NBA Power Rankings: Bulls on top after quarter of season

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Believe it or not, we are about a quarter of the way through the condensed NBA season already. And with that, these rankings are starting to take some solid shape. Which is bad news for Celtics and Knicks fans. But it’s all good in Chicago.

1. Bulls (15-3, last week ranked No. 1). If Derrick Rose had to miss a stretch of games, this soft part of the schedule was the time. They are 4-1 without him (and he should be back Monday night). Things change at the end of this week — starting Saturday they are on a nine-game road trip.

2. Nuggets (12-5, LW 7). Winners of four in a row on an East Coast swing, highlighted by Danilo Gallinari (37 points, 11 boards) outplaying Carmelo Anthony in New York. They are doing it by getting shots at the rim — Denver takes 44.3 percent of its shots within five feet of the rim, by far the highest percentage in the league (as noted by John Schuhmann at NBA.com). The League average is around 32 percent.

3. Thunder (13-3, LW 2). They had a pretty good week, but when your one loss is to the Wizards you fall around here. They are playing well defensively of late, which is starting with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.

4. Heat (11-5, LW 8). They have been winning without Dwyane Wade — they beat the Spurs by 22, the Lakers by 11 and the Sixers by 21. That doesn’t mean they are better without him, it means that Miami is playing like LeBron James’ old Cavaliers teams but with better shooters. And those teams did win a lot of regular season games. Plus, the Heat are at home.

5. 76ers (11-5, LW 3). Losses this week to Denver and Miami means you can end the talk about them being elite — I don’t think they are title contenders — but you can’t question if they are good. The Sixers are home against some beatable teams this week, look for some convincing wins.

6. Pacers (11-4, LW 5). The victory over the Lakers Sunday was a signature win for a team that has been doubted by some. If not for a dreadful quarter against the Kings, they could be 3-0 on a tough West coast swing. That said, Orlando and Chicago on the docket this week, still a lot of tests for this team

7. Magic (11-4, LW 11). Beat the Knicks and Lakers (where Dwight Howard dominated Andrew Bynum) last week but lost to the Spurs. This week they have Boston twice (that used to be a scary game, lately not so much) and the Pacers.

8. Hawks (12-5, LW 9). Credit them for playing well with Al Horford down — they are 5-1 and playing surprisingly good defense. Still think it’s a mirage but so far the results are impressive.

9. Clippers (9-5, LW 6). They are 3-2 without Chris Paul, which has been respectable. The one team getting a lot of rest from the schedule makers so far this young season gets it again this week. Big rematch with the Lakers Wednesday night.

10. Spurs (10-7, LW 4). Beat Orlando on the road but some ugly losses in addition. I like the idea of giving Tim Duncan a night off, as Popovich did Saturday. Spurs have struggled on the road and four of the next five are away from the Alamo Dome.

11. Jazz (10-5, LW 13). They are 9-2 in their last 11, pushing Tyrone Corbin into the discussion for coach of the year with Doug Collins and Frank Vogel (that award always goes to the coach whose team most overachieved). The team is doing all the little things right.

12. Grizzlies (9-6, LW 18). Four straight wins (one over the Bulls) as they are figuring it out without Zach Randolph. That said, brutal next 10 games so we’ll see what they are made of.

13. Lakers (10-8, LW 10). Went 1-3 last week but the losses were all to good teams (Miami, Orlando and Indiana), which is what you get when you are still trying to figure out who you are on offense. What happened to the twin-tower offense idea? Gasol is getting pushed out.

14. Rockets (9-7, LW 19). Winners of six in a row, and you can thank Samuel Dalembert for much of that. He has been a great pickup.

15. Blazers (9-7, LW 12). They have struggled to win on the road and went 2-4 on an East Coast Swing (but are back home this week). They have a back-to-back-to-back this week, just for fun.

16. Mavericks (10-7, LW 14). Dallas is calling it a conditioning camp that will keep Dirk Nowitzki out for four games, but if his knee was fine you can bet he would be playing.

17. Suns (6-9, LW 20). Marcin Gortat has had seven straight double-doubles, and he can thank Steve Nash for some of that. Imagine what Nash could do with a real athletic big like Amare Stoudemire… oh, yea.

18. Timberwolves (7-9, LW 21). They have become everybody’s second favorite team to watch this year, they put on a show with Ricky Rubio and had a great comeback against the Clippers. Of course, this week everyone will be watching to see what happens with Kevin Love and his contract extension.

19. Bucks (6-9, LW 22). Quality win over the Miami Heat on Sunday, as they made the game ugly just like Scott Skiles likes. Brutal rest of the week schedule: Hawks, Rockets, Bulls and Lakers.

20. Celtics (6-9, LW 17). Danny Ainge said he wants to wait and see how this team responds before he thinks about breaking it up. Two games against the Magic and one against the Pacers should paint a picture. Not that Ainge is going to find a great market for his veterans. Three of this team’s six wins are over the Wizards.

21. Knicks (6-10, LW 15). Six straight losses, so finally Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are going to sit down and talk. That seems prudent. Baron Davis is the big hope for this team, and anyone who has watched him the last few years should be nervous about that.

22. Cavaliers (6-9, LW 16). Kyrie Irving is winning me over, the guy can score and has a great left hand around the basket. That said, this team still has a long, long way to go.

23. Kings (6-11, LW 25). They have some wins — including one against the Pacers — but when this team loses (especially on the road) it really gets blown out.

24. Warriors (5-10, LW 23). If they are going to make Mark Jackson look good on his statement this team is better than last year’s, it will start this week on a six-game homestand.

25. Nets (5-12, LW 28). Teams are destroying the Nets from three point range… well, they are destroying them from everywhere. Brook Lopez would help a little, but not as much as Dwight Howard.

26. Pistons (4-13, LW 27). Rodney Stuckey is starting and they beat the Blazers this week, so that’s your bright spots.

27 Bobcats (3-14, LW 29). They are one of five teams really trying to lay claim to the coveted “worst in the league” title. They play the Wizards twice this week and have the chance to prove they suck less.

28. Wizards (2-13, LW 30). The win over the Thunder was surprising, but they followed it up with a good effort in a couple losses. That’s enough to move out of the cellar. For now.

29. Raptors (4-13, LW 26). Eight straight losses after starting 4-5. Now they head out on a West Coast swing. Not a good combo.

30. Hornets (3-13, LW 24). They have lost seven in a row and are 1-9 in their last 10, and they may lose Eric Gordon for an extended period. That will land you looking up at the rest of the league. If you want a bright spout, they have had close losses, so go ahead and feel good about that.

Add Cavs, Blazers, Wizards, Bucks to list of teams calling about Jimmy Butler

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The Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota has been difficult to track the past couple of days. No doubt that’s due to the irregular nature of the potential transaction, with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor circumventing his front office to seek a trade for Butler.

It was reported Saturday that several teams were interested in Butler, including some of the teams the star shooting guard reportedly prefers to land. That list included Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, the LA Clippers, Miami and Philadelphia.

Now, you can add several more teams to the list who have at least placed phone calls to Minnesota now that they know Butler is available to be dealt.

According to multiple reports, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Washington Wizards are interested in seeing what they can do to add Butler to their roster.

Trading for Butler at this juncture is a tenuous balance for all parties. Butler can opt out of his current deal at the end of the season, and is expected to do as much. That means teams must be certain that Butler is going to re-sign with them, or be happy with his rental for whatever assets they decide to give up. It puts the Timberwolves in a tough situation as well, where they won’t to get fair exchange for Butler’s overall worth.

We don’t have many details on actual offers just yet. Things seem to be a bit hectic in Minneapolis and new information is still streaming in. Training camp for the Timberwolves starts on Tuesday, and reports say that they would like to have Butler out of town by then.

What teams are willing to give up is another factor, and that self-imposed timeframe could widen what Taylor sees as a good return for Butler.

For example, any deal for Butler with the Blazers would not include Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, or Jusuf Nurkic, according to NBC Sports Northwest’s Dwight Jaynes. That leaves some value for the Timberwolves, including Al-Farouq Aminu or perhaps Maurice Harkless. But if Portland is reportedly not willing to give up any of their most important core, you can expect other teams are heading to Taylor’s door with similar offers.

More teams being added to the potential list of Butler landing spots is not surprising. When a superstar becomes available, just about every general manager will at least place a courtesy call to the trading office. It doesn’t help that Taylor appears publicly to be in a position of little leverage, so no doubt rival general managers are licking their chops to try to snag Butler away for cheap.

Keep your eyes peeled. This one is going to happen quick.

Knicks reportedly near deal to waive, stretch Joakim Noah, making him free agent

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The Joakim Noah era with the Knicks is finally, mercifully coming to an end.

Back in the summer of 2016 — the summer when NBA GMs spent like a drunk sailor on shore leave — the Knicks’ Phil Jackson looked at Joakim Noah, who had played 29 games the season before due to injury and was showing the wear and tear of Tom Thibodeau miles on him, and thought “I should give him four years, $72.6 million because he will totally bounce back to Defensive Player of the Year form.” In the two year’s since Noah has played in 53 games total, and while he can still grab some boards when he gets on the court, he is not near the defensive force he once was, and he was never a great offensive player.

The Knicks are finally moving on and doing so in the next 48 hours, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at The Athletic.

Much like the Luol Deng move by the Lakers, this is about freeing up cap space for next summer for the Knicks. New York will pay his full $18.5 million salary for this season, then stretch his final season of $19.3 million over three seasons, which works out to about $6.43 million a season on the books. That is without any discount in the buyout Noah may give New York.

For the Knicks, that frees up about $12.9 million in extra cap space next summer, when they want to go big game hunting for free agents. (The Knicks reportedly have Kyrie Irving at the top of their list, although most sources I talk to around the league don’t expect Irving to leave Boston next summer.) It does mean the Knicks will have some of that Noah money on the books through the summer of 2023. The risk for New York is if they strike out in free agency then they still have that Noah money on the books, rather than just taking their medicine and paying the full price, although having him in the locker room and wanting minutes would be a distraction, one the Knicks would like to move past.

As for other teams having interest in Noah, maybe if he can prove he’s healthy some team might consider him for a backup center, or third center on the roster spot. Maybe. But most teams would rather have a young player they can get cheaply and develop in that spot rather than a 33-year-old veteran with an injury history. It’s something to watch, but I doubt the market is very deep. That said, it just takes one.

76ers set to turn promising season into must-see TV

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CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Ben Simmons is set to turn the 76ers into must-see TV.

But he hopes to have another smash hit off the court. NBC has given a script commitment to “Brotherly Love,” loosely based on the life of the Aussie-born NBA rookie of the year.

Deadline described the pitch like this:

“Brotherly Love is inspired by the life of Ben Simmons and centers on a unique sibling relationship within a multi-ethnic family. Together, they pursue their dreams while navigating life in the spotlight in Philadelphia, a passionate city where sports is in your blood, and your blood is always boiling.”

Don’t touch that dial – well, unless the 76ers are on.

“It’s just funny because a lot of people probably pitch their lives and think everything should be a TV show,” Simmons said Friday. “We brought it to life. (My brother) wrote something up, pitched it to a few different people. NBC loved it and went with it. It’s really going to be about our relationship and how things just happen. It’s more of a comedy-sitcom type of show. It will be pretty funny. Hopefully, that goes through and works out.”

Oh, and LeBron James (through SpringHill Entertainment) is listed as an executive producer.

The 76ers were shooting for Ben & Bron.

The Sixers met with James’ representatives just hours before the free-agent signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, the brief flirtation enough to make the organization think they might have a shot at the NBA great.

“I feel like he could have been a great piece to add to get us where we need to be,” All-Star center Joel Embiid said.

So the 76ers will try to win their first NBA title since 1983 without The King.

But with Embiid, Simmons and 2017 No. 1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz aboard, the Sixers believe they can top the 52 wins and a playoff series win from a year ago as they chase a championship.

Embiid, speaking at 76ers’ media day, said a successful season would be “an appearance in the NBA finals.”

That’s a pretty lofty goal for a franchise that made no meaningful offseason additions and just this week named 39-year-old Elton Brand, who retired only two years ago, as general manager.

“I just remember dunking on him really bad,” Embiid said. “That’s crazy it was two years ago.”

Coach Brett Brown expected a dominant season out of Embiid (22.9 points, 11 rebounds) and Simmons, whose friendship with Kendall Jenner made TMZ headlines this summer. He spent the offseason working on his jumper.

“I’ve never been on a team where I have to take shots,” Simmons said.

But the player who can make the most impact as a pseudo-newcomer is Fultz. Bordering on bust territory after just one season, Fultz had his rookie year derailed by a mysterious shoulder injury, a broken shot and confidence issues. He played the first four games, missed 68 games because of the injury and was benched in the playoffs against the Celtics.

Fultz struggled with his mechanics when he played, and his shooting form was widely mocked around the NBA.

Even his personal trainer, shooting coach Drew Hanlen, said Fultz suffered from the “yips” and “completely forgot how to shoot.”

The 20-year-old Fultz said Hanlen used a “misterm in words.”

“What happened last year was the injury, let me get that straight,” Fultz said. “It was the injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through a certain path that I need to shoot the ball. Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal.”

Fultz took about 150,000 shots this summer and reworked his form to prove he’s ready join Embiid and Simmons on the Big Three.

“This summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back,” Fultz said.

The Sixers need it all – the swagger, the shots, the early success that can propel them toward Eastern Conference contention. The franchise that won just 10 games three seasons ago is now on the cusp of becoming an elite team.

“It’s going to be a great year,” Embiid said.

 

Minnesota reportedly moving to trade Jimmy Butler after ownership demands it

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Jimmy Butler met with Tom Thibodeau Tuesday and asked for a tradespecifically to the Clippers/Nets/Knicks. Thibodeau wanted no part of that, and he along with GM Scott Layden have shot down any other team that called, and not in a “we’re not doing that.. but what would you offer?” way, but in an “I’m hanging up now” way. Part of that may be smart negotiation tactics, but the more significant factors are that right now offers the trade offers are lowball, plus Thibodeau realizes his job on the line and this team is not as good without Butler.

So owner Glen Taylor has stepped in and laid down the law — he told Thibodeau and Layden to get on with a trade, ideally done by next Tuesday before the first day of training camp, according to multiple reports. From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Against the displeasure of Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau, owner Glen Taylor has mandated that a deal needs to be negotiated to trade disgruntled All-Star forward Jimmy Butler in the next several days, league sources told ESPN….

Thibodeau has been willing to coach the Timberwolves through the dysfunction that has surrounded his star players, but Taylor has sided with Butler and agreed that the four-time All-Star should be away from the Wolves for the foreseeable future, sources said.

So far, few franchises, if any, are engaged in serious conversations with the Timberwolves on Butler, sources said. The list of organizations interested in talking further with Minnesota is significant, league sources said: Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, the LA Clippers, Miami and Philadelphia are among the teams interested in probing for deals.

The problem is those initial offers will be lowball ones, in part because there are real concerns about Butler’s durability, while he is just 29 he has a lot of Thibodeau miles on him. The Timberwolves can put the offers they get in front of and his agent, see which teams he would consider re-signing with as a free agent next summer, then using that to get a better deal out of them. But to get all that done by Tuesday seems rushed and like it would lead to even a worse deal.

Even so, within a week Butler could be somewhere else in the league, once again