PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Golden State still on top, but welcome Detroit to the cellar

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Consider this something to read while we all wait to see who Rajon Rondo has breakfast with next. When a team wins 12 in a row, has the best record in the West and is playing the best defense in the NBA, they end up on top of ProBasketballTalk’s weekly NBA power rankings. No shock there. The biggest surprise may be at the other end of the list where Philly has won two of three and ceeded the bottom spot to Detroit.

 
source:  1. Warriors (17-2, Last Week No. 1). We know about all the firepower they have from their stars on offense, but focus too much on Curry/Thompson and things happen like Draymond Green dropping 31. As he did on Chicago. This team is about to get deeper as David Lee expects to return this week, but with the way Green is playing Steve Kerr has to bring Lee off the bench.

 
source:  2. Spurs (15-5, LW 3). The Spurs made a statement with a win over Memphis last week, then the next night picked up the most Spursian of wins — no Tony Parker, no Manu Ginobili, limited minutes from Tim Duncan (18) and they still beat Minnesota. Tiago Splitter appears close to coming back and that is big for the Spurs’ defense and depth.

 
source:  3. Rockets (16-4, LW 6). The Rockets are an impressive 7-3 without Dwight Howard (five of those games against quality, +.500 teams) which is key as he is not going to be back “any time soon.” The Rockets are winning with quality defense and getting good performances from Donatas Motiejunas.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (16-4. LW 4). They have won four in a row and seem to do it a different way every time. The one constant is quality play from Damian Lillard (who has taken a big step forward in his third year — and he was an All-Star last year). They are on the road this week but against the East so the Bulls are the only team that should pose a real threat.

 
source:  5. Clippers (14-5, LW 9). They have won seven in a row and that string could stretch out for a while with a pretty soft schedule coming up (save for the Suns Monday night and the Wizards later in the week). In the West, you have to make sure to get your wins against the teams you’re supposed to beat because the schedule will get brutal.

 
source:  6. Grizzlies (16-4, LW 2) They lost to the Spurs and the shorthanded Rockets, but picked up a nice win against the Heat. However, what was the best news in Memphis last week was that Marc Gasol’s MRI was negative. He’s their MVP candidate.

 
source:  7. Mavericks (16-6, LW 5). Sunday night was the most comfortable Chandler Parsons has looked in the Dallas offense, scoring 28 points (it helps that Milwaukee largely left him alone, nine of his 14 shots were uncontested). Not fair dropping this team in these rankings despite a good week, but welcome to life in the West.

 
source:  8. Cavaliers (11-7 LW 17). They beat the Raptors last week and continue to do it by putting up boatloads of points — LeBron James’ passing is opening up the offense. Good tests this week that will jeopardize that streak — Toronto, Oklahoma City and New Orleans all are on the schedule.

 
source:  9. Raptors (15-5, LW 7). When DeMar DeRozan went down coach Dwane Casey tried to downplay his loss defensively to PBT (and other reporters). Nope, their defense has really struggled without him and it’s costing them games, they are just trying to outscore opponents now.

 
source:  10. Hawks (13-6, LW 14). They have won six in a row and gotten fantastic play out of the point guard spot (Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder) but have done so against the easiest schedule in the NBA so far. That does not change this week with the Pacers, Sixers and two against the Magic on the docket. The week after, then things get serious.

 
source:  11. Wizards (13-6, LW 11). Not a pretty loss Sunday on the first end of a home-and-home with Boston. Part of that is tied to them still keeping a cap on Nene’s minutes — they need his defense, but they really need him healthy come the playoffs.

 
source:  12. Bulls (12-8, LW 8). They are 10-3 on the road but just 2-5 at home in Chicago, which is going to have to change for them as they have a lot of home games on the schedule in the coming weeks (including Brooklyn and Portland this week).

 
source:  13. Suns (12-9, LW 12). Jeff Hornacek has moved P.J. Tucker into the starting lineup and is bringing Marcus Morris off the bench now. What really works for this team is how much better Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe seem to play without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup.

 
source:  14. Kings (10-10, LW 13). DeMarcus Cousins spent time in the hospital due to the viral infection and while they finally picked up a win with him out they are still 1-15 without him over the past couple seasons. He should return to action this week, they are 9-5 with him in the lineup.

 
source:  15. Bucks (11-11, LW 16). They have lost four of five but against Cleveland, Houston and Dallas (twice) and looked pretty good in those losses. Things don’t get any easier ahead with Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Phoenix and Portland.

 
source:  16. Pelicans (9-10, LW 18). There were murmurs around the league that if Monty Williams couldn’t get the Pelicans to play better defense with Omer Asik on board his job could be in jeopardy at the end of the season. Well, the Pelicans are 24th in defensive efficiency. Something to watch as the season goes on.

 
source:  17. Nuggets (9-11, LW 17). They have lost three in a row and looked really ugly doing it in losses to Washington and Atlanta. This is a roller coaster, up and down team and the ups come when their inconsistent shooting is on, lately it hasn’t been.

 
source:  18. Thunder (7-13, LW 22). While Kevin Durant dropped 27 on Sunday and showed flashes of his old self the Thunder are still trying to find a groove with Russell Westbrook and Durant back. This is a stretch where they need to get wins — Milwaukee and Phoenix are on the docket and are the kind of teams the Thunder need to beat if they are going to make this playoff run.

 
source:  19. Heat (9-11, LW 15). They have lost four straight and it really comes down to this — they can’t get stops. Without LeBron James on the roster Chris Andersen just looks old and they don’t have the same level of athleticism and maturity on that end of the floor.

 
source:  20. Celtics (7-11, LW 21). They have won three in a row and not so coincidentally those came when Jeff Green has shown up and played well. It also helped to have the Pistons and Lakers on the schedule. Eagerly awaiting the reports of who Rondo has breakfast with this week.

 
source:  21. Nets (8-10, LW 20). The most interesting thing about the Nets: Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, are coming to watch them play against the Cavaliers. Great, now LeBron has more motivation than just playing in New York to put up numbers.

 
source:  22. Magic (9-14, LW 23). Of all teams to tip the historic imbalance between the West and East this season (the West has won 70 percent of the games between conferences so far), the Magic are 4-5. And it could have been 5-4 if they had held on against Golden State. Problem this week is they take on Washington and Atlanta of the East.

 
source:  23. Pacers (7-13, LW 19). They are 0-4 on a road trip through the West and have a tough go this week with the hot Hawks, the Clippers, the Raptors, and finally the Trail Blazers. Against that gauntlet they are really going to miss Ian Mahinmi, who is out for 6-8 weeks.

 
source:  24. Lakers (5-16, LW 25). Kobe Bryant needs just 63 points to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time NBA scoring list, and it will likely happen on an upcoming Lakers three-game road trip (San Antonio, Minnesota and Indiana). Recently both Toronto and Detroit threw early double teams at Kobe and he carved them up with passing and the Lakers won. Don’t expect to see that much anymore, teams will dare Kobe to beat then.

 
source:  25. Hornets (5-15, LW 28). You can always count on the Knicks to help you snap a 10-game losing streak, but that doesn’t solve the larger issues of bad offense (Lance Stephenson’s shot selection can get ugly) and disappointing defense.

source:  26. Timberwolves (4-15, LW 24). Reports came out a week ago Monday that Flip Saunders told his team to play back and let the Clippers shoot threes in their meeting. Um, Chris Paul shoots 41 percent, J.J. Redick 38 percent, Jamal Crawford 37 percent, and Spencer Hawes 34 percent. Interesting strategy, Flip. The Timberwolves have lost five in a row.

 
source:  27. Jazz (5-15, LW 26). After a fast start they have lost eight in a row, but they got some good news that starting two guard Alec Burks should return this week from his shoulder injury (but he will need surgery on it after the season).

 
source:  28. Knicks (4-18, LW 27). They have lost eight in a row but if you want a silver lining they are not getting blown out — the last four of those losses were by a combined 13 points. The Knicks just don’t close out games well. The bad news? The Knicks have had one of the easiest schedules in the NBA so far this season.

 
source:  29. 76ers (2-18, LW 30). Two wins in three games, beating the Timberwolves and Pistons. The key has been they played pretty good defense in those games (granted against teams that can’t shoot the ball well).

 
source:  30. Pistons (3-18, LW 29). The loss to the Sixers was ugly, but I think the final shot against OKC Sunday summed up their play best: down two and with less than 10 seconds on the clock the Pistons settled for having Josh Smith take a three pointer for the win. A guy who shoots 25 percent from three but ran to the arc and got the pass. That’s just bad basketball.

Markelle Fultz says last season was about injury, he’s back now with confidence

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Philadelphia went big game hunting in free agency and came up empty. If they are going to seriously challenge Boston this season for the top of the East, it’s going to be because of internal improvement — Joel Embiid needs to get better, Ben Simmons needs to get better…

And Markelle Fultz needs to be on the court and look like a No. 1 pick.

We’ve seen glimpses that his shot looks better after spending the summer with the shot guru Drew Hanlen, and at Sixers media day he sounded confident. Courtesy Matt Haughton at NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I think it was a mis-term in words, but me and Drew have talked (after Hanlen said Fults had the yips),” he said. “What happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, 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….

“Everybody knows what happened last year, so this summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back. It was a very productive summer,” Fultz said. “I’m happy with the work I put in with Drew (Hanlen). We put up a lot of shots, a lot of hours in the gym. I’m happy with where I’m at right now going into training camp.”

Fultz is saying all the right things. That and $4 will get you a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks (although why you’d want it is beyond me).

 

The proof starts Saturday in training camp and runs through the season. It’s about results now. Expectations for Fultz are high, but welcome to the life of a No. 1 pick. His bolstered swagger will be tested, we’ll see how he handles it.

Joel Embiid on DeAndre Ayton: ‘He’s about to get his ass kicked this year’

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At some point in the future — maybe not as far in the future as he thinks — a lot of NBA fans are going to turn on Joel Embiid and his unfiltered trash talk and social media presence. (Which, oddly, is very different from how teammates describe him, this seems to be more of a public persona.) It’s the nature of fame, we love the rogues and rebels until we don’t.

For now, Embiid is a lot of fun.

He went on the set of ESPN’s “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols on Friday (at Sixers media day) and when the picture of Deandre Ayton came up, well…

“He’s about to get his ass kicked this year.”

Embiid isn’t wrong.

Ayton is going to have a good rookie year, maybe very good (although the lack of a quality point guard to feed him the rock in spots he can do damage will hurt him), and at Summer League Ayton was a bit of a man-child against other rookies and young players. However, he showed flaws — his hands, for one, need to get better — and nightly in the NBA teams will roll out men who can match him and push back on him. It’s going to be harder than he realizes, and not just with Embiid or Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or Marcin Gortat and the other guys who can match up physically with him, but with the skill guys as well. Ayton isn’t going to push around Draymond Green easily. Al Horford is going to school him with skills.

Ayton is going to be on a learning curve this season, a steep one at times. All rookies get that. What matters is how he responds and how he develops. Expectations are rightfully high, but he’s got some learning to do.

Report: Jimmy Butler may not report to camp; Minnesota owner handling trade talks

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Hot mess doesn’t do the Minnesota Timberwolves situation justice. Trainwreck? Epic fail? Cluster%*#$?

Personally, I am going to go with:

Call it what you want, within the span of a week the Timberwolves have devolved into a situation where the team’s best player is demanding a trade and now, reportedly, may just skip training camp if he’s not moved. Meanwhile, the GM is adamant in saying he will not trade said player — one Jimmy Butler — so the owner is reportedly taking this over directly and telling teams to contact him.

Here is where things stand heading into Friday night.

Butler and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau met Tuesday in Los Angeles (a meeting that was initially in Minneapolis but that got moved in Los Angeles and pushed back a day), where Thibodeau laid out his plans for the season, but before he left Butler asked for a tradespecifically to the Clippers/Nets/Knicks. This set off all sorts of social media drama with Andrew Wiggins and rumors about Towns’ girlfriend that we’re not going to dive into now, but is giving the Timberwolves organization headaches. Towns has a $158 million contract extension sitting on the table, but told management he can’t coexist with Butler and reportedly will not sign the new deal until the Butler situation is resolved.

Thibodeau has adamantly rejected teams that have called and even tried to start a trade discussion, and would rather quit than move him for a rebuilding package of picks. The offers for a Butler trade and possible rental, even from teams that could re-sign him as a free agent next summer, are not going to be that good.

Since Thibodeau wants no part of trading Butler, owner Glen Taylor — who has a rocky relationship with Thibodeau — is telling the other owners he will make the trade and to reach out to him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves front office tells inquiring rivals that the franchise has no plans to trade All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor had a different message for owners and executives at the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings: Butler is available, and prospective suitors should contact Taylor himself should they struggle to make progress with GM Scott Layden, sources told ESPN….

“The owner’s trading him,” one Board of Governors attendee told ESPN on Friday. “That was made clear. It’s just a matter of when.”

“He basically said, ‘If you don’t get anywhere with [Layden], and you’ve got something good, bring it to me,” another high-ranking league official told ESPN.

This points to a showdown between Thibodeau and Taylor potentially looming. Want to guess who wins showdowns between owners and GMs? Every time?

Meanwhile, a frustrated Butler — who left the Timberwolves in a terrible spot with the timing of his request a week before training camp, rather than earlier in the summer — could decide to sit out training camp, reports Jon Krawczynski in a must-read breakdown of how everything went wrong over at The Athletic.

This is Jimmy Butler. Thibs’ hand-picked pride and joy. The one who pledged to have his back through thick and thin and drag this woebegone franchise out of the dank cellar and into the spotlight.

Now he wants out. And there remains a real possibility that he will not report to training camp next week if a trade has not been consummated, sources said.

There is a whole lot to sort out here. If Taylor makes a trade, is he thinking more win-now guys, or younger players more on the Towns/Wiggins timeline? Will Thibodeau still be the coach/GM come opening night? How will Minnesota fans react to the inevitable step back that would come with a Butler trade (they are not getting equal value, and he was key to their playoff push last season)? And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Dumpster fire seems just about right.

In wake of Mavericks’ scandal, Adam Silver warns other teams to eliminate harassment

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The sexual harassment and workplace environment scandal that engulfed the Dallas Mavericks shook other NBA teams and forced some internal reassessment long before the league and an independent investigator released their report on Dallas this week. As part of the deal, Mark Cuban is donating $10 million to “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence,” and the team must subscribe to a number of new reporting procedures.

Just to hammer the importance of the issue home, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams saying they need to think about diversity in management and have a focus on preventing workplace harassment.

While the money from the $10 million goes to good causes and is four times what the NBA could have fined Cuban itself under the current league bylaws, it is not going to hurt a man worth an estimated $3.9 billion. Cuban appeared both repentant and bothered by what was happening under his roof, but the punishment handed down came off as light, even though Cuban did quickly make changes within the organization — long before the report came out, starting at the top with the hiring of Cynthia Marshall as CEO — and was not personally involved nor did he have knowledge of the situation, according to the investigation. There is no right answer here. What would have really sent a message to teams was taking away draft picks, however, Dallas’ basketball side of the operations — players, coaches, etc. — were not implicated in the investigation, and it was instead the opposite, the basketball side was seen as a safe haven. Taking away draft picks felt like punishing the wrong people for the crimes, sort of like the NCAA. There were other options, but all seemed flawed.

Having it happen once can be spun as an outlier by the league, a one-off situation. If it happens again, the conversation changes. Silver does not want that to happen, hence the memo and reminder.