NBA Power Rankings, cue Glenn Frey because the Heat is on…

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where Mavs fans are going climb on me for dropping them down to five, and I get that. I just think the four teams above them are better.

1. Celtics (22-4). They’ve won 13 in a row. Remember how we have said that Doc Rivers is willing to sacrifice regular season games to keep players healthy. Well, not a lot of sacrifice.

2. Spurs (23-3). Manu Ginobili is bucking for the “best closer in the game” title with his play last week. The Spurs have Orlando, Washington and the Suns on the schedule this week — nearly every team in the weekend’s big trades.

3. Heat (21-8). A dozen wins in a row but if they lose Monday to the Mavericks and Saturday in Los Angeles the whole “they can’t beat a good team” meme will continue. Even though it isn’t true. It was that soft schedule which helped turn things around far more than that team meeting in Dallas, however.

4. Lakers (21-7). Either their defense has looked better since Andrew Bynum returned or they played some bad teams. Actually, a little bit of both.

5. Mavericks (21-5). Would have said the two games in Florida this week are a good test, but not sure what to make of Orlando yet (and they need some time to figure it out). So it’s the Heat. This Miami team is playing with more confidence then when the Mavericks beat them last time.

6. Thunder (19-9). They are 7-3 in their last 10, but they keep winning close games (12 by seven points or less) and that concerns me. Those kinds of things tend to balance out.

7. Jazz (19-9). Look for a run out of the Jazz. The return of Mehmet Okur (who may come off the bench for a while) will give them some scoring and options up front. Plus, pretty soft schedule for a few weeks.

8. Bulls (16-9). That loss to the Clippers shows how much they will miss Noah — if you can score inside you can beat the Bulls for the next couple months.

9. Hawks (17-12). Joe Johnson is back and shot 9-of-30 in two games. So, not much of a boost there. They really miss Jamal Crawford.

10. Nuggets (16-10). You could say that when Kenyon Martin gets back soon they can step up into that second tier in the West with Dallas and San Antonio. Except for that whole “going to trade Melo” thing.

11. Magic (16-10). Do you have any idea where this team will be ranked in two weeks? I don’t. Tough time to integrate new guys with the next four games being the Hawks, Mavericks, Spurs and Celtics.

12. Hornets (16-11). Moral victory against the Heat? Maybe if it wasn’t for falling to the Pistons on Sunday when they were without Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton. New Orleans continues to slip and we’d blame the owner if there were one.

13. Knicks (16-12). Three straight losses as teams are just collapsing down on Stoudemire. The role players need to step up more consistently, and the Knicks need to get better backups for Stoudemire and Felton.

14. Blazers (14-14). There are going to be some trades to shake up this roster in the next two months. But is Andre Miller really a guy they are going to send out?

15. Suns (13-13). Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez make a nice tandem at center and they can protect the paint. On the other side, at this point in their careers Vince Carter is no Jason Richardson in this system. Carter needs the ball in his hands, and that means it’s not in Nash’s.

16. Sixers (11-16). They are No. 16 with a bullet — they are 7-3 in their last 10 and would be are the eighth seed in the East if the playoffs started today. I think they’re going to make the playoffs, which is not something I would have said mid-November.

17. Rockets (12-15). They went 3-1 last week. Now they can forget about trying to integrate Yao and just go out and run. This is a fun team to watch when they just let it go.

18. Pacers (12-14). Danny Granger is averaging 18 points a game in the last 10 shooting 37.1 percent. Not efficient. But that sums up the Pacers right now (that and poor rebounding).

19. Grizzlies (12-16). Zach Randolph is averaging 2014 in his last 10. Why did I not draft him on to my fantasy team again?

20. Bucks (10-15). If you go 1-2 on the week against the Jazz, Mavericks and Spurs is that good? It could have been worse, I guess. Now they need to get by without Brandon Jennings for at least a month with a foot injury.

21. Bobcats (9-17). That gentle breeze you feel caressing your cheek? It’s trade winds coming to Charlotte and they are going to get stronger

22. Raptors (10-18). Well, at least Leandro Barbosa can hit half courters.

23. Pistons (9-19). They beat the Hawks and Hornets, then fall to the Clippers, so you tell me what is up with this team?

24. Warriors (9-17). David Lee averaging 15 points a game but on just 43.5 shooting in his last 10. There are nine boards a game too, from him.

25. Clippers (7-21). Two wins in a row on the road. You can’t stop the Clippers…

26. Nets (8-20). Sasha Vujacic may provide them some offensive spark — which shows you how bad their offense is.

27. Cavaliers (8-19). They are 1-9 in their last 10 but fought hard against the Heat and beat the Knicks. Maybe they are turning it back around.

28. Wizards (6-19). They needed to ship out Gilbert Arenas and make this John Wall’s team. Now they just need to get Wall back.

29. Timberwolves (6-22). They are 0-5 on a road trip but can salvage one win against the Clippers Monday. Love vs. Griffin.

30. Kings (5-20). In their last 10 games the Kings are shooting 43.9 percent, while their opponents are shooting 47.7 percent. You don’t win a lot of games with that kind of gap.

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

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Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

russell westbrook blake griffin
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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?

Report: Gordon Hayward will meet first with Heat in free agency, then Jazz, then Celtics

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Gordon Hayward is arguably the biggest available prize in free agency, and his dance card for the first couple of days in July is filling up.

Miami and Pat Riley will bat lead off in a series of meetings, reports ESPN.

Gordon Hayward will take his first free-agent meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday, a source told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. Hayward will then be traveling Sunday to meet Utah on Monday, with Boston coming after that…

Sources previously told ESPN the Jazz regard the Heat as no less a threat to lure Hayward away than the Celtics, whose interest in the former Butler star has been anticipated for some time, largely thanks to the presence of Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, on Boston’s bench.

For the record, there are rumors it’s Miami Saturday, Boston Sunday, Utah Monday, then he will take some time to make a decision. I’m not sure the order matters that much.

Hayward is an All-Star level player at a position of need for a lot of teams out on the wing. He averaged 21.9 points per game last season, shot 39.8 percent from three, can put the ball on the floor and be a playmaker for himself and others, plus can defend everything from stretch fours to point guards (he’s not a lock-down defender, but he is good). Hayward is the kind of versatile player teams need to compete in a modern NBA. He’s an elite wing player who is about to get paid like one.

The question is by whom? Around the league teams are convinced it will be one of those three, but which one depends on who you talk to. The Jazz seem confident they can retain him, where others seem confident he’s got one foot out the door. Only Hayward truly knows, and he’s wise to not speak on it and take the meetings. (If he takes his time deciding that could impact the chase for Blake Griffin, Miami and Boston reportedly have interest if they don’t land Gordon, but that can’t be Gordon’s concern. He has to do what’s right for him in his own time.)