PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Summer Edition, where the Spurs keep on winning

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The dust has almost settled on the NBA summer, with just some minor deals to get done (although there are a few good players still out there). Now that we’ve seen most the trades (probably) and gotten a look at the rookies in Summer League, it’s time to adjust the power rankings. The top of the board is easy — the Spurs move up but not to the top spot, yet — the bigger challenge is the bottom where every team has hope and think they’ve improved, but we know some will be disappointed.

source:  1. Warriors (last season 67-15). The defending champs always start in the top spot, but the Warriors did what they needed to this off-season keeping the band together. The key was re-signing Draymond Green. Their road to a repeat will be much tougher than to their first title, but this team certainly is a contender.

source:  2. Cavaliers (53-29). They re-signed LeBron James (no shock), Kevin Love, and Iman Shumpert, then added Mo Williams to the mix. Not bad, and they are not done with Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith still looming and likely re-signed. Plus they can make a move with the Brendan Haywood contract. The Cavs are clear and away the best team in the East.

source:  3. Spurs (55-27). They won the off-season — Tiago Splitter was good but replacing him with LaMarcus Aldridge was a huge upgrade. Plus they re-sign Kawhi Leonard, add David West, and keep Danny Green at a fair price. This team will be hungry with it likely being Tim Duncan’s final season. But the brilliance of their off-season is they will stay near the top of the league for years even after Duncan steps away.

source:  4. Clippers (56-26). Doc Rivers the GM bounced back and had a great summer. He kept DeAndre Jordan in house (barely), plus added Paul Pierce to start, and Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith to the bench. The Clippers have the depth they lacked last season, and they are a motivated team.

source:  5. Thunder (45-37). Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are all back and healthy, with that the Thunder are back to contending for a title. The Thunder kept Enes Kanter (they had no choice) and I like the Cameron Payne draft pick. There may be no more of a desperate, win-now team in the NBA this season.

source:  6. Rockets (56-26). With the Ty Lawson trade — and if he can get his head screwed on right — the Rockets move into the elite title contender status with the five teams above them in this ranking. They are going to have a quality bench this season and lots of flexibility for coach Kevin McHale.

source:  7. Grizzlies (55-27). They did very well re-signing Marc Gasol, plus they got a good-fit pickup with Matt Barnes. But while Barnes can knock down the three ball, have they added enough shooting to balance things out.

source:  8. Pelicans (45-37). The hiring of Alvin Gentry as coach is a fantastic off-season move, and I like the re-signing of Alexis Ajinca (they should bring back Norris Cole as well). But the two key reasons this team improves are: 1) They finally get Jrue Holiday and others healthy; 2) Anthony Davis is still improving by leaps and bounds each season (and Gentry will be a big boost to them). How good their defense is determines how far they go.

source:  9. Bulls (50-32). Was the problem Tom Thibodeau grinding them down? We’ll find out. New coach Fred Hoiberg will trust Doug McDermott and the bench more, put in a modern offense, and likely not fight with management (at least for a couple years, if history continues). Is that enough with the same core? Can the Bulls be a team that can threaten the Cavaliers?

source:  10. Wizards (46-36). Paul Pierce is in Los Angeles but Otto Porter can step into the three spot just fine. Added Jared Dudley and Gary Neal help make this a deeper team. The bigger questions fall to coach Randy Whitman: Will he finally trust the small lineup more like he did in the playoffs? And can this team find more offensive diversity rather than being the John Wall show.

source:  11. Heat (37-45). They re-signed Goran Tragic and Dwyane Wade, plus added some depth with Justise Winslow, Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire. With Chris Bosh back healthy is going to be a sneaky good regular season team that finishes is the East’s top four.

source:  12. Mavericks (50-32). They bounced back well after losing DeAndre Jordan — Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews and Zaza Pachoulia make Dallas a pretty good team that should battle for a playoff spot in the West.

source:  13. Hawks (60-22). This is a good team and they retained Paul Millsap, but the loss of DeMarre Carroll certainly does not help. That said, Thabo Sefolosha steps into that role, and the did make a quality addition with Tiago Splitter. The real question is this: Can they really replicate the first two-thirds of last season, or was that just things going perfectly for them and they are not quite that good?

source:  14. Jazz (38-44). This was one of the better teams — and by far the best defense — in the NBA after the All-Star break. They didn’t make big off-season moves, instead banking on more growth and development (although draft pick Trey Lyles looked at Summer League like a guy who needs a couple years). If they can retain anywhere near that defense from the second half of last year, the Jazz should be in the mix for one of the final playoff spot in the West.

source:  15. Bucks (41-41). This may be low for the Bucks. They looked like a team on the rise last year under Jason Kidd and with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter Williams improving, plus Jabari Parker back and healthy. Then they nail free agency landing Greg Monroe. This team could move into the second tier in the East, but I need to see it.

source:  16. Raptors (49-33). Toronto has spent the offseason transitioning from an offense-heavy team that doesn’t defend well to a defense first roster — signing DeMarre Carroll was at the heart of that transition. That may serve them better in the playoffs, I’m not sure about the regular season. Still, they should win the weak Atlantic division.

source:  17. Pistons (32-50). Greg Monroe is gone but replacing him with Ersan Ilyasova, who can stretch the floor as a shooter, is a better fit for what Stan Van Gundy wants to do. Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond showed some pick-and-roll chemistry last season, with what those two are now getting paid they better have a lot more of it.

<source:  18. Suns (39-43). I like their guard rotation with Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, and Devin Booker. Both Booker and T.J. Warren looked strong at Summer League. I’m not sure about the Tyson Chandler fit, and I don’t see a big step forward in a West where there are good teams fighting for the last playoff spots.

source:  19. Kings (29-53, LW 26). This is the hardest team to place on the board — this is either way too low or way too high for them. George Karl can coach, DeMarcus Cousins is a big-time talent, they added Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein. Karl called the mix combustable. The players will either unite (possibly in a dislike of Karl) and they will surprise people and be in the playoff mix, or they will blow apart in spectacular fashion. I don’t see much in between.

source:  20. Celtics (40-42). They snuck into the playoffs last season in the East, then this summer made a nice pickup with Amir Johnson. Terry Rozier looked good in Summer League, and Jordan Mickey impressed as well. That said, this is still a team trying to develop into a winner and there is a lot of work to do.

source:  21. Magic (25-57). This feels like a year the young Magic can take a step forward. They retained Tobias Harris, made a nice draft pick with Mario Hezonja, and Aaron Gordon looks like he’s going to take a big step forward based on what we saw at Summer League. If all that happens this spot is too low for them, but I need to see it happen first.

source:  22. Trail Blazers (51-31). It’s been a rough offseason in the Pacific Northwest. Gone are LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez. This is now a rebuilding team — but one that gets to start with Damian Lillard. That’s a big head start. There are some other nice players here like Mason Plumlee but it’s going to take time.

source:  23. Nets (38-44). They finally got out from under the Deron Williams contract and people around the team say that alone will bring the players closer together. The Nets have a nice front line with Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez, but defense and consistent play out of the guards remain a question mark (no offense intended, Jarrett Jack).

source:  24. Lakers (21-61). After striking out when swinging for home run, the Lakers hit some solid singles this off-season landing Lou Williams, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert. D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle may well turn out to be players, but that is going to take a couple years of development. This team will not be embarrassing like last season, but it’s going to be more about the Kobe farewell tour than wins.

source:  25. Pacers (38-44). Paul George will be back, which is reason to celebrate. Pair him with Monta Ellis and you have some dynamic wing scoring. But this is now a roster in transition with a lot of questions along the front line.

source:  26. Timberwolves (16-66). They are going to win more than 16 games, and they are going to be must-watch because of the entertainment value of Andrew Wiggins in his second year, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Ricky Rubio running the show. This may be a must-watch League Pass team. But they are not going to be good. Not yet. There still is a lot of development to do, although Kevin Garnett should help speed that process along.

source:  27. Knicks (17-65, LW 29). I like what Phil Jackson did this summer — Kristaps Porzingis looked at Summer League like he will develop into a player, Jerian Grant can help them right now, plus Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez are solid pros. The Knicks should be better, and maybe if everything comes together they can compete for a playoff spot. But with this team right now, I need to see it before I believe it.

source:  28. Hornets (33-49). This may be too low for a team that could have a bounce-back season. I like landing Nicolas Batum, Spencer Hawes and Jeremy Lin will be better than either was in Los Angeles last season, but the question is defense and if Al Jefferson will be serious about playing it. Another team that has to prove to me on the court they can bounce back.

source:  29. Nuggets (30-52). I love the hiring of Mike Malone to change the culture (and moving Ty Lawson had to be part of that). After seeing him at Summer League I think Emmanuel Mudiay can develop into a franchise cornerstone kind of player. All this portends good things for the future, but the present will be rough as they work to get to that better spot.

source:  30. 76ers (18-64). Maybe this is too low for them, but if we didn’t start the season with the Sixers on the bottom it would feel wrong. It’s tradition. I saw Jahlil Okafor in Las Vegas and was impressed, he can be a franchise cornerstone. He’s also still a rookie with a rough learning curve. There are still serious questions about the backcourt.

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Phoenix Suns perfect 4-0 in bubble, growing, thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

 

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.