Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie dribbles down the floor in the closing minutes of Brooklynn’s blowout win in Atlanta Dec. 4. Kevin Kilgour/Sports Editor

The Atlanta Hawks emerged triumphant in a game against the Dallas Mavericks Dec. 23, winning the match 112-107. Star point guard Dennis Schroder led the way as he tied his career high in points with 33.

With the win, the Hawks still have the worst record in the NBA at 8-25 while the Mavericks sit half a game above at 9-25. Both teams are in rebuilding mode and likely to miss the playoffs because they’re both sitting at the bottom of their respective conferences.

This season has been a difficult one for the Hawks, who are currently going through a rebuild. Though only 33 games into the season, it already seems safe to say that the Hawks’ 10-season streak of making the playoffs is coming to a close.

Earlier this month in another game featuring two teams in the lower half of the Eastern Conference standings, the Brooklyn Nets prevailed over the Atlanta Hawks with a 110-90 victory Dec. 5.

The Hawks entered the Dec. 5 contest with reason for confidence after winning the first leg of their double header with the Nets in Brooklyn Dec. 2, 114-102. But it was a different story in Atlanta as the Nets dominated the second half to grab the win.

Schroder led the way for the Hawks with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists. But he faded in the second half, only scoring two points after the break. Hawks shooting guards Kent Bazemore and DeAndre’ Bembry added 13 points each.

Brooklyn was paced by small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who had 16 points and nine boards, and shooting guard Caris LeVert, who came off the bench to pour in 17 points and add seven assists. The Nets had a balanced scoring effort with six players in double figures.

Hawks forward DeAndre’ Bembry drives and draws contact. Kevin Kilgour/Sports Editor

The teams started out quickly in a high paced first quarter, 33-32 advantage Brooklyn. Both teams started to tighten up a bit in the second quarter. It was a back-and-forth game with 10 lead changes — no team was able to take control of the game during the first half. Schroder impressed with eight of 10 shooting and 17 points in the first half.

The Hawks left the first half with a 54-53 lead. The Nets opened the third quarter on 17-0 run to jump out to a 16-point lead. The Hawks weren’t able to score until halfway through the quarter when Bazemore delivered a trio of free throws. The Hawks found themselves trailing the Nets 84-69 after three frames.

“We hit a little bit of a wall [in the third quarter],” Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “All of us could be better in that quarter. Give them some credit. We can play better. And the game just changed there. We need to avoid [those] type of stretches.”

The momentum continued to swing in the Nets favor despite several comeback attempts. The weak interior defense of the Hawks allowed Nets players to get several dunks and layups in the paint.

At the other end, the Hawks were not able to get the same quality looks. The Nets maintained at least a nine-point lead as they closed out the game.

Both teams turned the ball over a combined 40 times and yet neither team properly capitalized on the other’s sloppiness.

The Hawks’ defense allowed the Nets to shoot 48.2 percent accuracy from the field while the Hawks mustered a 36.6 percent rate from the field.

Another deciding factor in the game for the Hawks was shooting from behind the arc. Mostly a strength for much of the year, the Hawks were only able to shoot 30 percent from three-point land. The percentage was even worse in the second half, particularly in the third quarter where the game was lost.

“Everything was short in the second half,” Budenholzer said. “I just think [we] didn’t have the same juice, same energy, in the third quarter. Now [if] we had some shots that went in and out, a couple more go in, it’s a different game.”

 Atlanta has since gone 3-7 for a season record of 8-25, dropping behind the Bulls into last place in the Eastern Conference standings. The team is scheduled to host point guard John Wall and the Washington Wizards Dec. 27.

Before the game, Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said he’s “come to just expect the best from LeBron.” Those words proved prophetic as forward LeBron James led his Cleveland Cavaliers to a 121-114 victory over the Atlanta Hawks Thursday night at Philips Arena, pushing their winning streak to 10 games.

LeBron scored 24 points on just 11 shot attempts as he passed former Denver Nuggets forward Alex English for 10th most field goals made in NBA history. But in this game, LeBron proved once again that he is more than a scorer.

“I think he takes a lot of pride in being the best and so if that means shooting better or defending better or passing more. … He just has a knack or that determination to be that guy,” Budenholzer said.

LeBron did it all Thursday night. With 12 assists, LeBron prioritized getting his teammates wide open shots throughout the game. That allowed Cleveland forwards Kevin Love (25 points, 16 rebounds) and Jae Crowder (15 points) to get in the flow of the Cavs offense. Often double teamed in the half-court offense, LeBron eviscerated the Atlanta defense by finding the open man, such as when he whipped the ball to a cutter or to wide-open shooters at the three-point line. That sequence, which repeated itself like clockwork all night, was key to the Cavs splashing 18 threes, the game’s deciding factor.

When LeBron saw an opening on a fast break, he used the Euro step to weave through multiple defenders on his way to a dunk that rocked the arena. With the Cavs lead down to one with less than two minutes to play, it was LeBron who hit a pull-up three as the shot clock wound down to ice the game.

As good as LeBron’s game was offensively, it was his defensive efforts that put the nail in the Hawks’ coffin. His volleyball spike block on Hawks small forward Taurean Prince will make the highlight reels, but it was James’ ability to lock down Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder that proved most impressive. For the totality of the second quarter, Schroder, who finished the game with 27 points, outmaneuvered the Cavs’ defense, consistently blowing by defenders while flipping a seven-point first-quarter deficit into a four-point halftime lead.

“[Schroder’s] very shifty,” LeBron said. “Once he gets a hip on you, he does a great job of keeping you there and finishing at the rim, which you saw in the second quarter when he just kept getting bucket after bucket.”

But beginning in the third quarter, LeBron said he “wanted the challenge” of guarding Schroder. The Hawks point guard would have been just as effective sitting back home in his native Germany for the rest of the night, because with LeBron guarding him, he became a non-factor in the Hawks’ offense.

“I don’t think nobody [sic.] understands how difficult that is,” Cavs guard Dwyane Wade said of shutting down the lightning-quick Schroder. “That’s why [LeBron’s] one of the greatest to ever play this game.”

LeBron said his ability to guard Schroder was a matter of his basketball IQ.

“I know the pros and cons of every player on every team, what they like to do and what [they don’t] like to do on a possession,” LeBron said. “I just use my intelligence on that and live with the results.”

While this extra defensive effort from LeBron may have cost the Cavs some offensive production, Cleveland didn’t need it thanks to solid contributions from Wade (19 points) and reserve forward Jeff Green (12 points).

Nevertheless, the Hawks were able to hang around thanks to strong early contributions from rookie center John Collins (nine points in the first quarter) and silky-smooth shooting from reserves Ersan Ilyasova (22 points on 8-11 shooting) and Marco Belinelli (18 points). But it wasn’t enough to overcome yet another memorable performance from the King.

Cleveland is now 17-7 on the season and rests just 3.5 games behind the East-leading Boston Celtics. Atlanta fell to 5-18 on the season after a blowout loss to the visiting Brooklyn Nets Dec. 4. LeBron and the rest of the Cavaliers will return home to face the Sacramento Kings Dec. 6 while the Hawks travel to Orlando to take on the Magic the same day.

Emory men’s basketball triumphed over the Piedmont College (Ga.) Lions 83-64 at home Nov. 15 to open their regular season, with five players scoring in double digits.

Senior forward Adam Gigax led the team in scoring with 15 points, trailed by freshman guard Romin Williams with 14 points.

It took more than two minutes of play before Piedmont forward Justin Vallejo opened the scoring with a layup. The game’s slow start continued through the first six minutes, with both teams trading baskets but failing to convert opportunities from the three-point line and in the paint.

The slow start was no cause for alarm, Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said.

“We had great looks, just missed them,” Zimmerman said. “We only shot 40 percent from the field.”

Scoring picked up after the sixth minute despite coordinated defense from Emory. Vallejo nabbed an offensive rebound and a bucket to keep his team close at 13-12 with 12:33 left on the clock. Williams made both of his free throws after a foul by Piedmont guard Landry Assinesi with 12 minutes remaining to take the score to 15-14.

Gigax and Piedmont guard Taylor Mills scored three-point jump shots, maintaining the single point separation until junior guard Gebereal Baitey converted a steal into a layup with nine minutes left. Gigax extended Emory’s lead with another layup soon after, prompting a timeout from Piedmont. The score was 22-17.

Piedmont fought their way back to 24-25 with six minutes left, but it was all Emory from that point onward. Freshman guard Nick Stuck and junior forward Beau Bommarito made strong defensive rebounds and stuck scored two layups with four minutes left, while Gigax scored another three-pointer in between, bringing Emory’s lead to 34-24.

Baitey drove over the Piedmont defense to score a layup and was fouled in the process with just less than two minutes left in the half. Baitey missed his free throw but extended Emory’s lead to 38-27. Freshman forward Lawrence Rowley made a free throw, and Baitey scored another layup to end the half 41-28.

Baitey credited his teammates for his strong first half performance.

“I think we all work really well together,” Baitey said. “I just happened to be the main benefactor in the first half.”

The Eagles maintained a solid lead throughout the second half. The Piedmont defense looked disorganized as the half progressed, and senior guard Whitt Rapp and senior forward Christopher Avant took full advantage. With 12 minutes remaining, Rapp bypassed the entire Piedmont defense with a deep pass to Avant for a lay-in that built Emory’s lead to 14. Rapp finished the game with nine assists, leading both teams.

Bommarito extended Emory’s lead in impressive style as the game wound down, skipping around a Piedmont defender to sink a layup with just under eight minutes left. Williams scored from beyond the three-point line less than a minute later.

The Eagles maintained composure and relaxed into their lead as the game neared its end. Rowley was fouled in the last minute and made both free throws to bring the final score to 83-64.

Zimmerman praised the all-around effort of the team.

“I think there are going to be a lot of people who contribute this year,” Zimmerman said. “We had five guys in double figures.”

Alongside Gigax and Williams, Bommarito, Baitey and Avant all scored in double digits. Avant also led Emory in rebounds with 11.

Emory continued their season with an away win against the Berry College (Ga.) Vikings, 109-103, Nov. 21 before a tight loss, 84-78, at LaGrange College (Ga.) Nov. 25. The Eagles won at home again Nov. 26 against the Maryville College (Tenn.) Scots, 102-92.

Baitey said the team’s attitude allowed the Eagles to turn the loss to LaGrange around the next day.

“Our big word for the day of the Maryville game was ‘juice,’” Baitey said. “When we lost to LaGrange we came out really flat whereas they had a lot of energy to build upon. So before the Maryville game we had to make a conscious effort to bring our own juice and supply us with some energy so we could deliver the first blow.”

Emory’s record stands at 3-1 heading into their home game against Birmingham Southern College (Ala.) at 7 p.m., Nov. 29.

Emory freshman guard Romin Williams defends Lipscomb sophomore guard Andrew Fleming in the Eagles’ Nov. 10 exhibition game. Courtesy of Jamie Gilliam.

In a preseason poll conducted by the University Athletic Association’s (UAA) coaches, the Emory men’s basketball team was picked to finish No. 2 out of the eight UAA teams this season.

Emory received one first-place vote and was seeded behind the defending UAA champions, Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.), who received the seven other first-place votes.  

The Eagles played their final preseason game Nov. 10, falling to D-I opponent Lipscomb University (Tenn.) 98-83.

This season, Head Coach Jason Zimmerman will return for his 11th year with the program. Along with Zimmerman, 10 veteran players return, including three key starters in senior forward Adam Gigax, senior guard Whit Rapp and senior forward Christopher Avant. Last year’s team had a 19-8 record and a run in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. Within the UAA, Emory closed out the 2016-2017 regular season with a 9-5 record and made their fifth straight postseason appearance.

Forward Adam Gigax returns to the court for his final season at Emory. Courtesy of Jamie Gilliam.

Gigax headlines the players from the returning crop. His scoring average was second best among UAA players, posting 18.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season. He was also named to the First Team All-UAA and’s First Team All-South Region. Last year, Gigax scored double digits in 21 games and splashed home a team high of 80 three-point field goals.

Gigax has set major goals for the team this season, including taking back the conference title that has evaded them for the past two years.

“We won it two years ago but we fell back to third last year,” Gigax said. “Me and the other three seniors hope to take it back this year.”

Zimmerman reiterated Gigax’s words but added that winning isn’t the only thing.

“We [also] want to get better, compete to win and enjoy the journey,” Zimmerman said.

Along with Gigax, Rapp returns to lead the Emory offense after dishing out 8.5 assists per game last season, a mark that ranked first in the conference and third nationally. Rapp sent out 10 dimes or more on 10 occasions, and his 4.1 assist to turnover ratio ranked third among all of D-III basketball. He was named to the Honorable Mention All-UAA Team.

Other key members of this year’s squad include Avant and junior guard Gebereal Baitey. Avant averaged 11.6 points and a team high of 6.5 boards per game. Baitey could be in line for a starting role this year after playing key minutes off the bench last season while averaging 6.8 points. Baitey finished strong last year, averaging 11.8 points per game in the final eight games of the season.

“We expect everyone to produce for us,” Zimmerman said. “Everyone has a new role. We lost four great seniors last years. And it’s now a new team. Who takes place of those guys? Every team is different … We have experience and it takes working together to be able to play well.”

Unfortunately for the Eagles, the preseason buzz did not result in a victory against D-I opponent Lipscomb. The game, which aired on ESPN3, ended with a score of 98-83 in favor of Lipscomb.

Bisons junior guard Garrison Mathews and junior forward Rob Marberry led the Bisons to pull away from the Eagles after a tight first half.

Matthews earned 37 points and Marberry recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. Freshman guard Romin Williams led the Eagles off the bench, scoring 23 points, and Rapp also performed well with 6 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists.

With the game tied at 73-all with 7:56 left in the second half, Lipscomb went on a 12-0 run that put the game out of reach.

Although it was not the result that the Eagles wanted, Gigax take some positives away from the game.

“Throughout the game, we fought back multiple times and tied it up at the end too,” Gigax said. “A lot of guys stepped up including [many of] the freshmen. We have a lot of depth and one of our positives is our versatility.”

The Eagles hope to get back on track as they begin the regular season campaign against Piedmont College (Ga.) at home Nov. 15.

“[We’re] as ready as we can be,” Zimmerman said about the upcoming Piedmont game. “[We] get to play at home which is great. We’re looking forward to play in front of Emory and the community.”

Not all Emory athletes’ sports careers end after senior year. Emory’s men’s basketball program has seen several players go abroad to pursue professional athletic careers in the past four years. Players like Alex Greven (13C, 21M), James “Will” Trawick (16B) and Alex Foster (15B) have gone on to professional leagues in Great Britain and Germany, while Jim Gordon (17C) chose a path of sporting development in Ireland.  

“We have guys who take great pride in playing basketball,” Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said. “For a lot of people, it’s a dream to play professionally.”

Greven, Trawick, Foster and Gordon all played under Zimmerman, for whom the players had only praise.

“He’s a great coach, a great person and a great motivator,” said Trawick, who played for Dragons Rhoendorf of the German ProB division for the 2016-2017 season.

“Emory basketball has been the most important thing for my life success,” Trawick said.

Trawick watched Greven venture abroad to play professionally, first for the Tees Valley Mohawks of the English Basketball League Division 1 from 2013 to 2015 and then for Forca Lleida of Spain for the 2015-2016 season. Trawick was inspired.

“Greven went over and played and that got the bug in my head, that’s when I really started thinking, ‘Oh this is something I can do,’” Trawick said.

Emory provided an opportunity for Trawick to play overseas in summer 2014 when the Eagles traveled to Germany.

“We … played a couple professional teams, and I realized I could play with these guys,” Trawick said.

 Foster also travelled to Germany after graduation and played for the Cologne RheinStars of the ProA 2 Division. Foster still plays for the RheinStars as a power forward.

Levels of coaching and basketball knowledge are the primary differences between basketball at Emory and in Germany, where the sport competes for attention with golf and soccer. Germany’s national basketball team failed to qualify for the last two Olympic Games.

“Basketball-wise it’s totally different,” said Trawick. “At Emory, we had in incredible coach. We don’t get that anywhere else in the world. Coach [Zimmerman] has incredible eye for detail. He can make all these minor adjustments that add up. Overall I’d say the competition level was way better than in college, but the intensity of practices was better at Emory.”

Trawick returned to Atlanta after only year abroad.

“I got over there, and [basketball] just wasn’t everything to me anymore,” Trawick said. “I had fun and learned a lot about myself, but for me I was ready to use my college education and use my mind rather than my body.”

Meanwhile, Gordon went abroad to further his education. He won a scholarship through the Victory Scholars Program to coach while he earns a degree in international business at the Institute of Technology Carlow in Carlow, Ireland. The Victory Scholars Program aims to increase the long term sustainability of youth basketball in Ireland and create sporting ambassadors between Ireland and the United States.

“In Ireland, basketball isn’t as popular or as big,” Gordon said. “It’s a relaxed culture, which was a shock because I came from a strenuous program, a great program at Emory.”

American youth basketball programs might have something to learn from Ireland, Gordon said.

“Instead of specializing in skills, we come out here and kind of just spread the word about how fun basketball can be,” Gordon said. “Honestly, it’s more of a community outreach. I ran a camp today [and] some of these kids saw a basketball for the first time. We have to bring the energy because the kids really thrive off it.”

The opportunity has enabled Gordon to take a step back from the competitive drive of basketball and focus on the simple joy of the game.

“What I would want to bring back to America is the love of the game,” Gordon said. “More inclusion for people who have never played before to come out and play without any intimidation. I’d have more inclusion, less specialization. Some people in America specialize too early.”  

Zimmerman echoed Gordon’s thoughts about the importance of community and relationships.

“I’m big on relationships,” Zimmerman said. “They’re not easy all the time, but the amount of alums who come back shows that it’s worth it. I take as much pride in that as in winning games. … Those relationships last forever. I have an open-door, open-cell phone, open-everything policy.”

The support of former players counts toward the Eagles’ current strength, as players like Trawick said they will make every effort to come to games this season.

“Without a doubt, without Emory there is no professional career,” Trawick said.

Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving (11) attempts a fadeaway jumper over the outstretched arms of Hawks guard Kent Bazemore (24) and small forward Taurean Prince (12). Parth Mody/Photo editor

Returning from a shocking road victory over the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers Nov. 5, the Atlanta Hawks sought yet another impressive home win against the current East-leading Boston Celtics Monday night. Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving had other plans; his season high of 35 points propelled the visiting Celtics to a narrow 110-107 win.

Irving went off, finishing with 35 points on 14-22 shooting and seven assists. His offensive versatility was on full display at Philips Arena, scoring on contested pull up jumpers, spot up threes and a fair share of his signature acrobatic layups.

Scoring wasn’t the only weapon Irving used to dismantle the Hawks — his passing was equally lethal. Collapsing the defense with aggressive drives to the rim and ankle-breaking dribbling, Irving consistently found open teammates on the kick.

“We have the ability [to finish at the basket], but where we become a next-level team is being able to collapse the defense, see the weak side [and hit the open shooters],” Irving said.

Celtics rookie forward Jayson Tatum added 21 points along with eight rebounds while power forward Al Horford flirted with a triple double, posting 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to help Irving lead Boston’s attack.

Impressive individual performances were not enough to separate the two teams Monday night. It was a back-and-forth dogfight from start to finish, with 25 lead changes in all. The game was tied 54-54 at halftime thanks to Atlanta’s hot shooting (55 percent shooting from the field). Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder (23 points, 6 assists) and center Dewayne Dedmon (19 points, 12 rebounds) led the way, particularly in the first half, finding easy looks out of their pick-and-roll offense. Atlanta’s play of the game came when Schroder raced the length of the court to recover a loose ball and whipped a cross-court pass to a trailing Dedmon for an emphatic one-handed slam.  

Irving slips past the Atlanta defense for an easy lay-in. Parth Mody/Photo Editor

The Hawks kept up the intensity in the second half, leaping out to a 71-64 lead midway through the third quarter behind eight more Schroder points. But when he went to the bench with 4:55 to play in the third, the Celtics responded with a 13-4 run and took an 82-75 lead into the fourth quarter.

In need of offensive support from someone other than Schroder, the Hawks rallied behind the hot shooting of reserve guard Marco Belinelli, who busted out of a horrific three-game shooting slump to the tune of 19 points and second-year reserve guard Malcolm Delaney, who put up 13 of his own.

Those two players combined for 13 of the Hawks’ 18 points during a four-minute, 18-7 run that gave the Hawks the lead once more with just less than 5:30 to go. Down one with two minutes remaining, it was Delaney yet again who delivered a much-needed three to give the Hawks a 103-101 lead.

“[I’m] proud of the way the guys played and competed,” Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said of Belinelli and Delaney’s play late in the game. He added that he was pleased with “Delaney coming back off of injury [and] playing great [and] Belinelli coming back after not having what he expects and what we expect of him over the last couple of games.”

To the detriment of the Hawks, Irving wouldn’t go quietly into the good night. He loudly scored eight of Boston’s final 13 points. Right after Delaney’s go-ahead three, Uncle Drew took a dribble handoff from Horford and nailed the go-ahead three pointer over the outstretched arm of Hawks’ wing Kent Bazemore to retake the lead for the Celtics.

“I don’t know what more [guard] Kent Bazemore could have done,” Budenholzer said of the shot.

Two possessions later, Tatum hit the biggest shot of his young career, a corner three off an assist from Boston guard Marcus Smart. Tatum’s three gave the Celtics a two-point lead with 47 seconds to play and snatched the heart out of the Atlanta faithful.

“You get an open shot, you shoot it with confidence,” Tatum said.

Normally, Irving takes the game-winning shots. Nonetheless, he had complete confidence in his 19 year-old rookie teammate.

“That pass has to be made,” Irving said. “And he has to shoot it. And if he doesn’t shoot it, then I’m [gonna] be in his face telling him he need’s to f**king shoot it.”

Still, it was Irving who sent Hawks fans to the exits with a 13-foot, game-sealing floater that stretched the Celtics lead to four with just 21 seconds remaining.  

The win extends Boston’s win streak to nine games. The Celtics are the first team in NBA history to start off 0-2 and bounce back to win their next nine games. They will look to extend that streak Nov. 8 against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Boston Garden. The Hawks travel to Detroit to play the Pistons Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

Emory women’s basketball Head Coach Christy Thomaskutty has resigned, she announced Oct. 5.

Thomaskutty led the Eagles to a 187-166 overall record during her 14-year tenure. She posted record seasons for wins in 2012-2013, consecutive wins in 2013-2014 (14 in a row) and Emory’s highest-ever Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) ranking at No. 7 for the 2013-14 season.

Thomaskutty resigned as a result of health issues, according to an Oct. 5 Emory Athletics press release. She told Emory Athletics that she is “fine and doing well,” but that health issues “have left [her] without the energy needed to coach these young women at the level which they deserve.”

Assistant Coach Misha Jackson (13C) replaced Thomaskutty as interim head coach for the 2017-2018 season. Jackson played for the Eagles from 2011-2013 and was promoted from volunteer assistant to full-time assistant coach for the 2013-2014 season.

“I can’t think of a more deserving person than [Jackson] to take over the coaching duties and to represent Emory University,” Thomaskutty said.

Jackson, an Atlanta native, was selected for the first WBCA “Thirty Under 30” list of upcoming women’s basketball coaches in 2016. Nevertheless, replacing Thomaskutty is no small task. Jackson said it was a “surprise” and that she is “sad to see her go.” Thomaskutty was a “huge part of the program,” according to Jackson.

“At first it was a little nerve-wracking, but I was lucky to learn under Coach Thomaskutty,” Jackson said of her new position.

Junior center Ashley Oldshue, who started all 25 games last season, said that Thomaskutty’s departure was “shocking because [she knew] how dedicated [Thomaskutty] was to the program.” Oldshue believes the coaching change is a good one, citing her close relationship with Jackson, who was previously her position coach.

Jackson faces a season without any senior players, but Oldshue said, “I feel really good; it’s weird not to have seniors, but the sophomores are stepping up.”

Emory women’s basketball begins their season at home against the Rhodes College (Tenn.) Lynx Nov. 15.

A wild offseason kept teams like the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder basking under the media spotlight, but some other teams didn’t make it into many conversations around the water cooler. While Boston point guard Kyrie Irving’s and Oklahoma small forward Carmelo Anthony’s trades made headlines, the Hawks gutted their roster quietly.

The Hawks elected to move on from three of their four leading scorers, waving goodbye to four-time all-star power forward Paul Millsap (signed with Denver), shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (signed with New York), starting center Dwight Howard (traded to Charlotte) and their best wing defender, small forward Thabo Sefolosha (signed with Utah).

To plug those holes, the Hawks signed center Dewayne Dedmon and power forward Ersan Ilyasova, as well as acquired center Miles Plumlee, shooting guard Marco Belinelli and rookie shooting guard Tyler Dorsey in the Dwight Howard trade. Dedmon is young and unproven, having yet to average more than five points per game. However, he did flash potential in limited game time with the Spurs. Ersan Ilyasova is a floor-spacing, 10th-year power forward who averaged 13 ppg on 43 percent shooting and 5.9 rpg in his best season last year. He will be tasked with filling the all-star sized void Millsap left at power forward. Second-year small forward, Taurean Prince, who started all six of the Hawks’ playoff games last year, will also be new to the starting lineup.

Those players will be joined by returning starters shooting guard Kent Bazemore, looking to prove he is worthy of the four-year, $70-million contract he signed last season, and 24-year-old point guard Dennis Schroder, who will begin his fifth season with Atlanta.

The offseason moves made by new General Manager Travis Schlenk leave the team with arguably the least-talented roster in the NBA, indicating the birth of a rebuilding period for the Hawks. Despite having one of the best coaches in the NBA, Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks simply don’t have the player personnel needed to contend for a playoff spot, even in an Eastern Conference weakened by the departure of all-star wings Paul George and Jimmy Butler for the West this summer. That should spell the end of a stretch of 10 straight postseason appearances. For this reason, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has put the over/under of wins for the Hawks at 25.5, the second lowest in the NBA, while ESPN’s RPM projects them to win an NBA-low 27 games.

Thus, the success of this season should not be measured by wins and losses but by fulfilling the following benchmarks: Schroder needs to take another step forward and prove himself to be the cornerstone of the Hawks’ rebuild. Second-year wings Prince and Deandre Bembry must prove that they should be a part of the Hawks long-term plans. Most importantly, the Hawks need to turn this losing season into their next franchise player in the 2018 draft. With forwards Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III or Michael Porter Jr. set to enter the draft, the talent pool is promising. If the Hawks achieve these modest goals, as I think they will, then they will be able to cash in on the expected five first-round picks they possess over the next two seasons. Within those five picks lies the foreseeable future of this Hawks franchise and redemption for an otherwise forgettable season.

After an over-active offseason, the NBA landscape has undergone a severe makeover. Stars like point guard Chris Paul, small forward Carmelo Anthony and point guard Kyrie Irving changed teams, and just when it seemed as though the East couldn’t get any weaker, countless stars, including Anthony, small forward Paul George and shooting guard Jimmy Butler, moved out West. With the preseason underway, it’s time for some NBA power rankings. Here’s a look at how the top six contenders stack up this year.  

No. 1 Golden State Warriors

In terms of talent, the Warriors were already ahead of every team in the league heading into the offseason. Just when we thought they couldn’t get any better, they added shooting guard Nick  Young to their roster and drafted power forward Jordan Bell, who could be a potential draft steal. This team is just as intimidating as last season’s, and it will take little short of a miracle to take them down.

No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder boosted their championship chances with the additions of Anthony and George. General Manager Sam Presti may as well be executive of the year. However, questions loom over the team’s depth on the bench and the ability of reigning MVP point guard Russell Westbrook, Melo and George to work as a unit.

No. 3 Houston Rockets

Paul and small forward P.J. Tucker are upgrades in their respective positions, helping the Rockets leapfrog past the Cavaliers and Spurs in the power rankings. The moves should keep them biting at the heels of the Warriors in the Western Conference.

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers had a bumpy offseason with the news that point guard Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland, but they seem to have improved their roster despite this loss. Koby Altman, the new general manager, has done well to right the ship with solid additions in small forward Jeff Green and legendary shooting guard Dwyane Wade. Also, the successful trade of Irving to the Celtics in exchange for all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, small forward Jae Crowder and an all-important 2018 first round pick help secure a sound future for Cleveland regardless of where LeBron James signs in 2018.

No. 5 San Antonio Spurs

While the Spurs won more than 60 games last season, other teams’ additions of valuable talent may cause them to slip slightly. Small forward Rudy Gay will prevent them from slipping too much and, as we have seen for several years now, direction from Head Coach Gregg Popovich will help them to plug in various role players. And we can’t forget that small forward Kawhi Leonard, who is on the cusp of his prime, may get even better.

No. 6 Boston Celtics

The acquisition of Irving is a solid, young replacement for Isaiah Thomas. This team is built to contend now as well as in the future with solid, young talent in forwards Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. However, even with the inclusion of small forward Gordon Hayward, they are still not on par with the Cavaliers. Regardless, count on Head Coach Brad Stevens keeping them in the hunt for the conference finals.