Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Too many departures will keep Hawks grounded

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30 teams in 30 days: Too many departures will keep Hawks grounded

When Al Horford decided in the summer of 2016 to leave Atlanta after nine seasons to play for the Celtics, his departure was the first significant sign that changes were on the horizon.
 
Unfortunately for the Hawks, those changes have not been for the better.
 
Not even close.
 
It’s hard to imagine that it was just three years ago that Atlanta had the best record in the East (61-21). Now, the Hawks will be among the NBA's worst.
 
That team produced four All-Stars that season, all of whom are now playing elsewhere.
 
It has been the kind of upheaval that speaks to how this franchise has fallen quickly upon hard times that, by all accounts, won’t get better anytime soon.
 
Paul Millsap’s departure to Denver was the final core piece to leave, with the Hawks now fielding a roster that’s centered around Dennis Schroder. The 6-foot-2 guard is coming off his best season, averaging 17.9 points, 6.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game last season.
 
Still, as much promise as the fifth-year guard has shown, the Hawks are painfully weak across the board.
 
In addition to Milsap, the Hawks also saw hometown favorite Dwight Howard traded to Charlotte. And then there was Tim Hardaway Jr., who averaged a career-best 14.5 points per game last season and showed legitimate signs of being a breakout scorer in this league.
 
He opted to sign with the team that drafted him in 2013, the New York Knicks, who lured him back to the Big Apple with a four-year, $70.95 million contract.
 
Atlanta returns Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, who have each shown themselves to be solid pros with promising futures, but neither would be considered on the star-on-the-rise trajectory the Hawks desperately need.
 
The Hawks will also look to rookie John Collins to contribute as well. The 6-foot-10 forward out of Wake Forest had a strong summer league showing. It earned him a spot on the Las Vegas summer league first team. He averaged 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds in five games.
 
Lots of role players, for sure. But the franchise’s string of 10 consecutive playoff appearances will likely end this year.
 
Key free agent/draft/trade additions:  Dewayne Dedmon (San Antonio); Luke Babbitt (Miami); Miles Plumlee (Charlotte); Marco Belinelli (Charlotte); Nicolas Brussino (Dallas).
 
Key losses: Paul Millsap (Denver); Dwight Howard (Charlotte). 
 
Rookies of note: John Collins. 
 
Expectations: 26-56 (Fifth in the Southeast Division, 14th in the East)

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Memphis Grizzlies

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Grizzlies in Memphis. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's look to reverse some disturbing trends in Memphis 

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

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Celtics-Grizzlies preview: Trying to reverse some disturbing trends

Celtics-Grizzlies preview: Trying to reverse some disturbing trends

When it comes to losing games, Brad Stevens has been consistent in not sounding the alarm of concern too loud.

But after Celtics' home loss to Utah on Friday night, there was a different sense of urgency in his words. 

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Stevens is far from panicking right now.

Still, he made it pretty clear that there are some disturbing trends he’s seeing with his team, the kind they need to avoid tonight as they hit the road to play Memphis.

Following the 107-95 loss to the Jazz on Friday, Stevens needed just 30 seconds to get into how Utah played harder than the Celtics.

“The bottom line is you have to be locked in. You have to play well,” Stevens said. “You have to do what you do best. We had a lot of guys that really didn’t play well [against Utah].”

Other than Al Horford (21 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (33 points, six assists) you would be hard-pressed to find any other Celtics players who performed at or above their usual level.

And on most nights, that’s a recipe for defeat.

Better effort and focus should be enough for Boston to defeat Memphis (9-20), which is coming off a win at Atlanta Friday night.

That, and the fact that the Grizzlies have a league-worst 3-9 home record this season.

Like many teams that are struggling this season, Memphis has been hit pretty hard by injuries with none looming larger than the Mike Conley’s Achilles injury.

Of course, they still have Marc Gasol, but the veteran big man isn’t nearly as dominant or efficient as we’ve seen him in past seasons.

And as the losses mount, rumors will only intensify about him possibly being traded (the Grizzlies have consistently denied this is part of their thinking) or that he may ask to be moved to a better team.

"I have a responsibility to this city," Gasol recently told ESPN.com. "I'm not gonna quit, no matter what."

He added, “As long as [Grizzlies owner] Robert [Pera] wants me here, my teammates want me here, they think I'm part of the solution -- and not part of the problem -- that's all I need." 

Memphis’ overall struggles played a factor in the team’s decision to fire second-year coach David Fizdale after a 7-12 start. Since his firing, Memphis has lost eight of its past 10.

The Grizzlies clearly have their share of problems this season.

So do the Celtics, despite their gaudy 24-7 record, which is tops in the Eastern Conference.

Boston has lost three of its past five games, rookie Jayson Tatum has been a breath of fresh air offensively but now finds himself in the middle of his worst three-game scoring funk of the season; Marcus Smart’s impact defensively hasn’t been able to mask his scoring struggles in recent games; and the bench continues to struggle to make an impact consistently.

Beyond those issues, the biggest concern for the Celtics has to be the lack of overall effort and fight we’ve seen – or rather not seen – in recent games.

“We got outcoached, we got outplayed, and we haven’t been in that situation very often as far as, like, from an effort standpoint,” Stevens said. “But I think twice this week we have, so that’s concerning.”

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