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NBA PM: Hawks Look to Keep Successful Season Going

Can Atlanta continue their winning ways in the second half of the year? Will Denver consider trading Ty Lawson?

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Hawks Look to Keep Successful Season Going

The Hawks have made the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons and currently lead the NBA in wins at the All-Star break with 43. The argument can be made that this year’s squad is the best they’ve had during their current seven-year postseason streak.

This team is well on their way to a 60-win season and has already posted impressive wins over some of the league’s best teams. They were well represented during All-Star weekend, with four players in the All-Star game and other players in every event besides the Dunk Contest. The world knows about the Hawks’ success up to this point and it’s now on them to keep it going.

As the high of All-Star weekend wears off and players begin to return to their teams, the Hawks will be preparing for the second half of the season. The team will be tested with their first game back against the Toronto Raptors, the team that the Hawks hold a six and a half game lead over for first place in the Eastern Conference. Six out of the first seven games for the Hawks out of the break will be against teams currently in the playoff hunt, including the Bucks, Mavericks, HEAT, Rockets and Cavaliers.

When asked about the team’s second-half goals, point guard Jeff Teague stressed that the Hawks must play at a high level every night and not get complacent after their early season success.

“[It’s] just being consistent on both ends of the floor,” Teague said. “Just to get better every game. I think every team, every player wants to win a championship so that’s our goal. We really don’t get distracted. We have so many mellow guys on our team that we just kind of stick to ourselves and go about our business everyday as we’re trying to get better.”

Although the team has raced out to the most wins in the league, they’ll enter the second half of the season having the third-best odds to win the championship behind the Warriors and the Cavaliers. During their current run of seven-straight postseason appearances, the team has failed to make it past the second round and last appeared in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Bulls in 2011. Their track record has some people doubting if they’re a legitimate contender and can make a deep postseason run.

While the team might lack recent playoff success, they have one of the most coveted things a team needs: chemistry.

The team’s continuity has been a key to their success this season and a reason why they should show no signs of slowing down during the remainder of the season. Team chemistry is very underrated around the NBA, and it’s a big reason why teams often get off to a slow start after making significant personnel changes (like the Cavaliers earlier this season, who struggled early and are currently fifth in the East).

With the trade deadline approaching on Thursday, many don’t expect the Hawks to be active. Atlanta elected to remain mostly quiet during this past offseason and opted to keep the team together. The players on the team have the added luxury of not having to read their names in various trade rumors, which can only help their chemistry and team morale. If Atlanta makes any move, it will likely be signing a free agent rather than making a trade. After moving Adreian Payne, they have an open roster and would love to target Ray Allen or another veteran contributor who can help them win now, such as a player who gets bought out.

Leading the Hawks’ attack this season has been second-year head coach Mike Budenholzer. Before taking over the job in Atlanta, Budenholzer spent 18 seasons with the Spurs and served as an assistant under Gregg Popovich for 16 of those years. Budenholzer has created a system specifically designed for the talent that he has and has guided Atlanta to the league’s fifth-best offense and sixth-best defense. Budenholzer’s success earned him job of coaching the East’s All-Star squad (for having the conference’s best record) and it seems that he’ll receive serious Coach of the Year consideration along with the man coaching the West’s All-Star team last weekend – Steve Kerr.

“He just really brought a consistency about him; just being consistent everyday,” Teague said on what Budenholzer preaches to the team. “Bringing that same effort everyday in practice and on the floor. He challenges us to be better defensively. Having Al Horford back, our anchor in the middle, really changed our whole dynamic on the defensive end and that’s why we’re a better team.”

Teams realize that their window to contend can close at any time. The long-term success that the Spurs have had in the Popovich era is extremely rare, as most teams only have a few years where they’re a top-tier team. Trades and free agent signings often shift the landscape of the NBA. In the Hawks’ case, they have Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Elton Brand, John Jenkins, Pero Antic and Mike Muscala all on potentially expiring deals so this team could look significantly different come next season. Given the uncertainty surrounding those players, the great chemistry the Hawks have could be in jeopardy and their window could close sooner than later. That’s all the more reason for this Hawks team to go all-in on this season and focus on winning a championship now before it may be too late.

Ty Lawson May Be Available in Trade

For weeks, we’ve heard a number of players mentioned in trade rumors. But could there a surprise player who is dealt before Thursday afternoon? Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson could be that player.

The Nuggets have been mentioned as one of the more active teams heading toward Thursday’s trade deadline, but most of the rumors involving the team included Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler, with Lawson and Kenneth Faried being described as untouchable.

But now, as Zach Lowe of Grantland outlined in his trade breakdown, the Nuggets may be willing to part with Lawson should the right offer present itself. The Nuggets have been one of the more disappointing teams of the season given their 20-33 record. The team traded for Afflalo in the offseason and seemed to be in for a big season with Lawson, Faried and Chandler leading the team. Now, with less than two days remaining until the trade deadline, the Nuggets could be looking to dump some players and retool.

The team is in a tough position with Afflalo as he holds a player option for next season and could opt out with the Nuggets. The asking price is said to be a first-round pick, but would a team part with that kind of draft pick for a player that could walk as a free agent this summer?

Playoff contenders in need of another wing player have been rumored for his services and some of those teams might be more willing to part with their first-round pick because the return won’t be high drafting that late in the first round. The Nuggets’ stance could change once the deadline gets closer, so it’ll be worth watching what happens.

If Lawson does become available, expect teams like the Rockets, Kings and Celtics to show interest.

Stoudemire to Join Mavericks for Remainder of Season

While the city of New York was busy hosting All-Star Weekend, the Knicks were finalizing a buyout with Amar’e Stoudemire. The Knicks wasted no time parting ways with Stoudemire, as the team officially waived him on Monday.

It was reported on Tuesday that Stoudemire will join the Mavericks for the remainder of the season once he clears waivers on Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET. Stoudemire also garnered interest from other teams in the playoff hunt like the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns.

Stoudemire’s decision to seek a buyout was to have the opportunity to join a championship contender and he’ll have that chance now in Dallas. Stoudemire will give the Mavericks a proven bench player who can back up Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki.

In 36 games for the Knicks this season, Stoudemire was averaging 12 points, 6.8 rebounds and one assist per game.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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