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NBA Power Rankings, where the top still looks like last year’s finals

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where nothing confuses us more than the Suns playing at the 20th fastest pace in the league.

1. Lakers (3-0). Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol have been the best front line in basketball through the first week. Kobe’s knee isn’t right, but it hasn’t mattered yet. Oh, and we told you Steve Blake was a huge pickup for them.

2. Celtics (2-1). They beat the Heat opening night… and you can’t read much into that. Not that Boston isn’t well built to give Miami problems, but the first game of the season is no time to make playoff assertions.

3. Heat (2-1). Along the same lines as the Celtics note, Heat fans should not just write off Orlando after one regular season game (Orlando was on a back-to-back and won’t shoot that poorly again). The overwhelming of a lesser New Jersey team, that you will see again.

4. Blazers (3-0). They said they wanted to reclaim their place as the young, up-and-coming team in the West. So far, so good. They are playing well at both ends of the floor.

5. Hawks (3-0). Hawks are killing it on offense, and that has been enough so far. But they killed it on offense last season, if the defense doesn’t improve it will catch up with them.

6. Mavericks (2-1). All that depth and some Jason Kidd three-quarter court shots has it looking like this could be a very good regular season for the Mavericks.

7. Magic (1-1). That loss to the Heat came on the second night of a back-to-back, when tired legs can turn good shooting teams into bad ones (and the Heat defense deserves some credit). The bad-shooting Magic will turn it around this week.

8. Hornets (3-0). New Orleans is the poster child for the preseason not mattering. They looked terrible in preseason, then Chris Paul flips the switch and they are undefeated first week in.

9. Spurs (1-1). In an era of rebuilding for superstar teams, the Spurs have remained loyal. Their big three will be together for another few years. Can those players reward management for that loyalty is the question?

10. Thunder (2-1). Oklahoma City is shooting just 39.9 percent from the field and just 20.7 percent from three. But they are winning because they are still attacking the rim, getting fouled and getting to the line. When they didn’t do that the Jazz blew them out. The shooting woes will turn around.

11. Nuggets (2-1). What Carmelo Anthony distraction? Have no idea what you’re talking about, they are playing just fine considering the front line is so banged up.

12. Grizzlies (2-1). Zach Randolph is out with a sore tailbone, but Marc Gasol is back from a sprained ankle. Memphis will need both of them to keep this up.

13. Bulls (1-1). It is the Derrick Rose show, they have nobody else who can create offense like him (until Boozer returns). That is a very entertaining show, by the way.

14. Jazz (1-2). It’s taking them some time to find their footing on offense with the new personnel, but they found it Sunday and blew out the Thunder. Was that an aberration or have they started to get it?

15. Kings (2-1). They’d be 3-0 if it were not for a total collapse in New Jersey. The Kings offense is fast and fun to watch, but the defense is going to improve or hold them back.

16. Bucks (1-2). Their offense and defense will get better, you have to think. Right now they are pretty average.

17. Warriors (2-1). Another from the really good on offense, really bad on defense category. But if you take away Stephen Curry and put Ron Artest on Monta Ellis, things don’t go so well.

18. Suns (1-2). It’s three games in, but the Suns are 20th in the league in pace. What happened to the team from last season? Can we blame Hedo for this too?

19. Pacers (2-1). Roy Hibbert has 11 assists versus just 2 turnovers in the Pacers two wins — the ball is not sticking with him and letting the defense adjust. That’s a big step forward for this team.

20. Nets (2-1). Come from behind wins against the Pistons and Kings — they would not have done that last year.

21. Knicks (1-2). Raymond Felton is still not comfortable just attacking off the pick-and-roll, and I drafted Danilo Gallinari on my fantasy team so I should have warned all of you he would turn to ice because of it. Still, better than last year.

22. Bobcats (0-3). Last season the Bobcats made the playoffs because they had one of the best defenses in the league. Three games in, they are 29th in defensive efficiency. If that keeps up, it will get ugly fast.

23. Rockets (0-3). Who are the Rockets? Their guards dominate and they should run more, but when Yao is in the team just looks lost and never really adjusts to the half court. The transition of Yao back into the rotation has been painful.

24. Pistons (0-3). Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey have been kept the offense going and the team does attack. But three heartbreaking losses? Either they fight through and win a few in a row, or this could become a season-long pattern.

25. Raptors (1-1). The Raptors are playing good defense. Yes, we believe this to be a mirage.

26. Timberwolves (1-2). Michael Beasley said they had to be the worst team in the NBA after they got blown out by Memphis. If Beasley says you’re the worst team in the league…

27. Cavaliers (1-2). Do you think the win over the Celtics was the real Cavaliers, or the two ugly losses? We lean toward the latter right now.

28. Wizards (0-2). Orlando then Atlanta is a tough way to open the season. We’ll get a better feel for just where the Wizards really stand in the next couple weeks.

29. Sixers (0-3). This team is worse than we thought. It’s worse than Doug Collins thought. But apparently the people of Philadelphia understood and are now solely focused on the Eagles.

30. Clippers (0-3). Blake Griffin is just flat out fun to watch. More Eric Gordon and Bledsoe will help in the backcourt. But this team is being out scored by 15.8 points per 100 possessions so far, worst in the NBA. So they get the bottom spot.

Larry Sanders considering making NBA comeback soon

Larry Sanders
Associated Press
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It was one year ago that Larry Sanders came to terms for a mutual parting of the ways with the Bucks, a buyout of his contract that let him get away from basketball. He had personal demons to deal with. Sanders had played just 50 games the previous two seasons for the Bucks, had been a nightclub brawl left him with an injured thumb in need of surgery, been charged with animal cruelty, had been suspended a couple of times by the league for marijuana use, and the list went on. It was best for both sides to walk away.

Sanders checked himself into a hospital program for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. At the time, he wrote he still loved basketball, but he needed better coping skills to handle the pressure and lifestyle.

“If I get to a point where I feel I’m capable of playing basketball again, I will.”

We may be reaching that time. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports:

After accepting a buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks to step away from the NBA last season, Larry Sanders told The Vertical he plans to pursue a return to the NBA once his off-court ventures stabilize.

“Once my art, music and passions off the court feel stable, I will look into coming back,” Sanders told The Vertical. “I still love basketball. I want stability around me, and part of my mindset to leave was not to put all my eggs in one basket.

“I feel highly valuable on any team. There aren’t a lot of people who can bring my game to a team. I still play basketball all the time, staying in shape. I will need to make sure the situation is right for me.”

Sanders would draw interest from teams (he already has this season), there aren’t a lot of athletic 6’11” defenders in the league. In the 2013 season, before he signed his contract extension, Sanders averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game. Teams would be willing to roll the dice.

Sanders is now working on his music, plus running a management company for artists. His buyout from the Bucks will give him $1.9 million a season until 2022, so a return to the league is not necessarily about the cash.

If he does come back, I hope for his sake his head is in the right space and can handle it. He needs to take care of himself first.

Will Phil Jackson ultimately leave Knicks to run Lakers?

Phil Jackson Jeanie Buss
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Phil Jackson has been thrust back into the New York spotlight with the firing of Derek Fisher for not being ready to be an NBA coach — who could have seen that coming? — and speculation about what moves he’ll make next. While you can point to misfires as the guy with the hammer in the Knicks organization, he nailed the Kristaps Porzingis pick and no doubt this Knicks roster is in far better shape than the one he took over. Plus, he’s kept owner James Dolan out of the basketball decision-making process, which is a huge step forward.

But if/when he gets the chance, will he bolt New York to team up with fiancée Jeanie Buss and run the Lakers?

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports writes there is a “strong belief” in some quarters that it will happen.

Golden State assistant Luke Walton is closest to a legitimately coveted candidate with ties to Jackson and the triangle – and he’s still largely unproven, too. Walton intrigues Jackson, but truth be told: Why would Walton come East without an assurance Jackson is committed to the long run in New York? There’s still a strong belief Jackson will eventually find his way to his fiancée Jeanie Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers. Walton will be competing with Thibodeau for the Lakers job in the spring, and who knows: Jackson and Walton could be reunited there.

Would Jackson leave the Knicks? The better question is, did anyone think he would stay the entire five years of his contract? Not many around the league did. Knicks fans should be legitimately concerned about who is next.

Lakers fans would welcome Jackson’s return because it means no Jim Buss. Fairly or not, Buss has become a scapegoat for a healthy segment of the fan base.

But this would be far from simple.

Jim Buss is in charge of the basketball side of the Lakers’ operation as empowered by the complex trust his father Jerry Buss used to leave the team to his six children. They all have roles, they all have pieces of the team, and truth be told they all have big aspirations. It sets up like a Shakespearean drama. Jeanie Buss is the ultimate power and the person the league recognizes as the owner for official votes of the board of governors, but this is not like other ownership situations where she has ultimate power and can fire whomever she wants and replace them — she can’t just ax family members and sideline them. Again, it’s a complex trust with shared power and responsibilities.

Jim has said if the Lakers are not a contender by 2017 he would step aside, although how he defines that time (the end of the summer of 2017, at the earliest) and how Jeanie defines it (more like early 2017, before that loaded free agency summer) differ. Nothing that happens with the Lakers will be clean and bloodless.

But if Jim steps aside and lets Jeanie bring in her own basketball people, Phil Jackson could well return to L.A.

Then we can have a discussion if that’s really best for the Lakers’ brand.

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

Personally, I hate the “won’t somebody please think of the children” argument — plenty of people have said emulating Kobe’s penchant for isolation basketball and contested jumpers was bad for children growing up playing the game.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA  says “I hate to do it” they all do it with increasing frequency. There will be more than twice as many instances this season of hack-a-player fouls as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because those coaches are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.