Over the past decade, the Atlanta Hawks have been known for their consistency. The franchise heads into training camp in the midst of a playoff streak that has spanned nine consecutive seasons, with the driving forces of their success being the continuity that stemmed from the front office all the way to the core members of the roster.
However, the 2016-17 campaign marks a new beginning in Atlanta after an offseason full of revisions to the standard script. In many ways, the summer of 2016 was an abrupt change of pace after years of undeviating roster transition. For starters, the last remaining member of the team that started the current playoff run, four-time All-Star center Al Horford, opted to join the Boston Celtics in free agency. A few weeks before Horford’s surprising departure, the franchise traded former All-Star guard Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for a lottery pick.
Teague’s departure wasn’t much of a shock to followers of the team after witnessing head coach Mike Budenholzer’s growing penchant for using fourth-year guard Dennis Schroder in pivotal situations and the veteran’s looming free agency in 2017. Horford’s defection will sting, but Atlanta did secure arguably the biggest free agent “name” in franchise history by bringing in hometown product and former three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
The team’s playoff streak doesn’t appear to be in any serious jeopardy, but most are hesitant to consider the current unit title contenders.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Atlanta Hawks.
FIVE GUYS THINK
Even though this will be a new-look Hawks team, I trust head coach Mike Budenholzer to coach the hell out of this group and I think enough core pieces are returning for them win a ton of regular season games. I’m curious to see how Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard can co-exist in the frontcourt. I don’t expect Howard to completely return to form in his hometown, but I do expect him to be more engaged and impactful after the change of scenery. He was clearly upset in Houston and it’s best for all involved that the marriage with the Rockets ended. We’ll see if Howard can avoid clashing with any of his new teammates or coaches. I love Millsap, Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder among others on this roster, which is why I have the Hawks winning the Southeast Division (with the Charlotte Hornets coming in second). However, there are too many question marks surrounding this squad (particularly Howard) to view Atlanta as a legitimate contender. The Cleveland Cavaliers are obviously the best team in the conference, with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors one notch below the Cavs (in my opinion). After that is where I have the Hawks projected, which honestly isn’t bad after losing Al Horford in free agency and trading away Jeff Teague this summer.
1st Place – Southeast Division
– Alex Kennedy
It’s not often that you see a team overachieve for a few years and then return without two of their top players, but that’s exactly what’s happening with Mike Budenholzer’s squad. By effectively swapping Jeff Teague and Al Horford for Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, you could argue that the Hawks downgraded their two most valuable positions. You could also argue, though, that they had plateaued with Horford, so while I don’t like the moves, I do understand them. Howard will turn 31 years old in December, so unless returning home to Atlanta rejuvenates him in a major way, it’s safe to say the Hawks will take a step back this coming season. I’ve chosen the Washington Wizards as my favorite in the Southeast Division and I think the Hawks will be battling the Charlotte Hornets for the second seed out there. It’s tough to make the call between those two, but because Howard hasn’t left me much reason to believe in him and Schroder will have to adjust to life as a starter, I think I slightly favor the Hornets.
3rd Place – Southeast Division
– Moke Hamilton
It’s hard to see this Hawks group being a better team without Al Horford. Obviously Dwight Howard was the team’s high-profile free agency acquisition this summer and he’ll give them the “true” center they’ve desired for quite some time, but Horford and Paul Millsap had such a nice chemistry and symbiosis the last couple of years that it’s impossible to imagine Howard replicating it. Trading away Jeff Teague is less of a concern because Dennis Schroder really does look ready to run the show, but otherwise the changes with this roster weren’t drastic enough to inspire confidence in them to come back as the contender they were a couple of seasons ago. There’s nothing to hate here, just not enough to love.
3rd Place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
For starters, the Hawks lost two All-Star caliber performers this summer in center Al Horford and guard Jeff Teague. Normally these types of losses would indicate a drastic decline in wins is on the horizon, but Atlanta was able to sign center Dwight Howard in free agency and homegrown fourth-year guard Dennis Schroder looks ready to emerge from Teague’s shadow. The rest of Atlanta’s core group stayed intact for the most part, but the additions of veteran guard Jarrett Jack and rookie wings Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry give the club much needed depth. The Hawks’ current streak of nine straight playoff appearances isn’t in jeopardy of ending this season, barring any major injuries.
1st Place – Southeast Division
– Lang Greene
Losing Al Horford and Jeff Teague won’t destroy the Hawks since they signed Dwight Howard in free agency and have Dennis Schroder filling in for Teague. However, Horford and Paul Millsap had such great chemistry together on offense and, in particular, on defense. The Hawks’ defensive schemes were heavily based on how Horford and Millsap were able to work together and make crisp rotations, so Howard will have to get up to speed quickly to preserve that defensive efficiency. I did like what the Hawks did in the draft by bringing in Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry. Prince and Bembry are some of the most NBA-ready players in this draft and should be able to contribute at least periodically. The Hawks have the talent to make some noise in the Eastern Conference, but I don’t think they took a significant step forward this offseason, which is what they needed to do to become real contenders, in my opinion.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Paul Millsap
The Hawks struck gold back in 2013 by luring the underrated forward away from the Utah Jazz in free agency. Although Millsap put together multiple quality seasons in Utah, the veteran forward was largely unnoticed by the mainstream. Fast forward three seasons and three well deserved All-Star selections later, Millsap has developed into one of the best power forwards in the game today. With Horford and Teague now in different zip codes, the pressure on Millsap to deliver the goods offensively will increase – every single night. Millsap scored in double figures in 75 out of 81 appearances last season, but there are a few areas of concern as he transitions into the team’s true offensive focal point. Millsap’s road production (15.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists) significantly paled in comparison to the stat lines he posted at Philips Arena (18.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists). Millsap also showed signs of decline post All-Star break, dropping from 17.7 to 15.8 points per game and his shooting efficiency declined from 49 to 44 percent from the field. This may just be a blip on the radar, but Millsap turns 32 years old during the season so it’s definitely a trend worth watching.
Top Defensive Player: Paul Millsap
The case can be made here for veteran forward Thabo Sefolosha as the team’s leading perimeter defender. Howard will undoubtedly get a few votes for consideration as well because of his past dominance as a defensive force. However, Millsap is the team’s top defensive player present day. The veteran posted an impressive defensive real plus-minus of 3.2 in 2016, finishing 12th in the league, and also posted the best defensive rating (96.2) on the roster.
Top Playmaker: Dennis Schroder
Whether the fourth-year guard is truly ready to assume the full-time starting point guard role is still up for debate as we head into training camp. But Schroder will be the unquestioned starter on opening night, barring a major injury or abysmal camp. Schroder hasn’t been shy about publicly stating his goal of becoming a full-time starter and now he’ll get his shot. While Schroder has become slightly known as a chucker in some circles, the guard ranked ninth in the league in assists per 48 minutes (10.3) and ninth in overall assist percentage (36.4). Those are two quality metrics to evaluate a point guard’s ability to distribute the rock and the youngster notched top 10 finishes in both categories. Schroder could become a free agent next summer, but the Hawks can sign him to an early contract extension to get a jump on the market. The club could also allow Schroder to enter next summer as a restricted free agent so the market sets the price of their floor general. There are risks associated with either road the franchise pursues.
Top Clutch Player: Committee Approach
While the most expected answer in this space would be Millsap considering how much the Hawks will lean on his offensive talents this season, digging deeper into the metrics shows that the Hawks are in desperate need for someone to step up and assume the go-to role. With five minutes remaining and with the team ahead or behind by five points or less, Millsap shot just 32 percent from the floor and 14 percent from three-point range last season. This is where the loss of Horford will hurt the team, as the departed center connected on 53 percent of his field goals in this same situation. Surprisingly, forward Kent Bazemore was fourth on the team in points in this situation and shot 50 percent from the floor, 71 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the free throw line in the clutch. Millsap will obviously get the most looks based on his skill set and standing on the team, but his performance in the clutch last season indicates this designation is up for grabs.
The Unheralded Player: Kent Bazemore
Bazemore signed a four-year, $70 million deal in free agency this past summer, so the Hawks organization clearly values their starting small forward. However, for those who casually follow the team, Bazemore’s value is occasionally questioned. Bazemore struggled down the stretch, specifically post All-Star break, which saw his three-point accuracy decline from 39 to 29 percent to end the season. Overall, Bazemore shot 36 percent from downtown en route to a career high 109 three-pointers made. The club will be expecting another significant leap from Bazemore during the 2016-17 campaign.
Top New Addition: Taurean Prince
Prince, the No.12 pick of the 2016 draft, was the prize the Hawks received from the Utah Jazz in the three-team Jeff Teague trade. After missing the start of Summer League awaiting on his trade to become finalized, Prince led the Hawks in scoring – contributing 13.7 points and six rebounds. Like most rookies, Prince struggled with his shot, connecting on just 38 percent of his attempts from the floor and 25 percent from three-point range, but defensively he managed to walk away with three steals per contest. It’s rare for a playoff team to rely on a rookie for production, but the 22-year-old Prince is more NBA-ready than most first-year players and could carve out a role in the rotation before season’s end.
– Lang Greene
WHO WE LIKE
- Mike Budenholzer
Budenholzer has amassed a 146-100 (.593) record in Atlanta since taking control of the team before the start of the 2013-14 season. Immediately after his arrival, the Hawks – once considered a bland offensive unit – developed into one of the most polished scoring teams in the league. But Budenholzer’s impact also extends to the defensive side of the ball, where the team finished sixth in points allowed (99.2) in 2016. The squad also ranked second in defensive rating (98.8), trailing only the San Antonio Spurs (Budenholzer’s former squad). Budenholzer’s fingerprints are all over the Hawks organization and that’s more evident than ever after witnessing the team sign Howard and have the confidence to trade Teague over the summer to make way for Schroder.
- Dwight Howard
Atlanta has a long history of polarizing sports figures. From John Rocker to Michael Vick to Josh Smith, there’s been no shortage of players who have divided fans in the city over the years. Howard is the biggest “name” the Hawks have ever secured on the dotted line in free agency. A former three-time Defensive Player of the Year and future Hall of Famer, Howard comes back home slightly past his prime and replacing an All-Star performer in Horford. Conversations regarding Howard’s impact have varied wildly since his signing was announced. Seemingly everyone has drawn their line in the sand. Some believe Howard’s presence will translate into net negative wins for the franchise. Others believe Howard is ready to resume his dominance on the league after flame-outs in Los Angeles and Houston. As always, the truth is somewhere in between. Peak Howard, circa 2009-10, isn’t walking through those Philips Arena doors. But naysayers are foolish to dismiss a player who has never averaged less than 10 rebounds over 12 seasons. Mind you, rebounding was a huge area of need for Atlanta in recent years. Howard performed his best under a hard charging coach in a defined system during his days in Orlando playing for Stan Van Gundy. The Hawks have a defined system and Budenholzer is well respected, so we’re expecting a slight bounce-back season from Howard in 2016-17.
- Jarrett Jack
Jack is coming off a torn ACL and appeared in just 32 games for Brooklyn last season. But the veteran floor general is the perfect insurance policy for the Hawks, who have entrusted Schroder to take command at the point. If the youngster falters, Jack can step in – as he has averaged 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists over his career when starting. Obviously the team’s goal for Jack is to assume the backup point guard role and serve as a mentor for Schroder, but the Hawks are fully aware the veteran can absorb a larger role if needed (and assuming he’s fully healthy).
- The Hawks’ assortment of wings
The Hawks’ wing depth over the years has been questionable. But entering the 2016-17 campaign, the Hawks have an intriguing unit of forwards that will give Budenholzer plenty of lineup flexibility. Bazemore is the starter at small forward, and Sefolosha figures to get extended minutes in the rotation too. However, the question is can the Hawks’ duo of young forwards, Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry, break the rotation in year one? This is the most talent the team has had on the wing in quite some time.
– Lang Greene
SALARY CAP 101
The Hawks went under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, signing Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore, Kris Humphries and Malcolm Delaney. Now over the cap, Atlanta still has their $2.9 million Room Exception, but have a full roster with 15 guaranteed contracts. The team may look to shed one guaranteed player in trade (or by waiver) to make room for Mike Muscala, who has $507,848 of his $1 million deal guaranteed.
Looking ahead to next summer, Atlanta could have $31 million in space under a $102 million projected salary cap, although that assumes Paul Millsap opts out of his final season at $21.5 million. Both Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. are eligible for contract extensions by the end of October. Both Kyle Korver and Tiago Splitter are eligible to have their contracts restructured and extended, but the Hawks no longer have the cap room to do so.
– Eric Pincus
Offense gets the headlines, but the Hawks will continue leading with their defense. The team won 48 games last season and were primarily driven by their ability to negate opposing offenses. But the unit does enter the season with a few question marks. Howard, in his prime, was one of the better defenders the league has seen over the last 25 years. However, at this point in his career, he’s likely a downgrade from the departed Horford. But one area Howard excels where Horford doesn’t is providing elite rebounding. The Hawks allowed the third most offensive rebounds in the league last season and this should immediately be improved by the glass cleaning Howard. Schroder is an upgrade over Teague defensively, on paper, but the youngster will have to be consistent and truly lock in. Expect the Hawks to remain an elite defensive unit in 2017.
– Lang Greene
Atlanta’s depth at shooting guard is a bit concerning. When the Hawks rollicked to 60 victories during the 2014-15 season, the team ranked second in three-point percentage (38 percent), trailing only the Golden State Warriors. Last season, the Hawks connected on just 35 percent of their attempts behind the arc. A significant portion of the team’s decline from distance can be traced to veteran guard Kyle Korver’s struggles to find a consistent rhythm. Korver shot 49 percent from three-point rage in 2015, but just 40 percent in 2016. It marked the first time in three seasons Korver didn’t finish in the top 10 for three-point accuracy. Korver will turn 36 years old before season’s end and the team’s primary depth behind him is Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. Some believe Korver’s decline is Father Time beginning his work, while others point to the fact the veteran entered training camp less than 100 percent after suffering an injury in the playoffs the prior season. Wherever the truth falls, the Hawks must start a succession plan for their starting shooting guard sooner rather than later.
– Lang Greene
THE BURNING QUESTION
Will the new additions, after a summer of defections, negatively impact the team’s chemistry?
As stated earlier, the Hawks have made their bones over the years by being consistent in their approach. It hasn’t always been what the team’s fan base has wanted, but attempting to dispute the success year in and year out would be hard to do. The core group has mostly remained the same with a carousel of revolving role players keeping the team perennially in the playoff mix. However, the Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague crew responsible for so much of the team’s success over the past decade are now all wearing different uniforms. This means the locker room culture will shift. The arrival of Howard, after some internal turmoil in Houston, is a dynamic to watch. The big question is can the Hawks continue their winning ways with new guys manning pivotal roles, previously reserved for the old guard? Only time will tell.
– Lang Greene
NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers
The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.
Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers
While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.
It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.
So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.
Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.
The Potential Future All-Stars
DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players
Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs
The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust
Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs
Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.
If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.
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NBA Daily: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years
CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.
Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.
Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.
Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.
But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.
Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.
After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.
From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.
“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.
“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”
Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.
Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.
The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.
But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.
“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.
“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”
And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.
Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.
“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”
The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.
To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.
Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.
But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.
“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”
It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.
“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”
Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.
“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”
In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.
If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.
“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”
But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.
Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.
“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.
“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”
Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?
Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.
And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.
“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.
“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”
NBA Daily: This Might Be the Spurs’ Final Stand
The bizarre Kawhi Leonard situation won’t resolve itself cleanly, which means the Spurs may have to pull the plug, writes Matt John.
“All good things must come to an end.” – Chaucer in 1374
If there is one team that has been the closest to replicating the Boston Celtics’ dynasty from the Bill Russell days, it has been the San Antonio Spurs. Over the past two decades, the Spurs have established a consistent model of winning thanks to Hall of Fame talent, legendary coaching and other-worldly scouting.
The only other team in the entire world of sports that has rivaled the Spurs’ prolonged success in the 21st century has been the New England Patriots. However, much like the Patriots, there have been more and more reports recently of dysfunction behind the scenes, with superstar Kawhi Leonard front and center to all of it. If things really are as bad as they appear to be, then Kawhi’s days as a Spur are numbered, and by the same token, so are the Spurs’ days of contention.
No one knows what exactly is going on with Leonard at the moment. There have been reports that, physically, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is fully capable of returning to the floor, but he chooses not to. Now, his rehab is expected to sideline him for the entirety of the playoffs. Leonard technically isn’t doing anything against the rules, but his actions have made both his team and the league take notice.
Leonard and the Spurs could hypothetically reconcile and put this all behind them, but given all that’s happened throughout the course of the season, that ship seems to have sailed a long time ago. Through the duration of the season, Kawhi’s teammates have called him out, his coach has been steadfastly candid when asked about what’s going on, and now, players around the league are already predicting who his next team will be.
This all spells out a potentially ugly divorce between the Spurs and their franchise player.
So, the Spurs’ obvious next move would be to trade Kawhi for as much value as they can get this off-season. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, the Spurs won’t be able to acquire nearly as much value for Kawhi now as they could have in years’ past. It is true that when Leonard is 100 percent healthy, he is one of the league’s best players. But this bizarre situation, along with his player option after next season, has demolished his trade value.
These days, teams don’t give up valuable assets for star players if there’s a risk that said star player could leave the team after only one year. Teams saw what happened to the Lakers after the Dwight Howard trade blew up in their face, and they saw how crippled the Nets became after they gave away the farm for Paul Pierce among other Celtics that they acquired. If a superstar whose contract is potentially expiring goes on the market, teams will lowball in trade discussions for him.
Case in point: last summer, pretty much everyone agreed that the Thunder acquired Paul George for peanuts when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That may have worked out for the best for Indiana, but that was sheer luck because Oladipo’s and Sabonis’ value was much lower than it is now. Kawhi could fetch a half decent player and maybe a late-lottery pick given his reputation, but that would probably not fill the large void that he would leave behind.
It’s for that reason that the Spurs’ reign may be coming to an end. If they trade Kawhi this summer, they’re not going to get equal value for him, which means they won’t be able to remain among the best in the Western Conference. It’s quite a shame, because Leonard’s apparent fall-out with the Spurs has overshadowed one of the better under-the-radar stories in the league: The Spurs’ perseverance.
The fact that the Spurs still made the playoffs in the Western Conference, which required 47 wins this season, is remarkable. Thanks in large part to LaMarcus Aldridge’s rejuvenation, who has averaged his best numbers as a Spur this season by far, and Coach Pop’s brilliance among other reasons, the Spurs have kept the ball rolling without Kawhi. Alas, without him, the team is firmly not in the title discussion, and the Spurs can’t do much about it.
The Spurs could ride it out by keeping the rest of the core together along with what they would bring back for Leonard, but there wouldn’t be much point. Guys as impactful Leonard are not easily replaceable in this league, and the Spurs’ competition in the West will be as strong as ever next season. As unappealing as it might sound, the Spurs may have to just start over.
That wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. Aldridge’s phenomenal season has probably skyrocketed his trade value, so the Spurs would get a good haul for him. The Spurs aren’t in a bad salary cap situation either. Besides Pau Gasol, the team doesn’t have any bad contracts. Tony Parker’s deal is up after this season while Rudy Gay and Danny Green have player options, but both are likely to opt-in given the lack of money on the open market this summer. The team even has some intriguing young talent, such as Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes. Re-building wouldn’t be the worst option for San Antonio.
With all of that considered, it would still be very disappointing to see such a glorious era end so anticlimactically. Kawhi Leonard was supposed to lead the new era of Spurs basketball, but now it looks like he may be the Spurs’ undoing, which they may have no choice now but to accept.
Many were looking forward to San Antonio’s demise, but for a team that has remained in the title discussion since the days of President Clinton, the Spurs didn’t deserve an ending like this.