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PBT Roundtable: Who’s third best in the East?

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Each week the PBT writers sit at a virtual roundtable and discuss the NBA topic of the day. This week’s question: 

The Heat and the Pacers have been the clear class of the Eastern Conference so far, but who is the third best team there right now? Who will be at the end of the season?

Kurt Helin: Right now I have to say the Hawks are the third best as they are actually over .500. Which separates them from everyone else. Pomona College’s own Mike Budenholzer has helped build a Top 10 defense and they have a solid offense with Jeff Teague having his best season ever at the point. By the end of the season…. I think one of the New York teams is going to figure it out and get good (not as good as Miami or Indiana, but better than they are now). I think the Nets are the more likely candidates because if they can get Deron Williams and more importantly Brook Lopez (their best player — at both ends oddly) back on the court things will improve dramatically. The Knicks could get going as well, but I still don’t love their roster construction. But one of them has to figure it out… right? Don’t they?

Dan Feldman: Now: Toronto Raptors. The Raptors lost to my runner-up, the Atlanta Hawks, but the Hawks don’t have any wins more impressive than that and have actually been outscored this season. The Raptors have challenged some good teams thanks to their deep assortment of mid-level talent, and I believe close losses can be telling. Yup, that’s the East right now. The third best team has the best losses.

End of season: Chicago Bulls. Even though Derrick Rose isn’t returning this season, Jimmy Butler will, and he’ll definitely help. The Bulls have a +9.8 net rating when he’s on the court. and -4.9 when he’s not. That’s swayed by his absence overlapping with Rose’s, but Butler is an emerging force. Plus, I just trust Tom Thibodeau to build a quality defense with this group. Without Rose last season, Chicago still won a playoff series in a tougher Eastern Conference.

Brett Pollakoff: Right now, nobody can stake a legitimate claim to third. Atlanta, Toronto, and Chicago all have their merits and are close enough record-wise, but the hottest team has been the Wizards thanks to multiple 30-point performances from John Wall that have them currently riding a three-game winning streak.

As Dan mentioned, Chicago seems to be the obvious choice long-term to claim this crown, based on their success a season ago without Derrick Rose in getting to the second round of the playoffs — and that’s before we count on the improved game of Jimmy Butler to compliment the likes of All-Star talents in Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

But because the conference is so mediocre overall, I’ll go with the Nets. Look, all they ned is to get Brook Lopez and Deron Williams healthy and they should show immediate improvement in a relatively short span once the team builds some chemistry around a consistent starting lineup and the rotations that follow. Brooklyn has a ways to go just to get back to .500, but given the huge dropoff in talent once you get past the Heat and the Pacers, it makes sense that the team most talented on paper would rise to the top of that group before the regular season is finished.

Blake Griffin suspended four games, docked five games pay

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Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers said the NBA would lead any punishment for Blake Griffin, who broke his hand punching a team equipment manager at a dinner. The league investigated, and…

A suspension was announced by the Clippers.

Clippers release:

The following is a joint statement from L.A. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Doc Rivers:

The L.A. Clippers announced today that forward Blake Griffin has been suspended without pay for four games for striking a team employee on Jan. 23 and his wages will be withheld for one additional game for injuries he sustained. The NBA has assisted us in this process.

The Clippers will donate the salary from the five games to charities focused on disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles. At his request, Blake will support this activity with his time.

We have made it clear that this conduct has no place in the Clippers organization. Blake is remorseful and has apologized for his actions. He is a valued member of our Clippers family and we support him as he rejoins the team. He understands his actions have consequences, and is eager to get back to work with his teammates, the organization and Clipper Nation which starts immediately with rehab, appearances and attendance at games.

For our team and organization, it is time to move forward which begins today and ultimately concludes when we have Blake back on the court.

If you want to parse the statement, it doesn’t say the Clippers suspended Griffin. It’s in passive voice — “has been suspended without pay” — and leaves open the possibility the NBA suspended him. We just know the Clippers announced it, which would be strange for an NBA suspension. So, I believe the Clippers suspended him. I’m just not absolutely certain.

NBA suspensions typically begin only once a player is healthy enough to play. It’s unclear how that applies to this situation, but I’d guess – no matter who levied the suspension – the same rule will apply. Again, that’s not a given – especially given the hard-to-follow use of “which starts immediately with rehab, appearances and attendance at games.”

The Clippers announced on Jan. 26 Griffin would miss 4-6 weeks, a timeline unaffected by a second surgery on his swollen, scarred hand. But Rivers called a 4-6 recovery period “unrealistic.” So, if he can’t serve his suspension until healthy, good luck figuring out when that is. Probably just have to trust the Clippers.

For each game a player is suspended by the NBA, he loses 1/110th of his salary. If that applies to this suspension, it’d cost Griffin $859,442.

Teams also have their team salary as it applies to the luxury tax – which the Clippers are in line to pay – reduced by that amount. Again, more conclusion. It’s unclear whether the Clippers will get their tax bill trimmed. If they suspended him and don’t receive the savings, that’s a significant difference – $2,148,605 in tax payments (or $1,718,884 if you count only the four games actually suspended).

Four games and a fifth game of pay is probably a break for Griffin. This could’ve been much worse for him, including legal action. But Matt Barnes received just a two-game suspension for a similar situation – one NBA employee attacking another while away from official team business. What’s the difference here?

The Clippers want to move on, but this result provides more confusion than clarity.

Marv Albert gets contract extension to call NBA on TNT

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05:  Marv Albert attends the New York Knicks vs Brooklyn Nets game at Barclays Center on December 5, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Veteran broadcaster Marv Albert has agreed to a multiyear contract extension with TNT to call NBA games.

Albert will call this weekend’s All-Star Game in Toronto, his 21st year providing commentary for the event. He’ll continue to call regular-season and playoff games for the network.

The Hall of Fame broadcaster has been associated with the NBA for nearly 50 years.

Turner Sports executive Craig Barry on Tuesday calls Albert a “legendary broadcaster,” who has been “a true icon in the industry.”

Albert is in his 18th season as a play-by-play commentator for TNT. He has won five national Sports Emmy Awards and was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame last year.

Miami Heat to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey next season

Shaquille O'Neal Heat
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Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey already hangs in the rafters at Staples Center for the Lakers.  He’s getting a statue there, too.

Next season, he will have his number retired on the other warm southern coast, this time in Miami.

The Heat have announced they will retire Shaq’s No. 32 jersey next season.

“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” team president Pat Riley said in a released statement. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship. Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of.”

Riley left out that the Heat also retired Michael Jordan’s 23, and Dan Marino’s 12 also hangs in the rafters of the arena. Neither of those make much sense, but whatever.

Shaq played three-and-a-half seasons in Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. Shaq was a three-time All-Star with the Heat and was at the heart of the franchise’s first title, along with Dwyane Wade… and Mark Cuban would tell you the officials. But that’s another discussion. He was also bitter after being traded to Phoenix and slammed Miami management and players on his way out the door.

Time heals all wounds.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.