NBA Power Rankings, where the top still looks like last year’s finals

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where nothing confuses us more than the Suns playing at the 20th fastest pace in the league.

1. Lakers (3-0). Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol have been the best front line in basketball through the first week. Kobe’s knee isn’t right, but it hasn’t mattered yet. Oh, and we told you Steve Blake was a huge pickup for them.

2. Celtics (2-1). They beat the Heat opening night… and you can’t read much into that. Not that Boston isn’t well built to give Miami problems, but the first game of the season is no time to make playoff assertions.

3. Heat (2-1). Along the same lines as the Celtics note, Heat fans should not just write off Orlando after one regular season game (Orlando was on a back-to-back and won’t shoot that poorly again). The overwhelming of a lesser New Jersey team, that you will see again.

4. Blazers (3-0). They said they wanted to reclaim their place as the young, up-and-coming team in the West. So far, so good. They are playing well at both ends of the floor.

5. Hawks (3-0). Hawks are killing it on offense, and that has been enough so far. But they killed it on offense last season, if the defense doesn’t improve it will catch up with them.

6. Mavericks (2-1). All that depth and some Jason Kidd three-quarter court shots has it looking like this could be a very good regular season for the Mavericks.

7. Magic (1-1). That loss to the Heat came on the second night of a back-to-back, when tired legs can turn good shooting teams into bad ones (and the Heat defense deserves some credit). The bad-shooting Magic will turn it around this week.

8. Hornets (3-0). New Orleans is the poster child for the preseason not mattering. They looked terrible in preseason, then Chris Paul flips the switch and they are undefeated first week in.

9. Spurs (1-1). In an era of rebuilding for superstar teams, the Spurs have remained loyal. Their big three will be together for another few years. Can those players reward management for that loyalty is the question?

10. Thunder (2-1). Oklahoma City is shooting just 39.9 percent from the field and just 20.7 percent from three. But they are winning because they are still attacking the rim, getting fouled and getting to the line. When they didn’t do that the Jazz blew them out. The shooting woes will turn around.

11. Nuggets (2-1). What Carmelo Anthony distraction? Have no idea what you’re talking about, they are playing just fine considering the front line is so banged up.

12. Grizzlies (2-1). Zach Randolph is out with a sore tailbone, but Marc Gasol is back from a sprained ankle. Memphis will need both of them to keep this up.

13. Bulls (1-1). It is the Derrick Rose show, they have nobody else who can create offense like him (until Boozer returns). That is a very entertaining show, by the way.

14. Jazz (1-2). It’s taking them some time to find their footing on offense with the new personnel, but they found it Sunday and blew out the Thunder. Was that an aberration or have they started to get it?

15. Kings (2-1). They’d be 3-0 if it were not for a total collapse in New Jersey. The Kings offense is fast and fun to watch, but the defense is going to improve or hold them back.

16. Bucks (1-2). Their offense and defense will get better, you have to think. Right now they are pretty average.

17. Warriors (2-1). Another from the really good on offense, really bad on defense category. But if you take away Stephen Curry and put Ron Artest on Monta Ellis, things don’t go so well.

18. Suns (1-2). It’s three games in, but the Suns are 20th in the league in pace. What happened to the team from last season? Can we blame Hedo for this too?

19. Pacers (2-1). Roy Hibbert has 11 assists versus just 2 turnovers in the Pacers two wins — the ball is not sticking with him and letting the defense adjust. That’s a big step forward for this team.

20. Nets (2-1). Come from behind wins against the Pistons and Kings — they would not have done that last year.

21. Knicks (1-2). Raymond Felton is still not comfortable just attacking off the pick-and-roll, and I drafted Danilo Gallinari on my fantasy team so I should have warned all of you he would turn to ice because of it. Still, better than last year.

22. Bobcats (0-3). Last season the Bobcats made the playoffs because they had one of the best defenses in the league. Three games in, they are 29th in defensive efficiency. If that keeps up, it will get ugly fast.

23. Rockets (0-3). Who are the Rockets? Their guards dominate and they should run more, but when Yao is in the team just looks lost and never really adjusts to the half court. The transition of Yao back into the rotation has been painful.

24. Pistons (0-3). Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey have been kept the offense going and the team does attack. But three heartbreaking losses? Either they fight through and win a few in a row, or this could become a season-long pattern.

25. Raptors (1-1). The Raptors are playing good defense. Yes, we believe this to be a mirage.

26. Timberwolves (1-2). Michael Beasley said they had to be the worst team in the NBA after they got blown out by Memphis. If Beasley says you’re the worst team in the league…

27. Cavaliers (1-2). Do you think the win over the Celtics was the real Cavaliers, or the two ugly losses? We lean toward the latter right now.

28. Wizards (0-2). Orlando then Atlanta is a tough way to open the season. We’ll get a better feel for just where the Wizards really stand in the next couple weeks.

29. Sixers (0-3). This team is worse than we thought. It’s worse than Doug Collins thought. But apparently the people of Philadelphia understood and are now solely focused on the Eagles.

30. Clippers (0-3). Blake Griffin is just flat out fun to watch. More Eric Gordon and Bledsoe will help in the backcourt. But this team is being out scored by 15.8 points per 100 possessions so far, worst in the NBA. So they get the bottom spot.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.