NBA power rankings

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James_game2.jpgOur weekly NBA rankings, where we start to see teams get ready for the playoffs. Or try to improve their lottery position. Either way.

1. Cavaliers (56-15) Seven game win streak, best record in the NBA, and they get Big Z back this week. The only intrigue left for the last few weeks of the season is to see what team they get to destroy in the first round.

2. Magic (49-21) Rashard Lewis gets called out for not living up to his $18.5 million, he goes out and drops 24 and 11 on the Heat. And that’s the team’s big problem?

3. Lakers (52-18) LA has to get prepared for the playoffs without Andrew Bynum (he’ll be back next month). Had to do that the last two years, and they went to the Finals.

4. Nuggets (47-23) Injury questions about along the front line (not to mention the coach), and Denver’s next five games include Boston, Orlando and Dallas. Rockies-like mountains for this team to climb.

5. Mavericks (46-23) If Rodrigue Beaubois were a rookie on a lesser team, where he got a lot of burn, his name would pop up in Rookie of the Year conversations.

6. Hawks (45-24) Monday night game against the streaking Bucks, then on Wednesday they face Orlando. Atlanta has big playoff aspirations, these are the types of teams they need to beat in the playoffs.

7. Bucks (38-30) They are 14-2 since they traded for John Salmons. How much will they pay to keep him around this summer?  

8. Suns (44-26) Four wins in a row, and the last one against Portland was the kind of ground it out win the Suns will need in the playoffs.

9. Celtics (45-24) Four wins in a row and those old legs have looked fresh the last week. Can that really last into the playoffs? Boston fans gave a little extra in the church offering plate yesterday hoping to make it so.

10. Thunder (42-26) They dropped a game to the Pacers? Ugh. The mistake of a young team. Which we forget these Thunder are.

11. Jazz (45-25) The last five has seen wins against the bottom feeders — Washington, Minnesota and a CP3less New Orleans — but losses to Oklahoma City and Phoenix. They need to beat some good teams before the playoffs.

12. Spurs (41-27) Loss to Hawks Sunday, next four games are Thunder, Lakers, Cavaliers and Celtics. Tough road for a team trying to stay out of the eight seed.

13. Blazers (42-29) Go ahead and say they are only beating teams below .500 lately — I will because they are — but the fact is they are still beating them.

14. Heat (36-34) Teams at the top of the East all want to avoid Dwyane Wade in the first round — they know they can win the series, but he will make it harder than it has to be.

15. Rockets (36-32) The Aaron Brooks/Kevin Martin backcourt is already one of the most dynamic in the NBA. All they need is a powerhouse center and… oh yea. Yao.

16. Grizzlies (37-33) Heavy stretch of road games to end the season, but with this team that may be the best thing.

17. Bobcats (35-34) Don’t look at the team on the court the last week, look at that shiny new owner we’ve got.

18. Raptors (34-34) I’d say they were desperately holding on to the final playoff spot in the East, except everybody below them is crumbling.

19. Hornets (33-38) This week the Chris Paul and Darren Collison share the ball experiment begins. That should be interesting.

20. Kings (24-46) Big sigh of relief that Tyreke Evans will not miss the rest of the season. He’s the only thing making this team watchable (of course, they beat the Clippers without him).

21. Bulls (32-37) On paper, an enticing team for free agents. If said free agents watched them play this week, not so much.

22. Pacers (24-46) The Pacers with a couple of wins this week. It helps when Danny Granger drops 29. Still does not make this team watchable.

23. Sixers (24-46) Playing out the string, and having to do it against playoff teams. The next few weeks will be ugly.

24. Knicks (25-45) They are .500 in their last four games. Take the small victories, Knicks fans.

25. Clippers (26-44) I bought a cool San Diego Clippers throwback T-shirt this week. That’s about the only interesting news I have on this team.

26. Warriors (19-50) Warriors fans don’t care about these rankings, the team is for sale. That is the only ray of hope this franchise had.

27. Pistons (23-47) At least Stuckey is healthy because this team is not.

28. Wizards (21-47) Eleven losses in a row now, time to get to the end of the season and hit the reset button.

29. Timberwolves (14-56) Saw them in person against LA… they are that bad. But they are still trying for Kurt Rambis, most of the time.

30. Nets (7-62) I want to move you out of last, I really do. Just give me a win to do it with.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.

NBA rookies name Kevin Durant their favorite player

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses with his new jersey during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant faced tremendous backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

But not from NBA rookies.

In the league’s annual rookie survey, a plurality of first-year players voted Durant their favorite player:

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State — 29.7%

T-2. Carmelo Anthony, New York — 9.4%

LeBron James, Cleveland — 9.4%

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City — 9.4%

T-5. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio — 6.3%

Kobe Bryant (retired) — 6.3%

Paul George, Indiana — 6.3%

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers — 6.3%

T-9. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota — 4.7%

Others receiving votes: Vince Carter, Memphis; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

This is the third straight year Durant has claimed the top spot, matching LeBron and Kobe for combined wins in the six years this question was asked of rookies:

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This is further evidence: If you resent Kevin Durant for exercising his right to switch employers after nine years with a company that acquired him by producing an awful product, you’re out of touch. Follow the kids’ lead and get with it.

Jason Terry: Luke Walton ‘utterly declined’ my offer to provide Lakers veteran leadership

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  Guard Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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Before signing with the Bucks, Jason Terry said he reached out to multiple contenders.

He also spoke with the Lakers.

Terry tried to leverage his relationship with Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played at Arizona (though their time there didn’t overlap).

Terry on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

I called my good friend Luke. I told him if he needed any help, veteran leadership, in that capacity – Lakers – with an ability to coach at the end of my deal, then that was something I would be looking forward to. He utterly declined, and I respect him for that.

Gotta love a guy who announces to the world his pitch of providing veteran leadership was “utterly declined.”

The Lakers should be just fine with Jose Calderon and Luol Deng.