Search the Community

Showing results for tags 'gamethread'.



More search options

  • Search By Tags

    Type tags separated by commas.
  • Search By Author

Content Type


Forums

  • Atlanta Hawks Forums
    • Homecourt
    • Homecourt Classics
    • Global Hawks Fans
  • General NBA Forums
    • NBA Draft Talk
    • Fantasy Leagues
    • Around the Association
    • NBA Trade Ideas
  • Non-NBA Forums
    • Atlanta Falcons Forum
    • Atlanta Braves Forum
    • Atlanta Dream Forum
    • College Sports
    • Other Sports Forum
  • General Discussion
    • The Lounge
    • Politics and Religion
  • News
    • Atlanta Braves News
    • Atlanta Falcons News
    • Atlanta Hawks News
    • NBA News
  • Support Forums
    • Hawksquawk News
    • Suggestions/Comments/Help

Product Groups

  • Member Subscriptions
  • Donations

Calendars

There are no results to display.


Find results in...

Find results that contain...


Date Created

  • Start

    End


Last Updated

  • Start

    End


Filter by number of...

Joined

  • Start

    End


Group


AIM


MSN


Website URL


ICQ


Yahoo


Jabber


Skype


Location


Interests


Fan since

Found 51 results

  1. “Workin’ on a Cleveland weekend vacation guide. You mind helpin’ me out?” Our Atlanta Hawks helped the Orlando Magic slow their descent, if only for a moment, before the All-Star Break. Tonight’s host, the Cleveland Cavaliers (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Ohio), hope the Hawks will do them a similar favor. Sorry, Cavs. But my Hawks are on a very important, single-minded mission this evening. It’s time to firm up those sipping words! “Trae Young is here in Chicago this weekend, despite the Hawks having ONE OF the worst records in the Eastern Conference.” Sip, everybody, sip! “Ernie, ah’m tellin ya, there shouldn’t be anybody here on All-Star Weekend representin their conference when their team has the worst record!” “Chuck, the Hawks (15-40) only have ONE OF the worst records. The Cavs (13-40) are worst.” Sip! “All ah’m sayin, is we can’t have players on bad teams getting into All-Star Weekend.” “Chuck, your Sixers were next-to-last in the Atlantic Division with a losing record when you went to the ’88 All-Stars.” “Shaddup, Kenny. That’s ONE OF the worst ties you’ve got on that ah’ve ever seen.” Sip! “Weren’t y’all near last place before 1992’s All-Stars, when you were barking your way out of Philly, too?” “Aren’t you in need of a pedicure, Shaq? Listen, lemme say this. We were ONE OF the worst teams,” Sip!, “but ah had to put up with Kenny Payne and Charles Shackleford. And, one other thing… Collin Sexton is a Rising Star in this league, he’s a great rookie.” “He’s… he’s not a…” “ONE OF the best rookies in his class.” Sip! “Oh, Andre Drummond is ONE OF the best big men in basketball,” Sip!, “and he deserves to be here.” “We’re going to go to a commercial break before Chuck starts advocating for Kevin Love, too.” “That’s ONE OF the best ideas I’ve heard in this segment, Ernie.” Sip! Forgive Chuckles and the stream of unconsciousness we and his TV partners must endure this weekend. Yes, the Cavs would remain percentage points behind Atlanta with the first win at Quicken Loans Arena in their last 13 tries. But we know Auburn Mathematics in the 80’s didn’t get much beyond the first decimal. Seeing both clubs tied in the “games behind” column of the standings would only further embolden Charles’ point, which is technically a line but for 80’s-era Auburn Geometry. All-Star Break ’88 spelled doom for Barkley’s coach, Matty Guokas, and this season’s intermission could similarly be the end of the ‘lein. Cavaliers first-year coach John Beilein signed a five-year deal back in May of 2019. But we know by now that owner Dan Gilbert doesn’t mind paying coaches to get lost. Beilein’s departure would make the next clipboard clutcher the seventh in Cleveland’s last seven-and-a-half seasons. Coming off the worst home loss in 50 years of franchise history (which IS saying something for those of us who recall the Richfield years), a 133-92 thumping at the hands of a Clippers team on a SEGABABA that sat Kawhi Leonard and Pat Beverley, the Cavs and Beilein need a momentum-shifting victory tonight in the worst way. Andre Drummond (19 points, 2-fo-3 3FGs, 14 rebounds incl. 7 O-Rebs vs. LAC in his Cavs debut) won’t address the Cavs’ interior defensive woes the way Clint Capela is expected to eventually do for Atlanta. But the man can rebound, and as Kevin Love (questionable, sore Achilles) and Tristan Thompson zone out for the remainder of the season, Cleveland hopes Drummond (NBA-high 15.8 RPG, only player besides Love to lead league with 15+ RPG since 2003) should be able to hone in on his strongest attribute. Cavalier opponents have had little trouble getting desirable shots up (NBA-worst 49.3 opponent FG%, incl. 56.2 opponent 2FG%; NBA-low 3.2 team BPG). But on the occasions where foes have lousy shooting nights, Drummond (1st in NBA for both O-Reb% and D-Reb%, as per bball-ref) can help clean up the glass for Cleveland and give his team a puncher’s chance. The early returns on the backcourt pairing of Sexton with Darius Garland (minus-12.0 points per 100 possessions, per bball-ref) continue to show little promise. Garland leads all rooks with 32 games hitting at least two threes, but he has been driving the struggle bus lately (31.3 3FG% in past 15 games). His lack of defensive production and inability to draw trips to the free throw line has him hitting the rookie wall like the Kool-Aid Man. The Young Bull from Cobb County, Sexton has been carrying the Cavs on his back (22.8 PPG, 47.9 3FG%, 94.0 FT% in last 15 games), exemplified back on December 23 when his team-high 25 points (12-for-19 2FGs) helped the Cavs eclipse the Hawks in John Collins’ return to NBA action. The rookie that has best supported Sexton of late has been not lottery-pick Garland, but the final pick of 2019’s first round. Kevin Porter nearly outscored Atlanta’s bench with 17 points (to the Hawks’ 15; incl. 9 in the final frame on Dec. 23), adding on 9 rebounds and teaming up with Love and Garland for a furious fourth-quarter opening rally to fend off the Hawks early. Porter was also one of the few bright spots against the Clippers (17 points in 27 bench minutes) and may be angling for Garland’s starting gig after the Break. The lack of any significant defensive presence on the floor has harmed Cleveland’s chances of staying competitive (NBA-worst minus-9.4 Net Rating), perpetually at the mercy of opponents that aren’t having poor shooting nights, finish close and/or open shots, and hustle back defensively in transition. Atlanta hasn’t often been that kind of team, especially late (42-30 4th-quarter deficit in the 135-126 loss to the Magic, whose 4th-quarter offense was their season-best). But recent losses in Boston and Orlando suggest they’re beginning to sort things out. Despite the struggles to thwart the East’s worst field-goal shooters as Monday’s outcome hung in the balance, a healthier set of Atlanta swingmen inclusive of Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter (available, played in ORL despite an ankle sprain) and DeAndre’ Bembry (probable, neuritis) ought to make it tougher to have Cedi Osman (38.9 3FG%) and, if he plays, Love, bailing Sexton and Garland out of tough spots. Wing players not patrolling the perimeter must be in position to disrupt passes in the paint and recover tip-outs and rebounds off wild shots that Thompson, Love and/or Drummond will be hunting for. It’s fairly safe for bettors to take the Over no matter the line, as Young’s Hawks and Sexton’s Cavs (125+ regulation points at home vs. GSW, NYK, and LAC this month) give up buckets quite easily. But if the Hawks push the tempo and limit their own turnovers on offense, they should find themselves spending much of the evening playing with the higher of the two scores. Cleveland’s coach may need Love to help Drummond play keep-away against Atlanta’s frontline of Collins (one of five players now averaging 20+ PPG and 10+ RPG; 56.7 FG% highest among the quintet) and Dewayne Dedmon. After all, Beilein doesn’t want news of his ouster to become a byline anytime soon. Speaking of Love, I don’t even need three special words to make my weekend ONE OF the best ever. Two will do just fine. Sip! Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy the All-Star Break. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “When you wish upon a Star… Makes a difference who you are…” I can’t speak for you, but I am kind of glad, no longer having to care at all about the fate of the Netspick. In a secondary way, Atlanta Hawks fans no longer have to be concerned about tonight’s opponent, the slip-sliding Orlando Magic (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), or any other lotto-quality Eastern Conference foe holding down one of the final two available playoff spots. For a minute there, mere weeks ago, it was looking like the 7-seed was no longer in play. Despite losing defensive glue Jonathan Isaac (severe knee sprain suffered on New Year’s Day) for the balance of January, the Magic responded by going 5-2, highlighted by a win at STAPLES Center, without Evan Fournier, over a Laker team that thought it was safe to rest Anthony Davis. Unfortunately for coach Steve Clifford’s crew, Orlando’s depth began absorbing too many hits. Knee surgery last month for the already-injured Al-Farouq Aminu, arguably the team’s biggest free agent addition over the summer, effectively concluded his season before it could really get going. Orlando was granted a Disabled Player Exception for Aminu, but not for Isaac, the latter application an indication that he won’t be rushed back by the team any time soon. In and out for much of the season already, Michael Carter-Williams was missing time due to injury, and by the time he returned to action in mid-January, he tagged out D.J. Augustin, whose patella irritation (still out tonight) has had the lead bench guard unavailable ever since. Orlando had already weathered the storm of losing recent All-Star pivot Nikola Vucevic for a month. But for a squad that relied on defensive fortitude from Isaac, a discrete set of offensive options around wayward-shooting ballhandler Markelle Fultz, and snail’s-pace ball-control keyed by Augustin and Carter-Williams off the bench as pillars to victory, Clifford’s Magic seem to be just about out of tricks. One night after upsetting LeBron’s Lakers to get within a game of .500 basketball, Orlando had to endure the dreaded STAPLES back-to-back and got clapped by the Clippers. They’ve been in an O-Town Funk ever since. Two wins, both on the road at charcoaled Charlotte, are all the team can claim from their past twelve contests. Their last victory here at Amway Center, over a month ago, came at the expense of a Wizards team that didn’t even have All-Star wannabe Bradley Beal. The Magic (22-31) began a three-game homestand getting toyed with by Giannis and top-seeded Milwaukee, a preview of what might be a sad but swift playoff opening round, should no other Eastern lottery teams step it up in the coming months. With just two home games left before the All-Star Break (Detroit arrives on Wednesday), the Magic hopes they can face a squad that tired itself out last night in Atlanta. The Hawks (15-39) needed four quarters and a pair of overtimes to outlast a Knicks team that itself was playing a back-to-back. Remember that the Magic had already been awaiting several young players to get healthy and emerge as stars for the future. They spent a mid-first-rounder on Atlanta native Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL while starring for Auburn during last year’s March Madness campaign, with the intention of rehabbing and bringing him along slowly as Aminu and Amile Jefferson played behind Gordon this season. They’ve been pleased that Fultz and center Mo Bamba have been healthy, steady members of the rotation. But they have been forced to rely more on the lotto-pick pair at critical junctures of this season than they likely anticipated. The same goes for third-year bench players Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch. Having already tripled his volume of starts in Philly before the Sixers discarded him, Markelle passes and shoots inside the arc reasonably well (4.8 APG; 50.1 2FG%). He’d be all the more dangerous with dribble penetration if he had reliable perimeter shooters at the ready. Atlanta ranks 30th in three-point accuracy (32.6 3FG%, 34.3% since Jan. 1), but the Magic (33.4 3FG%, 33.5 since Jan. 1) are coming on strong for that dead-last spot. 2019 Sixth Man of the Year candidate Terrence Ross’ jumper has plummeted back to Earth this year (32.2 3FG%, 3-for-19 FGs vs. ATL this season). Vucevic and Gordon combined to shoot 0-for-13, and Ross 1-for-4, from deep against the Bucks in Saturday’s 111-95 loss, making Fultz (3-for-7 3FG vs. MIL, a season-high in makes; 26.9 3FG% on the season) look quite the marksman. At least the Hawks have a point guard in Trae Young (39 points, incl. 13 in 4th quarter; 5-for-10 3FGs, incl. the game-clincher, vs. ORL on Oct. 26) who can call his own number on occasion. Perhaps, two, at least until Jeff Teague (37.1 2FG%, probable for tonight despite sore shoulder) gets out of his shooting rut. Without Young, Brandon Goodwin saved the day for the Hawks in Orlando back on December 30, sinking big shots inside and out (team-high 21 points, 3-for-4 3FGs), generally catching the Magic off-guard in a 101-93 win. The former UCF and Florida Gulf Coast star guard isn’t as effective in spot duty. But when Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has turned to the two-way player and Midseason All-G-Leaguer for major minutes, Goodwin (just 4 minutes last night vs. NYK) has shown he’s up to the task (42.9 FG%, 100 FT%, 24 assists and 12 TOs in games w/ 20+ minutes). The sole major move by Magic exec Jeff Weltman to bolster team depth was the acquisition of James Ennis, the reserve forward who generally struggled with Philadelphia this season (37.0 FG% since Dec. 31) before waiving his no-trade clause to come to Orlando. Ennis is expected to premiere tonight for the Magic, who waived Jefferson at the Trade Deadline to accommodate Ennis and make 10-day contractor Gary Clark a full-time member. It is hoped that Ennis’ addition will give Gordon (41.9 FG%, 15.4 points and 3.4 assists per-36, down from 44.9%, 17.0 and 4.0 last season) more latitude to play full-time at the power forward spot, where he is perceived to be more effective. Orlando is 9-4 when AG snares 8 or more defensive rebounds, 3-13 when he grabs fewer than five. The Magic frontline has struggled to this point when plugging in either Iwundu or Ross in place of the sidelined Isaac, so they hope Ennis will be a difference maker defensively. Along the way to a 42-40 record in 2018-19, their first winning season since 2011-12, Clifford’s Magic were among three opponents to sweep the 29-53 Hawks in four games, and the only one to win them all by double-digit margins. With a chance to improve to 3-0 versus Orlando this season, it is reasonable to wonder whether Pierce and the Hawks finally have the Magic’s number. Clifford’s 36-46 Hornets similarly swept the 2017-18 Hawks by double-digits in four games. Matt Hill, a longtime Magic video analyst who was the sole assistant initially retained by Clifford when he took over for Frank Vogel in 2018, left shortly thereafter to join Pierce’s staff, and his intimate knowledge may be proving valuable in Atlanta’s competitive turnaround against mainstays Vucevic, Fournier and Gordon (DNP vs. ATL on Dec. 30). The trio was a combined 5-for-28 on threes and has been generally ineffective in second halves versus Atlanta through the first two matchups. Orlando may catch an extra break keeping up offensively if Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter (38.3 corner 3FG% on team-high 1.6 attempts per game; team-high 35 minutes, 3-for-6 3FGs @ ORL in December; 48 minutes, 3-for-7 3FGs vs. NYK; questionable, ankle sprain) gets some rest today. Without several wing defenders available for the Hawks, Fournier and Ross must each be on-target today. Catching up with Orlando and attaining a playoff spot is a bit too much of an ask at this stage for a Hawks team that struggled to put the Knicks to bed last night, and they won’t have a core with a chance to gel until Clint Capela (out, heel bone) and Cam Reddish (questionable, concussion) make their likely returns after the All-Star Break. But it is possible for the Hawks to surge soon past at least one division rival. A win tonight would raise Atlanta to 5-4 within the Southeast Division (0-3 versus banner leader Miami), an above-.500 mark that neither Charlotte (1-6; 2.0 games ahead of ATL) nor Washington (4-8; 4.5 games ahead of ATL) is likely to claim. By comparison, yesterday’s win over New York vaulted Atlanta to just 4-22 versus the rest of the conference. Building competitive edges against the rest of the Southeast can bode well for Atlanta, both going into the Break and looking forward to next season. Will they have the legs and the wherewithal to keep building against the struggling Magic tonight? Orlando certainly hopes the answer is no. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Him! Section 120, Row G! He called me something that rhymes with Rich!” How bad have things gotten for you as an NBA owner when your team’s fans can hardly celebrate a five-game win streak? If the New York Knicks return home from today’s game with the Atlanta Hawks victorious (6 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG in NYC), we may soon see just how bad. With Mike Miller coaching to his players’ individual strengths, New York (17-36) has bounced back from a 3-12 January swoon by rattling off four straight wins, three of them away from The World’s Most Fickle Arena, including one in Indiana. This is a rare “schedule win” opportunity for the Hawks, who watched the Knicks (1-6 on back ends of back-to-backs) avert overtime last night in Detroit by exploiting the spots where Andre Drummond once stood (8 of NYK’s last 9 made field goals within 9 feet of the hoop). Watching the fan sentiments, you’d think it was the Hawks (14-39) with the better record and the winning streak, coming into tonight’s action. Knicks owner James Dolan lopped off one half of the two-headed managerial monster in Steve Mills, leaving Scott Perry as the lone Smithers to pull the strings. One Perry pull at the Trade Deadline mailed mega-male Marcus Morris and his XY chromosomes out to LA, bringing Queens native Moe Harkless home along with future picks and a Euro-prospect in Issuf Sannon. Just as he thinks sitting in the stands or running a dive-bar band makes him look like a man of the people, Dolan probably believes these moves plus the winning turn will win him over some fans. (Newsflash: it will not.) What *might* help is bringing in a manager who is better attuned the players, current and future, on the roster, and Knicks fans were offered a glimpse of that with the team’s reported courtship of super-agent Leon Rose. If things turn the way they did for other teams under ex-agents Bob Myers and Rob Pelinka, the decision will be applauded. If events pan out the way they did for Lon Babby, who selected Alex Len in the Giannis draft overall among many missteps, even a sweeter-smelling Rose as the team’s face won’t mask the stench. Dolan was widely panned this week for couching his intransigence about selling the team in an unnecessary press release about his search for a new team head honcho. The Hawks are the ones feeling upbeat, even despite another late-game, close-shave loss in Boston on Friday. Fans have a better sense as to how Travis Schlenk is rebuilding the roster in Atlanta, and winning ways can wait until the core of the team can get healthy and gel together. The post-Deadline roster is coming together just in time for a close to the season where the Hawks’ schedule-strength is by far the league’s weakest (NBA-low 44.5 opponent winning percentage for remaining games), which is saying something considering Atlanta cannot play themselves. The rest of the 29-game docket includes the Pistons, the Kings, the Warriors (please rest, Steph), the Cavaliers and Hornets thrice, the Wizards, these Knicks and the stumbling Magic twice. Surpassing last season’s record with a 16-13 finish is not unreasonable at this stage for coach Lloyd Pierce and his Hawks, if they can get Trae Young (questionable, ankle), Clint Capela (out, something called a calcaneous contusion and plantar fasciitis), Cam Reddish (doubtful, concussion), and Skal Labissiere (out, something called a knee chondral injury) up to speed coming out of the All-Star Break. The Knicks shoot 33.6 3FG% on the season (27th in NBA), and just moved Morris (43.9 3FG%), the sole Knick who shot above 36 percent (Damyean Dotson, right at 36.0%, the only Knick shooting above 35 percent). At the other end, the perimeter defense has been less than desirable (NBA-worst 38.7 opp. 3FG%). John Collins has been on a tear both inside and outside this month (last 4 games: 26.3 PPG, 46.2 3FG%; season-best 9-for-10 FTs @ BOS). He and Kevin Huerter (42.9 February 3FG% despite 4-for-14 in past two games; 19.8 PPG, 3.5 APG, 0.8 TOs/game so far this month) can light up New York today if they are set-up well by the point guards. Even if Trae sits another day, a more assertive effort by Jeff Teague to mimic the hungry Brandon Goodwin could be enough to do the trick. A listless team-wide defensive effort spoiled Young’s 42-point outing in Manhattan, a 143-120 washout back on December 17. It was one of the last games without the then-suspended Collins available for the Hawks, but Atlanta will have Collins, Bruno Fernando (probable, calf strain) and the newly reacquired Dewayne Dedmon back to help seal off the interior from the Knicks. From there, it will be up to De’Andre Hunter (questionable, sprained ankle), DeAndre’ Bembry (questionable, hand neuritis) and Huerter to keep RJ Barrett (1-for-8 @ DET in just 21 minutes last night, 27 points on 10-for-13 FGs vs. ATL on Dec. 17), Damyean Doston and Harkless (Knicks debut) cool from beyond the 3-point arc, and to run on Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson (9 of NYK’s 13 O-Rebs vs. ATL in December) and New York’s board-crashing bigs in transition off defensive rebounds. The Knicks have been stingy inside when games are halfcourt affairs (42.8 opponent paint points per-48, 3rd-best in NBA), so strong boxouts and wise outlet passes are the way to go for the Hawks. New York allows 1.16 points per transition possession (4th-most in NBA), a value that Miller can only hope replacing Morris with Harkless can fix. It has to suck to own not just the team, but the TV network that airs the team, and find yourself subject to jeers and “Sell The Team!” chants by locals whenever you appear on the screens and the Jumbotron. Us lowly 98 percenters can’t tell folks like Dolan what to do. But instead of tossing ham-and-eggers out of the not-so-cheap seats at MSG, having his camera operators steer away from him would be a wise order. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. “Wait a minute… how did I wind up HERE?” Forget what you heard about Punxsutawney Phil. Danny Ainge isn’t wild about seeing his own shadow in February, either. While the Atlanta Hawks are in Boston feeling a little better about their roster construction than they were earlier in the week while playing against the Celtics, fans of their hosts tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) aren’t sure what all the fuss over the NBA Trade Deadline was about. What many realize is that while Trader Dan is known for his Mamba Mentality in poaching stars and draft picks, the Celtics’ longtime lead executive generally prefers to forage and frolic in the summertime. Midseason blockbusters can uproot players’ whole career paths, and Ainge knows this about as well as anyone. In February of 1988, the seventh-year guard was named to his 1st-ever All-Star Game as a member of the hallowed Celtics franchise. Elder statesmen and Boston teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale struggled to have much of an impact. But Danny came off the bench to hit three of four three-point shots (only four were made by both teams) to help Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins and the East team edge the West, during the last All-Star Game convened in MJ’s town of Chicago. An established starter on a team that had won NBA Championships #15 and #16 during his tenure, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Ainge was looking forward to his turn at aging gracefully. Larry Bird was still going strong, as were his fellow near-20-PPG scorers in Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, and their point guard Dennis Johnson, all in their 30s, all still together since 1983, all averaging over 30 minutes per contest. As Bird looked to the sunset of his great career, he had a young star in Reggie Lewis already learning the ropes. Ainge, who hit a three in a record 23 consecutive NBA games that season while edging Bird with a 41.5 3FG%, knew he had a niche that was hard to replace. Then, like Marky Mark’s bunch, things started getting a little funky. After nearly getting toppled by Nique’s Hawks in the Eastern semis, the Celtics were tripped up in the conference finals by upstart Detroit, in six games. Ainge’s jumpshot had a hard time falling as the C’s failed to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in a half-decade. Even as the top seed entering those 1988 playoffs, the 57 wins were already perceived as a decline from prior seasons hauling in 59, 67, 63 and 62. In a surprise, legendary coach KC Jones retired shortly thereafter, handing the reins to assistant Jimmy Rodgers as he moved upstairs to the front office. Bone spurs and Achilles’ tendinitis short-circuited the 1988-89 season as Bird would appear in just the first six games before getting shut down. Ainge had knee issues and missed time, too. And while Boston stumbled out of the gate without them, Rodgers and fans were growing enamored with their low-first-round pick from the summer before. Earning just $75,000 in salary, rookie Brian Shaw seemed to fit right in, and suddenly it wasn’t only Lewis who the Celtics saw as a future star. Ainge returned but by December was groveling about his playing time getting cut short. He would get his playing time back. Just not in a place anyone expected. In February of 1989, weeks before turning 30, Ainge found himself suiting up in California Wine Country, with Kenny Smith, Wayman Tisdale, and a Kings franchise that hadn’t been around Sacramento for very long itself. Geographically, functionally, aesthetically, this was a long way’s away from Boston. On a club that checked out that season at 27-55, Ainge made the most of his new humble abode. There, he averaged over 20 PPG for the first time in his career, and he went through the next season as a Kings starter, after which the Western Conference contenders in Portland came calling for his services. Already a West Coast guy growing up, Ainge would continue his career coming off the bench until hanging it up at age 35 in Phoenix. Still, it was obvious that the abrupt departure from what he thought would be a lifelong career in Beantown left him with lingering indigestion. What of Shaw, and the team Ainge left behind? Well, Boston would again lose to the Pistons in the playoffs, only this time in the first round. Also, in the absence of rookie-scale deals, the Celtics failed to guarantee Shaw beyond his first season, and by the summertime of 1989 a new threat was on the horizon. From across the sea. Megabucks Italian side Il Messaggero, which weeks before had lured Duke’s Danny Ferry from wrecking his NBA career as a rookie with the sad-sack LA Clippers, offered a couple million dollars, with an option to repeat the following season, that was too good for Shaw to pass up. Having exchanged Ainge (for the Kings’ frontcourt players Joe Kleine and Easy Ed Pinckney) in order to make room for Shaw, Boston went into the 1989-90 season with neither. The Celtics’ brass flew to Rome to entice Shaw back with a new NBA deal, then spent a year wrangling with his lawyers when Brian reneged on the plan to return to The States. Shaw did return and got his starting gig back in 1990, but even that lasted for just a year-and-a-half. After seeing rookie Dee Brown’s playing time Pump’d up at Shaw’s expense, the new regime shipped the oft-injured, confidence-sagging guard in midseason to Miami for The General, Sherman Douglas. We know things didn’t work out well for Boston going forward. Larry Legend and McHale followed DJ into retirement, Lewis passed away unexpectedly, The Chief had gone on to finish his career elsewhere. During that same period of the early 1990s, Ainge had reached The Finals twice, once each with Portland and Phoenix. There remains a sense of what might have been for the graying Celtics had management found some way to put up with the cranky Ainge and allow him to go off into the sunset with the other stars in Boston. Particularly at a time when three-point marksmanship was becoming more than a mere value for specialists, perhaps Ainge could have helped pass the baton onto youngsters for a new era of clover-green fortune. The Celtics would not make another trip to The Finals after trading Ainge away. By the time they did, it was Ainge pulling the strings in the front office. Now going on 17 years, Ainge continues to live in the afterglow of Championship #17 back in 2008. But when you look back at the totality of Boston’s maneuvers in that time, the Celtics’ signature player transactions tended to occur not at Trade Deadline time, or even really in midseason. The trading away of heart-and-soul guard Isaiah Thomas for tortured-soul Kyrie was in August of 2017. Replacing Kyrie and Terry Rozier with a less-scary All-Star in Charlotte’s free agent Kemba Walker (returning to action tonight) was in July of last year. In 2019, Ainge only lifted a finger high enough to launch the sketchy Jabari Bird into Atlanta’s caproom ether. Before that, you’d have to go back to 2014-15 for a legitimate deadline deal, when the C’s sent out Marcus Thornton, Tayshaun Prince and a future draft pick that became Skal Labissiere, in a three-team deal that was nearly as lauded for the arrival of Detroit’s Jonas Jerebko as it was for the Suns’ Thomas. That was only enough to help second-year head coach Brad Stevens to eke Boston into the playoffs as a 7-seed and enjoy his first playoff venture, a four-game sweep at the hands of LeBron’s Cavaliers. Trading the prior coach, to the Clippers for a future first-rounder, happened only at the end of the 2013 season, rather than allowing the ring-bearing Doc Rivers to quit or be fired amid a down-turning .500 season. Ainge would move the deck chairs in the years before only slightly, getting Jeff Green during 2011’s deadline and another first-rounder for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, a move, particularly of Perkins, that soured Rivers and the vets remaining on the roster. Nate had just arrived at the deadline one calendar year before. Summertime is not Ainge’s time to sit back and unwind. The Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett deals from that season of 2007 re-oriented the franchise back to one that expects winning and title contention. Before Ainge arrived, the team had already flubbed the drafting of Joe Johnson, and squandered a draft pick to Phoenix in that deal. In a few years, he would get a pick from the Suns back, in the form of a 2006 draft-day trade for incoming rookie Rajon Rondo. Sending away Antoine Walker in the start of the 2003-04 season was a big deal among the Celtic faithful. Getting Employee #8 back in 2005 at the Trade Deadline for effectively Googs, that future Rondo pick, and Yogi Stewart (Gary Payton would get bought out by Atlanta, just to return to Boston anyway). That’s a ton of Celtic lore, but not a bunch of deadline-day wheeling-and-dealing by Ainge, at least no strategic acquisitions that would make his team championship-competitive with the postseason mere months away. As a matter of course, Ainge will pick up the phone when called, and maybe stash away some intel for the purpose of a bigger scheme in the summer. Yet it’s why there really should not have been much surprise this week when Trader Dan asserted his contentment that the team did the important things to have Boston (35-15, 3rd in NBA East, 1.5 games behind Toronto) in position for a meaningful run back before this season began. “I think our #1 need is health,” said Ainge on Monday to NBC Sports Boston and reporters, before his Celtics outlasted the Hawks, 123-115 in Atlanta. “I think we’re going to look to see if there’s ways to strengthen the end of our bench. We like all of our guys. We do have probably too many really young guys.” Any inkling by Ainge to trade young players or draft assets in a win-now move was probably dashed on Monday night. That was after second-year guard Brad Wanamaker (2-for-3 3FGs, team-highs of 4 FTs and 4 steals, plus 5 assists) and rookie forward Grant Williams (6-for-9 FGs, incl. a game-sealing blow-by layup past the Hawks’ John Collins and a just-passing-through Evan Turner) stepped up at critical junctures, in Walker’s absence, to stop the Hawks from pecking away at Boston’s lead. Further confirmation for Ainge to stand pat came when Wanamaker and Williams (5-for-6 combined 3FGs vs. ORL) made big shots off the bench on Wednesday. Along with rookie Romeo Langford, who took Javonte Green’s momentary place in the starting lineup, the Celtics pulled away from Orlando here at TD Garden, 116-100, marking Boston’s fifth-straight home win and eighth victory in its past nine games. The youthful bench support has been beneficial for Stevens to keep the Holy Cow Trinity of wings, Jaylen Brown (questionable, ankle), Gordon Hayward (questionable, foot) and Jayson Tatum (28 points and 7 rebounds @ ATL, 33 points and 5 assists vs. ORL) from being overtaxed. All three logged 35-38 minutes against the Magic. With a short road trip out West and a return home to face the Clippers prior to the All-Star Break, one can envision Stevens being deferential to his less experienced charges tonight against Atlanta. Not having rookie Cam Reddish (concussion) back on the floor is a detriment for the Hawks to keep up with the Celtics’ swingmen and start the post-Deadline charge on the right foot. A further predictable setback was the unavailability of Clint Capela, Dewayne Dedmon and Labissiere, who have pending trade machinery and/or nagging short-term injuries of their own to get through. Trying to fend off the Timberwolves’ madcap fourth-quarter dash, Trae Young tweaked his ankle late in Wednesday’s 127-120 win in Minneapolis, but he is probable to give it a go along with Jeff Teague (knee). Now just a shade under 40.0 3FG% for the season, Kevin Huerter seems to be working well past his adductor pain. For the Hawks to stay competitive against Walker and the Celts tonight, one other contributor has to be a strong net positive. The Hindenburg. The Dust Bowl. De’Andre Hunter meandering while taking more than two dribbles. There are plenty of disasters in North American history to point to, but the rookie (4 TOs @ MIN, 3 in the second half) should not be attempting to rival them with any on-ball plays other than catch-and-shoot, or catch-and-pass. Wednesday’s win was the first in seven games for Atlanta (14-38) in which Hunter (available, despite an ankle sprain) committed four or more turnovers (incl. 4 second-half TOs during a 12-point loss to Minnesota back in November, if Karl-Anthony can remember back that far), and odd-ball plays on his part helped make the final quarter a bit too close for comfort. Trae (9.0 APG) produces enough wondrous offense to obscure at least some of his 4.9 TOs/game. But Hunter forcing actions toward the rim, for plays that just aren’t there, is glaring, when one isn’t tempted to cover their eyes. Atlanta’s third-leading scorer for just a little longer, Hunter (third-lowest pace on the team, aside from bench players Bruno Fernando, doubtful for tonight with a calf strain, and the recently-arrived Treveon Graham) gets too cerebral with the ball in his hands, or in his general vicinity, and makes things easy for defenders clamp down. As per NBA.com stats, Hunter has a 9.5 TO% on spot-up possessions, second only to Russell Westbrook among players getting four or more such possessions per game (he gets a team-high 4.5). 7.9 percent of De’Andre’s passes turn into assists, a Bembryan value that could stand to climb into the double digits like Huerter (11.2 percent pass-to-assist ratio). Keeping clear of the Celtics’ eager arms and charge-drawing bodies (18.1 points per-48 off opp. TOs, 4th in NBA) will help Hunter keep the Hawks in contention for stealing a road win despite being short-handed themselves. With everybody back for Boston after the deadline, the Celtics will eventually have a roster glut at season’s end. If Hayward and the happy Enes Kanter take their player options, and the team elects to keep Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye on board, then Boston is projected to return 13 players when the curtain opens on 2020-21. Brown’s big contract extension kicks in, just as the Celts are expected to negotiate Tatum’s, lifting the salary bloat over $95 million even without the conditionals. Oh, and then there’s as many as three low-first-rounder rookie-scale deals on the docket, thanks in part to picks Ainge pried from Memphis and Milwaukee. But none of those matters are of pressing concern to the Celtics’ front office. All of it can wait until the summer when he really gets busy. In the wintertime, as Tree Rollins would likely say, Danny Ainge is, “once bitten, twice shy”. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “S GON’ GIVE IT TO YA! HE GON’ GIVE IT TO YA!” Jeff Teague returns to Minnesota as his Atlanta Hawks face the Minnesota Timberwolves (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP) in what will be a pivotal oh who am I kidding it’s time for TRADER TRAV’S DEADLINE KARAOKE! HIT THE MUSIC! Why teams bait? Once it’s time, they make me wait? Whoo! I rep The ATL best, turns out, we’re 100 percent cap-rich. Even when we’re playing crazy. Yeah, my Hawks got problems, that’s the human in them. Swing deals, then we solve them, what ya gonna do then? Y’all could escape cap hell, at least a little. Just gimme more than a bag o’ Skittles. We might even trade down, but your draft return’s whack. So now you’ve found out I’m not cuttin’ no slack. Why teams bait? Once it’s time, they make me wait? Junk offers, salaries won’t aggregate. LL Cool P sat me on the bar stool. Said, “you’d better get me useful vets, fool. Pull a heist on those loopy Chi-ca-go Bulls, More steals from the Minnesota Blunderwolves. Truth Hurts: we need players I don’t need to pull like DEANDRE’ ANDRE’ BEM BEM BRYYYYY.” You thought you’d make me part with J-Bap? That ain’t smart. You got a truckload full of picks? No? Then don’t even start. Hey, I’m glad you’re still a 6-seed, Relying on Joel Embiid, But Ben will never, ever, ever, ever, ever learn to shoot threes. Trae puts the ‘si-i-ing’ in passing, Ain’t worried ‘bout no place in the standings. So you can tell Ben, “Play Fortnite!” when you see him. It’s okay. He already in KAT’s DMs. Why teams bait? Once it’s time, they make me wait? Capela, since y’all need a tax break. Steve Koonin pulled me in the corner there. Said, “go find folks that can guard a chair. Mo Bamba? Or how ‘bout Robert Covington? The latter is LL Cool P’s favorite son. Truth Hurts: dump them busters that’s expiring and DEANDRE’ ANDRE’ BEM BEM BRYYYYY.” I’d trade Alex Len in a minute, If his health status was definite. But Evan Turner’s spry. Plus, he can shoot – I lied. Now that he got ghost, we’re like, Bye-Bye, Bye! I’d ditch Jabari in a second. ‘Cause Collins in the middle isn’t fecund. We start Damian Jones. That’s why I work these phones. I don’t make no bones, we need Fi-yi-yives! Why teams bait? Once it’s time, they make me wait? Poison pill contracts? Don’t appreciate. T-Ressler got me sittin’ in the hot seat. Said, “better get players that can compete! Work a four-way with the L.A. Lakers, Hang up if you’re offered Dion Waiters. Truth Hurts: we want talent more exciting than DEANDRE’ ANDRE’ BEM BEM BRYYYYY.” Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  6. “I’ll be re-evaluated in 4-to-6 weeks. Just glad it’s not my wand-waving hand!” The Guru of… Go-Go? For assistant coach Corey Gaines, watching his Washington Wizards on pace to become the first NBA team to allow 120 points per contest for a season since 1990-91 must feel familiar. Perhaps, it’s because he had a cup of tea on the last NBA team to allow more than 130. Gaines was a disciple of legendary coach Paul Westhead, who once called the point guard, as reported by the LA Times, “one of the fastest, quickest players,” he had seen. Westhead oversaw a lot of quick, and Gaines was the quickest. The California kid was also a quick study of “The System,” and soon quarterbacked Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers into stardom at once-unknown Loyola Marymount University, following Westhead’s principles of super-soaking, run-and-gun offense, at all costs to everything else. In the ensuing years, and decades, wherever Westhead popped up, Gaines would not be far behind. After a couple NBA stops, Gaines came to Denver as a free agent preseason pickup twice. He was cut one day before the 1989 season opener by their soon-departing GM Pete Babcock. He returned in 1990, just days after Westhead was hired in hopes of supercharging the low-altitude offense made famous by Doug Moe. Playing under his college coach, Corey was sure he would finally stick on an NBA roster, until a November game when Kevin Johnson’s Phoenix Suns scored 107 points on the Nuggets. In the first half! Yes, that’s still a record. The 173-143 loss that dropped Denver to 0-6 should not have been laid at Gaines’ feet; he wasn’t a starter, and you rely on ex-Hawk Blair Rasmussen and Todd Lichti to hold it down in the paint and see what that does for you. But Corey, averaging over nine assists per game, was the fall guy. Westhead’s run as an NBA head coach wouldn’t last much longer, either. After being waived, Gaines weaved in brief NBA stints with CBA, European and Asian leagues, ABA2000, and summer pro-am action until he retired. Westhead was about to coach Gaines (and Dennis Rodman and a young Matt Barnes) in 2003 with the latter-day ABA’s Long Beach Jam until the NBA Magic called him looking for an assistant. He and Gaines would re-connect in 2006, when Westhead got the lead job with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and asked Gaines, who took over for Tiny Archibald midway through the 2004 ABA season at Long Beach, to become his assistant there. The move paid off for Gaines as Westhead guided the Merc, running and gunning “Paul Ball” and leading the league in scoring behind Diana Taurasi, to the 2007 WNBA title. Westhead left for to be an assistant with the NBA Sonics, and Gaines took over. Two seasons later, another WNBA title, and Gaines would get promoted to GM two years after that. Jumping over to the men’s side of the pros for the first time, Gaines would work as a player development/assistant coach in ensuing seasons, with the Suns and the Knicks. He was a Pistons coaching consultant when the Wizards came calling. Ted Leonsis likes to tinker, but not in conventional ways. Loyal to a fault, the Wizards owner hung on to GM Ernie Grunfeld way too long, and continues to defy fan sentiment to cut loose head coach Scott Brooks. After star point guard John Wall was lost for the rest of the 2018-19 season and the Wizards missed the playoffs, Leonsis replaced Grunfeld with Tommy Sheppard. While he kept Brooks and promoted Tony Brown to a lead assistant role, Leonsis and Sheppard overhauled some of the assistant gigs. Longtime assistant Mike Longabardi joined the club, as did analytics guru Dean Oliver and Capital City Go-Go coach Jarell Christian, who nurtured Troy Brown and Thomas Bryant on development league assignments and helped Jordan McRae earn a spot on the 1st-Team All-G-League team. But the most impactful strategic addition to the bench is probably Gaines. A 103.5 pace (4th in NBA) and 110.8 O-Rating (8th in NBA) aren’t groundbreaking figures, not in this new-age league. But the offensive tempo resembles nothing Brooks has put out while coaching the star-studded Thunder or Wizards before, or anything this franchise has seen since the winning Washington/Baltimore Bullets clubs of the 1970s. Defense? Bah, Who cares about that right now? Worry about defensive personnel when it’s time to really win something. The Wiz haven’t won 50 games in any season since the 1979 NBA Finalists, and it’s a safe bet that they won’t this season (12-25), a well-established assumption with Wall (Achilles, out for season) and, lately, fellow All-Star Bradley Beal (27.8 PPG; questionable for tonight, lower leg soreness) on the mend. But fans at Capital One Arena, where the Wizards and Atlanta Hawks play tonight (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington), haven’t been this excited about the future in a while. Long recognized as the fastest end-to-end player in the NBA, Wall in his peak seasons would fly up the court in transition, hunting for layups, dunks, and foul-shot chances. Failing that, he’d have to wait several more seconds for the likes of Marcin Gortat and Nene to come lumbering into position, and then a couple more to pry Beal open along the perimeter. It was a formula that had grown stale. Now, Leonsis’ big bet is that Washington can implement a system better suited to the skillset of Wall (age 30 and a $40 millionaire for the first time next season, locked down on extension through probably 2022-23), and to the potential of his youthful teammates, including Brown and lotto-rookie Rui Hachimura, once Wall returns next season. In the meantime, they’ve got Isaiah Thomas (41.2 3FG%, best since his heralded Celtics years) and Ish Smith to help demonstrate Gaines’ version of “Paul Ball” while taking their predictable lumps on the defensive end. Nobody snookers the Spurs easily, but Sheppard’s Wizards pulled a fast one by relieving them of Davis Bertans this past summer, as San Antonio tried in vain to make room for Marcus Morris. Bertans (43.4 3FG%, 9th in NBA) has become part of a trio of Killer Bs (Beal and Bryant, with Brown and Isaac Bonga needing more time to join the hive) that makes it easier for Brooks to promote a free-wheeling yet egalitarian offense. Especially when they’re healthy together, which has been rare. Smith and Thomas can bring up the ball, look for a quick shot, then give it to Beal to create for the rest of the shot clock, Bertans, Hachimura (NBA-low 5.8 TO%, as per bball-ref), and Brown hardly have to touch the ball unless it’s time to get a shot off. Everyone is allowed to play to their offensive strengths, such as they are, so long as whatever you do as a Wizard, you do it fast (304.6 passes per game, 6th-most in NBA; 28.8 catch-and-shoot PPG, 8th in NBA). I’d be tempted to promote Brooks for honorable-mention Coach of the Year votes, but for the fact that running Wall (36+ MPG for four seasons, pre-injuries) and Beal (36.5 MPG, 5th in NBA) into the ground is a big part of the reason the Wizards find themselves in this holding-pattern situation. Beal has only been able to appear in one of Washington’s last seven games, while Bertans (quad), returning tonight, missed the past nine. Trade sharks are circling for Bertans, and Brooks will be obliged to keep him on the floor as much as possible to raise the value of the sharpshooter with an expiring contract. Injuries for Hachimura (groin), Bryant (foot), and Moe Wagner (ankle), has had the Wizards going deep in the grab bag of their depth chart, and with the way their offense is going, you never know who’s turn it is to go for 30. The player themselves may not know until they’re doing it. In comes Garrison Mathews, the two-way no-name guard who paired up with McRae off the bench (57 combined bench points vs. MIA) and left Jimmy Butler muttering to himself in a 123-105 win over the heat on December 30, without Bertans, Beal or Bryant. Out goes Mathews a few games later, victim of a bad ankle injury. In comes forward Johnathan Williams on an injury hardship, starting five games after Christmas and averaging 20 MPG through last week, including 12-and-8 in a 128-114 win over the Nuggets. Out goes Williams, on waivers the next day. The Wizards have finally been blowing gaskets offensively, including Wednesday’s 123-89 defeat in Orlando. But that hasn’t come without random contributors popping up like Whack-a-Moles off the bench. While the five default starters could muster only 28 points between them, the bench brigade against the Magic was led by Brown, portly second-rounder Admiral Schofield (18 points apiece) and Anzejs “Scrabble” Pasecniks (16 points). Getting at least one of the Triple Bs suited up will be sure to put the buzz back in Brooks’ new run-and-gun “system”. The Hawks (VIII-XXX) have plenty of their own defensive issues to work through, and it will be tougher tonight to identify and attend to the opposing player likely to take shots, as they tried to do during valiant comebacks against James Harden’s Rockets on Wednesday. But the Wizards hope, in turn, they can be as successful in nullifying Atlanta’s star scorer as they were all last season. As noted by NBC Sports Washington’s Mike DePrisco yesterday, no other team in the Eastern Conference held Trae Young below both 16 PPG and 30 FG% (12.0 PPG, 28.9 FG% in 4 games vs. WAS) during his rookie season. With or without Wall, Brooks deployed either of Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers or Chasson Randle to help cover Young while using a guy like Trevor Ariza as a free safety for incoming passes toward the paint. None of those personnel are in D.C. now. Perhaps saving his energies, Beal has the lowest Defensive Real Plus/Minus (-4.70) in the league, with Thomas (-4.11) and Hachimura (-3.85, below Trae’s -3.75) not all that far behind him. Coach Scotty will turn to The Mitten (Gary Payton II) and Brown to help limit Young’s penetration. In any case, Thomas or Smith will likely have to switch onto someone, and hopefully Kevin Huerter will have a big game exploiting that matchup. Having reached double figures in each of his last five games (50.0 FG%, 47.1 FG%, 19.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 3.8 APG), all single-margin outcomes for the Hawks, Huerter’s shooting splits are quickly approaching those from his All-Rookie season. Helping him bury notions of a sophomore slump will involve him attacking the paint more and getting to the free throw line, where he can show off his improving shot (85.0% on 1.5 FTAs/game, up from 73.2 and 0.7 last season). Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce wedded himself to two ideas early on in this season. Insisting Alex Len is ideal in every situation coming off the bench, for one, means John Collins is left to start at center for Atlanta, given the personal leave extended to rookie Bruno Fernando and the utility of Damian Jones as an occasional rim protector and foul sponge. The other idea is that De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish (minus -8.5 net points, and minus-3.0 assists per 100 possessions) can be at their best learning how to play together, and starting, rather than staggering the rooks in differing lineups. Collins at center and Jabari Parker (shoulder) remaining sidelined due to injury leaves Pierce little choice but to field De’Andre Hunter at power forward. Collins will find himself busy guarding the frontcourt positions at separate times, but the fast pace expected from tonight’s action may continue to be overwhelming for Hunter, who returns to the NBA outpost nearest to his reigning NCAA champion University of Virginia. De’Andre has been hitting his threes of late (38.7 3FG% in last seven games), but the expectations that he could also contribute as a rebounder, passer, on-ball and roving team defender, seems a bit outsized for his current skill level (last 7 games: 1.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, no blocks, 2.4 RPG). Unlike Cam, who has ample support around his position on the wing, Hunter could benefit from a downsizing of MPG, especially at the power forward spot once Parker and Fernando can return. Fans in The DMV aren’t exactly doin’ Da Butt in celebration of this new wrinkle of Wizards basketball, but they are pleased to discover a clear change in style with an eye toward the future, even with Brooks ostensibly still in charge. There may come for the Wizards a future time when, like the gentrifiers of many D.C. wards, somebody will file a petition for Leonsis to turn all this Go-Go gadgetry off. But that won’t happen until long after Wall and Beal get to run the newfound offense together. Until that time comes, Brooks is willing to listen to his staff, and when it comes to offensive ideas, he’s more than happy to let Corey Gaines clear his throat. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  7. “Didn’t I warn you to stay away from Big Baby’s Superb Owl Seven Layer Dip?” Welp, too much of a football-party coma to do any fancy-schmancy write-up for today’s game at State Farm Arena, with the Boston Celtics in town to deal with the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBA Sports Boston). Instead, please, just mark the date and time, because it isn’t very often that I get to show my appreciation for a Celtic on the Interwebs. Three cheers for Jaylen Brown! Hip Hip! Hooray! New rule: if you are below the age of 30, you do not get to whine about how The Game Done Changed just because you didn’t get your coveted invite to The Big All-Star Dance. You all Devin know the suspects, so there’s no need to call them out Booker by name. Instead, let’s let the Pride of Wheeler High (one of them, anyway, since there’s Shareef, too), demonstrate how to show some class, Marietta-style. “I think there’s a lot of guys to choose from,” Brown told NESN after he was among the players on the outside looking in at the All-Star reserves. “a lot of guys having a good year. It is what it is. Just start gearing your mind, getting ready for the playoffs and stuff like that, building good habits.” It helps a little that teammates Kemba Walker (out tonight, sore knee, along with center Robert Williams) and Jayson Tatum will be headed to Chi-town. Also, that the Celtics (33-15, 3rd in NBA East) are all but assured of a return to the postseason, so the so-called snub can’t use the news Bradley as de-motivation to suddenly now start caring Beal about his team barging their way in as some sort of revenge. Not thinking of anyone in particular. “I try to look at anything and everything as motivation,” said Jaylen, not biting as the media prodded and poked for just a dash of pettiness. “Keep working and getting ready for the playoffs – that’s the stage you want to be in.” The high-minded Brown would rather let his play do all the smack-talking. He scattered and covered the Warriors after last week’s All-Star reserves announcement, then put up a team-high 32 points (despite 1-for-10 3FGs) and 9 rebounds to help Boston smother the 76ers this past weekend without Kemba available. “I thought that Jaylen handled it great,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Not being named, came out of the gates playing great.” In addition to Walker and Williams (hip edema), Enes Kanter (hip contusion) missed the Philly game and is questionable, while Marcus may make like John Krasinski and Smaht Pahk after sustaining a quad bruise on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Hawks (13-37) are too inexperienced and not cohesive enough for it to matter much when opponents are missing key players. Particularly those who have a plethora of shooter options and a multitude of defensive looks they can throw in the direction of Trae Young (upgraded to probable, sprained ankle). That was the case in Dallas, as Jalen Brunson, Seth Curry, Dorian Finna-Score, and Maxi Kleber all had a field day from the field, while the double-teamed Young couldn't get into gear until it was too late. Look for Kevin Huerter (6-for-10 3FGs @ DAL) and two-way player Charlie Brown to try and fill the void on the wing with rookies Cam Reddish (concussion) and De’Andre Hunter (sprained ankle), plus DeAndre’ Bembry (neuritis) all on the shelf. The Celtics are strong enough at those positions that Brown, Gordon Hayward (1-for-11 FGs vs. PHI) and Jayson Tatum (7-for-19 FGs vs. PHI) can have off-shooting nights but still win handily if they get to the free throw line a lot (80.3 team FT%, 5th in NBA) while also making defensive stops (BOS 8th in SPG, 6th in BPG, 4th in opponent FG%). Boston gets away with Hayward as the default starting power forward, so opportunities abound for John Collins (last 10 games: 22.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 62.5 FG%, 35.5 3FG%, 85.7 FT%, 1,2 BPG, 4.6 fouls/game) to have another monster night on the boards if he and Damian Jones can avoid foul trouble. As far as being close enough to win the game late, as they nearly did in Boston last month but for Daniel Theis’ heroics, without the rookie swingmen or Bruno Fernando (strained calf), Alex Len (hip flexor) and Jabari Parker (impinged shoulder) available? We’ll just have to see what tricks Atlanta has up its sleeve. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  8. “Arrgh! How are we letting Damian Jones cherry pick us to death?” Alright, here it is, your definitive answer on the “Who Better?” question, so we don’t have to put up with a debate that has dragged on 19 months too long. The debate was settled, long ago. Luka Doncic is better than Trae Young. One person already made the decision, so we wouldn’t have to. He’s the only person on the planet whose opinion matters on the question. And that man is Sir Travis Schlenk. Best player available is best player available. If Trae Young was the better of the two, then on Draft Night 2018, with both players at your disposal at Pick #3, you select the kid rocking the suit shorts, genuflect, and say, “Thank you all, and good night.” But that is not what the Atlanta Hawks GM did. He had the presence of mind to consider the long-term interests of his team, about the value of what having the best player available could mean to your franchise, versus the value of having the right to draft that player as a bargaining chip for something more. Luka Doncic was the best player available. He, by his lonesome, simply wasn’t Travis Schlenk’s guy. With the Memphis Grizzlies having no earthly idea what was going on, he got on the horn and told Dallas Mavericks management, “I’ll secure your kid if he falls to us. You secure my kid, because he WILL fall to you. And give me your first-rounder next year for the trouble.” Done. Every highlight play, every highlight reel, every stat-monster game from Doncic elicits, somewhere out there on the Interwebs or in pundit-world, the same tired reaction: “Oh, Phoenix, Sacramento, Atlanta have all got to be kicking themselves.” Take our name out your mouths, you mindless twits! The Suns ran out and hired a coach before that Draft, by all accounts a person of sound mind and strategy, ɯho nΩ ‘Mµrican pla¥ers ©an understαnd βecause h€ tålks £ike thi∑. You know what language he does speak? He speaks Luka. Fluently. And then they don’t draft the kid! No, they wanted a Tito Horford upgrade with their first dibs, because size. Congratulations, as DJ Khaled would say. The GM from that day is gone, canned before the season could even start, as is the coach. The Kings. That’s about all that ought to be said. But let’s delve further. If there is a human alive who ought to know the value of a well-timed draft move, it’s Vlade Divac. The man should also know his Euro-prospects inside and out, at least a little better than Dave Joerger, his head coach at the time. But Vlade perhaps knew too much about some acrimonious relationship he reportedly had, or felt the need to ward off, with Doncic’s father. Divac has since maneuvered a “phone call” to “Sasa Doncic” to get their radio guy, Grant Napear, to assert the report was unfounded, but I’m not fooled. Imagine if the Lakers had declined to deal Divac away because Jerry West had some old, tired beef with Jellybean. No, Marvin Bagobones was the move. Talented fella, sure. But I may be out 3-to-4 weeks just from typing his name. Like Phoenix, Sacramento was in position to at least draft Doncic and trade him to a lower-drafting team for something of value, and whiffed. The GM from that day should be gone, and the coach, Joerger, is only gone because he wouldn’t quit giving the GM grief all last season over the blunder. Oh, and how does Memphis get to run around scot-free, and not kicking themselves? They cleaned it up nicely with the do-over Draft Lottery luck of 2019. But put this on for size: “The Grizzlies! Home of the 2019 AND 2020 Rookies of the Year.” All they had to do was blow up Atlanta and Dallas’ scheme, and then maybe the Mavs are the ones trying to keep Jaren Jackson, Jr. from fouling out every other night. Jackson, and nothing else, or Doncic? If you weren’t sure “Which Better?”, you certainly are now. The GM that was also a proofreader away from squandering Dillon Brooks, too, is gone, and the coach got the heave-ho, too. Once Vivek Ranadive regains his senses, that’s three out of four teams who picked ahead of the Mavs in 2018’s draft, three out of four whose picks from that class are or will be inherited by a new regime. The opportunity to trade Luka Doncic down for Trae Young, and recoup additional value in the process, should never have been afforded to Atlanta. And yet, with the iron still steaming, an astute Schlenk was prepared to make a calculated strike. What additional value, you ask? Well there’s January Rookie of the Month finalist Cam Reddish (40.3 3FG% and 82.8 FT% in January), whose confidence on the offensive end is growing by leaps and bounds, and whose defensive aptitude at the wing is pretty good fresh out the box for a team that sorely needs it. Cam is with Atlanta and not, say, Dallas, because Luka was just good enough in 2019-20 to keep the Mavs from being among the league five worst NBA teams, a calculated risk that I trust went into negotiations about draft pick protection. Dallas negotiates Top-10 protection, instead of Top-5, and they’d likely have wound up bringing Reddish or Rui Hachimura into the fold. Tack onto that, both teams got a 2019 All-Rookie 1st teamer and 2020 All-Star out of their 2018 lottery picks, but Atlanta keeps about $6 million in would-be rookie-scale cash spread out over the course of four years to spend elsewhere. One other item. Walking out of 2018’s draft with Young as Atlanta’s point guard of the future meant never having to wonder whether the good folks of DeKalb County, Georgia were going to take the Damocles’ Sword of a recommended felony assault charge for Dennis Schröder and shelve it in a drawer, away from harm. By hookah by crook, Schlenk had to get value for The Menace, too. Now, a rebuilding OKC team that squeaks into 2022’s playoffs would bring the Hawks yet another first-rounder to add to a still-youthful core. Yes, Luka Doncic is a better player than Trae Young. Yes, the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club is doing just fine. Those statements need not be matters of controversy, nor must they be mutually exclusive. Luka is better because he was genetically built, raised, trained and marketed to be better. At age 17, Trae Young led his team to a regional high school championship, his state of Oklahoma naming him the high school sophomore of the year. At age 15, Luka Doncic was in the third year of his developmental contract with Real Madrid. By age 17, Luka was on the top-level club in the world’s second-best basketball league, already having appeared in preseason games against the NBA Celtics and Thunder. Between high school and Big XII collegiate play, Young had his share of scrimmages with and against semi-pro competition. But he would have to join a team that had Vince Carter on it before he could play an official game against players more than five years his senior. Doncic, now 6-foot-7 and pushing 220 pounds, has been playing well above his age weight since age 7. A 5-star recruit, Young traveled for competition across his country. Doncic performed for club and country across his continent, competing in Liga ACB and Euroleague to justify his place among men trying to bring home enough borscht to keep their families fed. It ought to be impressive that both young performers have taken the NBA world by storm, already having left their many “draft bust” critics muttering bitterly to themselves. It ought to be amazing that both have reached the same stages in their short careers, to this point, given their disparate paths to get to the best pro league in the world. But that’s not enough for some. Somebody must be shamed for “losing” a draft deal. If you want legitimate examples of a winner-loser draft trade, dial it back to 1998. Antawn Jamison had a mighty fine career, one that certainly worked out better than two lottery talents selected ahead of him The Kandi Man and Raef LaFrentz. About five years after making the All-Rookie team, he was the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. An efficient offensive player, ‘Tawn even got named to the All-Star Team twice, at ages 28 and 31. Unfortunately for the Golden State Warriors, the veteran accolades came for Jamison after he was traded away, coincidentally, to Dallas. Unfortunately for G-State, Jamison was the second-best player in a two-player draft deal. Moreover, he wasn’t even the best player out of Chapel Hill in the trade. The Raptors took Vince Carter 4th in the draft, the Dubs took Jamison 5th, and then they swapped draft caps. No draft picks changing hands, no other players, just straight cash, home. Cash not for the Warriors but for the Raptors, to go along with Carter. Vince was the better player, Vince had the greatest impact for his team, Vince had the better career. Advantage, Raptors. But please note -- by the time the Warriors and Raptors finally met in The Finals, neither player, and none of their coaches or GMs, were anywhere around. Jamison can take solace that his NBA fate worked out better than the guy drafted right after him. This season, the Mavericks are, for the first time in a long time if not ever, above the .500 mark as a four-decades-old franchise. While Luka has helped them get over the hump, this would be a much longer time in coming had The Worst NBA Franchise of the 90s not drafted Robert Traylor 6th in that 1998 Draft, then sent him to Milwaukee for their pick at #9. Mark Cuban bought the Mavs from Ross Perot, Jr. in 2000 and inherited the German wunderkind, Dirk Nowitzki, who turned the team’s fortunes around and made a roadmap for European parents to seriously consider orienting their athletic kids toward a pro basketball future in North America. While it wasn’t obvious to most at draft time, Dirk proved to be better than Tractor, had the greatest impact for his team, had the better career. Advantage, Mavericks. And it wasn’t close. Those who craved to see Doncic and Young go tête-à-tête tonight at American Airlines Center (8:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest in DFW), seeking out some play that will crystallize their “Who Better” argument one way or another, will be disappointed to find Luka sitting out with an ankle sprain. I encourage them to instead check out last season’s games where the Hawks and Mavs split their series with home wins, the latter back in December 2018 snapping Atlanta’s ten-game head-to-head winning streak. Or, last February’s Rising Stars Game, won by Trae and John Collins’ USA Team. Or, that weekend’s Skills Challenge, where Trae prevailed over Luka to reach the finals. The flaws with the “Who’s Better?” assessments come in the inferences. One might need to see them head-to-head to determine who’s “better” in their own minds. Others might be satisfied by gazing at the standings, where Luka’s team is already a likely first-round pest in the West (29-19; 4-3 on second-night of back-to-backs incl. 133-104 loss vs. PHX on Jan. 28), while Trae’s team has been failing to gain traction for months (13-36; 5-5 in last ten games) in the East. Dallas, too, once took grief for taking a slick-passing point guard from an unassuming major college program Top-3 in the Draft, in the process passing up on a global sensation. People who watched Grant Hill’s brilliance in his time at Durham, his NCAA tournament majesty, could not fathom anyone taking Jason Kidd before him. Purdue’s Glenn Robinson was maybe understandable. But Kidd? Mavs and Pistons fans would come out of their corners swinging for twelve rounds in that 1994-95 season – somebody had to be “better!” And the dismay on both sides was palpable after the votes were tallied and Hill and Kidd wound up splitting the Rookie of the Year baby. Kidd was a superb ballhandler, an All-Star in his second season on a Mavericks club that went 26-56 (hmm.), and even a stout defender. But Ason had no J, as they would say. Having the next mini-Magic was cute and all, but the NBA was on a search for The Next MJ. Hill, a highlight-reel All-Star during his first four seasons in Detroit, a more versatile and athletic talent than Kidd, was fitting that bill. Detroit surged into the playoffs with Hill while Dallas continued to sputter. The consensus by the late 1990s was clear: Grant Hill is “better” than Jason Kidd, who Dallas shipped away midway through his third season, essentially for Steph Marbury. Ergo, Grant Hill WILL be the more impactful player for the team that drafted him. Grant Hill will be winning rings for the Pistons before Jason Kidd wins one with the Mavericks. Advantage, Motown. That’s how the destinies are gonna work out, because Hill is just “better.” Right? Well. The Pistons indeed won a chip. But Hill was eating chips and dip by the time they did. As both Hill and Kristaps Porzingis (also out tonight, knee injury recovery on a back-to-back) know, being a draft “steal”, or a beast instead of a bust, does not prevent injuries, misfortune, and bungling mismanagement from derailing your path to championship prominence. Doncic is a better player than Young, but saying so is not enough. He was plugged into an NBA environment that was better suited for what he could bring to the table. Aside from the pervy guys in the breakroom, Dallas had a stable organization in an NBA market that was well-acclimated to embracing a European star. The coach, Rick Carlisle, that won the 2011 Finals with Nowitzki and, whaddya know, Kidd, is still here to guide Luka. The Mavs’ brass didn’t really consider keeping Young because they thought they had their point god of the future, in Dennis Smith, Jr. As it became apparent that Luka being Luka renders point guard usage meaningless, off went Smith to New York. That allowed the Mavs to take a long-term flier on Porzingis while relieving the Knicks of their error bringing Tim Hardaway, Jr. back from Atlanta and Courtney Lee from wherever. Dallas also sent the Knicks a pair of future Top-10 protected first-rounders that, because Luka, are likely to convey. The owner, Cuban, only believes in tanks that involve sharks. He chased around the summer streets of Houston looking to secure DeAndre Jordan, and finally got him last year, only to send him to the Knicks in that Porzingis deal. Rebuilding, shme-building. Dallas is over the salary cap, hard-capped, and committed to paying Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 unicorn shooting 40.4 FG% while settling for threes, upwards of $131 million over the next four seasons. If he’s not enough of a frontcourt presence, Dallas went out and acquired Boban Marjanovic, and, last month, Willie Cauley-Stein to replace the season-ending-injured Dwight Powell. When Luka needs shooters to take pressure off of him, he’s got Hardaway, Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, J.J Barea, and Ryan Broekhoff, all shooting between 38 and 48 percent from deep. Hard-capped, potentially in a tighter tax situation next season if Hardaway eats his player option, and having to keep up in a conference that has Harden and Westbrook, Kawhi and PG, and at least for now LeBron and AD. Next year’s Eastern Conference isn’t slouching, either, if Kyrie and KD can make some noise to join Giannis and the other contenders on this side of the country. But at least Atlanta, who has Chandler Parsons turning his wreck into a check while keeping the team above the salary floor, will have the maneuverability to move up and grow into contention around Young, without giving up too much. It’s fine to wish that Schlenk was committed to a hastier roster construction and better coaching expertise to surround his new All-Star than his 2018 Draft trade partners. But anyone concluding that Dallas already “won” the trade by looking at their team’s current places in the NBA standings is willfully as narrow as a country road. Luka Doncic is better than Trae Young. Going any further to suggest that the Mavericks are in a better position than the Hawks to win titles in the near future would be misguided and neglectful of even Mavericks team history. Luka’s better. If all goes well for him, he will likely be better. But to get meaningfully far in the NBA West, for the Mavericks’ sake, Luka had better stay better. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  9. “A$AP Rocky? Why, Rih Rih, why???” It has been said that time heals all wounds. Even if some abrasions come from batteries buried in snowballs. Hell hath no fury like the tortured soul of a Philadelphia sports fan. Legends of devious disdain toward opponents and, often, their own teams, have persisted all throughout the decades. Michael Irvin’s final moment as a Dallas Cowboy -- and, as a football player -- concluded not with boos, but rousing cheers, by the Philly Phaithphul, as the receiver who made a Hall of Fame career out of tormenting his division rival was carried off the cold concrete tundra of Veterans Stadium in a stretcher with a career-ending neck injury. At least it was the turf that injured Irvin. Washington’s human pro football mascot came to town for a game, and he wound up getting his leg broken after getting ambushed. Sitting in the opposing hockey penalty box, as Tie Domi can attest, means always having one’s head on a swivel, on the lookout for literal Broad Street bullies. The illy-willy in Philly extends not just to foes, but to the performers that fans are supposed to be cheering as well. Riley Cooper declared his willingness to fight (certain individuals) in the football stadium, not during a game but at a country music concert. Mike Scott was more than ready, literally throwing dem ‘bows with Eagle fans who wanted some of that R-word smoke. They jeered Ron Jaworski as Lawrence Taylor drove him repeatedly into the astroturf. They booed Donovan McNabb as he walked up the stage on draft day. Ryan Howard went from league MVP and winning a World Series to ducking a beer bottle in his own ballpark. From Richie Allen to Mike Schmidt, the back-and-forth catcalling at the hot corner was always NSFW. The hockey team founder dies, and the team issues commemorative bracelets to fans, only to have staff skate out to clean up the mementos, as bitter fans hurled them onto the ice during a blowout playoff loss. Being a Philadelphia sports professional is rough. Being a sports professional *from* the Philadelphia area affords you no favors, either. Kobe Bean Bryant had to have that confirmed for him, the hard way, during what he thought was to be a triumphant return to the City of Brotherly Shove during 2002’s NBA All-Star Game. The year before, the 76ers’ Allen Iverson held up the ASG MVP trophy in front of adoring fans in Washington, D.C., his team aided by solid performances by Atlanta’s Dikembe Mutombo, Toronto’s Vince Carter, and Milwaukee’s Glenn Robinson as the East waged a monumental comeback to secure the victory over the Bryant-led West. For Philadelphia’s diehard hoop-heads, that season was shaping up to be the culmination of a five-year Process since drafting A.I. (nine years, really, if you include the fallout with Charles Barkley and the lost wilderness of the Shawn Bradley years). If maybe the Sixers could acquire Mutombo, then get past Carter and Robinson in the playoffs, there may be a date with destiny in the NBA Finals ahead. Ultimately for Philly, the acquired Mutombo proved no match for the Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal, and while Iverson proved he could step over Tyronn Lue, he could not sidestep the brilliance of young Kobe Bryant. A gentlemen’s sweep ended the Sixers’ glorious 2001 season in their own building. The formal NBA championship trophy presentation had to be conducted in the opponents’ locker room. For everyone’s safety. This was largely not just due to Shaq’s trolling of his foil on the hardwood, but Bryant’s threats to the loony locals off of it. Heckled harshly after Los Angeles’ pivotal road victory in Game 3 of the Finals, Kobe was overheard shouting back at the phorlorn Philly fans, “we’re going to cut your hearts out,” the next game. The personal and possessive pronoun usage was particularly telling for Bryant, who was unapologetic to reporters after Game 3 and made good on his promises in Games 4 and 5 of a 2+3+2 title series that would not require the +2. For two decades by this point, Philly sports fans were used to enduring wretched teams, and wretched defeats from their otherwise good teams. What they were unaccustomed to was having their heads handed to them by someone who projected himself, when convenient for him, as one of their own. Folks from the 215 at the time will confirm for you, there was zero acceptance of Kobe Bryant, the Laker, as a Philadelphian. Philadelphia Adjacent, maybe. As far as we Philadelphians were concerned, Kobe Bryant was an Italian, and not even South Philly water ice Italian. He was an alien turned suburbanite, spoon-fed by an NBA-playing daddy who actually grew up in the local ‘hoods. He used the legends of Philadelphia blacktop ballers, including his father’s, to bolster his own rep as a hard-nosed kid. In our minds, it was all a phacade. During the ’01 Finals, Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant put it succinctly. “Philly sees Kobe as smug. Philly sees Kobe as selfish. Philly sees Kobe as trying too hard to Be Like Mike. Worst of all, Philly sees Kobe as being more Hollywood than a tummy tuck and a nose job.” Once Bryant made his grand return in 2002 for the wintertime classic, he was seemingly the only person surprised by the chilly Philly reception. You could see how hard he tried to win the attendees over, subjected to vociferous boos from the minute he entered the arena, to the opening-game announcements, to the many times he even touched the basketball along the way to hoisting the MVP award. “I was pretty… pretty upset. Pretty hurt.” Bryant said while choking up, holding back tears after taking Iverson’s place as the new reigning All-Star MVP, the first of four in what would be a stellar career. “I just wanted to go out there and play… just play hard. But they booed, and, you know, I still like coming home, though. I still enjoy playing in Philly nonetheless.” Even Iverson sympathized with his rival guard’s plight. “…at a happy moment, a happy time like that, you want to enjoy it,” A.I. told reporters. “Then, by booing him, it took a lot away from it because he is from here.” He didn’t know it at the time, but Iverson’s Philly tenure was already at its peak. Years of losing seasons and early-round exits awaited the four-time scoring champion until he was mercifully traded out of town in 2006. Despite the downturn, Iverson managed to enjoy a career shielded from boos and boorishness. It should never have required a conviction and a prison sentence, but A.I. had the street cred that Bryant, shadowing his teammate Shaq with a brutally panned side-career as a wannabe rapper, craved. “D@MN, KOBE! In high school you was THE MAN, KOBE? What the hell happened to you?” Rapper Skillz, likely more aligned to the streets than Bryant and to his fellow Virginian, penned those words in his annual “Rap-Up” of the calendar year 2003, just after Bryant appeared to be getting his high-profile comeuppance in Colorado, awash in major legal trouble due to lascivious conduct. Philadelphians, like The Legendary Roots Crew who would interject Skillz’s lyric during their concert performances, lapped up the “D@mn, Kobe!” line, particularly as a dig at those who saw Hollywood Kobe as a goody-two-shoes. The two-word phrase became a go-to utterance any time Bryant had a downturn in his career, especially the seasons after O’Neal departed and Bryant was derided for his perceived on-court abandonment of passing and, later, defense. It would take a dozen years before Bryant, in the twilight of his NBA career, could get the home-metro adulation he once thirsted for. Three years after getting traded away, Iverson returned home to conclude his career as a 76er, and despite his own off-court troubles, sideline squabbles and his singular inability to carry the Sixers beyond a single Finals game victory, the Philly fan adoration for Allen hardly wavered. In large part, his immunity from Philly boos was because A.I. never started biting the fans’ hand, even when the hand was disinclined to feed him love anymore. If the Sixers got booed, he seemed to understand wholeheartedly, it was because his team deserved the boos for a lack of competitiveness and effort. Playing through obvious injuries endeared him to fans who, if they could not witness success, wanted to see fearlessness out of the athletes that donned their teams’ uniforms. The diminutive Bubba Chuck was closer to an everyman than a player like Bryant could ever be. So long as this hardscrabble All-Star athlete never complained about the phanbase, or blamed them for the team’s misdeeds, the sharpest critiques would be reserved for the coaches, the GMs, the ownership. Iverson’s time in Philadelphia is instructive for the star athletes who have followed him there, including Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s also a useful lesson for emerging young stars in markets like Atlanta, where Trae Young and the Hawks host the Sixers this evening at State Farm Arena (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Philadelphia). Atlanta’s modern pro sports history is even more torturous than Philadelphia’s. Fans here, like everywhere else, will respond in not-so-kind fashion to Paul Pierce Tebowing at the logo, a pitcher brainlessly beaning our star hitters at home plate, or a Falcon opponent making a mockery of the Dirty Bird in the end zone. But as Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Mike Vick know by now, even the slightest hint of disrespect toward the scant supporters in the stands can tar your local reputation for a long time. Sixer fans were willing to endure the lean years, seasons of 22-60 and 31-51, once Iverson came aboard as their rising headliner. He recognized he was no less flawed, as an individual, than they were, went to bat for them, and was adored in turn by them through the roller coaster of NBA seasons that followed. Similar to Iverson, Young (29.2 PPG, 3rd in NBA; 9.0 APG, 2nd in NBA; NBA-high 4.8 TOs/game) is carrying the Hawks (12-36) through at least a couple arduous seasons, perhaps aided with fewer veteran talents than even the Sixer star had in his heyday. The likelihood of blowout deficits and losses continue, as was the situation during Atlanta’s 130-114 defeat up in Toronto on Tuesday night, even as Trae treats those watching with occasionally hot-doggy highlight-worthy plays. Composure is key, and a player who took the slings and arrows for an otherwise awful collegiate collective at Oklahoma has shown, to this point, he has that in spades. Fifteen-thousand-plus fans at the Highlight Factory, on a Saturday night game between two teams with bad records and little hope of reaching the postseason, is only happening because the regional fanbase is enthralled with and has entrusted Young to lug the franchise, eventually, out from the doldrums of the league. The All-Star starter votes are representative of not simply how the consensus of NBA fans value his nightly uphill determination, but Atlanta fans in particular. “The NBA fans here,” wrote Forbes’ Ray Glier this week, “are showing up because they have a relatable star in their midst. Young doesn’t throw off an air of majesty. He just plays.” Philadelphia’s next Process had the 76ers cycling through tall rim protectors like Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, tall shooters like Dario Saric, and tall guards like Michael Carter-Williams, before Embiid (currently playing with a splint on his hand) and Simmons (8.4 APG, NBA-high 2.2 SPG, probable despite respiratory illness) overcame their early injuries and eventually shook out. While more talents of considerable size and length will be needed in the future, here in the ATL, Young’s artful wizardry with a youthful core does just fine for the time being. “The fandom in the arena, most around 6 feet tall, are being won over by a shrimp of a superstar,” Glier wrote. “He’s not a towering presence, but he’s a presence.” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, was there for many of Philly’s post A.I. (Iverson and, later, Andre Iguodala) years. Pierce’s Sixers meandered upward from 18-64 while riding with Tony Wroten and Luc Mbah a Moute, down to 10-72 with Ish Smith and Hollis Thompson, and up to 28-54 with Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas, before the Sixers could break through with a 52-win season, with a little help from the departed Jimmy Butler. As Al Horford knows, Philly went from being a league laughingstock to a free agent draw, but it wasn’t easy. Pierce watched nightly as his boss, Brett Brown, aw-shucked his way in a classy manner through embarrassing losses, drawing the arrows to himself as questions about his fitness as an Xs-and-Os guy and a developer of young talent compiled along the way. Many of those critiques remain for Brown, after a 51-31 season concluded with an unfortunate deep-corner dagger from Kawhi Leonard to stave off a Game 7 overtime in 2019’s second-round series with the eventual champion Raptors. Especially as the Sixers (31-17, 6-1 in last 7 despite Embiid’s injury; 2.5 games behind 2nd-place Toronto in the East), now with former Celtics savior Horford (12.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.0 APG) in tow, can’t seem to secure a first-round homecourt advantage. Despite beating Boston in all three matchups so far, the results have been mixed at best when Philadelphia (11-12 vs. above-.500 teams) encounters equivalent competition. Even the games against subpar competition can get hairy, like back in October, when the host Hawks jumped out to a 40-31 advantage after one quarter, and a weak-jump-shooting Sixer team needed 36-and-15 from Embiid, including two clutch free throws, and a missed three by Vince Carter just to escape town with a 105-103 victory. The best Sixer shooter on that night, Josh Richardson, is out with a strained hammy, and Horford (out, sore knee, saving him up in hopes of a Celtic sweep on Saturday) is momentarily hobbled. The Sixers will need not only stifling defense from wings Shake Milton, a starting two-way player, and Matisse Thybulle, but also solid shooting from Tobias Harris, 2016 first-rounder Furkan Korkmaz, and the former Hawk Scott (limited in action lately, sore knee). Brown has asked fans to take any heat directed at Simmons for his shot (non-)selection, or Embiid on his pregame conditioning, and turn it all towards him. “Evidently, I have failed,” Brown said this month of the 2018 Rookie of the Year’s lack of progress in stretching the floor with deep shots. “You know, I own it. I gotta help him find this.” That tactic has worked for the Sixers coach, and the players as well. He has survived seismic shifts in management along the Process by being self-effacing, and Pierce has certainly taken note of his protégé’s resilience in a phinicky sports town. Even as rumors surfaced that the Sixers were thinking of “going in a different direction” after their last playoff ouster, Pierce openly advocated for Brown, not the latter’s Spurs peer Mike Budenholzer, to win last season’s Coach of the Year award, and not one of the Dwane Casey variety. Pierce sees that even future forays into the postseason, by themselves, won’t secure his long-term job status. But much like the grandeur Buddy Ryan once held as Philly phootball went from dull doormat to a menacing NFL playoff contender, maintaining cordial relations and tight bonds with fans in town can go a long way. That goes for the stars of the team as well. There will be years under the near-decade of his rookie-scale deal and Powerball-dollar extension where fans will get maybe a bit too inured to Trae’s play, especially if the results on the scoreboard don’t change drastically. Unlike Simmons, Trae (“just” 18 points, on 5-for-13 FGs, and 13 assists @ TOR) seems committed to do his part to improve the aspects of his game that rightfully draw the greatest critique. With him, his teammates and his coach, patience is required from fans, yours truly included, that is often in too short of a supply. But even when fans grow skeptical, bored and tired of Young, or Pierce, along this rocky road out of the NBA abyss, they cannot afford to grow skeptical, bored and tired of us. The stronger their embrace of being “True To Atlanta,” even when such fan-love is unrequited, the longer they’ll have a chance at experiencing the height of excellence right here. Should they have any questions, maybe they can just seek out The Answer. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  10. All-Amazing. Fourteen years ago this month, the Toronto Raptors were waging a turnaround for the ages, and Mike James, the Human Stat Sheet, was right in the thick of it. Georgia’s own Sam Mitchell, in his second season as a first-time head coach, had a lot of work cut out for him. Coach Smitch had to work with two top-16 rookies, Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham, along with a first-timer from Spain named Jose Calderon. He had a lottery pick Rob Babcock drafted from the year before, Rafa Araujo, to build up from the ground floor, and a second-rounder in Matt Bonner that was proving himself worthy of more playing time. There were veterans for Mitchell to turn to, to be sure. But a vestige from a more lauded time, Morris Peterson, and the Net proceeds, Eric Williams and Aaron Williams, from Babcock’s failed trade of franchise star Vince Carter for Alonzo Mourning, were getting a bit too long in the tooth. That’s to say nothing of 33-year-old Jalen Rose. One lottery pick had panned out -- a 21-year-old big, lean Texan out of Georgia Tech, Chris Bosh, that would soon be named an All-Star for the first time (All-Stars from losing teams? Madness!). Unfortunately, the remake of the Raptors around their newest young star had not been going well. Toronto went winless in the first 9 games to start the 2005-06 season, then 1-15 by the end of November. Two days after Christmas, the Raps returned home from a loss in Detroit bearing a 6-22 record, forced to play a back-to-back with Joe Johnson’s similarly awful Hawks in town. That next day, the turnaround campaign began. James, Bosh and Peterson carried the Raptors to victory that day, and again in their first game of the New Year in Atlanta. Those victories sparked a five-game streak that included big home wins over Dwight Howard’s Magic and ex-Raptor Tracy McGrady’s Rockets. The momentum resumed on the road in Seattle, with Rose pouring in 28 points to muffle the Sonics. Two days later, it was halftime at STAPLES Center. Mike James was feeling pretty good about himself, already at 19 points, including makes of all 5 threes, and 9 assists. Up 63-49 on the once-mighty Los Angeles Lakers, this game was shaping up to be remembered as Mike James’ Night, the wayfaring 30-year-old’s overdue breakout on the NBA’s most star-studded stage, the evening his Raptors put their losing trajectory in the rear-view mirror, once and for all. Kobe Bryant had other ideas. Mitchell had few recourses but to contain Bryant with Rose, and the good news was it was working in the first half, since no other Lakers were scoring. The bad news was, Bryant would double his 26 points in the second half. Oh, scratch that, Bryant doubled that total before the end of the third quarter. 27 for Kobe in the third, 28 in the fourth, 81 for the game, as the Raptors, like everyone else watching around the world, seemed to forget there was another side to the floor. For Kobe, coach Phil Jackson and the Laker Nation, this was a watershed moment at a transitional time. Memories of the Three-Peat era had waned, as were recollections of a Finals run with Gary Payton and Karl Malone that fell short of a ring. Shaq set off like a literal hot-air balloon, seeking to win titles with a fresher, more receptive shooting guard companion, Dwyane Wade, and former Laker legend Pat Riley in Miami. Around Tinseltown, the Phil-Shaq-and-Kobe era was looking more and more like the Just Kobe era, even though The Zen Master had returned, one season after getting fired by his girlfriend’s father, to coach a star player he once deemed “uncoachable.” Having STAPLES’ superstar stage to himself without the gravity of Shaq, 81 points and a pair of assists was enough to overwhelm a shell-shocked Raptors club. Certainly, though, Kobe was going to have trouble going forward as a ball-dominant guard against more nuanced defenses than what Mitchell and the Raptors could throw at him. Certainly, Bryant was going to be a hard sell, with his acerbic nature and cutthroat reputation, for the Lakers’ brass to woo other quality talents to play alongside “just” him. It seemed reasonable, by this point, to assess that Kobe’s future involved chasing record books with personal stats, firming up Hall of Fame and jersey-retirement credentials, addressing his lagging off-court reputation after a sordid ordeal in Colorado, satisfying the growing legion of fantasy hoops aficionados, helping Team USA redeem the gold-medal world standing where Vince Carter had left them, and settling down with the knowledge that the birth of his second child was merely months away. But unless he pulled a Shaq and demanded out of L.A., there was certainly no future involving Kobe that involved claiming another NBA championship trophy. Kobe Bryant would have other ideas. In the meantime, Toronto, post-81, was thrown for a loop. Within a week, the reeling Raptors sent Babcock packing, collaring Bryan Colangelo to help turn the franchise’s spiral. By the next week, Rose was on the outs, too, shipped to New York to bring back Antonio Davis for a Raptor rental. The back end of the season for the Raptors, a 7-23 finish, consisted basically of Bosh staying healthy (he could not), and Mitchell enduring the Mike James Stat-Pad Variety Hour. Toronto’s turnaround had to wait for the next season, a franchise-tying 47-win season that brought back, for Raptor fans, hints of competitive days gone by with Vince Carter and coach Lenny Wilkens. Sadly for them, the gross errors of executives past were already being compounded by Colangelo. The salve for the Raptors season that collapsed for good after Kobe’s 81 Game was one big “win,” leapfrogging four teams to win the top prize from the 2006 NBA Lottery. However, in a draft loaded with lottery minefields, Colangelo and the Raptors went with for biggest, well, at least, the tallest one, in Italy’s Andrea Bargnani. That pick had Toronto looking like a Leaning CN Tower. Standing tall in the NBA universe, but an already weathered symbol of monumental missteps. The nation that brought us Naismith had already squandered one NBA franchise, the Raptors’ sibling expansion club Grizzlies relocating in 2001 after just six error-filled seasons in the western outpost of Vancouver. Yet even with the Raptors’ sad-sack reputation that lingered after 2007 and beyond, the sports fans, the citizenry, the governments and the sponsoring business community of Toronto remained all-in. It was largely this way because a Raptor from the bygone era, Vince Carter, left behind a foundation. One could argue that Damon Stoudamire, the first-ever Raptor draft choice that also had a tumultuous exit, had as much to do with establishing Toronto as a legitimate basketball town from its infancy. But beyond Canada, Mighty Mouse was a mere curiosity. Vince was a tour-de-force that every NBA fan saw coming, from his high school years in Central Florida to his time in Chapel Hill, yet still couldn’t believe with their own eyes once he arrived. By 2001, two team’s purple NBA jerseys were in hot demand around the world. One was from a blue-blood franchise in a major American market that had hauled in a dozen NBA titles and was preparing to grab a couple more. The other was from a team that hadn’t existed a decade prior, and occasionally still featured a basketball-dribbling dinosaur. That the latter jersey bore the letters, TORONTO, and gave buyers pride rather than pause, was immensely valuable in locking the Raptors down in town. That jersey #15 belonged to an American-born player who welcomed being known as “Air Canada” proved a boon for the city’s and country’s sports economy. The Raptors’ current leader in scoring average, Vince graces the court formerly known as Air Canada Centre, now Scotiabank Arena, for likely the penultimate time today as a member of the Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, SportsNet One in TOR). He celebrated the early part of his 43rd birthday on Sunday. By afternoon, though, it became obvious that this and ensuing birthdays for Carter would be dates shared with somber remembrances, of the untimely passing of one of his greatest basketball peers. Until the latest news got around, about petitioners trying to replace the NBA’s logo with Kobe’s, I had to think hard to recall what either Kobe’s or Vince’s logo even looked like. As is the case with Trae Young’s initials-merger thingy, I’m sure sneaker company marketers have foisted something upon everybody in the pros by now. Guys like MJ, Shaq, Jerry West can simply point to a single silhouette. Kobe or Vince never needed a silhouette, or a logo for that matter. Explosive, finishing plays were enough to sear Carter and Bryant as symbols in our minds. The best-ever preseason dunk. Best-ever in-game (and Olympic) dunk. Best-ever contest slam, which may or may not involve a rim hang. Best-ever dunk over a future Rookie of the Year, best-ever dunk over a reigning MVP. Best-ever dunk over a probably retiring Hall of Famer. Best-ever lob dunk to clinch a playoff series. Kobe’s iconic persona also became marketable, once he was able to wrap up his NBA career and pursue his many post-retirement endeavors. It’s great to Be Like Mike, but Bryant dared anyone he encountered to strive to Be Better Than Kobe, in some fashion. Bryant felt that competition, in its undistilled form, makes the world go ‘round. Resistance creates sparks. If you weren’t competing with him and his team, if you weren’t competing ON his team, if you were not challenging him in some meaningful way, he wasted little time associating with you. He redirected his aim to become the best basketball competitor, toward becoming the best sports analyst, the best entrepreneurial philosopher, the best filmmaker, the best father. And he only wanted to associate with people who dared to be better, which required commitment to become better than their own selves every day. You have all likely had a conversation, with someone a generation older or younger than yours, or with a colleague of a wholly different background, that goes like this: “Aww, wow, just saw the news that (Mean Gene Okerlund / Nipsey Hussle / Neil Peart / Toni Morrison) just died.” “Darn, rest easy… wait, who was (Mean Gene / Nipsey / Neil / Toni)?” “WHO WAS ((Repeat their full names here))??? Uggh! I can’t even!” Such a convo was not held on Sunday. Not a single soul had to explain to anyone who Kobe Bryant was, what he had accomplished, or why his passing was a gut punch on multiple fronts. Carter made that observation to media yesterday, after Atlanta’s emotional 152-133 victory over Washington, as people around him of every age range had similar heartfelt reactions to the story as it was developing. The death of Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and their associates hit Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce and Hawks #24, Bruno Fernando (doubtful for tonight, calf strain) much the same way. Players who weren’t born when Vince and Kobe were rivals at the AAU level. People who were well grown, if not mature, and tracked both players, even through the summertime scrimmages when both were teens, as debates flared on “the next MJ” within the prep-school pipelines. People who dedicated their athletic lives to becoming “the next Vince,” or “the next Kobe,” charting their ups and downs throughout their careers. People that never so much as dribbled a basketball in their natural lives. All needed at least a minute to gather themselves and consume the tragic news. Kobe saw to it that people felt some kind of way about him, whether he met them or not. He could be one of two things to you. Your undying hero, the embodiment of what unquenchably competitive fire, when applied the right way, could forge. Or, the bane of your existence, the person who takes great pride in thwarting what you hoped would be your, or your favorite team’s, successful destiny. Your inspiration, or your foil, it’s your choice. He could occasionally be both. He would not possibly accept becoming anything else. The bi-coastal, multi-national impact of Kobe’s ascension into our basketball consciousness is evident just with a glimpse into Toronto’s climb from annually going through motions to world championship contention. Vince Carter is the Raptors’ per-game scoring leader, but the current all-time points leader is a young man from Compton, California, and USC, who was not yet 11 when Kobe and Shaq began their three-peat. DeMar DeRozan was told in 2018 by the Raptors’ English-born executive with Nigerian roots, Masai Ujiri, that he envisioned DeRozan could one day become the Raptors’ Kobe. “For (Ujiri and the Raptors) to say I could be in (Kobe’s) position – it was an honor accepting that fully,” he shared with ESPN at the time. The Compton kid embraced Toronto fully, guiding the Raptors into playoffs and conference finals, until Ujiri saw the opportunity for an upgrade. Out went DeRozan that same year. In came someone a couple years younger from Riverside, California, and San Diego State, who closely watched not only all the Laker titles of the 2000s, not only the Finals MVP awards, but Bryant’s 12 All-Defensive Team seasons. Kawhi Leonard returned to L.A. last summer to continue his pro career, but not before he completed his mercenary mission by leading the Raptors to their first NBA championship. The Raptors point guard feeding both DeRozan and Leonard the ball through those seasons? A kid from Philadelphia, born and raised, who idolized and followed Kobe, the local high school hoops legend ten years his senior. Kyle Lowry is 9 dimes away from passing Calderon for the all-time Raptors team record. He just happened to be in San Antonio, where the Raptors ended their own decade-plus drought (12 years) on Sunday night to extend their season-high seven-game winning streak, and had DeRozan coming across the court to share a mournful postgame embrace. DeRozan, Leonard, Lowry. Norman Powell, a San Diegan and UCLA alum who proudly wears #24. All Kobe-inspired. Each of these players’ greatest NBA moments could just as well have occurred while wearing a K.C. Raptors, or a Louisville Raptors jersey. But this team, now with sustained success (NBA-best 21 straight winning months), is anchored, economically, emotionally, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a certified NBA city. That’s because Vince Carter (3rd all-time in NBA games played with an appearance today, tying Dirk Nowitzki) came along at the right time. It wasn’t always this way in this city, but you can rest assured Toronto will give Living Legends like Vince their roses while they are here. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  11. The Pause That Refreshes. (2:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL, SportsNet One in TOR) “You all need to decide...” 55 years ago this month, one of Atlanta’s greatest citizens had turned 36 years of age. One month prior, he was in Norway, with the Nobel Prize for Peace being bestowed upon him. What had become, during the 20th century, the world’s most renowned accolade, was granted to this unelected, non-politician, non-official young adult. The 14th American, the second African-American, and the youngest human to that point, ever to be a singular Laureate. “First person in the Western world,” noted the Norwegian Nobel Committee of the soon-to-be 36-year-old minister, writer, orator and activist, “to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.” That’s deep. He was the first Georgian, and the first Atlantan to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In the ensuing weeks, the prosperous members of his native city’s civic, religious and political community needed to decide how it wanted to collectively honor him. More specifically, Atlanta needed to decide IF it wanted to collectively honor him. Like, at all. Since the resurrection of the city in the aftermath of the Civil War, Atlanta has long prided itself by its civic boosterism, its ability to build business, to sustain business, to excel in business, its prominent leaders in academic, social, political, and religious life geared to promote prosperous local commerce, like no other city in the New South could. Economic competition, above all else, propelled the movers and shakers of Atlanta into fervent daily action. How remarkable it was, then, as 1964 was turning into 1965, that the white-collar movers and shakers of the city that surged from the ashes like a phoenix, found themselves shaken to the point of inertia. By the daunting prospect of hosting and attending the city’s first-ever multiracial formal dinner. You wouldn’t know it, today, by the drab parking deck and Dunkin’ Donuts that sits in its place along Forsyth Street, in the Fairlie-Poplar neighborhood that sits a stone throw away from State Farm Arena. But the center of Atlanta prestige at that time was the Dinkler Plaza Hotel, formerly the Hotel Ansley before a prominent family-run hotel chain took over in the 1950s. Since its opening in 1913, proclaiming itself proudly as open to “every Southerner,” as a “home to all Georgians visiting Atlanta”, the only thing allowed to be black at Hotel Ansley were the tie events. Persons of color were barred from the hotel, including the first African-American to receive the Nobel Prize. He was a diplomat and delegate who helped the United States mediate between Egypt and Israel and form the United Nations in the 1940s. But for Ralph Bunche, seeking a quality room in 1962, Atlanta’s Dinkler Plaza was always too booked to serve him, or anyone remotely looking like him. Less than two years after spurning Bunche, and one year after proudly hosting a White Citizens’ Council meeting featuring segregationist governors George Wallace and Marvin Griffin, the Dinkler was approached by Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, Archbishop of Atlanta Paul Hallinan, and Mayor Ivan Allen to host a gala in their city’s largest banquet hall for Atlanta’s own, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What to do? What to do? Some of that kind of “decision-making” was suddenly being taken out of businessmen’s hands, here and elsewhere. Just three days after Dr. King’s Nobel Lecture in Oslo, “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling against a downtown motor lodge around the corner from Dinkler Plaza. A motel that humorously branded itself the “Heart of Atlanta” needed white men in black robes to confirm for them the Commerce Clause of the Constitution was not overstepped by Congress’ passage of 1964’s landmark Civil Rights Act. Proudly welcoming “every Southerner,” it turns out, means you’re willing to engage in and profit from interstate commerce, so Federal laws apply. Yes, black citizens and visitors could finally stay in Atlanta hotels and motels, in America’s hotels and motels, without reservation, with a mere reservation. That didn’t mean the hotel owners had to like it. Now, this town’s prestigious Dinkler Plaza was being asked to host a celebration for one of the Civil Rights Act’s most noteworthy advocates? And a black citizen, at that? What was happening in this era, forged by King and a growing array of civil and human rights leaders, was the decoupling of “peace” from “order,” establishing through law and spirit a linkage instead between “peace” and “justice.” Maintaining “order” requires instilling a centuries-long culture of fear and violence, a world where cruelty, whips, lynching, rocks, nightsticks, bullets, fire and bombs buttress societal subjugation and dominance. In that culture of fear, all of that is necessary for some to feel “at peace.” It becomes a matter of convenience to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself, when you are empowered, through “order,” to assess and enforce who your neighbor can and cannot be. Promoting “justice” requires a basis of unconditional love and nonviolence, a world where handshakes, thoughtful words, selflessness, fairness, critical thinking and sincere hearts open infinitely more doors than they close. In that culture of love, a world of just deeds is engendered where the pen is, indeed, mightier than any sword could ever hope to be. For their roles in helping oversee and encourage the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, Rev. King’s and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy’s home were firebombed, along with several black Baptist churches, by the actors of “order.” King took great pains to remind his anguished supporters not to seek retaliation, compelling and inspiring with the application of Biblical scripture. “We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us,” Rev. King pleaded. “We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’… We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement.” In a culture of fear reinforcing “order”, not looking like intended subjugates is insufficient to shield a supporter of the suppressed. Unnerved by racial injustice in Alabama and elsewhere, Rothschild convened in the 1950s with Christian clergy and prominent black leaders, like Morehouse University president Benjamin Mays, to broker a peaceful path as the city of Atlanta faced the realities of court-compelled desegregation. While the resultant “Ministers’ Manifesto,” calling for peaceful interracial negotiation and obedience to the law, could not be signed by him due to its heavy Christian language, the rabbi published his own endorsement of the ministers’ appeal in the local newspapers and Congressional record. Those words made Rothschild, like King and Abernathy, a target for the actors of “order,” as a series of death threats, and then 50 sticks of dynamite in his Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple, would make clear in 1958. Actors in the culture of fear take solace in the thought that, no matter their circumstances in life, someone different than them, by way of how, where, or in what circumstances they were born, is and shall always be beneath them. Many draw their inspiration from those of their past who resorted to organized violence and callousness to seize whatever exclusive graces the bequeathed enjoy in their present day. Sharing any such graces is the relinquishing of what makes such actors feel special, predestined, a cut above. As the projected fear of getting usurped by outside forces binds the actors of “order,” they resort to tools of violence and intimidation. Their targets are the “agitators” of their sense of order, be it a fellow like King, or one like Rothschild. Those actors of ill-intent hoped to incite fear, but the 1958 explosion instead furthered a bond of love that spanned faiths and skin colors. Steeled by his principled stances, members of Rothschild’s congregation at The Temple took local leadership positions easing, for example, the peaceful integration of Atlanta’s public schools, which began in 1961. He would not yet know he would be delivering Dr. King’s eulogy less than four years later, but in late 1964, Rothschild, working with Mays and Hallinan, would be chief organizer and master of ceremony on behalf of the Nobel Prize winner. If only he and Mayor Allen could encourage Atlanta’s movers and shakers to host and attend the proposed event. Facing legal pressure, Dinkler Plaza relented, and the date and time were set. But no one was RSVP’ing, least of all the city’s business leaders. To them, the “agitators” in town were not people sneaking around bombing things, menacing people at public swimming pools, chasing people off luncheonette counters. No, the “troublemakers” were people like Dr. King himself, getting arrested at Rich’s Department Store, picketing alongside striking workers at Scripto Pen Company. They thought: Can’t that man just stick to schools, drinking fountains, and bus terminals? What’s next? Where will it end? When King spoke of “Injustice anywhere…”, he meant it. It was certainly not lost on him about the ongoing struggles for fair labor practices and conditions throughout the country. Including in January 1964, when the fledgling National Basketball Association, minutes away from presenting their All-Star Game on national television for the first time, faced the threat of all 20 players, black and white, striking if the owners did not acquiesce to recognizing the newly formed, pension-fighting players’ union. Whether you were Bill Russell, or Tom Heinsohn, it didn’t matter in Dr. King’s mind, if your injustices were being willfully ignored. Whether you were a high-achieving professional athlete in Boston, a soldier following questionable directives in Vietnam, or a striking sanitation worker in Memphis, chances are good you were inspired by Dr. King. Even if you weren’t, Dr. King, his family and his followers would be inspired by you. His all-encompassing advocacy was roiling the business community, who worried about the effect of bad press – more on that in a minute – on business relations well beyond Atlanta. Whether they were segregationists at heart or not, whether they understood it or not, the culture of fear still enveloped The City Too Busy To Hate. The culture of fear strikes at not only the hearts of subordinates, their advocates, and the perpetrators, but the perpetuators as well. Attendance by prominent white locals at the upcoming banquet was feared as a tacit acquiescence of Dr. King’s activism. No matter the feelings or misgivings about the Court rulings favoring civil rights over the prior ten years, it wasn’t the men in the *black* robes giving them pause. Especially in the aftermath of The Temple bombing, many white business leaders feared what smoldering might await them if they were so much as perceived to align with King. Facing the very culture of fear meant for them to thrive in, the prevailing view was that it was wise to decline any invitation requests, staying silent on the matter if at all possible, in hopes it would all blow over, in hopes of what they believed was “peace,” for the sake of good “order.” As we say in modern parlance, they didn’t want none of that smoke. Among the most prominent civic leaders was Robert Woodruff, who took over The Coca-Cola Company in 1926 and transformed its signature beverage product, its packaging, and the company itself into items of global renown. Writing a letter, banquet organizers hoped Woodruff, Atlanta’s most successful former chief executive, would help spur local leaders to abdicate their reluctant positions. There was no response from his office. Not a peep. Not much until after, “Tribute to Dr. King Disputed in Atlanta,” published shortly before New Year’s Eve by the New York Times. In this nation’s paper of record, the article cited the cool reception for the Nobel Peace Prize winner from so-called progressive business leaders, and it reported on an unnamed bank executive working behind the scenes in hopes of undermining the event. In Atlanta, we love to profess not seeing color. But anytime a bad look from the press threatens to cut off the city’s pipeline of green, this town’s boosters see red. Mayor Allen sought out the Coca-Cola patriarch at his remote Newton, Georgia plantation to plead for his assistance. Woodruff dispatched his new Coke CEO, Paul Austin, to be the heavy on his behalf at a hastily convened meeting at the Piedmont Driving Club, the private common ground for the elite among Atlanta’s white elite. As Andrew Young noted, Austin was a Georgia native, but spending over a decade in South Africa before returning to Coca-Cola made it clear to him how the ways of “order”, in the form of apartheid, were (not) working for them. At the Piedmont meeting, Young recalled that Austin looked Atlanta’s leaders in the eyes and made it plain, in term$ they could understand: “It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner. We are an international business. The Coca-Cola Company does not need Atlanta. You all need to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Company.” Within hours of Austin’s reported ultimatum on behalf of Woodruff, the honorary event had its sponsors aligned, and its tickets sold. 55 years ago next week, the gala went off with hardly a hitch. Black and white citizens enjoying a celebratory feast together, in 1965? Peacefully? Who knew such a thing was possible? /s Things go better with Coke. Also around this town, things have gone better with Delta Airlines. That Southern-based company had already moved from Monroe, Louisiana to Atlanta in the 1940s, flying the corporation directly over Public “Safety” commissioner Bull Connor’s Birmingham along the way. But when the time came in the 1950s to establish an international hub to reach South and Central American destinations, Alabama’s largest city, virtually equivalent in size to Atlanta and the “Pittsburgh of the South” due to its dominant iron, steel, and manufacturing industries, and its airport was back in play. Birmingham and its host state could not woo Delta’s hub from Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield’s grasp. Not while Alabama cities were gaining negative reputations outside the state under the grip of Governor Wallace, hardening their segregationist stances in the face of Brown v. Board. Atlanta leaders presented a more welcoming, tolerant face, and being in the same time zone as New York and D.C. didn’t hurt, either. Desegregation in Atlanta was happening, if not happily and swiftly, with less government-sanctioned violent resistance, and that positively impacted reputations, and commerce. By 1963, to accommodate a new black senator and his pages, newly elected Georgia governor Carl Sanders ordered the “White” and “Colored” signs above fountains and restrooms to come down. Sanders did the principled thing without fanfare, simply recalling later that he “went ahead and did what I knew what the law said to do.” Meanwhile, he boasted, “George Wallace was over in Alabama, standing in the schoolhouse door.” If you’re looking to grow your business interests, climate can be a huge deal, and not just the temperature and rainfall. Repercussions of the paths “A City Too Busy To Hate” and the city that became known as “Bombingham” chose with their respective social climates are clearer over fifty years later. That goes far beyond Delta’s decision to help grow the World’s Busiest Airport here, or Coke’s decision to keep its roots here, or United Parcel Service’s decision to move to our sprawling metropolis in the 1990s. When the nation’s largest professional sports leagues decided to expand and relocate into the South in the 1960s and 1970s, Atlanta made itself the obvious choice. When America’s Olympic Committee wanted to pursue a Centennial Games that showcased the growth of the New South, the locale decision was made easy. When we want to fly to Peru, or Peoria, when we want to catch a MLB, NFL, or NBA game, we don’t have to haul it over to Alabama. It’s not just the dominant economic foothold that a landlocked Atlanta metro gained ahead of its Southern peers, with its Top-20 global economy (based on GDP) today hosting 16 Fortune 500 company headquarters (including Coke), 4th-most in the country. It’s the reputation of Atlanta’s enterprises that stands out as well. Last week, the AJC reported a survey finding that among the top-ten most trusted brands, three are right here in the ATL (Chick-fil-A, UPS, and The Home Depot). Our local leaders in business, faith and governance are far from perfect. But when they stub their toes on matters of civil and human rights, be it the police department or CFA or Atlanta Spirit Group, you can bet Atlantans will give them earfuls, in an assertive but nonviolent way, until they decide to evolve. It’s the culture we chose long ago, one that happens to keep us relatively prosperous and economically competitive, a culture prompted by Dr. King and propagated by our civil rights leaders. (photos via Jameelah Johnson, @JameelahJNBA on Twitter) It is not lost on Coach Lloyd Pierce and the Atlanta Hawks organization that we should offer our local legends their roses while they are here. The scars from John Lewis forehead remain visible from a skull fracture he sustained as a 25-year-old in Selma on during the 1965 March to Montgomery, one of many injuries he sustained as a young Freedom Rider and marcher for justice. Co-founder with King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Reverend Joe Lowery was crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as well. In Florida, St. Augustine was the scene when Andrew Young was leading demonstrators downtown and to a still-segregated motor lodge swimming pool (the one where the motel owner infamously poured acid into the pool in hopes of scaring off the protestors, and a cop jumped in to arrest the swimmers), when he was attacked by angry, racist mobsters. As was the case in Selma, Young was jailed in St. Augustine, where the police allowed members of the mob to come into the jail to assail the demonstrators further. They protested, suffered, and proceeded, undaunted. When presented the choice to succumb to the wills of the actors of fear, with their livelihoods and those of their loved ones under persistent threat, with much more to personally lose than just Coca-Cola, they flatly declined. These heroes and many others continued to push Dr. King’s ideals of The Beloved Community, both alongside him through the end of King’s life, and beyond, here in Georgia and throughout America and the world. “Our goal is to create a Beloved Community,” Dr. King wrote, “and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Atlanta and the world beyond benefits both qualitatively and quantitatively by the rippling effects of our civil rights leaders’ resolve. “We have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation,” King would later state as America lurched yet again toward international conflict. “This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” Every day, in many ways, our local, national, and global society is presented with a similar choice. Atlanta’s prize-winning peace advocate, Dr. King, offered us a means to choose wisely, to choose better, for everyone’s benefit. A culture of love, nonviolence and justice, or a culture of fear, violence and loathing? We all have to decide. Happy MLK Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  12. “Y’all would really rather see Tacko Fall, huh?” Once the first All-Star ballot returns rolled in, and it became obvious Trae Young had a great shot of earning a People’s Choice Award, Atlanta Hawks fans went into overdrive, and for good reason. If Young was able to get into the Game on the fan vote, then he wouldn’t be among the many players in the Eastern Conference going for the Oscar, waging an uphill fight this month for one of seven precious reserve spots. Neither the Washington Wizards nor the Atlanta Hawks come into action today (6 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Washington) in the running for Best Ensemble. But some Best Supporting Actor trophies remain up for grabs. Players like the Wizards’ Bradley Beal intend to spend this week using Young and the restless Hawks (11-35) to bolster their merits. Some help from coaches won’t hurt. “Jimmy Butler should be a starter in the All-Star game,” asserted Erik Spoelstra, Miami’s coach and noted comedy connoisseur, who was also miffed in his Friday commentary that Butler’s candidacy was limited by his ballot classification as a forward. “It’s a joke that he’s not.” Assuming his ire isn’t directed at Kemba Walker or any of the East forwards, Young and the Hawks’ losing ways seem to be Coach Spo’s bone of contention. Even if the Hawks lose the next ten games, dropping to 11-45, Young won’t be the All-Star starter on a team with the worst-ever pre-Break record. As noted by Phil Watson of HoopsHabit, that ignominious honor would remain with Dwyane Wade, a flashy fifth-year pro and fourth-time All-Star whose team was 9-43 at the 2007-08 All-Star Break, 6-25 afterwards. Dang, Erik… who’d he play for? I’m just “joking”, you already know. Coincidentally, Butler was classified as a forward three years ago, on a losing team in Chicago. His Bulls, a team far more talented and experienced than Young has yet enjoyed, had just lost to Dennis Schröder’s Hawks to drop to 21-23. Even the fan vote had him in 5th place, on the outside looking in. But the newly installed “Zaza Rule,” allowing player and media input into the voting results, catapulted Butler over LeBron’s teammate Kevin Love for the East’s final frontcourt starting spot. Jimmy Buckets joined two other sub-.500 starters, Giannis and Anthony Davis, at the time 2017’s All-Star selections were announced. There was precious little consternation, no think pieces complaining about “antiquated” position voting, no homers banging their keyboards. Davis, of the 23-34 Pelicans, scored 52 points in The Big Game, and he was handed an MVP trophy for his troubles. Somehow, the world managed to continue spinning on its axis. No “joke,” Spo! Spoelstra and Butler will have to wait until the first game after the Break to sink their gnashing teeth into Atlanta. Say, didn’t you two have to get through most of the first third of the season without your ascendant frontcourt star, Bam Adebayo? Ah. I must have y’all confused with somebody else. Toronto hosts the Hawks on Tuesday, and Kyle Lowry will be waiting. The defending NBA champs lost their Finals MVP, yet they’re still tied with Miami for 2nd in the NBA East. Bidding for his 6th-straight appearance in the midseason classic, Lowry has bounced back from a broken thumb to log the second-most minutes per game and the third-highest scoring average of his career. If Ben Simmons cared what fans thought, he’d take more open threes, fix his free throw shooting, and dodge the Karkrashian Kurse like the coronavirus. Alas, the 2019 first-time All-Star found himself behind Derrick Rose, Zach LaVine, Lowry and Jaylen Brown in the fan balloting. Simmons does hope coaches will value all the things he does bring to the table, which will be on display when the 76ers visit Atlanta on Thursday, one day before the reserves get announced. NBA players made their minds up that, yes, a defensive liability who stars for a losing team can be worthy of an All-Star starting spot. Only more of those voters felt that star player should be Beal, who finished second to Walker in the internal player-vote tally and just ahead of Young. Even if that star, 11-26 on the floor with Washington (4-3 without him), is only now scrambling to make a season hampered by knee and shoulder ailments (career-high 27.8 PPG, career-low 31.6 3FG%; career-best 6.4 APG, career-worst 3.3 TOs/game), without John Wall (out for season, Achilles) by his side, one of his (offensive) best. Wiz coach Scott Brooks is trying as best he can to untangle himself from contradictions, squaring Beal’s once-lagging quantitative performances with the shooting guard’s qualitative leadership value. “He hasn’t shot the ball well, but he’s not going to end up being a 30-percent shooter. The guy is money,” Brooks sorta-explained to the Washington Post, after Beal’s ninth consecutive game of 35+ points and 5+ assists helped their Wizards overwhelm the Cavs in Cleveland on Thursday. “You’re an All-Star for a reason, and he keeps leading us… None of us expected this season to end up with the situation that we’ve had, but he’s led us and battled for us and puts us in positions to compete every night.” Brooks also backed Beal this month after his star guard frustratingly questioned the progress of the team purportedly “changing (their) culture” to a winning one. “He’s a part of our culture and he’s a big part of it,” Brooks said of Beal. “When you lose, everybody feels bad about it, and that’s a good thing.” The Wiz (15-29) fizzed in three straight games after defeating the Hawks on the 10th of January. They’ve beaten two lottery squads since, and nearly knocked off the heat in Miami before succumbing in overtime on Wednesday. Beal has been money, from the free throw line, where his career-highs of 7.1 FTAs/game and 84.0 FT% have kept his elevated usage from becoming an all-around efficiency disaster. He is the sole NBA player below Trae in Defensive RPM and PIPM rankings, best understood by his need to carry a roster loaded with spare parts and next-to-the-next-men-up on one side of the floor with limited defensive support to cover for him. The next-worst player above age 21 in those plus/minus categories is Beal’s Wizard teammate and former small-wonder All-Star, Isaiah Thomas (2-for-16 FGs vs. ATL on Jan. 10; 41.2 3FG%). I.T.’s persistent threat to hit jumpers from outside keeps him in Brooks’ starting unit as Beal (31.9 usage%, 6th in NBA, two places behind Young) dominates the ballhandling from the wing. There’s at least one other Wizard seeking to make it to Chi-town in a couple weeks. Rookie Rui Hachimura has been out since mid-December with a groin injury, but he has been cleared for basketball activities. The Rising Stars challenge will be an easier bar to clear this year if you’re on the World Team, but the Japanese forward must show he’s healthy and productive enough to make the cut. Rui could be joined by fellow Wizards Moe Wagner (out, ankle) and Anzejs Pasecniks, especially if last-minute injury replacements are needed. Making the USA Team is tougher, but it’s not too late for Atlanta’s Cam Reddish (9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks @ WAS on Jan. 10) to grab an invite. Coming off the bench in the Hawks’ Friday night loss at OKC to score 20 points, Cam (last 7 games: 2.4 3FGs per game on 50.0% shooting, 1.9 SPG) is unearthing to demonstrate not only why he could be more than a one-way player, but also why a plurality of preseason-surveyed rookies felt he could eventually wind up with the best NBA career, Zion Williamson and current Marvin-Williams-warmed-over archetype DeAndre’ Hunter included. Up-and-down Troy Brown (18 points, 10 rebounds in 35 bench minutes vs. ATL on Jan. 10) wouldn’t mind a call, either, especially if he gets the chance to spend his All-Star Saturday Night on Trae and Zion’s USA Team. The eventual returns of Hachimura (out, groin) and Wagner (out, ankle sprain) will bring the high-scoring Wizards to nine players averaging double-digits, including Jordan McRae, who has cooled lately after dropping 29 points on the Hawks (4-for-5 3FGs), plus eight boards and six dimes, in the 111-101 win at Capital One Arena. To the All-Stars go the spoils. For Young, that means being granted a delayed return to Georgia from Oklahoma City, after taking his bows at a Sooners game on Saturday afternoon. He’ll return to action hoping to make amends for one of his worst games of the season in D.C. a couple weeks ago, going bagel-for-7 from downtown while offsetting his 7 assists with 6 turnovers. Hawks backup Brandon Goodwin keyed the near-erasure of a 13-point second-quarter deficit before halftime in Washington, then scored eight points and dished an assist to Reddish to forge a 91-86 lead with just over seven minutes to play. But his fourth-quarter pairing with Young was unable to thwart a series of layups by Ish Smith, followed by point-blank scores from McRae and Ian Mahinmi that put the game away for the Wizards, who were missing both Beal and big-man Thomas Bryant. Atlanta could have used forward Jabari Parker (out, shoulder rehab) to match the Wizards’ late-game firepower. Brooks will likely keep Beal at small forward and maintain a guard-heavy lineup that gave the Hawks fits in OKC, who used penetration and kickouts to bigs Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala to surge to a 36-21 fourth-quarter advantage on Friday. To keep yet another “too little, too late” fate from befalling Young and the Hawks, it will help to have Jeff Teague around to cool off Smith, his former Wake Forest teammate. Atlanta has Reddish and Kevin Huerter to spend their energies shielding Beal, but must avoid over-aggressive fouls that make scoring easy for the Wizards star. Hunter needs to be busy latching himself onto Washington’s stretchiest threat, the fully healthy Davis Bertans (42.6 3FG%), leaving John Collins to do the dirty work of showing on screens for guards and getting back in position to beat Wizard bigs to the glass. Amid all of that defensive activity, Young and the Atlanta point guards must be more effective in disrupting and intercepting Washington’s halfcourt passes. Every loss by the Hawks will be portrayed as a referendum on the value of Young’s first All-Star accolade by his de-Trae-ctors. Every victory will induce the converse effect from supporters. Neither Young himself, nor the Hawks, need to be caught up in all of that. The focus needs to be on becoming 48-minute fullcourt competitors, particularly at home versus Lottery peers. Hawks fans have no choice but to forgive the upcoming slate of opposing stars, when their minds are fixated on a Game other than the one they’re supposed to be playing. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  13. “This insurance had better cover white shirts on windshields.” It’s time to make some big changes! Yes, I am talking to you, State Farm. Listen, the whole Cliff Paul thing was cute for a minute there. But it is 2020, and nobody is taking Chris Paul’s straight-man “comedy” routine and laughing straight to your friendly neighborhood insurance agent’s office. The bits you cook up for CP3 are funny. Face it, though, it’s the deer rampaging around garages, the mascot firing off T-shirt cannons in living rooms, the guy wearing khakis, the geckos, woodchucks and camels that elicit hearty guffaws in insurance TV spots. Anyone in or around the National Basketball Association can attest, Christopher is not, and has never been, innately “funny.” Not unless junk-punch gags make you snort a giggle. (I do not recommend laughter anytime Steven Adams is around). You think the tykes at Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, if they really were given the choice, would have insisted upon Chris Paul to be the NBA star who hosts and reads one-liners off a teleprompter? In 2018? Get real. The kids would rather just let the green slime run the show. Everybody Tolerates Chris. This was once a young star who steered his way out of the Deep South to get himself to L.A., although not quite in the way he envisioned. Once there, he used his newfound Hollywood connections, his union prez pull after upending Derek Fisher, and the still-spry and legit-funny pair of Blake Griffin and De’Andre Jordan to secure himself some TV bags. Including an insurance ad where the sweater-clad alter-ego became more famous than the player himself. These days, he’s more renowned for ratting on opponents when they’re supposed to have their shirts tucked in. He’s The Feds at this stage of his career. Seriously, State Farm, you’re asking a guy who’s known for not minding his own business to make you some. What consumer would trust this guy to be Like A Good Neighbor? CP3’s a long way removed from the nine consecutive years when he was a surefire All-Star. At least for now, he’s a long way removed, geographically, from the bright lights of Hollywood, too. The Clippers drafted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in 2018 and let Paul walk. Even Houston has since passed him up for an “upgrade” in the form of Russell Westbrook. Now, as the Atlanta Hawks come to Oklahoma City (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Oklahoma), Paul is way out here in prairie land, grooming Gilgeous-Alexander for Sam Presti’s cost-cutting Thunder. Reaching age 35 this spring, he’s well-suited for a future selling us all term life insurance and enhancement pills. But it’s time to give Paul the heave-ho, State Farm, and turn to a fresher, fan-friendly face. Like who? So glad you asked. (Not you, Baze. So sorry.) You’ve spent truckloads of dinero to swipe Philips’ name off a swanky, newly renovated NBA arena. Why not shift your TV ad campaigns to the fella who casually launches 35-foot bombs from your logo on Atlanta’s arena floor, to the growing joy of millions of insurance-starved fans? Unlike your current rep, Trae Young’s got charm and charisma for days. Your rep sneers, mocks refs and fake-laughs, while this kid’s biggest crime is flexing with a smile. His enthusiasm is infectious. Just witness the joy “T.Y. Thrill-ton” effused while rocking his red velvet smoking jacket on the sideline, cheering young Brandon Goodwin on to victory in Wednesday night’s stunning late-game thriller over a squad that coincidentally kicked Mr. Paul to the curb. Trae’s already making insurance out of his two-way contractor. You want to appeal to Middle America? Chris is just in Sooner Country for a minute or two, but Trae has Oklahoma crimson ‘n cream in his veins. Further, peep the newest All-American-born All-Star starter’s bubbly persona daily on social media accounts. Never types a thing that requires an “I wuz hacked!” excuse. Imagine: “Another Day, Another Opportunity (100),” to protect your home and auto from bears! Oh, and the man CAN ham it up, on the spot. Have you not yet seen him and John Collins reminding us all why Landmark DCJ is The Georgia Giant? Meanwhile, you’re out here trying to sell with an Abbott, when you really need to bring a Costello to the table. I promise you, State Farm, this is not somebody you want to risk losing to Aflac. You’d better get your people in touch with Trae’s people and lock him down, before Flo hits him with a lab coat and a name tag. How long Paul sticks around OKC depends on what team exec Sam Presti has up his sleeve. A year ago, the Thunder were trying to sustain their rep as The Small Market Club That Could. That could spend big, at least, if not win big, having thrown money at Paul George and Westbrook to back up their commitment to eventual excellence. But after PG requested to buddy up with Kawhi Leonard in La-La-Land, it was Presto-chango time for Sam, whose organization could face a repeater tax bill this season and next, right as they try kickstarting their rebuild. The plan was to find Paul a new NBA landing spot before this season began. But then, a funny thing happened, and not because some State Farm agent was up in the middle of the night wearing khakis. Paul professed a commitment to stay and mentor SGA (team-high 19.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG), the 6-foot-5 stringbean who starts alongside him. Not only that, but CP3 has taken Dennis Schröder, about as big an afterthought as a flashy young player with funny hair could be in this league, under his wing. Now Schröder, once a one-trick driving pony as a future All-Star hopeful with the Hawks, is mastering the dark arts of on-ball defense, ranking 4th in Defensive RPM among NBA starter/rotation PGs (bottom-ten w/ OKC last year, 6th-worst w/ ATL in 2017-18). Further, the Menace is hitting money jumpshots to win games, as he did from 20 feet out with the 30th and 31st point of his barrage in Orlando (10-for-14 2FGs, 3-for-4 3FGs, 9 assists in 33 bench minutes) to dust off the Magic on Wednesday. I’m comfortable in asserting that this isn’t Thunder coach Billy Donovan’s doing. You can credit assistants an ex-Hawks Mo Cheeks and Mike Wilks, if you must. But it’s the egging from Paul that’s getting through to Dennis and Shai’s noggins. Westbrook, with his triple-double hunts, gave this team an edge every night. But Paul, effectively the head coach for the moment, has spread that vim and vigor across the whole rotation, and it particularly shows up in the second halves. As noted by Forbes SportsMoney’s Nick Crain this week, CP3 leads the league with 110 clutch-time points, and Gilgeous-Alexander (+70 clutch plus/minus) and Schröder (NBA-best +71 clutch plus/minus) aren’t all that far behind. OKC has been in as many as 31 clutch scenarios all year and have thrived in nearly all of them. SGA’s ranginess on defense (team-high 12 rebounds, all defensive, @ ORL) allows Donovan to go small-ball at winning time, plugging sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari at power forward alongside Adams (questionable, ankle; Nerlens Noel has been starting in his place) and featuring three guards under 185 pounds (OKC’s top-3 minute-leaders) to ramp up the pressure. In recent games, OKC has been conveniently starting two-way rookie Lugie Dort at the 2-spot, because how this team finishes is proving to be far more important than how they start. The Thunder have become true League Pass darlings with one thrilling comeback surge after another. Coming back from down 26 to beat the Bulls in mid-December, down 24 just two nights later to get past Memphis. Down 18 four days after that (don’t remind Doc) to beat LA in George’s return to OKC, behind 32 points by former Clipper SGA. Just this week, in Westbrook’s Houston, climbing out from a 17-point third-quarter hole to ground the Rockets. That’s just scratching the surface of what has been a fun ride for Thunder fans, watching the team slide into a cozy 7-seed spot (26-19, winners of 11 of past 15 and 3 straight) with a reasonable shot at sneaking up to 5th in the West soon with some favorable games (vs. ATL, CLE, DET; at MIN, SAC, PHX) on the docket. Unfortunately, this is a campaign, and a roster, that might look very different a couple weeks from now. “Especially as it heads toward a rebuild,” Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman recently suggested, “the Thunder won’t jeopardize its long-term plan for a short-term payoff.” Presti has slashed lots of salary weight to this point, going from tens of millions over the luxury tax level last spring to hardly a million over the top as the calendar turns toward February and the looming trade deadline. I’d argue, what’s the rush? As far as my Hawks are concerned, we don’t need to see the Thunder back in the playoffs until 2022, when the lottery-protected pick for Menace ‘n Moose comes due. But by this summer, surely there’ll be a taker for Paul’s two years and $85 million remaining (assuming he opts in for 2021-22), Adams’ $27.5 million expiring deal for next season, and certainly Schröder’s $15.5 million, now that he’s becoming a hot commodity. Gallinari’s $22.6 million comes off the books after this season ends. A simpler dealing away of Noel (set loose the Moose!), Justin Patton, or Slamidou Diallo could be more than enough to evade the repeater tax. Even so, such a penalty under the multiplier won’t be as ginormous as the Thunder once budgeted. Instead of a drastic, destabilizing February teardown, I’d rather reward the OKC fans by running with this Thunder core into the playoffs, formally hand the leadership keys to Gilgeous-Alexander, then make the tougher player-personnel decisions in June and July. Perhaps some thunderous deals are in the works, and if so, I conjecture it’s to have a trial run, for Presti to see if Donovan and this staff are the right folks to coach up a roster from the ground floor. For now, though, the Thunder are modeling quite well what a playoff-steeled veteran from Wake Forest, a possible supernova from the 2018 Draft on the rise, and a cat-quick player who’s not chopped liver, could look like while staffing the point guard position on the depth chart. It’s looking like the Hawks have been paying attention. It is kind of nice to see Atlanta (11-34) cut their two most gaping roster flaws in half. The re-arrival of Jeff Teague (8 assists, 1 TO vs. LAC) and the glorious breakout of Goodwin (17 fourth-quarter points, 3-for-4 3FGs vs. LAC) was a long time coming to address Atlanta’s dire backup situation behind Young (29.2 PPG, 8.6 PG, plus a sturdy 4.7 RPG). I’d even venture to suggest the Hawks checked off two out of three big boxes, if Wednesday’s lineup shift by coach Lloyd Pierce is an indication he’s no longer requiring De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish (minus-9.0 net points per 100 possessions as a two-man unit; 700 minutes together, second among Hawks tandems) to suffer their rookie lumps together. The third leg on the stool is a starting-caliber center capable of providing steady rim protection and pick-and-roll coverage, allowing John Collins (18.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 33-and-16 plus 3 steals vs. LAC; limited sample size, but NBA-best 0.36 PPP on roll-man defense) to become the productive double-double machine and defensive rover the beastly power forward is destined to become. Having Bruno Fernando and Alex Len (probable, continued back strain) available has been helpful, but the duo would be more valuable as reserves for a more competent contributor at the pivot. Noel (team-high 1.6 BPG in 18.8 MPG; minus-3.9 defended FG% differential; Collins’ minus-6.1 ranks 10th-best among NBA bigs, Damian Jones’ plus-7.2 the 3rd-worst), who himself just returned from ankle injury, might fit the bill if the soon-to-be 26-year-old can stay healthy, although it would likely take more than some future-year second-rounder for Hawks GM Travis Schlenk to pry him loose from Presti. In the meantime, having Teague back in a reserve role to spell Young (available, as per LP, after missing Wednesday’s game with a bruised thigh) will help Atlanta match up with OKC’s backcourt depth and strive to avoid yet another big first-half deficit. Kevin Huerter’s layup to give the Hawks an early 11-4 lead against the Clips could not be followed by another field goal until the final minute of the opening quarter. Amid that first-quarter funk, Montrezl Harrell entered the game with LA up 22-12 and went unimpeded, scoring 19 of the Clippers’ next 22 points as the visitors’ lead on Wednesday ballooned to 19. The Hawks showed great fight in storming back late to pull off the win, thanks primarily to Goodwin, but OKC (+10.8 4th-quarter Net Rating; Milwaukee is 2nd-best at +7.9) is not a team you want far ahead of you deep in the second half. Staying in front of OKC’s shooters and drivers, again avoiding fouls, will be a defensive priority for Atlanta. Among the biggest shifts for the post-Russ-era Thunder is their eagerness to get back on defense once shots go up. Last-year’s Thunder cluster amassed an NBA-high 12.6 O-Rebs per contest, ranking third in the league for O-Reb%. This year, even with Adams (3rd in NBA for O-Reb%) still flailing about, those numbers are down to NBA-lows of 8.3 O-Rebs per game and 19.6 O-Reb%. Keeping the opponent one-and-done in their halfcourt-heavy offense, while pushing the pace and finishing in transition, will be key for the Hawks to compete tonight, early and often. The Thunder (79.7 FT%, 6th in NBA) won’t give the Hawks the breaks Harrell and the Clippers offered up (14 missed FTs @ ATL) on Wednesday. It was wonderful to watch the Young household in Oklahoma, conveniently convening on Thursday evening, as Trae officially earned his first All-Star starting nod (Don’t think he earned it? Rather hand out Lifetime Achievement Awards? Cry about it!). You know what would also be nice to see? Some timely spots during All-Star weekend, as Chris Paul gracefully confers insurance agent Cole Perez to Trae Young as his final "assist." Better yet, just have Trae run into Agent Travis Young, his long-lost geeky twin. You know what, State Farm marketing department? Some of us don’t have an off-season. The NBA’s All-Star voting fans have spoken -- it’s time for a big change. Get to work! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  14. True To LouWillVille. [I'm too lazy to update my draft. PG's out, Kawhi's out, Pat Bev's out. Bembry's on personal leave. Trae and Alex... we'll see! ~lw3] Hooray! We finally got one! Just once this season have the Atlanta Hawks watched from the comfort of home as an opponent trudges through a road game, the night before arriving to meet up at State Farm Arena. While it would be nice to nab a schedule win against a fellow jabroni, like the victory over the Boneless Warriors over a month and a half ago, whoever shows up for the LA Clippers (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Prime Ticket in LAX, NBATV elsewhere) will have to do. A home win tonight is far from a certainty, but the outcome ought to be far easier on the eyes than the wing-clipping our Hawks endured on a lousy November weekend at Staples Center. Kawhi Leonard was DNP’d when Atlanta got LAmbasted by a 150-101 score, but tonight he may try to pick up where Paul George (out, hammy strain; 37 points, 11-for-11 FTs, 6-for-11 3FGs vs. ATL) left off during his home debut. Cam Reddish (4-for-15 FGs, minus-45 on/off @ LAC) was there to bear the brunt of PG’s onslaught, and the Hawks’ swingman would appreciate not having to cover either PG or Kawhi today. Leonard (27.1 PPG; six consecutive games w/ 30+ points) logged 36 minutes and scored 36 with the aid of 29 FGAs to help his team edge the Mavs yesterday in Lukaland. If Leonard plays tonight, it would be the first time in nine Clipper back-to-back series where coach Doc Rivers fields him in both games. Even before PG returned to action, Coach Doc sat Kawhi on either the front or back end of LA’s first three back-to-backs. Another player who sat the November game out, and may do so yet again, is guard-dog Pat Beverley. Even without him or Kawhi on the floor against Atlanta, Hawks star Trae Young found himself overmatched (2-for-9 2FGs, 2-for-7 3FGs, 6 assists and 3 TOs) as the woeful shooting and the anemic defense brought about by starting Y2J (Young-Jabari-Jones) with two rookies proved insurmountable. The returns of Kevin Huerter and John Collins give Young (questionable, contused thigh) much more to stand toe-to-toe with the Clips at both ends on the floor, especially tonight if Huerter (4-for-19 FGs in last 2 games) shakes out of his recent slump. For all their squabbles about imperfection and inconsistency, not having Leonard, George and Beverley playing a full slate has more to do with the Clippers (31-13, 3.5 games behind the Lakers atop the NBA West) staying in their intown rivals’ shadow. But what they have had to their benefit is a quality bench (NBA-high 51.3 bench PPG and 20.7 bench RPG) loaded with veterans who lead, and developmental guys, like Landry Shamet (5-for-8 3FGs @ DAL) in the clutch last night, who figure out how to step up when needed. Back in his home metro, summertime AEBL star Lou Williams will be eager to show up and show out after a less-than-stellar performance (2-for-8 2FGs, 3-for-11 3FGs) last night in Dallas. Even though Beverley sat against the Hawks in November, a 2019 second-round pick named Terance proved to be a Mann amongst men (team-high 8 assists, career-high 13 points on 6-for-8 FGs) when inserted into the starting lineup. Against Atlanta, the Clips were buoyed not only by super-subs Williams (15-for-15 FTs, 25 points) and Montrezl Harrell, but 2018’s lightly-used draft pick, Jerome Robinson, who sunk five of seven three-point shots along the way to his career-high of 21 points. Against a Mavs team not renowned for their defensive exploits, the Clippers shot just 37.1 percent from the floor last night, including just 12-for-38 on threes. But LA’s fitness is maintained when they keep turnovers low (11-1, incl. last night @ DAL, when committing under 12 player TOs/game) and the charity stripe trips high, especially the backups (NBA-high 12.4 bench FTAs/game). Versus Kawhi’s former team on MLK Day, you’d have thought Atlanta switched the ‘w’ in their team sobriquet with a ‘c’. Coach Lloyd Pierce’s troopers could ill afford another hackfest like they swam through on Monday’s 122-117 loss (season-high 34 personal fouls, 43 Raptor FTAs). Young’s 10-for-12 FTAs was perhaps the only thing keeping the Hawks from losing to the Clippers by 50 back in November, and his 18-for-21 marksmanship kept the Hawks crawling back in Monday’s game. But the Hawks are burrowing animals, and they cannot dig their way out of holes as deep as the ones they create (14-5, 34-22, 112-91 Hawks deficits vs. TOR), certainly not with Thundersticks. And no amounts of Chick-fil-A sandwiches can be piled high enough to climb out of such holes if Trae can’t play. Neutralizing the Clippers’ offense by forcing them to make tough shots and tough passes without fouling will keep the Hawks within shouting distance for 48 minutes, if not ahead late in the game. The upcoming schedule for the Hawks remains a tall order. But now that I’m done colluding with the Ukrainians to max out both Trae Young’s and Alex Len’s vote tallies (quid pro quo, baby! Alex has been upgraded to questionable tonight), I have a new pair of sipping words for the weeks between now and the end of All-Star Weekend. I’ll need our Hawks to cobble together as many W’s between now and then to make the utterance of those words by hoop pundits possible. The sipping words? “ONE OF.” As in, “Trae Young is here in Chicago despite Atlanta being ONE OF the worst team(s) in the NBA.” Or, “I know the Hawks have ONE OF the worst team(s) in the Eastern Conference, but you cannot blame Trae Young for that, and most fans sure haven’t.” At this stage of the season, those two words together would sound, and taste, so sweet. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  15. “…and then Trae can just lob it to Zion from right about… there.” Still slouching all weekend on the MLK Draft, so it’s Tidbits Time! First, Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs. Let’s get the particulars (8:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, KENS 5 in SATX) out of the way. The Spurs (17-22) ought to be the Patron Saints of Boomer NBA Twitter. If you long for the dying art of the mid-range jumper, DeMar DeRozan’s game is tailor-made for you. DeRozan will hoist the occasional triple shot, every other game or two, just for GP (General Principle, not so much Gregg Popovich). Yet the reigning Western Conference POW has been on a tear like few other NBA stars since mid-December (last 12 games: 65.1 FG%, 87.6 FT%, 27.3 PPG, 5.7 APG) while going almost entirely against the grain (0.6 3FGAs/game). Slashing for dunks and threes “The Old-Fashioned Way” (72.7 2FG% within 10 feet of the rim) has been enough to keep DeRozan’s scoring average high, but the main thing is that his jumper (62.9 2FG% on pull-up shots) has been as wet as a Riverwalk gondola. There have been only two NBA players in the past 35 years that have gone on a streak of 20-point games while shooting 52 percent or higher in each of them. Yet unlike His Airness, no one is out here making a silhouette out of DeRozan’s 15-foot pull-up. Breaking MJ’s “record” with Game #13 tonight (further, joining Kareem, Shaq, KAT, Mailman, and Greek Freak with 13+ game streaks of 20 points & 50 FG%, as per bball-ref) seems an easy reach, on paper, with Atlanta (115.3 road D-Rating, 28th in NBA) in town. However, Double D may first want to consult with fellow Texan James Harden, whose historic 30-point scoring streak ended at the hounding hands of DeAndre’ Bembry and the Hawks in Houston last year. Many Boomers’ least favorite NBA Boomer keeps the Spurs from being fully embraced by those who miss the days of Ginobili’s money elbow jumpers. There are signs, though, that even Coach Pop is relenting on his team’s mid-range mania. NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh notes that the Spurs are the last of the 30 NBA clubs to ever have a calendar month where they’ve shot over 30 three-point attempts per game. They came close in December (28.9 team 3FGAs/game), and they’re well on their way to getting it over with this month (33.1 January 3FGAs/game). The biggest factor is their big factor, LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA was just dabbling until going 3-for-5 from downtown, dropping 40 in a 30-point Spurs win at Memphis on December 23. From that point on, he’s been like Mikey eating Life cereal (2.7 3FGs/game, 53.6 3FG% in last 11 games, at least one 3FG made in each). Hey, LaMarcus likes it! Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s recent exploits are arriving too late for whippersnapper All-Star fan voters to put down their avocado toast long enough to care. But if they keep it up, and if the Spurs (1.0 game behind red-hot 8-seed Memphis) can stay in contention for their NBA-record 23rd-straight playoff appearance, media and coaches will be sure to make note. Wednesday’s 106-100 loss in Miami concluded a 4-game road trip for San Antonio (8-9 vs. NBA East), and the annual Rodeo Road Trip month of February is right around the corner. Despite a loss to the payback-seeking Grizzlies last Friday, they managed to steal two impressive wins, beating Boston and staging a triumphant return for DeRozan at defending-champion Toronto. Just 11-9 at home, the Spurs want to build some momentum at AT&T Center, since they’ve got just six home games left (incl. Hawks and heat this weekend) before the eight-game road swing that straddles the All-Star Break. Two days after losing in Milwaukee, the Spurs came home and bashed the NBA-best Bucks 126-104 on January 6, their last home appearance. The deluge came mostly off the bench, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills (combined 8-for-12 3FGs) scoring 38 of San An’s 59 bench points. Spurs reserves rank top-5 in the league in per-game points, rebounds, assists, and blocks, which can be amazing when one considers how tough it is for some to get a steady diet of floor time. Coach Pop’s Good Side is like the Holy Grail. Our old friend DeMarre Carroll (9 MPG, 22 DNPs and counting; salary guaranteed through 2020-21) is still searching for it. Rookie first-rounder Keldon Johnson (7 total minutes in 2 appearances) and sophomore Lonnie Walker (one pick before Kevin Huerter, who’s played 2400 more minutes) can’t find it. But once somebody succeeds in currying favor with Popovich, it’s hard for the coach to even consider turning to somebody else. Dejounte Murray spent all last season recovering from an early-season injury, only to find himself scrapping for minutes (and, for a while, starts) with Pop tart Derrick White. Like DeRozan, Murray is unlikely to be a safety valve along the three-point arc (1.3 3FGAs/game) and his assist production (4.1 APG, behind DeRozan’s 5.1) leaves a little to be desired. But Murray’s defensive game (3.3 steal%, 2nd in NBA) remains his strong suit, the kind of thing Coach Pop and the Spurs (111.5 D-Rating, 20th in NBA; worst D-Rating since 1996-97) used to profess to caring about. Murray finds his playing time gobbled up by the players Pop has grown enamored with over the years, whether it’s the slightly more seasoned White and Bryn Forbes (36.6 3FG% on a team-high 6.2 attempts/game), or aging wonders Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills (40.7 3FG%). Maybe Popovich is holding out for Dejounte to stretch the floor more effectively, or to provide more consistent offensive production. But the early returns on The Tony Parker Treatment don’t seem to be going well. Murray was benched mid-3rd quarter for the rest of the game in Toronto, before the Spurs’ comeback from 17 points down to win. Similarly sidelined by Pop in Miami on Wednesday, he returned in for a couple minutes midway through the fourth quarter. But after matching an offensive foul he drew with one of his own, Dejounte was pulled and never saw the floor again. Trey Lyles (12 boards in the 108-100 loss @ ATL on Nov. 5) lost his starting gig for a stretch, but Pop still re-Lyles on him to start. Despite the forward averaging 5.6 PPG on 38.6 FG% over his past 15 starts, Lyles’ penchant for occasionally having a big rebounding day keeps him on the top line, much to the chagrin of Jakob Poeltl (I’ll start pronouncing his name right if we bother to trade for him; 8.0 RPG and 2.3 in his paltry 7 starts this season). I’m going to have to give up on my Boomer mentality that one can’t possibly depend upon conventional power forwards to be full-time starting centers. That seems to be where Popovich is at, with Lyles adjacent to the new stretch-five Aldridge. For the time being, it appears to be Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce’s newfound stance as well. Help may indeed be coming soon for Trae Young, in the form of former Hawks good Jeff Teague (out for tonight along with Trevon Graham, paperwork, what’s the rush). As for Teague’s Demon Deacon alum John Collins (9.8 RPG and 3.0 BPG in last 5 games; one or more swats in 13 of 15 games, 30 of 61 games last season), “help” may have to eventually come in the forms of Bruno Fernando (re-activated tonight) returning from Collipark, and Jabari Parker’s shoulder and Alex Len’s back getting straight. Blotting out the Suns on Tuesday night was made a little easier for the Hawks, with Ricky Rubio out and a pleasant dash of home-cooking from the refs (Tired: protect the rim in transition. Wired: give up dunks but goad opponents into taunting techs). But it also was great to see Collins, Huerter and Young looking like the most melodious collective since Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. All three Hawks had double-doubles against Phoenix, the first trio in NBA history to do so before any of them hit their 23rd birthday. Huerter (15 rebounds, 8 assists, 4-for-5 3FGs and a steal on Tuesday) was particularly effective in making Kelly Oubre look more like Kelly Price. To keep recent history from repeating, Murray will do what he can to suppress Trae (29 points, 13 assists, 3 TOs vs. SAS in November) after the Spurs guard endured a nightmarish 4th-quarter stretch when the teams last met. The Spurs will also seek to overwhelm the Hawks with size upfront. Atlanta (9-32) offset any disadvantages with Huerter’s prowess, plus Young rewarding Damian Jones with post feeds for his activity off the bench. But the Hawks are really well-aided when De’Andre Hunter is a gatherer on the boards. Including his team-high 8 rebounds when the Hawks last beat the Spurs, the power forward by circumstance has only collected six or more rebounds in six games. Yet the Hawks are a sturdy 3-3 in those contests and hadn’t lost one of those games by more than 8 points (also back in November, when he snatched a season-high 11 rebounds plus 27 points vs. Milwaukee). At least for tonight, particularly when matched up against Lyles or Gay while Cam Reddish checks DeRozan, Hunter could be Collins’ biggest help of all. February 15, 1997. Boomers were thriving, bread was a nickel, Nique was a Spur, we know the story. Let’s just relax about the Alamo City losing streak for now. If the Hawks pull off an end to the nearly quarter-century run tonight, that’s great. If not, let’s all chill until Atlanta can build a sustainable core worthy of ending it once and for all. Schedule Watch! The Hawks aren’t in town, but I bet you can guess who is. That’s right! The Detroit Pistons get the second of their two-days’ rest in the ATL while awaiting the Hawks’ return from Texas for a game tomorrow evening (way fewer Tidbits tomorrow, I promise). This feels all so… familiar. Hey, NBATV, why don’t you pull a curveball and make Jeff Teague your special in-studio guest tonight? Oh, who am I kidding? It’ll probably be Andre Drummond. Might as well make use of the Big Penguin’s time, since it sounds like he won’t be chillin’ around town for long. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  16. Just like old times. Tidbits ‘n stuff for the Atlanta Hawks ahead of the Saturday night face-off with the Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit). For the Pistons, this won’t resemble the fresh-faced Atlanta Hawks team that energetically outclassed them, 117-100 in October’s season opener in Detroit, nor the weathered Hawks squad that, hardly a month later, crawled back into the Pizza Pizza Palace to get cheesed by a 128-103 score. One of last night’s Hawks Heroes, Eastern Conference POW candidate Kevin Huerter (past 2 games: 20.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 53.3 3FG%), hadn’t been a participant in either contest. Neither, for that matter, was Sekou Doumbouya, the Pistons’ newly 19-year-old sensation with a surname custom-made for the late Stuart Scott. Certainly, there was no Jeff Teague around. Among the best things for Jeff’s return to the Ol’ Highlight Factory, Ryan Cameron gets one of his signature calls back: “Jeffteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeague!” Further, whenever the Hawks hit the road, Teague has a ton of options when it comes to getting a young teammate to order the postgame pizzas. Retrieving Teague gives Atlanta (10-32) a reasonable chance of getting up off the Eastern Conference doormat in many ways. The depth chart will look less like a shallowness chart, especially once Jabari Parker (out, shoulder) and Alex Len (questionable, back) can return to couch Atlanta’s maturing set of wings, including Teague-mate Treveon Graham, part of the package exchanged for Allen Crabbe’s contract, and DeAndre’ Bembry (team-high and career-high 22 points, 4-for-5 3FGs and 4 steals @ DET on Nov. 22). Further, Agent Double Zero’s inclusion renders Brandon Goodwin as one of the league’s best third-tier point guards, which is what the Norcross product deserves to be. And the dual-PG option we hoped we’d have with Trae Young back when Jeremy Lin was here, or when Evan Turner was acquired, can finally come to fruition. No one is expecting Teague (team-high 6.1 APG w/ MIN, despite just 13 starts in 34 games; 37.9 3FG%) to replicate the stunning undefeated month of January five years ago, where he became a Player of the Week, one-fourth of the NBA’s Player of the Month and sealed an unexpected All-Star invite. Much in the same way, few should expect Jeff’s former Timberwolf teammate, the Pistons’ Derrick Rose (team-high 18.1 PPG, despite just 2 starts in 36 games) to carbon-copy his MVP campaigns from days gone by. Rose (20+ points in 7-straight games, longest run since 2011) has grown accustomed to playing to his spots and his strengths in abbreviated bursts. That’s a skill Teague is learning to master as he shifts fully into a valuable reserve role. Now that it’s almost certain he won’t have to hunt for short-term high-rise luxury apartment rentals in Buckhead, Andre Drummond (NBA-high 15.7 RPG) will turn his full attention tonight to showing the Hawks, and whoever his next prospective club will be by this time next month, exactly what they’ll be missing. Drummond has had to wage battles for most of this season without two other Piston pillars, Reggie Jackson (lumbar stress) and Blake Griffin (knee surgery), who remain on the shelf indefinitely. As coach Dwane Casey’s club sinks out of playoff contention, it has become clear Drummond, Rose, Langston Galloway and Markieff Morris, are assets to be dangled by the Trade Deadline, especially so long as the veterans can stay healthy. Despite a 4-13 slide lowlighted by a three-game home sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers, Bulls and Pelicans, Detroit (15-27) was able to grab a branch this past Wednesday before they could hurtle completely into the quicksand. The host Celtics may not have been surprised by That Other AD’s obligatory double-double, or by Rose’s perfect 11-for-11 shooting inside the 3-point arc, or even Keef Morris’ efficient 23-point game off the bench. But Boston was wholly unprepared for the Pistons’ emerging youth movement, overwhelmed by the teenage titan Doumbouya (24 points, 8-for-8 2FGs, 2-for-5 3FGs) and his 22-year-old teammate “Svi for Three” Mykhailiuk (5-for-8 3FGs, 21 points and 5 assists off bench), the only Ukrainian-born NBA player aside from Len. Wednesday’s win was the surest sign yet that Casey, striving for his own job security, and the Pistons organization is preparing to pivot in ways that haven’t been this drastic since 2008, when then-GM Joe Dumars heralded a rebuild by flipping the late coach Saunders out of Motown after three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals defeats. With some strategic deals in the works by team president Ed Stefanski, Casey can finally inherit a young core he can nurture, if owner Tom Gores grants him and the front office the latitude to do so. With Friday night off, the Pistons’ brass certainly had to be inspired by last night’s topsy-turvy, quasi-historic win by the upstart Hawks in Spursville. Just a couple weeks ago, Atlanta nearly toppled the Kemba-less Celtics in Beantown. But in a sign of growth by coach Lloyd Pierce’s club, they flew home and beat a playoff opponent here at The Farm, the Pacers, the very next night. That was the Hawks’ first win of the season on the back end of a back-to-back, and they’re hoping the ebullience exuded last night will carry over in front of another friendly home crowd to make it two in a row. Coincidentally, last season’s final victory by the Hawks, over the playoff-bound Sixers, came one night after Atlanta fell short in San Antonio. Slowly but surely, thanks in large part to rookies De'Andre Hunter (33.6 opponent above-break 3FG%, 26.4 this month) and Cam Reddish (34.7 opponent above-break 3FG%, 32.5% this month; career-high 5 threes himself last night), there’s an identity building in ATL! Similar to November when the Hawks held the Spurs to 8-for-33 from outside, and the Pistons in the season opener to 10-for-37 shooting, Atlanta raised its record yesterday to 8-7 when they held opponents below 30 percent on threes (2-25 record otherwise), and all seven losses were just by single digits. Get this team competent and reasonably consistent in just that one regard, perimeter D, and Atlanta gives themselves a puncher’s chance on any given night. With health and confidence on the rebound, Reddy V and Cammy Redd showed us that Trae can now rely on more than just himself to deliver the body shots, or even the occasional knockout blow. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  17. “Don’t get too used to the fit, Kelly.” “It’s the Inaugural LeBron James Western First-Round Exit Invitational. Brought to you by Pepperidge Farm. Like Kelly Oubre, Jr., Pepperidge Farm Remembers!” I recall watching the back end of 2015’s NBA Draft from an out-of-town restaurant, watching the ticker, feverishly checking the phone, and coming away clueless as to just who my Atlanta Hawks came away with. Oh, we just took Kelly Oubre? Cool. Oh, hold up, we made some kinda trade for… Jerian Grant? M’kay. What’s this? Junior Hardaway from the Knicks? Did we get one, or all, or…? By the time the smoke cleared, Timmy was the Last Hawk Standing. While the time Atlanta spent developing Hardaway was short-lived, the relief from many fans that we didn’t wind up holding the bag with Grant, or Oubre, was long-lasting. Rest assured, Kelly Oubre remembers. “Atlanta Hawks” is forever tethered to his name, the team he faces again tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Arizona) that drafted him for someone else, with somebody else in mind. Three-and-a-half seasons wasting away mostly on the bench by a veteran-laden Wizards team that, once they got the 19-year-old swingman, didn’t seem to know what they wanted out of him. Inefficient shooting, lost on defense, Shaqtin-quality missteps. By the time of Atlanta’s last postseason, in Game 1 of 2017’s first rounder with the Wizards, Hawks fans exclaimed, “OMG, we’re about to lose a playoff game to Kelly Oubre. How far have we fallen?” Kelly also remembers being perceived as the throw-in from an Austin Rivers-Trevor Ariza deal in December 2018, after being part of Washington’s infamously failed “Brooks Was Here” three-way deal that had him bound for Memphis. Five days later, Oubre nailed several late threes for the Suns as he nearly upended the team that washed its hands of him in a three-OT thriller. The GMs involved in 2018’s treacherous tryst have all gone from their respective locales, but the Suns’ newest GM, James Jones, showed his commitment to develop Oubre. First, Jones hired a coach Oubre and his teammates could connect with in Monty Williams. Then, he granted Oubre a two-year, $30 million extension in the summer, one that allows him to enjoy 2021’s free agent period whether things work out or not in The Valley. By the time the Hawks came to visit the Suns in Phoenix in mid-November, Oubre was prepared to confirm that his new team’s invested trust was worth the risk, that he could be a reliable second-banana scorer for Devin Booker. One who could also help on defense, too. Oubre fell just short of his career-high with a season-best 30 points on November 14 as the Suns blistered the Hawks, 128-114, outpointing Booker’s 27. In Phoenix’s past eight contests, he’s scored 23.1 PPG, burying threes (3.3 treys per game in past 8, 48.1 3FG%) so shooting guard Devin (24.1 3FG% in last 12 games) won’t always have to be the dude. Kelly is also becoming proficient with his help defense and rebounding (career-highs of 1.5 SPG and 6.4 RPG), essential for the Suns to compete as they worked Deandre Ayton back into the fold. He tied his career-high with 15 boards a couple weeks ago, in a win at Sacramento that ended an 8-game freefall to the outside of the Western Conference playoff party. He matched that rebounding tally on Sunday against the Hornets, adding 25 points, 4 steals and a pair of blocks. Tsunami Papi’s recent play helped the Suns (16-23) turn the tide with wins over Orlando and Charlotte, after a pair of deflating home losses. Now Phoenix aims to enjoy its first three-game winning streak since early November on the road, at Atlanta’s expense. Atlanta (8-four times 8 ) is likely to have Trae Young, who missed the Hawks’ 108-86 breakdown in Brooklyn, back after sitting with a sore hammy. Young (21 points, 13 assists but 5 TOs @ PHX in November) would appreciate not having to be hounded by Ricky Rubio, who is expecting childbirth and is unlikely to play, Mikal Bridges and Oubre all night. He’ll get his wish if Cam Reddish can produce at a similar level as he did against Kyrie Irving and the Nets. Reddish (20 points, 4-for-8 3FGs, 5 steals, 4-for-4 on ATL’s measly 11 FTAs @ BRK) and DeAndre’ Bembry (2-for-4 3FGs, 3 assists, 4 steals in 22 bench minutes) carried the water for the Hawks on Sunday, but had precious little help, especially from an overwhelmed starting frontline of De’Andre Hunter and John Collins. With no bailout tonight from bench mate Alex Len (out, back soreness), Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has little choice but to continue thawing out Damian Jones, as the Hawks hope to match the physicality Ayton, back as a starter after two games as a reserve, and Aron Baynes bring to the floor. If Reddish and Bembry can spend the balance of their defensive energies thwarting Booker’s drives inside, coaxing him to settle for contested hero-ball jumpers, then Kevin Huerter can work to shield passing options to Oubre while Hunter (available, sprained finger) helps Collins with boxing out Ayton (15.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG) when shots go up. Rubio’s likely absence should slow the league’s #1 transition offense (NBA-high 1.21 points-per-possession and 63.2 eFG%). But even with Elie Okobo in Ricky’s stead for Williams’ freer-wheeling attack, Young and the Hawks have to get back in defensive position to cut off driving and passing lanes for Booker (5.8 transition PPG, 4th in NBA, ahead of Trae’s 5.6) and Oubre (5.3 transition PPG, 10th in NBA). Neutralizing Phoenix’s backcourt buckets and trips to the line (80.4 team FT%, 4th in NBA) can help offset whatever advantages the Suns will have on the inside versus the Hawks’ short-staffed bunch. Atlanta’s rebuilding phase is bumpy at this stage, but Hawks fans must remember not to get to envious of the Suns’ Rebuild version 6.0. The last time Phoenix made a playoff run, Grant Hill was checking Kobe, and team president Steve Kerr had yet to depart for the Bay Area. It’s been season after season of trial-and-error-and-error-and-more-error ever since. Jones and Williams have sought to fix the chemistry issues that have long plagued this franchise, and Oubre has been surprisingly instrumental in that regard, adding a touch of showmanship to his upward-trending production along the way. Merely 1.5 games behind upstart Memphis, the Suns are happy to be in the mix with seven other Western Conference clubs, all within 3.5 games of each other for that last remaining 8-seed. But the Suns won’t want to get this three-game road swing off on a bad foot with a stumble at State Farm Arena. After a decade of lottery-bound results, Phoenix fans aren’t parched for an NBA title, just some postseason water to dip their toes into. Coming off last season’s 19-63 nadir, a couple April dates for the Suns with LeBron in town sounds awfully good. They’re willing to ride the wave with Oubre if it can guide them there. Hardaway is already a faded memory around these parts, and the Hawks also departed with Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince in the offseason, taking two players in 2019’s Lottery in hopes they’ll be future long-term answers at the wing. Oubre will again be on a mission tonight to make the Hawks remember that, with just a little commitment, they might have already had an answer by now. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  18. “Do ranchers even eat Jolly Ranchers? Why would ranchers be so jolly in the first place? Perhaps, I made a career mistake?” I’m starting on the MLK Day thread draft today, so I’m gonna slide on the Brooklyn Nets (6 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in The BK). Tidbits time! #Netspick, yadda yadda yadda. It’s not like a tiebreaker is a concern anymore, so it’s purely about stuffing enough Ws in the Nets’ column as possible to lock that 8-seed in. We get to Notcompetitank these Nets one more time, the day before Leap Day. More important in my mind, we must avoid being called the Bastards that got Coach Kenny fired. I am grateful that T.J. Warren claimed enough rent-free real estate in Jimmy Butler’s head that let Taurean Prince lay in a game-clincher over it on Friday night. Otherwise, Brooklyn (17-20, 4 games ahead of 9-seed-by-default Charlotte), whose prior win was against the Hawks, would be hoping to avoid an 8-game losing streak this evening, against an Atlanta team (VIII-XXXI) for whom every future win, if I may be so presumptuous, will be every NBA team’s worst loss of the season. Next up on the docket for Atkinson and the Nets. At Philly, Bucks, Philly, Lakers. A loss today in front of the barkers at Barclays Center might have led to a 13-game slide, and, maybe worse, Jacque Vaughn taking over for Kenny. Thanks again for beating the heat, Taurean. We all needed that. The only postgame sipping word Lloyd Pierce needs: “Compete”. We’ll also accept “Competitiveness.” If he gets caught saying, "Competitank," you have to chug. The only thing that should be tired are excuses about John Collins getting tired. Atlanta got a season-high 47 defensive rebounds (15 by The Baptist) on Friday in Washington, yet various and sundry Wizards grabbed their season-high of 19 offensive boards, too, not to mention being fouled a season-high 26 times. If we’re going to play Victim of Circumstance at every postgame presser, LP, at least let John cook at his natural position, and have Damian Jones (DNP vs. WAS) soak up some of those boards, screens and fouls (and, if we’re lucky, an occasional stop) instead. We’re shorthanded up front, sure (Condolences to Bruno; Alex Len is probable with a strained knee; De’Andre Hunter is questionable with foot pain). But keeping Compost impounded compounds our issues, needlessly. Collins wrangling for 40-60 balls with Dwayne from “What’s Happening!” and DeAndre Jordan (20 points, 6 assists in 25 bench minutes vs. ATL on Dec. 21) for over half the game will produce the same “tired” results, wearing him ragged for nothing. Besides, wearing oneself out with no good results has been Trae Young’s job (47-8-and-6 @ BRK in the 122-112 loss). At least Young (questionable himself now, hammy strain) has Brandon Goodwin around now to give him a worthy breather, as opposed to Point Bembry (minus-15, 3-for-10 FGs and no assists in 21 minutes @ BRK on Dec 21). Speaking of playing people hopelessly out of position, while Taurean deserves a princely sum for starting at power forward for so long (7 double-doubles w/ BRK, 3 in career w/ ATL, none last season), Coach Kenny got wise. Brooklyn now has Rodi Kurucs in the starting lineup to allow Prince to toil at the 3-spot. When Kyrie Irving finally returns, maybe later this week, Spencer Dinwiddie (26 points, 14 assists vs. MIA; 39-6-and-6 vs. ATL on Dec. 21) and Garrett Temple can wreck shop together as sixth men, where they belong. Caris LeVert recently returned to boost the bench, too. He gives Atkinson more flexibility at the wing with both Prince and the overworked and struggling Joe Harris (37.9 FG%, 33.3 FG% in 8 games since they last beat the Hawks). Unlikely to be our Jordan McRae this evening: Wilson Chandler (hamstring), who is listed as questionable. And David Nwaba (Achilles tear, out for season) got cut as a roster casualty. For “player the Hawks forgot to gameplan of the night”, my money’s on our old friend Justin Anderson. Simba’s first ten-day deal expires on Wednesday. My guess is, he'd like another. Keep the 60-win Hawks’ name out yo’ mouf, Carpet Rider Chan. That is all. Let’s “Go” Hawks! ~lw3
  19. “Fear the ‘Band! No, wait, Fear the Braid! Nah, how ‘bout…” No, don’t sit THAT former MVP guard on the Houston Rockets! After getting overwhelmed by Nikola Jokic and the reasonably full-strength Denver Nuggets, our Atlanta Hawks close out their three-game homestand catching a bit of a break. The Rockets will only field one of their two recent Podoloff Trophy bearers tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet in HTX). Trouble is, it’s probably not the one we’d prefer. I can’t recall a recent opponent who arrived at State Farm Arena after playing the night before. But Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni is cognizant his team has a bigger road game tomorrow in Oklahoma City. So he’ll sit one former Thunder star, Russell Westbrook, and start Eric Gordon (14.7 PPG, 40.9 3FG% in last 3 games) in hopes of getting him up to speed after he missed 22 games due to arthroscopic knee surgery. Running neck-and-neck with Denver in the West behind the Lakers, the Rockets (24-11) have mostly been true to form. But there have been slip-ups versus lesser foes, especially in the past month or so. We all remember our weary Hawks’ H-Town Funk back on November 30, when the only human alive capable of averting James Harden’s red glare off three days’ rest (60 points, 20-for-23 FTs, 8-for-14 3FGs, 8 assists) was Coach D’Antoni. But since that 158-111 deep-frying, while the Rockets have gone 11-5, the Ls did not come against some Murderer’s Row of opponents, not even some Jaywalker’s Row. Granted three MORE days off after lambasting the Hawks, Harden dropped 50 in San Antonio. Yet the Spurs, who played without LaMarcus Aldridge, weren’t having it. Harden went a perfect 24-for-24 from the line, but just 11-for-37 from the field. Shooting a collective 37.8 percent from the floor, Houston also let Lonnie Walker go wild in the 4th quarter and blew a 16-point lead, dragged into a double-overtime defeat. A week later, back at Toyota Center, Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker were rebounding out of their minds against Sacramento. They’d have finished with more boards if somebody had helped them box out. Late struggles to control the glass or force turnovers set the Rockets up to be crowned by the Kings’ three-point bombers, first Buddy Hield and then Nemanja Bjelica, as Sactown earned a rare good-feel ending in a one-point win. Barely a week after that, D’Antoni rested Westbrook on the second night of a back-to-back, coming off a resounding win in Orlando. Even with Blake Griffin stumbling through a knee-dless 0-for-7 FGs in the space of 15 minutes, even with Harden pouring in 39 points one night after making 54, the Pistons pummeled the Rockets’ shorthanded bench and cruised through the second half toward a 115-107 victory. Many of us were looking up through our plates of stuffing on Christmas Day to ask aloud, “Hold up… the Warriors WON?” The Dubs found Harden being held to one free throw, and missing it, in their stocking, and had our old friend Damion Lee more looking like David. Before a shocked home crowd, the league’s then-worst team, Golden State, pulled off the surprise of the day, beating by 12 a Rockers team that beat them by 17 the prior month. As foreboding as the Rockets want to seem, a win tonight over the Hawks would make Atlanta the first team the Rockets have swept this season. That includes the Pelicans, whom Houston already beat twice. This time around, D’Antoni sat both Westbrook and Harden in N’Awlins, one night after beating the Nets back home. One of My Main Men, Isaiah Hartentstein, got the start as Capela continued resting a bruised heel. Even with Gordon suiting back up, Danuel House, Hartenstein and the remaining Rockets couldn’t manage the load against the renascent Pels, who had four 20-point scorers and enjoyed a 41-point fourth quarter that would make even the Hawks chuckle. Although they’re now 5.0 games behind LeBrongeles, D’Antoni still has high hopes. “We are tied for second (in the NBA West), if I’m not mistaken,” he told The Athletic’s Alykhan Bijani and reporters after Monday’s practice, before the Nuggets inched ahead of them in the standings. “Not bad. We want to be first. We still have a goal to finish first. Definitely doable.” He’s not wrong. You never know when an untimely bad fall or two have the Lakers crashing back to Earth. But the Rockets understand that having two of the last three MVPs on the roster is a luxury. When one, or both, get DNP’d, others have to step up and take care of business versus lesser opponents if they want a real shot at homecourt throughout the Western playoffs. The team the Hawks last beat, Indiana, was coincidentally the team they lost to in November, before having to fly south in the dead of night, right into Harden’s flailing arms. They beat the Pacers here at The Farm despite coming off a back-to-back, despite missing a few useful components, like Jabari Parker (shoulder), who will be sidelined for at least a couple more weeks, and John Collins. The latter has returned to help Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and the Hawks confront the Rockets with a more balanced offense, which is precisely what Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce desires. Pierce tried to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Jokic on Wednesday, daring the Pillsbury Passboy to seek out teammates, and he tried to keep every other Nugget from beating them. Jokic got his career high in points, yet the Hawks (8-29) were just one motivated Birthday Boy away from putting another late scare into the Nuggets. Fortunately for Atlanta, aside from the inactive Gerald Green (foot, out until at least the All-Star Break), the nearest Rocket with a birthday coming up is Comeback Player candidate Ben McLemore. He won’t blow out any candles for another month, but Ben Mac will be eager to celebrate his contract becoming effectively guaranteed for the full season yesterday (Gary Clark, alternatively, was placed on waivers). Harden (HOU 13-1 when he scores 40 or more) is bound to get his buckets no matter who the Hawks throw at him, and with Cam Reddish and Huerter (both DNP @ HOU in November) available, the Hawks will have fresher legs to throw his way. But as the Spurs and Pistons showed, if you keep him cool from three-point range without falling for his foul-drawing tricks, and have him almost as likely to turn the ball over as he successfully pass for assists, you can keep your offense in the game. The Rockets have generally been fortunate to sit or rehab most of their older players, like Nene (adductor, out indefinitely), Thabo Sefolosha (9.9 minutes/game) and Tyson Chandler (8.7 minutes/game). The exception is Tucker, the 34-year-old who logs 36 minutes per game and has yet to be load-managed. The Hawks would do well to keep Tucker on a swivel tonight, sometimes helping Harden, Gordon and Austin Rivers to keep Young (10-for-16 FGs, 7 assists and 3 TOs @ HOU, teammates 28-for-72 and 10 TOs) in check, often helping block-happy Capela secure the rebounds in the paint against Collins and the re-energized Alex Len, always trying to keep teammates from over-exerting and short-circuiting themselves with foul trouble. Entrusted with the backup center minutes, Hartenstein can also slide over to the 4-spot in a pinch. But if Tucker has to sit for extended time, it’s more likely fans at The Farm could enjoy the long-awaited power forward battle between ex-Hawk Thabo and Vince Carter. Talk about Land of the Lost! Enough talk about Tyrannosauruses. Let’s talk Tokyo. “It’s one of my goals to represent this beautiful country.” That was James Harden’s sentiment towards the beautiful US of A, in September of this past year, no winks or crossed toes involved. Our purple mountain majesties weren’t enough to sway The Bearded One, 2012 Gold Medalist and 2014 FIBA World Cup MVP, from competing in 2016’s Summer Games or last year’s Olympic-qualifying World Cup. “This decision was a painstaking one that I did not take lightly,” Harden had written for him, about the announcement to withdraw a couple months before the 2016 Games in Rio, coincidentally hours after Westbrook did the same. The NBA season, which had ended with a first-round loss to Golden State, saw him log an NBA-high 3,125 minutes in the regular season and nearly 200 more in the playoffs. Averaging more minutes this season (37.8 MPG) than he has at any time since 2015-16 (38.1), one wonders whether Harden again tells a desperate Jerry Colangelo, “not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.” Team USA’s president may not be as much of a hardliner as he portrayed when he was miffed by the 2019 World Cup defections. Colangelo did say he wouldn’t forget those “who you thought you were going to war with (bad time for figuratives, I know) and who didn’t show up.” But he didn’t exactly embrace those he rode to a seventh-place finish last year in China, with all due respect to Mason Plumlee. Consider that the gold medalists of 2016 had names like Boogie, DeAndre, Draymond, Kyrie, Melo leading the way. Players who sat out this NBA season (KD, Klay) to rehab for the next. Players who might be deep into the postseason when the time comes to confirm a re-up (Lowry, PG, Jimmy). Then, add players who sat out of 2016 who have free agency to think about this summer (AD), or LeBron, or Steph. Frankly, with the opponents on the world stage improving by the day, you can only trot out Harrison Barnes and DeMar DeRozan so many times. Harden may indeed avoid a change of heart this time, although it would be nice for him to know who is joining him in the backcourt. Whether he makes the commitment or not, shouldn’t Colangelo give a call to the only American, aside from Harden or Damian Lillard, to have already logged 200 assists, 100 threes, and 200 free throw makes? A young man, a probable NBA All-Star, who will have some free time between, say, mid-April and July, to help Team USA go for the gold? Now I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know my men’s and women’s basketball teams can run others out the building, when they’re properly staffed. And I think it would be quite fun to have Gregg Popovich calling a timeout and chewing out Trae Young for bouncing the ball off some poor Iranian’s head before stroking a three or lobbing a dime, all while assistant Lloyd Pierce is smooth-talking us out of an international incident. The way things are going halfway around the globe, the decision for anyone to even go in the first place might be made well before Young gets to rock any shows from here to d*mn Japan. But as long as we’re still on, Jerry, for the sake of this great land of ours, have your people call Trae’s people. Domo arigato! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  20. “Mmm mmm mmmph… these joints delicious, Trae! Where do they even grow these?” “Thank you for reaching The Denver Nuggets Basketball Club. For trade requests regarding Michael Porter, Jr., Press 1!” So sorry, NBA GMs. Operators are no longer standing by. There seemed like a short window where teams might have been able to pry Denver’s 2018 first-rounder prospect from their cold, live hands. Spinal disc surgery from his short-lived freshman year at Mizzou gave other Lottery teams pause. Coach Mike Malone hasn’t seemed all that enamored with the finally healthy rookie’s progress, not enough to make him a regular in the rotation a mere 26 games in, much less a starter. Speculation abounded that the avowed raw vegan’s diet was hampering his recovery, that one eventful trip to Outback could change his life. Everybody involved needed to be patient. Malone, fans, carnivores, Porter himself. Most importantly, Tim Connelly and the Nuggets brass, who assuredly have been offered every second-round pick under the sun for the chance to relieve themselves of persistent questions about 2017’s McDonald’s All-American MVP and Naismith Prep Player of the Year. Connelly and the Nuggets have had quite a few hits at draft time, and a few whiffs, enough to entertain the folks over at Coors Field. Yes, they drafted Rudy Gobert in 2013. Yes, they also traded him to division rival Utah for Erick Green and cash. Yes, they took Doug McDermott with the 11th pick back in 2014. Yes, they also took Nikola Jokic in the second round, and got Gary Harris in a multi-player swap involving McBuckets. Yes, Emmanuel Mudiay went 7th overall in 2015. Yes, they hit on two of three top-20 picks the next year, Jamal Murray and ATLien Malik Beasley. Yes, they drafted Donovan Mitchell with a late lottery pick in 2017. Yes, they also traded him for Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon. Eighteen months after taking a flyer on the now-21-year old Porter, the 6-foot-10 forward remains Denver’s best shot at a grand slam. Malone seems satisfied, for now, with the occasional bunts and ground-rule doubles. But as the Nuggets come into State Farm Arena tonight to face off with the Atlanta Hawks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Altitude TV in DEN), their fans are clearly eager to round the bases right behind Porter. In his NBA debut back on Halloween, filling in for Will Barton, Porter sunk a three-pointer versus the Pels, made four of six free throws, and was 4-for-5 on 2FGs, totaling 15 points and 4 rebounds over the course of 20 minutes. That treat turned out to be a trick by Malone, as Porter didn’t sniff another 20-minute outing until December 29. He was gifted nearly seven minutes of action when Trae Young and the Hawks ventured into town and upset Denver 125-121 on November 12 (Atlanta has gone 4-22 since). Finally, MPJ’s first start, at home against the Kings with former Hawks great Paul Millsap inactive. 8-for-10 from the field, 19 points and 6 rebounds as the Nuggets prevailed by 5. His reward? 11 minutes off the bench two nights later in Houston. Malone wasn’t done with the yo-yo job. The Indiana Pacers found themselves Peach Jammed in consecutive games last week. Porter put the pits to the Pacers on Thursday with a career scoring day. A season-high 25 points in 23 minutes, 9-for-9 on twos, 2-for-3 on treys, plus five defensive rebounds from Porter helped Denver ace the Pacers in Indy. By Saturday night, as Young’s offensive exploits (41 points, 8 assists) juiced the visiting Pacers into a pulp, Malone could only finagle 12 minutes for Porter in Washington, as the Nuggs (24-11) suffered arguably their worst loss of the season, a 15-point loss to the enduringly shorthanded Wizards. Concerns persist about Porter’s ability to hold up defensively (+11.6 D-Rating on/off, as per bball-ref), less pressing of a concern now that the lithe Barton (29th birthday today; team-highs of 21 points and 9 rebounds vs. ATL on Nov. 12) has been putting forth the effort to solidify the long-shaky small forward position beside Millsap. Also, a paltry 1.5 assists per-36, despite the limited sample size, is enough to give reasonable pause. Yet it’s not unreasonable to expect a prodigious talent like Porter to get time, on the floor, playing to his self-perceived strengths while honing the less-impressive aspects of his game. In Atlanta, unlike Denver, he’d be back to catching copious feeds for fullcourt finishes from Young, reminiscent of their days dominating the Nike EYBL scene together not terribly long ago. But the Nuggets, bearing a pleasant 24-11 record (4.5 GB the Lakers) that has them comfortably in the first-round homecourt mix with the Clippers, Rockets, Jazz and Mavs, have little interest in hosting Amateur Hour. Youth isn’t an issue for the Rocky Mountain upstarts, with six of the team’s nine largest minute-loggers aged 25 or under and the whole roster, save for the cagey cager Millsap, below age 30. Connelly and the Nuggets’ front office effectively brought back the band that went 54-28 and fell a game short of the Western Finals last season, traded this year’s first-rounder to OKC for Jerami Grant, gave Murray his extension (there’s a rule, Brandon Ingram, about Your Fellow Mens’ Pockets I’d like you to check out), handed the injured Bol Bol a two-way deal, and chilled. It’s not youth that has Porter constrained at this early stage of his career, it’s pure inexperience. There was limited room on the depth chart to advance Brandon Goodwin (8.8 assists, 1.9 TOs per-36 in 16 Nugget games in 2018-19), for example, so the point guard was left to find a new two-way deal this season. This cluster of Nuggets has gelled quite well, and it's up to Malone to figure out how best to get Porter’s talents to fit in. The sense from the outside is that, if he can integrate Porter successfully by season’s end, Denver could become more than a Finals contender on paper. In Atlanta, a 34-year old Millsap raking in more millions (an expiring $30.5 million) than minutes (25.0 MPG) while averaging 12.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 1.4 APG would be a pariah. In Denver, Sap’s a godsend. Particularly as The Anchorman serves frontcourt complement to Jokic, who checks in quite the anchor himself at 7-foot, 285 pounds. Teams that are a bit short in the tooth, in theory, tend to be zippier. Not so with a Malone-coached collective that plays at the league’s second-slowest pace (down from 27th in pace last season), allowing Jokic, the center dishing a team-best 6.4 APG, ample time to work his halfcourt magic. Pick-and-roll is more of a pick-and-stroll (1.02 roll-man points per possession, 6th-lowest in NBA), but Denver hardly feasts on a diet of post-ups and iso’s. The Nuggets prefer to have Jokic, Murray and Barton holding the ball until they can find the unkindest cut their opponent will allow (1.36 PPP on cuts, 2nd in NBA; 8.6% play frequency, 4th in NBA). The attraction to quick-cutters leave opposing defenses open to offensive rebounds (DEN 25.1 team O-Reb%, 1st in NBA) and putbacks from Jokic, Millsap (probable, bruised knee) and Mason Plumlee. Inspiring perhaps for Atlanta, compensating for their All-Star’s defensive deficiencies is what the Nuggets do. The starters, including Millsap, make the effort to get back in transition (54.8 opponent eFG% 4th-best transition D in NBA) and hold the fort at least until the lumbering Jokic makes his way down on the defensive end of the floor. Murray, backup Monte Morris, Barton and Harris hassle perimeter shooters, keeping Denver’s opponents cool from beyond the three-point arc. The Blue Arrow’s not renowned for his defensive skill, yet Murray has accounted for 4.9 defended 3FGAs/game, and his 26.7 defended-shot 3FG% is the best in the Association, ahead of Kawhi’s 26.8 percent, among players defending four or more such shots per contest. It is a close-knit group, but Denver’s starters usually need to be firing on all cylinders. If more than one player if off his game, as was the case in November as Jokic (1-for-8 3FGs vs. ATL) mostly sleepwalked through his 20-point, 7-assist performance against Atlanta, and as Harris (2-for-10 3FGAs in 40 minutes) took matters into his own hands too often, the Nuggets (NBA-low 12 games played vs. teams at .500 or above, 7-5 in those games) can be at risk of falling short when bad teams like the Hawks, Kings, Pels and Wizards are on their games. The early-afternoon injury report brought some encouraging news for coach Lloyd Pierce, whose Hawks (8-28) had to pull out the win over Indiana without pregame scratches John Collins and Cam Reddish. Collins (back bruise) and Reddish (wrist sprain) were each upgraded to probable for today’s contest, and it’s likely they’ll each return to the starting lineup if they’re cleared to go. The team’s Game Notes tipped that Pierce’s preliminary plan was to go big again, with Bruno Fernando splitting time with De’Andre Hunter (present vs. IND) and Vince Carter (Half-Man, Half-a-Step-Slow) at power forward, and Damian Jones seat-warming the center spot ahead of Alex Len (team-high 9 rebounds and 16 bench points vs. IND; 63.5 FG% and 8.5 RPG). Jones (tense adductor) is questionable to play today, and Jabari Parker (shoulder) remains doubtful. But if Collins can start and play significant minutes, the Hawks can return to a more customary rotation. Nugget defenders will try to get out into Trae Young Territory and make looks at the rim tougher, but with Jokic sagging so frequently, it will be important to get timely picks from Hawk centers that produce Young, Goodwin and Reddish rolls to the basket and allow them room to create. Help from Millsap should open up lobs for Collins, who should be eager to string some good games together. Opponents find outside shots hard to come by from above the break (31.3 opp. 3FG%, 2nd-lowest in NBA) and on the right corner (31.8 opp. 3FG%, 2nd-lowest in NBA), but the left corner (40.7 opp. 3FG%, 2nd-highest in NBA) is where the Denver perimeter defense thaws a little. Swift drives that pressure the rim (65.9 opp. restricted-area FG%, 3rd-highest in NBA) from the well-defended spots and keep Nugget guards on their heels is important, but so will be motion by Atlanta’s shooters as they await kickouts and swings around the horn. The awakening Kevin Huerter (43.8 3FG% last 2 games; 6 left-corner 3FGAs all season) may find that left corner of the floor to feel like a layup line. Tonight could be another coming out party for MPJ, another big step up the long Rookie Ladder. Or, it could be just another day where Malone keeps the stone rolled over Porter’s groundhog hole. Despite his promising glimpses, Porter hasn’t shown enough to hint that, through 26 games, he could be a legitimate All-Star by the middle of his second season. Then again, through the first 26 games of his rookie season with the Hawks, neither did his AAU buddy. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  21. “Happy Holidays!” After beating a Magic squad that lacked Aaron Gordon, then putting the scare into a Celtics team that was missing Kemba Walker, are the Atlanta Hawks catching a break, again? The Indiana Pacers are in town (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana) after losing at home versus Denver on Thursday. But it appears that they’ll have to play once more without Malcolm Brogdon (back soreness). Brogdon’s 19 points and 12 assists paced Indiana to a 110-100 win here at State Farm Arena on December 13, extending what would become a five-game winning streak. That was one game after going 29-and-8 to help defeat Boston. But the ensuing four games after beating the Hawks featured Malcolm in the Riddle (12.0 PPG, 32.8 3FG% in those contests). A diagnosed hamstring strain caused him to sit through three games. Brogdon was expected back with “no limitations” against the 76ers on New Year’s Eve, but then the back setback had him sitting barely eight minutes into the first quarter. The off-season acquisition of 2017’s surprise Rookie of the Year award winner, signed-and-traded by division-rival Milwaukee, was critical to the continued rise of Indiana in the East, as they await the return of star guard and occasionally masked lounge singer Victor Oladipo, who is rehabbing this month with G-League Fort Wayne. The Atlanta native has certainly delivered. Even with his late December swoon, Brogdon’s 14.4 Player Impact Estimate ranks behind only Atlanta’s Trae Young (15.8 PIE) among active starting guards in the NBA East, a value that accounts for his 7.4 APG (10th in NBA). Given his extended absence, Indiana coach Nate McMillan is elevating floor time for the Holiday brothers, including ex-Hawk Justin (39.1 FG%, but mostly threes on 36.7% shooting) and Aaron (42.2 3FG%; 3.4 APG, 1.4 TOs/game). Led by Doug McDermott’s 1.9 3FGs/game, Indiana has seven players sinking between 1.3 and 2.0 threes per contest. They don’t take many three-pointers but they hit them (36.9 team 3FG%, 4th in NBA). They don’t earn many free throw attempts, but they sink them (79.8 team FT%, 6th in NBA). Brogdon’s fellow Georgia native, Jeremy Lamb shoots a solid 85.9 FT% while passing at a 2:1 assist/TO clip. Nate Mac also can count on another strategic offseason pickup, T.J. McConnell, whose 40.3 assist percentage ranks 4th in the NBA, a shade ahead of Young’s 40.0. McConnell’s 3.6 assist/TO ratio ranks 6th among NBA players with 15+ MPG under their belts. Precise offensive execution helps Indiana lead the league overall with its 1.97 assist/TO ratio. It’s wild that many wondered how Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner (+7.6 points per 100 possessions as 2-man lineup) could work together as a full-time frontcourt duo, particularly with Turner shifting to a power forward role, as he noted yesterday on NBATV, for the first time since his AAU years. Turner’s overall production has slid as his shift includes stretching out to the three-point line regularly (45.6 three-point attempt rate, up from 25.1 in 2018-19). But he has connected enough (36.7 3FG%) for defenders to have to take him seriously, freeing up Sabonis (career-highs of 17.5 PPG; 13.1 RPG, 5th in NBA; 4.1 APG) to ply his wares in the paint at a peripheral All-Star level. To continue Indiana’s upward crawl up the Eastern standings (22-13, 5th in NBA East, 1.0 GB Toronto) until Oladipo returns, it might help if Turner (5.7 RPG; one double-digit rebounding performance in last 22 games) and leading scorer T.J. Warren (17.9 PPG, 20.2 in last 5 games; 3.7 RPG) cease their abdication of the paint. Even with Sabonis’ prowess, the Pacers are a subpar rebounding club. They appear to be built to respond defensively to the modern spread-out and dribble-drive offenses in the league (33.6 opponent 3FG%, 6th-best in NBA; 42.7 opponent eFG% on P&R ball-handler plays, 3rd-best in NBA). Turner (2.0 BPG, 6th in NBA) remains a useful help blocker. But the high volume of well-earned opponent misses leaves them susceptible to giving up second chances. The Pacers really haven’t beaten anyone on the road, aside from the Hawks and Mike Miller’s re-tooling Knicks, in nearly a month. In the past three weeks, they’ve been waylaid in Giannis’ Milwaukee (117-89), and in Brandon Ingram’s New Orleans (120-98). Last week, their collective failures to box out Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the closing minutes of a nip-and-tuck affair in Miami set them up for Goran Dragic’s game-winning jumper with six seconds to go. That was despite abandoning the offensive glass altogether (2 team O-Rebs @ MIA) in hopes of getting set defensively. The only Pacer victories over the past six games were at the Fieldhouse, one overtime win over pared-down Toronto, and a blowout win over a 76ers team that played without Joel Embiid. They held the visiting Nuggets to just 29.6 3FG% on Thursday, but Will Barton, Paul Millsap and The Joker (10 combined O-Rebs) bedeviled them inside. Denver swung a 14-point first-quarter deficit into a 124-116 win, aided by a breakout performance from Michael Porter (25 bench points). Frustrated when my Hawks (7-who cares?) predictably allowed a 18-point lead to erode by the end of the second quarter in Boston, I turned my channel to NBATV at halftime to find a “special guest” Myles Turner on my screen, chilling with the broadcasters, making sure to praise “Coach Lloyd” for his assistance with Team USA this past summer during the FIBA World Cup crusade. I’ve done no research into my theory, but I’ve always bristled when I see Hawks opponents in suits at the studios over on Techwood Drive, while the soon-to-be home team is contemporaneously playing a game, sometimes down the street, other times in lands far away. Last night was the first time, though, that I suspected the NBA is being complicit in baking this, deliberately, right into the Hawks’ regular-season schedules. No other NBA team really has to deal with this. Occasionally, you get a “special guest” player dropping in on Rachel Nichols’ studio at The Jump mid-day in the Big Apple. But ESPN usually just suffices with Hall of Famers and retired goons riffing on highlight videos and replays for an hour per day. The NBA, alternatively, needs viewers to stay locked into its own cable channel, and they know they can’t just trot out an array of deposed coaches, defrocked GMs, and underpaid beat writers all night long. So, just fly teams into Hartsfield-Jackson, grant them an off-day or two, and let NBATV handpick some star players to drop in and ham it up for a GAMETIME segment or two. Somebody can do the number crunching to confirm or refute my notion, but the allure that led many a visitor to the dreaded “ATL Flu” no longer holds enough weight to matter, especially when the NBATV guest’s whole team enters State Farm Arena with a clear rest advantage. Turner might again be thankful for Coach Lloyd today, if he gets to keep up with De’Andre Hunter at the power forward spot instead of John Collins. Back on December 13, Brogdon and the Pacers had to fend off a second-half charge led by Trae Young, Jabari Parker and Alex Len to win 110-100. Hunter had 21 points, thanks to 7-for-9 FTs, but was 0-for-4 from three-point range and was a team-worst minus-16 on the day. Collins had since returned, but with a near-full collective to work with in Boston, Lloyd Pierce chose to start Collins at center, leaving Hunter exposed once again at power forward while starter Bruno Fernando (+13 plus/minus @ ORL) was scheduled for rest. Collins was often the last lonely line of defense versus a Celtics team that crashed the glass (54-42 rebounding advantage, 8th Hawks opponent in past 9 games w/ 10+ O-Rebs and/or 50 total rebounds) and attacked Atlanta’s interior with impunity. Collins’ block attempt on a Jayson Tatum dunk try caused a fall that bruised his back, his departure making it simpler for Boston to turn the tables and shift their own center onto Young at critical junctures of the game. Without Collins available for this evening’s contest, or even Parker (doubtful, throat infection) a rested Fernando (3 minutes vs. BOS) must be an active participant in gaining Atlanta a rebounding advantage against Indy, despite Sabonis. More effective usage out of Fernando and reserve Alex Len (team-high 8 rebounds and 2 blocks but 5 points vs. BOS) at center would be a boon for the rookie Hunter (5 fouls, 1 rebound in 27 minutes @ BOS), Atlanta’s second-leading minutes recipient who has looked cerebrally slow with his actions and reactions at both ends of the court in recent weeks. Damian Jones (DNP @ BOS) is rested, too. So, there’s that. The Hawks’ ballhandlers, inclusive of Young, Kevin Huerter, rookie Cam Reddish and backup Brandon Goodwin, must avoid hoisting contested threes and instead feed the big men around the rim, potentially forcing Sabonis or Turner into foul trouble and contracting Indiana’s defense enough to grant Young (5-for-14 3FGs @ BOS, 9-for-30 FGs vs. IND on Dec. 13), Huerter and Allen Crabbe some slivers of perimeter daylight. Reddish and DeAndre’ Bembry can take turns badgering the Pacers’ perimeter players into rushed shots. But Cam’s draft partner, Hunter (no games with over six rebounds since November 20; 4.6 RPG in wins, 3.6 in losses), must relinquish some help-defensive duties to box out and secure defensive rebounds off of wayward shots. Things could be worse. We could have Vince Carter pretending to be a stretch-four again. Let’s enjoy the home crowd applause he’s earned for becoming the NBA’s first four-decade man today. Then, let’s hope Carter will enjoy not having to wrangle with bigs posting up around the rim. Now that we’re finally home for six days, hey, maybe NBATV can have Vince swing by to be their “special guest”! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  22. Me in the rain, finding out Trae topped all East guards in early-ballot fan voting. So much for a break in the upcoming schedule! The Hawks will get their first homestand of three games or more in nearly two months, tomorrow. But the catch is, they get to kickstart it after first playing the Celtics in Boston tonight (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston). As Gray Mule, Buzzard and others have well noted, the schedule-makers have done Our Fine Feathered Friends no favors. Everybody the last-place Hawks (7-27) play, in ATL or otherwise, should be a tall order. But the next homestand itself, especially, has no cupcakes on the shelf. Tonight, the Hawks will leave TD Garden and return home to find a Pacers team, one seeking to move back into 4th in the NBA East, already waiting for them. A couple days later, the Nuggets roll into State Farm Arena, 2nd in the NBA West and vengeance-minded after getting toppled back home by a John Collins-less Hawks team back in November. A couple days after that, the Rockets arrive, and we know James Harden needs no introduction. But the Hawks understand they cannot look more than one minute ahead, and certainly not against the Celtics (23-8, 2nd in NBA East), who are 13-2 at home. Atlanta knows it kind of has to make its own breaks. Trae Young, out since spraining an ankle on December 27 versus the Bucks, is scheduled to return to action tonight, in what hopefully will be just the fifth game that he and John Collins have played in full together. Collins’ performances have been up-and-down since his suspension, but he and the Hawks could get more help. Jabari Parker (throat infection) is likely to return, listed as probable as Kevin Huerter (back strain) was removed from the mid-week injury report. Coach Lloyd Pierce may have a full complement of healthy players at his disposal for perhaps the first time since October. As an added break, his crew will appreciate having to hold off until the next Celtics-Hawks matchup to deal with Kemba Walker (questionable, flu-like symptoms). But for a few ill-advised fans going googly-eyed over Kyrie, Kemba (team-highs of 22.5 PPG, 5.2 APG, 39.8 3FG%) could wind up in the Windy City as Trae’s All-Star backcourt partner in the Eastern Conference starting lineup. Flanked by more talented starters than he had in Charlotte while toiling under coach Brad Stevens’ team-oriented approach, Walker’s need to create off drives into the paint has subsided. While off-dribble drives were a signature of his Hornets tenure, his offensive play under Stevens’ watch is as efficient as ever before. Since Walker is indeed a no-go, Stevens will serve Trae a steadier diet of Marcus Smart (1.6 steals per-36), with help from Jaylen Brown, reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week (Boston’s first weekly winner since I.T. in February 2017; 27.0 PPG, 57.9 3FG% in last 3 games), and Jayson Tatum to try taking away Young’s floater game. Returning from flu-type illness himself, Brown was not even active on New Year’s Eve as the Celtics handled the Hornets handily, 109-92 in Kemba’s return to Charlotte. As the Celtics’ talented young swingmen attend to Trae, Huerter, who stepped up late during Monday’s 101-93 slump-busting win in Orlando, and De’Andre Hunter (16 points, 3-for-6 3FGs @ ORL) have to be ready in the corners to let shots fly. As the Hawks without Young experienced down in O-Town, a dash of defense can make a world of difference. And the Hawks may have run into another nice break with the dashing and defense of Brandon Goodwin. The two-way contractor played up the two-way bench guard role nicely in the win over the Magic, hitting open shots all night (team-high 21 points and 6 assists, 3-for-4 3FGs, 4-for-4 FTs @ ORL) and sticking his nose into the fray for steals, rebounds, a block, and deflections (team-best +22 plus/minus @ ORL). Intriguing in the short-term is whether Goodwin is Pierce’s long-sought backup PG who can play alongside Young, allowing Trae some spells without having to initiate and conclude offensive possessions. Having to switch off onto the likes of Brown (40.0 3FG%) or Gordon Hayward (36.2 3FG%, 4.5 assists, 1.7 TOs/game) is not ideal for Young, but if Stevens goes small-ball on occasion, the Hawks could be capable of matching up adequately. The Celtics’ front line has been withered lately, as second-year center Robert Williams (hip bone edema) joined Euro-rookie Vincent Poirier on the sideline. The Hawks may find an advantage along the bench with Parker and Alex Len (9-for-11 2FGs, team-high 12 rebounds off-bench @ ORL) finally able to play together as reserves for Collins and rookie Bruno Fernando, respectively. Fortunately for Boston, they have enjoyed the defensive stylings of – checks notes – Enes Kanter. Not even Stevens could believe the career-high six shots Kanter rejected in Tuesday’s win over Charlotte. If Enes swats a similar number of shots tonight, he’ll have already matched his block tally from 67 games last season. That’s saying nothing of 14 rebounds on Tuesday, his seventh game of 9-or-more boards in his last eight appearances. Atlanta’s bigs will have to do much more than box out to neutralize Kanter this evening. But having Parker and Len available as a bench duo should help offset whatever Kanter and either of Semi Ojeleye or rookie Grant Williams bring to the floor. Even with Al Horford gone to division-rival Philadelphia, the Celtic defense (NBA-best 103.1 opponent PPG; 104.0 D-Rating, 3rd in NBA) remains stout with third-year big Daniel Theis (team-high 1.5 BPG; 6th-best D-Rating among NBA PF/Cs), who is likely to be glued to Collins for much of this contest. Whether it’s Trae, John, or another ball-handler drawing defenders, Fernando needs to be prepared to be fed around the rim, and feast in return with quick scores before the C’s defense collapses around him. While Boston’s defense has been very good, opponents are leaving an awful lot of points on the parquet. To date, Celtic opponents have shot just 74.0 FT% (2nd-worst in NBA), including a woeful 69.6 FT% at the Garden. Atlanta’s charity-stripe marksmanship has improved as the months have gone on (77.8 road FT% in December, 76.8% in November; 69.5 FT% overall in October), an encouraging development amid the losing skids. Converting at the line tonight could at least help keep the game close, or even keep the Hawks ahead, if Walker remains unavailable to contribute with his own free throw mastery. Trae, to his credit, is still a believer that fan talk of Competitanking can still be tuned out. “You see the bottom of the East, there’s not a lot of teams that have created separation besides the top 5-6 teams,” Young told The Athletic’s Jared Weiss and pregame reporters at shootaround. “I always focus on one game and if we do that and focus on one game at a time, you never know what could happen.” Embarking upon month number 4 of the season, Atlanta has yet to gel with a clear set of starters and rotation reserves, featuring rookies and sophomores that have yet to steady themselves with understood roles. The march toward the All-Star Break is about building identity and, eventually, momentum, enough so that Travis Schlenk and the Hawks’ front office could at least consider making moves worthy of a team eager to make a late charge toward the 8-seed (8.0 GB). That momentum may not begin tonight in Boston, or during a daunting spate of home games and back-to-backs ahead. But it hurts no one on the Basketball Club to try hard, one game at a time. Looking too far ahead at the schedule usually leaves NBA teams ripe for letdowns. In the Hawks’ case, looking at the schedule at all, beyond the game right in front of them, would be enough of a downer. Happy New Year! Happy New Decade! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  23. “Evan, you really might want to clean up your Google search results.” Your undefeated, first-place Atlanta Hawks, on a roll! Up to 2-0 after dispatching the Orlando Magic in their home debut. 39 and 9 for the totally healthy Trae Young! And, my, what a stout defense! Holding the Magic to just 35.4 percent from the field, 5-for-31 on threes? This is already shaping up to be one heck of a season. … Welp! As fans, it’s tough surmising how things will shake out when the calendar turns by a day, a month, a year, a decade. Many times, we think we know. In fact, more often we’re certain we know, using past or even most recent history as a guide. Most often, we have no earthly idea. Some funny things happened for Atlanta, along the way to 82-0. The Hawks visit the Magic Kingdom tonight to close out the Teens (7 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Florida), and while Atlanta’s sports-mecca future in the Twenties remains bright, it’s hard to discern in the case of the Hawks (4-27 since beating ORL on Oct. 26) if that brightness is the end of a tunnel ahead, or an approaching train. Both NBA clubs have reason to be pleased with their point guard leadership, for at least the front end of the next decade. Trae Young (ankle sprain) may have kicked something during this past weekend’s Peach Bowl, and so we will see him return to action later rather than Sooner. He’s at MVP-Adjacent level already in his second season, and has improved across the board, at least offensively, while helping the Hawks climb uphill on a nightly basis. Orlando (11-14, 3-7 in last ten, but 2-1 in last three games) has continued to bump its ahead against the .500 wall, and the team’s late December skid as it re-adjusted to Nikola Vucevic’s return, was less then desirable. But they’re pleased as punch that Markelle Fultz (5.2 APG, 40.0 3FG% in last nine games) is steadying himself as a starting PG. Has 2017’s #1 pick arrived? Not quite. Was he worth trading to Philadelphia Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-rounder, and OKC’s Top-20-protected first rounder this coming season? You betcha. Both clubs have young jumping-jack forwards that are proving to be even better than advertised. Jonathan Isaac (3rd in Defensive Box Plus/Minus; 2.5 BPG, 2nd in NBA; team-high 1.5 SPG) is already rounding out as one of the top-notch defenders in the league, near single-handedly keeping the Magic in games they have no business being in otherwise. The latter comment can’t be said, yet, of Atlanta’s John Collins (18.9 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 2.7 BPG in last 3 games), not while the Hawks are getting blown out by teams as good as Milwaukee at home, and as bad as Chicago on the road. But at least he’s producing at both ends of the floor for a Hawks team that’s absent what was, before his return, its two most potent offensive threats in Young and Jabari Parker (shoulder). If he gets some help on either end by some permutation of Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, DeAndre' Hunter and sixth-man vet Allen Crabbe (combined 7-for-34 FGs, 10 D-Rebs, 3 steals @ CHI on Dec. 28, in a 116-81 loss), we might actually have ourselves a contested game worth watching today. As R.E.M. might sing, in the modern NBA, Everybody Hurts. And the truth is, the best teams anticipate overcoming the adversity of unforeseen absences, and these Hawks have yet to be built with the depth, experience, and skillset the best teams possess. Or, even the mediocre ones, as the squad across the halfcourt line demonstrates on a nightly basis. Orlando’s All-Star center, Vucevic has been in and out of the lineup. Mo Bamba, the 2018 draftee selected one Lottery pick after Young, returns from an ankle injury, but has not been in a condition to be relied upon by coach Steve Clifford significantly. Perhaps trying to overcompensate with heavy frontcourt minutes, Aaron Gordon will now sit to rehab an Achilles that has nagged him for some time. At Amway Center this evening, the Magic will also be thin in their second and third lines, as Michael Carter-Williams (shoulder) and Al-Farouq Aminu (meniscus tear) are both out of commission. But as long as they have dogged defenders, like Isaac, and low-turnover ballhandlers, like Fultz and D.J. Augustin (no Magicians with more than 1.9 TOs/game), and shooters comfortably working their way out of slumps, like Evan Fournier (42.0 3FG%) and sixth-man Terrence Ross, the Magic can lose games by ten that the Hawks lose by thirty. They can win games that the Hawks lose by twenty. Staying in games you have no business being in, for the balance of four quarters, is the definition of an 8-seed in the East, where Orlando (1.5 games ahead of 9-seed Chicago) currently resides. Roll back the calendar a bit. About ten years, to be precise. Finally, could a 50-win season be in the cards for coach Mike Woodson and his 21-10 Hawks? Years of nurturing resulted in what was, as of December 31, 2009, the sixth-best record in the NBA, led by All-Star Joe Johnson and a rare Lottery hit in Al Horford. The main problem? Standing in their way, in the NBA East, were KG’s Celtics, LeBron’s Cavaliers, and Dwight’s Magic. Coming off an embarrassing end to the 2008 postseason at young LeBron’s hands, did Atlanta have enough experience and gumption to become tougher competitors, like Dwight and the Magic, at playoff time? We’d just have to wait and see. As for the defending Eastern Conference champion Magic, having sent LeBron packing in the playoffs along the way, the future was shining as the sun went down on The Aughts for the final time. Sitting at 23-8, a second-straight 59-win season was on the way. Dwight Howard was certain to be a franchise flagship until his retirement, respected and feared throughout the league, while joined at the hip with coach Stan Van Gundy to push the team into many Finals to come. Heck, LeBron’s probably heading past his prime, anyway. Bring on The Teens! Tell some Laker fans in December 2009 that the Lakers would soon poach Dwight, as they have done with many a Hall of Fame big man over the decades, out of Central Florida to pair with Kobe for another championship run. That they would re-sign him, too, although not in a way they might expect. And, while their team’s trophy count would soon go up from 15 to 16, the NBA’s Franchise of the 2010s would hail from California, but not Los Angeles. Humor yourself while letting them guess which division rival, and how. No, Andrew Bynum didn’t leave them for Sacramento. Those Laker fans might put you on trial for witchcraft. “Awww, c’mon. You’re pulling our leg. The Warriors? Jerry West’s Warriors? Pass on some of that stuff you’re smoking!” (Don’t tell them some of that stuff will be street-legal by 2016). 9-22 was the record of Travis Schlenk’s Golden State Warriors as the calendar turned to 2010, tied for the fourth-worst mark in The Association. The Dubs were giving up a league-worst 112.4 points per game, nearly five points more than the second-worst. Dead-last in fouling, dead-last in rebounding. Andris Biedrins, Anthony Tolliver and Corey Maggette were the last frail lines of defense. Don Nelson’s devil-may-care defensive strategies were offset, however slightly, by the Warriors’ high-scoring offense that now had rookie Stephen Curry in the mix. But from most long-suffering fans’ perspectives, it was tough to envision a championship future for the ensuing decade, one that didn’t somehow have Moped Monta Ellis guiding the way. It’s Kobe’s World, after all, Dubs fans figured. Oh, well. Let’s just putter our way into the 2010s and hope for the best. We’ll always have 1975. As an eventful 2019 comes to a close, Young pilots a stronger core of prospects and young talents than Curry had at his disposal one decade ago, and The Basketball Club is wedded to allowing the young pro coach grow alongside Trae and the rookies and sophomores, as they all take their lumps together. The Atlanta Hawks’ future foundation, for seasons yet to unfold, remains solid. It’s just understandable that, at this particular moment, without knowledge of any major maneuvers in the coming month or two by Schlenk, our “2020 vision” seems a little too blurry. Happy New Year! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  24. “Go to The General and save some time!” Sorry, Chicago Bulls. Looks like you won’t have Trae Young to kick around this time! While our Atlanta Hawks head back up to Chicago to wrangle with those wascally Bulls (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Chicago), kicking off yet another multi-game road trek, Trae the Tank Engine is going to stay behind for now. In the process of trying to keep the Hawks relevant during what was shaping up to be a washout home loss to Giannis-less Milwaukee last night, Young turned his ankle, and a red-eye flight to The Land of Lincoln was certain not to help matters. The last two times the Hawks had to deal with Jim Boylen’s club, the Hawks were coming off a back-to-back. The Bulls flew to Atlanta back in early November and dusted, by 20 points, a Hawks team that had beaten the Spurs one night before, but was still reeling with John Collins unavailable and Kevin Huerter minutes-restricted. That was their biggest margin of victory this season. Until this month, when the Hawks, coming off a squandered overtime game in Miami, flew north and within 24 hours watched their dreadful defense head south. In what was becoming a theme for Atlanta (6-twentysomething) this season, the opposition scored their most regulation points, in a 136-102 blowout, since the time when Illinois’ Senator Obama was prepping for the Pennsylvania primaries. With those last meetings in mind, one wonders, without Trae in tow for the Hawks, how much of a breeze this game will be for the Bulls will be in the Windy City. Laser-focused on keeping Young restless since getting torched throughout last season, the Bulls have held Atlanta’s young star to 12.0 PPG (26.9 FG%, 7.1 3FG%) and a season-low 78 O-Rating. Might their gameplan be thrown off more than Atlanta’s? Kevin Chouinard noted postgame last night, when Lloyd Pierce was asked about his team’s table-setters in Trae’s absence, Atlanta’s head coach rattled off several inexperienced options: two-way contractor Brandon Goodwin, Kevin Huerter (team-high 3 assists in 27 minutes vs. MIL on Friday), Cam Reddish, even De’Andre Hunter. Perhaps, when it comes to keeping his true designs under wraps, LL Cool P is doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well. But don’t nobody share the Hawks coach’s response with E.T., The Extra Tradebait. Chicago-adjacent native Evan Turner (last player off ATL’s bench yesterday, 2 assists in 10 minutes) was conspicuous by Pierce’s omission. Well into the midst of trade season, this is as good a time as any for Pierce, with a little prodding by PBO/GM Travis Schlenk, to allow vets to showcase their wares. Atlanta should allow Turner (5.6 assists per-36, 2nd-highest on team), Chandler Parsons, Allen Crabbe (20 points, 4-for-7 3FGs, 3 steals vs. MIL) to offer flashes of what they could provide, if not the Hawks, then some other NBA team in the back end of this season, beyond their huge expiring contracts. But for whatever reasons, opportunities for Turner (probable, hammy strain from sitting on benches so long) to impress LL Cool P have been crushed like pink cookies in a plastic bag. Three turnovers in under 13 garbage-time minutes here back on December 11 didn’t help Evan’s cause. A daunting schedule awaits the Bulls (1-11 versus teams currently above-.500) after today, with Bud’s Bucks in town on Monday and games versus Utah and Boston and at Dallas to uncork the new year. At least in the local media’s machinations, Boylen is still on a hot seat, and his team cannot afford to stumble tonight after some questionably inconsistent performances. Of note, there was the 83-73 home loss to Charlotte two days after pasting Atlanta; a late-game collapse at Dennis Schröder’s OKC; a 1-point win at the whittled-down Wizards; 14 fourth-quarter points in a 103-95 loss at Orlando pre-Xmas break. Coming into tonight’s action, Lauri Markkanen (tummy flu) remains questionable to play. Leading scorer Zach LaVine (shoulder strain) and top rebounder Wendell Carter (abdominal) are listed as probable, while Otto Porter’s return (foot fracture) has been delayed until probably February. As much as Boylen would prefer to rest them all and allow Tomas Satoransky, Coby White (7-for-11 2FGs vs. ATL on Dec. 11) and Thaddeus Young (9 rebounds and team-high 6 assists off-bench vs. ATL on Dec. 11) run roughshod tonight, he knows his Bulls will need as many points as they can get to keep shorthanded Atlanta at bay. On a planet that includes the Hawks (103.6 O-Rating), Chicago (12-20) has somehow managed to be the league’s least-efficient offense (103.5 O-Rating). They’re not very good rebounders (bottom-ten in both O-Reb% and D-Reb%), they’re not great at protecting the rock (9th-worst TO%), and they’re not all that big on rim protection (4.4 blocks per-48, 25th in NBA). Imagine those ratings if they hadn't already played Atlanta twice. But much like George Gervin’s famous finger roll, Boylen’s Bulls can do one thing, really well. As Young can attest, they are masters at dispossessing opponents of the ball. With a little bit of a playoff push, Kris Dunn (NBA-high 4.2 steal%) would become a worthy All-Defensive Team candidate for the Bulls (2.5 GB 8-seed Orlando; 101.4 December D-Rating, second in NBA only to Milwaukee), the league’s leaders in thefts (9.7 steals per-48, no other team with 9 or more) and the NBA East’s standard bearer for deflections (17.1 per game). Much maligned in the past for his lack of defensive effort, LaVine (career-high 1.3 SPG) and the Bulls (+3.1 December Net Rating, 3rd in NBA East) are modeling for Atlanta how beneficial an aggressive defense can be for a struggling offensive team. The Hawks won’t have Young (11 TOs in 2 games vs. CHI) tricky-dribbling into the teeth of Chicago’s defensive coverages tonight. But with some well-designed DHO actions and strong-side post feeds featuring Collins (ATL season-high 16 boards last night), they could limit Chicago’s ability to pile on the points off Atlanta’s turnovers, staving off the Bulls’ desire to grab this game by the horns early. Still, steady low-risk ballhandling will be key, and it’s up to Pierce to identify the players on his roster who could provide that. After two Bulls’ bashes this season, might a Turner bout be fair play? Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  25. “I prefer to go by my new nickname, ‘The Beard’, if you all don’t mind… What?” We already knew that former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was worthy of 2019’s Smartest Coach of the Year Award, after passing up offers at sketchy locales like Phoenix and New York to attach himself to Giannis Antetokounmpo (doubtful tonight, sore back) and the Milwaukee Bucks. The reigning Coach of the Year and his bearers of the league’s best record grace State Farm Arena with their presence this evening (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Wisconsin). But along the way, Hawks fans were curious to see just how competitive Budball would be, with the ball in the hands of a strong-limbed point-forward whose perimeter marksmanship was sub-30 throughout his career. We’re beginning to see just how it all might work out, come playoff time. It’s likely you haven’t seen a team this dominant in league history INSIDE the 3-pont arc. There have been, as per bball-ref, only two other seasons where an NBA team has made more than half of their 2-point field goals, while holding teams on the other end below 45 percent. Kareem and Oscar’s Milwaukee Bucks, 1971 Champs after going 66-16, and Shaq and Wade’s 2005 Miami heat, 59-23 and Eastern Conference finalists. There is likely no team in NBA history with a 2FG% differential (team vs. opponent) as wide as the gap between Milwaukee’s 57.2 2FG% and their 44.7 opponent 2FG%, both league-bests. When it comes to the 3-point line, opponents of the Bucks (38.3 opponent 3FGAs per-48, 2nd-most in NBA) stop here. Foes know producing points around the rim and in the paint is an adventure. Donte DiVincenzo (1.6 SPG), Eric Bledsoe (returning soon from a fibula avulsion fracture), Sterling Brown and Wesley Matthews are dogged defenders pestering ballhandlers into abandoning drives into the paint, as if the waiting wings of Brook Lopez (2.4 BPG) and Antetokounmpo inside aren’t enough of an imposition. Then you layer on the Budball principle of 3 > 2. The seven leading Bucks in terms of floor time average 1.2 to 2.2 made threes per contest, a list that doesn’t even include Kyle Korver (1.6 3FGs in 16.3 mins/game), the player whose career was resuscitated under Coach Bud’s watch in Atlanta. Milwaukee won’t shoot often inside, especially when doing so doesn’t involve Giannis barreling to the hoop for highlight-reel dunks. But when they do, they’re the best at making shots. When they don’t, they’re about as good at sinking shots as their opponent, much better when you remove Antetokounmpo’s 32.7 3FG% (best since his rookie season) from the equation. Milwaukee’s interior defensive excellence doesn’t mean the Hawks have to pull a Brooklyn Nets (26.9 2FG% yesterday vs. NYK, lowest by an NBA team since 1950) tonight at The Farm. Jabari Parker was relegated to 15 under-productive bench minutes (7 points on 3-for-4 2FGs, 1 FT, 2 TOs), a byproduct of John Collins’ solid return to action in the Hawks’ 121-118 loss in Cleveland on Monday. But it was just last month, in Milwaukee, that Parker had perhaps his finest all-around performance as a Hawk. Dangerous from both inside and outside (3-for-5 3FGs, 10-for-18 2FGs), impactful on both offense and defense, Jabari had a season-high 33 points and 14 rebounds (9 defensive) while adding a pair of steals and a swat as Atlanta (6-25), following a predictable opening-quarter stumble, held serve with the Bucks until the final 6 minutes of a 111-102 defeat. If he’s available tonight, Parker (questionable, shoulder impingement) won’t get the 37 minutes he enjoyed against his old club going forward, not so long as Collins (27 points on 12-for-20 FGs, 10 boards, 2 steals, 2 blocks @ CLE) stays healthy. But a challenge going forward for Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce is to build a steady second line, featuring a frontcourt of Parker and either one of centers Alex Len (doubtful, ankle sprain) or Damian Jones. The Hawks have been a positive +1.3 points and +3.0 assists per 100 possessions when Pierce issues the 2-man tandem of DeAndre’ Bembry and Parker. Buckets won’t be as easy to come by for Parker, relying more on Bembry or Evan Turner to set up finishing plays, but those second-line options with Parker will keep the Hawks from hemorrhaging points while on defense, something that happened far too often when Jabari was feasting on dimes from Trae Young. If the right matchups avail themselves, Pierce will also want to find ways to have the inside/outside threat of forwards Collins and Parker on the floor together. That would likely come at the expense of Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter (23 points, 9-for-12 2FGs but 1-for-7 3FGs @ CLE) at small forward, although one could argue the rookies could use a little less trial-by-fire and a bit more sideline tutelage at this stage of the season. On Christmas Day, we watched a Clippers team with Lou Williams flummox the Lakers into late-game submission, and a Sixers team contain The Greek Freak to obligatory highlight-reel plays. What they have are players committed to not only locking up their own defensive assignment but helping to make sure their teammates’ assignments feel challenged, too. They may have defensively deficient talents, but ones who understand that team-oriented defense doesn’t involve absent-mindedly waiting to get the ball back in offensive possessions. I won’t belabor the absurdity of the Hawks’ schedule that, this time, has them boarding a postgame flight for Chicago (four full days off since playing in Orlando on Dec. 23), the team that last awaited the Hawks’ arrival off a back-to-back and pounded them 136-102 earlier this month. But Milwaukee (27-5) will soon be racing to the airport as well. Relying heavily on Khris Middleton to compensate for the absences of Giannis (100.0 MIL D-Rating on-court, 107.4 off-court) tonight, Bud’s Bucks could be caught looking ahead to a home matchup tomorrow against the Magic. The last time Atlanta won at home, they sent a lot of local fans in Steph and Klay jerseys home dissatisfied, and they could do ATL-area Giannis fans a similar disservice today. In front of the home crowd, tonight is a great opportunity for Pierce to hone his Hawks’ lineup alchemy to victorious effect. With most of the core gang back together and playing at home, it’s time for fans to begin getting a sense of what Lloydball looks like. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3