Frank Ntilikina

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NBA Power Rankings: Rockets remain locked on top, race to the bottom interesting


Not much movement at the top of the power rankings, the Rockets are playing well and most of the other top teams seem to have a case of senioritis looking ahead to the All-Star break. The more interesting race may be to the bottom, where the Suns and Nets are losing, the Knicks have dropped seven straight, and the taking for lottery position is about to go full force.

Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (43-13, Last Week No. 1). Houston is a run-and-gun Mike D’Antoni team, right? Not really, or at least not as much as people think. The Rockets are ninth in the NBA in pace and 14th in the NBA in the percentage of offense started in transition. The Rockets are very efficient when they get in transition, scoring a league best 129.5 points per 100 transition possessions (stats via Cleaning the Glass), but they don’t run like people think. The Rockets have won nine in a row, they remain tied with the Warriors in the loss column in the race for the No. 1 seed and home court throughout the playoffs.

Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (44-13 LW 2). Whoever is doing the coaching for Golden State (Steve Kerr, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee), he/they seems to have awakened their dormant bench of the past month or so. Which is good, because they may need to fill in for Draymond Green soon — he has a league-leading 14 technical fouls this season, two more and he gets an automatic one-game suspension. One sign of when the Warriors start to buckle down and focus again heading into the playoffs — their dreadful transition defense will improve. Right now it is one of the worst in the league.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (40-16, LW 3). Winners of six in a row — and the first five each by at least 15 points. The Raptors are in an impressive stretch and look like they could be the class of the East, but they will need to prove it in the playoffs. The Raptors are the top seed in the East as you read this — which could really matter come the playoffs. If Cleveland really has turned things around, the Cavs will still be the 3 seed (six games back of Boston/Toronto), meaning whoever finishes as the two seed gets them in the second round. Finish first, the path to the conference finals is cleaner.

Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (40-18, LW 4). Losers of 3-of-4, including ugly losses to the other top teams in the East Toronto and Cleveland. (The Celtics would have lost four in a row if the Wizards had played a little cleaner and Markieff Morris hadn’t fouled late.) The real reason for concern is the defense has been 6.4 points per 100 possessions worse in their last five games, going from best in the league to pedestrian. The offense remains just okay as it has much of the season, they need an elite defense to make up for it. This is likely just a blip, but something to watch.

5. Timberwolves (35-25, LW 5). That midseason stretch of good defense may have been a mirage — in their last 10 games the Timberwolves have given up a sieve-like 113.4 points per 100 possessions, 28th in the NBA for that stretch. Their transition defense continues to be the big issue. Rumors persist that Tom Thibodeau wants to pick up Derrick Rose off the buyout market, but I can’t see a good reason to do that. There are better options for point guard depth out there.

Bucks small icon 6. Bucks (32-24 LW 7). When Joe Prunty took over as head coach, his first move was to change the defensive schemes to something simpler and more traditional that his players could execute consistently — and in those 10 games the Bucks have allowed less than a point per possession and gone 8-2. Over that same time the Bucks have had a pedestrian offense (18th in the league) and while injuries (Malcolm Brogdon) are part of that the team needs to step up, starting with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (35-24, LW 6). The Spurs have shaken up the starting lineup, inserting Davis Bertans and moving Pau Gasol to a sixth man role. The reason is that with Dejounte Murray starting at the point but not having an outside shot, the Spurs needed better floor spacing. They have gotten it, the offense has looked better with this new lineup. The Spurs are 1-3 at the start of their Rodeo road trip and it continues past the All-Star break through Feb. 25 in Cleveland.

Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (32-24, LW 8). Washington has won 6-of-8 since John Wall went down, with the two losses to elite defensive teams (Boston and Philly). With Tim Fraizer also out injured, the Wizards need to pick up a point guard on the buyout market to provide some depth behind Tomas Satoransky (who has played well and moved the ball with Wall out). Expect a move soon.

Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (29-28, LW 17). Winners of 10 in a row and they have been the best team in the NBA over that stretch. The biggest surprise is that the frontcourt of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert is working again — the Jazz are +26.2 per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together during this streak. Not sure if that’s sustainable. Donovan Mitchell continues to impress during the streak taking over games late, Ricky Rubio has found a comfort level in Quin Snyder’s system and next to Mitchell, and Joe Ingles can’t miss. With a softer schedule the rest of the way than other teams in the fight for playoffs, says they have a 90 percent chance of making the postseason.

Cavaliers small icon 10. Cavaliers (34-22 LW 19). They are 2-0 with the new-look lineup, and while it’s just two games the fact that LeBron James looks energized again, that the athleticism on defense is paying off, and that the bench looks good are all very good signs the Cavs are on the right track. After the All-Star break Tyronn Lue will get a few practices with his new team, which is needed. It’s too early to buy in on the Cavaliers again, but I like what I’ve seen in the test drive so far.

Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (32-26 LW 9).. Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony returned to the rotation Tuesday night vs. Cleveland but it didn’t help, and the Thunder are 2-6 in their last eight. Without Andre Roberson in those games their elite defense has fallen to the middle of the pack (15th in the NBA in those 8) and they continue to look for a fifth man in the starting and closing rotation. Also in those eight games, the team’s offense has fallen to bottom 10 in the league. This still feels like a team better built for the postseason, but the hole they have dug themselves will make that a struggle.

Nuggets small icon 12. Nuggets (31-26, LW 12). Denver quietly made a really smart move at the trade deadline, swapping out Emmanuel Mudiay for Devin Harris — Harris has fit right in and helped (he had 17 vs. Phoenix). The win over the Spurs Tuesday night mattered because for Denver the playoffs start now — they are the current six-seed in the West, but just two games up on the nine-seed Clippers (and three on the 10 seed and climbing Jazz). Denver needs victories now.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (29-25, LW 16). Adding Marco Belinelli after his buyout from the Hawks was a good pickup, he provides shooting and wing depth this team could use. The Sixers have won eight in a row at home now, but have 8-of-10 on the road were they are 12-15 this season. The Sixers need to keep racking up wins to keep Detroit at arms length and stay in the postseason, but the Sixers have the second toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way.

Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (30-25, LW 10). Indiana is 6-1 in games decided by three points or less this season, which is a little bit lucky but has helped keep them afloat and out of too much danger of missing the postseason. Although the bigger reason this team remains solidly in the postseason is the play of Victor Oladipo, the team has gone 13-6 since his return from injury.

Clippers small icon 15. Clippers (29-26 LW 14). DeAndre Jordan remained a Clipper past the trade deadline, despite a lot of teams calling about his availability (if the Clippers moved him they did not want to take on long-term salary coming back, and that became a sticking point). Whether he remains a Clipper after summer free agency is another question, he told our own Dan Feldman he’s not sure how much the team wants him, and you can bet other teams will work hard to recruit him.

Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (31-26, LW 13). The Trail Blazers offense was hot for a while, then has cooled off (despite a 50 spot from Damian Lillard) but the ups-and-downs are expected in an offense where the pick-and-roll ball handler or a guy in isolation take 30.3 percent of the shots (this team does not move the ball well, which can lead to contests against good defenses). Fun matchup Wednesday night when the Blazers face the Warriors: Lillard and C.J. McCollum vs. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (30-26, LW 15). New Orleans is 3-5 since DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season, and not surprisingly it is the offensive end of the court where they miss him most. Since the injury, the Pelicans have scored just 101.6 points per 100 possessions, way down from the 108.3 rating they had before. The Pels defense has been okay, but it can’t cover up that much lack of scoring. Of the five teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the West, the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Pelicans have the toughest remaining schedules, New Orleans needs to find some buckets to stay in the postseason.

Heat small icon 18. Heat (30-27, LW 11). Dwyane Wade is back home in Miami, and that boost stopped a five-game skid. Wade is not an efficient scorer anymore, but he is an improved playmaker who can serve as sort of a defacto backup point guard, plus he can make some timely plays on both ends of the court. Expect him to keep coming off the bench but to get some crunch time minutes as well.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (27-29, LW 18). The Blake Griffin honeymoon is over as the Pistons have lost three straight and remain 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East. If you really want to be picky, every game Griffin has won with the Piston came when the opponent was on the second game of a back-to-back. Overall the Pistons have been +6.5 points per 100 with Griffin on the court this season, but in the last three games, the Griffin and Andre Drummond pairing has been -14.4 per 100. Stan Van Gundy is looking forward to having some practices with his team at the end of the All-Star break.

Lakers small icon 20. Lakers (23-32 LW 21). Isaiah Thomas has a chance with the Lakers to improve his stock heading into his summer free agency — stock that took a serious hit in the past year with his injury, play in Cleveland, and his disruption of that locker room. Thomas had 22 points in his Lakers debut off the bench, and while his defense is still terrible if he can show he can still put up numbers he helps his cause this summer (either as a key ball handler on a lesser team or a sixth man on a good one).

Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (23-33, LW 20). The Hornets didn’t trade Kemba Walker at the deadline, as expected, but they should revisit that during the summer when the offers may improve. Charlotte did take a flier on Willy Hernangomez at the deadline, and while it adds some salary long term it’s a good flier on a guy who showed promise as a rookie then got squeezed in the New York rotations this season. On Saturday, while you’re settling in to watch the Dunk Contest, remember to wish Michael Jordan a happy 55th birthday.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (20-36 LW 29).. After trading out Nikola Mitotic, the Bulls took an interesting flier at the deadline taking on Noah Vonleh. He didn’t impress much in Portland but he was marginally better this season (he started a dozen games for them) and there is potential. Zach LaVine has impressed more and more of late, including the game-winning steal and dunk vs. Orlando on Monday.

Magic small icon 23. Magic (18-38, LW 25). And somewhere Scott Skiles smiles — the Magic decided to move on from Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline. They didn’t get much back but it was still the right move, it was time. Orlando continues to play well on offense — they are 10th in the NBA in that category over their last 10 games. The problem is they give up almost as many buckets as they score, leading to a 4-6 record in those games.

Mavericks small icon 24. Mavericks (18-40 LW 23). Dennis Smith Jr. continues to show flashes but struggle with efficiency, he scoring 15.5 points per game in his last 10 but is shooting just 36.1 percent overall and 27.7 percent from three in that stretch. On the bright side, Dirk Nowitzki dropped 22 on the Lakers and even had a dunk (his first of the season).

Grizzlies small icon 25. Grizzlies (18-37, LW 24). Tyreke Evans is still in Memphis after the trade deadline in one of the most bizarre deadline non-moves we have seen. Memphis’ GM tried to spin this was better for the team, but the reality is no team was going to give him the first he wanted, so now rather than two second-round pick (or a second and Emmanuel Mudiay, a deal that was on the table) the Grizzlies are going to watch him walk this summer for nothing. Will they revisit the Marc Gasol trade idea this summer?

Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (23-35, LW 22). They have lost seven in a row and are pushing their way higher into the draft lottery. I like the trade deadline gamble on Emmanuel Mudiay, a big point guard who could be a backup down the line, and maybe play next to Frank Ntilikina. The Knicks aren’t going anywhere (this season or probably next after the Kristaps Porzingis ACL injury) so taking gambles and trying to develop players is what they should do.

Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (18-40, LW 28). Dewayne Dedmon is back in the rotation, and Mike Budenholzer is going deep into that rotation to get a good look at the players they have as the Hawks start to work out who can be part of the rebuild long-term. Atlanta has won 3-of-6, which normally one would say is a good thing but in a tight race for lottery position, the Hawks wins cost them the best lottery odds in the past week.

Kings small icon 28. Kings (18-38, LW 26). The Kings moved on from George Hill at the deadline, and they got a second-round pick for it. The real key for the Kings is what they do with that and their other picks — the Kings have either missed on or been unable to properly develop players over the past decade, and that has held them back. Sure, they nailed DeMarcus Cousins, and this is not about Georgios Papagiannis (who they waived), rather it’s about not regularly turning first-round picks into solid rotation players they can hold onto at an affordable price. That’s how teams get built, and the Kings need to get there to turn this ship around.

Nets small icon 29. Nets (19-39, LW 27). Getting a second-round pick for Tyler Zeller was a good move for the Nets. Losers of six in a row, that only serves to make Cavaliers fans happy as they control the Brooklyn pick (and they value it enough that Cleveland would not give it up at the trade deadline despite a roster overhaul). Allen Crabbe has shown some signs of life in the last two weeks, a good thing as he is near the top of the “most disappointing player in the NBA this season” list.

Suns small icon 30. Suns (18-40, LW 30). Losers of six in a row and 11-of-12, the Suns are now tied for the worst record in the NBA (and a chance for the top spot in the draft lottery). I like the flier on Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline, they want a point guard to put next to Devin Booker eventually, and while Payton may not be it they didn’t give up much and Payton has potential if he could find his shot.

Trade Deadline day tracker: All the latest rumors, deals in one place


The NBA Trade Deadline is a frenzy of activity — with all the civility and patience of a piranha feeding. Rumors fly, misinformation is leaked, and through it all trades are made.

It’s been a wild day of rumors and trades. It’s almost impossible to keep up, but we’re going to do our best in this one place to encapsulate all of it for you. In the hours running up to the deadline — 3 p.m. Eastern of Thursday, noon Pacific — we’re going to do our best to encapsulate all of it right here. Consider it a little bit news scrawl, a little bit running diary, but we will have everything you need to know right here. Then as the day goes on check back to NBC Sports and its NBA page for a podcast breaking down the trade deadline, plus analysis of the Cavaliers moves, and Winners and losers. 

3:14 PM: Joe Johnson was moved from Utah to Sacramento as part of a three-team deal, and he’s understandably going to ask for a buyout.

3:05 PM: Adding to the wild day — the guys we expected to see traded, and teams we thought would be active, were quiet. At the top of that list, Tyreke Evans, the man most expected to be traded, stayed in Memphis because nobody would cough up a first round pick for him.

Also, DeAndre Jordan is still a Clipper. Los Angeles couldn’t get an offer it liked, and now with DJ, just re-signed Lou Williams, and Tobias Harris, Los Angeles will try to make the playoffs in the crowded back half of the West.

Also, Boston did not pull the trigger on anything. They will play the cards in their hand (which may well be good enough to reach the NBA Finals).

3:00 PM: We have reached the trade deadline. Teams can no longer submit deals to the league office, but some deals that just snuck in under the wire will still trickle in.

Be sure to check back at throughout the afternoon as we will have stories on what the Cavaliers have done, winners and losers, and a podcast breaking down a wild day.

2:57 PM: The Orlando Magic have thrown in the towel on Elfrid Payton, trading him to Phoenix, a team looking for a point guard to put next to Devin Booker and willing to take a risk.

2:53 PM: Time is running out for deals and the big ones — DeAndre Jordan, Tyreke Evans — seem to be without resolution. However, we do have a minor trade that could get Sheldon Mac a little extra run in Atlanta.

2:34 PM: LeBron James was not left in the dark by the Cavaliers before their radical roster makeover on Thursday — and that included letting him know about the Dwyane Wade trade. Ramona Shelburne has it all:

2:32 PM:
The one guy that seemed a sure bet to be traded today, Tyreke Evans, is the one guy who may be staying put. There’s still not a first rounder for him out there.

2:25 PM: When the Nets picked up Rashad Vaughn in a trade just days ago, I thought it might be his last step before sliding out of the league after the season. I was wrong, he’s on the move again to New Orleans for Dante Cunningham. (Brooklyn turns guys like Cunningham into far more productive players, this will be interesting to watch.)

2:22 PM: The Trail Blazers have not been able to add a piece that vaults them up in the Western Conference hierarchy, so they have made a move to save them some cash.

2:18 PM: There are reports that if the Lakers plan to bring Isaiah Thomas off the bench he will ask for a buyout. However, as soon as Lonzo Ball returns from injury (maybe before the All-Star break, or right after) that is exactly what Los Angeles should do — this is all about developing Ball and the other young parts of the Lakers core (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, etc). The Lakers can buy IT out if he gives them a steep enough discout to make it worth it, but they don’t have to.

Thomas is going to be disappointed in the size of the Brinks truck that is going to back up to his house this summer.

2:05 PM: The Knicks have landed another young point guard in a three-way trade broken by Adrian Wojnarowski.

Emmanuel Mudiay is a former lottery pick but one pushed aside in Denver because Jamal Murray is just better at the point. The Knicks can experiment playing him and Frank Ntilikina together to see if that’s a backcourt pairing that works. (With Kristaps Porzingis out and the playoffs dead to New York, they should experiment a lot the rest of the season.)

2:00 PM: One hour to go.

1:58 PM Utah plans to waive Derrick Rose once the trade is complete, which makes sense, he doesn’t fit what they want to do so give him a chance to play for something (including his next contract).

How about with his old friend Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota?

The problem with this: Tyus Jones needs more run, not less, and to cut his minutes for the empty shell of Derrick Rose?

1:28 PM: We have a swap of project players that have not really worked out well for their respective teams so far. Maybe new surroundings change things up for these guys (probably not, but it’s worth the shot because what the teams have been doing is not working).

The Kings will waive Caboclo, this clears up a roster spot for their involvement in all the other trades involving Cleveland. The Raptors get a guy who a number of teams wondered could be developed into a good shooter and rotation player outside of Sacramento. Good gamble by the Raptors.

1:16 PM: Just to sum up Cleveland’s day:

With more going out than coming in, Cleveland also has a couple of roster spots and can be aggressive on the buyout market.

1:07 PM: NOBODY SAW THIS COMING — Dwyane Wade is being traded out of Cleveland.

That’s LeBron’s buddy, but this is business. The Cavaliers needed to get younger and more athletic and have done that with bold strokes today — long-term payroll be damned — and with that Wade was going to get squeezed. So they offered him an out.

Wade and family are all good with this.

For a Miami team that has lost five in a row and is in danger of falling behind both Philly and surging Detroit — and out of the playoffs — this is a shot in the arm. Limited though he is, Wade can help the Heat.

1:00 PM: Cleveland is going all-in on this season, reworking a roster that needed it to get younger and more athletic, and to add more shooting. The Cavs got Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from the Lakers first.

Now they have added Rodney Hood from Utah and George Hill from Sacramento in a three-team deal that sees Iman Shumpert headed to Sacramento and both Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder going to Utah. The Cavaliers have completely remade their roster.

12:45 PM: Cleveland took on a big risk with this Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance trade. First, they did it without asking LeBron James about it, and just took on $28 million in long-term salary without a commitment from Lebron he would stay past this season. That’s one big gamble — they can sell it as a sign of long-term commitment, but it’s still a big risk.

The other is on Clarkson himself. He’s putting up 14.5 points a game off the bench for the Lakers this season, but it’s one thing to be the attacking energizer player on a team not expecting wins, it’s another to go against the John Wall/Kyle Lowry/Kyrie Irving group of guards in the East in the playoffs. Clarkson also is an okay but not great shooter from three (32.4 percent). He’s dangerous in the pick-and-roll and in isolation, things Tyronn Lue runs a lot, but he’s not a shooter in the classic sense. Clarkson is an upgrade from where Isaiah Thomas is right now, but is he really ready for this step?

12:25 PM: Detroit is shipping Brice Johnson to Memphis, but not for Dante Cunningham, rather for Long Beach State’s own James Ennis.

Ennis gives the streaking Pistons another solid rotation wing, he can shoot the three (35.7%), finish in transition and at the rim, and is a good defender. He will fit into the rotation where some of those Tobias Harris minutes were (he’s not as good as Harris, but Ennis is solid).

12:20 PM: We have the Luke Babbitt trade everyone has been waiting for. Miami adds a little shooting in this move.

12:06 PM: The Cavaliers needed to add youth and athleticism, and they are doing that by being close to a deal that lands them Jordan Clarkson (the Lakers wanted to move to get off his salary) and Larry Nance Jr., a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

For whom? Isaiah Thomas — who did not want to be traded and is not going to be re-signed by the Lakers — Channing Frye and a pick. This deal is reportedly done.

The Cavs get another playmaking guard — one fully healthy and playing better on both ends than Thomas — and some help on the wing with an athlete like Nance. This is an upgrade for Cleveland. Not a “watch out Golden State” upgrade, but one that helps them in the East. Is that enough to sway LeBron James this summer… I doubt it, but they probably think so.

The Lakers get off Clarkson’s salary helping open up free agency room in 2018 to go after both LeBron and Paul George — the Lakers will have the cap space with another couple moves like renouncing Julius Randle, now whether those two big fish are interested is a completely different question — and get a first (Cleveland’s late first, protected). They will not keep Thomas or Frye around after this season but are expected to keep them through the remainder of this season and not buy them out. Both are free agents come July 1.

12:01 PM: Clippers are remaining active trying to find a new home for DeAndre Jordan. The Raptors have long seen him as an upgrade to Jonas Valanciunas but the Clippers don’t want to just take on an inferior big man, so they want a lot more in the deal. The Raptors are trying, though.

11:45 AM: Not much buzz around the Knicks, who aren’t going to make a win-now playoff move at the deadline after the Kristaps Porzingis injury. The Knicks would love to trade Joakim Noah, but I would love to date Margot Robbie. About the same odds. Other teams are circling like vultures.

I have no idea why the Knicks would do this. Noah has zero reason to give the Knicks a discount on the more than $37 million he is owed, and if the Knicks stretch and waive him he’s on the books for five more seasons. Why do that? Just tell him to stay home and eat the cost for a year, maybe find a deal next season.

11:43 AM: The Pelicans and Pistons are talking about switching guys on their bench, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.

11:08 AM: We have a trade! A minor trade, but a trade. Chicago is sending Jameer Nelson to Detroit — a team in need of help at the point — for center Willie Reed.

The teams are also swapping second rounders. Detroit had just gotten Reed from the Clippers in the Blake Griffin trade. Expect the Pistons to be one of the teams very active on the buyout market.

10: 55 AM: Not to start this tracker on a down note, but Adrian Wojnarowski just tweeted something along the lines everyone has been hearing — this may be a dull deadline. Teams overspent in 2016 and don’t have cap space to take on money, and with that nobody wants to give up the cheap labor of a first-round pick. So the market has stalled.

10:52 AM: Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Clippers and Cavaliers are still talking DeAndre Jordan trade, maybe even trying to find a third team. I had heard the Clippers were not in without the Brooklyn pick from Cleveland, which is not on the table, so it’s going to take a third team or one side to cave to get a deal done. (The Cavs will give up their own first in the 20s, but the Clippers want more than that and some big salaries.)

10:49 AM: Teams have called the Lakers, who would prefer to move Jordan Clarkson (and his contract), but most teams are interested in Julius Randle. With good reason, he’s a quality rotation big man (he makes a quality small-ball five). But in the theme of this deadline, nobody yet is willing to part with a first-round pick to get him (in part because he’s a restricted free agent this summer) so the Lakers will wait. They don’t mind keeping through the rest of the season.

10:47 AM: The Grizzlies are still not trading Marc Gasol, and they are still holding out for a first-round pick for Tyreke Evans. Memphis is not budging on Gasol. Eventually, they will have to on Evans unless a team panics and caves.

10:45 AM: The Clippers have no intention of moving Tobias Harris, they already re-signed Lou Williams, and it’s hard to see a deal getting done for DeAndre Jordan. But Avery Bradley, he could be on the move. The Clippers reportedly want a first-round pick, but nobody is willing to give one up yet (that may be the theme of the day).

10:40 AM: No, Cleveland is not putting the Brooklyn pick in play. Nor should they.

Report: Knicks get Emmanuel Mudiay in three-team trade with Nuggets and Mavericks

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

After the Knicks passed on him with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft, Emmanuel Mudiay reportedly said he was happy to avoid New York  and the triangle offense. With Phil Jackson and the triangle gone, Mudiay might feel more welcome with the Knicks now.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Mudiay, whom the Nuggets drafted No. 7, has struggled in three NBA seasons. And New York already has a promising point guard in Frank Ntilikina.

But Mudiay is just 21, and point guards tend to develop later. There’s value in hedging bets, and Ntilikina can defend multiple positions. This is an excellent low-cost, buy-low move by the Knicks.

The Nuggets get a more-experienced point guard in Devin Harris, who should play behind Jamal Murray and help their playoff push this season. Harris is also on an expiring contract, so he won’t complicate Denver’s looming luxury-tax concerns.

The rebuilding Mavericks can use the 26-year-old McDermott more than the 34-year-old Harris, but I’d rather have Mudiay. Yes, Dallas has Dennis Smith Jr., but again, there’s value in hedging bets. I don’t why the Mavericks didn’t just cut the Knicks out of this deal.

Joel Embiid and Lonzo Ball headline Rising Stars rosters, but only one should

AP Photo/Chris Szagola

Joel Embiid is keenly aware people will eventually grow tired of him.

This oversaturation will contribute.

In his second season with the 76ers, Embiid is a – deserving – All-Star starter. He’s a very good player and a known commodity. He’ll be celebrated during the main even of All-Star weekend Sunday.

And also in a sideshow Friday.

The NBA released rosters for the Rising Stars Challenge, with rookies and sophomores divided into teams by nationality:



NBA release:

The NBA’s assistant coaches chose the rosters … with each of the league’s 30 teams submitting one ballot per coaching staff.  Coaches selected four guards, four frontcourt players and two players at either position group for each team.  They also picked a minimum of three first-year NBA players and three second-year NBA players for each team.

The head coaches for the…Rising Stars will be the lead assistant coaches from the 2018 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs.

I renew my annual plea to exclude sophomores. They’re too established to draw interest in this exhibition simply by playing, and, for the same reason, they don’t care enough to compete entertainingly.

There’s still mystery about many rookies barely more than halfway into their first season, and that would draw interest. People would prefer to see more of players like De'Aaron Fox, Milos Teodosic, Jonathan Isaac, Bam Adebayo, Jordan Bell and Josh Jackson – who all got squeezed out for second-year players.

My dismay with the format is even stronger this year, with such an impressive rookie class. It’s a wasted opportunity for the league.

But if you want to see Embiid care even less than he will during the All-Star game, tune in Feb. 16.

Three Kemba Walker trades that could work for both sides

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Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office are exploring the idea anyway.

As they should. The Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s purgatory of a middle-ground with one All-Star level player in Walker and not enough around him to make this team a threat. The Hornets are 17.3 points per 100 possessions better when Walker is on the court — when he plays they look like a borderline playoff team, when he sits they are a disaster. Because of some big contracts, that situation is not likely to change. Charlotte may finally be proactive with this — trade Walker but attach a bad contract to it, and get some pieces to jump-start a rebuild back. That’s less than ideal in a smaller market like Charlotte, but it’s the right basketball move — test the market and see if they can get an offer that works for them.

Here are three potential trades that would fit the parameters being discussed (to be clear, these are speculative and not based on what I’ve heard around the league). None of the three are likely, but this is the kind of deals that we would see.

Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks

Charlotte gets: Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and either Jarrett Jack or Lance Thomas

New York gets: Kemba Walker

The ups and downs of slowly rebuilding do not play well in New York — and right now they are in a downward spin after a fast start to the season. Still, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and Walker instantly puts them back in the playoff conversation. Walker gives New York another shot creator and scoring threat, someone to run pick-and-pops with Kristaps Porzingis, set up Tim Hardaway Jr., and just improve an offense that is middle of the pack. For the Hornets, they get the point guard of the future in Ntilikina, one building block as they move forward. This might be the best deal for the Hornets — if the Knicks would consider moving Ntilikina. That is far from certain.

Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons

Charlotte gets: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, draft picks, plus some other players to make the salaries fit such as Anthony Tolliver.

Detroit gets: Walker and Marvin Williams.

The promise of the Jackson/Andre Drummond connection in Detroit has faded, and Walker would bring the spark and scoring that the Pistons need to be a real threat come the postseason. I like this for Detroit but less so for Charlotte because Jackson has two-years, $35 million left on his contract after next season, and that’s a lot of money to take on for a team trying to strip it down. That said, if the Hornets think they can develop Johnson on offense (he’s good defensively, a black hole on offense) and the picks are good, they should consider it.

Kemba Walker to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Charlotte gets: Isaiah Thomas, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (plus another player to make the money work such as Channing Frye

Cleveland gets: Kemba Walker, maybe another deep bench player to round out the salary.

This seems the longest shot. Cleveland wants to upgrade their backcourt, that’s why they are talking to Sacramento about George Hill. However, the talk around the league is the Cavaliers are not moving that Brooklyn pick for anything less than a total game changer who makes them a real threat to Golden State. Is that Walker? Probably not. This is also probably not a move Cleveland makes unless it thinks Thomas is not going to get back to All-Star level performance, but if they think that’s not going to happen this would be a serious upgrade. The Hornets would do this to get the Nets pick, giving them a couple of lottery picks (their own is the other) in this draft to start a rebuild.