NBA Power Rankings, where the Heat has finally risen to the top

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where the effect of LeBron James’ decision is the difference between No. 1 and No. 30.

1. Heat (30-9). Nine wins in a row and 21 of the last 22. We said before the season this team should be a regular season powerhouse and they are proving to be. They are winning the close, ugly games now, which is what good teams do.

2. Magic (25-12). Nine consecutive wins. What the trade has done is made them a much more balanced offensive team, and Hedo Turkoglu is back to being effective.

3. Spurs (31-6). In the Spurs last 10 games Gary Neal has outscored Tim Duncan, 12.4 points per game to 12.1. Neal is taking 60 percent of his shots from three (shooting 41.1 percent) and has been a key part of the Spurs attack. They find these guys who can fill roles and put them in good positions like no other franchise.

4. Celtics (28-8). In his five games back, Rajon Rondo is averaging 8.8 points and 12.2 assists per game — that passing makes the Celtics offense so much smoother. Celtics start a six-game home stand Monday, and KG is expected back this week.

5. Lakers (27-11). Four wins in a row and six of their last seven. Go ahead and say it’s against soft competition — it is. However, against a resurgent Knicks Sunday the Lakers showed signs of being their big, bad selves.

6. Bulls (24-12). Quality win against the Celtics — not a statement win, Boston didn’t have KG and the Bulls didn’t have Noah, and there are no statements in January. But still a good win. They get the Heat Saturday and that won’t be as easy.

7. Thunder (25-13). Kevin Durant is looking like an MVP candidate again, averaging 30.2 points a game on 53 percent shooting in the last 10 for the Thunder. Big test for them Thursday against the streaking Magic.

8. Jazz (25-13). Utah’s front office has to get a little nervous watching the Carmelo Anthony disaster and realizing they could be in the same spot with Deron Williams next year at this time. Good news, Mehmet Okur is back practicing with the team.

9. Hornets (22-16). In the last 10 Hornets games, no player has taken more threes than Trevor Ariza — and he has hit 25.6 percent of them. He’d be better off leaving those to Marco Belinelli, who is hitting 46 percent over the same period. Just a suggestion.

10. Mavericks (26-10). They have dropped down the rankings due to seven games without Dirk Nowitzki (2-5 in those). Until they get Nowitzki back for a while it’s hard to fully judge how much losing Caron Butler hurts.

11. Hawks (22-14). They have yet to lose in 2011 and they’re 8-2 in their last 10. Outside of Utah, however, they have yet to beat anyone in the last couple weeks that impresses.

12. Knicks (21-15). They got their season signature win over the Spurs last Tuesday, then Amar’e Stoudemire got a good homecoming with a win in Phoenix. After those two, we’ll try to ignore how the Lakers game reminded all of us of this team’s weaknesses.

13. Blazers (20-18). They get credit for two moral victories this week, playing the Heat and Mavericks tough. Like Houston, this team just makes you work for everything.

14. Nuggets (20-16). Three straight losses and it’s hard to see them getting a win so long as the ‘Melo trade rumors hang over their head. He said again Monday he doesn’t think it gets done this week.

15. Grizzlies (17-20). Last year the Grizzlies made a big mid-season run — they have a lot of road games coming up against the bottom half of the East. Can they do it again?

16. Sixers (15-22). After some tough road trips lately the Sixers are home for a little while, where they are a much better team.

17. Bucks (14-21). The good news is that John Salmons seems to have found his touch again, scoring 17 points a game in the last 10. The bad news is the team’s second leading scorer over that stretch is Earl Boykins.

18. Suns (15-20). They barely beat the Cavaliers the other day, which counts as a win but doesn’t inspire confidence. No matter now many times they deny it will happen, the Steve Nash trade rumors will not die.

19. Clippers (12-24). Don’t look now, the Clippers are 7-3 in their last 10 and playing some good ball. Actually, do look. They are worth watching.

20. Rockets (16-21). They have lost five in a row, and this week the schedule is Boston, Oklahoma City, then New Orleans and Atlanta back-to-back. Rough.

21. Bobcats (13-21). They are 4-2 in the Paul Silas era. And they are playing watchable basketball again.

22. Warriors (15-22). The Warriors are loaded with home games in January and are 4.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the West. If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen now.

23. Pacers (14-20). Indiana’s final two possessions against the Spurs in a close game Friday night had Roy Hibbert isolated in the post against Tim Duncan. Really? No Granger there, but rather Hibbert on a very good defender? The Pacers are 1-6 in last seven.

24. Raptors (13-24). Remember at the start of the season we said they were playing good defense? We take that back.

25. Pistons (12-24). Tom Gores could turn out to be the kind of rich, big-spending owner the Pistons need. But really, right now any kind of owner to point them in a direction is needed.

26. Kings (8-26). They got a win over Denver this week, which any other week would be considered a quality win. Right now, well, still counts as a win. DeMarcus Cousins is beasting lately.

27. Wizards (9-26). Nick Young is making USC proud (and Gilbert Arenas, too), averaging 17.2 points per game in the Wizards last 10. Sure, he’s shooting just 47.5 percent (eFG%, which accounts for his made threes), but at least he’s scoring. Somebody needs to.

28. Timberwolves (9-29). They get moral victories this week for playing the Celtics and the Spurs close. Sure, moral victories shouldn’t count, but look where we are in the rankings, it’s not like there are a lot of actual victories to count.

29. Nets (10-27). You get the feeling watching them the last week that all the trade rumors are bothering the young Nets, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

30. Cavaliers (8-29). What Cleveland might be able to get in an Anderson Varejao trade was the one interesting thing left for Cavs fans this season. Now…..

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.