NBA Notebook: Hawks need Young to step up; final moves in the buyout market

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, who sat out the contest, looks on during a timeout in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

With the trade deadline far behind us and the all-star break also in the rearview, the 2022-23 NBA regular season is heading into the stretch run before the post-season, with no shortage of storylines to monitor.

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the NBA right now.

Impact moves in the buyout market

The last major deadline to watch in regards to roster building this season is March 1, as players waived after that date won’t be playoff eligible.

It’s common practice every season to see veteran players get bought out and waived after the trade deadline and then sign as free agents – usually with contenders for cheap – as teams look to load up for the post-season.

With March 1 closing in, a few impact moves have already been made. Russell Westbrook reunited with former teammate Paul George on the Los Angeles Clippers, Kevin Love is heading to the Miami Heat and former Raptor Terrence Ross joins a contender again, making the move to the Phoenix Suns.

Additionally, the moves that saw Reggie Jackson sign with Denver Nuggets, Patrick Beverley to the Chicago Bulls and Danny Green to the Cleveland Cavaliers could be impactful as well.

Looking at the Westbrook, Love and Ross signings, however, these look to have the largest ripple effects from what we’ve seen in the buyout market so far.

Though Love was playing on a good Cavaliers team, his spot in the rotation began to fade. He now gets a chance to continue playing for another hopeful contender in the Heat, where his outside shooting will likely be welcomed by Miami.

Ross looks like a solid depth piece for the Suns. He’s a strong three-point shooter, meaning opposing defences will have to stay at home with him, opening up the mid-range and paint for superstars Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Devin Booker. He could also add a boost to Phoenix’s secondary and tertiary lineups given his ability to create his own shot off the dribble if needed.

As for Westbrook, his fit with the Clippers isn’t quite as apparent because he’s an aging point guard who turns the ball over too much and can’t shoot. With that said, he has a strong relationship with Paul George from their time together on the Oklahoma City Thunder, and his ability to get into the paint and either find open shooters or attack the rim is still elite.

For better or worse, Westbrook landing with the Clippers is going to make headlines and will be something the entire league will be eagerly observing.

There are still names left on the buyout market to be had before March 1, such as John Wall, Serge Ibaka, Will Barton and Bryn Forbes. All of these players have reportedly either already been waived or are expected to be waived.

Eyes will be on Trae Young following Nate McMillan’s firing

The biggest news around the NBA right now is probably the surprise firing of Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan.

The Hawks were 29-30 and sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference when they decided to make the move, relieving the 58-year-old of his duties.

McMillan was brought on as the interim head coach in 2021 after the Hawks fired Lloyd Pierce mid-season, leading them on a run to the conference finals. Atlanta then rewarded McMillan with a four-year contract but they were unable to replicate the success the following season and got bounced in the first round of playoffs. They’ve since followed it up with this season’s struggles and led Atlanta general manager Landry Fields to make the decision to fire McMillan.

In light of this move, there’s a lot of attention being put on Hawks star guard Trae Young, who reportedly butted heads with both Pierce and McMillan, and subsequently, has seen the only two NBA coaches he’s had get fired mid-season.

Young is an outstanding talent, but now in his fifth NBA season, it would appear he still has a ways to go as a leader. In the first media availability after McMillan’s firing, Young was nowhere to be seen, leaving the new Hawk Dejounte Murray and John Collins – the Atlanta player seemingly always on the trade block – to pick up the slack.

Dodging the media may not seem like that big a deal, but as the team’s franchise player, Young should have extra responsibilities that go beyond what he does on the court. Stepping up as a leader and perhaps answering a few hard questions every now and then comes with the territory.

The Hawks are reportedly targeting former Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder to take the reins. If Snyder does get the job and word gets out that he and Young end up clashing with each other as well, don’t be surprised if Atlanta’s star begins to forge a reputation of becoming something of a coach killer.

Durant likely to make Suns debut March 1

The NBA world is waiting with bated breath for the return of Durant – now with the Phoenix Suns.

Out since early January with an MCL injury, Durant was shockingly traded from the Brooklyn Nets to Phoenix during the wee hours of the trade deadline morning.

The 13-time all-star is widely expected to make his Suns debut Wednesday in a road game against the Charlotte Hornets.

As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported, Durant scrimmaged with his new team in Phoenix’s first team gathering since the all-star break Thursday.

Sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference and only four games back of the second-place Memphis Grizzlies, with the addition of Durant to their lineup, there’s plenty of expectation that the Suns will shoot up the standings and be among the stronger title contenders this season.

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