PBT Weekly NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs then everyone else

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In the penultimate PBT Power Rankings of the NBA season there is not a lot of change at the top, although I was tempted to move the Spurs in front of the Cavaliers. Basically it’s Golden State, Cleveland, and San Antonio then the rest of the league. At the bottom, the Timberwolves take a turn.

 
source:  1. Warriors (63-14, Last Week No. 1). They had won a dozen in a row but the Spurs reminded everyone on Sunday the West playoffs are no foregone conclusion. Rather they will be a bloodbath. That said, the Warriors have home court throughout the playoffs and they are 35-2 at Oracle Arena.

 
source:  2. Cavaliers (50-27 LW 2). Cleveland’s offense has been fantastic and it’s defense improved since the All-Star break (and trades), but that defense had gone from terrible to a little above average. But they have shown flashes of better defense of late and they will need that against the Hawks in the conference Finals.

 
source:  3. Spurs (51-26, LW 3). Kawhi Leonard missed a lot of time this season but he is still going to draw Defensive Player of the Year votes. You saw Sunday why with his play against Stephen Curry on Sunday. Big home-and-home against Houston this week, with some wins they could get home court in the first round.

 
source:  4. Hawks (57-19, LW 4). Atlanta beating Brooklyn by 32 Saturday — even with Paul Millsap getting injured — is a preview of what the first round will look like in the East. Millsap is going to miss a couple games but is not in danger of missing playoff games.

 
source:  5. Clippers (52-26, LW 5). Jamal Crawford is set to return on Tuesday and his depth is needed for the shallow-benched Clippers. Los Angeles has a soft schedule the rest of the way, but there is a big game with Memphis this week — win and the three seed is well within reach.

 
source:  6. Rockets (53-24, LW 6). If Houston is going to hold on to the two seed in the West, they have to get at least a split against the red hot Spurs in a home-and-home this week. James Harden has been putting up MVP numbers and is doing it efficiently, pushing his team into a top seed. He’s got a good case.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (50-26. LW 8). As the winners of the Northwest Division they will be the four seed, but still likely will start the playoffs on the road because the five seed (Clippers, Spurs or Grizzlies) will have the better record. Portland’s offense is clicking but they will only go as far as their defense takes them.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (52-25, LW 7). For Memphis the playoffs basically start this week — they are the three seed, just one game back of Houston for the two seed but also just half a game ahead of the Clippers and one up on the Spurs. They could finish anywhere from 2-6 in the West. Big games against the Pelicans and Clippers this week.

 
source:  9. Bulls (46-31, LW 9). Derrick Rose is expected to return this week, and the Bulls can try to make a positive out of how they stuck close to the Cavaliers Sunday without him or Kirk Hinrich. Yet they have not played the level of defense we expect from the Bulls enough this season to picture them as a serious threat for the conference finals.

 
source:  10. Mavericks (46-31, LW 10). The Rockets, Grizzlies, Clippers and Spurs are all holding out hope of getting the two seed — because all of them would love to face Dallas in the first round. The Mavs need to get their defense back on track before the playoffs and hope for a favorable offensive matchup.

 
source:  11. Pelicans (41-35, LW 12). Despite the Pelicans having the tougher schedule they have gotten within half a game of the Thunder as OKC stumbles down the stretch. And the Pelicans own the tie breaker. Ryan Anderson is back in the lineup which is huge for their offense and spacing. Still tough sledding ahead with Golden State, Houston and Memphis on the docket this week.

 
source:  12. Wizards (44-33, LW 14). They have won 4-of-5 and are within a game of four-seed Toronto and home court in the first round. Those wins hadn’t been that impressive until the upset of Memphis on Saturday night, but the Wizards are playing good defense again and that keeps them in just about every game.

 
source:  13. Thunder (42-35, LW 11). They have lost five of six and given the Pelicans hope (and New Orleans has the tie breaker). Russell Westbrook is racking up triple doubles (11) but he’s not efficient, the Thunder defense is bad and the losses pile up. Games this week are the surging Spurs, the Kings, then an interesting test at Indiana (with Paul George).

 
source:  14. Raptors (45-32, LW 15). Toronto’s sloppy defense continues to cost them in close games, as it did over the weekend. They need the wins, the Wizards are just one game back and could take home court away in the first round. Toronto is on the road this week but the games are winnable at Charlotte, Orlando, and Miami.

 
source:  15. Jazz (35-42, LW 16). Interesting discussion around the NBA now is what the much-improved Jazz should do this summer to build on their defense and second half surge. History suggests there will be patience, looking for growth out of the guys they already have, and maybe one or two trades but not a blockbuster. They just need the right guys.

 
<source:  16. Suns (39-38, LW 13). Can the Suns finish over .500? Not going to be that easy with this being four of their final five games: At Atlanta, at Dallas, at New Orleans, at San Antonio.

 
source:  17. Bucks (38-39, LW 17). They should be doing their homework on the looming I-94 first round showdown with Chicago. Just making the playoffs will be a positive experience for John Henson, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the young Bucks.

 
source:  18. Nets (35-41, LW 19). They have won 8-of-10 behind the return of Brook Lopez (he was just named Eastern Conference player of the week), yet they are not secure in the playoffs. The Nets are the seven seed, 1.5 games ahead of nine seeds Indiana/Miami, with a tough lineup of Portland, Atlanta, Washington and Milwaukee this week.

 
source:  19. Celtics (35-42, LW 20). This could be the make or break week for Boston’s playoff dreams. The Celtics are the eight seed, one game up on the Pacers/Heat, but Boston has a home-and-home against Cleveland this week.

 
source:  20. Pacers (34-43, LW 21). Paul George looked good but rusty in his return Sunday (as to be expected), but his presence brought a new energy to a Pacers team that throttled the Heat. Indy is just one game out of the playoffs with winnable road games against the Knick and Pistons this week, followed by a tough one against Oklahoma City. This is going to go down to the wire.

 
source:  21. Heat (34-43, LW 18). They were on the wrong side of the Paul George return Sunday, but their problems are bigger than that having lost four in a row. They are a game out of the playoffs and need wins at home this week against Chicago and Detroit or Dwyane Wade could miss the playoffs for only the second time in his career.

 
source:  22. Pistons (30-47, LW 23). They may just be playing out the string but there are reasons for hope in Detroit — Reggie Jackson is putting up big lines, Andre Drummond remains a beast inside, and the Pistons have turned the Palace into a tough place to play again. All things to build on.

 
source:  23. Hornets (33-43, LW 25). Kemba Walker came to the defense of coach Steve Clifford this week, saying it’s not his fault the Hornets regressed this season. While everyone can take some blame, more goes on the guys in the front office who pushed for the Lance Stephenson trade than on Clifford, who can still flat out coach.

 
source:  24. Magic (24-53, LW 27). The Magic are in an interesting place, with some quality young players that should be part of the future — Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Elfrid Payton — but they lack a true No. 1, a cornerstone/foundational player. That’s always the hardest piece to get. Oh, and they need a new coach with a system that fits all these guys.

 
source:  25. Nuggets (28-49, LW 22). Denver’s players are clearly mailing in the rest of season, which is a bad sign for interim coach Melvin Hunt (but I think this is more on the makeup of the players mentally than the coach).

 
source:  26. Kings (26-50, LW 24). DeMarcus Cousins put up back-to-back 20-20 games last week and looks very comfortable in the George Karl offense. But it’s what Karl and the Kings front office do this summer that is really going to determine the future in Sacramento, this roster needs work.

 
source:  27. 76ers (18-60, LW 26). I’m excited to see Joel Embiid in a Sixers uniform playing at Summer League in Las Vegas, he could be the foundational piece that helps transform these Sixers (who certainly have looked better since the All-Star Break).

 
source:  28. Lakers (20-55, LW 28). Here’s the only number that matters in Los Angeles — 82.8. That is the percentage chance the Lakers hold on to their draft pick this year. They have the fourth worst record in the NBA, if two teams jump them in the lottery and the Lakers fall to the six pick then the Sixers get it (remnants of the Steve Nash trade). But if they keep it and draft wisely, someone to pair with Julius Randell and Jordan Clarkson, then the foundation of the future starts to get laid.

 
source:  29. Knicks (15-62, LW 30). Phil Jackson talked about defense to season ticket holders this week, and in doing so it sounded like he was leaning toward Karl-Anthony Towns over Jahlil Okafor if the Knicks land the top pick. That may be the better long-term pick but it’s not going to help Carmelo Anthony win right now, and it may be a tough sell.

source:  30. Timberwolves (16-60, LW 29). Watch them to see future Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins (he’s putting up numbers now), but no Nikola Pekovic or Ricky Rubio. Mostly sadly, maybe no more Kevin Garnett again.

Chris Paul says he wants to play at least 20 seasons

Thunder star Chris Paul
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CHICAGO – Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was bellyaching about Chris Paul‘s contract (three years, $124,076,442 remaining). Houston traded two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps just to go from Paul to Russell Westbrook. The Thunder appeared to prioritize the picks far more than Paul, whom they were reportedly willing to flip to his preferred destination.

A few months later, Paul was making big plays and berating officials in the All-Star game.

It’s quite the resurgence for the 34-year-old who’d missed the last three All-Star games.

Here are the oldest players ever to make an All-Star team after not being an All-Star the prior three seasons:

Chris Paul

Of the players older than Paul on that list, Dirk Nowitzki was placed into the All-Star game by the commissioner, and Michael Jordan came out of retirement after missing three seasons. Only Johnny Green kept grinding before breaking back through.

Feeling revitalized, Paul – in his 15th season – doesn’t sound anywhere near retirement.

“Especially the way that my body feels now, I definitely probably at least want to play at least 20 years,” Paul said.

That’s ambitious. Just seven players have played at least 20 NBA seasons:

  • Vince Carter (22)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (21)
  • Kevin Garnett (21)
  • Kevin Willis (21)
  • Robert Parish (21)
  • Kobe Bryant (20)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20)

So much can go wrong this late into a player’s career.

But by raising his game, Paul gives himself more runway to decline and remain a viable NBA player. He at least has a chance, which is far more than most players can say at his age.

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
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Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.