Los Angeles Clippers' Paul and Griffin wait for play to resume as the Clippers trail the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles

NBA post free agency Power Rankings: Who is closing in on Miami?

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This summer saw Dwight Howard find a new home, the Clippers and Pacers add depth, and a few other teams making bold moves to get better (or, in some cases, worse intentionally). So how did all this impact the PBT Power Rankings? Glad you asked. Here is where things stand this summer (the number in parenthesis is the squad’s record last season).

source:  1. Heat (66-16). They are the two-time defending NBA champions and they won 66 games last season, including 27 in a row at one point. Yes, we all saw cracks in the armor in the playoffs, but until someone knocks them off the top of the mountain they get to hold this spot in off-season rankings.

 
source:  2. Thunder (60-22). I think the Westbrook injury lulled people into looking past this team. Did they lose Kevin Martin? Yes. But remember this: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both just 25 — they are still ascending, getting better every season.

 
source:  3. Pacers (49-32). They pushed Miami to seven games then they get Danny Granger back. That means their bench (the weak spot last season) will have Lance Stephenson, C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland. They should be better and more dangerous.

 
source:  4. Clippers (56-26). They keep Chris Paul and with the additions of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, this could well be the best offense in the NBA next season. Can Doc Rivers get them to defend? And with that, can DeAndre Jordan step up as defensive anchor? They will go as far as their defense takes them.

 
source:  5. Spurs (58-24). This is probably too low for the Spurs, a team that was just a made free throw or a rebound away from winning the NBA title. They are going to be very good, but can they stay healthy and have things break for them again?

 
source:  6. Bulls (45-37). They get Derrick Rose back, remember the last two seasons they had him healthy they won 62 games and were on a 62 win pace (if the lockout season had been 82 games). They will defend, but can Tom Thibodeau back off the gas at times and bring Luol Deng and Joakim Noah in fully healthy for the playoffs.

 
source:  7. Rockets (45-37). This postseason’s big winners, they landed Dwight Howard and that makes them instant contenders. There are questions, like will Howard play to his pick-and-roll strengths (he fought against that in L.A.) and not just try to be a post up guy. I think this could be a growing together season for the Rockets with 2014-15 being the season they explode.

 
source:  8. Nets (49-33). Another big off-season winner — Mikhail Prokhorov laughs in the face of your puny luxury tax. Still we have big questions: Can Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett stay healthy? Can Deron Williams return to his Utah form? Can Jason Kidd coach?

 
source:  9. Warriors (47-35). Last season’s playoff darlings make a bold move and add Andre Iguodala. They are going to be improved, but how many games they win and how far they go in the playoffs could hinge on how healthy Andrew Bogut is in the middle for them.

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (56-26). This is a team with so much size teams struggle to deal with them, plus they have one of the best defenses in the NBA. But they didn’t address their need for floor-spacing shooters, unless you think Mike Miller is going to stay healthy all season.

 
source:  11. Knicks (54-28). They had the third best offense in the NBA last season (in points per possession) but were 17th in defense. Can the addition of Metta World Peace and a healthy Iman Shumpert improve their defense enough? It feels like the top of the East got better and they stood largely pat.

 
source:  12. Nuggets (57-25). It feels like they took a step back this summer — big changes in the front office and the loss of Andre Iguodala. Still some real talent on the roster, but they need JaVale McGee to take a big step forward if they want to remain top four in a deep West.

 
source:  13. Timberwolves (31-51). Last season should have been a breakout year for them, injuries robbed them of that. This season Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will lead them to a playoff spot in the West, and they will be fun to watch getting there.

 
source:  14. Lakers (45-37). They still have Kobe Bryant, but he will not be quite the same player. They still have Steve Nash, if he can stay healthy. They still have Pau Gasol, at least until they find a good trading partner. The Lakers could get a lower playoff spot, but this is mostly a placeholder season for the Lakers looking ahead to free agency.

 
source:  15. Mavericks (41-41). A combination of Dirk Nowitzki (finally healthy), Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon might make this a playoff team in the West, but it will be a bottom seed. Still the big goal in Dallas is to bring in another elite player.

 
source:  16. Hawks (44-38). No Josh Smith anymore, but they have Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in the back court, Elton Brand and Paul Millsap in the front court with Al Horford. I think they remain pretty similar to last season in terms of wins.

 
source:  17. Wizards (29-53). With a healthy John Wall playing like an $80 million guy — meaning his jump shot is falling like it did at the end of last season — to go with a more mature Bradley Beal and a healthy Nene, I think this is a playoff team out East.

 
source:  18. Cavaliers (24-58). Andrew Bynum, with the way the contract was structured, was a good risk. But whether or not they get anything for Drew, with a healthy Kyrie Irving the Cavaliers will be back in the playoffs.

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source:  19. Trail Blazers (33-49). LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum… shouldn’t this team be better than it showed last season? I like the Robin Lopez addition, moving Aldridge to the four, but they need to make big strides in a deep West to make the playoffs.

 
source:  20. Pelicans (27-55). This was an aggressive team this off-season and I think they made great moves adding Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. This is a young team on the rise, they will look a lot better the second half of the season and they could slip into a bottom playoff spot if things come together.

 
source:  21. Raptors (34-48). With Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and an improved Jonas Valanciunas the Raptors have a shot at the playoffs in the East. But they need to get back to playing defense like they did a couple years ago for Dwane Casey to have a chance.

 
source:
22. Pistons (29-53). They added Josh Smith this offseason, and combined with Andre Drummond (who looked great at Summer League) and Greg Monroe they should have a fantastic front line. But do they have the balance and depth to make the postseason?

 
source:  23. Kings (28-51). They have DeMarcus Cousins plus an interesting backcourt with Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore. If Cousins will play consistent defense they become very interesting, but that’s a big “if.”

 
source:  24. Celtics (41-40). They have started the rebuilding process and the most-asked question around them this season will be is Rajon Rondo still with the team after the trade deadline?

 
source:  25. Bucks (38-44). They scraped their way into the postseason, but now with a backcourt of O.J. Mayo and maybe Brandon Jennings (his situation is still up in the air) they take a step back. I like Larry Sanders and John Henson up front, though.

 
source:  26. Bobcats (21-61). Adding Al Jefferson in the paint makes them less bad this coming season, but they are not going to be good. Cody Zeller looked good at Summer League and could be a surprisingly good rookie.

 
source:  27. Jazz (43-39). Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter could be part of a good team in a few years, but this season they will learn some hard lessons. Burke is going to be a lot of people’s call for Rookie of the Year.

 
source:  28. Suns (24-56). They got a nice piece for the future in Eric Bledsoe and they have three first round picks next season. That is how you rebuild. It won’t be pretty this season but I like the direction the team is going long term.

 
source:  29. Magic (20-62). The team with the worst record in the NBA last season will be in the running for it again. Victor Oladipo could have a good rookie year and now they get a whole season of Tobias Harris.

 
source:  30. 76ers (34-48). The Bynum trade misfired, so they are rebuilding from the ground up by shipping out Jrue Holiday and starting over. The Sixers will be back but should have a pick near the top of the draft next season. Which is the new goal.

Rajon Rondo strangely runs behind Rick Carlisle during play (video)

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This would be ignored – still odd, but ignored – if it weren’t for their history.

But Rajon Rondo running behind Rick Carlisle during the Mavericks’ win over the Bulls raised a couple eyebrows in curiosity and drew a few chuckles. What was Rondo doing?

At least Carlisle explained why he didn’t call timeout before Wesley Matthewsgame-winning 3-pointer. The Dallas coach had Rondo in mind.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Mike D’Antoni: “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s not exactly Seven Seconds or Less Part 2 in Houston, but it may be closer to Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate vision.

The Rockets are 32-12 with the third-best offense in the NBA (Toronto and Golden State), and it’s an analytics wet dream of threes and shots at the rim. It’s all come together because James Harden bought in. Steve Nash ran the offense brilliantly but differently — Harden is as good or better with his style (which gets him to the line more often).

The brilliant Howard Beck at Bleacher Report got everyone to talk about the Rockets rapid rise and how it all came together. It’s must read. Plus there are some brilliant quotes, starting with Harden about D’Antoni pitching the move to point guard:

“I thought he was crazy,” says Harden, who earned his stardom at shooting guard….

Or as D’Antoni put it, “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach.”

“People always ask, ‘You traded for him; did you know he was this good?'” (Rockets GM Daryl) Morey says. “I’m like, ‘F–k no!’ I mean, we thought he was extremely good and better than other teams probably did.”

But not top-five good or, say, top-three, which Morey would make the case for today.

Harden is MVP-level good. What’s more, the Rockets are knocking on the door of contender good. The pedestrian defense isn’t there yet (18th in the NBA for the season, 15th for the month of January), questions about depth and if young key cogs like Clint Capela can grow into the roles the Rockets need them to, and there are the health concerns considering the histories of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

But the Rockets are dangerous right now and could reach the Western Conference Finals this season if healthy and things break right (their style and athleticism would be a tough test for the Spurs).  And the story of how it all came together is fascinating.

Carmelo Anthony on talk with Jackson: “We didn’t break bread….It was a short conversation”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2016 in New York City. 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 Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t long. It wasn’t outwardly contentious. But you can bet it was colder than the weather outside Madison Square Garden in January.

Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony sat down and talked about Anthony’s future with the Knicks Tuesday, with Anthony reiterating again he doesn’t want to be traded. And since he has a no-trade clause and two years on his deal after this one, he has the power.

Anthony seems done with the entire topic and is ready to move on. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“The conversation was not that long. We didn’t break bread,’’ Anthony said. “We didn’t have hours of conversation. It was a short conversation.”

This entire topic came up when Phil Rosen — a Phil Jackson confidant who swears he’s not a surrogate — penned an article saying Anthony was willing to accept a move to the Cavaliers or Clippers (or maybe the Lakers). The move felt like a classic Jackson mind game move where Anthony was forced to respond to it — and Anthony seems done with the drama.

“I’m done asking why,’’ Anthony said. “My focus is playing ball at this point. My focus is these guys. That’s all I care about at this point. Making sure these guys stay strong and positive and have their head on right and not be a distraction to them.

“I’m committed [to the Knicks]. I don’t have to prove that to anybody. I don’t have to keep saying that and keep talking about it. I know for a fact people know that and people see that.”

Anthony is ready to move on, is Jackson? Or do we see another mind game move coming?

Anthony isn’t going anywhere, not in the short term. Even if Anthony would entertain a trade to those mentioned, markets, you think the Cavaliers would like to give Kevin Love‘s minutes and some of LeBron James‘ touches to 33-year-old Anthony? You think Doc Rivers would swap 27-year-old Blake Griffin for ‘Melo? Anthony is expensive and while he can still score the other limitations in his game make it very hard to trade him.

Jackson is the master of convincing guys to do what he wants and think it’s their own idea, but I have a hard time seeing that happening with Anthony.

Kevin Durant reflects on “AAU basketball” of Durant/Westbrook/Harden Thunder

Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden
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If MVP voting took place today, James Harden and Russell Westbrook would be in a photo finish for the win — they are the clear first and second choices in that race. Third could well be Kevin Durant, who is having a strong and efficient season in Golden State (it’s who Dan Feldman and I said we would pick third during the PBT Podcast, although certainly guys like LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard and others are in the mix).

Remember when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were all on the same team? The NBA’s ultimate “what if?”

Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News got Durant to reminisce about those days (the Warriors play the Thunder and Rockets this week).

“It’s easy to say we were supposed to be together for the rest of our careers, but it didn’t play out like that,” Durant said. “I think all three of us will have memorable careers. And it’ll be a journey we’ll always remember, something that’s different and unique, playing with two different guys who are doing incredible things in the league right now. But when you look back, think about the fun times instead of what could’ve been.”

Could they have ruled the NBA for a decade?

“No. We never looked at it that way, like we could be best of all-time,” Durant said. “It was really AAU basketball, man. We were just having fun. We weren’t listening to anyone on the outside, media, none of that. It was just pure fun. When we did hear something about the group, it was like, what is this? That was so foreign to us because we never paid attention to it.”

It was Harden that was traded — he wanted and deserved the max, the Thunder has spent on Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. They weren’t willing to pay the costs — the luxury tax bill would have come calling — to keep all three. The other side of that debate: Could Harden have continued happily in his sixth man role? This guy dominates the ball now (he leads the league in time of possession this season), would he have stayed coming off the bench to win?

“I think he’d have stayed in that role. I think so,” Durant said. “He’d have still been a really great player. You look at it, a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at him as a Sixth Man. He’d have been better. I think he’d have been better. Obviously I’m sure he loves what he’s doing now, but if we would’ve won a championship, I think the perception of him would’ve just been as a great player. ‘He’s the heart, he’s what makes us go.’ That’s what his label would’ve been, instead of just Sixth Man. He would’ve probably been the best Sixth Man that ever was.”

Maybe, and maybe that would have been enough. It’s all moot now.

But what if?