blowing in the winds, it’s therefore in the Nets’ coach’s best interest to win the few games on his slate that he’s supposed to win, including the upcoming home-and-home series against Atlanta, even while his team is as short-handed as anyone else’s.
The Nets were still reeling from the loss of Jeremy Lin back on October 22, when the Nets outpaced the visiting Hawks 116-104. Prior to his season-ending knee injury, Lin was an ideal backup guard for new franchise face D’Angelo Russell. Well, within a month, one of Russell’s knees would undergo arthroscopic surgery.
While the silver lining is that the setbacks gave Spencer Dinwiddie (6.1 APG, 38.8 3FG%) an opportunity to break out of his shell, this was certainly not a storyline Atkinson or the Nets could have anticipated. They’ve also had to deal without two players at the wing spots, as Blazers tradee Allen Crabbe (back) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (ankle) were out this week (Crabbe has returned and will start, and RHJ is also likely to play).
Based roughly off per-game scoring this season, there’s four of the top five Nets on the shelf. Only one Net, backup forward Caris “Casanova” LeVert, has appeared in all 21 games for Brooklyn. The only active player with more than 15 starts, entering today? Our old friend, Raptors castaway DeMarre Carroll (19 of 21 games, 14.2 PPG, 38.5 3FG%, 6.8 RPG), who just returned this week from a respiratory infection.
Yet, there is one big reason Hawks fans will cheer on Atkinson and company through this arduous climb back toward relevancy. You saw how daunting a challenge it is to deal with LeBron James during Atlanta’s nice-try loss to the Cavaliers on Friday night. Can you imagine a possibly-returning LeBron and a possibly-upright Isaiah Thomas, being rewarded next June with a(nother) Top-3 draft selection?
Aside from Prokhy, none of the current brass was around when the Nets decided to collude with their Atlantic Division rivals to acquire City Slickers co-stars Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Paul Pierce. In what is shaping up to be one of history’s most calamitous deals ever involving some Russian dude, that deal cost Brooklyn the ability to at least miss out on drafting Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and, now, whoever falls to Cleveland in 2018.
I say Cleveland, and not Boston, since that upcoming pick was the key piece in the huge, mega-blockbuster Jae Crowder deal that preceded this season. Thanks to Marks, Brooklyn is currently pegged to get a first-round pick next summer, thanks to the salary dump of Carroll by Toronto (pending the Raptors making the playoffs). But Brooklyn losing games like the upcoming pair does none of the Nets, nor the Hawks (4-17), any favors.
Atlanta can still find a way to Bobsura their way to victory versus the Nets, who are just 2-5 at Barclays since beating the Hawks here in mid-October. The Hawks were already the league’s worst defensive rebounding team (73.8 D-Reb%), even before their top two rebounders, Dewayne Dedmon (tibia, out 3-6 weeks) and now John Collins (shoulder, out 2-3 weeks) were sidelined. Miles Plumlee will start by default, but the Hawks’ guards and swingmen will have to dis-incentivize T-n-T (Trevor Booker and Timofey Mozgov) from parking around the offensive blocks.
Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore helping the bigs on the defensive rebounds and executing on fastbreaks without turnovers will allow the Coach Bud’s club keep pace with Coach Kenny’s. If keeping pace is the best they can do, it’ll be a win-win for everyone involved.
Let’s Go Hawks!