Archives For Al Horford

Feature Image: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

Many fans across the league rejoiced when they heard the news that eight time All-Star, five time First Team All-NBA, and three time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard was coming home. Home to his native Atlanta. But as the city and the fans welcome home own of their, Atlanta cries for the loss its true son, who has left the nest after nine years.

Al Horford is gone, painting his Twitter account in green, indeed showing his intentions to sign with Boston Celtics on July 7th.

I’m still in utter disbelief. Throughout the night I tossed and turned, the Tweet announcing his next chapter embedded in my head. The moment he sent out this Tweet, you knew there was no going back DeAndre Jordan style.

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For the most part, day 1 of NBA free agency frenzy was thought to have been won by Mike Conley’s 5-year $153 million dollar deal with the Grizzlies (largest deal in NBA history), only to be outdid by the Atlanta Hawks signing Dwight Howard to a 3-year $70.5 million dollar deal shortly after. The hometown kid returns to his roots where we were first introduced to the 6”10 slender teenager with the Hollywood smile, as he dawned a #12 for Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. Fast-forward 3 teams in 12 years later and his presence couldn’t come at a better time.

 

 

The Hawks have a history of having trouble acquiring star power, especially through free agency, and the low attendance numbers over the years are a direct result. Dwight’s signing doesn’t mean sold out games every night, automatic championship contenders, but what it means is the organization’s unwillingness to hunt big names is a narrative of the past. Owner Tony Ressler, GM Wes Wilcox and Coach Mike Budenholzer have decided that in order to every cross the bridge towards relevancy and appeal to the rest of the league, it will first need to establish a precedent and that’s what this acquisition does. Now the Hawks job isn’t done, they will need to surround Dwight with the pieces to legitimately contend for a championship. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver still remain from the All-star foursome selected to represent in New York a year ago. Bazemore played the best basketball of his career this season and will return after signing a 4-year $70 million dollar deal and a confident Dennis Schroder steps into the starting point guard spot.

 

The 3- time defensive player of the year leaves an offense first, offense second, oh, and then defense third mentality in Houston; and now joins one of the best defensive coaches in the league. The Hawks have finished in the top three of defensive rating over the past two seasons. What Budenholzer has done is highly impressive, given the lack of size and rebounding capabilities on the roster; he now he has a game-changing player with the ability to secure both of those deficiencies. Atlanta has sorely missed that imposing defensive presence anchoring, sort of similar to what Tyson Chandler meant to those Dallas Maverick teams, an already outstanding group of perimeter defenders who do a terrific job of swarming ballhandlers and speeding up offenses Al Horford and Paul Millsap did all they could, playing much bigger than their listed size. However, now with Howard, Hawks are in a great spot frontcourt wise, because either Millsap stays at his designed position or Horford finally slides to the power forward spot where many believe he can be most productive in.

 

Another important note is that due to Budenholzer’s all hands on deck philosophy; he has been able to keep the minutes of his two cherished big men to a minimum, Horford logging in 31.9 minutes and Millsap logging in 33 minutes per game over the past 3 seasons, another refreshing sign for Howard.

 

Over the past couple seasons Dwight has not looked like the Superman we saw in Orlando, much of that can be attributed to injuries (knees and back) and poor coaching philosophies he was forced to endure. However, he is not absolved of blame, defense is all about effort and his effort was questioned much of the season as he looked disengaged at time. The injuries is one thing Atlanta is taking a risk on, but the mental stability is much more riskier. Howard discussed the situation in Houston on Inside the NBA on TNT during the playoffs.

 

“As a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on,” Howard said on TNT. “If I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes, go between the legs and do all that stuff, that would be great. But I have to rely on my teammates to get the ball. Now, there have been times where I’ve been upset and I’ve taken myself out of games in situations, and that’s on me. I have to grow to be a better player at that.”

 

Howard’s played 71 games and the entire first round, so the issue wasn’t physical, but much more a mental block. He averaged just 13.7 points per game, the second lowest of his career on just 8.5 field goals a game, on a team that took 7,392 regular season threes during his tenure. He now joins a philosophy that believes in ball movement and has shown that they don’t mind playing through their bigs, two factors that I’m sure played a large part in his decision. Howard will certainly find much more comfort playing with a willing passer in Dennis Schroder, especially in pick n roll situations forcing defenses into a tough circumstance with shooters on the perimeter. This scheme also promotes lower post passing between its big to create easier scoring opportunities as he would likely post and catch or catch and go closer to the rim. A similar scheme is currently ran on the clippers between Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan whenever they play two-man game from a Hi-lo setting; Millsap is just as much, if not more, of a floor stretcher as Griffin and an excellent passer too.

 

The possibilities with this team, under this coach are limitless for Howard as long as he stays healthy and engaged. He is now 30 years old with an injurious history and has been apart of enough drama to launch a Netflix series. More than ever before, Dwight’s legacy will be impacted, in his hometown, as an Atlanta Hawk.

The hopes that Al Horford would retire a Hawk are dashed. The long term future of the franchise is not, however.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Hawks have agreed to sign Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million contract and will retain Kent Bazemore for $70 million over four years. Such was not the same fate, sadly, for the most tenured Hawk.

Remove the emotional aspect of the tumultuous past couple of days and come to realize this is by no means a disaster for the Atlanta Hawks. The team rebuilt the wing corps through the draft and were able to retain breakout star Kent Bazemore. They landed the much maligned but still effective Dwight Howard without having to commit to a fourth year.

Sure, their hopes of winning a championship are very slim this season, especially so if Durant lands on an Eastern team like Boston or Miami, but all you can hope is to be a top four seed in the conference and maybe a path towards the Finals opens up. There are 30 teams competing for one trophy and it’s unrealistic to have half of the teams contending and half rebuilding; there’s always going to be middle ground.

Besides, a Millsap-Horford core proved to be in the same non-contending boat. That duo had two true opportunities to dethrone Lebron’s reign on the Eastern Conference and failed woefully each time. Subsequently, the Boss received a nice severance package and headed to greener, shamrock-filled pastures and we went to Plan B. That’s just how the business goes sometimes.

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Feature Image: Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

There’s one thing I love about the NBA: when the action on the court finally ends, the NBA keeps going. And it comes thick and fast too. Game 7 of The Finals took place on June 19th, the NBA Draft just took place last Thursday (June 23rd) and now we’re about to head into the free agency period, beginning July 1st.

In free agency, you’re always treading in murky waters, but more so than ever this summer. Why? The salary cap is set to rise from $70 million to a whopping $94 million, with the salary floor (the figure of expenditure that teams have to reach) reportedly believed to be $84 million. Most teams are set to have at least $20 million in cap space, so teams are going to be throwing money left, right, and center.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out, but what about for the Hawks? What’s their situation heading into free agency?

“What we have, we hold”?

The Hawks’ summer — just as it was last year — is set to be a very busy one. Franchise cornerstone Al Horford is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, while Kent Bazemore is also hitting the market off the heels of his best season in the NBA. We’ll get to the Hawks’ other free agents later, but it’s all about Horford and Bazemore.

Let’s start with Horford, Atlanta’s cornerstone, and I have some things to say to his naysayers.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Al is not the greatest rebounding center out there. And I get it, Hassan Whiteside is a better rebounder, but if you think Hassan Whiteside is a better player — more so the idea that the Hawks are better off with Whiteside than they are with Horford — then you’re out of your mind.

General question I like to ask when it comes to free agency: is there a player available on the market who is better than the player you’re considering letting go? In this case, the answer is no. As an overall package, there is NO CENTER better than Al Horford on the market this summer. None. Continue Reading…

(Feature image: Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Ah, draft night… One of my favorite dates on the NBA calendar. I don’t know what it is about this day that I look forward to so much. I suppose the fascination of which player ends up where, and what he can contribute to his new team is what which really grips me the most. What said player will be able to blossom into over the next few years, what said player’s arrival means for an existing player on the team already, and so on…

Personally, I find it hard to explain why I love draft day so much — it’s just a great day for all involved. Unless you’re the Brooklyn Nets this year, in which case, there’s always next year. Or 2019, whichever.

It’s not just a very interesting day for the fans — who spend weeks speculating and discussing/arguing who their team should select — but it’s also an interesting day for executives all around the league, as the future of their franchise potentially hangs in the balance by a thread of one draft pick. Some executives, however, are going to be busier than others, with the Nuggets, the Celtics, the Suns, and the Sixers all owning at least three first round picks. Each.

It’s going to be a pretty busy day for Atlanta Hawks too, who have the 21st overall selection as well as two second round selections (44 and 54).

Naturally, the question all Hawks fans are asking is “Who should we draft?”. But to thoroughly answer that question, we must do our research, and identify all the different forces at play here. There’s all sorts of different avenues the Hawks could explore when approaching this year’s draft, and today we’re going to address them — and by doing so, identifying the area (the area that I at least believe) the Hawks should draft in. Then we’ll be able to ask, and answer, the original question.

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The late composer and lyricist, Irving Berlin, once said “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on…”. If that saying is true — and I believe it to be so — then the Atlanta Hawks’ melody still lingers, despite their unceremonious exit at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this month. The Hawks made some sweet, sweet music (not love) this season, and that melody still lives on, even as we head into the summer.

In the second instalment of “Remembering the 2015-16 Hawks” — the mini series where we remember the good things about the Hawks season just passed — we’re going to look at the best individual performances of the season — the moments of magic that got us out of our seats. If you missed the first part, where we looked at the best games the Hawks played this season, you can check it out here.

Before we get cracking though, there’s a few honorable mentions to make note of. These are very noteworthy performances that didn’t make the final list — mainly because I don’t want this to drag on for nearly 3000 words when it doesn’t need to be that long — but deserved attention.

Shout out to Al Horford’s 30-14 game against the Rockets on December 29th, in one of the Hawks’ best wins of the season led by Horford and his five made threes. Shout out to Paul Millsap’s stat stuffer against the L.A. Clippers on March 5th: 20 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, and three steals. And, finally, shout out to Jeff Teague’s 19 points, 14 assists (one turnover) performance against the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the second round of the playoffs.

Now that we have those out of the way…

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The phrase “The King is dead, long live the King!” never made sense to me as a kid. I mean, why would you say “long live the King” if he just died? I would later learn that the phrase originated in the 1400’s, when King Charles VI died and then his son — whose name you’ll never guess — Charles VII immediately succeeded him as King. The phrase basically means that the old King is dead, long live the new King.

As quick as we tend/want to move onto the new regime/ruler — in this case, the next chapter of Hawks basketball — there’s an entire regime of old that just passed to be remembered, whether it was a reign of terror or prosperity. As much as you want to serve the new King, you have to bury the old King. At the burial, words recalling the King’s life are told, and — hopefully — many memorable moments are shared.

Though we look forward to the 2016-17 Hawks, we must bury the 2015-16 Hawks, and we’ll share some memorable moments about the Atlanta Hawks’ season, as they’re slowly laid to rest. More specifically, we’ll share the good memories about the best games that the Hawks played this season.

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The Atlanta Hawks’ 2015-16 is now officially over, meaning the journey that they set out on — when training camp began — has ended, at least for another season. And when a journey ends, one gets reflective and casts an eye back to when the journey began and upon the journey itself, armed with the knowledge that they did not have when the journey started. So, let’s do exactly that today. Let’s cast an eye back on the 2015-16 Atlanta Hawks season.

The big story heading into the Hawks’ season was that DeMarre Carroll had left Atlanta for pastures new north of the border, to be a part of the Toronto Raptors. I don’t think there was any question that the Hawks wanted to keep DeMarre, but his breakout season and his great playoff run meant that he priced himself out of a return to Atlanta, who could not afford to keep both him and Paul Millsap, with the Hawks only reserving the Early Bird Rights as both had only been with the Hawks for two seasons.

The Hawks did not sign a wing to replace Carroll, knowing that either Thabo Sefolosha (once he recovered from his leg injury) and the developing Kent Bazemore would be more than capable to step up in his absence. However, as both of these guys were bench players while Carroll was at the club, the Hawks’ bench would take a hit from either Thabo or Bazemore — obviously — needing to leave the bench in order to step into the starting lineup. So, the Hawks traded for some wing depth on draft night, sending the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft to acquire Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., in a move that certainly raised eyebrows.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers completed their sweep of the Atlanta Hawks as they took Game 4 in Atlanta with a 100-99 victory in Atlanta. The loss marks the end of a fun season in Atlanta, but the crushing exit at the hands of the Cavaliers — in a second successive sweep — has many Hawks fans torn on where the franchise needs to go next. And we’ll get there in good time, here at HawksHoop but, before all of that, let’s just finish the postmortem of this Game 4 loss.

Block or goal tend?

With 1:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Hawks led 97-96, with the Cavaliers inbounding the ball underneath Atlanta’s basket. Some nice man movement from the Cavs out of the timeout allows LeBron — who frees himself of Paul Millsap — to receive the ball and put it up on the glass for a layup. However, James finds his effort swatted from behind by Millsap, who thinks he has the clean block and rebound, but the whistle sounds and the call is goal tending and the basket counts. As the play is reviewable — as there are less than two minutes remaining in the game — the officials take a look it.

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This Hawks team has many qualities, their most important one being pride, was called upon in a potential sweep versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. Similar to Game 3 they fought hard, showed their mental toughness, togetherness, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to earn its first playoff victory over LeBron James and company in the past two seasons.

“Not sure, it’s something we have to go back and look at,” said Al Horford about what it will take to get over this hump. “Obviously, it’s not enough, it’s not enough of what we have. We fought hard, we gave it all we got, but we will see what happens.”

“Its unfortunate, we wanted to beat this team so bad,” said Paul Millsap. “They left a bad taste in our mouths last year. This year we thought we had them figured out. They did something completely different than last year. That they shot more 3s this year compared to last year and it killed us.”

Tyronne Lue’s implementation of more ball movement and the 3-point shot became the difference maker this year, covering up any difficulties or adjustments the Hawks may have given them. Kevin Love alone scored 12 of his 15 third quarter points from downtown (finishing with a game high 27 points) after Atlanta had out scored them in the paint and out hustled them on the boards in the first half. The team took a total 152 3-point attempts in this series — made 77 — with 45 attempts coming from Game 2’s eruption. Not even the league’s second best defensive team had an answer for that, especially with players like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James penetrating.

“Its a product of [LeBron and Kyrie] guys playing well and downhill,” said Love. “They’re so devastating and tough to stop when they are doing that, they can spray it out to the corner. They draw so much attention. They do it in different ways. But in doing that, Channing is going to be open, JR is going to be open and I’m going to be open.”

Millsap knows the new wave of high volume 3-point shooting team in the NBA isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

“That’s where this league is going. 3-point shots are killer man. They shot the mess out of the ball. When everybody on the basketball court can shoot like that, it puts your defense at a tough spot. We struggled with it all night, all series.”

Not having enough is nothing foreign to Atlanta Hawks fans over the past five to seven years. They have been sitting in limbo, teetering between elite and average for some time now, losing in the either the first or second round eight of the last nine seasons. Dennis Schroder’s last second possession to win the game defines this team’s issue in a nutshell; having to trust a 6-foot-1, 170 pound 22 year old backup point guard to force a Game 5 against a experienced bunch lead by King James.

The 2015-2016 Atlanta Hawks faced several uphill battles throughout the season, whether its a struggling Kyle Korver, a starting point guard conundrum or the loss of Tiago Splitter. Regardless, this team managed to re-invent itself into a defensive juggernaut, which speaks volumes.

The contract discussions of Kent Bazemore, Horford and adding more talent in the off-seeason (with the salary cap rising) will be the main focus for Mike Budenholzer. However, a lot of times for teams looking to get over the hump, hitting reset too soon may set the franchise back tenfold.

There are only two ways to look at it. Either the glass is half full or half empty. The success they shared over the past two years it could be the former and should not be taken for granted; but better yet each individual allow it to be used as fuel knowing how close they have come.

“I think that individually we can get better,” said a reassuring Millsap. “That’s from me on down the line. I think as a collective group we can all be better. I think if we keep everybody here, we will continue to grow. We will get better. We will get to the next level and I think that’s what this teams wants to do. We want to take that next step, get to the that next step in basketball.”