THE OPEN ROAD - I’m not supposed to be here right now.
Seriously. I looked it up. Vacation is meant to be “leisure time away from work, devoted to rest or pleasure.”
But the phone doesn’t stop ringing because you want it to (next time, we all need to go on vacation together … or at least at the same time).
After being off the grid (mostly) for an entire family reunion weekend, I’ll admit that I’m a bit foggy on some of the details about what went on in Las Vegas for Josh Smith at the USA Basketball mini-camp and just about any other hot debate that’s gone on around here the past few days (and for the record, I’m told that despite a tepid performance in Saturday’s scrimmage, his time with the USA B’ball folks was a rousing success because it allowed quite a few people that weren’t familiar with him other than what they’ve seen, heard and read to get a much better for feel for him as a person and player).
But I do have some thoughts about a few other things, namely the Hawks’ mini-camp from last week, the state of negotiations with Marvin Williams and the Hawks’ continued pursuit of Joe Smith. So if you’ll forgive your host for leaving the party for a few days (technically, I’m on vacation until August – just in case Wifey decides to check the blog and see what we’ve got going on), here are some of my vacation visions:
JOE SMITH probably didn’t realize he had multiple stalkers until he left Atlanta Friday. That’s when the Hawks’ full court press for the veteran free agent’s signature shifted from face-to-face to long distance. Well, mostly long distance. The Hawks do have a secret weapon in Smith’s Phoenix backyard. Mike Bibby’s basketball royalty in the Valley. And he’s one of several Hawks working hard on the recruiting trail to bring Smith into the fold. Zaza Pachulia knows Smith well from their time together in Milwaukee and said he would use all his Euro-charm (at lunch Friday and beyond) to make sure Smith was aware of just how much he is wanted and needed by the Hawks. All that said, major work must be done to secure Smith’s signature on a contract. It’s not secret the Hawks aren’t paying the same rate for backup bigs that some other teams are (for example, Chris Wilcox got cash – $6 million over two years – in Detroit that he never could have from the Hawks. Same goes for Drew Gooden and the reported $4.5 mil he’ll bring in on a one-year deal with the Spurs). So they have to find ways (PLAYING TIME!!!!!!!!!!) to lure the kind of players they need to help bolster their cause. It probably helps that, in a summer marked by taking care of in-house business (home grown free agents), Smith is the first player outside of the family that the Hawks actually courted. Again, there is major work still to be done on this front.
YOU WERE WARNED THAT THINGS between the Hawks and Marvin Williams would drag out this summer. I wasn’t joking. Nothing has changed. The sides remain on opposite sides of the restricted free agent street right now. I know that other outlets reported that the sides were “close” and all that, but it’s just not true. The sides are talking. And they’ll be back at it this week. Anyone that sees an end in sight has X-ray vision, because I wouldn’t be surprised if things lasted deep into next month. Look back at the Hawks’ dealings with many of their own players in the past (I know Mike Bibby and Zaza coming back as quickly as they did had you juiced but that was out of the ordinary for the Hawks). It usually takes time, especially for restricted free agents.
JEFF TEAGUE is going to make a lot of people forget about the disappointing saga that was Acie Law IV’s tenure with the Hawks. Teague did more than just turn heads during the Hawks’ mini-camp last week. He sparked conversation about point guard play I hadn’t heard in my time covering the Hawks before last week. “He did some things as a young point guard that we hadn’t seen on our practice floor since Chris Paul and Deron Williams were here for predraft workouts,” one Hawks assistant coach told me last week. That’s as strong a statement as I’ve heard from anyone in the Hawks’ camp regarding a young point guard. While they all agree that Teague has plenty of polish that can be applied to his game, there is no debate about who or what the Hawks expect him to become. “I can’t wait to see him in training camp,” Randolph Morris said. “I think he’s going to give people fits with his quickness and his ability to get to the rim whenever he wants to. That’s going to be fun to watch.”
OBSERVATIONS ABOUT A FEW OTHER GUYS that stood out (for various reasons) during mini-camp:
- Othello Hunter was more impressive than any other player in camp, after Teague. His range on his jumper has improved dramatically. But we all know that his chance at making a dent in the Hawks’ roster and playing rotation depends on his ability rebound, defend and provide the hustle plays required of frontcourt journeymen in the NBA. The improved shot is an added bonus. I’d have him locked up on a two-year deal right now. If he keeps improving, someone is going to get a steal.
- Garret Siler’s stock with fans and media types can’t get much higher. He’s become something of a phenomenon around these parts, thanks to some serious hype and the big fella backing it up with strong performances in the Las Vegas summer league and last week. Siler’s raw and would be a super-sized Lunchable for superstars like Dwight Howard, Shaq and Pau Gasol, not to mention brutes like Kendrick Perkins and Brook Lopez. I know you want to believe that he’s the he’s the answer to the Hawks’ big-man problems … but that would mean all 30 teams missed on the guy, twice for some teams, on draft night.
- Randolph Morris has shed the kind of weight all of us “bigger” guys would love to be able to shed. And he did it organically, which makes it particularly impressive. He had his moments during mini-camp but I’m not sure he blew anyone (in charge) away with the work he did. I don’t know what he has to do to make a move up the Hawks’ rotational food chain, though he is under contract for this season, which has to help. But the fact is, even with all the work Morris has done, the Hawks are still hunting reserve bigs.
- Frank Robinson did it again. He showed up. Played his guts out, literally. And his reward, like that of most guys in his predicament, will probably be an invite to training camp. Robinson is the kind of guy that will always make training camp interesting because he’s fearless and is skilled enough to make you wonder why he’s not on someone’s NBA team? He won’t make the Hawks’ roster this season. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the middle of the action during training camp.
- Yoroslav Korolev was supposed to be a bust. When he crashed and burned with the Los Angeles Clippers (they made him the 12th pick of the 2005 draft), he joined the ranks of Darko Milicic, Nickoloz Tskitishvili and Fran Vasquez on the list of worst ever Euro-lottery busts. Korolev was just a kid when the Clippers drafted him but he looked grown up last week. He was much better than I expected him to be and showed off a nice shooting touch from long distance. He’d be worth keeping an eye on for the future.
- Brian Hamilton surprised me as much or more than any player in camp. I honestly wasn’t aware of him at all before last week. But mini-camp is a showcase for under the radar players like Hamilton, a smooth 6-6 swingman that impressed on both ends of the floor. His defense is what made him stand out. Yet he showed plenty of offensive ability and a nose for the ball on both ends of the floor that would make Mario West jealous. He’s another guy that will surely be in someone’s training camp pushing someone under contract to the limit.
Those were just some of the guys that made lasting impressions on me. Hawks coach Mike Woodson remarked several times that it was by far the best (rookie/free-agent) camp conducted during his tenure with the Hawks and I have to agree that it was the best I’ve seen in my time dealing with the Hawks (I missed his first one, when Josh Smith and Josh Childress were rookies). But there wasn’t a single player in town last week that didn’t belong on that floor.
IN CLOSING, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my man Solomon “Solo” Jones a proper send off here. One of the truly unique characters to grace us with his presence the past three years, Jones is moving on this week to a two-year deal with the Indiana Pacers. Solo is moving on at a time when the Hawks could use a big or two like him, which makes his departure for Indiana all the more perplexing. After all, he was a restricted free agent, due close to a $1 million if he had signed his qualifying offer (the QO was rescinded so he would be allowed to sign with the Pacers without any interruption). I needed an explanation and Solo provided one last week. “The Hawks kept it real with me,” he said. “They told me that my role was going to be pretty much the same as it was last year, and that I wouldn’t have a chance to move up and get more time unless somebody got hurt like last year. And I realize that’s just the way it’s going to be with Josh and Al [Horford] and Zaza already in place. It’s cool. I get a chance to go somewhere else and try and start over and see if there’s a chance to have a bigger role. The Pacers want me up there right away to get to work and that’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to the opportunity. But I appreciate the Hawks keeping it straight with me and not trying to sell me something that they couldn’t deliver in terms of playing time and opportunity.”
If it’s good enough for Solo, it’s good enough for me.