NBA Power Rankings, where the Hornets are all the buzz

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where we are starting to believe in the Hornets but not the Hawks. Oh, and just bench Baron Davis.

1. Lakers (7-0). Best offense in the NBA so far, defense is solid (10th in league in defensive points given up per possession) and all that without Andrew Bynum. The schedule is pretty soft, but the Lakers are destroying it.

2. Celtics (6-1). Wins this week against the Thunder, Bulls and Bucks — good week for old men.

3. Hornets (7-0). Sure, Chris Paul is a god and all but the Hornets are doing it with defense. How? David West is really playing hard on that end of the floor, meaning Emeka Okafor doesn’t have to help as much, and everything keeps its form.

4. Heat (4-2). Losses came to the Celtics — a very big, long front line — and the Hornets, who got a huge night out of Okafor. Sensing a pattern here? Are big front lines going to be an issue for the Heat?

5. Hawks (6-1). Pardon us if we are not terribly impressed with this record — the six wins come against the Grizzlies, Sixers, Wizards, Cavs, Pistons and T-Wolves. This week the Magic, Jazz and Bucks are better tests.

6. Magic (4-1). The defense is getting it done, but they are going to have to shoot better than 35.7 from three to keep winning games. They are a little banged up with Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter sore but likely to play.

7. Spurs (4-1). Richard Jefferson has been the best player on the team. Didn’t think we’d be typing that sentence.

8. Nuggets (4-2). Thing to watch: How the Bulls fans welcome Carmelo Anthony to the United Center Monday night. The Nuggets look pretty good considering how Chauncey Billups has not shot the ball well at all.

9. Mavericks (3-2). Dirk Nowitzki is playing his best basketball in a few years. The rest of the Mavericks are off their offensive game (Brendan Haywood, two points of fewer in four of the last five), and the team is 20th in offensive efficiency. Expect that to improve.

10. Blazers (5-3). Don’t read much into the blowout at the hands of the Lakers, second night of a back-to-back, sixth game in nine days. Still, they have got start rebounding the ball better — they are grabbing just 66.8 percent of opponent missed shots, third worst in the league.

11. Warriors (4-2). We’re not convinced they are really better than the next few teams below them, but they are playing better right now so they get the love. Best thing Keith Smart is done? The Warriors are 11th in defensive efficiency right now. The Jazz scored just 78 points on them.

12. Thunder (3-3). Turnovers killed them against Boston. The offense is stagnant and relies too much on isolation. The defense isn’t creating turnovers that lead to fast break points. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are good enough to win them some games, but the Thunder are not yet right.

13. Jazz (3-3). They have not found their footing and this week head out on the road to Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. Tough spot.

14. Suns (3-3). Steve Nash’s assist percentage — percent of team field goal he assists on when he is on the floor — is down to 40 percent, lowest it has been since he came to Phoenix. You get the feeling that is more about his teammates than Nash.

15. Bulls (2-3). Chicago is 18th in defensive efficiency in the league, not what we expected from a Tom Thibodeau coached team. The return of Carlos Boozer is not going to help at that end of the floor, either.

16. Grizzlies (3-4). Rudy Gay is on fire and the Grizzlies are about to start a home stand. Things could be looking up in Memphis. Whether or not that brings people to the gate is another issue.

17. Knicks (3-3). We told you Knicks fans, you were going to love Ronny Turiaf.

18. Kings (3-3). DeMarcus Cousins, welcome to the NBA. You have the skills, but it is not going to be easy.

19. Cavaliers (3-3). If the playoffs started today, they would be the four seed in the East because they lead the division.

20. Bucks (2-5). Their offense is just terrible (29th in league in offensive efficiency) and while their defense can keep them close they’ve got to put the ball in the peach basket to win.

21. Sixers (2-5). After a terrible first week they had a decent second one, winning two and hanging in two others. Maybe they aren’t as bad as we thought.

22. Pacers (2-3). Thought Darren Collison was going to fix this, but he hasn’t — the Pacers are 28th in the league in offensive efficiency. Not good.

23. Nets (2-4). Paging the real Brook Lopez, please report to Newark. Whoever is filling in for the real Lopez is not nearly as good.

24. Pistons (2-5). A 2-2 week despite benching Rodney Stuckey and starting Tracy McGrady for a game. The problems here are deep and systemic, but Rip Hamilton can still win you some games.

25. Bobcats (1-5). It seems like every year we write about the Bobcats slow start. Why is that?

26. Rockets (1-5). You can be glass half full — all five losses are to quality teams. But this team has struggled when Yao is in the game, and now for the next month they will be without Aaron Brooks.

27. Raptors (1-5). Remember when last week we said the Raptors were playing good defense. Scratch that.

28. Wizards (1-4). Gilbert Arenas is back and with John Wall this team should get better. Have yet to see it on the court, but they should.

29. Clippers (1-6). Put me in the “keep Baron Davis on the bench, play Bledsoe and Gordon more” camp. It may mean more losses short term but Baron is not the future. And more Eric Gordon is good for everyone.

30. Timberwolves (1-6). Yes Orlando and Miami are good, but to lose by a combined 74? Wolves fans, not sure how much your team will move out of this spot this season.

Pistons PG Reggie Jackson says ankle injury still keeping him off court

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If Reggie Jackson didn’t injure his ankle, maybe Stan Van Gundy is still running the Pistons.

Detroit went 27-18 when Jackson played and 12-25 otherwise last season. The Pistons missed the playoffs by four games then fired Van Gundy.

Ed Stefanski takes over running the front office, and Dwane Casey is now coach. But they won’t necessarily get a healthy Jackson, either – even though Jackson played the final 12 games of the season.

Jackson, via Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“Probably didn’t heal the way everybody thought it might once we had time off,” Jackson said. “Just haven’t been able to get on the court, but been doing everything I can to get healthy.”

“It actually feels good. I feel like I can cut again,” he said. “Once I get going fully, just see how it feels. But it feels night and day compared to last year. … I think anybody who watched, I never looked right. I never ran right. But that’s what you do. Everybody has nicks and bruises in this game. I wouldn’t change it any other way. I would still come back and play. It was just unfortunate that it wasn’t healed.”

“I’m going day to day,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know. I’m going to come in and do what they tell me, what they allow me to do. I think the organization, our coaching staff and the training staff have a great game plan on when I’ll be back and how to implement myself back into the workouts.”

Jackson not playing would be problematic for the Pistons, who look like a fringe playoff team. Ish Smith would be OK as a fill-in starting point guard, but moving Jose Calderon into the regular rotation could be dicey.

Calderon, who turns 37 next week, is fine in spurts. But I wouldn’t want to overly rely on him at this point. And, though Smith can hold his own as a starter, he looks much better as a reserve.

Even if Jackson gets healthy enough to play by the regular season, that wouldn’t solve everything. His endurance has been a problem at times, and limited offseason training could make that even more of an issue.

Report: Karl-Anthony Towns told Timberwolves he couldn’t coexist with Jimmy Butler

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Karl Anthony-Towns denied Jimmy Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend caused a rift between the Timberwolves teammates.

But that doesn’t mean the rift is nonexistent.

Towns reportedly won’t sign his rookie-scale extension until Minnesota handles the Butler situation, and the standoff apparently isn’t at all over haggling about contract terms, particularly what would happen if Towns qualifies next season for the super-max.

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

They’re offering him as much money as they can.

I’m led to believe that a big reason why he hasn’t signed it is that he – through his agent, Leon Rose – went to the Wolves and said, “Hey, I can’t coexist with Jimmy. Do something about it.” So, Figure out the Jimmy situation. On top of that – whether it’s right or wrong, this is the way he feels – that it’s been Jimmy and Thibs ganging up on him.

Towns can sometimes play passively, especially defensively. Two people who tend not to tolerate passive play, especially defensively, are Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau. I’m not sure they’re ganging up on Towns as much as they’re each conveying similar messages individually.

That said, I can also see why Towns would feel like they’re ganging up on him.

Ideally, Thibodeau would have taken Towns’ message and worked with Butler to find a way to better communicate with the center. Towns is an elite young talent, and it’s worth making him happy.

But Butler’s trade request opens the door for another solution. Minnesota can just excise the problem, though it’d probably mean a talent downgrade.

The biggest issue is the Timberwolves didn’t heed Towns’ warning and find common ground for everyone. That seems to reflect poorly on Thibodeau as a connecter, a necessary skill for successful head coaches and team presidents.

Magic Johnson already excited by LeBron’s offseason impact on Lakers

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Magic Johnson can already see LeBron James‘ impact on the young Los Angeles Lakers before they’ve even had a regular practice together.

After just a few weeks of unusually competitive offseason scrimmages, the Lakers’ basketball boss can’t wait to see how James’ leadership will translate into real success.

Magic and general manager Rob Pelinka on Thursday pronounced themselves thrilled with the offseason progress made by their revamped roster and James, their prize free-agent acquisition. The Lakers have been working out together informally at the club’s training complex ahead of the start of training camp Tuesday, and Johnson likes what he sees so far.

“Just to see all of them together playing a pickup game, oh my goodness,” Johnson said. “It’s something to watch. I’ve watched LeBron from afar. I’ve been at many of his games. But to watch him in the gym is a whole different thing. How much he makes everybody better, but also how he raises everybody’s level of play. His basketball IQ and his leadership ability, it’s all on display.”

Lonzo Ball won’t be on display in every workout at the start of camp, however. The Lakers’ second-year point guard had knee surgery two months ago, and Pelinka said Ball will be held out of five-on-five scrimmages when camp begins, even though he has been fully cleared for all basketball activities.

Johnson and Pelinka praised Ball’s offseason work to improve his awkward jump shot by adjusting his shooting mechanics. They also realize Ball has plenty of work to do.

The Lakers are determined to allow Ball to grow into his role as a playmaking leader, and Johnson believes Rajon Rondo will play a mentoring role. Along with James, the Lakers also acquired Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley to form a new veteran core for a 16-time NBA champion franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013.

The Lakers’ disparate collection of talent will need plenty of time to gel, but Johnson is already seeing it happen in those scrimmages.

“I mean, they are going hard,” Johnson said. “It’s physical. It’s tough. There’s trash talking. It’s just a lot of fun, and also a lot of teaching at the same time. It’s really great to see these young guys getting a chance to learn from champions.”

And as if he needed any reminder, Johnson has witnessed the singular skills of the 33-year-old James, who agreed to a four-year, $154 million free-agent deal.

“LeBron comes in, and he’s already in midseason form and shooting fadeaways and 3-pointers from almost half-court,” Johnson said with a broad grin. “And you’re sitting there saying, `Man, thank God we signed him.”‘

Along with blending their new additions, the Lakers must adjust to the loss of Julius Randle and Brook Lopez. Johnson and Pelinka aren’t worried about filling the space left by the departures of those two big men, believing they’ve got more than enough height to guard anyone.

“We feel we have two players at every position – a starter and then a backup to that person,” Johnson said.

Added Pelinka: “A lot of people have said this is one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, and that is an extreme strength to us.”

 

Knicks will not offer Kristaps Porzingis max contract extension to preserve cap space

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Inking Kristaps Porzingis to a max five-year, $158 million extension to his rookie contract seems like a no-brainer for the Knicks. Porzingis is more than the best player on the Knicks, he is where the fans have placed their faith. Yes, he’s coming off an ACL tear that will keep him out for at least part of this coming season, but he is the Knicks’ cornerstone to their rebuild. The man should get paid.

And he will the Knicks say… just not this summer.

Team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry said at a press conference they talked with Porzingis about paying him as a restricted free agent next summer to preserve cap space to land more talent to play alongside him. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks hope to re-sign Porzingis when he is a restricted free agent in 2019. That way, the team could climb over the salary cap. An extension now would take up precious cap room. Doing it next summer would open up $10 million in cap space.

“Our philosophy is that we’re going to stay connected with [the Porzingis camp],” Perry said. “It’s a long-term thing. Obviously, you mentioned the point of the cap space in July. But we just feel like we’re in a real good space with him, as well as he is with us. And we’re going to do the right thing by him and this organization.”

“He’ll never feel like he’s not a cornerstone part of what we’re trying to do here,” Mills said. “He understands that. We make that crystal clear to him and his representation.”

The Knicks are going big game hunting next summer and Kyrie Irving is reportedly at the top of their target list. Jimmy Butler also could be an option (the Knicks are on his short trade list, but the team made it clear they are not giving up assets to get a player they can land in free agency).

What the Knicks are doing with Porzingis has been done before by teams, most notably the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard (and that move is not part of the ill-will between the sides that led to the trade to Toronto). It can work — if the player fully understands this is simply a cap/flexibility move and is not offended by the “snub.” The question is how does Porzingis and his camp feel about it? We will find out down the line.

Either way, the Knicks will be able to keep Porzingis, they can offer the same extension next summer, and can match any offer another team might make to poach the star big man. However, to get to that point Porzingis would have had to sign that offer sheet from another team, a sign of discord between the sides. The Knicks cannot let it get to that. They cannot allow bad blood build up. New coach David Fizdale flew to Latvia this summer to talk to Porzingis and get him on board with the plan. The energy seems good between them, the Knicks can’t let money get in the way of that.

At the press conference, the Knicks’ brass also refused to put a timetable on Porzingis’ return from the ACL surgery last February. He is expected to miss much of the season, not returning until around Christmas at the earliest and maybe closer to the All-Star break in February. Or later. The Knicks are not going to pressure him.