NBA Power Rankings: Antonio McDyess’ tip keeps Spurs on top

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where the Heat and Mavericks are hot, but are they really better than the Spurs and Celtics

1. Spurs (42-8, Last Week #1). They are on the annual rodeo road trip (a rodeo kicks them out of their arena for a couple weeks) and early on they got a quality win over the Lakers because Antonio McDyess wanted a rebound more than Lamar Odom. They are starting to get more out of Tiago Splitter, which is good for Tim Duncan.

2. Celtics (38-12, LW #2). They are 1-1 so far in tests against the best last week. They beat Orlando Sunday but lost to Dallas two nights before. This week the Lakers and Heat are on the schedule. Our thoughts are still with Marquis Daniels.

3. Heat (37-14, LW #3). Six wins in a row including one nice one against Orlando. This week is revenge week, taking on teams that beat them before, and that started with a win over the Clippers Sunday. Indiana and Boston fit the bill this week.

4. Mavericks (35-15, LW #7). Eight wins in a row and they get Peja Stojakovic back Monday night. (How much a guy who couldn’t get off the bench in New Orleans and Toronto really helps them remains to be seen.) The Mavs, when healthy, have played very well against the league’s elite, including a win this week against Boston.

5. Bulls (34-15, LW #4). They slip one spot because the Mavericks are winners of 8 in a row, but the Bulls are still 8-2 in their last 10 and playing well. People are not mentioning them among the contenders in the East, it might be time.

6. Lakers (35-16, LW #6). The Lakers are out on their annual Grammys road trip (preparations for the Grammys kicks them out of their arena for a couple weeks). They started it with a win in New Orleans and this trip could mold them into contenders, especially if Pau Gasol is more aggressive.

7. Thunder (33-17, LW #9). They knocked off the Hornets, Suns and Jazz last week, a sign that they are knocking on the door of the elite teams in the West again. Do they play enough defense to walk through that door?

8. Magic (32-20, LW #5). It’s too early to panic, but they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. For all the moves and potential of this roster, are they really there with the Celtics Heat and Bulls?

9. Hawks (33-18, LW #10). They are 9-11 this season against teams over .500, and 10 of their next 15 are against those teams.

10. Hornets (32-20, LW #8). With Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza out the Hornets defense will suffer. Just more pressure on Chris Paul to carry the team.

11. Nuggets (30-21, LW #11). We tried to say this for months — if Josh Kronke and Masai Ujiri waiting too long they would lose leverage in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. We’re at that point now.

12. Jazz (30-22, LW #12). Deron Williams is back but Raja Bell hit the nail on the head saying they are just not a good pick-and-roll defensive team.

13. Blazers (27-24, LW #13). This week pretty much summed up the Blazers this season – they beat the Spurs (behind a huge night from LaMarcus Aldridge) but then lost to Indiana and Denver. They almost gave Cleveland a win. You never know what this team will do on a given night.

14. Grizzlies (27-25, LW #15). Zach Randolph should have been an All-Star, but I see little chance of David Stern adding him as the extra player he can add on.

15. Knicks (26-24, LW #14). They gave Timofey Mozgov the start Sunday and he is back in the rotation, but this team is still not the same inside on defense without Ronny Turiaf. A big who can protect the rim has to be an offseason priority.

16. Sixers (23-27, LW #16). How much would you pay to keep Thaddeus Young with the team this summer? He’s a restricted free agent that should draw some interest.

17. Suns (23-25, LW #17). Two Steve Nash questions. Is he the guy David Stern adds to the West All-Stars? (He’s the smart bet.) Shouldn’t the Suns be listening to offers for him?

18. Warriors (22-27, LW #22). Um, they are actually playing some defense in the Bay Area lately. Don’t tell anyone.

19. Pacers (21-27, LW #25). They have won four in a row and interim coach Frank Vogel has them playing loose and aggressive. They are attacking. But the Raptors, Cavs and Nets were three of those wins, games they should have won anyway. They had a nice win against Portland, but games at Miami and at Milwaukee this week are better tests.

20. Bobcats (21-29, LW #18). Brutal stretch for a team trying to stay in the East playoff hunt (they are currently one game out of the 8 seed) — Celtics, Hawks, Lakers and Bulls on the schedule in the next week and a half.

21. Bucks (19-30, LW #19). They have lost four in a row. They are looking a little demoralized and mixing in some bad defensive games to go with the usually horrific offensive production.

22. Rockets (24-28, LW #21). Kevin Martin is putting up a lot of points, but he’s shooting just 40.1 percent in the last 10. The best player on this team of late has been Luis Scola.

23. Pistons (19-32, LW #23). Our “Free Rip Hamilton” campaign got him active for one game. But that entire situation is still just screwed up.

24. Clippers (19-31, LW #20). They are out on their Grammy trip (like the Lakers) and the road has not been kind to the Clips (six losses in a row away from Staples). The good news is they get to come back to Staples for two games in February. The bad news: Those two games are the Lakers and Celtics.

25. Nets (15-37, LW #26). Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris make a nice back court.

26. Kings (12-35, LW #24). The Kings are in the middle of a tough stretch of games, but even in the losses they are playing teams hard.

27. Wizards (13-37, LW #27). John Wall got into the All-Star Rookie Challenge… hey, we’re looking for positives and that is one.

28. Raptors (14-37, LW #29). They ended their 13-game losing streak against the Timberwolves, so guess who they jump in the rankings?

29. Timberwolves (11-39, LW #28). Kevin Love is a deserving All-Star, despite this team’s record. As for those three-way Carmelo Anthony trade rumors with the Wolves, not even Kahn would make that bad a trade for Minny.

30. Cavaliers (8-43, LW #30). They will set the record for futility tonight in Dallas, it will be 25 losses in a row. Mark you calendars now — they host the winless-on-the-road Wizards Sunday in a game we will watch, just like we gawk at car accidents.

Report: Mikhail Prokhorov ‘warmed’ to selling controlling stake of Nets

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Mikhail Prokhorov bought 80% of the Nets in 2010. A couple years ago, he tried to sell his stake, but decided to keep it. Then, he bought 100% of the franchise and its arena. After last season, he said he was selling 49% of the team.

Now?

Josh Kosman and Brian Lewis of the New York Post:

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, while focused on selling a minority stake in the franchise, has warmed recently to the possibility of offering a controlling slice of the team, sources close to the situation said.

The change of heart comes after the initial reaction to the minority stake sale was weak — and with interest in the Houston Rockets sale heating up, one source said.

The Rockets’ sale could shake out potential Nets buyers, and Prokhorov selling a controlling stake could also help. It’d cost more money than the 49% he’s offering now, but people with the money to buy an NBA team tend to value control.

This might be a good time to sell for Prokhorov, who lost a ton of money as the team paid major luxury tax for an all-in championship pursuit that flopped spectacularly. The NBA’s popularity is rising, and the league is reaping huge revenue from its national-TV contracts.

However, he shouldn’t assume the Rockets’ sale price will predict the Nets’. Buyers might prefer a good team with James Harden and Chris Paul to a bad one short on young talent after years of mismanagement. At least Brooklyn’s payroll is now tolerably low.

The big loser here: Leslie Alexander, who’s trying to sell the Rockets. The supply of NBA teams now available might have just doubled, and unless there’s no overlap in demand for those franchises, that can only drive down Alexander’s eventual sale price.

Report: Clippers paid $3.2 million – second-most ever – for draft pick (Jawun Evans)

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The Warriors set a record by paying $3.5 million for a draft pick, buying the Bulls’ No. 38 pick and using it on Jordan Bell this year.

That eclipsed the $3 million spent by each the Thunder in 2010 (to the Hawks for the No. 31 pick, Tibor Pleiss) and Nets in 2016 (to move up 13 spots for Isaiah Whiteside).

So did the Clippers’ purchase of the No. 39 pick (Jawun Evans) from the 76ers this year.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

The Clippers also paid the Bucks $2 million for the No. 48 pick (Sindarius Thornwell).

I rated Evans a low first-rounder due to his speed and drive-and-kick game, so getting him in the second round is good value. I’m not as keen on Thornwell, who’s already 22 and built so much of his success at South Carolina on being more physical than younger opponents.

But the more swings the Clippers take on young players, the more likely they are to find long-term contributors. More power to owner Steve Ballmer for greenlighting this expenditure.

Importantly, as players acquired through the draft, Evans and Thornwell will count for the luxury tax at their actual salaries. Players signed otherwise, even if their actual salaries are lower, count at at least the two-years-experience minimum.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can spend $5.1 million in cash this season. That amount will increase (or decrease) in proportion with the salary cap in coming years. So, expect the previous record for draft-pick purchase price – $3 million – to fall again and again.

There’s just more leeway now for the NBA’s haves to separate themselves from the have-nots.

Jeannie Buss says she didn’t understand why Lakers signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov

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Last summer, the Lakers signed Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) to contracts that immediately looked like liabilities.

At worst, Deng and Mozgov would help the Lakers win just enough to lose their top-three protected 2017 first-round pick – which would have triggered also sending out an unprotected 2019 first-rounder – then settle in as huge overpays. At best, Deng and Mozgov would provide a little veteran leadership while the team still loses enough to keep its pick… then settle in as huge overpays.

The Lakers got the best-case scenario, which was still pretty awful.

They had to attach D'Angelo Russell just to dump Mozgov’s deal on the Nets. Even if he no longer fit long-term with Lonzo Ball, Russell could’ve fit another asset if he weren’t necessary as a sweetener in a Mozgov trade. Deng remains on the books as impediment to adding free agents (like Paul George and LeBron James) next summer.

Who’s to blame?

Jeanie Buss was the Lakers’ president and owner. Jim Buss, another owner, ran the front office with Mitch Kupchak.

Bill Oram of The Orange County Register:

Within the walls of the Lakers headquarters, Jeanie’s grand corner office had begun to feel like a cell. She could not make sense of the strategy employed by her brother and Kupchak. They had cycled through four coaches in five seasons and under their watch the Lakers won a combined 63 games in three full seasons. Last summer, they spent $136 million of precious cap space on veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, who made little sense for the direction of the team.

“I just didn’t understand what the thought process was,” she said, “whether our philosophies were so far apart that I couldn’t recognize what they were doing, or they couldn’t explain it well.”

No. Nope, nope, nope. I don’t want to hear it.

Jeanie empowered Jim and his silly timeline, which made it inevitable he place self-preservation over the Lakers’ best long-term interests. That’s why he looked for a quick fix with Mozgov and Deng, who’s still hanging over the Lakers’ plans.

She deserves scrutiny for allowing such a toxic environment that yielded predictably bad results (even if family ties clouded her judgment).

That said, she also deserves credit for learning from her mistake. She fired Jim and Kupchak – admittedly too late, but she still did it – and hired Magic Johnson. There’s no guarantee Johnson will direct the Lakers back to prominence, but he clearly has a better working relationship with Jeanie than Jim did and, so far (in a small sample), looks more competent in the job.

Reports: Heat pessimistic about/uninterested in trading for Kyrie Irving

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Kyrie Irving, in requesting a trade from the Cavaliers, reportedly listed the Heat among his preferred destinations. Though Irving – without a no-trade clause and locked up for two more years – holds only minimal sway, teams would logically offer more for him if they believe he’d re-sign.

Will Miami trade for Irving?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

And while the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out, the Heat does not have considerable optimism about being able to strike a deal, multiple league sources said.

One Eastern Conference official who spoke to the Heat said Miami considers itself something of a long shot.

Tim Reynolds, the reputable Associated Press Heat and NBA writer, said on Steve Shapiro’s Sports Xtra on WSVN-7 that he does not believe Miami is interested in acquiring Irving.

Like the Kings, though to a far lesser extent, the Heat might not be interested because they know they stand no little of landing Irving.

Goran Dragic would almost certainly have to go to Cleveland in a deal, supplanted by Irving in Miami. Dragic would upgrade the Cavs at point guard over Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon, but at 31, Dragic would also significantly shorten Cleveland’s window.

The Heat would have to send much more. It’s just not clear what.

The Cavaliers, with Tristan Thompson, might not have much interest in centers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. Justise Winslow‘s weak 3-point shooting makes him a tough fit with LeBron James, and Winslow’s shoulder injury last season damages his stock anywhere. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are helpful contributors, but Johnson’s salary skyrockets north of $19 million each of the following two seasons, and Richardson will hit free agency (and get a raise) after this season. James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk – who all signed this summer – can’t be traded until Dec. 15. (I’m not sure which prospect is funnier, Waiters returning to Cleveland or playing with Irving in Miami.) The Heat also owe the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.

It’s difficult, maybe impossible, for Miami to assemble a suitable trade package given those constraints.

At least the Heat would keep open the possibility of LeBron returning if they don’t trade for Irving.