PBT NBA Power Rankings: New York teams rising but Pacers on top still

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Here are the weekly PBT power rankings, with some improving teams out of New York. For you fans in Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Minnesota and Memphis — teams with dreams of the Western Conference playoffs — know that the pace right now is 47-48 wins just to get the 8 seed. Plan accordingly.

 
source:  1. Pacers (29-7, Last Week No. 1). They continue to win thanks to that lock-down defense, but the Pacers seem to be coasting through the middle of the season. Paul George seems off and they have an offensive rating of 95.1 (points per 100 possessions) in their last five games, six below their season average. It’s not just the Heat that drags a little.

 
source:  2. Spurs (29-8, LW No. 4). Winners of three in a row as they continue to execute like no other team in the league nightly. That said, buzz around the league is they are aggressive in the trade market, a sign management thinks they need more to really contend this season.

 
source:  3. Warriors (25-14, LW 3). If you think their run is over (9-1 in the last 10) think again — they have 14 games left before the All-Star Break and 10 are at home. Interesting test for them at Oklahoma City this week.

 
source:  4. Heat (27-10, LW 2). Miami should put together a little run through this soft part of the schedule, then they go and lose both ends of a back-to-back in the boroughs of New York. With all due respect to the improved play of those teams, this is really about a banged up (starters out) and not very focused Heat team.

 
source:  5. Trail Blazers (28-9, LW 6). In case you didn’t see his quote, reserve guard Mo Williams needs to be a Top Chef judge: “With our team, we have a makeup of individuals that do something really, really good and when we mesh together, it’s like gumbo. That’s the best example I can give you of our team. Some teams have a dish where you got your steak, potatoes and asparagus. We’re gumbo. Without one of the ingredients, the gumbo just doesn’t taste well. But when everything is in that pot, it’s just like grandma did it.”

 
source:  6. Thunder (28-9, LW 5). Oklahoma City is now 5-4 since the Westbrook injury. Kevin Durant is doing his best to hold them afloat — in those nine games he is averaging 34.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists a night — but it’s not enough. The question remains how much this hurts their seeding come the playoffs (they are currently tied with Portland for the 2/3 seed).

 
source:  7. Clippers (26-13, LW 7). They have won three in a row without Chris Paul (3-1 overall so far without him) and while those wins were all over sub .500 teams they are wins. The Clips will take it. They are home Wednesday then out for the Grammy road trip with seven in a row away from LA.

 
source:  8. Rockets (24-14, LW 8). It’s still hard to get a feel for just how good this team really is — some nights they look elite, then there are games like Friday against the Hawks. The real number that might concern me as a Rockets fan — they are just 13-11 against the West.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (22-16, LW 11). If the Dallas Mavericks — currently the eight seed in the West with a two-game cushion over Denver and Minnesota lurking — squeaks into the playoffs by a game or two, we will look back and point at the two end-of-game no calls they got (Shawn Marion fouling Kevin Love then this weekend Monta Ellis fouling Austin Rivers) and wonder.

 
source:  10. Raptors (18-17, LW 14). Apparently the Rudy Gay trade was win-win. He’s shooting lights-out since moving to Sacramento but the Raptors are now 12-5 without him. The tanking plan is off in Toronto, where they stand a legitimate shot at winning the division, hosting a playoff series and advancing to the second round.

 
source:  11. Hawks (20-18, LW 12). Just one game this week, against the Nets in London. We’ll see how they do across the pond, at home they are playing very well right now with wins over Houston and Indiana in Phillips Arena last week.

 
source:  12. Timberwolves (18-19, LW 13). Minnesota is now 0-10 in games decided by 4 or fewer points this season. Some of that is bad luck and things will even out, but some of that is late game execution issues this team needs to resolve. Fast if they have playoff dreams.

 
source:  13. Suns (21-15, LW 9). They have hit a rough patch and it’s only going to get rougher with Eric Bledsoe out for an extended period of time with a knee injury (he should be back in 4-6 weeks). They have a 2 game cushion over Denver and 3.5 over the Timberwolves.

 
source:  14. Nuggets (19-17, LW 16). Is there a streakier team in the NBA? They have won five in a row after losing eight in a row, plus there was a seven game win streak earlier in the season. With this run they are two games out of the playoffs in the West.

 
source:  15. Bulls (17-18, LW 18). No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, and yet the Bulls have won five in a row and they are knocking on the door of .500 again — and with nothing but below .500 teams on the docket this week they could crash through that ceiling.

 
source:  16. Grizzlies (17-19, LW 17). Marc Gasol is set to return to full practice this week — and play in games not long after that — which means the 17-19 Grizzlies could be poised to make a push for the postseason (they are currently four games out of the eight seed in the West).

 
source:  17. Nets (15-22, LW 22). They have won five in a row so is the light week — one game against the Hawks in London — a blessing or a curse? On one hand, all the older bodies on this team could use the light week of rest. On the other, they had momentum and now they will be sitting around a lot this week getting cold.

 
source:  18. Knicks (14-22, LW 23). The Knicks are 5-1 in their last six, including beating the Heat, and among the many reasons (Iman Shumpert’s improved play, better ball movement from Carmelo Anthony) we need to point out that Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton are showing some chemistry together. Stoudemire had 35 points over the weekend and he and ‘Melo have played well together, thank you very much.

 
source:  19. Wizards (14-17, LW 15). They have 10 home games between now and the All-Star break, which would be awesome except they are 7-9 at the very leaky Verizon Center. Need to turn that around, but they still look like a lock playoff team in the unimpressive East.

 
source:  20. Pelicans (15-21, LW 14). The loss of both Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson to injury has taken its toll on this team. Now we will see how they deal with trade rumors as we’re going to hear a lot of Eric Gordon stuff over the next six weeks.

 
source:  21. Pistons (16-22, LW 20). That was a quality win over the Suns (thank you Josh Smith) but games like the two they have this week — Utah and Washington — are the kind they need to win if they plan to hold their playoff spot in the East. They Pistons are the seven seed, just one game up on the 9/10 seed Bobcats and Knicks.

 
source:  22. Kings (13-22, LW 26). They are 7-8 since Rudy Gay arrived and on a three game win streak. The reason is their offense: Through the first 20 games the Kings averaged 101.8 points per 100 possessions, that has jumped to 109.7 in the last 10 games (fifth best in the NBA during that stretch).

 
source:  23. Bobcats (15-23, LW 21). Charlotte has gone 2-8 in their last 10 games, which has dropped them out of a playoff spot even in the East. The once-stout defense has been the issue, but getting Michael Carter-Gilchrist back this week should be a boost on that end.

 
source:  24. Cavaliers (13-24, LW 28). They looked improved for the first two games with Luol Deng in the lineup then they suffered the worst NBA loss of the season — 44 points — at the hands of the Kings. Making the playoffs is still the goal and they are just two games out of a spot, but I wonder if Deng will be able to make enough of a difference

 
source:  25. Lakers (14-23, LW 19). Kobe Bryant could be back Jan. 28, when the Lakers return from their Grammy road trip, Mike D’Antoni said. What would be best for the Lakers franchise at this point would be for Kobe to take a lot more time off and let this ship sink a little lower (and pick up more lottery Ping-Pong balls). But who in the organization has the stones to tell Kobe that? (They wouldn’t anyway.)

 
source:  26. 76ers (12-25, LW 25). They lost four straight games, and not exactly against powerhouse teams. Sixers fans probably got more out of watching college ball this weekend, trying to figure out Julius Randle and how he might fit in the mix.

 
source:  27. Jazz (12-26, LW 27). When they put together the end-of-season highlight video for the rebuilding Jazz, last week’s win over Oklahoma with Gordon Hayward’s 37 points will get discussed plenty. Not much else to focus on.

 
source:  28. Celtics (13-25, LW 24). The fact that Rajon Rondo could be back in the next couple weeks doesn’t take much of the sting out of the recent eight-game losing streak. Be interesting to see which veterans get shipped out at the deadline.

 
source:  29. Magic (10-23, LW 29). They lost seven straight and have struggled mightily without Nikola Vucevic, who will remain out for a bit with a concussion. On the bright side, Victor Oladipo has looked better lately.

 
source:  30. Bucks (7-26, LW 30). Larry Sanders, what are you thinking? Can’t blame Bucks fans if they have tunnel vision on Giannis Antetokounmpo right now.

Report: Kyrie Irving ‘very badly’ wants trade to Knicks

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Kyrie Irving, who grew up in New Jersey, listed the Knicks among his preferred destinations in a trade.

Is New York his top choice?

Pablo Torre on ESPN:

I got a phone call, and the voice on the other end of that phone call is a trustworthy person. And he was saying to me that Kyrie Irving very badly wants to be a New York Knick. Kyrie Irving wants to come home.

Irving is less valuable than Kristaps Porzingis and more valuable than Carmelo Anthony, and the Knicks can’t easily bridge either gap. They reportedly won’t trade Porzingis for Irving, a wise move. Anthony – who possesses a no-trade clause – is reportedly set on the Rockets. An Irving trade would almost certainly have to be centered around one of those two players.

Maybe Cleveland can work its way into a multi-team trade with Anthony going to Houston, but it’s unclear where the assets the Cavs are seeking would come from.

When Irving requested a trade, he should have known he’d lose control of the process. Locked up for two more years and without a no-trade clause, Irving has minimal sway. His relationship with the Cavaliers looks increasingly unworkable, but they could deal him anywhere.

That said, I can see why he’d want to go to New York – big market in his home area, a team he could take over. Even as Porzingis grows in stature, he’s not a ball-dominant player who’d step on Irving’s toes.

But this just feels like a Stephon Marbury redux. From owner James Dolan down, the Knicks are poorly run, and their stars – beloved when welcomed – usually leave with their reputations damaged.

By the way, what happened to the Spurs being Irving’s top choice? In a situation like this, sometimes people close to the player have differing preferences and leak accordingly. That could have just been someone near Irving pushing for his or her choice for the guard – and this could be, too.

If players thought this year’s free agent market was tight, next summer could be “nuclear winter”

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Plenty of agents spent this summer trying to explain to their clients that the summer of 2017 was not the summer of 2016 (one I know of even was thanking media members in Las Vegas who wrote about how tight the free agent market had gotten so he could show his clients). Players saw the ridiculous contracts of 2016 — Timofey Mozgov got four-years, $64 million; Bismack Biyombo got four years, almost $70 million; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, players deep into rosters were overpaid — and thought this summer it would be their turn.

Except it wasn’t. In 2016 the salary cap spiked from $70 million to $94 million and that meant 27 teams entered free agency under the cap (and the teams over it spent big to re-sign their own), and $5 billion in contracts were handed out. This summer, 14 teams were under the $99 million cap and about $3 billion was handed out — and once the stars such as James Harden got paid big, the market dried up and players got less than expected. Four-time All-Star and elite defender Paul Millsap would have been a clear max a year ago, he could “only” get three years (at age 31) at $4 million less than his max. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have been a lock max in 2016, he signed a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million this summer. And further down the list guys like Rajon Rondo are signing team-friendly deals.

And next summer is going to be a far tighter market. As Tim MacMahon and Bobby Marks of ESPN point out, the free agent class of 2018 is going to pay for the excess of 2016.

The early projections for 2018-19: nine teams with cap space, and potentially 10 teams paying luxury tax.

“The real story is the nuclear winter for free agents coming next year,” one team executive with authority to make personnel decisions told ESPN. “Teams planned the last two summers for the cap to be much higher. The fact that it went way down from the projections crushed teams.”

Another general manager put it this way to ESPN:

“What I see all the time is players not understanding why, ‘This player got this, but I get that?’ They want it to make sense and it just doesn’t make sense. I think you’ll see a lot of agents get fired.

“The top guys will always feed first and then the year of the cap spike, there was a lot left for everybody else to feed. Next year, the top players will still get theirs, and then there will be not much left.”

NBA teams are not going to negotiate deals off the mistakes of 2016, they see that as the outlier to be ignored.

The Summer of 2018 is loaded with top free agents who are going to get max contract offers from their own teams and those with enough cap space to try and poach them — LeBron James, Kevin Durant (he will re-sign with Warriors), Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, plus restricted guys who could see max deals such as Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. There’s even a second tier of guys who will be maxed out or close to it — Andrew Wiggins (extension eligible right now), DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, and others.

But that next tier down? How much will teams pay for Robert Covington? Aaron Gordon? Clint Capela? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? Danny Green? And for guys counting on the one-year deals they signed this summer to boost their stock — we can use Derrick Rose as an example — even if they play well they may not see the money they expect.

The league and owners had wanted to smooth in the salary cap spike of 2016, raising it fair amount over three or five years to avoid the spending spree, but the players’ union rejected that idea. For the free agents in the summer of 2016 that worked out well. For the ones in the 2018… not so much.

Why a trade probably won’t alone cost Kyrie Irving a super-max extension

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Kyrie Irving getting his wish of being traded from the Cavaliers would immediately render him ineligible to receive a super-max contract – reducing his projected max on his next deal by $24 million over five years.

It probably won’t matter.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for designated-veteran-player contracts only to players with their original team or who changed teams only via trade in their first four seasons. So, Irving, entering his seventh season, could no longer qualify if dealt.

But to receive a designated-veteran-player extension next summer, Irving would also have to make an All-NBA team or win Defensive Player of the Year or MVP this season. To receive a designated-veteran-player contract in 2019 free agency, Irving would have to make All-NBA or win Defensive Player of the Year in 2018-19 or win MVP in either 2017-18 or 2018-19.

That’s unlikely.

For all his accomplishments – Rookie of the Year, four All-Star appearances, the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals – Irving has made only one All-NBA team, the third team in 2015.

Five other players have made precisely one All-NBA team in their first six seasons since the league added an All-NBA third team in 1989: Marc Gasol, Derrick Rose, Chris Bosh, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson. Only one – Gasol – reached another All-NBA team. That’s a small sample, but indicative of how Irving’s lone All-NBA selection doesn’t make repeated All-NBA inclusion inevitable.

The league’s current crop of guards doesn’t help, either. At least 11 players on this list must fall short for Irving to make All-NBA:

The competition could be even stronger if Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and/or Gordon Hayward qualify as guards.

It’s obviously far from impossible for Irving to make All-NBA if he remains in Cleveland. Irving is a star whose biggest strength – scoring – earns the most accolades.

His All-NBA chances are obviously worth discussing. Nobody mentioned Ricky Rubio losing his chance at a designated-veteran-player deal when the Timberwolves traded him to the Jazz.

But it’s also worth noting that the odds are against Irving making an All-NBA team the next two years if he remains in Cleveland. That calculus surely factors into his trade request.

Lamar Odom opens up about cocaine addiction

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Lamar Odom has discussed his cocaine addiction before – how it derailed his NBA career, marriage to Khloe Kardashian, his life. Never detailed like this, though.

Odom in The Players’ Tribune:

With cocaine especially, there’s a high, and then an emotional low. So it’s like a roller coaster. You go high, and then you go low. High, low, high, low. After you do it, you feel shame. You think about all the reasons why you shouldn’t have done it. Then the cycle starts again.

That’s the thing people don’t understand. Anybody who’s lived a complicated, drug-infused life like I’ve lived knows the cycle — with women, cheating on my wife, shit like that. Nights when I should have been asleep. Nights when I stayed up sniffing coke. Lot of those nights. When your heart is beating fast. When you should know better. When you’re just riding that roller coaster, man.

You think I wasn’t feeling shame? You think I was blind to what I was doing?

Nah, I wasn’t blind to it. Shame … pain. It’s part of the whole cycle. My brain was broken. As the years went on, and I got into my 30s, my career was winding down, and things just got out of control.

When I was like 32, 33 … I just wanted to get high all the time. That’s it, just get high. And things got dark as hell.

One of the darkest places I’ve ever been was when I was in a motel room, getting high with this chick, and my wife (at the time) walked in. That probably was like rock bottom.

I recommend reading all of Odom’s powerful essay, in which he explains the personal struggles that contributed to his drug use.