NBA Power Rankings: All-Star Weekend edition

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With no games after Thursday, we don’t have a lot of movement in the standings this week, but we tie in some All-Star Weekend notes and look ahead at the second half for teams.

1. Heat (27-7, last week ranked 1). LeBron James’ All-Star performance is what fans seem to expect from him — 36 points and looking dominant at times, the East would not have made that comeback without him. However, his intercepted pass with 1.9 seconds left is all anyone talks about, further proof he is “not clutch.” As Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated noted, Dwyane Wade fumbled a ball out of bounds when the East had a chance to take the lead with 1:15 left, but somehow that is forgotten and LeBron is the goat.

2. Thunder (27-7, LW 3). Kevin Durant was your All-Star Game MVP and Russell Westbrook had a monster night with 17 points in the first half. Those gentlemen the two key reasons the Thunder are still the team to beat in the West.

3. Bulls (27-8, LW 4). Derrick Rose had a relatively quiet All-Star Game, but I loved the look on his face when the East starters were introduced — LeBron, Wade, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were all dancing, Rose just looked annoyed with them.

4. Spurs (24-10, LW 2). They went 8-1 on the Rodeo road trip and the only loss was when Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Tim Duncan on the same night. This is a very good team but the question remains: If they run into the Grizzlies or Lakers in the playoffs (a team that scores a lot out of a big front line) can the Spurs stop them?

5. Mavericks (21-13, LW 5). Don’t expect them to make a big trade as the deadline comes up, unless someone wants Shawn Marion. But, if Dwight Howard is still in Orlando on March 16 the Mavericks may be poised to be the big winners this summer.

6. Clippers (20-11 LW 6). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin put on a fun show at the All-Star Game, like they have all season long. In the arena they showed some bits like the old “password” game where Paul had to describe something to Griffin and get him to guess the word — some of the funniest stuff in the arena all weekend.

7. Magic (22-13, LW 7). Dwight Howard was everywhere all weekend — except he was a virtual no-show for the All-Star Game itself. His pre-game speech about loving Orlando is heartfelt, but don’t confuse that with him wanting to stay. He is about to be in the center of a storm for a couple weeks.

8. Lakers (20-14, LW 9). Dwyane Wade broke Kobe Bryant’s nose in the third quarter of the All-Star Game. Which Kobe will play through because he is Kobe. But take note — the Heat and Lakers play Sunday.

9. Pacers (21-12, LW 10). They had an All-Star in Roy Hibbert. If I had written that sentence before the season you would have thought me mad. Same if I had said they would be 21-12 at the All-Star break.

10. 76ers (20-14, LW 8). Andre Iguodala just seems to be having fun every time he steps on the court, including an All-Star Game. It’s weird to say this, but this team really misses Spencer Hawes and they need him to facilitate their ball movement.

11. Rockets (20-14, LW 13). Doug Collins may be the front-runner for Coach of the Year, but Kevin McHale needs to be in that conversation. If there is one team to watch at the trade deadline, it seems Houston always makes a smart move or two.

12. Grizzlies (19-15, LW 12). Mark Gasol had a nice All-Star Game and deserved to be there. He also told he Memphis needs to get Zach Randolph back — and get him peaking like he did in the playoffs last year — for this team to make another big run in the playoffs.

13. Knicks (17-18, LW 11). The league found a way to get Jeremy Lin into All-Star Weekend. The interest in him from the International media is insane, I mean I knew it but until I saw it the enormity of the thing was hard to grasp. Now comes the hard work for the Knicks of fitting all those pieces together — if they do it they could be the third best team in the East come the playoffs.

14. Hawks (20-14, LW 14). No All-Stars, but Josh Smith should have been one. If Smith were playing in another system that suited him better, people might realize just how good he really is and he would be an All-Star every year.

15. Blazers (18-16, LW 16). LaMarcus Aldridge seemed to enjoy his well-deserved turn as an All-Star. Good for him. The Blazers have got to get better play out of the point guard spot to get their mojo back, either from Raymond Felton or Jamal Crawford. Or anyone, really.

16. Nuggets (18-17, LW 15). They lost their mojo from the start of the season and they lost Danilo Gallinari (who should have been an All-Star if healthy). They also lost four of five to good teams recently, which says a lot.

17. Timberwolves (17-17, LW 18). Kevin Love got his turn as an All-Star and was the West’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter with eight points. Also, he won the three-point contest. They have the pieces to really build something good in Minnesota, if David Kahn can be trusted to put good role players around his stars.

18. Celtics (15-17, LW 17). They are not a contender, they may well not get out of the first round of the playoffs, but you can bet this is a team the elite would like to avoid in the first round. Well, that is unless Danny Ainge decides to blow the whole thing up at the trade deadline (and he would do it, too). Watch them this week, I bet the rest for their older players does them good.

19. Jazz (15-17, LW 19). Gordon Hayward played well in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night and I’ll admit it — he’s better than I thought he’d be coming out of college.

20. Suns (14-20, LW 20). Steve Nash played just four minutes in the All-Star Game, and you can bet that was at his request, trying to rest his body. But sure, he should have been there over the Rockets Kyle Lowry.

21. Cavaliers (13-18, LW 21). Kyrie Irving can shoot the rock if you leave him open — he was 8-for-8 from three in the Rising Stars Challenge on his way to the MVP. Tristan Thompson had maybe my favorite line of the weekend, “We’ve been hearing about Ricky Rubio since like 400 B.C.” There are some pieces to start rebuilding with there.

22. Warriors (13-17, LW 24). Stephen Curry’s foot injury — don’t call it an ankle, it’s not an ankle — kept him from defending his Skills Challenge title. Mark Jackson’s promise of making the playoffs this season looks unlikely, which goes to show it’s not him or Keith Smart that is the issue, it’s the talent on the roster.

23. Pistons (11-24, LW 22). Greg Monroe got in the Rising Stars game but he could challenge Roy Hibbert as one of the All-Star centers in the East for years.

24. Bucks (13-20, LW 23). I was disappointed Bango wasn’t one of the mascots at the All-Star Game. What, he’s too big time for that now?

25. Kings (11-22, LW 25). They have got a new stadium — that is the biggest win this team could get this year. Congratulations to the Sacramento fans.

26. Nets (10-25, LW 26). Deron Williams said he thinks the Nets are going to weather the storm of trade rumors that are coming the next couple weeks. I think that storm is going to be a lot stronger than he thinks.

27. Raptors (10-23 LW 28). The Dunk Contest sure could have used DeMar DeRozan. Again Raptors fans, this is a deep draft coming up — if you’re going to suck, this is a good year to suck.

28. Hornets (8-25, LW 27). It looks like they are getting close to getting an owner. When the Louisiana legislature reconvenes on March 12, and if they approve a new lease deal with the league and team, things may come together quickly. If group one from California falls through, a second group is waiting in the wings, David Stern said.

29. Wizards (7-26, LW 29). If they are going to make this work with John Wall, they are going to have to rework the roster. That may well not start at the trade deadline, however — it will be hard to find anyone to take players not named John Wall off this roster and give anything of quality back.

30. Bobcats (4-28, LW 30). Well, their mascot was at All-Star Weekend. That’s may be more than they deserved.

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett Hall of Fame induction pushed back to May

Kobe Hall of Fame
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kobe Bryant and the rest of this year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class won’t be inducted in 2020 – or at the birthplace of basketball.

The Hall announced Friday that the enshrinement ceremony will be held May 13-15, 2021, and the entire festivities will be moved to Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

This year was to be a highlight for the Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bryant, killed in January in a helicopter crash, headlined a decorated class featuring Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett that would have been enshrined in the recently renovated museum.

But the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans and hit the Hall so hard that it eliminated several full-time positions and cut senior management pay in the 25-40% range.

“These are people who have been a big part of the Hall’s success in recent years; it hurts deeply,” said John Doleva, President and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The decision to reschedule Enshrinement into May of next year, along with diminished museum guest visitation and a very uncertain future regarding our multiple collegiate and high school basketball events this fall, has forced us to make these very difficult decisions. Our goal now is to conserve resources so that we may stabilize in 2021 and return to our growth trajectory in 2022 and beyond.”

“For this single event, and only because of the pandemic, we will relocate the entire event one time to Mohegan Sun which has been a long-time marketing partner of the Hall. Mohegan Sun has shown they can effectively operate a ‘near-bubble’ for our event which provides a more secure environment for our guests,” Doleva explained. “In making this announcement today, our goal is to provide this date and location change with ample notice for our network broadcast partners, nationally and internationally traveling guests and the many basketball constituents the Hall serves.”

Mohegan Sun is a long-time partner of the Hall. Doleva says it can operate a “near-bubble” to provide a secure environment for guests.

 

Vlade Divac steps down as Kings GM; Joe Dumars takes over in interim

Vlade Divac out
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Days after the Kings’ playoff drought reached 14 seasons — second-longest in league history and only one year behind the Donald Sterling Clippers — the repercussions hit GM Vlade Divac and he is out.

Divac has stepped down as the Kings’ general manager, the team announced Friday. Joe Dumars, the former Pistons GM who had been working as a consultant with the team, will step in during the interim while the search for a new GM takes place.

“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings’ family.”

While there are legitimate questions about the job Luke Walton did in his first season in Sacramento, his job is safe, something first reported by Sam Amick of The Athletic and since confirmed by James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area. The Kings also said there will be no other major roster moves made until a new GM is in place.

“Joe has become a trusted and valued advisor since joining the team last year, and I am grateful to have him take on this role at an important time for the franchise,” said Ranadivé.

Divac was a member of the best Kings’ teams ever (during the Chris Webber era) and is in the Hall of Fame as a player. Playing and being a GM, however, are two very different skill sets. Divac did sign a contract extension with the Kings a year-and-a-half ago.

The NBA restart bubble was not kind to the Kings, and that ultimately doomed Divac.

After a promising finish as the ninth seed a season ago, playing a fast-paced style that suited young star De'Aaron Fox, Divac made a move to switch coaches last off-season and fired Dave Joerger to hire Walton. However, under Walton the Kings played slower and were much easier to defend. The Kings did get healthy and start to find a groove right before the league was shut down, going 7-3 in those last 10, but once in the bubble Sacramento was a mess again with a bottom-10 defense in Orlando, and they finished 3-5 in the seeding games.

The salt in the wound in Orlando — and what really eats at Kings’ fans — was the elite play of Luka Doncic in Orlando, and all season long.

Divac — who had scouted in Europe and has deep connections there — chose to use the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Marvin Bagley out of Duke instead of Doncic. While the Kings had scouted Doncic extensively (Ranadive even went to Europe to watch him play and backed taking Doncic), Divac and the front office staff thought the athleticism of Bagley gave him a higher upside than Doncic. (Scouts were often divided on Doncic: Nobody thought he would be bad, but some questioned his ceiling because he already had so much polish to his game and he’s not an explosive athlete by NBA standards. Divac and the rest of the Kings’ front office fell into this camp.) Plus, Divac liked the idea of a big man to pair with their point guard Fox, rather than bringing in another ball handler in Doncic.

Doncic almost certainly will make an All-Seeding Games team out of the bubble in Orlando, and in his second NBA season is an MVP candidate (he will get bottom of the ballot votes). Bagley did not play in any seeding games due to another injury, this one to his foot.

Moving on from Divac may be the right move for the Kings, but it begs the question: Who are they going to hire to replace him? What is the new GM’s basketball philosophy and what kind of team does he want to build? And, will he have the power to do it, or will Ranadive keep his reputation as an owner who likes to meddle in basketball operations?

The Kings need a change — but they need the right change. That will be the tricky part.

Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. taken off court on stretcher after collision

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It was the kind of play that happens countless times a game: Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. was trying to chase Doug McDermott over an off-ball (and moving) screen when collided with pick-setting 6’11” center Goga Bitadze.

This ended up being no standard collision — Jones’ head and neck whipped back, and he instantly went to the ground.

Jones was grabbing his neck at first and was on the ground for about 10 minutes — in the eerie silence of a fanless bubble arena in Orlando — before being taken off the court on a stretcher.

The good news is Jones has just suffered a neck strain, the team announced. There is no timeline for his return, but this could have been much worse.

The Heat and the Pacers, who already have tension between them thanks to a beef between Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren, will face each other in the first round of the playoffs starting Monday.

Jones, who tested positive for the coronavirus before coming to Orlando (and was quarantined), will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has been making the NBA minimum since coming into the league and was in line for a life-changing payday this summer after playing strong defense while averaging 8.6 points per game — and some spectacular dunks — in nearly 23 minutes a night for Miami. Our thoughts are with him after this incident.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.