Offseason Power Rankings

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Mix together equal parts of ego and cap space to throw around, and you get one wild off-season. Everybody was making moves. There were decisions and The Decision.

And at the end of it all, the Lakers are on top.

Since most of the moves have shaken out, we’ve decided to do an NBA off-season power rankings. This is a ranking of NBA teams as we see them lined up for the next NBA title. The teams are accompanied by the betting odds for them to win the next NBA title (from Bodog Sports).

1. Lakers (odds to win next title 11/4)
They are the two-time defending NBA champions and good luck prying that trophy out of Kobe Bryant’s fingers no matter what kind of shape they are in. Scarier yet for the league, these Lakers should be better. Steve Blake is a better triangle point guard than the departed Jordan Farmar. Matt Barnes brings more toughness. If Andrew Bynum’s surgically-repaired knees can hold up for a season, the Lakers will head into next playoffs better than the last two years. They are still the king of the mountain.

2. Heat (7/4) Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh make the most talented trio the NBA has seen since the 1980s. Those three made a financial sacrifice to play together and will do the same on the court — their fantasy value goes down but their winning will go up. Pat Riley did a fantastic job with the rest of the roster — Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the keys. Erik Spoelstra will be under a lot of pressure, but he is a coach who can handle it. Still, there are questions. How long will it take for the group to gel? (Not long.) Who defends the paint on defense? (This is a bigger issue — Joel Anthony has fight but is undersized, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire will try but are not young.) With those big men, can the Heat match up with Orlando and Dwight Howard, Boston and it’s long front line or the Lakers with Bynum and Gasol? They’ll be good, maybe very good in the regular season, but the title will have to be earned.

3. Magic (11/1) They didn’t do much this off-season, other than be involved in Chris Paul rumors. Oh, and they got Chris Duhon, let us never forget that. But as much as they get overlooked, the Magic did not have to do much. This team has been to the NBA finals and the Eastern Conference finals the last two years. They kept JJ Redick and you’ll see more of him and less of Vince Carter. They will stick with their system of Dwight Howard and guys who can shoot the three, because it works. Jameer Nelson is still good and will have a chip on his shoulder. They still play defense. Overlook Orlando at your own peril, they are contenders.

4. Celtics (12/1) I picture Danny Ainge like John Belushi in the Blues Brothers, running around saying “we’re getting the band back together.” Then doing whatever it takes to make that happen, including pissing off Aretha Franklin. One smart move was picking up Jermaine O’Neal, who gives them some front line depth until Kendrick Perkins returns, and a lot more offense down low than Perk ever could. But it all comes down to health around the playoffs — fully healthy they are a serious contender, if not they are gone early. And while that is true of every team, with the age of the Celtics it is more of a risk than most places.

5. Thunder (18/1) For OKC, it’s about growth, not additions. They locked up Kevin Durant for five years. They got a little size to help combat the Lakers by drafting Cole Aldrich. They got Daequan Cook to spell Westbrook some, plus added guard depth with Mo Peterson. But if the Thunder just improve along the trajectory they already are on, they are about to make a big leap next season.

6. Bulls (15/1) If it wasn’t for the Miami Miracle, everybody would be talking about what a great offseason the Bulls had. They needed scoring inside, they got Carlos Boozer. They needed better play at the two, they got Ronnie Brewer. They needed better outside shooting, they got Kyle Korver. They got a coach who will preach defense first again in Tom Thibodeau. Add that to the core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng and you have a good team. With a new coach and new systems, it may take a while to gel, but come the playoffs this team should be scaring opponents.  

7. Spurs (28/1) I know, you’ve been hearing this for years and you’re done buying, but I really mean it this time — the Spurs have one more dangerous run in them. This season or next, the one year all the core guys can stay healthy, they are going to make one last big run in the Tim Duncan era. The key reason is Tiago Splitter, the best center for the last several years in Europe who the Spurs finally convinced to come to the states. He may not start, but you can bet he finishes games. And he will be the best big man Duncan has had next to him since the Admiral retired. Add in Tony Parker, George Hill and Manu Ginobili with a solid supporting cast and smart coaching and… it’s going to happen. Trust me.

8. Mavericks (18/1) It wasn’t for lack of effort. Mark Cuban busted it, Donnie Nelson tried everything, but the Mavericks go into the next season with the same roster that finished the last one. Which is not a bad roster. They kept Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood, look for Rod Beaubois to get more burn (he should have in the playoffs last year, but we’re letting that go and moving on now). They are on that tier one step back of the Lakers, but if for whatever reason the Lakers stumble Dallas is near the top of the West. And you can bet Cuban isn’t done trying.

9. Blazers (35/1) Their one big offseason move — essentially trading Kevin Pritchard for Rich Cho as general manager — is not going to have a big impact on the court. They added some good young talent with Wesley Mathews and draft pick Luke Babbit. The real key here is healthy — remember the Blazers were the up-and-coming young team two years ago, then injuries descended on them last season like they offended the basketball gods. If they can stay healthy — especially at center with Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla — they could surprise a lot of teams.

10. Rockets (35/1) It’s really simple: If Yao Ming is healthy, this ranking is too low. If not, it is too high. This summer the Rockets picked up some people to help keep Yao’s minutes down — Brad Miller and rookie Fredrick Paterson. They’re nice, but it is all about Yao. They have the backcourt (Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin), they have the role players (they kept Luis Scola) but Yao is the key.

11. Jazz (30/1) They lost Carlos Boozer, they replaced him with Al Jefferson. They lost Wesley Mathews and replaced him with Raja Bell. Goodbye Kyle Korver, hello Gordon Hayward. This was really a fantastic offseason by the Jazz — it could have been a disaster but they replaced key losses and may have even upgraded a little. The Jazz remain in that tough middle ground of good (52 wins last season, probably just a few less this season) but not good enough to challenge the elite. Still, fantastic offseason to replace those that bolted.

12. Bucks (40/1) The senator/owner opened up his wallet and now the team nobody in the East wanted to play in the first round (until Andrew Bogut went down) is going to be better. Brandon Jennings will not be a rookie anymore, and the Bucks have paid to keep John Salmons. They added solid depth along the front line with Drew Gooden and draftee Larry Sanders. They got Keyon Dooling and Chris Douglas-Roberts to solidify the backcourt. This is a good team that can get a top four seed in the East and advance to the second round. Not sure they can beat the elite, but this is a very good team.

13. Hawks (28/1) Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They kept Joe Johnson (at a steep price) but did not add any size around him. New coach Larry Drew may be able to get more out of this squad — maybe get them to
play better defense and conv
ert that to offense going the other way. Maybe Jeff Teague can give them a boost at the point. Even still, this is a good team – maybe a 50 win team again — that can’t beat the East elite. They are what we thought they were.

14. Nuggets (18/1) Kenyon Martin is going to miss much of next season, and they need him to come back right for the playoffs to have any chance. They tried hard to get more size but missed on all their attempts. They did land Al Harrington and Sheldon Williams, but that’s not the answer. They have Carmelo Anthony, they have Chauncey Billups. This is a good team. But they do not have the talent to beat the Lakers or the top of the West. Right now, they are what they are, good but not great.

15. Suns (35/1) They lost Amare Stoudemire, and the window for Steve Nash and his back will not be open that much longer, so the Suns took some risks. They had to. They traded for Hedo Turkoglu, who when motivated is a good fit in the Suns system. He can also take on some of the ball-handling duties for the team. I love the Josh Childress signing and having him back in the league. Hakim Warrick was a quality pick up. However, it’s hard to see how the Suns really got better, while teams around them did. It’s hard to see them back in the Western Conference finals with this roster.

16. Grizzlies (50/1) They didn’t make big moves this summer — Tony Allen is a nice signing for depth, and Xavier Henry can be a boost if they stop messing around and sign him. But mostly they are counting on what worked last year working better this year. A better O.J.Mayo, a better Zach Randolph, a better Marc Gasol. And new max-deal man Rudy Gay stepping up to really lead. Seems like the kind of thing that could fall apart, plus the Grizzlies will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.

17. Hornets (40/1) Trade rumors swirl and ownership is in transition, or isn’t, we can’t tell. Two things that usually spell trouble for a team. But this team still has Chris Paul, back fully healthy, plus David West. Draftees Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter can provide something their first year. Emeka Okafor gives you more than his reputation would suggest. Basically, this team isn’t that bad. It isn’t good, not nearly as good as Chris Paul wants, but it isn’t a train wreck either. And they have some big contracts coming off the books to give them some flexibility for the future.

18. Warriors (75/1) The biggest off-season move in the Bay Area was not the signing of David Lee, it was Joe Lacob and Peter Guber buying the team. This team desperately needed new ownership, and now with that will come some big changes on the basketball operations side (once the owners get full control). Gone will be Don Nelson, which means draftee Ekpe Udoh might actually get to play. They traded a way a lot of talent this summer, however still have Stephen Curry and Lee. It’s hard to predict how good or bad they will be exactly. But now there is hope for the future in the Bay Area, and that alone is a huge boost for the fans.

19. Sixers (100/1) The biggest thing that will speed the Sixers turnaround — players will buy into what new coach Doug Collins is selling in a way they never did with Eddie Jordan. They have some players, too. Philly drafted Evan Turner No. 2 and will pair him with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. Turner looked a little lost at Summer League, but he is still figuring out how to fit his game into the NBA. They still have Andre Iguodala. They lost Samuel Dalembert but picked up Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni. If Collins can get something out of Elton Brand, this ranking will be too low.

20. Kings (150/1) This team is going to be very entertaining. Draft pick DeMarcus Cousins and Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans will play very well off each other. Samuel Dalembert is a good fit along the front line. The Kings got bigger and better and are building a nice foundation. Not sure how far it will take them this year, but they are building.

21. Knicks (35/1) Amare Stoudemire up front and Raymond Felton running the show make this team a lot better. Anthony Randolph could have a breakout year. New York is building a roster that fits with the Mike D’Antoni system. Things are looking up. But they won 29 games last year, there was a lot of room for improvement. They still need one more big piece like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul before New York will be all the way back.

22. Bobcats (50/1) They won 44 games last season then this summer they lost Raymond Felton and traded away Tyson Chandler. They got Erick Dampier in a trade, but will cut him to get under the luxury tax threshold. Sounds like they got worse, which means no return trip to the playoffs, unless Tyrus Thomas and D.J. Augustine really step up their games. We will be rooting for Shaun Livingston to do well also. But it’s hard to be very optimistic here.

23. Clippers (100/1) It’s like they get two first-round picks this season — Blake Griffin can finally play, plus Al-Faroqu Aminu. The Clippers also made some nice pickups by drafting Eric Bledsoe and bringing in Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye. All that with the core that includes Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon. Still, everything comes down to this: Can new coach Vinny Del Negro get Baron Davis to play well with others, and to care for 82 games? Or even 75 games would be good. On paper the Clippers have playoff talent, even in the West. But Davis has to be on board. And how much do you want to bet on that?

24. Wizards (50/1) They got the building block in John Wall. He is potentially that good and flashed it at Summer League. He is a blur end-to-end. Pair him with Gilbert Arenas in the starting backcourt, with Kirk Hinrich and Josh Howard coming in off the bench and you have a good guard rotation. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee should get a lot of spectacular dunks in transition with feeds from Wall, who is a blur end-to-end. But that is the key — the Wizards have to run. They have to get Wall in the open court. Assistant coach Sam Cassell said that was the plan, we’ll see if the team follows through.

25. Nets (150/1) They swung for the fences this summer and struck out. Still, they should be better this year. Drafting Derrick Favors was smart, he has potential but like a lot of this team he still needs to grow. They made a great signing with Anthony Morrow plus picked up a solid backup PG in Jordan Farmar. Avery Johnson will have them playing hard. Still a lot left to do for Mikhail Prokhorov before they are in Brooklyn in two years.

26. Pacers (100/1) They want to run, they don’t have a point guard who is comfortable in that offense, and they didn’t get one. Second round draft pick Lance Stephenson is nice and could become the guy who can run the show at the point, and first-round draft pick Paul George has potential. But the Pacers stood pat. So for now, this team remains the Danny Granger show. They won 32 games last year, hard to see them improving on that now.

27. Pistons (100/1) They won 27 games last year, and they drafted a big man who needs some work in Greg Monroe. That’s basically it. They are bringing the same team back. Maybe they can’t make any big moves until the for-sale team has a new owner, but it is about time to blow this thing up and rebuild.

28. Timberwolves (150/1) They have Darko Milicic for four more years. They have the chance to rehabilitate Michael Beasley. We could spend all day mocking David Kahn and the Wolves because they seem to have no plan, at least not one that blends with the triangle offense Kurt Rambis wants to run. But there is some talent on the roster. They did draft Wesley Johnson to play the three, and they do have Kevin Love, a quality four. Luke Ridnour is an upgrade at the point. Martell Webster can shoot the rock. I have no idea what the master plan is, but the roster has a few nice pieces.

29. Raptors (150/1) They lost Chris Bosh. They have
put together a roster that looks like it’s in the EuroLeague. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Toronto fans are happy to see Hedo Turkoglu gone, but that is another offensive option now playing elsewhere. Look for DeMar DeRozan to have a big year, for Amir Johnson to get his chance, for draftees Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi to play well, but this team is about to take a step back.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (60/1) Do we really need to go into what a bad offseason this was in Cleveland? Byron Scott is at the helm now of a major rebuilding project that is going to see some tough years until some good young pieces can be put in place.

“Tired” Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest. Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.