NBA Power Rankings: Heat end rankings where they ended last season

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For the final power rankings of the year my criteria are simple: Who do I think is most likely to win a seven game series between the teams right now. It is essentially a playoff rankings.

source:  1. Heat (64-16, last week ranked No. 1). For a couple games this week the Heat rolled out their big three together, don’t expect to see that again until this weekend. By the way, the Heat have won six in a row, the longest winning streak in the NBA.
source:  2. Thunder (59-21, LW 3). They remain the gold standard in the West, if you’re going to the finals the road swings through Oklahoma City. Yes, their offense can be a bit predictable, but when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook run it good luck stopping it.
source:  3. Spurs (58-22, LW 4). The Spurs have lost three of five and Gregg Popovich was very frustrated after the Spurs loss to the Lakers, saying Tim Duncan was the only guy playing like he wanted to win a championship. The Spurs are a veteran team that should get it together for the playoffs, but it puts a seed of doubt in my mind.
source:  4 Grizzlies (54-26, LW 5). It’s looking more and more like it will be Clippers vs. Grizzlies in the first round (although that is not set) and that has to scare Memphis. The Clippers won twice on the road to knock the Grizzlies out of the playoffs last year and they just went into Memphis and beat them again. Still, I have a feeling Memphis could make a deep playoff run this year.
source:  5. Nuggets (55-25, LW 6). It’s the team a lot of people want to see succeed — but with Danilo Gallinari out, Kenneth Faried maybe hobbled (they aren’t giving a return date but don’t expect him back for the playoff opener) and Ty Lawson coming of an injury, I fear they are just not the same team. Which is too bad, I had high hopes.
source:  6. Knicks (53-27, LW 2). I can hear Knicks fans ripping me for the Knicks ranking, but let me say I am convinced they are the second best team in the East. That grinding win over the Pacers was a good sign for a team that has grinding Boston coming in the first round.
source:  7. Clippers (54-26, LW 7). They have won five in a row including a quality win in Memphis last week. Which is huge because that is likely their first-round opponent. I still am not sold on their defensive consistency. Can Vinny Del Negro get them to the conference finals?
source:  8. Pacers (49-31, LW 8). If they end up facing the Bulls in the first round it’s going to be tough — it will be a low scoring, grind-it-out series where the winner will be bloodied and then likely have to take on the Knicks. Indy needs to find consistent offense, and we’re looking at you, Roy Hibbert.
source:  9. Nets (47-32, LW 9). They will be the four seed, and considering this team won 33 percent of its games last season and hasn’t been above .500 since 2006. Deron Williams is playing like his old self and they will be a favorite in the first round of the playoffs (not so much against Miami in the second).
source:  10. Rockets (45-35, LW 11). Houston is one of the league’s youngest teams and they made huge steps this season (likely finishing the six seed). It’s unlikely they get out of the first round but they will not go quietly in that series.
source:  11. Warriors (45-35, LW 10). Golden State is another young team that made a big leap this year, but if they get the Clippers in the first round they could push Los Angeles (they won three of four in the regular season). A team with a shooter and player like Stephen Curry is dangerous in any game.
source:  12. Bulls (43-36, LW 12). There may be no team harder to predict in the playoffs — their defense has been down of late but come the playoffs you expect the focus and attention to return on that end. But what kind of offense they get varies dramatically night to night. Still, teams in the East would prefer to avoid them
source:  13. Hawks (44-36, LW 14). What does it say about the Hawks that they are the team everybody in the East would prefer to play instead of the Nets or Bulls? Well, that they’re still the Hawks. Same as it ever was.
source:  14. Celtics (41-39, LW 13). They get the Knicks in what should be the most watched and quite entertaining first round series. They are going to defend, but the question is can they get enough offense out of Jeff Green and other role players to win more than a couple games.
source:  15. Lakers (44-37, LW 16). With Kobe Bryant out the Lakers went to a fairly standard offense — pound the ball inside with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, then hope somebody can make enough outside shots. It will work fine in the playoffs, it’s the defensive end of the floor that will be their undoing no matter who they face.
source:  16. Jazz (42-38, LW 15). If they make the playoffs or not (and probably not), Ty Corbin is going to be back as coach of the Jazz next season. Aside that there are going to be a lot of changes this summer. Hopefully one is to get a new point guard.
source:  17. Mavericks (40-40, LW 17). They reached .500 and Dirk Nowitzki got to shave his beard, but this season was a disappointment. Thing is, they will make moves this summer but it’s hard to see how any really make any big moves to get dramatically better. Other than having Dirk healthy all season.
source:  18. Bucks (37-43, LW 18). They will make the playoffs, but only because the rest of the bottom of the East is so bad — Milwaukee has lost 11-of-14 down the stretch.
source:  19. Wizards (29-51, LW 19). When they got John Wall and Nene healthy at the same time they looked like a playoff team. They will bring Wall back with a big contract, whether they can keep Nene healthy next year is the bigger question.
source:  20. 76ers (32-47, LW 20). No Doug Collins next season. We’ll see about Andrew Bynum. But the Sixers rebuilding process is going to take a lot longer than they thought it would last summer, the gamble on Bynum came up snake eyes.
source:  21. Trail Blazers (33-46, LW 23). They have the Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard. They have an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge. They have some good role players such as Nicolas Batum and Will Barton. If they get a real defensive center this team could make a big jump next season.
source:  22. Timberwolves (30-50, LW 21). If they can just keep Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love healthy they should make the playoffs next season. But if Rick Adelman decides to retire and be with his wife (who has battled illness) he will be very difficult to replace.
source:  23. Raptors (31-48, LW 22). They don’t have a lottery pick (unless they land in the top three it goes to OKC) but they can still make one dramatic move to improve the team this summer — trade Andrea Bargnani. It just won’t be that easy.
source:  24. Pistons (28-52, LW 26). If they bring back Jose Calderon, if Andre Drummond can make the kind of leap we hope from him, if they can get a role player or two that fit, the Pistons are a team that could make a jump up into the playoffs next season.
source:  25. Kings (28-51, LW 24). We will likely know in a week for sure if the Kings will be in Seattle or Sacramento next season. Talk about a situation where both sides deserve a win. The good news on the court is that a new ownership, new front office and new coach is bound to make this team better no matter where they play. They need a fresh start.
source:  26. Hornets (27-53, LW 25). Anthony Davis is still the future — he needs to get stronger (that may help reduce his injuries). He needs to keep playing and watching film. Meanwhile the Hornets need to figure out what they are going to do with Eric Gordon.
source:  27. Cavaliers (24-55, LW 27). They have Kyrie Irving and a ton of cap space, plus young players like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters that can be part of a good rotation going forward. They have a lot of cap space. This is a team poised for a jump.
source:  28. Suns (24-56, LW 29). They thought they would get an extra lottery pick when the Lakers missed the playoffs, but the Lakers made a late run. Been that kind of season for Suns. They are not changing management, we’ll see about the coach, but they have a lot of building to do.
source:  29. Bobcats (19-61, LW 28). Another team with a long road to getting better, and they could use some luck in the lottery. The one other big job for the summer — re-work Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot.
source:  30. Magic (20-60, LW 30). Remember that 25 games into the season this team was playing over its head — they went 12-13 to start, 8-47 since. The plan has been to be bad, get draft picks, get free agents and that means they will be bad and be drafting for a few years. But there were bright spots such as Tobias Harris and how hard they played by coach Jacque Vaughn.

If Jeff Hornacek doesn’t work out with Knicks, is David Blatt next in line?

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It’s not fair to judge Jeff Hornacek of his first season as coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson made some poor roster decisions — don’t hire a coach that likes to play fast then go sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and then there was the on again, off again, on again triangle offense looming over everything.

This season Hornacek will sink or swim on his own terms, and his ability to develop Kristaps Porzingis into a true franchise cornerstone and put Tim Hardaway Jr. and other young players in good positions around them.

If not, is former Cavaliers coach David Blatt lurking? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says it’s something to watch.

Blatt, who has enjoyed tremendous success abroad, owns an impressive resume. No question about it. But you know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And Blatt has connections with people in high places inside the Knicks front office, namely team president Steve Mills and newly hired front office executive Craig Robinson…

Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results. That begins with Hornacek repairing his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, who did not connect with the head coach last season and ultimately skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, Hornacek and Mills in April.

Repairing that relationship with Porzingis is crucial. We’ll see if Hornacek can do that and get this team moving in the right direction.

Blatt wants to return to the NBA, but his he the guy to connect with Porzingis? Blatt’s problems in Cleveland had far less to do with Xs and Os than it did relationships with players — Blatt was saying he wanted to team to play faster long before Tyronn Lue said that when he took over, but Lue could get players to buy in and listen. Blatt couldn’t. Blatt came in expecting to be handed respect, touting his European resume (that NBA players shrugged at), and demanding deference rather than building partnerships with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Blatt came off as needing to be the smartest guy in the room, always. Basically, Blatt could not handle the player/power dynamic in the NBA (coming out of Europe, where coaches have absolute power, like an American college coach). Has he learned how to deal with it?

Before we get to that question, Hornaced gets his shot. The real test for the Knicks comes after Christmas, when they spend most of a couple of weeks on the road (due to the Grammys coming to Madison Square Garden), it’s a tough couple of weeks, and the team could struggle in that stretch and not recover. Hornacek has to have the team playing well enough, and buying in enough by then, to survive that trip. Do that and he will stick around. If not, the sharks are circling.

Hawks commit more earnestly to rebuild, but enough?

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hawks were pretty good without a clear path forward.

Now, they’re pretty bad without a clear path forward.

Luckily for them – and despite their best efforts – they might be bad enough.

Atlanta continued its descent from its 60-win peak two years ago by losing its two best players. The Hawks let Paul Millsap leave for the Nuggets and traded Dwight Howard to the Hornets in what could be described as a salary rearrangement more than a salary dump.

After multiple half-measures toward rebuilding – refusing to offer Al Horford the max, trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for first-round picks – Atlanta finally committed.

Kind of.

The Hawks hedged against full-on tanking by signing Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova. Those two big men – Dedmon in his prime, Ilyasova close enough to it – supply enough hustle and basketball intelligence to sabotage a proper tank. Coach Mike Budenholzer, whose teams tend to exceed the sum of their parts, won’t help Atlanta bottom out.

I can see breaking up a team with a playoff chance to torpedo high into the lottery. The Hawks aren’t doing that – not purposefully, at least. It appears they’re trying to remain credibly competitive, which could only undermine their rebuild.

Atlanta is rebuilding around Dennis Schroder, John Collins, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry. The Hawks also have all their own first-rounders plus protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves, and Cavaliers. But the Houston pick is the only one of those extras that can ever land in the top 10, and that’s just top-three protected this season, a season in which the Rockets project to pick in the low 20s.

Simply, this is not an encouraging asset pool to begin a rebuild with. Atlanta would benefit greatly from a high 2018 pick.

The Hawks just don’t seem interested enough in securing one.

They also lost Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha in free agency. Like the 32-year-old Millsap, the 33-year-old Sefolosha had no place on a team mostly rebuilding. The 25-year-old Hardaway could have fit into the next era or even as a trade chip, but not on the four-year, $71 million offer sheet the Knicks signed him to. Though Atlanta wisely passed on matching, it’s a shame to lose an asset for nothing.

That’s really the story of the Hawks’ descent. Millsap, Horford, Sefolosha and DeMarre Carroll all walked in free agency. Atlanta was always reluctant to trade those players for value while it could.

I’m trying to grade only this offseason, not prior decisions. General manager Travis Schlenk took over this offseason, and he has the runway for a patient rebuild.

The Hawks wisely got a first-rounder for taking and buying out Jamal Crawford. Could they have found similar deals rather than signing Dedmon and Ilyasova? Could they have signed younger players instead?

The Hawks might hope they can trade Dedmon (two years, $12.3 million) and Ilyasova (one-year, $6 million) for even greater value, but that comes with complications. Dedmon has a $6.3 million player option for next season, so if his deal goes south, Atlanta is on the hook for another year. (If it goes well, Dedmon will become an unrestricted free agent and – fitting the theme – could just leave.) As a returning player on a one-year contract, Ilyasova can veto any trade.

If the Hawks had re-signed Millsap (and maybe Sefolosha, too), they could have made a decent case to return to the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Atlanta has the NBA’s second-longest active playoff streak, 10 seasons. That isn’t nothing, and continuing it would have been fine.

If the Hawks tried to return to the playoffs and failed, they would have ended up in a similar position to where they are now – somewhere in the lottery, but not necessarily high in it. They could have even traded Millsap – whose Denver deal guarantees him just $61 million over two years – for value.

If the future is murky either way, I’d rather be better in the interim.

Perhaps, Atlanta just tired of losing in the first or second round (though ownership and management has recently changed). That would have been the team’s likely ceiling if it re-signed Millsap.

But I just don’t see winning about 30 games as more pleasurable than reaching the playoffs, even with an early-round exit. A 30-win season doesn’t bring enough value in the draft to offset the difference.

Here’s the good news: The Hawks’ hedging probably didn’t go far enough. They might be downright terrible, anyway – positioning them to draft the elite young talent they badly need to galvanize their rebuild.

This was a D+ effort that stumbled into a slightly more favorable position – i.e., a team that struggles more than it expects.

Offseason grade: C-

Dunker Max Pearce throws down another impressive one (VIDEO)

Via _maxw3ll_ on Instagram
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These are the kinds of dunks that make me ask, should the NBA allow pro dunkers in the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest. Some years you get the great Zach LaVine shows, but other years it’s down. NBA players need to focus on their game, not highlight dunks.

Guys like Max Pearce on the other hand…

Here is his latest.

But head to his Instagram page and you get to see a lot of dunks like this.

Stay creative 👍🏽 #Flynance 🏆

A post shared by Max Pearce (@_maxw3ll_) on

Warriors sign power forward Georges Niang to training camp contract

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The Golden State roster is locked in with 15 guaranteed contracts set for next season. We know what their opening day roster is going to look like (and it looks like a champion).

But the Warriors need extra bodies for training camp, so enter Georges Niang, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Niang was drafted in the second round, 50th overall, out of Iowa State in 2016, by Indiana. He played just 93 minutes total with the Pacers last season, he didn’t get much of a chance to impress in Summer League, and they moved on waiving him in July. Niang put up numbers in college, but there were questions about if he was athletic enough for the next level.

Staying in the G-League (formerly D-League) keeps him close to his NBA dream. If it doesn’t work out, in future years he can make a good paycheck overseas, but for now he chases the dream.