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Jeff Teague on Pacers Trade, Hawks Exit, Expectations

Jeff Teague discusses his trade to the Pacers, exit from the Hawks, new teammates, 2016-17 expectations and more.

Alex Kennedy

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The Indiana Pacers have been extremely busy this offseason, adding veterans like Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson to a core that already includes Paul George, Monta Ellis, Myles Turner and C.J. Miles among others. Team president Larry Bird also replaced long-time head coach Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan and stressed that he wants Indiana to play at a faster pace next season.

Teague will be an integral part of that up-tempo attack, replacing George Hill in the Pacers’ starting lineup after being acquired in a three-team deal with the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz.

Last season, the seven-year veteran averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 28.5 minutes, while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. In the playoffs, he averaged 14.5 points and 6.1 assists in 27.9 minutes.

It was just two years ago that Teague was named an All-Star and helped the 60-win Hawks advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. During that postseason run, he averaged 16.8 points, 6.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals in Atlanta’s 16 playoffs games.

However, Teague’s minutes gradually decreased due to the arrival and emergence of Dennis Schroder. While Teague remained Atlanta’s starter this year, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer played Schroder 20.3 minutes per game in the regular season and 19.1 minutes per game during the playoffs.

Teague helped the 2013 first-round pick develop and handled the situation like a consummate pro, but it became clear that his exit from Atlanta was inevitable since Schroder was viewed as the point guard of the future and the Hawks had other needs to address.

With that said, it’s important to note that Teague is in his prime (having just turned 28 years old in June) and he played very well last year. Not only were his traditional stats impressive, his advanced numbers show just how productive he was for Atlanta on both ends of the court.

Teague was a crucial part of Atlanta’s second-ranked defense. The Hawks allowed just 98.8 points per 100 possessions (trailing only the San Antonio Spurs) and Teague played a major factor in that. Opponents shot just 39.9 percent against Teague during the regular season, which ranked third in the NBA among players who appeared in at least 75 games (behind only Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Draymond Green). Also, Teague ranked fifth in the NBA (and first among all guards) in Percentage Points Different, as his opponents’ field goal percentage dropped by an average of 3.8 percent when he guarded them.

Offensively, Teague ranked seventh among all NBA players in points created through assists (15.1 per game). He also ranked eighth in potential assists (passes that would be an assist with a made shot) with 12.2 per game. His 34.4 assist percentage ranked 13th among all players, and he racked up secondary assists (also known as hockey assists), which are passes that lead to an assist within two seconds and one dribble. He also got to the rim with ease, ranking fourth in the NBA in drives per game (11.1) and averaging the fifth-most kick-out passes in the league.

Not to mention, Teague’s ability to knock down threes spread the floor for the Hawks and helped their balanced offensive attack. His 40 percent shooting from three-point range ranked 17th among all NBA players last season. He also thrived in catch-and-shoot situations, hitting an elite 48.3 percent of those attempts and leading the NBA in Effective Field Goal Percentage on catch-and-shoot opportunities (71.7 percent). His shots were timely too, as he ranked fourth among all postseason players in clutch points per game (which are points scored when the game is within five points), trailing only Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Houston’s James Harden.

Teague’s two-way play made him a key contributor for the Hawks. And in a league full of star floor generals, it says something that he finished last season 11th among point guards in Estimated Wins Added (7.8).

Now, Teague will have the chance to play for a very talented Pacers squad and fulfil a life-long dream since he was born and raised in Indianapolis.

Basketball Insiders recently talked with Teague to discuss his homecoming, excitement about joining the Pacers, departure from the Hawks, expectations for the 2016-17 season and much more in this exclusive interview.

Alex Kennedy: There were a number of rumors about where the Hawks might trade you. How nice is it to land with your hometown Pacers?

Jeff Teague: “Man, it’s really good to be home. Like you said, there were a lot of rumors about me going different places. To actually be able to come home and be able to play in front of my friends and family, I’m very excited.”

Kennedy: Did you know the trade was coming or did it catch you off guard? What was that process like?

Teague: “Me and the Hawks talked a bit and we agreed to be open with each other and try to help each other facilitate a nice deal. So I knew it was coming [eventually], but I didn’t know when. When I got the news, Coach Bud let me know that he would be trading me home. It was bittersweet, but I’m excited about a new start and a new opportunity.”

Kennedy: What were you doing when you got the news?

Teague: “I was actually in Indiana. I got the call from Coach Bud and I was about to walk into my brother’s house. When he told me, I got off the phone and told my brother and we kind of looked at each other. Then, we just got hyped; we started laughing and cheering and stuff. It was good news.”

Kennedy: You mentioned that it’s bittersweet. How tough is it to leave Atlanta after seven successful seasons there, and what will you remember most from your time with the Hawks?

Teague: “I’ll remember all of the fun times and all of the great teammates and coaches I had. In Atlanta, I learned so much, especially from Mike Bibby and those guys early on. Those guys had a huge influence on my career, teaching me how to work and how to be a pro. When Coach Bud came in, he gave me an opportunity to play, and it meant a lot that he trusted me and believed in me. I have a lot of great memories from Atlanta – the 60-win season, having the opportunity to play in the Eastern Conference Finals, some of the playoff atmospheres when we played against teams like the Cavs. My time in Atlanta was special and I enjoyed it, but I’m looking forward to doing bigger and better things in Indiana.”

Kennedy: When you say bigger and better things, do you think the 2016-17 season could be a career-year for you?

Teague: “Definitely. I want to take my game to the next level. I think it’s a great opportunity, and I can’t wait to facilitate and make plays for an All-Star like Paul George and proven veterans like Thaddeus Young and Monta Ellis. Those guys can score the ball, which always makes the point guard’s job a lot easier. It’s going to make me a lot more of a threat on the offensive and defensive end.”

Kennedy: What was your reaction when you saw the moves that came after you landing in Indiana? The Pacers added you, but then acquired guys like Thaddeus and Al Jefferson too. What did you think when you saw the front office add weapons like that?

Teague: “I’m thinking, ‘I need to get up and down the court and get the ball to those guys.’ (laughs) We have a guy like Al Jefferson, who has the ability to easily score in the halfcourt. Then, Paul George can obviously score in the halfcourt and also get out and run with me, Thad, Monta and others. That will help us get some easy baskets. It’s only going to help my game a lot.”

Kennedy: When the coaching change was made, Larry Bird emphasized that he wants the team get up and down the floor more. Do you think you guys have the personnel to be one of the better fast-paced teams in the league?

Teague: “Definitely. With Thad coming in at the four, PG being able to play the two, three and four and me and Monta in the backcourt, we have a super-fast team. That’s some speed on top of speed! We’ll have the ability to get out in transition and finish at the rack. It should be exciting.”

Kennedy: What are your expectations for next season? I’ve seen some people say that Indiana is one of the winners of the offseason and fans are hoping the team can go deep into the playoffs again. Entering the season, what are your expectations?

Teague: “Well, definitely being in the playoffs. I haven’t missed them in any year yet, so I expect to be in the playoffs. Once we get around each other and all of the guys start to jell, we’ll know [more]. But on paper, this team has a chance to be really, really good. If we can bring it all together, jell and be one big unit like we need to be, it could be a really special year for Indiana.”

Kennedy: What are you working on this offseason as you train and get ready for next year?

Teague: “I entered the offseason wanting to get stronger, so that I can go through the season feeling like myself for the entire year. I improved as a shooter last year and I want to continue to work at that. I also want to be a leader for this team. That’s a big thing for me, being a leader.”

Kennedy: What is your leadership style and what makes a good leader, in your mind? And what can you do as the leader to help some of the young guys like Myles Turner and Joe Young, for example, as they develop?

Teague: “I’ve always led by example, and I always get attached to the young guys. I feel like I’m a still a kid at heart and I’m a baby-faced-looking guy who only looks, like, 21, so I think we relate a little bit. (laughs) I try to talk to them and tell them what I’ve learned – the things that have helped me and allowed me to get to some of the places that I’ve been. I want to do whatever I can to help them. I’m always asking for their opinions too. I ask them what I can do to help them get better.

“I’m an open book. I like to talk to everybody and I’m easy going. I like to work with everybody. I don’t think I’m too big [time] to hang with the younger guys or too whatever to hang with the older guys. I’m just open with everyone. I’m always trying to learn too, and I’m always ready to work.”

Kennedy: You did a good job helping Dennis Schroder develop in Atlanta and you were professional about splitting minutes. But there were times you weren’t on the court when I’m sure you wanted to be and that’s a tough situation for any player. Is there part of you that feels like you can be unleashed again and not have to look over your shoulder at all?

Teague: “Yeah, but I also thought it was a beautiful thing having two guys who could do so many things. I just thought we could’ve been used differently at times. I thought they could’ve put us on the floor together and it would’ve made for another dynamic. Now, I think I have an opportunity to play how I play and be me. I don’t have to second-guess things or wonder if I’m going to get back in the game in the fourth quarter or whatever. Now, I have the opportunity to make the most of my time on the floor. In Atlanta, after a while, I knew when I was coming out, what time I was coming out and in what situations I would come out.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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