PBT NBA Power Rankings: New York teams rising but Pacers on top still

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Here are the weekly PBT power rankings, with some improving teams out of New York. For you fans in Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Minnesota and Memphis — teams with dreams of the Western Conference playoffs — know that the pace right now is 47-48 wins just to get the 8 seed. Plan accordingly.

 
source:  1. Pacers (29-7, Last Week No. 1). They continue to win thanks to that lock-down defense, but the Pacers seem to be coasting through the middle of the season. Paul George seems off and they have an offensive rating of 95.1 (points per 100 possessions) in their last five games, six below their season average. It’s not just the Heat that drags a little.

 
source:  2. Spurs (29-8, LW No. 4). Winners of three in a row as they continue to execute like no other team in the league nightly. That said, buzz around the league is they are aggressive in the trade market, a sign management thinks they need more to really contend this season.

 
source:  3. Warriors (25-14, LW 3). If you think their run is over (9-1 in the last 10) think again — they have 14 games left before the All-Star Break and 10 are at home. Interesting test for them at Oklahoma City this week.

 
source:  4. Heat (27-10, LW 2). Miami should put together a little run through this soft part of the schedule, then they go and lose both ends of a back-to-back in the boroughs of New York. With all due respect to the improved play of those teams, this is really about a banged up (starters out) and not very focused Heat team.

 
source:  5. Trail Blazers (28-9, LW 6). In case you didn’t see his quote, reserve guard Mo Williams needs to be a Top Chef judge: “With our team, we have a makeup of individuals that do something really, really good and when we mesh together, it’s like gumbo. That’s the best example I can give you of our team. Some teams have a dish where you got your steak, potatoes and asparagus. We’re gumbo. Without one of the ingredients, the gumbo just doesn’t taste well. But when everything is in that pot, it’s just like grandma did it.”

 
source:  6. Thunder (28-9, LW 5). Oklahoma City is now 5-4 since the Westbrook injury. Kevin Durant is doing his best to hold them afloat — in those nine games he is averaging 34.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists a night — but it’s not enough. The question remains how much this hurts their seeding come the playoffs (they are currently tied with Portland for the 2/3 seed).

 
source:  7. Clippers (26-13, LW 7). They have won three in a row without Chris Paul (3-1 overall so far without him) and while those wins were all over sub .500 teams they are wins. The Clips will take it. They are home Wednesday then out for the Grammy road trip with seven in a row away from LA.

 
source:  8. Rockets (24-14, LW 8). It’s still hard to get a feel for just how good this team really is — some nights they look elite, then there are games like Friday against the Hawks. The real number that might concern me as a Rockets fan — they are just 13-11 against the West.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (22-16, LW 11). If the Dallas Mavericks — currently the eight seed in the West with a two-game cushion over Denver and Minnesota lurking — squeaks into the playoffs by a game or two, we will look back and point at the two end-of-game no calls they got (Shawn Marion fouling Kevin Love then this weekend Monta Ellis fouling Austin Rivers) and wonder.

 
source:  10. Raptors (18-17, LW 14). Apparently the Rudy Gay trade was win-win. He’s shooting lights-out since moving to Sacramento but the Raptors are now 12-5 without him. The tanking plan is off in Toronto, where they stand a legitimate shot at winning the division, hosting a playoff series and advancing to the second round.

 
source:  11. Hawks (20-18, LW 12). Just one game this week, against the Nets in London. We’ll see how they do across the pond, at home they are playing very well right now with wins over Houston and Indiana in Phillips Arena last week.

 
source:  12. Timberwolves (18-19, LW 13). Minnesota is now 0-10 in games decided by 4 or fewer points this season. Some of that is bad luck and things will even out, but some of that is late game execution issues this team needs to resolve. Fast if they have playoff dreams.

 
source:  13. Suns (21-15, LW 9). They have hit a rough patch and it’s only going to get rougher with Eric Bledsoe out for an extended period of time with a knee injury (he should be back in 4-6 weeks). They have a 2 game cushion over Denver and 3.5 over the Timberwolves.

 
source:  14. Nuggets (19-17, LW 16). Is there a streakier team in the NBA? They have won five in a row after losing eight in a row, plus there was a seven game win streak earlier in the season. With this run they are two games out of the playoffs in the West.

 
source:  15. Bulls (17-18, LW 18). No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, and yet the Bulls have won five in a row and they are knocking on the door of .500 again — and with nothing but below .500 teams on the docket this week they could crash through that ceiling.

 
source:  16. Grizzlies (17-19, LW 17). Marc Gasol is set to return to full practice this week — and play in games not long after that — which means the 17-19 Grizzlies could be poised to make a push for the postseason (they are currently four games out of the eight seed in the West).

 
source:  17. Nets (15-22, LW 22). They have won five in a row so is the light week — one game against the Hawks in London — a blessing or a curse? On one hand, all the older bodies on this team could use the light week of rest. On the other, they had momentum and now they will be sitting around a lot this week getting cold.

 
source:  18. Knicks (14-22, LW 23). The Knicks are 5-1 in their last six, including beating the Heat, and among the many reasons (Iman Shumpert’s improved play, better ball movement from Carmelo Anthony) we need to point out that Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton are showing some chemistry together. Stoudemire had 35 points over the weekend and he and ‘Melo have played well together, thank you very much.

 
source:  19. Wizards (14-17, LW 15). They have 10 home games between now and the All-Star break, which would be awesome except they are 7-9 at the very leaky Verizon Center. Need to turn that around, but they still look like a lock playoff team in the unimpressive East.

 
source:  20. Pelicans (15-21, LW 14). The loss of both Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson to injury has taken its toll on this team. Now we will see how they deal with trade rumors as we’re going to hear a lot of Eric Gordon stuff over the next six weeks.

 
source:  21. Pistons (16-22, LW 20). That was a quality win over the Suns (thank you Josh Smith) but games like the two they have this week — Utah and Washington — are the kind they need to win if they plan to hold their playoff spot in the East. They Pistons are the seven seed, just one game up on the 9/10 seed Bobcats and Knicks.

 
source:  22. Kings (13-22, LW 26). They are 7-8 since Rudy Gay arrived and on a three game win streak. The reason is their offense: Through the first 20 games the Kings averaged 101.8 points per 100 possessions, that has jumped to 109.7 in the last 10 games (fifth best in the NBA during that stretch).

 
source:  23. Bobcats (15-23, LW 21). Charlotte has gone 2-8 in their last 10 games, which has dropped them out of a playoff spot even in the East. The once-stout defense has been the issue, but getting Michael Carter-Gilchrist back this week should be a boost on that end.

 
source:  24. Cavaliers (13-24, LW 28). They looked improved for the first two games with Luol Deng in the lineup then they suffered the worst NBA loss of the season — 44 points — at the hands of the Kings. Making the playoffs is still the goal and they are just two games out of a spot, but I wonder if Deng will be able to make enough of a difference

 
source:  25. Lakers (14-23, LW 19). Kobe Bryant could be back Jan. 28, when the Lakers return from their Grammy road trip, Mike D’Antoni said. What would be best for the Lakers franchise at this point would be for Kobe to take a lot more time off and let this ship sink a little lower (and pick up more lottery Ping-Pong balls). But who in the organization has the stones to tell Kobe that? (They wouldn’t anyway.)

 
source:  26. 76ers (12-25, LW 25). They lost four straight games, and not exactly against powerhouse teams. Sixers fans probably got more out of watching college ball this weekend, trying to figure out Julius Randle and how he might fit in the mix.

 
source:  27. Jazz (12-26, LW 27). When they put together the end-of-season highlight video for the rebuilding Jazz, last week’s win over Oklahoma with Gordon Hayward’s 37 points will get discussed plenty. Not much else to focus on.

 
source:  28. Celtics (13-25, LW 24). The fact that Rajon Rondo could be back in the next couple weeks doesn’t take much of the sting out of the recent eight-game losing streak. Be interesting to see which veterans get shipped out at the deadline.

 
source:  29. Magic (10-23, LW 29). They lost seven straight and have struggled mightily without Nikola Vucevic, who will remain out for a bit with a concussion. On the bright side, Victor Oladipo has looked better lately.

 
source:  30. Bucks (7-26, LW 30). Larry Sanders, what are you thinking? Can’t blame Bucks fans if they have tunnel vision on Giannis Antetokounmpo right now.

Report: 76ers trade No. 39 pick to Lakers

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The 76ers have too many 2018 draft picks – Nos. 10, 26, 38, 39, 56 and 60.

Philadelphia already has 11 players under contract for next season. Plus, the 76ers have the space to add premier players. There just isn’t room for everyone on the roster.

So, Philadelphia unloaded one of those selections.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is good return for the 76ers, who everyone knew had to trade a draft pick. The rebuilding Bulls could easily land a higher second-round pick than No. 39 next year.

Why do the Lakers want an extra second-rounder this year? Second-round picks don’t count against the cap until signed, and they can always slightly sweeten a trade offer. They’re helpful for a team with big plans and little wiggle room.

Kyle O’Quinn opts out of Knicks contract

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The Knicks have the No. 8 pick, and tomorrow’s draft will be the most important part of their offseason.

Will they also have cap space to add talent in free agency? That hinges on Enes Kanter‘s player option.

If Kanter opts out, New York will have even more room to operate thanks to Kyle O'Quinn declining his $4,256,250 player option.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Knicks expected this for a while, and they’re probably not disappointed. Steve Mills and Scott Perry want to put their stamp on the franchise. O’Quinn is a leftover from the Phil Jackson era and a reminder of the recent tumult in New York.

O’Quinn’s combination of block percentage (6.1) and defensive-rebounding percentage (27.8) was unmatched last season. He just really struck a nice balance between contesting shots and remaining in position on the glass. He’s also a smooth mid-range shooter with an improved ability to distribute.

How much is that player worth?

It’ll be a tight market, especially for bigs. For his sake, I hope the 28-year-old O’Quinn already has assurances from other teams. He might get a similar salary or, more likely, a larger overall guarantee on a multi-year deal. But it’s also possible he comes out behind by testing free agency.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.