Report: Hawks fielding trade offers for Millsap | Hornets have to be at their best against the best | Are Knicks misusing Porzingis? | Pacers poised for a run to start 2017
No. 1:Report: Hawks fielding trade offers for Millsap, Korver -- That didn't take long. The New Year was barely hours old before the trade rumors started flying. Atlanta Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap and veteran shooter Kyle Korver are at the center of rumblings making the rounds today, per a report from ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein. The timing couldn't be better, given Milksop's performance Sunday night in the Hawks' triumph over the Spurs (snapping that nasty 11-game losing streak against San Antonio):
Sources told ESPN.com that the Hawks, fearful of losing Millsap in free agency without compensation in the summer, are not openly shopping him but are taking calls on the 31-year-old and other pending free agents, notably sharpshooter Kyle Korver and swingman Thabo Sefolosha.
Although the Hawks managed to sign Dwight Howard in free agency last summer to fill a frontcourt void, they were stung by the free-agent departure of Al Horford in that Horford, in the words of one source with knowledge of the team's thinking, got away "for nothing."
The feeling within the organization now, sources said, is that it's best to gauge the trade market for Millsap, Korver and Sefolosha between now and the Feb. 23 trade deadline to guard against a repeat scenario.
The Hawks slumped to 48-34 last season and took a 17-16 record into 2017 after an offseason in which Teague was traded to Indiana before Horford's free-agent defection to Boston.
ESPN's Chris Haynes reported Sunday that Millsap has already decided to opt out of the final year of his Atlanta contract, valued at $21.5 million in 2017-18.
Some rival teams have expressed concern to ESPN.com that the Hawks want so much in return for Millsap that it makes a trade unlikely before the deadline. But it should be noted that Atlanta got far down the road in trade talks with the Denver Nuggets last summer, before the Hawks ultimately decided it was best to keep the versatile forward, who has ranked as one of the league's biggest matchup problems throughout his time in both Utah and Atlanta.
The Toronto Raptors, sources say, are another team that has expressed interest in Millsap in the past.
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No. 2:Hornets have to be at their best against the best -- There's a hole in the resume of the Charlotte Hornets that continues to define coach Steve Clifford's team this season. The Hornets still haven't had a breakthrough game against the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, an issue that Clifford's Hornets cannot address tonight against Chicago (8 ET, NBA TV). But it's an issue, nonetheless. David Scott of the Charlotte Observer explains:
A line of demarcation has formed between the Charlotte Hornets and the top teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference – and it goes deeper than what is now a combined 0-6 record this season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics.
“There’s a reason why they’re the three best teams,” said coach Steve Clifford after his team lost 121-115 to the defending champion Cavaliers on Saturday at Spectrum Center. “Every team has a talent level. For us to beat the top teams, we’re going to have to be at or near our best. For (Cleveland on Saturday), for instance, they were really good, but they really didn’t have to be.”
The loss to the Cavaliers dropped the Hornets to 19-15, good enough to remain in first place in the Southeastern Division as they head to Chicago for a game Monday against the Bulls. Do the math: The Hornets are 19-9 against the rest of the league.
But Clifford said the Hornets need to treat games against marquee-type teams like the Cavs the same way they do games against the Bulls or the Brooklyn Nets, who broke a five-game losing streak by beating the Hornets Dec. 26.
“The players get a little bit more juiced for (the Cleveland) game, but, look, the best teams, the great teams, may get up for a (national) TV game, but it’s every game and that’s what we need to get to,” Clifford said. “If you’re a team that’s pretty good and you don’t understand that, you’re not going to get to be (really) good. It’s every game.”
Clifford’s point is that each game must be approached the same way, with intensity and commitment, whether it’s against the Cavaliers or the Nets. And he’s not seeing that kind of consistency from his team.
“The Brooklyn game should be no less important than the Cleveland game,” Clifford said.
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No. 3: Are Knicks misusing Porzingis? -- It's a question that will shadow this entire season and the immediate future of the New York Knicks, whether or not they are using the talents of their budding young star Kristaps Porzingis properly. The answer is an emphatic no, according to one league scout. Marc Berman of the New York Post provides some details:
With Kristaps Porzingis developing Achilles soreness last week, one NBA scout with European connections believes Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek is overextending the 21-year-old Latvian, saying, “It’s worrisome.’’
Unsure how the injury occurred, the 7-foot-3 Porzingis missed his first game of the season Saturday in Houston because of pain in his right Achilles.
Porzingis, who started feeling pain on Christmas Day when he suited up with a bruised knee, is averaging 34.8 minutes per game (1,112 total) in his second season. As a rookie, the playing time for the lean Latvian hovered at 28 minutes.
“He’s just turned 21,’’ said the NBA scout who has worked for multiple teams. “They’re draining Kristaps, putting more minutes on him than anyone. Physically he grew in the offseason. It’s a tremendous amount of strain on new material — ligaments, tendons, knees joints for a big guy. It’s unbelievable stress on his body.’’
For his part, Hornacek said after Saturday’s loss he planned to expand the rotation in 2017 and scale down minutes of some starters so he can get maximum effort at all times.
Porzingis’ shot-making took a dip in December, shooting just 40.1 percent for the month. He’s still averaging 20.1 points and 7.8 rebounds and could land in his first All-Star Game — if he stays healthy.
But the scout alleges Hornacek, on a three-year contract, views Porzingis in a shortsighted way instead of long-term.
“At this stage, they’re asking for it,’’ the scout said. “They’re shooting themselves in the foot. The problem is Jeff has to win and has to go with everything he’s got to win.’’
The scout said he agreed with a recent comment by Carmelo Anthony that lofty expectations are being placed on Porzingis too fast, likely due to his unique skill set for his size. Though the years, the scout hasn’t seen enough examples of “franchise players’’ out of Europe.
“There’s not too many cases when an international player becomes your franchise guy,’’ the scout said. “The best example is Pau Gasol. Dallas is the only one who came closest with Dirk Nowitzki. Marc Gasol is a rare exception but Pau was a complement to Kobe Bryant. International players are more athletically and mentally geared to be more complementary to the American-produced star.
“Porzingis is a tremendous talent, with a lot of potential, but it’s still potential.”
“The expectations are exaggerated and the physical demands on someone who is still growing is too. He’s very young, an excellent team player and has learned the mentality of a team game. With that mentality, it’s too early to assume he going to be the franchise.’’
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No. 4: Pacers poised for a run to kick off 2017 -- It's taken much longer than team president Larry Bird, coach Nate McMillan, superstar Paul George and everyone else in Indianapolis would have liked, but the Pacers finally appear to be in a decent groove. New faces, injuries and the transition from former coach Frank Vogel's system to McMillan's scheme have contributed to the Pacers' choppy start to this season. But the start of the new (calendar) year is as good a time as any for this team to get rolling. Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star has more:
Perhaps this will be the benchmark game, a tipping point, a memorable moment in a so-far inconsistent season. The Indiana Pacers defeated the Orlando Magic 117-104 Sunday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The victory pushed the Pacers’ record to 17-18.
How the Pacers won, though, was the most encouraging point since their road victory Dec. 4 over the Los Angeles Clippers. After that game, the Pacers sustained more injuries, questioned their own toughness, changed their starting lineup, complained about the officiating and referenced a need to have more fun.
Sunday’s game, however, presented a chance to look at the future if coach Nate McMillan’s starting lineup and rotation remain the same.
With Glenn Robinson III as the starting shooting guard and Monta Ellis playing a reduced role off the bench, the Pacers, for the second straight game, demonstrated a balanced offense with strong ball movement by not playing exclusively through Al Jefferson. With McMillan’s new 10-man rotation, which includes Kevin Seraphin, the Pacers controlled the tempo and played solid defense.
Throughout the Pacers’ locker room Sunday, almost every player believed they had found a formula that can lead them to their first significant winning streak of the season.
“I think now we’re finally using all of our weapons,” said Paul George, who scored 19 points. “Everybody is comfortable in their role right now. It’s fun. I know I personally lost that. This team lost that. Right now, it’s fun again. We know what level we need to play at. We know what’s acceptable. Everybody is holding each other accountable.”
Myles Turner, who was excellent with team highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds, agreed with George that the Pacers’ starting lineup shouldn’t change.
“You’ve got to go with what’s working,” Turner said. “Obviously, this is working right now. We’ve just got to keep riding this momentum.”
Before Sunday’s game, McMillan referred to Ellis as his starting shooting guard once the veteran returns to full health from the groin injury that forced him to miss eight games. McMillan’s plan Wednesday was to use Ellis’ off the bench under a 20-minute restriction in his first game back. In the last two games, McMillan has watched Robinson contribute to the Pacers' victories over the Chicago Bulls and Magic.
After Sunday’s game, McMillan said he will, at least for the foreseeable future, continue to use Robinson in the starting lineup.
“We’re going to stick with it right now,” McMillan said. “Glenn has done a real nice job. He seems to continue to improve defensively. Jodie Meeks is real tough to guard and (Robinson) did a nice job of chasing him and making it difficult on the offensive end. Rebounding is something that we certainly need and he has gone in and really made an effort to help us on the boards. I like what I’m seeing from Glenn.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Our John Schuhmann breaks down who may have it toughest (and easiest) schedule-wise in January ... George Hill (concussion) will not be in uniform tonight for the Jazz against the Nets, but the news isn't all bad (Alec Burks could be back soon) ... The New Orleans Pelicans are working on a deal to add Donatas Motiejunas ... Rajon Rondo is searching for clarification of his role in Chicago ... Clippers are on the ropes right now, during what is easily their toughest stretch of this season, so far ... How about a few New Year's resolutions for the Goden State Warriors ... Rockets guard Patrick Beverley is questionable for tonight's game against the Wizards ... Kyrie Irving's best month ever was a new wrinkle for LeBron James ...