If you haven't heard by now, Al Horford has been diagnosed with a torn pectoral muscle (and not the previously reported strained shoulder) that will sideline him for between 3 and 4 months, which effectively ends his season with the way the schedule is constructed. This is obviously a giant blow to the Hawks since a) he's their best player, and b) there is absolutely no depth behind him outside of Zaza Pachulia. In the end, I believe there are two rational scenarios for how this plays out and they are as follows:
- The Hawks stand pat, make a half-hearted attempt to lure a free agent center, and "compete" for the playoffs. I absolutely disdain this scenario for a variety of reasons. I tweeted yesterday that there is no real scenario in which the Hawks could expect to ascend past the #8 seed in the playoffs with the currently constructed roster, and I firmly stand by that. Miami, Chicago, Boston, New York, Orlando, Indiana, and Philly were all either better already, or relatively even with the Hawks WITH Horford, and all are considerably better when the Hawks go without him. Oh, and there's no guarantee that teams like Milwaukee or a healthy New Jersey wouldn't make a run at the Hawks either. I can't stress how much this loss is felt on the court simply because of the way the minutes would have to break down going forward. I am semi-comfortable with Zaza Pachulia playing an expanded role, as I've consistently felt like he's been underutilized, if anything, in the past. That said, there is no way he's playing more than 30 minutes per night (without even discussing foul trouble), and with Jason Collins as the only other center option on the roster, I don't see a way to fill 48 minutes at the center position without playing Don Nelson-like lineups with Josh Smith or Ivan Johnson (who stinks btw, and that narrative is driving me insane) at the center spot. Did I mention the best available free agent centers are Erick Dampier's corpse and Joel Przybilla (who wouldn't really come)? Are the Hawks really in a position where they want to be going balls-to-the-wall to try and garner the 8 seed? I prefer option #2....
- Trade Josh Smith, "Bottom Out", and re-construct the roster a bit. Ok, hear me out. No one ever wants to rebuild, especially when you're discussing a team that's made several consecutive playoff appearances, but the Horford injury provides an excuse that this ownership group apparently desperately needs to do so. Management seems content to trot out this nucleus with no cap flexibility, and only one "developing"player (Teague) while still telling the fan base that better times are ahead. I don't see it, and with the entire paragraph above, there's no upside this season, especially when considering the Hawks are already over the cap for next season thanks to the big-money deals for Johnson, Smith, Horford, and Marvin Williams. There are exactly three trade-able assets on this roster, and they are Al Horford (now injured, and never being traded unless it was for Dwight Howard anyway), Jeff Teague (likely not moving), and the one and only Josh Smith. With Smith set to make $13 million this year and next, wouldn't it make sense to peddle him to a team with existing cap space (or a trade exception) in a move to acquire a first-round pick in a loaded 2012 draft, and/or a young, cheap piece? If you couple this result with the fact that there's NO scenario where the Hawks make the 2012 playoffs without Smith and Horford, and you suddenly have a lottery pick in the aforementioned loaded draft, and whatever you got back for Smith with increased cap flexibility. Do I think this will ever happen? Absolutely not. It would require the foresight to build for the future, which is something the ASG has shown themselves incapable of doing, but I firmly believe this is the move, and while the Horford injury simply provides the needed impetus, I've felt this way dating back to the end of last season.
Done and done.
Let's move on to anything (or everything) else.
- It was free throw madness in the NBA last night. Dwight Howard broke the all-time record for most FT attempts in a single game last night when he went 21 of 39 from the stripe thanks to the Hack-a-Howard strategy put forth by Golden State coach Mark Jackson. Howard finished with a ludicrous 45 points and 23 rebounds last night in Orlando's 117-109 win over GSW, but the story is the free throw record. And, in the Milwaukee/Detroit game, both teams combined to shoot 41 for 41 from the line, in by far the most total free throws attempted/converted in one game without a miss in NBA history. The previous record? 16 for 16. That's not a misprint. Wow. Oh, and while we're here, Greg Monroe had the best game of his young career last night for Detroit with 32 points and 16 rebounds. I really, really like that kid.
- Bud Selig gets a two-year extension as MLB commissioner. Didn't you think we'd be rid of good ole Bud after this year? Nope! At any rate, I'm tired of debating the merits of how much money he makes (who cares?), and this is only a story because I don't know a single person who thinks Bud Selig is competent, and they keep extending him anyway.
- NFL Draft Early Entries: Trent Richardson and Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama, Orson Charles of Georgia, and Morris Claiborne of LSU have all declared. Richardson and Claiborne are slam-dunk first rounders as the #1 player at their respective positions, I've heard 1st-round buzz around Kirkpatrick, and Charles is a 2nd-round guy at this point. There you go.
- There is gaining momentum around the "plus-one" playoff scenario in college football. After a BCS meeting garnered what seemed to be millions of ideas for playoff systems, the 4-team playoff is gaining traction, and even the NCAA President is saying he'd back that proposed system. Something is coming.
- NBA Box Score Roundup - After my extended Hawks discussion above, it seems comical to have to report that they won by 30 points over hapless Charlotte last night at Philips. Josh Smith had 30 and 13 for the Hawks, but the story is how bad Charlotte played (55 to 30 on the glass in Atlanta's favor... without Horford!), and the fact that Atlanta won this game without the services of Marvin and McGrady as well. Good grief. Memphis got a nice 94-83 home win in front of the ruckus crowd at FedEx Forum (been there) over New York. Iman Shumpert shot the Knicks out of the game with a 3 of 15 first half (and 5-20 overall), and he wasn't aided at all by Amare who finished with 6 points in 20 minutes due to fouls and shooting 1 of 7. Oh, and free OJ Mayo. And finally, Cleveland outlasted Phoenix on the road thanks to a career-high 26 from Kyrie Irving. The Duke product shot 11 of 17 and netted the 26 in just 28 minutes, while Varejao (17 boards), and Jamison (23 points) did the heavy lifting in the paint.
- College Hoops Check - Duke held on for dear life in their 61-58 win over a hard-charging Virginia team. Duke's Ryan Kelly missed 2 free throws late (shocking actually) and UVA saw 2 three-point attempts go begging at the gun. UVA's Mike Scott is probably the best player in the country you don't know about, and may be the player of the year right now in the country. He had 23 and 9, but with the pace UVA plays, his numbers are staggering. Minnesota went into Assembly Hall and knocked off #8 Indiana 77-74 last night led by 18 from Austin Hollins. The Big 10 is scary deep this year. And, St. Mary's absolutely blitzed Gonzaga 83-62 at home last night to take control of the WCC picture. Matthew Dellavedova (who is somehow still in college) had 26 and 6 for the Gaels and the team shot 51% as a team. Nice.
What to watch for on Friday...
- NBA - Bulls @ Celtics - ESPN 8:00 - Boston has struggled to a 4-5 start, but this is definitely not an easy matchup for the Bulls on the road. Rondo vs. Rose is must-see TV.
- NBA - Heat @ Nuggets - ESPN 10:30 - In a desperate attempt to have every Miami Heat game on national TV (laughter), they face off in Denver. The Nuggets are deep and talented, and this is one team Miami can't simply run out of the building in transition, especially in the altitude.