PBT NBA Power Rankings: Spurs finish season on top

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It’s the final power rankings of the season from ProBasketballTalk and the Spurs are going to finish the season on the top. Since Tony Parker got back healthy the Spurs have been a force, but the No. 2 Thunder present real matchup problems for San Antonio come the playoffs. Of course, the Thunder’s road to any potential showdown is brutal. Heck, the whole Western Conference playoffs will be brutal.

 
source:  1. Spurs (62-18, Last week No. 1). You simply have to marvel at this franchise — 17 straight playoff trips and 16 years of at least 50 wins (excluding the 50-game lockout season of ’98-99). Coming into this season we wondered if the painful loss in the finals would hold them back. We wondered if Father Time would overtake the core guys. No and no. This team is once again a legitimate title contender.

 
source:  2. Thunder (58-22, LW 4).. They are No. 2 on this list but I still think they come out of the West into the Finals — their length on defense allows them to recover and contest more shots than anyone and it bothers the Spurs. However, to get to the Spurs they will have to face Memphis or Dallas (and Memphis wants OKC over San Antonio) then likely the Clippers. Thats a hard road.

 
source:  3. Clippers (56-24, LW 2). This looks like a team finally defending, a team finally on the cusp of contending, but they will draw a brutal first round matchup with Golden State. Beat them and you likely land OKC in the second round. Ouch. The three Clipper perimeter players recently battling injury — J.R. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Danny Granger — all need to be back and playing well for the Clippers to have a chance to advance beyond that.

 
source:  4. Heat (54-26, LW No. 3). When focused for a big game, say against Indiana, they bring their defense back to life and look like a contender. But against everyone else they still look like they are going through the motions. That said, there is no team from the East playing well enough right now to beat them in a seven game series. (Indiana is the only one that can, sorry Brooklyn not happening.)

 
source:  5. Rockets (53-27, LW 5). Interesting first round showdown with Portland looming, both teams put up a lot of points on the other when they faced off this season. Patrick Beverley will be key for a Rockets team that will need to harass and slow down Damian Lillard. On the flip side, James Harden should have a strong series against Portland’s inconsistent defense.

 
source:  6. Trail Blazers (53-28, LW 7). Portland is 8-1 since LaMarcus Aldridge returned and the big win at home over Golden State Sunday (maybe the most entertaining game of the season) shows they will not go quietly in the first round. However, their defense is going to have to be improved and consistent to slow down the Rockets offense.

 
source:  7. Bulls (47-33, LW 9). Sunday’s surprising loss to the Knicks lets Toronto control its own destiny for the third seed, which could mean a first round matchup against Brooklyn for Chicago. That would be brutal. The Bulls beat the Nets last year in the playoffs but the Nets have added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and some other talent since then. The Bulls run since the All-Star break — without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng — has been one of the most amazing parts of the NBA season.

 
source:  8. Warriors (49-31, LW 6). With soft closeouts against Minnesota and Denver it’s likely the Warriors finish with at least 50 wins — the last time they did that was 1994, when Don Nelson coached them, Latrell Sprewell led the team in scoring and Chris Webber was a rookie. Bad news is they likely land the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs and that is a bad draw for a Warriors team that has struggled to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (49-32, LW 11). They are in the playoffs after Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki owned the second half Saturday and the Mavs beat the Suns. However their seeding is still up in the air. Those two guys will put up points in the playoffs, but will Dallas defend well enough to win more than one game in the postseason?

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (47-32, LW 12).  They still need to beat either Phoenix Monday or Dallas Wednesday to secure a playoff spot. They very likely will, then will be a physical, tough out for whoever draws them in the first round.

 
source:  11. Pacers (54-26, LW 13). We saw a flash of this team potentially returning to form Sunday at home beating the Thunder. Indy also won at home a few weeks ago against the Heat — that’s why home court matters. But this team is 20-20 on the road this season and they will not last long in the playoffs without some key road wins. Fortunately, they likely draw the Hawks in the first round, which is like a nice tuneup round, a sparring match to get ready for the main events.

 
source:  12. Suns (47-33, LW 8). The reason Jeff Hornacek is Coach of the Year in my book is the amazing development of players under him – Goran Dragic and Gerald Green could get votes for most improved player, Markieff Morris will get some votes for Sixth Man of the Year (and deservedly so). The Suns need to beat the Grizzlies Monday night then hope Dallas beats Memphis on Wednesday to get into the playoffs. It’s a longshot, but I’m saying there’s a chance.

 
source:  13. Raptors (47-33, LW 10). They control their own playoff destiny — beat the Bucks Monday and the Knicks Wednesday and the Raptors are the three seed, likely getting Washington in the first round. Which means they could make the second round of the playoffs, a huge accomplishment for this franchise. This team is solid on both ends of the floor and look for Kyle Lowry to have a monster playoffs (just have a feeling).

 
source:  14. Nets (43-36, LW 14). Maybe the most interesting and hardest to read team entering the playoffs. They have had stretches of strong play but have been a little sloppy of late, they have veterans with playoff experience but ones Father Time is starting to win the race with. If they land Chicago in the first round that is brutal.

 
source:  15. Bobcats (41-39, LW 16). That this team made the leap it did this year and made the playoffs is a credit to three men: Coach Steve Clifford for getting this group to play good team defense; GM Rich Cho for maybe the move of the summer picking up the next guy on the lat; finally Al Jefferson for a season that will land him on an All-NBA team.

 
source:  16. Wizards (42-38, LW 15). You want a sleeper playoff team in the East? With Nene on the court the Wizards have a very good defense — allowing 99 points per 100 possessions — and their offense plays with more confidence. They will not be an easy out, and if they land Toronto in the first round the Wizards have to feel they have a real shot at advancing.

source:  17 . Timberwolves (40-39, LW 18). Hey, look over here at Gorgui Dieng and how well the rookie is playing with Nicola Pekovic out — don’t look over there at another year without the playoffs. Minnesota’s point differential of +2.9 is better than the Bulls, Suns, Grizzlies and Mavericks, but Minny could not win close games and it cost them.

 
source:  18. Hawks (37-43, LW 17). That they held on to playoff spot without Al Horford for much of the season is a testament to what GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer are starting to build there. Still a long way to go and the best they can do in the first round is win one game, but it’s something to build on.

 
source:  19. Nuggets (36-44, LW 22). Kenneth Faried really started to show off the development of his game the second half of the season — just in time to talk contract extension (he is eligible this summer). He and Ty Lawson played well down the stretch (when Lawson was healthy). Next season if they can stay healthy and get Danilo Gallinari back things get interesting.

 
source:  20. Knicks (35-45, LW 19). Carmelo Anthony made a valiant effort this season, and I expect he will not be going anywhere this summer. But Phil Jackson has a mandate to make changes yet almost no flexibility — nobody sane is taking on Andrea Bargnani’s deal — which will make this a very interesting summer in New York.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (32-49, LW 20). They will offer Kyrie Irving a max extension this summer and he will sign it and stick around — the only question is does he ask for an opt-out after three seasons. Two other big questions for the Cavs this summer: Who gets the GM job and how much does said GM offer Luol Deng to stick around?

 
source:  22. Kings (28-53, LW 21). Ownership is committed to DeMarcus Cousins as a building block, but what about Rudy Gay? Gay has a $19.3 million million option for next season he may pick up, but hinted he may opt out for a longer deal and some security. If he does opt out, how much and how long a deal would the Kings offer Gay?

 
source:  23. Pelicans (32-48, LW 23). This is the team I most expect to make a leap next season — Anthony Davis is exploding and if they can keep Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and the rest healthy this is a playoff team. However their lottery pick this year goes to Philly (top 5 protected).

 
source:  24. Pistons (29-51, LW 25). Joe Dumars is out as GM after his Josh Smith/Brandon Jennings gamble failed. It will be interesting to see which way owner Tom Gores goes with finding a replacement — spend money on a name or bring in one of the up-and-coming generation if front office people? Whoever takes over has to pick a coach and clean up a real mess of an ill-fitting roster.

 
source:  25. Magic (23-56 LW 24). The youth movement continues in Orlando this summer — they will have their own pick, at least top six, plus the higher of the Knicks or Nuggets picks (Denver gets the other one). They have a few nice young players like Victor Oladipo but it’s going to take years to develop all these players into something.

 
source:  26. Celtics (25-55, LW 29). Maybe he was never fully healthy, but the Celtics did not get better once Rajon Rondo returned to the team. That leads to the “keep him or trade him?” question Danny Ainge has been on the fence about for years. This summer could be the time he really does pull the trigger on a Rondo trade.

 
source:  27. Lakers (25-55, LW 26). Can you imagine the uproar and the calls of a fix if the Lakers win the NBA Draft lottery? It would blow the frozen envelope theory out of the top spot in NBA lottery conspiracies. Fair or not. By the way, the Lakers last Top 5 pick? James Worthy. That worked out fairly well.

 
source:  28. Jazz (24-56, LW 28). What kind of money teams are going to offer restricted free agent Gordon Hayward this summer will be one of the best subplots of the off-season. Hayward has a lot of fans in NBA front offices but he’s really a No. 2/3 guy on a good team, how much are you willing to overpay to poach a guy like that out of Utah?

 
source:  29. 76ers (17-63, LW 27). What they learned this season is that Michael Carter-Williams is a keeper, someone who can be a starter/rotation guy on a good team. Now they get to add two lottery picks to that (the Sixers have the Pelicans’ pick, unless it is in the top five). If you’re going to tank for draft picks, you had better nail those picks, Sam Hinkie.

 
source:  30. Bucks (14-63, LW 30). They didn’t plan to tank, it just worked out that way. The more interesting move this summer is the apparently impending sale of the team — who is buying and how much are they willing to put into a new arena to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee?

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.

Milwaukee Bucks eager to build after strong finish to season

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — With the sting of their frantic but failed Game 6 comeback effort still fresh in their minds, the Milwaukee Bucks returned to their practice facility Friday morning to pack their things and head their separate ways.

The Bucks consider themselves a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference, a belief no doubt reinforced by a furious 14-4 run late in the season that propelled them to sixth place in the East and solidified by a strong, though inconsistent, effort against Toronto in the playoffs.

“We thought we were the better team,” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We thought we could beat the Raptors and go to the second round. We feel like we got the Raptors’ attention so hopefully next year … we can go deeper in the playoffs.”

To get to that next step, which includes gaining home-court advantage and winning a playoff series for the first time since 2001, a lot of work needs to be done. Milwaukee needs Antetokounmpo to continue his rapid development, but will be looking to young additions like Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks’ two picks in last year’s draft, to refine their bodies and their games this summer.

Maker was one of the biggest surprises in the league. The 15th overall pick was a relative unknown and figured, at the outset, to be a draft-and-develop pick. Instead, he made a strong impression on the coaching staff with his commitment to defense and made opposing teams panic with his ability to shoot the 3 and wound up starting all six playoff games.

“It was amazing,” Maker said. “Unexpected. I thought I was just going to be on `Project: Build Maker’ and build my body but that’s (what I’m doing) this summer now. I thought that’s what this year was going to be about but everything turned around. I worked hard and it turned out to be way more than I expected. I don’t like the end results – it could have been way better – but you live with the results and you learn.”

Brogdon might have been an even bigger surprise. He was Milwaukee’s second-round pick and began the season on the bench behind free agent acquisition Matthew Dellavedova. But he, too, put in the work and by season’s end, was not only the starting point guard but a key piece of the Bucks’ core.

“I think it’s strong,” Brogdon said of Milwaukee’s nucleus. “I think it’s going to be one of the strongest in the NBA, as long as we’re able to stay together and as long as we’re able to stay healthy. I think we’re going to be one of the best teams in the NBA.”

The Bucks have been in this position before. They were considered a team on the rise in 2010, when they forced the Hawks to seven games but stumbled the next season and didn’t return to the postseason until sneaking into the eighth spot in 2013.

Two years later, Milwaukee was thought to be a sleeper after the Bucks finished .500 in Kidd’s first season at the helm, but again they faltered the next season and missed the playoffs.

Maintaining the momentum will be a major focus as preparations begin for the next season.

“My first year we had seven or eight free agents, so we knew that wasn’t going to be the same team,” forward John Henson said. “(The) second year we had a new coach, more free agents.

My third year coach Kidd coming in, we knew there was going to be some stability. He’s had the same core guys and this is what happens; not have a letdown like we did the year before.”

Milwaukee should benefit with some roster stability. The team’s young core appears set in place with Antetokounmpo, Henson and Khris Middleton locked into long-term contracts, as are Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic.

Tony Snell, who went on to start 80 games after being acquired late in training camp, is a restricted free agent. Greg Monroe, who became one of the league’s best sixth men, holds a player option for next season.

The Bucks will likely be open to bringing back veteran guard Jason Terry for a 19th season, too.

“I think that’s how you become a team that doesn’t regress next year – keeping some of the pieces together,” Henson said.

General manager John Hammond also faces a tough question with Jabari Parker, who will miss at least the first half of the 2017-18 season after tearing his ACL in February. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft is eligible for a contract extension this summer and was in line to earn something close to the $100 million Milwaukee gave Antetokounmpo last year.

Lonzo Ball, other top draft picks expected to skip NBA Combine

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The NBA Draft Combine invites started going out Saturday — about 60-70 players are expected to be invited to a gym in Chicago for a couple of days of measurements, interviews, and tests, with a little basketball thrown in. The idea is for teams to get an up-close look (and accurate measurements) with guys they are going to invest time and, in some cases, millions of dollars in over the next several years.

However, the guys at the top of the draft are not going to be in Chicago, as Shams Charania and Bobby Marks of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports noted.

This is the same as with the NFL combine, the top picks see only bad things that can happen by taking part, there’s no upside but their stock could fall, so they stay away.

That’s not about to change. Also, a lot of international players skip the combine. That opens up some slots for more fringe guys, players who may or may not get drafted in the second round, to come in and impress. (Check out Jonathan Givony’s Twitter timeline to get a sense of who got invited and who didn’t.)

Teams looking at drafting the top handful, the elite guys, have already had scouts watch every college and many high school games, not to mention seeing their AAU teams and catching them at things like the Nike Summit or Adidas Nations events. They’ve talked to the guy’s former coaches and others around him, they have a good sense of who he is and is not.

Well, as much as one can in any draft. It’s still a crap shoot. A player can have all the skills, all the physical gifts, be a good person, but what happens once they face real adversity? Or, have to deal with money and temptations? What would you have been like at age 20 with millions of dollars and all the hedonistic temptations of the NBA lifestyle thrown at you? Or, how do does a team know which young players with some very raw skills have the drive and passion for maximizing those talents? Predicting how a 19- or 20-year-old will mature is not an easy task.

Dwyane Wade says he wants to see plan for Bulls before deciding on player option

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I can think of $23.8 million reasons Dwyane Wade will be back with the Chicago Bulls next season. Sure, he’s made more than $175 million on the court and more in endorsements during his Hall of Fame career. Still, that’s a lot of money to walk away from and he has the player option. It’s Wade’s call.

When asked on Saturday, a day after the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics (a game in which Wade was 1-of-10 shooting and -27), whether he planned to return to Chicago or test the free agent market again this summer, Wade only said that he wanted to get a sense of what the Bulls were going to do this summer before he decided. Here are some Tweets from the Wade interview from Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

Wade wants a clear plan and direction from Bulls management? That’s a long line. Like the line at an Apple Store the day the new iPhone comes out length. Wade is way at the back of it.

If the Bulls rebuild, they will trade Butler, if not they will run it back with Wade, Butler, and likely Rondo. Obviously, if they do keep this core together a lot of pieces around them need to change and start to fit some kind of cohesive system.

Wade also defended coach Fred Hoiberg in the wake of “fire Hoiberg” chants from Bulls fans at the end of the game.

This is the one wish Wade will get, after firing Tom Thibodeau and hand-picking Hoiberg out of the college ranks, no way GarPax is going to fire him this summer and admit its mistake.

Everything else with Wade is up in the air.