NBA Power Rankings: Trade deadline edition

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The trade deadline shook the league last week, and the ripple impacts our NBA Power Rankings. But at the top it is all Texas.

1. Spurs (49-10, Last Week #2). No deadline moves for this group, nor should there have been. They are 6 games up on the Mavericks and Celtics for best record in the league, and they will not be caught. They are going to have home court for as long as they last in the playoffs.

2. Mavericks (43-16, LW #3). Winners of six in a row and nine of 10, led by a powerful offense. Yes, Dirk Nowtizki is playing well, but Jason Kidd has been quietly excellent of late. Roddy Buckets is still trying to find his way.

3. Celtics (42-15, LW #1). They made one of the more surprising trades at the deadline, sending Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. That may come back to haunt them in the playoffs, but it wasn’t the reason they lost to Denver this week.

4. Lakers (42-19, LW #7). No moves at the trade deadline. Four wins in row after the break. Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into losses by older teams at the end of longer road trips.

5. Bulls (40-17, LW #5). They did not mortgage the future to get a second-tier wing at the trade deadline. Because they are smart. But Bulls fans, do not think Rasual Butler is the answer — his PER this season is worse than Keith Bogans’. The bigger key is Joakim Noah is starting to beast again.

6. Heat (43-17, LW #4). They drop games to the Bulls and Knicks where their end-of-game execution can be called into question. Their schedule now gets tough — Orlando, San Antonio twice, the Lakers, Chicago, Portland, Atlanta and Oklahoma City are on the books in the next few weeks.

7. Magic (38-22, LW #6). Dwight Howard is averaging 27 and 15 the last 10 games, but the really impressive part is he is shooting 67.8 percent in that stretch. He’s even hitting free throws. But is that enough to lift this team up?

8. Thunder (36-22, LW #8). They are the trade deadline winners because Kendrick Perkins brings exactly the toughness and rebounding they need out of a center. But we won’t see that for a few weeks as he is still injured.

9. Blazers (33-26, LW #9). We love the Gerald Wallace move on paper, but it’s going to take a little while to come together. The loss to the Lakers, that happens (well, not that much at the Rose Garden, but still). The ugly loss to the Hawks, that is something else entirely.

10. Hornets (35-26, LW #12). We like the Carl Landry trade, especially since they’ve struggled through with injuries to Emeka Okafor and David West. They now head out on a five-game road trip where we will get a real sense of how good they are. Or are not.

11. Grizzlies (33-28, LW #10). Zach Randolph is playing like a guy who wants a fat new deal, averaging 20 and 13 over his last 10 games.

12. Hawks (36-23, LW #11). The Hawks defense looked a lot better Sunday with Kirk Hinrich at the point. If that continues they will move up the rankings (but they are still not going to be elite).

13. Sixers (30-29, LW #13). We said this in the game recap but it bears repeating — the Sixers are over .500 for the first time since they were 2-1 under Eddie Jordan. Doug Collins should get some coach of the year consideration.

14. Nuggets (34-26, LW #14). Their two games without Carmelo Anthony have been their two best defensive games in recent memory. Keep defending like that and hey will make the playoffs. Easily.

15. Knicks (30-27, LW #16). They got their man. The loss to the Cavaliers followed by the win over Miami may be what we get out of a talented but still pretty thin lineup the rest of this season. Chauncey Billups has fit in well, he does not fear the big stage or end of game shots.

16. Suns (30-27, LW #18). Three wins in a row. The guy that really makes a difference for this team has been Marcin Gortat coming off the bench. He fits this system well for a big man.

17. Jazz (32-28, LW #15). No Deron Williams, and they are 1-5 since Jerry Sloan walked away. It’s just hard to be optimistic in the short term.

18. Rockets (30-31, LW #21). Goodbye Shane Battier. Goodbye Aaron Brooks. Hello Hasheem Thabeet. Clearly the Rockets are looking to rebuild… then they go win four in a row. They remain a scrappy team that is just hard to play against.

19. Pacers (26-32, LW #17). They learn that while the NBA’s salary cap may be soft, the trade deadline is hard and fast. No roster changes, and if they are going to hang on to the eighth seed in the East they will have to do it largely on the road.

20. Bobcats (26-33, LW #20). Our own Matt Moore said it well, Charlotte did well at the trade deadline because it looked long term over short for the first time in a long time.

21. Warriors (26-32, LW #19). Monta Ellis has gone cold from the floor (he shot 34 percent last week) and this team can’t win much unless he is hot.

22. Bucks (22-36, LW #22). Just a disappointing season because of the offense… which has too much talent to be this bad. More Brandon Jennings and a healthy Andrew Bogut would help, but it may be next season before we get those things.

23. Pistons (22-39, LW #23). The ownership change cannot go through soon enough because this franchise needs a strong hand at the helm fast. The John Kuester situation with rebellious players is just an embarrassment.

24. Clippers (21-39, LW #24). They got rid of Baron Davis’ contract and that was a trade deadline win. It’s the only win they had last week, however.

25. Timberwolves (14-46, LW #26). I like the idea of taking a shot on Anthony Randolph at the trade deadline. Kevin Love is up to 46 consecutive double-double games.

26. Nets (17-42, LW #27). They move up one spot because they went out and made the bold move  and got Deron Williams at the deadline. I like the trade, I like the long term potential. Doesn’t mean they won on the court last week.

27. Raptors (16-44, LW #28). They looked good beating the Bulls last week, and just terrible in their other three games.

28. Kings (14-43, LW #29). If this team moves to Anaheim it will be a sad statement on the league. The Honda Center in Anaheim is 18 years old and the NHL’s Ducks are not drawing big there (near the bottom of that league in attendance). But it has luxury boxes and a big television market. That is what it is all about now.

29. Wizards (15-43, LW #25). Nick Young and John Wall are making this team pretty entertaining of late. Not really good in any way, but entertaining.

30. Cavaliers (11-48, LW #30). If Baron Davis really has turned a corner and plays motivated, he will help a young team. I’m just not sold that Baron Davis will be around long. But at least they got a pick out of the deal, down draft or not.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.

Georgetown considering alum, Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing as head coach

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Georgetown fired John Thompson III – a totally reasonable move considering the program’s fall, but also a stunning decision considering a Thompson had led the Hoyas 40 of the last 45 years.

John Thompson Jr. still holds influence at Georgetown, and there will be desire to limit the radicality of this shakeup. That’s no easy task in what had become a family program.

A possible solution: Hire Patrick Ewing, who starred under the elder Thompson, excelled with the Knicks and is now associate head coach of the Hornets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Georgetown officials plan to consider the head-coaching candidacy of the university’s most legendary basketball alumnus, Patrick Ewing, sources told The Vertical.

Ewing, 54, has long been committed to pursuing an NBA head-coaching job and moved closer to getting one with the Sacramento Kings in the spring. Only the sudden availability of Dave Joerger, whom Memphis fired, stood between Ewing and a formal offer, league sources said.

Ewing – who has worked under Steve Clifford in Charlotte, Stan Van Gundy with the Magic, Jeff Van Gundy with the Rockets and Doug Collins with the Wizards – has long coveted an NBA head-coaching job. He had an illustrious career and put in his time as an assistant. Not long ago, that would have gotten him a top job. Now, it merely gets him interviews, and Ewing has yet to close.

Will that change? His close call with the Kings is a positive indicator, but they were desperate with established coaches avoiding them. It doesn’t mean other NBA teams will pick Ewing over a bevy of options.

Georgetown would give Ewing a chance to prove he can lead an entire program after being pigeonholed as a big-man coach. If he wins there, NBA teams would become more interested. His deep professional experience, playing and coaching, means he won’t risk being labeled just a college coach. Plus, returning to his alma mater could be fulfilling.

But the Hoyas could look elsewhere rather than handing the job to someone with no college-coaching experience. As Ewing surely knows by now, there’s no easy path to the top for him.

PBT Podcast: Former Bull B.J. Armstrong talks Jerry Kraus, triangle, Derrick Rose, more

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Three-time NBA champion — turned agent and podcaster in his own right — B.J. Armstrong joins me in this latest podcast and we get into a lot of different topics: late Bulls’ GM Jerry Kraus, the triangle offense in today’s NBA, his being an agent for Derrick Rose heading into free agency, his time in the elite eight with Iowa, and there’s even a Luc Longly story.

We also get into how Armstrong is busy post playing days, both as a Wasserman basketball agent and as a podcaster, he has a new show with Ric Bucher. He’s also working with a company called Cycle where he gives 24-second talks on NBA topics.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Courtside seats you can afford: NBA ventures into world of virtual reality

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Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams is banging on Houston’s Clint Capela — elbows extended, using those arms, his strength, and his backside to seal off like it’s a box-out. It’s the kind of surprisingly physical off-the-ball pick (with a little hold) that only those wealthy enough to have courtside baseline seats usually get to appreciate up close.

Adams’ pick works, it keeps the lane open — and Russell Westbrook explodes into that space for the kind of slam you can feel in those courtside seats.

Except you’re not courtside. Not even close.

You’re sitting on your couch, wearing the virtual reality headset that transports you to the baseline to Oklahoma City, via a camera attached to the stanchion behind the basket.

It’s a new view, a new way to experience an NBA game that the league is embracing, and while it’s still a work in progress it’s also something that shows a lot of promise.

“A lot of people see the (NBA virtual reality) commercials and think it’s cool, which it is, but until you experience it you don’t know,” said Bruce Bowen, the retired NBA champion who is now part of the virtual reality broadcast team on NBA games. “You don’t get the opportunity to experience things like this, when it comes to basketball and the best players in the world utilizing their athleticism, utilizing their grace, and seeing it come to life quite as it does.

“It just so happens that we did a game in Dallas, and Michael Finley — a friend of mine as well as a teammate of mine in San Antonio (Ed. note: he’s now in the front office in Dallas) — he watched the rerun. So after his game, he went and watched it and he was raving about it, about how this is truly special, and that you don’t think it’s going to turn out the way it does but it’s truly remarkable.”

The NBA is embracing virtual reality — and we’re not just talking about training referees, or teaching point guards to make better decisions. The NBA has become the first major professional sports league to broadcast weekly games that can be watched in virtual reality from a headset in your home. They did the same thing at the All-Star Game with the All-Star Saturday night events.

“It’s an unreal experience where you can put the VR headset on and look around and feel like you’re there,” Stephen Curry told NBCSports.com of his experience with the NBA’s virtual reality. “I know that technology is only going to get better and more impactful in the game of basketball, and sports in general.”

“I think our sport has some innate advantages,” says Jeff Marsilio, the Vice President of Global Media Distribution for the NBA. “We sometimes joke around that if we were to start over and build a sport for virtual reality, it would end up looking a lot like what our sport does today. …

“We’ve got huge players who are so incredibly athletic and you can get close to them with virtual reality.”

The league has partnered with NextVR to bring that courtside experience to fans. NextVR is a company that has experience broadcasting live events in virtual reality (including The Masters, among many others). I got the chance to test the technology at All-Star weekend. Like a lot of virtual reality tech, it is a work in progress in terms of smoothy watching the game, but it also new perspective that few fans get to experience. It is immersive; you feel like you’re much closer to the action than with a traditional broadcast.

It works like all VR does — if Westbrook drives and kicks to the corner to Victor Oladipo, you can turn your head to follow the ball and the field of vision pans with you.

To watch requires a virtual-reality headset and a Samsung phone with the NextVR app downloaded, or Google’s Daydream (which has other features from the NBA we will get to soon). If you have League Pass you can jump right in. If not, the cost is $6.99 per game, and there is about one game available per week.

NextVR puts together that broadcast, which has its own announcers and graphics.

“The adaptation in the broadcast is ‘look left, look right,’ really having to direct your audience, whereas in a regular telecast somebody is watching the game, you don’t have to say ‘look left at this,’” Bowen said. “What you’re doing now is directing the viewer to certain things that catch your eye. ‘If you look right you’ll see there’s a dispute going on between two players,’ or ‘this guy is coming right at you.’ Just helping them in certain situations.”

“It’s very similar to a live broadcast. The signal is produced in a truck (on site),” said David Cole, co-founder and CEO of NextVR. “The difference is there’s outbound signal from all of the available cameras, and that gives us the ability to allow you to choose the camera position you want.”

Soon, if fans want to watch from the courtside camera in the middle of the court, you’ll be able to have that view all game (even if a player checking in blocks your view for a while, just like people in actual courtside seats deal with). There are eight cameras usually at each game, and a handful will be set up by the end of the year so that you can stay just with that camera. If you want to know what it’s like to sit in courtside baseline seats — and you don’t have five grand to blow on one game — this is almost like being there.

“When we started experimenting with David and NextVR, we thought the ultimate was just the pure courtside seat experience,” Marsilio said. “And what we discovered in this experimentation phase is that’s a great core to build upon, but you really need to pull in some of the more traditional elements from things like television.”

Things such as having the score easy to see, or having replays of a dunk or block.

However, this presents a challenge. If a graphic pops up on your television at home while watching a game, you don’t think twice about it. However, if you are in an immersive environment where the goal is to make it seem like you’re in a courtside seat, then a graphic starts to take over that field of vision, it can take you out of that experience.

Which leads to the next challenge for the VR experience — social media. For many fans watching an NBA game is a two-screen experience, one with the game on and one — a phone, tablet, or laptop — with Twitter or another social media platform open. That has become part of the NBA community, almost like watching a game at a bar 20 years ago (but smarter and funnier… usually).

“We’ve demonstrated a number of different social integrations into the experience … you can opt to receive messages right now, so you can opt to text and that kind of thing in the environment right now,” Cole said.

“But it’s something we’re being incredibly studied and measured about right now because we can blow your sense of presence, that covenant with the view that says ‘this is just like being there and this is real.’ If you choose to have that different kind of information inserted and knock yourself out of that, that’s one thing. But when it just happens because someone sends you a message or a Tweet pops up or something that blows you out of the experience, it’s very disrupting. And we may not get you back.”

It’s a fine line to walk, and with the NBA on the cutting edge, the league is treating these experiments as a learning experience.

“That sense of presence you’re in danger of disrupting, it also gives it the potential to be the most social platform, because if you can give people the experience of being present together, you can give them the sense of watching together,” Marsilio said.

The NBA also partnered with Google Daydream for another way to integrate VR into the sport. Daydream has set up several experiences where a famous NBA player — the one I watched had Robert Horry — was sitting in a comfortable leather chair with a comedian/host in another chair, both in a loft-like environment, and on the big screen behind them is a classic NBA game. Throughout the experience, Horry and the host joke and talk about the action, telling stories and giving insights on the game.

“The chief opportunity for us is our live game, no question, but a close second is just getting our fans closer to our players,” Marsilio said. “Letting them experience that sense of presence of these players they admire so much. And you can feel like you’re hanging out, kind of watching the game together.”

Of course, the NBA will eventually look to sell advertising through these broadcasts — never forget that this is a business first. The key is to make those ads immersive and part of the experience, not just something to be watched passively.

“There is a huge amount of potential,” Cole said. “Whether they are cutaways (during breaks in the action) or insertions in another way — sponsored instant replay, sponsored graphics — there are options. …

“The one difference between us and a traditional linear broadcast is we have a 360-degree world to sell ads into.”

The NBA seems well positioned to bet on VR as the NBA’s demographic skews younger than the other major American sports leagues and is filled with early adopters. According to NextVR, the addition of mobile capability has already broadened the platform’s audience by a wide margin, proving there is potentially a large group for the NBA to reach.

“NextVR does not disclose viewership numbers however, we have seen an increased amount of time spent in headsets immersed with NBA content since the beginning of our partnership,” Cole said. “We also continue to receive extremely positive feedback.”

That feedback has the league pushing to get more people to put on the headsets and sit courtside. At a much more affordable price than the actual seats.