PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: Santa brings Warriors top spot, lump of coal for Knicks

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Welcome to the Christmas edition of ProBasketballTalk’s NBA Power Rankings. The Warriors, Trail Blazers and Grizzlies have been on the nice list and have the top three spots in the rankings this week. However of late the Knicks have racked up more lumps of coal than even the Sixers, and that is reflected.

 
source:  1. Warriors (22-3, Last Week No. 1). The good news: Steve Kerr said David Lee looked great in practice and should return soon (will he accept coming off the bench is the question). The bad news: Andrew Bogut is out for a spell after getting PRP treatment on his troublesome knee. They need him come the playoffs — they are good team without him, they are a title contender with him. Which means you rest him all you need to right now.

 
source:  2. Trail Blazers (22-6. LW 4). They passed their test last week beating the Spurs twice — once thanks to 43 points from Damian Lillard — plus beat solid Pelicans and Bucks teams. They have won five in a row. It doesn’t get easier with the Rockets and Thunder up this week, but they are one of a handful of teams that currently have a top 10 offense and defense (based on points per possession), one of the signs of a true contender.

 
source:  3. Grizzlies (21-6, LW 3) Back-to-back wins over the Warriors and Spurs were impressive, then they turned around and dropped games to the Bulls and Cavaliers. I keep getting asked in radio interviews, “Can Memphis can keep this up into the playoffs?” Of course, they’re already playing playoff-style basketball. They don’t have to change a thing.

 
source:  4. Mavericks (20-8, LW 7). You can’t read much into just one game in Dallas for Rajon Rondo — although Monta Ellis sure seemed comfortable with another ball handler on the floor — however there is a new confidence around a team that had struggled against the other top seven in the West. Good test coming Sunday against Thunder.

 
source:  5. Clippers (19-8, LW 6). Doc Rivers would love to make a move to add help from guys who come available like Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, but after giving Spencer Hawes the MLE the hard cap kicks in, making it difficult to get quality. LA stumbled going 3-3 in the last six games of the soft part of the schedule, now things get serious: At San Antonio, at hot Atlanta, Golden State on Christmas Day, then Toronto.

 
source:  6. Raptors (22-6, LW 9). Give the Raptors credit, there were questions about what would happen when DeMar DeRozan went down but Toronto has gone 9-3 without him. We’ll see how they do this week on the road against the Bulls, Clippers and Nuggets.

 
source:  7. Hawks (19-7, LW 12). We wanted to see quality wins from them, so they went out last week and beat Cleveland, Houston and Chicago. Al Horford was a beast, averaging 18.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.7 blocks a game in those three. He remains the most underrated star player in the NBA.

 
source:  8. Rockets (19-7, LW 2). Back-to-back losses to Pelicans and Hawks at home and now things get serious: Blazers, Grizzlies, Spurs up this week, then Wizards to start next week. They’ve got James Harden still playing well but the Rockets have been a turnover machine of late.

 
source:  9. Spurs (17-11, LW 5). After two triple-overtime games in one week, you can expect Gregg Popovich to give Tim Duncan January off to rest. The Spurs lost both those 3OT games and now have dropped four in a row, then when you add in the news Kawhi Leonard has a hand injury, well, it’s been a really rough week in San Antonio.

 
source:  10. Bulls (17-9, LW 10). That was a quality road win in Memphis last week, with rookie Nikola Mirotic going off for 27 points. The Bulls have 12 road wins already. They will play on the Christmas Day stage at home against the Lakers. I don’t think the NBA booked this game thinking about a Carlos Boozer returns to Chicago storyline.

 
source:  11. Cavaliers (16-10 LW 8). Still hard to get a read on this team because of the inconsistent play — are they the team that easily handled Memphis last week or the one that was just throttled by Atlanta? Mike Miller is in the starting lineup for now at the two spot.

 
source:  12. Suns (15-14, LW 17).

 
source:  13. Wizards (19-7, LW 11). They had won six in a row until they ran into Phoenix and John Wall got completely outplayed by the Suns backcourt. Still, the Wizards are 6-2 against the West, which is impressive considering the conference as a whole has a 35.6 percent winning percentage against the West.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (14-13, LW 14). They hang on to the eight seed in the West by beating Oklahoma City (the team that will eventually track them down and pass them) and Houston. They are doing it behind Anthony Davis, who is putting up MVP level numbers in his third season in the league.

 
source:  15. Thunder (13-15, LW 13). Kevin Durant has been out again with a sprained ankle but this time it really showed as the Thunder were passive against a soft Laker defense, then they lost to the Pelicans thanks to an unimpressive defense. Good news is Durant’s injury is minor.

 
source:  16. Bucks (14-14, LW 14). While the team has played well in his absence, the loss of Jabari Parker for the season to an ACL injury is just a loss for basketball fans everywhere. He was playing well. This is a setback for his development.

 
source:  17. Nuggets (12-15, LW 18). They are going to be without Danilo Gallinari for at least three weeks for another knee surgery. While this one is relatively minor, it’s not a good sign. Meanwhile the Nuggets keep slogging along.

 
source:  18. Heat (13-15, LW 20). Chris Bosh is still out and Dwyane Wade is in and out of the lineup, which is why the Heat are 1-3 on their current home stand. The bigger question is just how loud the boos will be — or should be — when LeBron James returns to Miami on Christmas Day.

 
source:  19. Kings (11-15, LW 16). They snapped a five-game losing streak against the hapless Lakers. In that game Lakers radio broadcaster (and former No. 1 pick) Mychal Thompson compared DeMarcus Cousins with Moses Malone — that’s some high praise. But Cousins has earned it this season.

 
source:  20. Celtics (10-15, LW 23). I know a lot of Celtics fans don’t think they got enough, but fans tend to overvalue their own assets — there just wasn’t that much trade demand for Rajon Rondo and what they got for Dallas was likely about as good as it gets. I bet Boston asked for all the restrictions on that first round pick, hoping to stagger their picks out and move it to next season.

 
source:  21. Nets (11-15, LW 19). The rumors of the Deron Williams to Sacramento trade sum things up well — the Kings only will take on Williams and his contract if they can get the coveted Mason Plumlee as well. Not much demand for the Nets stars out there.

 
source:  22. Hornets (8-19, LW 25). Hey, don’t know if you heard, Lance Stephenson is available in a trade. The problem with moving him is evidenced in the report the Pacers players were polled about the idea of bringing him back and they shot the idea down.

 
source:  23. Magic (10-20, LW 21). There are moments you see the potential, you can see how Victor Oladipo is developing into a quality player. Then they go lose to the Sixers.

 
source:  24. Pacers (9-19, LW 24). They had lost eight in a row but have split their last four. Even with the second worst offense in the NBA and the need to add shot creation, their players rejected the idea of bringing back Lance Stephenson.

 
source:  25. Lakers (8-18, LW 22). After Kobe is 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) shooting over his last two games and 33-of-113 (29.2 percent) in his last five games. He’s clearly exhausted. Yet after going 3-of-14 against the Thunder, the Lakers needed a game-winning shot so coach Byron Scott called up an isolation play for Bryant. It shows who really has the power in that organization.

 
source:  26. Jazz (8-20, LW 27). Derrick Favors talking to PBT: ““I spent a lot of time this off-season working on my jump shot and my whole offensive game. When Quin (Snyder) got hired we talked, he told me how he was going to use me in the offense, the things he wanted me to work on, the things to keep improving on and so far it seems to be paying off.” Check back to PBT Tuesday for more.

 
source:  27. Pistons (5-23, LW 28). It was a bold stroke by Stan Van Gundy to cut Josh Smith loose, that signing was Joe Dumars desperately grasping at straws to save his job. The most amazing part of this is SVG not only had the balls to suggest to owners Tom Gores to eat $27 million after this season, he was able to get the owner to sign off on it.

 
source:  28. 76ers (3-23, LW 30). Through all the losses and occasional skirmishes on the bench, there are signs of development in Philadelphia. Count me in the group that thinks one or two veterans on this team — just role paying real pros — could help speed that development along by modeling professionalism, but there is development.

source:  27. Timberwolves (5-21, LW 26). Losers of five in a row and they have shipped Corey Brewer out of town, likely not the last veteran moved off this roster before the deadline. Maybe Troy Daniels can find a home and his shooting stroke in Minny, that guy was lights out in the D-League from beyond the arc.

 
source:  29. Knicks (5-25, LW 29). They have lost five in a row and are just hard to watch right now (and that’s with Carmelo Anthony in the lineup). The temptation is to say Phil Jackson inherited this roster, but he chose to re-sign Carmelo, went out and got guys like Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, plus much of the bench were his guys. He didn’t put together much of a triangle team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.

Danny Ainge roasts Celtics players on Twitter

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Celtics president Danny Ainge has built a star-studded and deep team. Boston even has a few extra first-round picks to get even better in future years. The Celtics have 15 players with standard contracts, the regular-season limit. Unlike last year, Boston probably won’t swing a major late-summer trade.

So, Ainge is spending his time clowning his players.

He got Jaylen Brown:

Then Terry Rozier:

Do more, Danny! Kyrie Irving is overdue for another social-media feud.

Did Kevin Durant choose Warriors within day of Thunder losing to them in 2016?

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The Warriors eliminated the Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference finals on May 30. On the following July 4, Durant announced he’d leave Oklahoma City for Golden State.

But when did Durant actually decide on signing with the Warriors?

Durant, Rich Kleiman (Durant’s business partner) and Rudy Cline-Thomas (Andre Iguodala‘s business partner) sat on a panel at Bloomberg’s Players Technology Summit.

Cline-Thomas, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Remember 2017, you just lost to the Warriors — no 2016, you had just lost the Warriors, May — you and I get together after the game. I thought I was just gonna focus on not talking about basketball, and you wanted to focus on talking about Silicon Valley — asking me how it was out here.

“You had been following what Andre and I were doing, how it was being surrounded by all these CEOs, innovators and entrepreneurs. And I was like, ‘Wow. First and foremost, like yo — this dude just told me he’s about to sign with the Warriors, right (laughter). So, I was like I’m not gonna tell anybody, didn’t tell anybody whatsoever, didn’t want any rumors to get started…”

Durant on when he began thinking differently about business opportunities, via Shiller:

“Probably about 2015, I had got hurt. Basketball had always been my world … it stopped, and I had to think about other parts of my life and what I was interested in … it was rough because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I liked or what type of person I wanted to be … I started to hear about Andre and more guys around the NBA — especially that play for the Warriors — that took advantage of the opportunities of being in the Bay Area.

“So throughout that whole year, me and Rich were talking about investing in companies and what I like to do outside of ball. Then I (saw) you and just all those questions came out at once and I was basically telling you I was coming to the Warriors (laughter).”

Kleiman, via Shiller:

“Well I just learned that he told you in May, before free agency — which is hardly factual, which we’ll have to clear up with Marc Spears and everybody here (laughter) — no way did that happen, but cool… (laughter).”

Did Durant really tell Cline-Thomas in May of a plan to sign with the Warriors? Did Durant know his intentions and inadvertently show his hand while talking to Cline-Thomas? Did Durant not consciously know where he’d sign but reveal clues to Cline-Thomas during their conversation? Were Durant and Cline-Thomas just joking?

Was Kleiman trying to set the record straight? Was he just trying to cover for Durant?

Durant was back in Oklahoma City for a press conference June 1, 2016. So, when Cline-Thomas says “after the game,” it sounds as if he meant the night of Game 7.

Of course, that will raise all kinds of questions about Durant’s competitiveness in the 2016 Western Conference finals. If he had one foot out the door to join the Warriors, how motivated was he to beat them? But Durant was awesome throughout that series. Golden State was just a great team. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he compartmentalized his feelings on the Warriors while facing them.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided on Golden State shortly after the series. Draymond Green recruited Durant throughout that season. The Warriors’ desire to add Durant and their high level of appeal was well-established. Even without tampering, they didn’t have to wait until free agency officially began to become Durant’s choice. The NBA can control timing of permissible contact – not Durant’s mind.

It’s just tough to tell exactly what to take from Durant’s, Cline-Thomas’ and Kleiman’s comments – even with context of video:

Report: Kobe Bryant’s $6 million investment in sports drink now worth $200 million

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Kobe Bryant’s investment in BodyArmor is paying off – in a huge way.

Darren Rovell of ESPN:

Bryant made his first investment in the brand, for roughly 10 percent of the company, in March 2014, putting in a total of roughly $6 million over time. Based on the valuation of the Coca-Cola deal, his stake is now worth approximately $200 million, sources told ESPN.

Bryant earned about $330 million in his 20-year playing career. Add endorsements and this investment, and he could be approaching the level of wealth necessary to buy a major share of an NBA team (if that’s what he wants, which it doesn’t seem to be).

But we need greater context to understand Bryant’s acumen as an investor. If he diversified his portfolio, reporting on only the big winner could be extremely misleading. It’d be like saying Bryant made 11,719 shots. It’s impressive. But understanding how impressive requires knowing how many shots he attempted.