NBA PM: Hawks Have A Lesson For Lakers?
Like it or not, the age of assembling multiple max-contract superstars on one team in an effort to create an NBA dynasty is quickly coming to an end. Even if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement had not created an environment that grows ever more toxic for teams that insist on spending over and above the luxury tax threshold, the way the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled to win games despite an impressive lineup on paper would almost certainly serve as a deterrent for other teams that might be considering such a strategy.
When Danny Ferry took over as the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager, he started the team down a more sustainable path. Rather than looking to add All-Star talent to his roster, Ferry used his high-dollar franchise player as a trade piece in order to make the team deeper and, it seems, stronger. HOOPSWORLD’s Lang Greene covers the Atlanta Hawks and offers his analysis of the situation in Atlanta:
The Atlanta Hawks entered the 2012-13 campaign with plenty of questions about their identity and the future of the franchise. The organization hired veteran NBA executive and former player Danny Ferry to lead the basketball operations effort, and six-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson and longtime starting small forward Marvin Williams were immediately traded to create financial flexibility for the future. Those moves returned a plethora of players who were either entering their respective contract years or thought to be in decline. Add in the fact that head coach Larry Drew is in the final season of his three-year deal, without any assurances, and it’s easy to see why most were hesitant to place the Hawks in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
But the games aren’t played in theory or based on preseason rankings or media hype. The Hawks have exceeded expectations and actually appear to be a much stronger unit despite losing the services of a franchise player in Johnson. Two of the new additions have stepped up in particular to help the Hawks keep their footing – veterans Kyle Korver and DeShawn Stevenson.
Korver and Stevenson have been the primary replacements for Johnson and Williams in the Hawks’ starting lineup at the shooting guard and small forward spots. While the duo isn’t nearly as talented as their predecessors, both are extremely skilled veterans who have played most of their careers helping their stars play at a high level. Korver has played with Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose. DeShawn Stevenson won a championship with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. So it’s no surprise that both of these guys were quickly able to gain the trust of team leaders Josh Smith and Al Horford.
But their impact to the roster doesn’t just appear on game days. Korver routinely leads competitive shooting competitions after practice, which keeps relationships fresh. Stevenson has gained the respect of his new teammates by playing through pain and guarding the opposing team’s best offensive wing player.
In today’s NBA, chemistry is one of the least talked about components to team success, but if you look around you’ll notice teams who’ve had the most success in recent years were sparked by a natural and unforced chemistry. The Hawks are riding high to start the season and there’s a good chance this will continue.
Indeed, at 14-7 to start the season the Hawks are at least as good as they were with Joe Johnson in the mix, and possibly even better. They are also in a much better position going forward as they look to build around their core group. The true blueprint for rebuilding may be the one Sam Presti revived in Oklahoma City, which involves drafting well and developing young talent at an elite level, but for teams that have huge contracts on the books, the Hawks’ blueprint may turn out to be a valuable road map over the next couple of seasons and going forward.
Tim Duncan’s Unlikely Revival Tour
At the end of the 2011-12 NBA season is seemed clear that San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan’s best days were behind him, and that retirement was drawing ever nearer. His team had advanced to the Western Conference Finals with relative ease, sweeping their first two playoff series and even taking the first two games of the WCF before eventually falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Increasingly, however, Duncan was becoming a complementary piece of the puzzle rather than the primary force.
Generally speaking, players of Duncan’s age get worse over time, not better. When the dust settled at the end of last season, Duncan had averaged 15.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 69.5 percent from the free throw line. Still decent numbers, but a far cry from those Duncan posted in his prime. This season, however, we have seen a marked resurgence in his game. Granted, it’s early, but through roughly a month and a half of the 2012-13 season, Duncan is averaging 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds 2.4 assists and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 49.8 percent from the field and nearly a career-best of 78.7 percent from the foul line.
As Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers prepared to face the Spurs in San Antonio over the weekend he couldn’t help but marvel at Duncan’s resurgence.
“He’s competitive; he really is,” Rivers said. “I really believe it’s that simple. I really do. I thought last year, in the Oklahoma series, he struggled with his shot. He struggled with his free throws, and he’s Tim Duncan because he’s Tim Duncan. I guarantee you this summer he put time in the gym and he’s back. It’s amazing. He’s making the jump shot, especially, and that’s the biggest change I’ve seen. He’s shooting the heck out of the basketball from that 15-20 foot range, and one thing that is smart, when you are tired of getting beat up and getting banged, it always nice to get the jumper going and I think he’s done that. I think the explanation is really Tim is very competitive and he didn’t like the way his season ended last year and he thinks his team has a chance to win it this year and he’s going to go out with a bang.”
Rivers also feels that because Duncan is a fairly unemotional player he doesn’t get enough props for his excellence on the court.
“It’s better conditioning and everything else, but again, it goes back to the simple word: he’s a competitor,” Rivers said. “He’s one of the greatest competitors to play, and he doesn’t get enough of that credit because he has a poker face and people don’t see that. I see that every time I see him and he plays against us, so I really believe that’s the explanation.”
There are plenty of similarities to draw between Duncan and Celtics’ forward Kevin Garnett, but Rivers believes their competitiveness is the biggest common bond between the two and the reason why both have been so good for so long.
“No doubt, and their professionalism,” said Rivers. “They go about it in different ways, but they are both extremely professional in how to prepare for each day. They are serious about the game. Again, they do it differently, but to have either one on your team and watch how they work and get ready for each game, and then you watch all the young guys around the league and how they get ready and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Duncan can maintain his level of performance and stay healthy long enough to help the Spurs compete for another championship, but to this point he looks poised to do just that.
Thomas Robinson Biding His Time
When the 2012 NBA draft class assembled in Chicago for the pre-draft festivities last spring, no one was more confident or more vocally sure of himself than Thomas Robinson. He declared himself to be the best player in the class, and even offered a few friend jibes to classmate and eventual top overall pick Anthony Davis. Unfortunately, being drafted by the frontcourt-heavy Sacramento Kings has meant a little slower process for Robinson, who is not currently among the league’s top rookies.
“That’s always hard,” Kings head coach Keith Smart tells HOOPSWORLD. “He’s still confident. I don’t think that will ever leave for him. He’s very confident in knowing where he wants to go as a pro, and knowing what he wants to do and accomplish. I share with him, in our Orlando game he had such an impact on the game with one point total for the whole game, but if you look at the whole game, he impacted that game so much with his rebounding and his defense and his energy. I said, ‘When I got on you a couple of times during the year for taking a quick shot or a bad shot or turning the ball over, the reason was so that in the lateral part of a game like the Orlando game, I can have you on the floor knowing that you’re going to do the right thing. That you’re not going to try and take a quick jump shot, not knowing the time, or that the game is close. Or you’re not going to try drive, and rebound the ball, and push it all the way up the floor, and run over someone, or turn the basketball over. Those are the reasons why I say things to you in the course of a game early because I may need you late in the game.’
“Obviously, every young player, rookie wants to be that starter he was in college, but there’s still a lot of NBA game that he has to figure out and learn, and I think a lot of them just want to play, and like always, he just wants to play. But it’s just not about playing; you got to know how to play this game down the stretch. Stay to your strengths. Your energy, your rebounding, and your ability to defend, that’s a huge positive for you. You got a long time to prove to people that you are a really good jump shooter and all those things there, but you want to make sure you know the coverages you’re supposed to be in. The question’s not, ‘was that my roll man to pick up? Was I supposed to go out to the corner on that rotation?” You got to learn all those things, also, so during the course of the game we can count on you, and I can count on you that you’re going to hold true to what you’ve been taught.”
Robinson talks with HOOPSWORLD about his early struggles, having to wait in line behind veteran front-court players, that bold prediction he made in Chicago and more in this exclusive interview:
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