Greg Popovich

PBT NBA Power Rankings: Spurs set the bar while Pacers fall like a rock

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Not much change at the top — the Spurs and Clippers remain at the top and while there is a little shuffling below them it’s still all the same teams. Well, except the Pacers who are crashing harder than Justin Bieber’s career.

 
source:  1. Spurs (60-17, Last week No. 1). The loss to the Thunder shows what makes this an interesting playoffs for the Western Conference — it’s all about match ups. Oklahoma City gives San Antonio trouble, although I don’t read too much into a road loss on the second night of a back-to-back (which is why the Spurs stay on top of the rankings).The Spurs are the NBA’s first 60-win team and have set the bar for everyone else — if you want to win an NBA title you need to be better than San Antonio.

 
source:  2. Clippers (55-23, LW 2). Health is the prevailing question in L.A., with key bench contributors Jamal Crawford and Danny Granger likely out until the playoffs begin. With a likely looming first round series against Golden State (and potential second round vs. OKC), the Clippers need Glen Davis focused (and playing for his next contract), plus a healthy Crawford and Granger to advance.

 
source:  3. Heat (53-23, LW No. 5). LeBron James said he wants to play every Heat game down the stretch, but if Miami beats Indiana in their showdown Friday night and can lock up the No. 1 seed in the East, look for Erik Spoelstra to give him a game or two off.

 
source:  4. Thunder (55-21, LW 3).. Interesting potential playoff preview Wednesday when the Thunder and Clippers meet — if things follow form that would be the second round matchup. Speaking of matchup problems for teams, the Thunder likely would prefer not to see the Suns in the first round — Phoenix’s style puts up points on OKC. (The Thunder are 3-1 vs. Memphis and 1-2 vs. Dallas.)

 
source:  5. Rockets (51-25, LW 4). Sunday’s come from behind win is huge for a team trying to hold on to home court advantage in the first round. What really matters is getting Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley back healthy — they shouldn’t rush back for the regular season but they are needed likely against Portland in the first round.

 
source:  6. Warriors (48-29, LW 8). The players seem unfazed by the assistant coach turmoil going on around this team and just keep picking up key wins. They continue to play good defense nightly — particularly when Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut are both on the court. It’s that defense as much as the jump shooting that makes them dangerous in the postseason.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (50-28, LW 13). Playing better since LaMarcus Aldridge’s return (shocking!) they are just 1.5 games back of Golden State for the fifth playoff seed in the West — the two teams play Friday night in a showdown that could determine the slot. Five seed likely gets Rockets, six the Clippers. Both tough, but Houston is more vulnerable.

 
source:  8. Suns (46-31, LW 10). Tough stretch of games started with a loss to Clippers but then wins over Portland and Oklahoma City. Four of final five are on the road (starting with the Spurs) but this team just keeps on winning. Big games Saturday vs. Mavericks then April 14 vs. Grizzlies.

 
source:  9. Bulls (45-32, LW 12). If they met today I’d pick the Bulls to beat the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs. A lot of things can change by then but the Bulls just keep winning with their defense and Joakim Noah as the focal point of the offense. They know who they are, which is more than you can say for the Pacers right now.

 
source:  10. Raptors (45-32, LW 13). While nobody south of the border was paying attention the Raptors have won 6-of-7 — they are going to win the Atlantic Division. Holding off the Bulls for the three seed will be more difficult, but a soft schedule this week (Sixers, Knicks, Pistons) will help.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (47-31, LW 11). They have a 1.5 game lead on nine seed Memphis, which is a nice cushion late in the playoff chase, but with games this week against the Spurs and Suns they need to play more like the team we saw against the Clippers last Tuesday than the couple of sloppy wins since.

 
source:  12. Grizzlies (43-29, LW 9).  Five games left and they control their own fate — the Heat are tough on Wednesday but after that the Sixers and Lakers are beatable. Then they close against the Suns and Mavericks and that could decide it all.

 
source:  13. Pacers (52-21, LW 6). Oh how the mighty have fallen. Their offense always had a small margin for error and a little more stagnation and a little more guys seeming to think about their numbers has hurt them. Plus they are just missing shots they used to make. C.J. Watson should return this week and they could use that point guard to help organize the offense.

 
source:  14. Nets (42-34, LW 14). Kevin Garnett could return this week and along with Andrei Kirilenko that should help a Nets defense that has been a mess of late. Like against the Knicks last week. They are likely the five seed and if they face Toronto in the first round they could advance to the second round, which is the least you could ask considering what Prokhorov is paying for this roster.

 
source:  15. Wizards (40-37, LW 15). Nene is back practicing and is expected to return to the Sixers lineup this week — that makes Washington a far, far more dangerous team. They need to pick up a couple wins down the stretch to keep the six seed, the Bobcats are just one game behind them.

 
source:  16. Bobcats (39-38, LW 18). Winners of four in a row, which has secured them a playoff spot, and as of right now they are above .500. Make sure your remember that and coach Steve Clifford when filling out your Coach of the Year ballots (he’s not going to win but should get mentioned).

 
source:  17. Hawks (34-42, LW 21). Quality offensive outings against the Pacers and Cavaliers have given them a two-game cushion over a banged-up Knicks team — they are in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs, with only two of their remaining six on the road and half the games against teams below .500.

source:  18 . Timberwolves (38-38, LW 16). They pulled out a thrilling come-from-behind close win over the Heat last weekend — if they had pulled out some close ones earlier in the season we’d have them in our playoffs mix. But alas, the discussion moves on to Kevin Love in the off-season.

 
source:  19. Knicks (33-45, LW 17). Carmelo Anthony is doing his best to play through a shoulder injury but this team just isn’t good enough to win games against quality teams without him. Problem is, they are two games back of Atlanta and there are nothing but quality teams left on the schedule — at Toronto, Chicago, at Brooklyn, Toronto. They need a lot of help from the Hawks to make he postseason now.

 
source:  20. Cavaliers (31-47, LW 19). Kyrie can say whatever he wants about his future and the speculation surrounding it, his contract negotiations this summer will tell you all you need to know — will he take a full five year deal with the Cavaliers or will he ask for an opt out after three? And if he does ask, how will the Cavaliers organization handle it?

 
source:  21. Kings (27-50, LW 23). They have five straight 50-loss seasons (not counting the lockout year… but they weren’t exactly impressive that season either). I love the energy Vivek Ranadive is bringing as Sacramento owner, but it shows you how hard it can be to turn an entire franchise around.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (33-44, LW 22). Easily the craziest play of last week was Brian Shaw drawing up a play for a game winning three for Timofey Mozgov — he is a career 20% shooter from three who has taken 18 threes all season (hitting four). I have no idea why.

 
source:  23. Pelicans (32-45, LW 20). They have lost five in a row and have a brutal closing stretch of games — Suns, Thunder twice and Rockets twice. But hey, they have Anthony Davis.

 
source:  24. Magic (22-55 LW 25). The team is not for sale, the DeVos family wants you to know. That’s swell. But this is still a massive rebuilding project in its early stages, this is a team that needs a little lottery luck this year.

 
source:  25. Pistons (28-49, LW 28). It’s unlikely to happen — they likely will have a 3.5% shot at it — but if the Pistons won the NBA Draft lottery and Joe Dumars was kept, do you think he would draft Joel Embiid then refuse to trade Josh Smith, Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe?

 
source:  26. Lakers (25-52, LW 24). Unless they win out — and they are not going to win out — this will be the worst Lakers team in the history of the franchise since it moved to Los Angeles. What’s more there are just not reasonable quick turnaround scenarios out there — it’s going to take a few years at least to rebuild the Lakers.

 
source:  27. 76ers (16-57, LW 27). Two wins in a couple weeks means the Bucks will finish with the worst record in the NBA, not the Sixers. By the way, Michael Carter-Williams has secured himself the Rookie of the Year trophy, with Victor Oladipo second. Despite Oladipo’s play of late.

 
source:  28. Jazz (24-53, LW 29). Is Tyron Corbin capable of developing players at the level the Jazz need him to during this rebuild? His contract is up at the end of the season and this is a very patient Utah ownership that doesn’t like change, but they need to ask that question.

 
source:  29. Celtics (23-54, LW 26). They are 1-13 in their last 14 games and last weekend lost to both the Sixers and the Pistons. That is some terrible basketball. There’s a lot of rebuilding to do in Boston and I don’t know that Rajon Rondo wants to stick around for all of it.

 
source:  30. Bucks (14-63, LW 30). This team has the worst record in the history of the Bucks franchise — and what hurts is they didn’t go into this season trying to tank. The O.J. Mayo signing has been a disaster and Larry Sanders’ season has gone up in a puff of smoke. Hey but they’ll have the highest lottery odds. So they got that going for them, which is nice.

Report: Magic makes first trade, Lakers send Lou Williams to Rockets for first-round pick, Corey Brewer

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Magic Johnson has pulled the trigger on his first trade — and it’s a solid one for the team that will give them another first-round pick.

It may be a better one for a Rockets’ team looking to make a deep playoff run.

The Lakers are sending Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets and getting back what they really want in a pick, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Lou Williams seemed to confirm this on Twitter.

We don’t know what year that first-round pick is, most likely 2017 but we don’t know for sure yet.

Williams became a sought-after trade commodity because the guy who used to be a volume scorer still gets plenty of points but now does it efficiently. He leads the Lakers scoring 18.6 points per game, with a very good true-shooting percentage of 60.9, in part because he gets to the line a lot more. He’s doing all that in just 24.2 minutes a night off the bench, which is why he’s a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.

For the Rockets, they now bring the scoring punch of Williams and Eric Gordon — probably the frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year — off the bench. That will relieve some scoring pressure, and maybe reduce the minutes load, for James Harden.

Williams should blend almost seamlessly into the Mike D’Antoni offense. The only concern for the Rockets is potential playoff matchups where Williams can be exploited defensively, but that team is going to play fast and put up points.

For the Lakers, they get a first-round pick, although if it is a 2017 it will be about pick 27. Corey Brewer makes the salaries match up but he is a below replacement-level player at this point, don’t be shocked if the Lakers try to move him next summer. My only question with the Lakers is could they have gotten a higher first rounder from another team, but this seems a fair deal for Sweet Lou.

PBT Extra: Will Magic run Lakers like his businesses or his Twitter account?

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The Lakers needed a front office change, and they got it — two days before the trade deadline. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak are out, Magic Johnson is in.

It’s a good first step, but here is the question I ask in this latest PBT Extra: What kind of leader will Magic Johnson be?

Will he be like he ran his business empire, hiring smart people and getting everyone to collaborate into a greater whole?

Or, will he run the Lakers like his Twitter account?

Magic has said all the right things about it being the former, but soon will come time for action.

Reports: Agent Rob Pelinka set to become Lakers new general manager, finalizing deal

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Golden State broke the mold and hired an agent as a general manager in Bob Myers a few years back. Safe to say that has worked out fairly well for them.

Now the Lakers will try to replicate that experiment — they are on the verge of hiring Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as their new general manager, according to both media reports and the players he has under contract. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports was first with the news.

Backing up those reports, several of Pelinka’s players have come right out and said the agent is taking the job. Via Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

Rockets guard Eric Gordon said his agent, Rob Pelinka, will become the GM of the Lakers. “I think he’s going to be good,” Gordon said. “He had a good reputation as an agent and definitely expect nothing but good things from him. “It’s a different challenge, and I think he’ll be just fine.” Pelinka not only represents Gordon but Trevor Ariza and James Harden.

Pelinka will serve as the right-hand man for Magic Johnson, and will handle the day-to-day operations of the basketball side of the organization. On his first day, Johnson talked about working closely with coach Luke Walton, Ryan West (an assistant GM and son of Jerry), Jessie and Joey Boss (two of the Buss children also working in the front office, and well respected). Pelinka would be part of that collaborative effort — which is how most successful front offices work. While one person with the hammer has to make the final call, the best organizations have teams of guys who provide views from scouts, analytic departments, coaching staffs, capologists, and more (including ownership on the biggest deals). The idea is to synthesize all that information into an informed decision.

Pelinka would bring to the table things Jim Buss and Kupchak did not — he is personable and good in the room with players. Kupchak and Buss were disasters in free agent meetings with stars in recent years, but if you don’t know how to recruit as an agent, you starve. Pelinka also ran a team with his agency of competing personalities, he knows the CBA well, player contracts well, and he has good contacts all over the league.

Plus, Kobe wanted it.

Jeanie Buss says decision to fire brother Jim was so hard “I probably waited too long”

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The question has been for weeks not if but when. Ever since Magic Johnson was brought on as a “consultant to ownership” for Jeanie Buss and the Lakers the writing was on the wall, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were going to be out. Magic’s heavy-handed public campaign to take over Jim’s spot added to the obviousness of the situation.

Nobody expected to be this fast — and certainly not two days before the trade deadline.

Why now? Lakers owner and team governor Jeanie Buss and Magic — the new head of Lakers’ basketball operations — were on the Lakers’ cable network Spectrum Sportsnet in Los Angeles and answered those questions.

“It’s something I thought about for a long time, and once the decision became clear in my mind there was really no reason to wait, Buss said…

“In today’s NBA there is no offseason, you’re constantly preparing for the draft, for the season, for Summer League, so there was no time like the present.”

This was very different from most teams firing a GM and basketball president — Jim Buss is Jeanie’s brother (and will remain part owner), Mitch Kupchak has been a loyal Laker front office soldier for decades. For Jeanie Buss, this was emotional and was not just business.

“This was a very difficult decision,” Buss said. “It was probably so hard for me to make that I probably waited too long. And for that, I apologize to Lakers fans. But now with clarity and direction, and talking to with Ervin, really knowing a change was needed, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Why did she wait so long, through what she called an “erosion” of what the Lakers should be?

“I wanted for the current (she meant former) front office to show us what Laker basketball was going to be. It just wasn’t going in a direction that was satisfactory for what this organization stands for,” Buss said.

Magic added perspective.

“It really wasn’t about the last couple weeks, it’s been about years,” Magic said.

However, Johnson did say in a later Los Angeles radio interview that he was kept out of the loop on the Lakers’ pursuit of DeMarcus Cousins All-Star weekend. He would not say if that impacted the timing, and he dodged the question about whether he would have included Brandon Ingram in the trade.

Johnson said he has talked to numerous other general managers already, both getting well wishes and talking trades — Los Angeles remains expected to move Lou Williams before the trade deadline, according to sources around the league.

“After we leave (the studio where this interview was taking place) we’re going to go back to the war room with coach Walton, Ryan West (an assistant GM), Jessie and Joey (Buss children working in the front office), we’re all going to sit in a room and evaluate trade possibilities,” Magic said.

Johnson continually praised both Luke Walton and the young core of the team — all of which were put in place by the former front office. He said he wanted to build with this core.

“We have the right coach with Luke Walton and a lot of great young players, that we can build and make sure we develop, and help them turn into the stars we think they can become,” Magic said.

“This isn’t about going back to Showtime, we’re not turning back the clock,” Buss said. “The Lakers have figured out how to win in every era, and certainly the game has evolved, and the rules have changed. We, in our discussions, were looking at evolving with the game and what the modern NBA is about.”

Magic said he wants a GM who can work with him and who also knows the CBA and has relationships with teams, “someone smarter than me.” He also talked about everyone in the organization working together in the front office, in a collaborative way.

“That’s how I built my (business) organization, that’s how I want to build this one,” Johnson said.

As expected, both Johnson and Buss said this was about winning and getting the organization going back in the right direction.

“When we sat down for dinner, and she asked me to come back, I think the timing was right,” Johnson said. “It was right for me to put my businesses aside and focus on Laker business, try to build an organization fans can be proud of, both on the court and in the offices.”