Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett

Four teams that could head off a Lakers vs. Heat NBA final


It’s the consensus of prognosticators (and me as well) — the NBA finals will be the Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James. You can already sense David Stern drooling like a Pavlovian dog thinking about the television ratings.

What teams could destroy David Stern’s dream?

There are four. While we could argue that each of these four need a little luck or for the Heat/Lakers to come back to them, we could say the same for the Heat and Lakers. Fact is you don’t win an NBA title without some breaks going your way.

So here are the four most likely teams to get in the way, two West and two East.

Oklahoma City Thunder. They remain the next best team in the West, even after the James Harden trade. (I think they take a step back after trading away a key playmaker, the Sixth Man of the Year and an Olympian and trying to fill his minutes with Kevin Martin. Long term with the picks and Jeremy Lamb we can debate the trade impacts, but the Thunder did not get instantly better Saturday night with this move.)

The Thunder have improved each year because their players have improved and gotten more experienced. That will happen again. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to take steps forward after their Olympic experience — and the Lakers will struggle to stop Durant, even with Dwight Howard in the paint. OKC gets Eric Maynor back and that gives them depth at the point guard spot and another playmaker. They have Kendrick Perkins to match up with Dwight Howard and Serge Ibaka to slow Pau Gasol. Westbrook can hamper Steve Nash.

The Thunder are not as good a team without Harden, but they are still very good and still match up with the Lakers as well as anyone.

Los Angeles Clippers. You can argue the San Antonio Spurs should fit here, but the last couple seasons showed me that while they are awesome in the regular season you can scheme for their weaknesses come the playoffs. The Clippers are a team on the rise. They have the single best pure point guard in the game in Chris Paul, and he is in a contract year so expect big things. They added some depth with Jamal Crawford, and while I’m not his biggest fan he is an upgrade over what they had. Eric Bledsoe is coming into his own off the bench. They have solid veterans like Caron Butler and — once he gets in shape — Lamar Odom. Oh, an they have the force of nature that is Blake Griffin. Paul is just figuring out how to use all those pieces.

The key for the Clippers in the playoffs is DeAndre Jordan. Last season he got benched for Reggie Evans when the going got tough. That’s not good. The Clippers need Jordan to take a huge step forward because they need his athleticism to combat Howard if they face the Lakers. If Jordan is in foul trouble or just plain old ineffective, the Lakers would run them over without slowing. But Jordan and his growth — scoring and putting pressure on Howard on both ends of the floor — changes the dynamic. He makes it possible. But it’s asking a lot of him to make that leap.

Boston Celtics. They came within a game of getting the Heat last season, and while they racked up a 3-2 lead in the series with Chris Bosh out it still shows they were close. Then Boston got better this summer — Jason Terry is better right now than Ray Allen. Not over their careers, maybe not now as a pure shooter, but Terry brings far more shot creation and versatility to the Celtics. Boston also gets Jeff Green back and he gives them real depth off the bench. Jared Sullinger should let Kevin Garnett rest more.

Boston must have a healthy and rested Garnett to have a shot at the Heat — he is the heart of their defense has to play as well or better than last year to have a shot. Rajon Rondo has to step up his game and get his squad more easy looks offensively against a swarming Heat defense. Boston cannot show their age. The good news for Celtics fans is Boston matches up well with Miami considering its defense, Paul Pierce and his ability to score, and now some punch off the bench. It’s not easy, but the Celtics have a puncher’s chance in a series with Miami.

Indiana Pacers. If you’re going to beat the Heat, the best way to do it is with size — Indiana has that in Roy Hibbert. One of the key turning points in the playoffs last season was when the Heat fell behind the Pacers because of the play of Hibbert and they had to adjust their style and step up their play. The Heat had that other gear.

To best the Heat Pacers need George Hill and Paul George to take steps forward with their game (both would be key in the finals, particularly on defense), David West to keep being himself, Granger to be steady in the big moments and Hibbert to become a dominating force. The Pacers lack the kind of superstar player the Heat have two (or three) of, but they have great balance, good depth and the size that could give the Heat fits. They just have to play nearly flawless basketball (and hope the Heat do not).

Lakers keep Metta World Peace and Thomas Robinson, waive Anthony Brown

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  Metta World Peace #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court during warmups before a preseason game against the Golden State Warriors at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The NBA just can’t shake Metta World Peace as a player.

Despite the Lakers’ reported intention of waiving World Peace and making him an assistant coach, they’ll keep him, Thomas Robinson and Nick Young into the regular season. After waiving Yi Jianlian at his request, they’ll also waive Anthony Brown.

Lakers release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have waived forward Anthony Brown, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Brown was the No. 34 pick just last year, but he didn’t show much as a rookie and is already 24. There was no need to keep him over more valuable players – like Robinson.

But World Peace, who turns 37 next month? He’s washed up and offers no upside. The Lakers don’t already have enough veteran leadership between Luol Deng, Jose Calderon, Lou Williams and Timofey Mozgov?

The Lakers probably won’t regret dropping Brown – though they might – but there are better uses for a roster spot in 2016 than World Peace.

51 Questions: Which team will win the West? Make NBA Finals?

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It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today the PBT staff answers the biggest questions of them all this season:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East? Who will be NBA champion?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Warriors
2. Spurs
3. Clippers
4. Jazz
5. Rockets
6. Grizzlies
7. Trail Blazers
8. Thunder

Western Conference Finals:
Warriors over Clippers
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

There is a clear top three in the West, and while I think Golden State gets the top seed (but falls just short of 70 wins) I could flip Los Angeles and San Antonio without a problem — and I like the Clippers more in the postseason, they finally get past the second round. Much like the East, then I think 4-11 are all going to be within a handful of games of each other — Dallas, Minnesota, and Denver all could get into the playoffs with good health and a few breaks. Maybe Sacramento, too, but a lot more needs to go right for them.

As for the NBA Finals, the Warriors and Cavaliers are just clear and away the best teams on paper and, assuming health, it’s hard not to pick another Finals rematch. However, this time the Cavaliers can’t put LeBron James on Draymond Green when the Warriors go small because of the threat of Kevin Durant, and that opens up the Warriors offense again in ways it was shut down in the last Finals.

Dan Feldman

1. Warriors
2. Clippers
3. Spurs
4. Rockets
5. Jazz
6. Trail Blazers
7. Thunder
8. Grizzlies

Western Conference Finals: Warriors over Clippers
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

I’d give the Warriors about a 50-50 chance of winning the title — which means there’s no way I’m picking any other single team. The Clippers and Spurs lead the pack fighting for second, and I’m clearly intrigued by Houston’s offensive prowess with Mike D’Antoni and James Harden. The Timberwolves and Nuggets could knock on the postseason door, but I don’t think either is quite ready.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Warriors
2. Clippers
3. Spurs
4. Thunder
5. Blazers
6. Jazz
7. Rockets
8. Mavericks

Western Conference Finals: Warriors vs. Spurs
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

I genuinely hope I’m wrong about how the West shakes out if only for Chris Paul‘s sake. The Point God and his band of Merry Complainers are in a perfect position to take over a stratified Western Conference that will doubtless be a bastion of parity in only a few years time. But the Clippers just always fall short somehow, be it injury or otherwise. I’m going with the Spurs — who had a historic defensive season in 2015-16 — and who are just too good on paper vs. the rest of the competition. San Antonio still might be the only team that can challenge Golden State, as weird as that sounds.

Reports: Celtics waive R.J. Hunter, keep James Young

WALTHAM, MA - SEPTEMBER 26:  (L-R) RJ Hunter #28, James Young #13, Jordan Mickey #55 and Ben Bentil #50 of the Boston Celtics pose during Boston Celtics Media Day on September 26, 2016 in Waltham, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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The Celtics’ final regular-season roster spot came down to a couple recent first-round picks who had guaranteed salaries on their rookie-scale deals:

Young won.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Someone should claim Hunter on waivers. I rated him a mid-first-rounder just last year, and limited playing time in his rookie season only somewhat dissuades me. He’s no guarantee to pan out out in the NBA, but I like his odds better than many currently on other rosters. Just 23 – it’s his birthday – Hunter still has time to develop.

I’m skeptical anyone will claim him, given that Boston couldn’t trade him for even a second-rounder. But perhaps someone will take a chance rather than battling the field if Hunter becomes a free agent.

Young is similarly unproven in two NBA seasons, but beating Hunter for this job is a positive sign. Like Hunter, Young fits a 3-and-D mold. But the Celtics are betting on Young’s athleticism advantage rather than Hunter’s more refined all-around game. Young definitely has a higher upside.

Spurs waive first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles before first NBA game, putting him in small club

San Antonio Spurs' Livio Jean-Charles, center, and Orlando Magic's Bismack Biyombo (11) go after a loose ball during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. San Antonio won 95-89. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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It took a few years, but the Spurs finally signed Livio Jean-Charles – the No. 28 pick in the 2013 draft – to a rookie-scale contract this summer.

The problem: Jean-Charles tore his ACL in Europe and hadn’t developed as San Antonio hoped.

So, San Antonio is cutting bait historically quickly.

Spurs release:

The San Antonio Spurs today announced that the team has waived Joel Anthony, Ryan Arcidiacono, Patricio Garino and Livio Jean-Charles.

This allows the Spurs to keep two players without guaranteed salaries, Bryn Forbes and Nicolas Laprovittola. A shooting guard, Forbes is a 3-point specialist who went undrafted out of Michigan State. Laprovittola, a point guard, will give San Antonio a second Argentinian with Manu Ginobili – though Garino could’ve been three.

Jean-Charles is just the fifth first-round pick in the rookie-scale era to be waived or renounced before playing in the NBA. The other four:

Royce White (No. 16 pick in 2012 by Rockets)

White and and Houston never got on the same page about how to handle his anxiety issues. The Rockets traded him in a financial move to the 76ers, who waived him. White later played three games with the Kings.

Frederic Weis (No. 15 pick in 1999 by Knicks)

Weis never came to the NBA from Europe, but he became infamous for getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. New York traded Weis’ rights to the Rockets (for Patrick Ewing Jr.) in 2008. Weis retired in 2011, and Houston renounced him.

Leon Smith (No. 29 pick in 1999 by Spurs)

The Mavericks acquired Smith in a draft-night trade, and the player who jumped straight from high school struggled in every respect. He clashed with coaches and management, attempted suicide and got arrested twice before being released during his rookie season. It’s a sad tale. Smith later had short stints with the Hawks and Sonics.

Travis Knight (No. 29 in 1996 by Bulls)

Knight never even signed a contract. Chicago renounced him rather than giving him the required three-year guaranteed deal. He signed with the Lakers and made the All-Rookie second team. That led to a more lucrative contract with the Celtics, and Knight also played for the Knicks in a seven-year NBA career.