PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Atlanta, Golden State keep lock on top spots

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How does an Atlanta vs. Golden State NBA Finals sound? It’s not out of the question, the Hawks are for real and with Andrew Bogut back the Warriors may well be the best of the West. Of course, there’s a lot of basketball to play and with the arms race in the West the balance of power could shift again out there.

source:  1. Hawks (29-8, Last Week No. 1). They have won eight in a row and last week that included wins over the Clippers, Grizzlies and Wizards. In their last five games they have outscored their opponents by 14.2 points per 100. On the season they are fifth in the league in defense, sixth in offense. Tell me again why can’t this team come out of the East?
source:  2. Warriors (29-5, LW 2). They have won six in a row and now they have Andrew Bogut back in the rotation to strengthen their defense. More scary than that, the Warriors are really starting to find their groove on offense — they have the best offense in the NBA over the last 10 games.
source:  3. Trail Blazers (30-8. Last Week No. 4). Coach Terry Stotts said after they beat the Clippers Sunday that he sends quotes to his players almost every day from famous people and that the last few have been about process — to take things day-to-day. That as well as they are playing now they need to be better by May. To a man believe they are legit title contenders now.
source:  4. Bulls (26-12, LW 3). That Derrick Rose had to sit out a game with a sore knee is a concern, even if Pau Gasol did carry them to a win. Also of concern is Mike Dunleavy’s slow recovery from a sprained ankle. Fun showdown with Atlanta on Saturday night, too bad it’s the second night of a back-to-back for the Bulls.
source:  5. Spurs (23-15, LW 8). Even with all the injuries — they are still without Kawhi Leonard — and juggled lineups the Spurs have won four of five and are 23-15 this season. It still feels to me like they will string together a run soon.
source:  6. Rockets (26-11, LW 9). James Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate putting up 27-6-6 a game (and before you say something about his defense, he starts on the second best defensive team in the league, it’s improved). When he gets more help on offense this team is scary.
source:  7. Clippers (25-13, LW 7). Sunday seemed to sum up the Clippers — they should have been able to beat the Heat but a combination of a lack of both bench play and consistent defense from their bigs did them in. If the regular season is about building good habits for the playoffs then the Clippers are behind a lot of other top six teams in the West.
source:  8. Mavericks (26-12, LW 5). Lakers coach Byron Scott on the late Roy Tarpley, who passed away last week at age 50: “The thing that stood out about Roy is he was an unbelievable athlete and a great basketball player. Hell of a rebounder. He gave us fits, he was a tough cover for everybody. Obviously we’re all saddened that he passed away.”
source:  9. Grizzlies (26-11, LW 6).
In their last 10 games the Grizzlies they are allowing 104.2 points per 100 possessions, 21st in the league and about seven more per 100 than they did in the first month of the season. I like the pickup of Jeff Green, he gives them more athleticism on the wing, but this team has to start to defend again (it did better Sunday vs. Phoenix).
source:  10. Raptors (25-11, LW 10). They snapped their four-game losing streak against the Celtics over the weekend, which is nice but this team still misses DeMar DeRozan. Interesting tests this week against the improving Pistons and the red-hot Hawks.
source:  11. Suns (22-18, LW 13). The pick up of Brandan Wright was a great fit — he’s athletic, can run the floor as well as the pick-and-roll with all those guards, and he gives them another shot blocker. Just don’t think he’s a stretch four. This is an upgrade behind Alex Len. If the Thunder want the eighth playoff spot they need to catch Phoenix, this team is not going to just roll over.
source:  12. Wizards (25-12, LW 12). Quality win over the Bulls reminds us that the Wizards, when healthy, can look like a team that can do damage in the playoffs. Then on Sunday they got just thumped by the Hawks and looked like a team well back of the best in the East. Is this team still maybe a second round playoff team at best?
source:  13. Thunder (18-19, LW 11). They lost both games on the road last week and are 7-12 away from home this season, which isn’t ideal with 6 of their 7 seven on the road (and their one home game is Golden State). They are 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and with Phoenix picking up some wins and Russell Westbrook slumping the “could OKC miss the playoffs?” questions are out there.
source:  14. Pelicans (18-18, LW 14). I love that the fans are voting Anthony Davis in as an All-Star Game starter, he’s more than earned that with his play this season. I just wish the rest of his team were more consistent, they really can beat or lose to anyone on any given night.
source:  15. Bucks (20-19, LW 15). Are we trying to punish England? This week the Bucks — playing fantastic defense of late — will take on the offensively anemic Knicks in London. That could get ugly. At least the fine people of Europe can get an up close look at how Giannis Antetokounmpo has developed.
source:  16. Cavaliers (19-19 LW 16). They have lost five in a row and are now 1-8 on the season without LeBron James. This team relies on him like the Cavs of old used to. That didn’t work then and will not now, this team needs defense and an identity. All the trades — getting J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and particularly Timofey Mozgov — brought upgrades to the roster, but it doesn’t solve the bigger problems.
source:  17. Heat (16-21, LW 17). They may have found something in Hassan Whiteside, who fits in their system well because of his hustle and energy — he outplayed DeAndre Jordan Sunday. The Heat split the first two games of the rough West Coast road swing they are in the middle of.
source:  18. Pistons (13-24, LW 21). . The Pistons in the playoffs? Don’t laugh. They are just three games back of the Nets and Heat (tied for the 7/8 seeds) and Detroit is 8-2 in their last 10. They could make up this ground, which would be a huge story.
source:  19. Nuggets (17-20, LW 23). As their backcourt goes so goes Denver and recently Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo have played well, so the Nuggets have won four in a row. Trading Timofey Mozgov has opened up minutes for Jusuf Nurkic and he has been a player to watch.
source:  20. Hornets (15-24, LW 25). They have won five in a row and now are just two games out of the playoffs in the East, which is pretty amazing considering their start. It also speaks to just where the bottom half of the East is at.
source:  21. Pacers (15-24, LW 20). Another team just two games out of the playoffs and with hope to climb in thanks to their defense. Still that loss to Philly felt like a setback. If they want to make it in they need to beat other teams trying to climb that ladder like Detroit and Charlotte, both of whom are on the docket this week.
source:  22. Kings (16-21, LW 22). They beat the Thunder and Cavaliers last week, but lost to the Nuggets in between. DeMarcus Cousins should make the All-Star team in the West, but the conference is so overloaded that some very deserving players will be on the outside looking in.
source:  23. Jazz (13-25, LW 19). I loved Trevor Booker’s shot of the year. More than that, I loved that Enes Kanter returned from injury and Quin Snyder left Rudy Gobert in the starting lineup.
source:  24. Nets (16-21, LW 18). They have lost five in a row and it’s not like they were playing a murder’s row — it’s just that the Nets are playing poorly. That gives the Hornets, Pacers and Pistons real hope they could make the postseason.
source:  25. Lakers (12-26, LW 26). There’s a lot of speculation around the Lakers that there is something more wrong with Kobe Bryant than just needing rest (he has missed 3-of-4 and 6-of-11), but Byron Scott denies it. What can’t be denied is Nick young’s slump, he is shooting 25 percent in his last five games and 17.2 percent from three. They need his points.
source:  26. Magic (13-27, LW 24). They have lost six in a row and their offense has gone AWOL, which is bad news with the Bulls, Rockets, Grizzlies and Thunder coming up this week.
source:  27. Celtics (12-23, LW 27). The Celtics fire sale gives them a lot of picks. This next draft they have theirs (which is going to be quite high), the Clippers first, and three second rounders (and two of those are high second round). Celtics fans will be watching a lot of college ball for a while.
source:  28. 76ers (7-29, LW 28). They have won two in a row and three of four, and they are doing it playing solid defense. The offense is still a work in project, but with the game on the line last week Michael Carter-Williams made plays.

source:  29. Timberwolves (5-31, LW 29). Andrew Wiggins is going to be the Rookie of the Year. The only other guy really in the conversation is Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls — he’s playing key rotation minutes for one of the East’s best teams — but I have a hard time seeing voters giving it to the experienced European.
source:  30. Knicks (5-35, LW 30). They head to London for a game this week against the Bucks. Go ahead and insert your “why should we subject the English to this torture” joke here. That said, this is good for Derek Fisher and his team because it’s not many games with extra practices. This team could use that.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.

Toronto police: Report of shooting at Raptors championship parade

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Update: Toronto police:

 

 

The Raptors’ championship parade was interrupted by a scary situation.

Toronto Police:

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

Especially in large crowds like this, chaos and confusion can spread quickly. Hopefully, everyone is OK.

The scene was quite strange, as speeches were interrupted while people in sections of the crowd fled:

The Raptors are continuing their speeches now.

Report: Nets not extending qualifying offer to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

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The Nets appear to be on the verge of signing Kyrie Irving. They opened double-max cap space to pursue a second star like Kevin Durant, Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler.

Brooklyn isn’t going to let Rondae Hollis-Jefferson foil that plan.

The Nets could make Hollis-Jefferson a restricted free agent, giving them the right to match any offer he receives. But do so, they must extend a $3,594,369 qualifying offer. That’s essentially a one-year contract offer he could accept at any time. If he did, he’d count against the cap at $3,594,369. Brooklyn doesn’t want to risk that.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Nets could still re-sign Hollis-Jefferson. This just prevents him from unilaterally accepting the qualifying offer and jamming up cap space.

But this signals Brooklyn is ready to move on. Hollis-Jefferson, who become an unrestricted free agent after spending his first four years with the Nets, might also be ready.

The 24-year-old Hollis-Jefferson has settled in as an undersized power forward. He’s a switchable defender and active offensively. Playing power forward somewhat covers for his lack of shooting and ball-handling ability, but that can still be exploited.

Why timing of Anthony Davis trade matters so much for Lakers

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The Lakers will get Anthony Davis.

That’s clearly the only thing that matters to them.

Not only will they send the Pelicans a massive haul of draft picks and young players, the Lakers could lose significant cap space with the trade’s structure.

Los Angeles and New Orleans can’t complete the reported deal until the league year turns over June 30. Then, the NBA immediately goes into a moratorium in which most transactions aren’t allowed. The moratorium ends July 6. That’s when two main options emerge.

Option 1: Trade July 6

Let’s start with Davis’ trade kicker, a bonus paid to him if traded. Davis’ base salary next season is $27,093,018. His 15% trade bonus could raise his salary $4,063,953 to $31,156,971. Davis could waive all or a portion of the bonus. The Pelicans would pay the bonus, but the Lakers can also include enough cash in the trade to cover the full bonus amount.

The Lakers will send Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart (combined salary: $17,918,965) and the No. 4 pick (which will count about $7 million against the cap) to New Orleans.

Davis’ salary will be between $27,093,018 and $31,156,971 next season, depending on his trade kicker.

Simply, the Lakers’ incoming salary in the trade will be about $2 million-$6 million higher than their outgoing salary in the trade.

That works just fine under the cap rules. The Lakers will have way more than $2 million-$6 million in cap space. As far as salary matching, teams can always trade when they end up under the cap.

So, after this deal, the Lakers would have about $24 million-$28 million in cap space.

But there’s another path that would give the Lakers even more flexibility.

Option 2: Trade July 30

On July 6, if they renounce all their free agents and waive Jemerrio Jones‘ unguaranteed salary, the Lakers project to have about $33 million cap space.

That’s about enough for a max salary for a free agent with fewer than 10 years experience – someone like Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving. Or multiple helpful role players.

The Lakers could spend all that money then trade for Davis.

Here’s how they could get Davis after reaching the cap line:

They’d sign the No. 4 pick June 30. (Signing first-round picks is one of the few moves allowed during the moratorium.) He couldn’t be traded for 30 days after being signed. Hence, the July 30 date on this trade. But his actual salary would count toward the trade. Unsigned draft picks count $0 in trades.

In this salary range, the Lakers could acquire 125% of the outgoing salary in the trade plus $100,000. Aggregating Ball, Ingram, Hart and the signed No. 4 pick would allow the Lakers to acquire about $31 million of salary. That covers Davis’ full salary and most, if not all, of his trade bonus.

But why would the Pelicans wait?

That’d mean the No. 4 pick can’t play for them in summer league. There’d also be complications flipping the No. 4 pick to another team.

It’d also tie up a portion their cap space until the trade is completed, as they’re the ones holding the more-expensive Davis through July. Most good free agents will be off the market by July 30.

New Orleans could always reach an unofficial agreement with a free agent then make the deal official after the Lakers trade. But that requires trust, and some free agents might not go for that.

There’s no upside in waiting for the Pelicans. The only question is how much downside.

What’s at stake?

A quick recap:

If the Lakers trade for Davis sooner, they’d project to have $24 million-$28 million in cap space (depending on his trade bonus).

If the Lakers trade for Davis later, they’d project to have about $33 million in cap space.

That extra $5 million-$9 million could go a long way.

What now?

It doesn’t sound as if the Lakers pressed New Orleans to wait until July 30 before accepting the trade.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

For now, the plan is to execute the trade on July 6, right after the moratorium ends on the start of free agency — and it’s unlikely that will change.

The Lakers could always negotiate with free agents June 30-July 5 then decide. If they want the additional cap space, the Lakers could try to entice the Pelicans with extra draft picks to delay. But that’d make the trade even more costly to Los Angeles.

The alternative might be even more grim – the Lakers not finding worthy players in the first week of free agency. Los Angeles could even view that as a face-saving move to justify the timing of this trade.

But if the Lakers make this trade July 6 then claim they didn’t have good use for an extra $5 million-$9 million in cap space, they’ll only be telling on themselves.