Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook celebrates with small forward Kevin Durant during their NBA basketball game against Chicago Bulls in Oklahoma City

NBA Power Rankings: Top spot now Thunderstruck


There can’t be any question about the Thunder in the top spot after the last 8 days, but there are questions about the Heat and the Bulls in the East. And the Celtics and Spurs as spoilers.

1. Thunder (40-12, last week ranked number 2). They beat the Heat, Bulls and Lakers in the last 8 days. Any other questions? Big test again this week as they get a rematch with the Heat, but I think the questions about who is coming out of the West have been answered. Unless it is the…

2. Spurs (36-14, LW 3). Winners of seven in a row now and the question is “are they legit contenders?” I still think they struggle in the playoffs if they have to face one of the big scoring front lines (the Grizzlies and Lakers) but you can be sure the Thunder would like to avoid them.

3. Bulls (42-12, LW 1). Despite the ugly loss to the Thunder there can’t be any complaints about how this team has performed without Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton. Miami isn’t putting any pressure on them to rush Rose back, but you still want him to return about six games or so before the playoffs to shake off all the rust and get in some game-speed action.

4. Heat (37-13, LW 4). Ugh. They are 1-7 on the road against playoff teams since the All-Star break. Is it because they are bored right now in the dog days of the season, or are they fundamentally flawed? They get a chance to redeem themselves against the Thunder this week, at home where they play well, and they also have the Grizzlies and Celtics coming up at home, too.

5. Lakers (33-20, LW 5). Getting thumped by the Thunder last week shows the gap between them and the Thunder right now, but even in their wins last week the Lakers look tired. The Lakers starters have been okay but the bench is a mess and will get tested more with Bynum out. Heading into the playoffs Mike Brown needs to get his key guys some rest. Key contest against the Clippers Wednesday.

6. Clippers (31-21 LW 10). Five straight wins has quieted the Vinny Del Negro talk — and they have looked good, especially Chris Paul of late. But all of the wins came at home. If they want to win the Pacific Division they need to beat the Lakers Wednesday, they also could use to beat Dallas Monday on the road. Good tests to see if this team is really a contender.

7. Celtics (30-22, LW 14). Impressive win against the Heat Sunday, but also had quality wins last week against Houston and Minnesota. They are going to win the Atlantic Division, which means avoiding the Heat or Bulls out of gate.

8. Mavericks (30-23, LW 8). They have had one of the toughest schedules in the league since the break — a lot of good teams and having to face them on little rest. Dirk Nowitzki has found his groove again, scoring more than 20 points consistently now.

9. Magic (32-20, LW 6). They looked pretty bad without Dwight Howard (out with back spasms) and they will continue to until he returns (day-to-day). They are built around him at both ends of the floor.

10. Grizzlies (28-22, LW 11). Right now it shapes up to be a Lakers vs. Grizzlies first round matchup — which would be epic. And the rest of the West is rooting for that because nobody wants to take on either of these front lines in the first round, let them battle it out amongst themselves.

11. Hawks (31-23, LW 7). Losses to Chicago and Philadelphia last week have you questioning this squad once the playoffs start. Pretty soft schedule from here on out is the good news for them.

12. Pacers (31-21, LW 9). They beat the Heat and lost to the Nets last week. So yes, they tend to be a bit up and down.

13. Knicks (27-26, LW 17). Without Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire the focus will be on Carmelo Anthony, but the Knicks have been winning thanks to defense. Tyson Chandler is this team’s MVP.

14. 76ers (29-23, LW 12). Does anyone really think they are going to catch up to Boston for the Atlantic Division crown? No, nott since they finish this season mostly on the road. Which means they are going to draw Miami or Chicago in the first round.

15. Nuggets (28-24, LW 16). They handed the Bulls and Magic a loss last week and have gone from a team looking like they were sliding out of the playoffs to a team clutching one of the final spots. If they make the playoffs with this roster and all these injuries George Karl deserves a raise.

16. Rockets (28-25, LW 19). Houston plays Phoenix and Utah one more time each, both at home. Win those and they likely make it in. Goran Dragic hits the free agent market this summer and a lot of teams will be lined up to snatch him away.

17. Jazz (27-26, LW 13). Three tough losses last week, that could come back to haunt them. They need some quality wins, like Wednesday at Portland.

18. Suns (25-26 LW 15). No Grant Hill for a while (even though he is trying to get back) and now they head out on the road for seven of their last eight. That said, lots of games left against Denver, Houston and Utah — Phoenix’s fate is in it’s own hands.

19. Bucks (24-28, LW 18). Despite the loss in New York last week this team still has a shot at the playoffs, 2.5 games back of the Knicks. But they need to clean up on an upcoming home stand, and they need to find a way to get Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis clicking at the same time. (Good luck with that.)

20. Timberwolves (25-29, LW 20). Kevin Love is not your MVP but his effort to keep the Wolves in the playoff hunt deserves your admiration.

21. Blazers (24-28, LW 21). They started out just terribly after the All-Star Break but have turned it around some of late thanks to… J.J. Hickson? In part. He’s shooting 65 percent since coming to Portland.

22. Pistons (19-33, LW 25). They are the best of the NBA’s bad teams. That and $4 gets you a latte at Starbucks.

23. Nets (19-35, LW 26). Three wins in a row and Deron Williams is playing well. Portland fans would like to thank you for not tanking.

24. Kings (18-34, LW 23). No team has improved more statistically from before the All-Star break to after it, in part thanks to the entertaining three guard combo of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans.

25. Warriors (20-31, LW 22). They are doing a good job of tanking without actually looking like they are tanking — they hang close in games then just find a way to lose.

26. Raptors (18-35, LW 27). Don’t tell anyone, but the Raptors are playing fairly well on offense since Andrea Bargnani is playing well.

27. Cavaliers (17-33, LW 24). There is going to be either and 8.8 percent or 6.3 percent chance that the Cavaliers win the NBA lottery again (maybe even higher, if they keep tanking like they have been going 1-10 of late). Anthony Davis next to Kyrie Irving could be a lot of fun to watch.

28. Hornets (13-40, LW 28). When are they going to announce the sale of this team as official, anyway? I’m not asking for me, Mark Cuban wants to know.

29. Wizards (12-40, LW 29). If Nene were healthy they’d be a lot better… which is actually bad for draft reasons. So it’s all going to plan.

30. Bobcats (7-43, LW 30). Some radio talk show host in your town will start to make a case about how the Bobcats should take Thomas Robinson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or somebody else ahead of Anthony Davis. That person is full of crap. The Bobcats just hope they get stuck with that choice.

Knicks waive Lou Amundson, four others to keep Ron Baker

New York Knicks guard Ron Baker (31) goes to the basket against Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) and guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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Ron Baker was one of the top undrafted players, and the Knicks scooped him up quickly.

They probably didn’t realize just how much they’d need him.

New York’s rotation point guards are Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings, who both carry unsettling injury histories. Additionally, Rose missed most of the preseason while successfully defending himself in a rape lawsuit.

The Knicks can’t afford to go without a third point guard, and Chasson Randle‘s injury left Baker.

But because the they have 15 players with guaranteed salaries – Baker isn’t one – the Knicks had to waive Lou Amundson, who just signed a guaranteed deal. New York also waived Randle, J.P. Tokoto, Damien Inglis and Cleanthony Early, none of whom had fully guaranteed salaries.

Other candidates with guaranteed salaries who could’ve been waived: Sasha Vujacic, Marshall Plumlee and Maurice Ndour.

The bigger mystery than why the Knicks chose Amundson to waive is why they gave him a fully guaranteed contract in the first place.

Reports: Celtics waive No. 51 pick Ben Bentil, offering R.J. Hunter or James Young for second-rounder

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Ben Bentil #0 of the Providence Friars passes in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 85-66.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Celtics knew they drafted too many players, which is why they convinced No. 16 pick Guerschon Yabusele and No. 23 pick Ante Zizic to remain overseas and No. 58 pick Abdel Nader to sign with the D-League. That will allow Boston to maintain exclusive NBA negotiating rights on all three players.

But that still left three draft picks – No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown, No. 45 pick Demetrius Jackson and No. 51 pick Ben Bentil – joining the Celtics’ roster. There isn’t enough room for all three, and Bentil – the only one without a guaranteed salary – is getting the boot.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

If Bentil clears waivers, Boston can assign his D-League rights to its affiliate. He would remain an NBA free agent. However, another team could claim him first, waive him itself and then assign him to its D-League affiliate. Whichever team waives Bentil last will be on the hook for his $250,000 guarantee. It’s also possible a team claims him and keeps into the regular season.

I’m not high on Bentil, who hogged the ball for a lot of bad shots at Providence. But he has talent, and I’d love him on my D-League team. It’s also not my $250,000 to spend.

Sadly for the Celtics, waiving Bentil was already expected. They still need to shed someone with a guaranteed salary to meet the regular-season roster max, and James Young and R.J. Hunter are the most likely to go.

Of course, Boston doesn’t want to lose one for nothing.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

I believe Hunter is more valuable than a second-rounder in a vacuum, and Young also might be. But there’s limited incentive in preemptively trading for a player who will likely become a free agent otherwise. Sure, you get your pick of the two, and you avoid fighting other teams for him. But you also get him on a rookie-scale contract rather than what could be a cheaper deal.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics trade one before they have to waive one, but they don’t have much leverage.

More Collective Bargaining Agreement details emerging

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are on track for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon, and details are emerging about the new deal.

Here are some more.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

There is currently not enough support for an amnesty clause among NBA owners as they continue negotiations for a new deal with the National Basketball Players Association, sources told ESPN.com.

Under the new deal, players are expected to be able to sign contract extensions two years after the date of their original signing. Currently, they have to wait three years.

Restricted free agents also will be able to agree to offer sheets with teams starting on July 1 instead of waiting until July 7. The window for teams to match these offer sheets will be reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours.

Also, teams will no longer be able to pull qualifying offers to restricted free agents, as is currently allowed before July 31.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Two-way contracts between the NBA and NBA Development League will offer teams the chance to add 16th and 17th roster spots, and pay players differently based upon their assignments in either the league’s minor league or as part of the parent team, league sources said.

I’m unsurprised the new CBA won’t include an amnesty clause. When the salary cap rapidly escalated under the new national TV contracts, it made it very difficult to find onerous contracts. The few teams with amnesty-worthy deals probably can’t convince other owners to approve an amnesty clause. The other owners don’t want to give a small minority of teams a competitive advantage. Though amnesty is good for players – amnestied players still get paid and then have the freedom to choose a new team, and it creates an immediate job opening – not enough of them would benefit to push this.

Allowing contract extensions sooner can be helpful, but it doesn’t get to the crux of why the current CBA made veteran extensions too prohibitive. Extensions can add only a maximum of three years to a contract. Too often, players prefer to wait for free agency, when the max contract length is four or five years.

I’m unsure what it would look life if only restricted free agents, not unrestricted free agents, can sign July 1. There has been talk of eliminating the moratorium, though the feasibility of doing so is questionable. Windhorst doesn’t address unrestricted free agents, but omitting them suggests their status won’t change – but I’m skeptical. If restricted free agents can sign before unrestricted free agents, will teams rush to sign players to offer sheets and fill cap space before unrestricted free agents become available? That’s essentially the opposite of the current system. Reducing the matching window is good. Teams used to have seven days to match an offer sheet, but contract details are no longer relayed through standard mail and fax. With the instantaneousness of the internet, there’s no need to hold people in limbo even three days.

Keeping qualifying offers binding is another good move. I’m honestly surprised the league has avoided a dispute over whether a player accepted a qualifying offer before it was pulled. This change removes the possibility of a squabble and puts a fair onus on a team to stand by its qualifying offer. If you’re going to make a player a restricted free agent, you shouldn’t have the right to cool the market on him and then pull his qualifying offer only once conditions change.

Additional NBA roster spots are not my preferred direction for greater D-League integration, but perhaps it’s the best bridge. NBA teams will pay D-League players more if those teams get exclusive rights on the players. Because players on D-League contracts are NBA free agents, no matter which affiliate they’re on, NBA teams have little incentive to pay major money to D-Leaguers. I’d prefer NBA teams hold the NBA rights of everyone on their D-League affiliate, but not  every team has an affiliate. Perhaps, once that changes, this system will be tweaked. This solution is fine for now.

Nuggets tout "white pride" uniforms


The Nuggets unveiled an awesome sleek white uniform last year. They called it their “WHITEGOLD” alternate, and it was part of the NBA’s “Pride” series of uniforms.

So far, so good. Denver had a clean new look and another source of revenue from jersey sales.

But, after some hiccups last year, the Nuggets have crossed words rather ham-handedly.

As captured by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs, this is how the team’s official website listed the alternate-jersey schedule:

This isn’t a “real” problem. It’s poor wording and looks ridiculous. But it doesn’t actually harm anyone.

The page has since been taken down. My guess is it will return with better phrasing.