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NBA Sunday: Players Won’t Sign With Hawks After Controversy?

Carmelo Anthony says free agents may steer clear of Atlanta after recent controversy … Team USA goes for gold against Serbia today

Jesse Blancarte



Anthony Chimes in on the Controversy in Atlanta

It has been a rough week for the Atlanta Hawks, who are currently shrouded in a controversy that has captured the collective attention of NBA fans and the media. For anyone who has not been keeping track of the situation in Atlanta this last week, here is a quick recap:

On September 7, the NBA announced that majority Hawks owner Bruce Levenson would sell his stake in the team after it was discovered that in 2012 Levenson authored an insensitive email regarding African-American Hawks fans, theorizing, among other things, that “the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.” It initially seemed like the NBA had masterfully handled the situation by dealing with Levenson behind closed doors and convincing him to sell his interest in the Hawks, rather than fighting in court the way Donald Sterling did earlier this offseason. But then Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that in June, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry made racially-charged comments about then free agent Luol Deng during a conference call with top ranking Hawks officials and owners, which prompted the Hawk’s internal investigation that uncovered Levenson’s email. Wojnarowski subsequently released a partial transcript of the conference call that included some of Ferry’s inflammatory statements about Deng, such as “he’s not perfect, he’s got some African in him” and comparing Deng to a store owner who sells counterfeit goods. Ferry claimed that he was reading from a scouting report on Deng, and that the controversial words were not his own. In response, Deng released a statement regarding Ferry’s inappropriate comments, expressing his disappointment and reaffirming his pride in his African heritage.

On September 11, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution released an audio clip of the conference call in which it seemed Ferry was providing his own observations rather than reading verbatim from a scouting report. The next day, WSB-TV in Atlanta released the scouting report that Ferry claims he read from, which showed that the comments regarding Deng came from a former member of the Cleveland Cavaliers front-office. Then, on Friday, Ferry released a statement announcing that he would take an indefinite leave of absence from his position.

As each day has passed, the situation in Atlanta kept worsening. It didn’t stop on Saturday either, as star forward Carmelo Anthony told reporters at his basketball camp in New York that Levenson’s and Ferry’s comments will adversely affect the Hawks in regards to recruiting players moving forward.

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said. “At the end of the day, Atlanta, I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment,” Anthony said. “But those comments right there, we would never look at [playing there].

“I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

Anthony’s statements are the strongest from a star player since the beginning of this controversy. Several players have voiced their displeasure with Levenson and Ferry, but Anthony went a step further by stating that free agents will now shy away from going to Atlanta in light of these recent events. Anthony may have had extra incentive for chiming in on the matter, however, as Ferry mentioned Anthony during the conference call as well, stating that though Anthony is a good shooter, “he can screw you up in other ways,” and that he doesn’t come “without some risks.” But even if Anthony had some extra incentive for stating his harsh words, they still carry weight and may be an accurate representation of how other players around the league feel. If it is an accurate representation, the Hawks have a serious problem on their hands moving forward.

The Hawks entered this offseason with a significant amount of cap space, but only made minor moves like adding Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore, and re-signing Shelvin Mack, Mike Scott, and Elton Brand. Atlanta targeted more significant players, like Deng, but missed out on signing the bigger free agents. Atlanta missed out on adding big free agents last offseason as well as Chris Paul and Dwight Howard opted to return to their teams rather than potentially teaming up together in Atlanta. But to be fair, a lot of teams missed out on signing either Paul or Howard. Nevertheless, before this controversy Atlanta was not considered a destination franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers, and this situation only makes things worse. But as Anthony pointed out, the issue is with management, not the city of Atlanta itself.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments [that] were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.”

It remains to be seen whether other players will actually endorse Anthony’s position, especially considering that free agent big man Elton Brand re-signed with the Hawks earlier this week on Wednesday, well before Ferry announced he would be taking a leave of absence. Brand may not be a marquee player at this point in his career, but there were other teams vying for his services, and Brand still opted to return to Atlanta in spite of the controversy surrounding the team.

Also, consider that for years, players and coaches have freely signed with the Los Angeles Clippers knowing, to varying degrees, that former owner Donald Sterling has a history of discrimination, including accusations by federal prosecutors that he refused to lease Beverly Hills apartments to African-Americans. But, as we have learned with the Sterling, and now the Ray Rice situation, sometimes it takes hard, undeniable evidence before any real action is taken. And in Atlanta’s case, the evidence is already out there.

The full effect of this controversy remains to be seen, but Anthony is right that this situation is a significant step back for the Hawks and that it will take time to get past this.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. “That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now.”

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, in a letter apologizing to Hawks fans, admitted that this situation goes beyond a few isolated incidents.

“We know enough today, based on investigations conducted by the league, by external legal counsel on behalf of the team, and information that has appeared in the media, that our shortcomings are beyond a single email, a single person or a single event,” Koonin said. “To the contrary, over a period of years, we have found that there have been inflammatory words, phrases, inferences, and innuendos about race. We as an organization did not correct these failures. We did not do the right thing.”

As we recently saw with the Clippers, situations like this can be overcome. Hopefully the Hawks can turn this situation around quickly so everyone, especially Hawks fans, can start focusing on the team and the upcoming season, instead of the comments that team officials make behind closed doors.

Team USA Goes For Gold Against Serbia

Later today, Team USA faces off with Serbia in the final of the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It marks the end of an impressive run for Team USA, who entered this tournament without notable stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Paul George, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook.

Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried and Klay Thompson have been the standouts for Team USA throughout the tournament and will be relied on to get past the resilient Serbia national team. Before the tournament started, analysts confidently predicted that Team USA would face Spain in the final for the World Cup, but France upset Spain in the quarterfinals, and subsequently lost to Serbia in the semifinals.

Team USA is the heavy favorite entering today’s game, but Serbia features talented players like Milos Teodosic, Miroslav Raduljica, Bogdan Bogdanovic (drafted 27th overall earlier this year by the Phoenix Suns), and former NBA player Nenad Krstic.

The game is set to tip-off at 3 p.m. ET, and can be seen on ESPN2.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”

Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.

Dennis Chambers



The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.

Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.

With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.

One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.

“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”

Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.

“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”

In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.

“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”

Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.

While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.

Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.

“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”

The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.

Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.

“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”

Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.

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