NBA Power Rankings, where the preseason games don’t matter. Sort of.

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Here are our rankings to start off the season. Preseason games do not matter, which is why the Lakers are still on top of this poll. Then again, we bounced the Magic up to No. 2 because of their undefeated preseason. So we’re not consistent. We’re clearly not in midseason form yet.

1. Lakers. Former champions get the top spot, but no Andrew Bynum and a gimpy Kobe Bryant may see them move down a few notches quickly. Meanwhile Sasha Vujacic is set to marry a once-great tennis star who had a series of injuries and now can’t get her grove back… Lakers hope that is not an omen.

2. Magic. Preseason games are meaningless, but Orlando certainly looked good in them, going 7-0. Do not sleep on this team, it’s a contender.

3. Heat. Dwyane Wade is back, so the team we saw in the preseason — the team that looked like last year’s Cavaliers basically — is gone. That team chemistry better happen fast with Boston and Orlando on the docket the first week.

4. Celtics. They went 7-1 in the preseason but now the games get serious and they have Shaq likely the starting center. They’ll need to prove their defense is the same with him in.

5. Thunder. They enter this season with serious expectations — second best in the West, Durant an MVP candidate, everybody getting up for them. This feels like a team that gets it, that is professional, that can handle what is coming. But we will see.

6. Jazz. Lots of changes this season and we are not sold that Al Jefferson will be better than Carlos Boozer, but an 8-0 preseason moves you up a few notches.

7. Spurs. The Big Three are healthy to start the season, but Tiago Splitter is not. Starting DeJuan Blair at center may hurt their defense. A lot.

8. Mavericks. Mark Cuban is convinced the depth in Dallas makes them a threat to the Lakers. No, it doesn’t but it might make them second best in the West during the regular season.

9. Blazers. They want to bounce back and remind everyone that just a couple seasons ago they were the up and coming young team in the west. Which will be hard to do until they get a healthy center.

10 Bulls. Killer offseason, big expectations. But Derrick Rose hit just 23.8 percent of his threes in preseason, so nobody is going to respect his jumper yet. And Boozer is out.

11. Rockets. Yao Ming is on a time limit, 24 minutes a game. We’ll see what he can do in those limits. That and if he stays healthy.

12. Bucks. We have the Bulls ahead of them this week, which may change fast. The Bucks could be the fourth best team in the East. This is a good team that made nice offseason moves.

13. Hawks. They had a bad offseason if you are thinking about winning a championship this year or what this team will look like in five years. But for this year, they will once again be pretty good.

14. Grizzlies. I’m skeptical about teams that don’t make moves in the offseason and instead count on growth from players not likely to get better. But an 8-0 preseason record shows me this team may be better than expected. If Marc Gasol misses serious time it could be a real setback.

15. Suns. They haven’t looked great this preseason, by their own admission. But they still roll Steve Nash out there every night and as long as his back holds up they will be fun to watch and dangerous to play.

16. Nuggets. If they can ignore the Melodrama they are a good team and will move up the rankings. Big if. Also, Sheldon Williams is the starting four as Al Harrington is injured (but expected to play some in the opener), which is not good.

17. Bobcats. D.J, Augustin has had a very good preseason as the starting point guard. If he can keep it up when the games matter and the defenses are focused, the Bobcats are back on their way to the playoffs in the east.

18. Kings. It’s going to be fun to see just how good Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins will be together.

19. Warriors. They have a great guard combo, but it may take a while for this team to meld under Keith Smart. On the bright side — new owners any day now!

20. Knicks. They have a great power forward, one who may have to play some center. Do they have a good enough point guard is the real question?

21. Pistons. They have good talent right now. Will they still have good talent after the trading deadline?

22. Hornets. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, David West. Good add with Jerryd Bayless. But a 1-7 preseason has to give you pause.

23. Cavaliers. Expect the total collapse if you want, but they went 6-2 in preseason. They won’t be that good in the regular season, but maybe they are better than we think.

24. Wizards. John Wall is fun to watch. How well that translates into wins remains to be seen. But we’ll be watching.

25. Pacers. They shot 40.3 percent as a team in preseason. The Nets were the worst shooting team in the regular season last year at 42.9 percent. It’s preseason, so we let it go, but just something to watch.

26. Sixers. They shot the exact same percentage as a team as the Pacers did this preseason. How they will overcome it — more Iguodala.

27. Clippers. Blake Griffin was very impressive this preseason. The Clippers (1-7) were not.

28. Nets. They looked a little better this preseason, but they had so far to come that they’ll have to prove they deserve to move up the rankings.

29. Timberwolves. Kevin Love looked good this preseason. That’s one.

30. Raptors. Their defense looked actually worse than last year, and if that is the case this is going to be a long cold winter in Toronto.

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

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There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.

Report: Klay Thompson could be interested in Clippers if Warriors don’t max him

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Most everyone has expected that Klay Thompson will return to the Golden State Warriors next season. That seemed even more of a lock after Thompson tore his ACL, which might scare off outside teams.

Thompson is certainly a max-level player, and the Warriors will need to decide whether they are going to offer him that contract this summer. It’s not clear whether Thompson would be willing to take a discount, or if he’s finally ready to cash out in a big way.

Golden State will have a hard time keeping their core intact as everyone continues to get more expensive. Finding some leeway with Thompson’s contract has been seen as one way for the Warriors to at least limit their luxury tax bill.

But according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there are other teams interested in giving Thompson a hefty sum if the Warriors decline to offer him a max deal.

Via ESPN’s “Woj & Lowe” special:

“The one team that I think — my information is — he would be very open to going down to sit down with are the Clippers. And if they have a chance to sell Kawhi Leonard with Klay Thompson, certainly that’s an appealing sell for any free agent.”

It seems unreasonable that the Warriors would not try to max both Thompson and Kevin Durant. Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe said as much during their special.

But we have seen made promises to spend in the past, and often that decision has been reversed. Golden State might end up choosing a handful of their core players to keep, and either Durant or Thompson could be left looking elsewhere.

There will be plenty of suitors for either of these guys, and both are still max-level players despite their catastrophic injuries. Whether both, one, or neither will be in San Francisco next year is the question heading into July 1.

Danny Green on fans trying to delegitimize Raptors title in light of Warriors injuries: ‘We don’t care’

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The Toronto Raptors are your 2019 NBA champions. For some folks, this title comes with a caveat thanks to injuries suffered by Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Many fans feel as though there should be some kind of asterisk next to their championship in the record books.

This is, frankly, is sour grapes at best and patently insane at worst.

What-ifs are some of the more fun things to contemplate in a league like the NBA, but reality is inescapable. What has come to pass is the truth, and in front of our very eyes we saw the Golden State Warriors go down in six games to Toronto. And should have been five.

Raptors guard at Danny Green shares the same sentiment, saying is much too the New York Times Marc Stein in his newsletter this week. When asked about the prospect of adding an asterisk to the Raptors championship in light of Golden State’s injuries, Green disagreed.

Via NYT:

In a phone interview Monday night, Toronto’s Danny Green forcefully scoffed at the asterisk question before I could even finish the sentence. “We don’t care,” Green said. “Doesn’t matter to us.”

Should I be surprised that this is an actual conversation happening between NBA fans in 2019? Probably not. I’ve been around for too long. But here I am, and the incessant idiocy of excuses remains ever-present.

Now, if only we knew with this kind of certainty where Kawhi Leonard was going to sign this summer.

Report: Rockets to be “aggressive” going after Jimmy Butler, do sign-and-trade with Capela, Gordon

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It is fully expected in league circles that come Sunday evening, when free agency opens, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to offer Jimmy Butler a five-year max contract at $189.7 million. Considering the Sixers are contenders, plus the facts Butler will be 30 next season and has a building history of injuries (not unexpected considering his hard-charging style of play), he may well jump at that offer.

The Houston Rockets are going to try hard to convince him to come to Houston with James Harden and Chris Paul.

That’s been reported for a while, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN added details and emphasis to that on Tuesday:

Once free agency starts on Sunday, the Rockets are planning to recruit Jimmy Butler to push the Philadelphia 76ers for a sign-and-trade deal that would allow the All-Star forward to join James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston, league sources tell ESPN.

The Rockets don’t have the salary-cap space to sign Butler, so they’d need the threat of the Sixers losing him for nothing to a team with the available room to motivate Philadelphia into a trade. The Rockets also would potentially need to make this a multiteam deal to satisfy the rules of base year compensation that would cover Butler’s outgoing salary…

Butler would be eligible to sign a four-year, $140 million contract on the way to the Rockets, but Houston likely would need to include two of these players — center Clint Capela, guard Eric Gordon and power forward P.J. Tucker — to make the financial deal work, sources said.

A few thoughts here:

• If Philadelphia balks at giving Butler a fifth guaranteed year on his new contract — which is reasonable, sources from other teams told me they would be scared of the fourth year of a max with him — that could push this closer to reality. If that fifth year is on the table, then Butler has a different choice to make.

• The other question here: Does Butler want out of Philadelphia? Because to head to Houston he would give up guaranteed money and leave a team clearly a contender for a more uncertain situation.

• As noted by Woj, Philly would only agree to a sign-and-trade if Butler told them he was leaving anyway so the Sixers might as well get something for him.

• Under the new CBA, Butler can sign “only” a four-year, $140 million contract for a sign-and-trade, he cannot get that fifth year and the larger raises the Sixers can offer then trade that contract to Houston. A sign-and-trade can only be for what the team receiving the player could have signed him for as a free agent.

• Jimmy Butler, James Harden, and Chris Paul all in one locker room with a lame duck coach. What could possibly go wrong?

• If Butler forced this to happen, it would not be the worst result ever for the Sixers. Eric Gordon would be a great fit (especially if J.J. Redick leaves in free agency) and Capela could be platooned with Joel Embiid up front, or traded for another player the Sixers see as a fit. Capela has real value around the league.

• Houston, however, would be giving up a lot to go all-in for the season the Warriors are down due to injuries (and maybe defections). This trade would hurt Houston’s depth and make them top heavy (how did that work for the Warriors this past Finals?), but with that big three they would need to be mentioned among the contenders in the West, no matter how the rest of free agency shakes out.