NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks start out season on top

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Welcome to our inaugural power rankings for the 2011-12 NBA season (a regular Monday feature at PBT). These are fun if ultimately meaningless — in the NBA we have a playoff system to decide who is best (are you listening college football?). This is a preseason ranking, so remember that when you get mad about where your team is ranked.

1. Mavericks (last season 57-25). The defending champions always get to start out on top. The Mavericks are going to be a very good regular season team again — Lamar Odom gives them some real versatility — but how much will they miss Tyson Chandler in the playoffs?

2. Heat (58-24). They made it to the finals and added Shane Battier. In the playoffs last year this team seemed to really figure out how to play together, expect that to carry over to the regular season.

3. Bulls (62-20). Best regular season record in the NBA and they added Richard Hamilton. No team went harder in the regular season last year, but when it got to the playoffs they didn’t have another gear. Will that change this time around?

4. Thunder (55-27). This is a team that won 18 of 22 down the stretch last year and went to the Western Conference finals. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka make them able to match up with the big front lines in the West and they have that Kevin Durant guy.

5. Lakers (57-25). They will miss the depth of Lamar Odom off the bench, but this is still a team that boasts as good a front line as there is in the league with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, plus they have Kobe Bryant on the wing. Look for L.A. to be a more physical defensive team this year.

6. Knicks (42-40). They won free agency by signing Tyson Chandler, who will turn them from a bad to average defensive team. Plus, he will change their pick and roll game because he sets a mountain of a pick and then rolls hard. Not that Toney Douglas knows what to do with it.

7. Celtics (56-26). Amazing starters but not a lot of depth here, we’ll see how that impacts them as the season wears on. I’m expecting a big year for Brandon Bass.

8. Grizzlies (46-36). Expectations are high. After Rudy Gay went down last season the Griz found an identity working the ball inside out, can they now integrate Gay into that or will it throw off their system?

9. Spurs (61-21). They were the best team in the West last regular season, but they didn’t have the size up front to stop a team with a big front line in the playoffs. A team like Memphis. That hasn’t changed.

10. Clippers (32-50). This honestly may be too high a ranking for them, but like everyone else we are excited to see the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick-and-roll. The real question is how well this team defends.

11. Blazers (48-34). This is a good team that added Jamal Crawford. They lack the superstar to get them over the top, but you underestimate them at your own peril.

12. Magic (52-30). They still have the single best big man in the league in Dwight Howard. At least for now. I’d say the swirling trade rumors around the team will hurt them on the court, but really it’s their roster that does that more.

13. Nuggets (50-32). They are fielding the best team in China (J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler are all still there). Keeping Nene was huge for this team.

14. Sixers (41-41). They took steps forward last year under coach Doug Collins, but can they do that again? Will the roster let them take that step forward?

15. Hawks (44-38). No Jamal Crawford is going to hurt them. But at least with Mike Bibby gone Jeff Teague finally gets to be the point guard here.

16. Rockets (43-39). The best team not to make the playoffs last season. They should be about the same. GM Daryl Morey is looking under every rock for a big man to sign.

17. Pacers (37-45). Great pick up with David West, if he is back anywhere near his old form the Pacers move up in the Eastern rankings.

18. Bucks (35-47). Last season it seemed everyone on their roster was injured. This team defends like mad, if they can stay healthy they are a team you don’t want in the first round of the playoffs. Good center, good point guard, good defense.

19. Suns (40-42). They were able to keep Grant Hill and pair him with Steve Nash in a remake of the Over The Hill Gang.

20. Warriors (36-46). Hands down, man down. Momma, there goes that man. They just gotta come out and compete.

21. Jazz (39-43). The Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson front line is worth watching.

22. Kings (24-58). There is so much potential on this roster, and I am in no way convinced they can bring it all together. Do you trust the Tyreke Evans/DeMarcus Cousins combo to bring it every night?

23 Wizards (23-59). I expect John Wall to have a monster, breakout sophomore campaign. But it is JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche that decide how good this team is and how far it goes.

24. Nets (24-58). How will the trade rumors that will surround this team all season impact them on the court? This team looks better on paper than it does on the court, and I don’t love it on paper.

25. Pistons (30-52). I like the Lawrence Frank hiring, but he has a mountain of work ahead of him.

26. Timberwolves (17-65). They could be this year’s Clippers — entertaining to watch but not going to win a lot of games.

27. Hornets (46-36). They got some nice building blocks from the Clippers, but there is a lot of building to do. And until they have an owner none of that building really starts in earnest.

28. Raptors (22-60). How big a step forward can DeMar DeRozan take this season?

29. Cavaliers (19-63). Kyrie Irving is going to be thrown to the wolves this season, but there is not a whole lot around him.

30. Bobcats (34-48). Sorry MJ, but this is not a good team that has had a rash of injuries and has a disgruntled star.

How much will Dion Waiters earn as a free agent?

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Dion Waiters had the best season of his career last year at age 25 in Miami. The Heat pushed Waiters to get in the best shape of his life (just check out his Instagram), and combine that with the fact that Justise Winslow went down Waiters got the ball in his hands more with a chance to create for himself, and you had a little rush of scoring. He’s still not the most efficient player ever (to be kind), but he’s close to average.

Waiters opted out of his $3.2 million he is owed next season, and he is now a free agent. How much is he will he get now on the open market? Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote this:

One scout said he would be surprised if the bidding for Waiters soars much above $10 million, if that, because of his small sample size of high-level play this past season. One prominent agent who does not represent Waiters predicted he would get $8 million to $10 million annually.

That number seems about right, if it’s a two-year deal (or a team option on the third year). The league average salary will be around $8.5 million, and that’s where Waiters should fall next year.

Whether Miami has that money to spend comes down to whether they land a big free agent such as Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin (both max guys). If so, the Heat will not have the money, and what they do have would be more focused on keeping James Johnson. However, if the Heat strike out then Waiters could be back in Miami.

One way or another Waiters is going to get a raise. That doesn’t mean teams are not still leery.

Report: Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose

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Were they watching the games last year?

Derrick Rose put up decent numbers last year — 18 points per game, PER of 17, true shooting percentage of 53 — but was a mess defensively and does not fit in the triangle offense. He’s a decent point guard now, a replacement level player who can help in the right system.

Since the Knicks point guard rotation right now consists of rookie Frank Ntilikina plus whoever the team signs this summer, turns out Rose is not out of the picture, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The New York Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose, league sources familiar with the matter said….

The Knicks’ interest in the point guard is dependent on several factors, including his health and his asking price. When asked last week about New York potentially re-signing Rose, team president Phil Jackson said “we’re listening.”

Money will be the key — it’s not going to be anywhere near the $21.3 million Rose made last season. No team is going to offer that.

Can the Knicks get him for less than $10 million? Will another team come in and offer $12 million or more for him? The market for point guards this summer is going to be interesting because after the big name on the free-agent market — Chris Paul (we’re not counting Stephen Curry, he’s not leaving) — there are some quality players out there that can help teams such as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Patty Mills, Jeff Teague and Shaun Livingston. There aren’t that many teams with money to really spend on free agent point guards, so while a couple (Holiday, maybe Lowry) re-sign with their old teams there are a number of guys who may find the market softer than they expected. Rose is among them.

And that’s where the Knicks come in. Rose is far from a perfect fit, but if the soft market drives his price down closer to the midlevel ($8.4 million) or just above, that may be worth it for the Knicks for a year while they try to develop the rookie.

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.

Bulls: No decision yet on Rajon Rondo’s future with team

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls are not ready to say whether veteran point guard Rajon Rondo will be back for a second season.

Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson says that “is still to be determined.” The Bulls can pay Rondo $13.4 million or buy him out for $3 million by Friday’s deadline.

Paxson spoke Tuesday during a news conference to introduce newcomers Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen, who were acquired from Minnesota for Jimmy Butler on draft night. The Bulls were planning to meet Tuesday with Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy, who represents LaVine.

Paxson also says a buyout on Dwyane Wade after he exercised his $23.8 million option “has not been broached.” Paxson says the Bulls, at least for now, assume Wade will play for Chicago.