PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder, Heat on top coming up to trade deadline

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Today’s PBT NBA Power Rankings — brought to you by the technology of airplane wi-fi — will talk about the All-Star weekend past and the trade deadline coming up, as there weren’t many other games to speak of.

source:  1. Thunder (43-12, Last Week No. 1). Their addition at the trade deadline is simply getting Russell Westbrook back — he could play Thursday. If they can integrate him and keep the ball movement they have had lately they would be tough to beat in the West.

source:  2. Heat (37-14, LW 3). There had been a lot of talk about the Heat looking to add some depth as they go after a three-peat, but don’t expect it. The fact is the Heat aren’t willing to move the assets everyone else wants.

source:  3. Rockets (36-17, LW 4). Winners of seven in a row, but they have done it all with offense, which isn’t how they can win in the playoffs. I think we’re going to have a trade deadline without Daryl Morey making a move, which is one of the signs of the end times.

source:  4. Pacers (40-12, LW 2). They have lost two of three and in its last 10 games Indiana’s offense has been bottom five in the league. Asked Frank Vogel about that All-Star weekend and he shrugged it off as just the mid-season blahs. He’s right about that.

source:  5. Clippers (37-18, LW 6). There has been buzz that the Clippers would be open to moving Jared Dudley and upgrading at the three, but talks seem quiet. If the Clippers’ defense does not improve and become consistent heading to the playoffs, you can bet Doc Rivers would not be quiet this summer with trades.

source:  6. Spurs (38-15, LW No. 5). While there had been talk the Spurs wanted to upgrade their roster to make it back to the Finals, things have since gone quiet. If course, that’s just how the Spurs operate.

source:  7. Trail Blazers (36-17, LW 7). Lost to the Clippers and Thunder last week. However, in a sign of how things are turning in Portland, several All-Stars reportedly told LaMarcus Aldridge they would love to come play with him and Damian Lillard in Portland.

source:  8. Mavericks (32-22, LW 9). Winners of six of their last seven, their roster is their roster (don’t expect any deadline trades, unless they are minor) but this roster should be good enough to make the playoffs in the West.

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9. Grizzlies (29-23, LW 10). No trades expected and they didn’t have any All-Stars, but they do get Mike Conley back Tuesday and Marc Gasol’s knee injury was minor, so everything looks pretty good in Memphis.

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10. Suns (30-21, LW 8). The Pau Gasol trade with the Lakers still looms (although with Gasol still injured it seems far less likely) and the Suns have been one of the few potential buyers on the market. They have four first round picks in this draft and they don’t really want four rookies like that on the roster next year, so expect a move sooner or later.

source:  11. Warriors (31-22, LW 11). This team needs depth, Harrison Barnes was supposed to help provide it but his development didn’t take off from what we saw in the playoffs last year. Look for them to try and add at the deadline, ideally a backup point guard to help reduce Stephen Curry’s minutes. But they could use depth everywhere.

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12. Raptors (28-24, LW 12). They are not making a move at the deadline unless someone steps up and blows them away with an offer — the Raptors are thinking Atlantic Division crown and playoffs. Kyle Lowry stays. The Nets would like to make a run at Toronto but the Raptors have a much easier schedule from here on out, my money is on them.

source:  13. Bulls (27-25, LW 16). They made their big move shipping out Luol Deng, the Bulls will likely go with this roster the rest of the way. And with the way they are defending and grinding, nobody will want to see them come the playoffs.

source:  14. Nets (24-27, LW 14). The Nets remain in a “win now” mode and think they can make a run to catch the Raptors atop the Atlantic. I’m not sold. But don’t be surprised if they bring in Jarrett Jack or make other moves right at the deadline.

source:  15. Wizards (25-27, LW 13). John Wall put on a show and had the dunk of the night, winning him the Dunk Contest… which should have kept going at that point. The new format for that contest was a failure and you can bet it is gone next year.

source:  16. Hawks (25-26, LW 15). Paul Millsap seemed to just be soaking in the All-Star experience all weekend, as he should have been. Now the Hawks need to get serious, they have had a rough couple weeks and could start falling fast down the Eastern Conference standings if things don’t turn around.

source:  17. Pelicans (23-29, LW 17). New Orleans is a great city for hosting a big party, and at the end of the day that’s what the NBA’s All-Star weekend really is. I had a blast. Anthony Davis seemed to as well and represented the Pelicans well.

source:  18. Timberwolves (25-28, LW 18). How rough a climb will it be for Minnesota to make the playoffs? Right now Golden State is the eight seed out West and on pace for 48 wins this season, Minnesota would need to go 23-6 the rest of the way to make that number.

source:  19. Bobcats (23-30, LW 20). Charlotte is in a fight for a playoff spot with Detroit, New York and Cleveland all coming after them. They have a home-and-home with the Pistons this week which could be huge in that chase.

source:  20. Pistons (22-30, LW 21). They are just half a game back of Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East (and tied in the loss column), now they have a big home-and-home with the Bobcats this week. The Pistons may well make the playoffs, still not sure that should save Joe Dumars’ job.

source:  21. Nuggets (24-27, LW 19). Denver has faded from the playoff picture in the West as they struggled on the road (especially defensively) but they have a run of home games coming up. If they want back in it they need to get hot now.

source:  22. Knicks (20-32, LW 22). Carmelo Anthony was putting up big numbers for the Eastern Conference while they were losing to the West, but it was his teammates that really sparked the comeback. Still, he is a huge star and if the Knicks are going to make the playoffs it will be because of him, not that supporting cast.

source:  23. Cavaliers (20-33, LW 28). Winners of four in a row and that has them in the playoff hunt, such as it is in the East. Kyrie Irving put on a show to win the All-Star Game MVP, can he carry that over to a team that needs him to be that guy every night?

source:  24. Celtics (19-35, LW 23). Lots of trade buzz about the Celtics being trade deadline sellers, the problem is there are not a lot of buyers. That means the buyers have options and can offer less in return. And with that, we have described Danny Ainge’s problem.

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25. Jazz (19-33, LW 27). Winners of three in a row, they have played some decent ball lately and Trey Burke is looking better. He also looked quick with the ball wining the All-Star Saturday Skills Contest with Damian Lillard.

source:  26. Kings (18-35, LW 24). They didn’t look good on a recent East Coast road trip (save for Jimmer Fredette in New York) as the consistency issues that have plagued this team all season continue. Don’t expect any big deadline deals, they made their move.

source:  27. Magic (16-38, LW 25). They are sellers at the trade deadline — Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis could all be moved. Or, none of them because the limited buyers are lowballing offers. Still, this is a team to watch this week… off the court. On it they are not pretty.

source:  28. Lakers (18-35, LW 26). The Lakers are shopping everyone not named Kobe Bryant but whether Pau Gasol gets moved, or if Jordan Hill ends up in Brooklyn, remains to be seen. Still, they could well make a deal.

source:  29. 76ers (15-39, LW 29). Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young would be on the move in a lot of years, but teams are not willing to send the young players and picks back that Philly GM Sam Hinkie wants. We’ll see if that changes, of if he lowers his asking price.

source:  30. Bucks (9-43, LW 30). There was some Larry Sanders trade buzz, but with him injured that is pretty much DOA. Don’t expect the Bucks to make a deadline move.

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.

NBA implementing ‘Zaza Pachulia,’ ‘James Harden’ rules

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season’s playoffs.

Officials will also make sure jump shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a perimeter foul is worthy of free throws, which could cut down on James Harden‘s attempts after he swings his arms into contact.

Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard’s in Game 1 of Golden State’s victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.

“It’s 100 percent for the safety of the players,” NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia said Thursday.

The NBA had made the freedom to land a point of emphasis for officials a few years ago, because of the risk of injuries. But the play got renewed attention during the playoffs because of Leonard’s injury, and also one in which Washington forward Markieff Morris landed on Al Horford‘s foot in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal, knocking him out of a game the Celtics rallied to win.

Officials can still rule the play a common foul if they did not see a dangerous or unnatural attempt by the defender upon review. Borgia said Pachulia’s foul would have been deemed a flagrant.

With the fouls on the perimeter shots – often coming when the offensive player has come off a screen and quickly attempts to launch a shot as his defender tries to catch up – officials will focus on the sequencing of the play. The player with the ball must already be in his shooting motion when contact is made, rather than gathering the ball to shoot such as on a drive to the basket.

“We saw it as a major trend in the NBA so we had to almost back up and say, `Well, wait a minute, this is going to be a trend, so let’s catch up to it,”‘ NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said.

Report: Cavaliers signing Kendrick Perkins

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Kendrick Perkins spent fewer than four months with the Cavaliers, including the 2015 playoffs. But nearly a year later after Cleveland let Perkins walk in free agency, LeBron James was still bemoaning Perkins’ absence.

Are the Cavs righting a wrong?

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Kendrick Perkins joined the Cavaliers at LeBron James’ minicamp in Santa Barbara, Calif., and will come to training camp next week, sources told cleveland.com.

The Cavs now have 18 players with standard contracts, and 15 – the regular-season limit – have guaranteed salaries. I doubt Cleveland wants to waive the two without guaranteed salaries, Kay Felder and Edy Tavares, either.

In other words, Perkins is a longshot to stick into the regular season.

Perkins was washed up when with the Cavaliers two years ago. The 32-year-old who sat out last season hasn’t produced on the court in several years. He’s tough and well-liked in the locker room, which might give him a chance of sneaking onto the regular-season roster.

But the Cavs should focus on developing toughness and chemistry among their rotation players. Perkins is just a crutch, most likely one who’ll be yanked away by cut-down day a few weeks from now.