PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder stay on top, Bucks stay on bottom

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More and more I think Adam Silver’s first NBA Finals as commissioner will feature Indiana and Oklahoma City — which would be good basketball but not exactly Super Bowl ratings. Things can change, but those are the two best teams right now.

 
source:  1 Thunder (41-12, Last Week No. 1). We gave been praising Kevin Durant for his play with Russell Westbrook out, but lets not ignore Serge Ibaka — he is averaging 19.3 points a game on 65.7 percent shooting, plus pulling down 8 boards a game in his last 10. Really fun showdown Tuesday at Portland.

 
source:  2. Pacers (39-11, LW 2). They were winners of five in a row including an OT victory over the Trail Blazers before they decided to take the second half off Sunday against Orlando. Lance Stephenson will use his All-Star snub (I would have picked him, but he was a bubble guy) as fuel the rest of the season, but he has to keep playing within himself and not try to do too much.

 
source:  3. Heat (35-14, LW 3). They feel pretty locked into the second seed in the East — 3.5 back of the Pacers, 9.5 games ahead of the three seed Raptors. With that lack of motivation they still seem to coast and do things like drop games to the Jazz. Last season they snapped out of it and won 27 in a row, this team doesn’t look like a team with that kind of run in them.

 
source:  4. Rockets (34-17, LW 9). Winners of five in a row, and that includes victories over the Spurs and Suns. The real fuel of the run is an offense scoring 112.1 points per 100 possessions (third best in the NBA for that stretch) thanks to Dwight Howard and James Harden going on scoring streaks.

 
source:  5. Spurs (37-14, LW No. 10). Tim Duncan is not playing in the All-Star Game this year, and that is the league’s coaches gift to him — he certainly deserved a spot but it is known he wanted the weekend off. He got it. By the way, injuries or not the Spurs are 3-1 on the rodeo road trip so far.

 
source:  6. Clippers (36-18, LW 5). They got Chris Paul back Sunday night and the offense exploded (thanks in large part to the Sixers “defense”). Now come the two big questions: Can they build on the impressive play of Blake Griffin and the offense while CP3 was out? Can they improve their defensive consistency to a level that has them challenging the Thunder?

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (36-15, LW 8). They are 5-5 in their last 10 and that includes losses to the Thunder, Warriors, Grizzlies and Pacers (although they did go to OT with Indy on the road). Read into that what you wish. The tough schedule continues this week with the Thunder then the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back.

 
source:  8. Suns (30-20, LW 7). Goran Dragic is the biggest All-Star snub in the West, no doubt, and he showed it with a 34 points, 10 assists game against the Warriors. But in the end the NBA is about marketing and Kobe’s spot went to New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (the game is in New Orleans).

 
source:  9. Mavericks (31-21, LW 11). Winners of five in a row, they have moved up to a tie for the sixth seed in the deep West (tied with Phoenix). This race down the stretch for the final spots in the West will be one to watch — three games separate the six and nine seeds in the conference

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (27-23, LW 6). They simply did not look good in their last few games (a 1-3 week), Saturday night they set a record earning only one free throw all game. Which is really all about how much they miss Mike Conley.

 
source:  11. Warriors (30-21, LW 4). You think they are an offensive force, but they score 103.7 points per 100 possessions, which is 15th in the NBA. Middle of the pack. Average. In their last 10 games its 103 per 100. The defense and some spot shooting carries this team but they need to get more easy baskets and rely less on the jumper.

 
source:  12. Raptors (26-24, LW 12). In an ideal world, Kyle Lowry would have been an All-Star for Toronto. It’s not an ideal world. The Raptors went 2-3 on a tough road swing through the Western Conference but now are home for 8-of-10.

 
source:  13. Wizards (25-25, LW 14). How does the team that beat the Thunder and Blazers let Cleveland do whatever they want to them on offense? Tough couple games before the All-Star break, at Memphis and at hot Houston.

 
source:  14. Nets (23-26, LW 16). They have won 3-of-4 thanks to their radically improved defense (allowing just 97 points per 100 possessions in their last five games) but the real test for this team comes after the All-Star break when they head out on a seven-game road trip. They can win or lose the Atlantic Division in that stretch.

 
source:  15. Hawks (25-24, LW 13). They have lost three in a row and 10 of their next 13 are on the road (including the Bulls and Raptors this week). The Hawks continue to play solid defense but their offense in the post Al Horford era is a mess.

 
source:  16. Bulls (25-25, LW 15). The NBA’s grittiest team continues to do its thing — they are 11-7 since the Luol Deng trade. They just grind you down with defense and Joakim Noah is at the heart of that, he deserves headlines for things other than cursing at officials.

 
source:  17. Pelicans (22-28, LW 21). While others were deserving also make no mistake — Anthony Davis deserves to be an All-Star. He is putting up numbers, but the Pelicans offense can only go so far with Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson sidelined.

 
source:  18. Timberwolves (24-27, LW 17). They have dropped five of six and the reason is injuries — Nikola Pekovic is out, Kevin Martin is out and the Wolves are just banged up. The All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time for them.

 
source:  19. Nuggets (24-25, LW 18). The defense really misses JaVale McGee (he’s not perfect but he’s better than J.J. Hickson on that end) and now the offense is going to miss Ty Lawson for at least a few games with a broken rib. For his sake, let’s hope Andre Miller gets traded at the deadline.

 
source:  20. Bobcats (22-29, LW 20). Steve Clifford drew up a simple defensive system, one that could use the slower-footed Al Jefferson in the paint, and everyone has bought in, making Charlotte the sixth best defense in the league. That is how you build a foundation for a franchise going forward.

 
source:  21. Pistons (21-29, LW 22). Mo cheeks is out but there is no coach that was going to win as much as Joe Dumars expected with this roster — the big three of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe don’t mess well together and Brandon Jennings at the point is, well, Brandon Jennings. Keep an eye on Monroe at the trade deadline.

 
source:  22. Knicks (20-31, LW 19). Carmelo Anthony’s shooting percentage by quarter: 1st 51 percent, 2nd 46.4 percent, third 44.8 percent, fourth 37.3 percent. What this shows me is the load the Knicks are asking Anthony to carry offensively every game is just wearing him down.

 
source:  23. Celtics (18-34, LW 25). If you were going to bet on one team to make a move at the trade deadline, smart money would go on Boston or Orlando. Teams are interested in guys like Brandon Bass, a veteran that can be pugged in at the four or five, start or play off the bench, and be solid.

 
source:  24. Kings (17-34, LW 27). They remain the one team in the NBA most capable of beating anyone or losing to anyone on a given night. Nice wins last week over Chicago and Toronto, then they fell to Washington and Boston.

 
source:  25. Magic (16-37, LW 28). They have won three in a row, the last of those an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Pacers Sunday. Rookie Victor Oladipo sparked it with a hot fourth quarter — his relentless aggressive, hard play is a good piece of the future for this franchise.

 
source:  26. Lakers (18-32, LW 29). Kendall Marshall is averaging 21.3 points per game created by assists since he joined the Lakers, that would be second best in the NBA for the season (trailing only Chris Paul). Even with all the other point guards healthy Mike D’Antoni needs to play this kid.

 
source:  27. Jazz (17-33, LW 23). Another team that could be selling at the deadline — Richard Jefferson has played well of late and could be caching the eye or teams looking for veteran with help. Marvin Williams has been solid, too.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (17-33, LW 26). Chris Grant got fired and you have the feeling if Mike Brown hadn’t just gotten a five-year deal he might have been gone, too. This is an organization in need of a culture change and that takes time and a GM with a real plan.

 
source:  29. 76ers (15-37, LW 24). That loss to the Clippers Sunday night — by 45 points and it wasn’t that close — almost dropped Philly into the bottom slot in the power rankings. All this losing just has to wear on coach Brett Brown.

 
source:  30. Bucks (9-41, LW 30). The future in Milwaukee is Giannis Antetokounmpo and he will be in the Skills Challenge All-Star Saturday night. Focus on that and not the fact the Bucks haven’t won back-to-back games all season.

Marcus Smart reportedly added to USA Basketball training camp roster

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Elite NBA players have not dropped out of playing for Team USA like this since 2004, when nobody wanted to play for Larry Brown and rumors of potential terrorism in Athens had the NBA’s best backing out.

For the 2019 World Cup in China, the USA had James Harden, Anthony Davis, Tobias Harris, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, and CJ McCollum all back out, robbing the American team of a lot of star power. Zion Williamson, who was projected to be part of the “select team” of young stars Team USA goes against also dropped out.

The Americans were down to 14 players heading into training camp (12 will be chosen to travel to China), and they needed more players. Enter Boston’s Marcus Smart, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Expect at least one more veteran name to be added before training camp opens.

That’s a solid selection, an elite defender who can shut down the best wing players on other teams (and in FIBA competition only a couple of teams have more than one top-flight wing player to handle).

So who is on the USA roster now? Let’s break it out by position:

GUARDS:
Damian Lillard
Kemba Walker
Kyle Lowry (questionable coming off thumb surgery)
Marcus Smart

WINGS:
Khris Middleton
Donovan Mitchell
Jayson Tatum
Harrison Barnes
Kyle Kuzma
PJ Tucker

BIGS:
Andre Drummond
Myles Turner
Brook Lopez
Kevin Love
Paul Millsap

(We could argue about whether Mitchell is a guard or a wing, but you get the basic picture.)

After Lillard, that roster does lack star power.

But the USA talent pool is so deep that it will overwhelm all but a couple of teams in the tournament. Serbia — led by Nikola Jokic and Bogan Bogdanovic — is the biggest threat to the USA and has good depth. Spain is impressive as well, but older.

The USA is and should be the World Cup favorite, but an improved rest of the world and a depleted USA roster is going to make things a lot more interesting.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

Tim Duncan joins Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with Spurs

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The Tim Duncan era in San Antonio is over quite yet.

The future Hall of Famer has been added full time to Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with the Spurs, the team announced Monday.

“It is only fitting, that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor,” Popovich said.

Duncan was around the Spurs practice facility a lot last season, helping out informally. Now it is formal.

Expect more bank shots from the Spurs big men next season.

Duncan was at the heart of the Spurs historic NBA dynasty the past couple of decades. The future Hall of Famer is a five-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP, 15 time All-NBA teams, 15 times NBA All-Defensive teams, 15-time All-Star, and way back when the Rookie of the Year. However, his impact was greater than just that insane resume, he was the guy who set the tone and the work ethic for those Spurs teams. Duncan worked as hard as anyone, won as much as anyone, but did it without trying to draw attention to himself. If fact, he wanted to deflect it.

The Spurs will be competitive for a playoff spot in the deep West this season — they still have LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, plus Dejonte Murray gets healthy and returns — but are poised to start a rebuilding process in the coming years.

We will see if Duncan wants to be part of that, or if he is only around while Popovich remains the coach (somebody has to go to dinner with Pop). But he has earned the right to pretty much any role he wants.

The Spurs also announced that Will Hardy will be added to the bench as an assistant coach.

“Will Hardy is a talented, young basketball mind who has earned a great deal of respect from everyone in the organization thanks to his knowledge, spirit and personality,” Popovich said.

Report: Tobias Harris won’t play for Team USA in World Cup, either

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The theoretical lineup of players who’ve withdrawn from consideration for Team USA’s FIBA World Cup roster just gained frontcourt depth.

So far, we had:

Add Tobias Harris.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Harris is a real loss. He’s a good player whose ability to blend with other good players – as he showed with the 76ers last season – would’ve made him particularly helpful on Team USA.

The Americans still have other forwards available – Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Harrison Barnes, Kyle Kuzma, Paul Millsap, P.J. Tucker. But none match Harris’ combination of talent and frontcourt versatility.

USA Basketball is down to just 14 players for its training camp next month:

The U.S. almost must add more players to the pool.

Wizards: We’ll offer Bradley Beal max contract extension, won’t trade him if he rejects it

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The Wizards will offer Bradley Beal a max contract extension when he’s eligible Friday, new general manager Tommy Sheppard confirmed to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Washington will give Beal his choice of length. The maxes:

  • One year, $34,502,129
  • Two years, $71,764,428
  • Three years, $111,786,897

But that’s less each season than Beal could get by playing out his current contract then re-signing. It’s even less each season than Beal could get by playing out his current contract then leaving. And it’s way less than Beal could get if he becomes eligible for a super-max deal (either an extension next offseason or re-signing in 2021) if he makes an All-NBA team either of the next two seasons.

Here are Beal’s max salaries on an extension and projected max salaries on a new contract:

Season Extension now Re-sign Leave Super-max*
2021-22 $34,502,129 $38M $38M $44M
2022-23 $37,262,299 $41M $39M $47M
2023-24 $40,022,469 $44M $41M $51M
2024-25 $111,786,897 $47M $54M
2025-26 $50M $58M
Total $111,786,897 $218M $118M $25M
Average $37,262,299 $44M $39M $51M

*Beal’s super-max amounts would be the same on an extension next offseason or fresh contract the following year.

So, it’s hard to see Beal accepting an extension.

He’d get financial security. There’s always risk in waiting – injury, unexpected decline or something else.

But Beal is so talented and just 26. The NBA is also short on quality shooting guards. He’s in tremendous position to secure a max contract in 2021 free agency.

So, how will the Wizards react if Beal doesn’t sign right now?

Wojnarowski:

If Beal passes on the extension, the Wizards have no plans to engage in trade talks with two years, $55.8 million left on his contract, Sheppard said.

“He’s got two years left on his deal, and he’s from Missouri and we are going to have to show him,” Sheppard told ESPN. “We need to show him that we are about building this the right way, that we aren’t going to have character-deficient guys around him. We are going to surround him with guys he wants to play with. He saw that right away in free agency with us bringing back Thomas Bryant.”

They’re really going to pitch him on playing with Thomas Bryant. Thomas Bryant! And I like Thomas Bryant. He was a breath of fresh air for the Wizards last season, and they re-signed him for $25 million over three years. But he’s also still just Thomas Bryant.

The NBA is full of star duos. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant?

That’s supposed to tempt Beal to stay in Washington?

The Wizards will likely be bad next year. John Wall could miss the entire season, and his huge salary encumbered Washington’s ability to add other players. Beal has touted his loyalty to the Wizards. But after living through what will likely be a miserable season, how will he feel about Washington then?

Beal said the Wizards told him they wouldn’t trade him. Sheppard has now gone public with that message.

But Washington also pledged not to trade Otto Porter then dealt him to the Bulls a week later. Plans change. Sometimes, there’s posturing for negotiating position.

There’s still plenty left to unfold. Beal isn’t even yet eligible for an extension. Maybe he’ll shock me and sign one this summer.

If not, the Wizards likely face an uphill battle for keeping him happy enough to stay in 2021 free agency.