Author: Kurt Helin

2014 NBA Finals Game Five

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Just like last year, Spurs on top while Sixers on bottom


They’re baaaaack.

With the NBA season tipping off on Tuesday ProBasketballTalk’s weekly power rankings have returned to frustrate you by not ranking your team nearly high enough. During the season these rankings are a mix of science — yes, there is a formula weighted toward recent games — and a bit of art as teams are moved up and down based on what the formula misses. However, the first week is just projections (I’m not going off preseason stats, those mean less than what your grandmother thinks of your PS4).

We will be here each week on Monday to rank NBA teams from 1-30, in what is ultimately a meaningless exercise because the playoffs sort it all out anyway. Still, it’s a fun discussion, so we do it.

To start the season, as always the defending champions are on the top, while the Sixers have done nothing to move out of the basement.

source:  1. Spurs (Last season 62-20). They will set the bar: Want to win the NBA title? You need to be better than San Antonio. They are not coming back to the pack, you need to pass them. Gregg Popovich says his team didn’t look interested during 2-5 preseason. He’s right, although the best explanation is it’s the preseason. Nobody cares. Expect that to change starting Tuesday night against Dallas.

source:  2. Cavaliers (33-49). LeBron James and teammates already have bought into coach David Blatt’s offensive system — creating space and open looks with cuts/ball movement. That will keep Cleveland from getting off to the slow start LeBron’s Miami bit three did their first year together.

source:  3. Clippers (57-25). Another team that had a rough preseason, but it won’t matter when the games get real. The one preseason concern worth watching is the Clippers didn’t rebound particularly well, if that carries over it can be trouble. L.A. needs a big season out of its bench bigs (we’re looking at you, Spencer Hawes).

source:  4. Bulls (48-34). As we suggested this summer, Derrick Rose’s time with Team USA was good for him because he got to knock the rust off and return to form. I’m not sure Bulls fans are on board yet, but they will be. Maybe by Christmas. This team is a serious contender and can beat the Cavaliers if they just stay healthy.

source:  5. Thunder (59-23).. Kevin Durant has missed five games in the last five seasons, which makes this Durant-less Thunder the hardest team to predict in the rankings. They’ll be good, but how good? One other thing to watch: Can Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb cover for Thabo Sefolosha’s defense over the course of the season?

source:  6. Mavericks (49-33). Count me among the fans of the Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler additions this summer, I think Dallas may be top four in the West. The question is can they get enough out of the three-headed point guard monster of Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris and Raymond Felton (once Felton’s healthy). Look for them to add J.J. Barea to the mix.

source:  7. Warriors (51-31). I’m going to side with Klay Thompson’s camp here: If you will not trade the man for Kevin Love and you say he’s half of the best backcourt in basketball, then cough up the max contract extension. On the court, I love the motion and smarter sets the Warriors are running under Steve Kerr.

source:  8. Rockets (54-28). I’m not one that buys Trevor Ariza is as good as Chandler Parsons, but he’s a quality pick up. The real interesting addition is Kostas Papanikolaou as a reserve big man, he could give them some of the depth certain of us think they are lacking after a rough summer.

source:  9. Trail Blazers (54-28). With Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way the Blazers starting five can hang with just about anybody, the question remains what they get off the bench. Can new additions Steve Blake and Chris Kaman really change that dynamic? I’m not sold.

source:  10. Grizzlies (50-32).  They have won 50 games each of the last two seasons, plus now they add Vince Carter to provide some outside shooting and scoring depth. They will win 50+ again and be a tough out come the playoffs, but they are going to have to deal with Marc Gasol free agency questions all season.

source:  11. Pelicans (34-48). If any of the top eight teams that made the playoffs in the West slips far for any reason, this is the team I think leapfrogs them. The addition of Omer Asik was brilliant, they just need to keep the key backcourt guys (Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans) healthy.

source:  12. Suns (48-34). I think they are going to miss Channing Frye a lot considering their style of play. Phoenix added Isaiah Thomas and Zoran Dragic this summer, two good players but they play the same positions as the best players already on the Suns’ roster.

source:  13. Nuggets (36-46). This team is more dangerous than people realize: Kenneth Faried is poised for a breakout year coming off his Team USA experience, they get Danilo Gallinari back and added Arron Afflalo. Plus Ty Lawson is underrated. Brian Shaw doesn’t get a pass this year, this team needs to push for a playoff spot out West.

source:  14. Raptors (48-34). This rating may be too low for them. It will come down to Toronto and Washington for the third best team in the East. Lots of focus on Kyle Lowry’s big payday, but Jonas Valanciunas’ improvement is the key to the Raptors taking a step forward.

source:  15. Wizards (44-38). I think they will finish the season as the third best team in the East, but Bradley Beal’s wrist injury to start the season slides Washington down my rankings a little. They need to keep Nene healthy but Marcin Gortat being there helps a lot to keep his minutes under control.

source:  16. Hawks (38-44). With a healthy Al Horford the Hawks are a solid playoff team in the Eastern Conference, landing somewhere in the middle of the pack. Like always. The big question around this team is who buys them.

source:  17. Heat (54-28). Another team in the East that is hard to predict — they will be good, a playoff team, but how good? Chris Bosh is the focal point, plus Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts are quality additions. But it’s simply not the same without the best player on the planet. Going to be interesting to see where they land in the middle of the Eastern pack.

source:  18. Hornets (43-39). We expect that they are again going to be a defensive force, like last season, and the addition of Lance Stephenson helps that. The question is how good the offense becomes with Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s new shot, Kemba Walker at the point and Al Jefferson in the block. Better than last season, I bet.

source:  19. Nets (44-38). This ranking may be low for a healthy Nets team… except already they are not healthy. Brook Lopez is a question mark for opening night. Lionel Hollins needs to win games but keeps these guys fresh for the playoffs, a tough line to walk.

source:  20. Pistons (29-53). Stan Van Gundy’s coaching will make this team better — Josh Smith took less than one three a game in the preseason. That’s a start. Detroit really needs Jodie Meeks to get healthy and provide more outside shooting before things can really start to click. The Greg Monroe saga will hang over this team all season.

source:  21. Knicks (37-45). All the talk is about the triangle offense, how Carmelo Anthony fits in it and J.R. Smith doesn’t. The real work Phil Jackson needs to do over the next couple years is to revamp this roster, which both doesn’t fit the triangle and just isn’t very good period.

source:  22. Kings (28-54). DeMarcus Cousins, coming off a big summer with Team USA in Spain (he was great in the title game), is poised to make another leap forward. But more than just on the court, he has to be a leader on a young roster that has some talent. Not sure that improvement and Rudy Gay having another banner year can get this team 20 more wins and near the playoffs.

source:  23. Pacers (56-26). The team that likely will out-lose the Heat on their way to the biggest drop in the NBA this season. The good news is they do have their lottery pick for next season. Going to be lots of questions about Roy Hibbert’s future during the season.

source:  24. Timberwolves (40-42). They are not going to be good but this is going to be a fun team to watch — Ricky Rubio throwing lobs to Andrew Wiggins, and Nikola Pekovic knows how to score in the post. How much will Flip Saunders lean on some veterans trying to get a win over the youth he needs to develop? That’s why it’s hard to be coach and GM

source:  25. Lakers (27-55). Kobe Bryant is going to put up a lot of inefficient points and draw the headlines, but the Lakers bench will be more fun to watch — Jeremy Lin, Nick Young (once healthy in December), Julius Randle and Ed Davis. They can’t defend but they’ll be entertaining.

source:  26. Jazz (25-57). Quin Snyder was brought in to develop talent, so we need to see what kind of strides guys like Derrick Favors, Trey Burke and even Gordon Hayward make this season. I expect the Jazz will be a much better team at the end of the season than the start.

source:  27. Bucks (15-67). Milwaukee brought in Jason Kidd to develop young talent like Jabari Parker, John Henson, Larry Sanders and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The New York based new Bucks owners brought in a big name as coach, but his he the right guy? Still, watch the Bucks for Parker, very possibly your Rookie of the Year, and of course the Greek Freak.

source:  28. Celtics (25-57). There’s just not that much talent on the roster, a few nice rotation guys like Jared Sullinger and guys with potential like Marcus Smart. But the real question is how much talent could they really add with a Rajon Rondo trade? Enough to make it worth it?

source:  29. Magic (23-59). Losing Victor Oladipo for the first month of the season is a huge setback for a team already going to struggle this year. Do they give veterans like Channing Frye (once he gets healthy) and Luke Ridnour run to try and maybe pick up a couple wins, or just suffer with more losses?

source:  30. 76ers (19-63). They have already won their biggest game of the season — the NBA did not alter the Draft Lottery format to thwart them. I like Nerlens Noel and at some point they get Michael Carter Williams back, but even with that this team will at best get into the teens in wins.

PBT predicts 2014-15 NBA award winners

David Stern, LeBron James

It’s time to pull out the Ouija board and hope that things go better than in the new movie of the same name.

The NBA season tips off Tuesday night so we here at PBT are throwing out our predictions for the coming season. We’re actually going to do that for the next couple days, but today we focus on the big end of season awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc. (tomorrow we get into who makes the playoffs and who wins what Steve Ballmer affectionately calls “Larry”).

Even before the first game tips off are some clear frontrunners for several of the NBA end-of-season awards… but we didn’t aways go with them. Here are our calls, followed by a few comments.


MVP: This has been a two-person race for the past couple years, and with Kevin Durant now out for a couple of months, most of us chose LeBron James as the guy who gets the hardware. However, if you’re looking for a good dark horse candidate — and if the Clippers do turn out to be elite contenders — Chris Paul is a good call. So Brett Pollakoff chose him and bet on Ballmer’s team

Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker drew three of our votes and after his strong preseason looks like the guy to beat in this category. I went another way with Nerlens Noel because he was the guy that most impressed me at Summer League, and because he had a full year on the sidelines to build up his body and study the NBA game. Like with Blake Griffin I think it’s a huge advantage. Bottom line here, I’d be shocked if the award didn’t go to one of three guys: Noel, Parker or Andrew Wiggins.

Most Improved Player: Sean and I both chose Anthony Davis, but not really because he may be the most improved player, he already averaged 20.8 points and 10 rebounds a game last season (although I do expect him to take another leap forward this year). This is really about some voters finally noticing and recognizing him and what a beast he is becoming — he will be the third best player in the NBA within two years. He’s not getting the MVP this year (although I think he gets votes) so voters will slot him in here.

Sixth Man of the Year: This race seems wide open but three of us think Taj Gibson could be the man, with Dan Feldman going with Greg Monroe (which is an interesting choice in Detroit, so long as he isn’t traded). That said, there are a number of players — Isaiah Thomas in Phoenix, Jamal Crawford with the Clippers — who also will be in the mix.

Rumor: Knicks to pursue Marc Gasol in free agency next summer

Marc Gasol

Marc Gasol is trying to avoid talk about his free agency next summer. This is what he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal when asked:

“That’s so far down the line that it’s not on my mind. I just want to do my freaking job every day,” Gasol said. “You never know what might happen in seven or eight months. The franchise might go in a different direction. We’re going to see how we all feel in July. All of the talk now won’t change that fact.”

Good luck with that Marc. Rumors are already out there that the Celtics and Lakers are going to target Gasol and try to lure him out of Memphis. You can now add the Knicks to the mix, according to Ronald Tillery at the Commercial Appeal.

The New York Knicks don’t appear positioned to be a championship contender in the near future. But could that change by pairing Gasol with Carmelo Anthony? There already is a strong belief that Knicks boss Phil Jackson will target Gasol because of his belief that Gasol is the quintessential center to play in the triangle offense.

Gasol would be perfect in that offense. He has the elbow jumper, he can score in the post, he’s a high IQ player and a very good passer. Plus he’s a former Defensive Player of the Year who would be a big upgrade for New York.

Gasol will have options, but in the end he will probably choose not to go anywhere. Memphis remains the front runner.

In theory the Grizzlies and Gasol can start talking extension in December, but under the current CBA his extension can only be for three years, if he becomes a free agent he can get four years from another team or five from Memphis. So he’s not signing.

Which means the rumors are just going to keep on coming.

Report: Kawhi Leonard holding out for max, extension talks with Spurs stalled

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard is the NBA Finals MVP and a guy Gregg Popovich has called the future of the Spurs. Sounds like the kind of guy who would warrant a max contract extension to his rookie contract.

That’s what he wants, but Leonard and the Spurs are nowhere close on extension talks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Which means he could be a restricted free agent next summer

As Kawhi Leonard holds firm on his desire for a maximum contract, extension talks with the San Antonio Spurs have failed to gather traction despite a looming Friday deadline, league sources told Yahoo Sports….

Spurs president and general manager R.C. Buford and agent Brian Elfus have had several discussions in recent weeks, but no progress has been made, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

It’s pretty simple from where I sit: If Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons can get big money as small forwards on the open market, Kawhi Leonard is worth that as well. He has every right to demand the Spurs offer five years, $90 million. Leonard averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds last season, then upped that to 14.3 points and 6.7 points in the playoffs — in the last three games of the Finals he had better than 20 points a night plus covered LeBron James.

The Spurs have been the masters of getting guys to take less — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and others — but this is Leonard’s first big contract after his rookie deal. This early in your career you don’t take pay cuts, that’s for the veterans.

Several other teams would step up with max offers (for four year, according to Wojnarowski, but I really wonder if that is true — everyone knows the Spurs would simply match the offer, so why tie up $15 million a year in cash when teams know they aren’t going to get the player? (Once Leonard signs the offer sheet that team can’t spend that money until the Spurs match, a process that can take up to three days. That’s an eternity in the hight of the free agent frenzy of July.) This is the situation that kept Eric Bledsoe without an offer from another team for much of the summer (although there is more of a demand for good small of as opposed to point guards).

Bottom line, there is zero chance the Spurs let Leonard go, the only question is how much they pay him.

Steve Kerr still leaning toward bringing Andre Iguodala off bench

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers

Last season when you took four of Golden State’s core starters — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut — and just switched out Andre Iguodala with Harrison Barnes, things got ugly fast. The offense slipped more than 15 points per 100 possessions, but the defense started to surrender more than five more points per 100.

Still, new coach Steve Kerr thinks it can be different. He’s got a lot more motion in his offense — what we saw from them in the preseason is far better than what we saw last season in terms of design — and he needs a playmaker with the second unit while Shaun Livingston remains out (likely for the first few games of the season).

So he is leaning toward bringing Iguodala off the bench, as reported by Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.

So while the Warriors coach appears to be leaning toward starting the season with Iguodala as the team’s sixth man, Kerr acknowledges the decision to have the player lead the team’s second unit is a dilemma.

“I could make an argument he’s been our best player, especially over the last two weeks,” Kerr said Sunday. “Right now in the scrimmages, he’s the most impactful player that we have. The last couple of weeks, he has sort of determined who’s winning (the scrimmage) depending on what side he’s on.

“So from that standpoint, you could call me an idiot. If he’s my best player and I’m not starting him, maybe I’m the one who’s wrong… The argument is absolutely there.”

Iguodala as a point forward (or with Thompson bringing the ball up) and Curry working off the ball has looked good this postseason, it opens up plays within the offense beautifully (coach Nick explains it well at He can play this role.

But it only works if Barnes takes a leap forward. He didn’t in the last preseason game — four points, two rebounds, three fouls in 24 minutes — and he’s got a lot to prove.

Looks like Kerr is going to test that out for at least a few games. (If not, he can give Draymond Green a role as starter and keep Iguodala on the bench.)