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.

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.