NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks fall, Heat race into top spot

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Only one third of the teams in the NBA have played a game, but it was enough to move some teams around and give us a new No. 1.

1. Heat (1-0, last week ranked No. 2). They had 100 possessions in their opening game, nine more than they averaged last season. If they do that for a full season they will be a much better team.

2. Bulls (1-0, LW 3). It was all Derrick Rose and defense — so the same as last year — but a dramatic comeback win over the Lakers on the road is a fantastic way to start the season.

3. Thunder (1-0, LW 4). Durant dropped 30 on the Magic, but the real key was Kendrick Perkins defending Dwight Howard one-on-one and throwing him off his game.

4. Knicks (1-0, LW 6). I’m still not sold on Carmelo Anthony as a point forward, and I don’t love how they are using Amare Stoudemire, but a win over Boston to start the season is a nice win.

5. Clippers (1-0, LW 10). Make no mistake, this is Chris Paul’s team. Blake Griffin is now the No. 2 guy. And note to DeAndre Jordan: Loved all the blocked shots but your chasing the blocks is a key reason the Warriors were so strong on the offensive glass. Pick your spots.

6. Lakers (0-1, LW 5). They showed some grit, but this team needs Andrew Bynum back (Dec. 31 is his return).

7. Celtics (0-1, LW 7). Brandon Bass had a very nice debut with 20 points and 11 boards. They are going to need big number from him nightly.

8. Mavericks (0-1 LW 1). That was not pretty, but we’re going to assume it was a one-off for now and think things will improve fast.

9. Grizzlies (0-0, LW 8). They only move down because the Clippers played and moved up.

10. Spurs (0-0, LW 9). Antonio McDyess has retired. It was time, but that leaves the Spurs front line very thin.

11. Blazers (0-0, LW 11). This is one of the two teams we may well be under-rating right now. They could climb fast.

12. Nuggets (0-0, LW 13). This is the other team we are underrating. Still a lot of talent on this roster despite how much of last year’s team is in China.

13. 76ers (0-0, LW 14). If Evan Turner’s reworked jumper is ready to roll the 76ers are improved. But I need to see it in real action to believe.

14. Hawks (0-0, LW 15). I want Jeff Teague to blow my doors off this season. He has the skills. I’m just not sold it will happen.

15. Magic (0-1, LW 12). Man that was ugly, but the Thunder are able to follow the book on the Magic — Kendrick Perkins can cover Dwight Howard one-on-one, which means other guys can stay home on the shooters. Worked for the Hawks last playoffs, worked for the Thunder Sunday.

16. Rockets (0-0, LW 16). Samuel Dalembert may not play in the opener, and if he does minutes will be limited.

17. Pacers (0-0, LW 17). How healthy is David West and that surgically repaired knee? If it’s all the way back the Pacers will finish this season much higher up this list.

18. Bucks (0-0, LW 18). Stephen Jackson does have back problems but is back with the team after an epidural. That means he’ll be dealing with the injury all season. Something to watch.

19. Suns (0-0, LW 19). No, they have not traded Steve Nash yet and are not planning to. So stop asking.

20. Jazz (0-0, LW 21). This is the kind of team that may not win a lot of games but they are not going to get blown out much — they are a hard out.

21. Warriors (0-1, LW 20). Stephen Curry was 4-of-12 shooting with five turnovers in the first game. Chris Paul is not that good a defender, makes you wonder about the ankle (if it’s not right they should be resting him). That said, I don’t think he looked off on his cuts or movement.

22. Kings (0-0, LW 22). Getting Chuck Hayes back is big for the Kings, especially if his game starts to rub off on DeMarcus Cousins.

23 Wizards (0-0, LW 23). Jan Vesely probably will not play on opening night due to a sore hip. Not good, we’re looking for reasons to watch the Wizards other than Wall.

24. Pistons (0-0, LW 25). Rodney Stuckey is going to get the start at the point. But eventually Brandon Knight is going to get that job.

25. Timberwolves (0-0, LW 26). This may be one of the most fun teams to watch in the league this season. Not one of the best (although Rick Adelman makes them better), but if they really run one of the most entertaining.

26. Nets (0-0, LW 24). How do you fall two spots without playing a game? Lose Brook Lopez for a couple months and replace him with Mehmet Okur.

27. Hornets (0-0, LW 27). Newly acquired point guard Greivis Vasquez is going to get some run in New Orleans. That’s not really going to change anything.

28. Raptors (0-0, LW 28). Going into opening day, nobody is really sure what the starting lineup for Toronto will be. That’s not a good sign.

29. Cavaliers (0-0, LW 29). Kyrie Irving will be thrown to the wolves be the Cavaliers starting point guard and learn on the job beginning day one — he got the starting job.

30. Bobcats (0-0, LW 30). Just to add to the fun, Tyrus Thomas will not start in the opener Monday due to injury. This team is snake bit right now.

Report: Marvin Bagley ‘near-lock’ to Kings at No. 2 in draft

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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The Suns will almost certainly take DeAndre Ayton No. 1 overall in Thursday’s NBA draft.

The mystery begins with the Kings at No. 2.

They’ve been linked to Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr. and now, most strongly, Marvin Bagley.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

I wouldn’t like that pick. Bagley is a high-end prospect, but I’d take Doncic (and prefer a few others to Bagley).

Bagley is a phenomenal finisher and rebounder due to his athleticism and exertion. He runs the floor hard and is quick off his feet, repeatedly.

But he is a huge liability as a rim protector, making him a tough fit as a defensive center. His just lacks the awareness, length and strength to defend the paint well. He can improve his awareness and maybe his strength to acceptable levels, but there is such a long way to go.

I also don’t trust his jump shot or defensive awareness on the perimeter enough for him to play power forward offensively or defensively.

Of all the top prospects, Bagley might be the trickiest to build around. And the Kings don’t have the greatest track record of roster building, even in the rare times they get a lottery pick right.

Report: Wizards willing to trade No. 15 pick if team takes on bad contract with it

Associated Press
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The Washington Wizards had the fourth highest payroll in the NBA last season — a lot to pay for the No. 8 seed and an unceremonious first-round playoff exit.

One way or another expect changes to the Wizards’ roster going into next season. Big names could be on the move. Even before that, the Wizards have signaled they will trade the No. 15 pick in Thursday’s draft if teams will take on one of the Wizards’ oversized expiring contracts, reports our old friend Ben Standig working for thesportscapitol.com.

The Wizards are open to trading down from the 15th overall pick in Thursday’s draft if another team takes on one of Washington’s expiring contracts. That’s the message relayed from the Wizards to other NBA teams, a league source tells The Sports Capitol.

The Wizards have five players with expiring contracts, including starters Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris. Gortat’s $13.56 million salary for the 2018-19 season dwarfs the other expiring deals. The hefty figure counts among the reasons why the 34-year-old center is considered a likely trade piece.

This plan is unlikely to work unless the team in question actually wanted one of those players anyway. It is worth the shot.

That said, expect a lot of trades and movement on draft night — that is the buzz around the league. After DeAndre Ayton going No. 1 there is not really a consensus, and some teams have fallen in love with players and are willing to trade up and get them. Teams starting with Sacramento at No. 2 are fielding serious offers for their picks, and a few may jump at them.

The problem is the guys teams love will be off the board by No. 15, which means the Wizards may be making a pick. Which is not a bad thing, they have traded their picks away for years and they could use the injection of youth. Still, they will look to trade this pick too if it helps lessen the burden on their payroll.

Report: Cavaliers flying blind into draft because LeBron doesn’t know what he’s going to do

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The first day we’re going to get a hint of LeBron James‘ plan this summer is June 29 — that’s the date he has to opt into, or out of, the $35.6 million on his contract for next season.

Opt-in and that means either he’s staying with the Cavaliers or there has been an arrangement made to trade him (likely to Houston). Opt- out and he becomes a free agent on July 1 — he could re-sign with the Cavaliers, or he could sign anywhere else for next season.

What LeBron is doing could impact what the Cavaliers do at the NBA draft, keep the No. 8 pick and draft for the future or try to trade it (probably packaged with Kevin Love or another player) to get LeBron more help now.

But LeBron isn’t going to let the Cavaliers know because he himself doesn’t know, reports Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

According to sources, the Cavs’ front office and James’ camp have been in contact over the phone and in person, though there has been no meeting with James present, nor has there been any real dialogue as far as James’ future is concerned.

Because the superstar himself doesn’t know.

The Cavs have been signaling (strongly, in some cases) that they’re looking to upgrade their team from the group that was swept out of the Finals this month, whether James stays or goes.

If LeBron is staying, then the Cavaliers should consider trading that pick to a team eager to land someone still on the board (if Michael Porter Jr. is still available there likely would be plenty of solid offers). However, if he’s going they should use that pick to start the rebuild (and Porter would be a good step that direction).

In reality, the Cavaliers have to act as if LeBron is gone. That was the sense one got being around the team through the playoffs and Finals, that this relationship had run its course. The Cavaliers should draft the best player they can with that pick, unless some team comes through with a killer offer for the slot (and Love plus the No. 8 is not going to land Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are not moving that fast to trade anyway). Then, if and when LeBron leaves, start looking at possible trades for Love, Kyle Korver, and every other veteran on the roster. Start the rebuild.

Still, new GM Koby Altman is flying blind on draft night, and LeBron’s not going to help the team out.

 

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

Associated Press
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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.