Who will be the forwards on the Eastern All-Defensive Team?

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The NBA’s award races, usually a perfect topic for intense debate, might be a little anticlimactic this season. Barring a late surge by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James will almost certainly win his second consecutive MVP award. Dwight Howard is also a virtual lock to win his second straight Defensive Player of the Year Award. If voters go for the type of player who’s typically won the Sixth Man of the Year award, Jamaal Crawford is definitely the front-runner. Tyreke Evans has been a heavy favorite for the Rookie of the Year award for months, with only Stephen Curry giving him any real competition. 

To find suspense in the award races, one has to pay attention to the awards that usually don’t get that much attention. Personally, I think that the race for the two forward spots on the All-Defensive team is shaping up to be a doozy. There are lots of forwards playing great defense in the East, but only two of them will get first-team honors. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates:
Gerald Wallace:

The Bobcats have been one of the league’s most surprising teams this season, with wins over some of the league’s best teams. Like any good Larry Brown team, their success has been based on defensive execution. Wallace has been the backbone of that defense, playing 42 minutes a game, averaging well over a steal and a block each game, and grabbing a shocking 10.4 rebounds per game. The Bobcats are a top-five team in defensive efficiency, and “Crash” is the biggest reason why:
Josh Smith:

After a down year defensively last season, Smith has been his old shot-pulverizing self this season, averaging nearly two blocks per game and nearly as many steals. He’s been a key to Atlanta’s defense, who give up 7.6 less points per 100 possessions when Smith is on the floor. Smith has simplified his game on offense, but on defense he’s still as versatile and terrifying as ever. What might hold Smith back is that the Hawks are only 13th in defensive efficiency, and players on average defensive teams rarely receive official accolades for their defense. 
Anderson Varejao:

One of the league’s best pick-and-roll defenders, Varejao’s quickness for his size and hustle has allowed him to disrupt plays on the perimeter and rotate back to the paint to cut off penetration. Varejao has a reputation for flopping, but he’s rarely gone for the flop this season, preferring to jump straight up and contest shots at the basket. The Cavaliers have long considered themselves a defensive team, and Varejao is their most consistent defensive force. What might keep him from winning is that the Cavaliers have had some defensive problems without either Shaquille O’Neal or Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the lineup to defend the rim. 
LeBron James:

Varejao’s teammate obviously has name recognition, and finished second in DPOY voting last season. When a superstar gets a good defensive rotation, he typically gets rewarded with all-defense selections for years to come. LeBron’s chase-down blocks may be the most spectacular plays anybody is making on the defensive end, and James has also locked down opposing superstars during key stretches this season. James’ length and speed also allows him to do more subtle things on defense, like rotate into the paint and get back to close out on shooters without having to leave his feet. However, James usually doesn’t guard the opposing team’s best player for much of the game, and he generally conserves energy on the defensive end. It’s unlikely that both forward spots will go to players on the same team, and Varejao deserves the selection more than James. 
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: 

With his athleticism, tenacity, and absolutely insane wingspan, Mbah a Moute is an absolute beast of a perimeter defender. He is capable of matching up against any opposing swingman, shooting guard, or forward and giving them absolute nightmares. Mbah a Moute is almost certainly the best perimeter defender in the East, and may well be the best lock-down specialist in the NBA. Scott Skiles’ Bucks are fifth in the league in defensive efficiency, which has fueled their playoff hopes this season. Most of the credit for that is due to Andrew Bogut, but the Bucks are also a full 4 points per 100 possessions better on defense when Mbah a Moute plays. 
Unfortunately for Mbah a Moute, his offense might keep him from getting all-defense. Because of his limitations on offense, Mbah a Moute only plays 26.5 minutes per game, which might not be enough time on the court to get him noticed come awards time. 
Kevin Garnett:

KG has missed time due to injury, and has looked a step (or three) slow when he has played. But Boston is still the 2nd-best defensive team in the league, and KG and his pick-and-roll defense are still the backbone of their defensive system. KG’s not the defensive force he was just two years ago, but he’s still a huge asset on defense. 
Well, there you go. Six great defenders competing for two spots on the All-Defensive team, and I didn’t even mention guys like Andre Iguodala. There are two consolation prizes, but two of those guys will have nothing to show for the great defensive seasons they’ve had. 

Report: Magic open to talking Tobias Harris trade, looking to add experience

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) grabs the uniform of Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Tobias Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Magic just last summer.

Now, just 50 games later…

Marc Stein of ESPN:

I’m skeptical this is significant. Teams discuss trades for many players for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean the player is likely to be dealt.

Orlando in particular has a roster of players who cause significant debate about their value. It’s helpful to know what other teams think of Harris, and soliciting trade offers is a good method to learn his worth.

It’s more intriguing the Magic are looking to add experience. They should probably go the opposite route, but they’ve tried (and failed) for years to accelerate their rebuild. At 22-28 – four games and three teams from playoff position – now is not the time to seek shortcuts. Spend the rest of the season developing young players – and probably securing a higher draft pick in the process.

One of Harris’ best traits is his youth. He’s just 23. See what other teams would offer for him, sure. But, in all likelihood, it’s better to let him grow into the veteran Orlando needs rather than trading him for one when the rest of the team isn’t ready to win, anyway.

My guess is that’s what Orlando will do. Remember, always consider who has incentive to leak this information anonymously and what they’d be positioned to know.

PBT Power Rankings: If you’re firing a coach mid-season, you’re not highly ranked

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Stability at the top of the rankings this week, as the top eight teams remained in exactly the same spots as last week. Further down you see the Jazz climbing the rankings, the Knicks falling (although probably not as much as they should have considering Derek Fisher getting canned), and the Suns taking over the bottom slot after dropping seven straight.

source: 1. Warriors (46-4, last week No. 1). In the past three weeks, the Warriors have beaten the next three teams in this rankings (OKC gave them the hardest time). Curry’s magical touch couldn’t extend to the Carolina Panthers, but everything else is rolling for this team. So what is everyone in the Bay Area talking about with Golden State? Kevin Durant, of course. It’s always what’s next. Try to enjoy the ride, people.

source: 2. Spurs (43-8, LW 2). San Antonio has gone 5-2 with Tim Duncan out, and they have done that thanks to their offense clicking behind LaMarcus Aldridge, plus solid bench play (as always). However, in those seven games their defense has been middle of the pack, you know Gregg Popovich has noticed.

source: 3. Thunder (38-14 LW 3). I don’t care what Kevin Durant said, the Saturday loss to the Warriors was a moral victory, one that OKC can take positives away from. The Thunder came back on the Warriors and gave them problems the Spurs and Cavaliers couldn’t. Russell Westbrook is averaging near a triple-double in his last 10 games — 23.4 points, 11.7 assists, and 9.3 rebounds a game.

source: 4. Cavaliers (36-14, LW 4). Tyronn Lue has been the Cavs coach for nine games, but he’s not getting to implement all the changes he wants. In those nine games the Cavaliers are basically playing at the same pace (half-a-possession slower per game), their offense has been better but their defense has been 5.4 points per 100 possessions worse. He was never going to solve all the issues mid-season, but he’s got some practices around the All-Star break to work on what he wants the team to do.

source: 5. Raptors (34-16, LW 5). Dwayne Casey so loves his bench rotation that when starter James Johnson went down rookie Norman Powell was made the starter. It worked, even though the Raptors’ win streak died in Denver. Toronto could try to make a bold move to pick up a four at the trade deadline, Ryan Wolstat told PBT in the recent Raptors-focused podcast.

source: 6. Clippers (34-17, LW 6). No, the Clippers are not trading Blake Griffin at the deadline, stop asking. That said, the Clippers have gone 17-4 without him (after a quality win in Miami Sunday) with a smaller lineup that spreads the floor more, creating space for the Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll, and that has to have Doc Rivers thinking about moves this summer.

source: 7. Celtics (30-22, LW 7). They got a quality win over Cleveland Friday, they are now on a three-game win streak and have won 12-of-15. The Celtics are doing it with lock-down defense and a balanced offense, and it’s good they have a representative in Toronto for the All-Star Game in Isaiah Thomas.

source: 8. Grizzlies (30-21, LW 8). They seem fairly locked in as the five seed in the West, but a notch below the top four and maybe even some of the other playoff teams in the West (they lost to Dallas last weekend). Don’t be shocked if they again try to get an upgrade at the wing spot at the deadline, but the market isn’t loaded with guys they can get without giving up a lot in return.

source: 9. Hawks (30-23, LW 11). They had won three in a row before a sloppy loss to Orlando on Sunday (one they can seek revenge for Monday night in the second game of the home-and-home series). Jeff Teague’s name has come up in a lot of trade rumors, but if the Hawks want to re-sign Al Hereford this summer — and they do — what kind of message does trading the veteran point guard send?

source: 10. Heat (29-23, LW 10). Tough stretch of games for the Heat but they played good defense and picked up wins over Dallas and Charlotte. Only one game this week (San Antonio) so even with his All-Star duties Dwyane Wade’s knees should get some rest.

source: 11. Pacers (27-24, LW 12). They continue to be up-and-down, but the overtime loss to Cleveland showed just how dangerous this team can be on the right night, not just because of All-Star Paul George but also guys like Myles Turner and C.J. Miles stepping up.

source: 12. Jazz (25-25, LW 15). Winners of six in a row and it’s thanks to the return of Rudy Gobert and the lock-down Jazz defense we have remembered from the second half of last season. The Jazz are healthy and they are 12-6 in games Gobert and Derrick Favors start. Utah has moved into the eight seed in the West and I think it’s more likely they move up past Houston and maybe Dallas than it is Portland or Sacramento catches them.

source: 13. Pistons (27-25, LW 13). Detroit is not in a secure playoff spot, with Charlotte playing well and just 1.5 games behind them for the final slot in the East. To be fair, Detroit is also just 2.5 games back of hosting a first-round playoff series — the East is still tight. If Detroit wants to climb that ladder they have to start playing better, more consistent defense.

source: 14. Bulls (27-23, LW 9). Jimmy Butler is out for a little bit, but considering how the injury looked at the time a sprained knee is not that bad. Mike Dunleavy is back. The Bulls are 5-10 in their last 15 games, mostly due to the fact their defense, which was solid early in the season, has been unimpressive with Joakim Noah out.

source: 15. Mavericks (29-25, LW 14). They picked up a win over Memphis Saturday, which is important because Dallas would like to catch the Grizzlies for the five seed and avoid Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round. (Not that the Clippers would be easy.) The most interesting new thing in Dallas may be Dirk Nowitzki’s haircut.

source: 16. Trail Blazers (25-27, LW 16). As they needed to do, Portland took advantage of a soft stretch of the schedule to climb back in the playoff race in the West, they are currently one game back of Utah for the final playoff slot in the conference. However, now they need to keep getting wins against tougher opponents, such as at Memphis and home to Houston this week. (Portland did beat Houston last week.)

source: 17. Rockets (27-26, LW 18). Houston is 1.5 games from the nine seed and sliding out of the playoffs, and they are heading into a tough stretch of the schedule. This week they are at the Warriors then at the Trail Blazers. Then James Harden heads to Toronto for the All-Star Game. The remainder of the team could use the rest.

source: 18. Hornets (25-26, LW 20). They have played better of late and are now back in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s return has helped their defense, which has keyed this run of solid play. However, if they are going to make the dance, wins against teams such as Chicago and Indiana this week are what they need.

source: 19. Wizards (22-27, LW 17). John Wall continues to be brilliant (he had 41 against the Warriors) but after that there is not much to like — the Wizards get little defense and inconsistent play from the rest of the roster. If they are going to make a run into the playoffs, that needs to start with a win streak out of the All-Star break.

source: 20. Nuggets (21-31, LW 24). Quality wins against Toronto and Chicago last week show Mike Malone’s efforts to build a culture are taking root. Nikola Jokic has been brilliant during this run, including dropping 27 and 14 on Toronto. Don’t be shocked if Denver is a seller at the trade deadline.

source: 21. Pelicans (18-32, LW 19). Losers of four in a row, and Ryan Anderson’s shooting slump is not helping his trade value (I still expect he gets moved before the deadline, some team will come in with a quality offer). Tough game against the Jazz this week, but I love to see Favors and Gobert matched up against Anthony Davis.

source: 22. Bucks (20-32, LW 23). They lost to Sacramento without DeMarcus Cousins, a sign of how poorly things are going for them right now. They will have representation in Toronto, with Khris Middleton in the three point contest (he’s shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc this season). I don’t buy the Jabari Parker trade rumors, they are not giving up on him.

source: 23. Magic (22-28, LW 25). They have been entertaining to watch this week, with a close loss to Oklahoma City then the dramatic win against Atlanta Sunday. Rumor is they are testing the trade waters for Tobias Harris and others, looking to add some veterans — and more consistent talent — to the roster.

source: 24. Knicks (23-31, LW 21). Derek Fisher is out and Kurt Rambis is in, and if you think that will turn the team around this season you should put the bong down and back away (Rambis used to play Ryan Gomes more minutes than Kevin Love). You can pick apart Fisher’s growth as a coach, and the team’s development, but it’s hard to see how this improves things mid-season. You know the dirt is coming on this. Phil Jackson wants Luke Walton, who is staying with the Warriors through the playoffs, but I think they should give Tom Thibodeau a long look.

source: 25. Kings (21-30, LW 22). The Kings have lost six of seven, falling back since being the eight seed in the West. In those seven games Sacramento is getting beat by 6.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because their defense is giving up 110.4 points per 100 possessions (fifth worst in the NBA in that time). George Karl outlasted Derek Fisher, but maybe not by much.

source: 26. Timberwolves (16-36,LW 26). Karl-Anthony Towns continues to play well, averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games. The Timberwolves offense is tearing teams up recently, but they are not getting consistent stops so wins remain elusive.

source: 27. 76ers (8-43, LW 28). They beat the Nets on Saturday, which was most impressive because they did it without injured guard Ish Smith. They have something inside with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel (even if they platoon them a bit), the focus this summer needs to be adding talent out on the perimeter.

source: 28. Nets (13-39, LW 27). While they have a lot of assets who would make sense to consider trading, the fact the Nets don’t have a GM in place 10 days before the trade deadline suggests their moves will come in the summer, not February. The Nets defense let them down again Saturday against the Sixers.

source: 29. Lakers (11-42, LW 30). They won two games last week and gave the Spurs a scare in San Antonio (where the Spurs have yet to lose this season). All of which has some Lakers fans worried about their draft positioning (if their pick is not top three it goes to Philly). Kobe Bryant is averaging 24.6 points per game in his last five games, but on 39.6 percent shooting.

source: 30. Suns (14-38, LW 29). Losers of seven in a row, and their roster is about to get shaken up at the trade deadline. As if injuries didn’t already do that. Since Eric Bledsoe went down the Suns have been a mess in clutch time of the few games they do keep close.

Report: Tom Thibodeau, Brian Shaw want Knicks’ job

Tom Thibodeau
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring Luke Walton or Brian Shaw.

At least one of them is interested.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Derek Fisher just got fired this morning. A source close to Brian Shaw has no chill.

But he’s not the only one swarming.

Ian O’Connor of ESPN:

Shaw probably has an easier time getting the job thanks to his relationship with Phil Jackson, but Thibodeau is the better coach. For all his shortcomings, Thibodeau is an elite tactician, and he’s not woefully inadequate at communicating with his players. Plus, Jackson could potentially help Thibodeau find better balance with the drive that helps him succeed as a coach but also grates over time.

Thibodeau makes sense on paper – if Jackson is willing to go out of his comfort zone, which I find unlikely.

Shaw has the potential to do better in another stint as a head coach. I’d just want to see real evidence he has learned better communication skills before I’d even consider him. His passion for the job wouldn’t move the needle.

And if all else fails, Dennis Rodman:

Rajon Rondo on signing with Knicks: ‘The triangle’s not really a good look for me’

Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo, left, saves the ball from going out of bound as New York Knicks center Robin Lopez, right, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Mike Conley threw the point-guard-needy Knicks a bone, saying he’d consider New York (and everyone else) in free agency.

They better hope that’s more than lip service.

This free-agent class doesn’t run deep, especially at point guard. And the second-best unrestricted point guard – a one-time target – doesn’t sound interested in the Knicks.

Kings guard Rajon Rondo, via Mike Mazzeo of ESPN:

“The triangle’s not really a good look for me, I don’t think,” Rondo said.

“[The] coach. And style of play. The biggest thing for me is the style of play,” he replied before the Kings were destroyed by the Nets, surrendering 18 3-pointers and 55.8 percent shooting in a 128-119 loss. “I wouldn’t want to go to a system where I don’t really have the ball in my hands and they have you stand in the corner and shoot 3s. That’s not my style of play. … The style of play is the biggest thing, and then obviously personnel on the court and coaches.”

This is the drawback of Phil Jackson’s triangle attachment. The Knicks know what they want to do, but that also means they lack the flexibility to acquire players who don’t fit their scheme. To their credit, the Knicks have bent more this season – but not enough to change perception of their methods.

If they want to change Rondo’s mind, they weren’t going about it by flattery.

Just ask former Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played for Jackson’s Lakers that beat Rondo’s Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals (and conveniently ignore Boston winning the same Finals matchup two years prior).

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

Rondo has earned a big raise with a bounce-back season. The Kings will likely pay him, but if not, he’ll have other suitors – likely including the Knicks’ crosstown rivals, the Nets. I doubt this tiff with the Knicks will affect him.

New York, on the other hand, faces grimmer prospects. Conley seems to legitimately enjoy playing for the Grizzlies. After Rondo, the Knicks could make a longshot offer to restricted free agent Jordan Clarkson, but the Lakers would likely match. Then what? Brandon Jennings? He’s alright, but he also might leave New York wishing its system accommodated choosing from a wider pool of players.

Hey, maybe firing Fisher will change Rondo’s perception of the Knicks. Then again, its essentially impossible to see Jackson hiring a coach who won’t run the triangle.