PBT’s NBA Power Rankings, Summer Edition: Teams line up to chase the Warriors

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There was a fear around league observers (and some in the league) that the dominance of Golden State would force teams to slow down building and aim for 2020 or so when there may be cracks in the Warriors’ armor. Nope. Instead, the West went Game of Thrones with Houston, Minnesota and other teams loading up for runs. After the draft and the majority of free agency, let’s take a look at where everyone stands in a Summer Power Rankings.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (last season 67-15). The best team in the NBA was a winner in the off-season too — Kevin Durant took $9.5 million less than his max for the year, and the Warriors retained Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, plus they made smart additions such as Omri Casspi. Rookie Jordan Bell looked good at Summer League. This remains the team to beat, and if the Warriors are healthy coming into the playoffs the postseason may be a formality.

 
Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (55-27, LW 4). They added Chris Paul, and while we all want to see how well that fits it is certainly a massive talent upgrade for one of the better regular season teams in the NBA last season. CP3 wasn’t their only smart move, Daryl Morey added good defensive depth with P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute (the kind of defenders the Cavs need to chase the Warriors but didn’t get). The Rockets have a lot to prove, but this team has the potential to be the Warriors’ biggest threat.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (61-21). San Antonio has a couple big pieces still outstanding — Pau Gasol’s deal will get done — but by and large the Spurs will bring back the pieces of a 61-win team led by an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs re-signed Patty Mills, then added Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne. As always, the Spurs remain a threat.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (51-31). LeBron James is right to be frustrated. Letting go of David Griffin still makes no sense (even though interim GM Koby Altman can do the job) and it feels like the walls could be crumbling on this powerhouse. While other teams got better, the Cavs treaded water. True, they were aggressive going after Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but they whiffed. Instead, their moves are re-signing Kyle Korver, bringing in Jeff Green and Cedi Osman (from Turkey). How did their wing defense get better? So long as they have LeBron James, the Cavs are the best team in the East when healthy, but the gap has narrowed.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (53-29). They got their man in Gordon Hayward, who provides more shot creation, will get buckets, and puts this team in position to push the Cavaliers (Cleveland is still better if that team is healthy). Jayson Tatum showed at Summer League he can hit tough shots and will give them a real boost off the bench this coming season. Jaylen Brown looks ready to contribute more. How good a contract season will Isaiah Thomas have?

 
Thunder small icon 6. Thunder (47-35). With the addition of Paul George, the Thunder should be a top-three defensive team next season, especially after re-signing Andre Roberson. George is no Durant when it comes to scoring, but as the Thunder figure out how to have a more egalitarian offense than the Russell Westbrook show last season, this team becomes more and more dangerous. At their best, they could be a threat to Houston and Golden State because of that defense.

 
Wizards small icon 7. Wizards (49-33). John Wall may need to buy Otto Porter a steak dinner to smooth everything out between them (Wall advocated the Wizards chasing Paul George publicly, even though that was a crazy long shot). Porter is back and the Wizards remain solid, but not in a position to challenge the top two in the East without some surprise internal growth.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (51-31). They brought back Kyle Lowry — and why shouldn’t they? These past three seasons have been the best run of Toronto Raptor basketball in franchise history, and someday Lowry will have his number retired in the rafters in the Air Canada Centre. Can the young players — Norman Powell, etc. — step up after the Raptors lost DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson this summer?

 
timberwolves small icon 9. Timberwolves (31-51). With Karl-Anthony Towns ready to make the leap to elite, Minnesota was aggressive this offseason and added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. The slow-growth era is over. Minnesota will make a big leap up the standings this season to a near 50-win team, and should only improve in future years (and maybe be contenders in a few). Minnesota’s playoff draught will end next spring.

 
Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (40-42). Essentially sending out Danilo Gallinari to bring in Paul Millsap is a big win for Denver. This was a team on the rise the second half of last year when they started running the offense through Nikola Jokic, he should be improved, as should Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez. Millsap will bring needed defense inside, and with that the Nuggets should be a playoff team in the West.

 
Bucks small icon 11. Bucks (42-40). A capped out team that didn’t make big moves in the offseason, the return of Jabari Parker from injury plus the improvement of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, and Malcolm Brogdon should have this team taking another step forward. Should. There always seems to be a “one step up, one step back” thing with the Bucks, we’ll see if they can just keep their momentum forward this season.

 
Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (28-54). Every preseason story about the Sixers will include the caveat “if they are healthy…” and this ranking is no different. If Philly can get 70 or more games out of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, this ranking could be a little low. But if the injuries pile up again, maybe it’s high. I like the off-season moves of landing J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson on one-year deals that leaves them cap space next summer.

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (41-41). If they can get a full season out of Jusuf Nurkic, it will help the Portland defense and have the team in the mix for a playoff slot in the bottom of a stacked West. To take a step forward they need more out of Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner. Zach Collins has potential but showed at Summer League there is a lot of development to do before he can impact an NBA game.

 
Pelicans small icon 14. Pelicans (34-48). So many gambles New Orleans needs to pay off: Can DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis mesh? Can Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo play together in the backcourt? Do they have enough shooting? There’s a sense of desperation around this team, and if those bets don’t pay off expect sweeping changes next offseason on the roster and in the front office.

 
Clippers small icon 15. Clippers (51-31). The Clippers bounced back from losing Chris Paul as well as could be hoped — they locked up Blake Griffin, they traded for Danilo Gallinari, and the haul they got from Houston — Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell — make this a potential playoff team. If Griffin and Gallinari can stay healthy.

 
Grizzlies small icon 16. Grizzlies (43-39). The “grit n’ grind” era is over, no more Tony Allen or Zach Randolph. Which makes me sad. However, they still have Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, who are good enough to keep this team in the playoff hunt. If they make it could depend on what, if anything, they get from Chandler Parsons. I like the roll of the dice on Ben McLemore.

 
Heat small icon 17. Heat (41-41, LW 15). History suggests that teams that have dramatic second halves turn around the next year don’t really carry that over, landing about where they did overall the year before. That may not be what Heat fans hope, but it would be good enough to get into the playoffs in the East next season. They get Justise Winslow back from injury, and the Heat retained Dion Waiters, but may have overpaid for the privilege. Bam Adebayo showed some promise in Summer League.

 
Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (36-46). They were better than their record showed a season ago, then they added Dwight Howard to the mix — think what you will of him, Howard is an upgrade inside for Charlotte. The Hornets will defend better and will be a playoff team in the East. Malik Monk could give them a boost as a rookie coming off the bench behind Nicolas Batum.

 
Jazz small icon 19. Jazz (51-31, LW 7). Is this ranking too far a drop for the Jazz? Maybe. With the additions of Thabo Sefolpsha, Ricky Rubio, and Donovan Mitchell the Jazz are still going to be a defensive powerhouse. The question is where do the points come from? This team lacks shot creation. Mitchell was a standout in the Las Vegas Summer League and is going to push for minutes next season.

Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (37-45. . Stan Van Gundy decided to trade for Avery Bradley rather than pay Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (they have to decide on paying Bradley next summer), a move that could pay off. Detroit took a step back last year because the offense struggled, to regain their form they will need much better seasons out of Stanley Johnson and Reggie Jackson (or whoever they have running the point).

 
Lakers small icon 21. Lakers (26-56, LW 29). Lonzo Ball has shown the “it” factor at Summer League and got the team’s pace up and the ball moving. Brandon Ingram looks ready to take a big step forward, and getting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a one-year deal was brilliant. They also will get a boost from Brook Lopez. The Lakers will improve, but this is a young team on a learning curve in a deep West that will teach some harsh lessons.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (32-50). On paper the Kings are mixing a nice young core — De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield (who struggled in Summer League), Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere — with veterans such as George Hill and Vince Carter. It’s not enough to end Sacramento’s 11-year playoff drought in a deep West, but it will get them some wins. The Kings should be fairly entertaining next season, and in a very different way than they were with DeMarcus Cousins.

 
Pacers small icon 23. Pacers (42-40, LW 16).. Welcome to the rebuilding process, Pacers fans. With Paul George gone a lot will fall on the shoulders of Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo — the Pacers need the Oladipo the Magic were betting on a couple years ago. Cory Joseph is a quality addition at the point, and maybe Lance Stephenson can create some shots with the second unit.

 
Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (31-51 LW 26). It took a while for to get there, but the hiring of Scott Perry is a good one (if they give him real power). At least the Perry/Steve Mills combo is not going to try and shoehorn Kristaps Porzingis and the rest of the roster into the triangle, they will let Jeff Hornacek just coach. They need to develop Tim Hardaway Jr. and Willy Hernangomez. Is Frank Ntilikina ready to be thrown into the fire? And eventually there will be a Carmelo Anthony trade, but be patient, it’s going to take a while.

 
Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (33-49). Dennis Smith Jr. was a standout at Summer League and could pair with Seth Curry to make a young and interesting backcourt in Dallas going forward. Can Harrison Barnes take another step forward as a top two option on a team? Is Nerlens Noel ready to be a regular defensive force in the paint? Lots of questions still in Dallas, but we get to watch Dirk Nowitzki for another year and that makes tuning in worthwhile.

 
Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (43-39). Losing Al Horford then Paul Millsap in back-to-back free agencies while getting nothing in return is a major setback, and they now go deep into the rebuilding process. Taurean Prince needs to take a step forward next season and he was not impressive in Las Vegas, shooting 34.7 percent in Summer League. I like the Dewayne Dedmon pickup, and the Hawks have a deep front court. This is a roster of role players but they lack any elite talent, and that’s what they have to replace.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic (29-53). I like them getting Jonathon Simmons as a free agent. I like the draft pick of Jonathan Isaac, but he is a project that will take a couple years of development. All that said, this remains a roster of talented players that are an odd fit together and the new management team needs to spend the next year reshaping that roster into something coach Frank Vogel could win with.

 
Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (41-41, LW 13). The decision to move on from Jimmy Butler and rebuild is a legit one, but then why turn around and sell a second-round pick (Jordan Bell to the Warriors)? They need young players more than the cash. I’m not sold on Kris Dunn but he gets a chance. No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen looked like a project in Las Vegas Summer League. The question hanging over the rebuilding project in Chicago now is “when will they buy out Dwyane Wade?”

 
Suns small icon 29. Suns (24-58). Josh Jackson was a little rough around the edges (3-of-16 from three) but he played hard, is athletic, and showed defensive promise at Summer League. The bigger concern for the Suns there were second year players Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender were not the efficient, dominant players Phoenix hoped to be rebuilding around at Summer League. My guess is Eric Bledsoe gets moved by the trade deadline.

 
Nets small icon 29. Nets (20-62). Brooklyn had a good summer, but they have so far to go that they are still on the bottom for now. I like the gamble on D’Angelo Russell — the question there isn’t talent, it’s attitude and maturity, maybe a change of scenery (and a wake-up call, like Jeremy Lin taking his minutes) is what he needs. Caris LeVert will get the chance to take a step forward, and can Rondae Hollis-Jefferson outplay DeMarre Carroll? The Nets are on the right road, it’s just a long one.

Nuggets’ Michael Malone to coach Team LeBron in All-Star Game

DENVER NUGGETS VS LOS ANGELES LAKERS, NBA
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Denver is comfortably in first place in the West and looking like a contender.

Which is bad news if Nuggets coach Michael Malone purchased any non-refundable plane tickets for the start of the All-Star break, because now he is headed to Salt Lake City.

With Portland beating Memphis on Wednesday, it ensured that the Nuggets will have the best record in the West on Sunday ( two weeks out from the All-Star Game, meaning Malone is now the head coach of Team LeBron.

This is Malone’s second All-Star Game as a coach, but the captains should be familiar to him. In 2019 he coached Team LeBron to a win against Team Giannis 178-164.

Boston’s Joe Mazzulla will coach Team Giannis.

The coaches do not know which players they will coach — Malone doesn’t know if he will be coaching Nikola Jokić or not. This year team captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will pick their teams live, just before the game. We know the pool of starters the captains will pick from, with the reserves being announced Thursday.

Report: New Hawks front office lowered asking price for Collins trade

Los Angeles Clippers v Atlanta Hawks
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John Collins could help a team, an athletic forward averaging 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and he feels like the kind of player who would benefit from a change of scenery. However, teams looked at the $76.2 million he is guaranteed over the three seasons and balked (the final year of that is a player option).

The old front office — which gave Collins that contract — wanted real value back in any trade. However, new GM Landry Fields and his front office has dropped the price and the demand for a first-round pick, reports Sam Amick at The Athletic.

The same goes for Murray. Collins is the most likely one on the way out, of course, and it’s worth repeating that the asking price is known to have decreased significantly from recent years (per league sources, there is a focus on landing a quality player, or players, in return but no mandate for a first-round pick). That development is clearly a reflection of the focus on salvaging this season, as opposed to recouping the vast assets lost in the Murray trade with San Antonio in the summer. As we’ve reported recently, the Jazz and Rockets are known to be among the teams in pursuit.

Both the Jazz and Rockets see Collins as potentially part of what they are building (in Utah he makes an interesting frontcourt partner with Lauri Markkanen). He would make sense for teams such as Miami looking for help at the four, but that much money on the back end of this team would have them cautious.

Keep Collins on your radar, he (along with Bones Hyland in Denver and Cam Reddish with the Knicks) is one of the players most likely to be traded at the deadline.

NBA Power Rankings: 76ers move into top spot with Celtics, Bucks in top three

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The Philadelphia 76ers move into the top spot in the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings on the back of their statement win over the Nuggets. Boston and Milwaukee make it an all-East top three.

 
Sixers small icon 1. 76ers (32-17, Last week No. 2). P.J. Tucker has taken heat for his lack of scoring this season, but he reminded everyone why he was brought in on Saturday — he was the defensive answer that slowed and befuddled Nikola Jokić in the second half. His play, and Joel Embiid making an MVP statement with 47 points, earned the 76ers a statement win (and a spot on top of this week’s rankings). On another note, never say James Harden doesn’t play defense — here he rushes onto the court to help defend, once he realizes they only have four players and nobody subbed in for him.

 
Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (36-15, LW 3). Joe Mazzulla tried to play it down, but he and his staff being named to coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game is a big deal and a sign of the impressive work he has done this season (and a reason they may want to take that “interim” tag off his title, although that gets complex with the Ime Udoka suspension). Mazzulla’s Celtics lost three straight — and it should have been four after the no-call on LeBron James — which followed a nine-game win streak. What changed? The offense fell off a cliff, they have a 108 offensive rating over their last five games that would be 26th in the league over that stretch. It isn’t just those five games, the Celtics offense has been down throughout January (19th in the league for the month).

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (34-17, LW 5). Great stat from Justin Kubatko: In beating the Pacers on Friday night, the Bucks became the first team in NBA history to score 80+ points in the first half of consecutive road games. They scored 140+ in those road games as well. That’s just one sign of a hot Milwaukee team that has won 6-of-7 with a top-10 offense and defense in that stretch. Tough tests this week though with the Clippers and Heat, both at the Fiserv Forum.

 
Nuggets small icon 4. Nuggets (35-16, LW 1). Bones Hyland has become one of the hottest names on the trade market — Denver (particularly coach Michael Malone) is ready to move on, and Hyland wants to be somewhere he gets a little more run. Expect a deal to get done in the next week, and what the Nuggets want in return is some defense (they aren’t going to get much for Hyland alone, but they are looking). Denver went 1-2 on its recent road trip and it wasn’t just P.J. Tucker causing them second-half problems — they almost blew a second-half lead against the Pelicans, then got blown out in the second half by the Bucks.

 
Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (31-22, LW 8). Donovan Mitchell is back, but while he was out Darius Garland has stepped up and ran the offense well, making his All-Star case (it’s not going to be enough in a crowded East, at least not this season). Mitchell is a deserving starter but likely is the lone Cavalier to make it this season (Evan Mobley will play in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night). The Cavaliers would love to be buyers at the trade deadline and fill that 3&D wing spot, but no long-term answers appear to be out there on the market, meaning Isaac Okoro will continue to get his chance to prove that job should be his.

 
Nets small icon 6. Nets (31-19, LW 6). Brooklyn has gone 4-6 since Kevin Durant went out, with Kyrie Irving carrying the load averaging 31.2 points per game in that stretch, shooting 41.4% from 3 and dishing out 7.1 assists per night. Nic Claxton playing the best basketball of his career of late has helped their cause the last 10, too. Minimal Brooklyn buzz at the trade deadline, not sure they will make a move one way or the other, just wait for KD to get healthy and make their run at the postseason. (Durant said he wants to be back and play in the All-Star Game in two weeks, we’ll see. The smart move might be to hold him out past the ASG and let him get an extra week of rest.)

 
Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (32-18, LW 4). There is not a lot of talk from sources about the Grizzlies being eager to make a big splash at the deadline, but no team may be better positioned to do so. Memphis has a boatload of picks they can trade, a very movable contract in Danny Green (who made his return this week), and if they could land someone who would spark their half-court offense, it would make a lot of sense. That said, this has been a franchise with a build-from-within mindset and that doesn’t seem likely to suddenly change with a bold move. Memphis dropped all five games on their recent road trip, and how much they miss Steven Adams doing all the little things is painfully obvious (he is out another month or so).

 
Heat small icon 8. Heat (29-23, LW 9). The Heat are looking for a trade at the deadline, ideally help at the four — hello Jae Crowder — or a way to move Kyle Lowry for an upgrade at the point. However, neither option seems likely. Miami has played better and looked more dangerous of late as they start to get healthy, having won 8-of-11, but then they have a loss like the one to Charlotte that makes you understand why Heat fans might be the angriest on Twitter (according to a recent study). Miami has been winning thanks to a couple of All-Star level players in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but it’s unlikely the coaches will give the Heat two All-Stars as reserves. The smart money is on Adebayo making the cut, coaches love the way he plays the game, but both are on the bubble.

 
Kings small icon 9. Kings (28-21, LW 7). With the Kings looking every bit the playoff team sitting third in the West, they are active at the trade deadline trying to improve their defense — the thing that would hold them back from winning a round in the postseason. All sorts of rumors about them chasing the 76ers’ Mattise Thybulle, but there are other quality defenders available they might go after. The Kings are 1-1 to start their seven-game road trip, but this is a relatively soft trip (two games against the Rockets, one against the Spurs) and it’s a chance for them to rack up more wins and solidify their spot in the top four in the league.

 
Warriors small icon 10. Warriors (26-24, LW 14). Is this the Warriors run we’ve all been waiting for? They are largely healthy (save Andre Iguodala) and have won 5-of-7, climbing up to fifth in the West as of this writing. Don’t expect an in-season trade to spark the Warriors, it’s generally not been Bob Myers MO anyway, but unless they want to see what they can get for James Wiseman — and sources say the Warriors remain reluctant to part with the former No.2 pick — it’s difficult to see a meaningful move. Golden State has an interesting test against Denver on Thursday, but with the game being the second night of a back-to-back don’t expect peak Warriors.

 
Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (27-25, LW 12). The Mavericks have made it clear they are looking for a second star to put next to Luka Dončić, but unless the Raptors change their stance and throw Pascal Siakam into the trade mix, there isn’t that level of star out there. This ranking may be a little high for a team that has gone 4-8 in its last 12, but this team showed real grit getting a win over Phoenix in a game Doncic left early. Plus, they have Dončić, that makes them a threat any given night (ask the Pistons, who are the poster child reminder not to try and piss off Dončić). Starting Saturday in Golden State (on national television), the Mavericks hit the road for six-of-7 games.

 
Knicks small icon 12. Knicks (27-25, LW 10). Will the Knicks have an All-Star? There’s a case for both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, but both are on the bubble and it’s highly doubtful both of them get in. One, is more likely (as with the Adebayo and Butler situation in Miami). Remember it’s a vote of the coaches who pick the reserves, and they love the way Butler has shown to be a floor general in New York, that may win him the day. The Knicks are up against a tough schedule this week with the Heat, Clippers and 76ers.

 
Clippers small icon13. Clippers (29-25, LW 17). Los Angeles has won 6-of-7 and climbed to fourth in the West, yet the advanced stat projection systems aren’t sold they can sustain this. For example, fivethirtyeight.com predicts them to be a 44-win team (in a 5-way tie for 4-8 seeds with the Kings, Suns, Mavericks and Warriors). What the Clippers have going against them in the playoff push is the toughest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage). The biggest bright spot of late has been the play of Norman Powell who has come off the bench and in January averaged 18.5 points a game shooting 47.8% from 3.

 
Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (26-26, LW 11).They are likely sellers at the trade deadline, but after this summer — particularly the Rudy Gobert trade — teams are cautious doing deals with Danny Ainge. Still, multiple teams are looking at Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, they are the most likely to be traded, with Jordan Clarkson available at the right price as well. Lauri Markkanen is not going to get traded at the deadline, but he is going to make the All-Star team this season, he is all but a lock — and it is well deserved.

 
Suns small icon 15. Suns (27-25, LW 16). Phoenix is going to do something at the trade deadline, at least trading away Jae Crowder, but as time has gone on the package they are going to get back for him has shrunk (other teams see him as a rental at this point). Milwaukee is rumored to be the frontrunner, but the Heat still get mentioned even if there is no way to put that trade together smoothly. The real wild card for the Suns, both at the deadline and into the offseason, is new primary owner Mat Ishbia — are the Suns going to be bigger spenders? What are the limits? What direction does the new owner want to see the team move? Winners of 6-of-7, Friday the Suns head out on a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and Brooklyn.

 
16. Timberwolves (27-26, LW 18). Minnesota has won 5-of-7 to start creeping up the standings in the East, and a lot of that is driven by Anthony Edwards. He is averaging 32 points per game in his last five games, shooting 51.2% from 3 in that stretch, grabbing 6.8 rebounds and dishing out 5.6 assists. He’s got to take care of the ball better — also 4.8 turnovers a game — but you can see what the future looks like in Minnesota. As for Karl-Anthony Towns, he remains out with a strained calf that has sidelined him for two months, and there is no current timetable for his return.

 
Thunder small icon 17. Thunder (24-26, LW 15). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will unquestionably be named an All-Star reserve on Thursday (there was a good case for him to be named a starter but he wasn’t going to win a popularity contest against Curry and Dončić. His play, along with Josh Giddey and others has the Thunder on the cusp of the postseason (11th in the West as of this writing, one game back of the Pelicans). One thing this OKC push for the playoffs has this going for it: The Thunder have the easiest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage).

 
Hawks small icon 18. Hawks (25-26, LW 19). While the Hawks have given lip service to the new front office wanting to keep John Collins, the price asked in return for him has reportedly dropped, a clear sign they actually are ready to move on (as is he), but the remaining three years, $78.2 million on his contract has slowed teams from making the kind of offer the Hawks had hoped for. Still, expect a deal to get done. There are also reports of the Hawks getting calls about Bogdan Bogdanović, who isn’t a great fit with Dejounte Murray and Trae Young in the backcourt, if the plan is to stick with those two then moving on from Bogdanovic makes sense. However, with a new front office heading into its first trade deadline, nobody is quite sure what to expect.

 
Pelicans small icon 19. Pelicans (26-26, LW 13). The Pelicans have dropped nine straight games and have fallen from the ranks of the elite in the West. Injuries to Zion Williamson (still out with a strained hamstring, he was voted an All-Star starter but don’t expect him to play) and Brandon Ingram (back from his foot injury, but he doesn’t look like himself yet) certainly have a big role in the slide. However, so does the lack of defense from New Orleans — opponents are shooting a league-best 75.2% in the restricted area against them (via basketball-reference). Willie Green had this team playing quality defense to start the season, but some shooting luck was involved, and it has caught up with them.

 
Raptors small icon 20. Raptors (23-29, LW 22). Will they or won’t they? The entire trade deadline seems to be hanging in the balance, waiting to see what the Toronto Raptors are going to do. The buzz was the Raptors wanted to see what happened on their current road trip through the West before deciding, they are 2-2 so far with games left against the Jazz, Rockets and Grizzlies. The smart money is on Gary Trent Jr. getting traded, but what about the big three of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakiam? The Raptors may listen to offers for them, but getting them to part with one of those players will take a massive deal.

 
Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (24-26, LW 24).Is this ranking too low? Probably. The Wizards are winners of six in a row, and they are 12-5 over the last five weeks, with a +5.3 net rating in their last 15 games (fourth best in the league. Bradley Beal is still averaging 22 points a game this season (in the 30 he has played), but during this streak it’s become clear Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis are more critical to the Wizards’ success right now. Kuzma will want to be paid this summer because of it.

 
Blazers small icon 22. Trail Blazers (24-25, LW 25). Chauncey Billups leans hard into his starting five — Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic — but it’s been a little above average offensively and a little below average defensively, giving it a +1.4 net rating (via Cleaning the Glass). Don’t expect the Blazers to get much bench help at the trade deadline, while some rumors are swirling it sounds more like the Trail Blazers will ride the roster they have the rest of the way. That means a lot of Damian Lillard, who should be a lock All-Star reserve (and frankly a lock All-NBA player at the end of the season).

 
Lakers small icon 23. Lakers 24-28, LW 23). The Lakers made one trade landing Rui Hachimura and are looking to do more — likely sending out Patrick Beverley — but this would be another minor move, looking for a player who is a better fit but not going to move the needle all that much. The focus for the next week will be less on the trades that do or do not happen and more on LeBron James passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. As it should be, this is a historic moment in the league. However, while all that is going on the Lakers need to start stringing together some wins if they are going to climb up into the playoff picture — they can’t just keep talking about how close they are to the playoffs. Anthony Davis being back in the starting lineup should help.

 
Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (24-28, LW 20). Indiana is 1-9 since Tyrese Haliburton went down injured, a sign of how much he means to this team and why he should unquestionably be an All-Star this year. The Pacers reached a contract extension with Myles Turner that is a good deal for both sides — Turner came out of this with a lot of money and a couple of seasons of security, and the Pacers locked down a shot blocking and defensive force who pairs well with Haliburton (and is on a still tradable contract, if it comes to that). The Pacers have slid down to 10th in the East and need to pick up some wins this week against the Lakers, Kings and Cavaliers.

 
Bulls small icon 25. Bulls (23-27, LW 21). While there was a lot of early buzz about the Bulls’ potential to make some big trade deadline moves, things are quiet now. The market for Nikola Vucevic is not strong, and while teams are calling about Alex Caruso the Bulls don’t want to give him up. Maybe those moves are coming this summer. For now, the Bulls cruise along sitting just outside the play-in in the East, but with some winnable games this week against the Hornets, Trail Blazers and Spurs.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic 20-31, LW 26). While this team is lottery bound — and more likely to make a big move this offseason rather than now at the deadline — there are real signs of hope. And not just Paolo Banchero (who will play in the All-Star Friday Night Rising Stars challenge), the pairing of Wendell Carter Jr. and the just-back Jonathan Isaac can form a formidable front line. The Magic pulled off an impressive win in Philadelphia to start a four-game road trip (it’s a baseball two-game series against the Sixers, so it is going to be tough to sweep that one).

 
Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (15-37, LW 27). One of the few sellers at the trade deadline, they will trade just about anyone on the roster not named Ball: Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumlee and P.J. Washington are all available. Good luck finding someone to take on Hayward’s $31.5 million next season, but they can try. Washington may be on this list, but the Hornets like him so it will take a strong offer to pry him free.

 
Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (13-39, LW 28). More and more it looks like they will hold on to Bojan Bogdanovic through the trade deadline. The Pistons have not backed off their demand of an unprotected first to get Bogdanovic (plus matching salary) and teams are unwilling to part with the pick. The Pistons want to make a step forward next season and be part of the play-in, once Cade Cunningham returns healthy, and Bogdanovic would be a good veteran to have with that young core as they take a step forward. All that said, never say never, a Bogdanovic trade could happen.

 
Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (12-38, LW 29). Is this the trade deadline where Eric Gordon finally gets moved? Both he and Kevin Porter Jr. are available and the Rockets are looking for picks or young players back — they are all in on the Wembanyama sweepstakes and are not looking to win it all now. That said, the Rockets did snap their 13-game losing streak with a couple of wins recently (beating the Timberwolves and Pistons). The Rockets have three players — Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun — in the All-Star weekend Rising Stars Game.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (14-37, LW 30). Rookie Jeremy Sochan is one of the rookies headed to Salt Lake City later this month for the All-Star weekend Rising Stars challenge. It’s a just reward for his play. One of the biggest holes in his game had been his free throw shooting, but in mid-December he switched to shooting a funky one-handed motion, and as Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer noted, he’s hitting 75% of his free throws since the change. He’s also started to knock down his 3s. The Spurs may have something here.

Brianna Stewart heads to New York on first day of WNBA free agency

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Former MVP Breanna Stewart is headed to New York.

The most coveted free agent this offseason, who won the WNBA MVP award in 2018, announced on social media that she was going to New York with a photo of her in a Liberty shirt. Stewart had spent her entire career in Seattle since the Storm drafted her first in 2016. She won two championships with the team in 2018 and 2020.

The 28-year-old wing has averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in her WNBA career. She missed the 2019 season with an Achilles injury.

By coming to New York it brings Stewart closer to home. She grew up in Syracuse which is an hour flight from New York. It also is an easier flight to Spain to see her wife Marta’s family.

New York representatives, including coach Sandy Brondello and owner Clara Wu Tsai met with Stewart in Turkey last week. Stewart had narrowed her choices down to Seattle and New York before choosing the Liberty.

The move turns the Liberty into an instant championship contender. New York is one of the WNBAs original franchises, but has never won a championship. The Liberty already added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton through a three-way deal to complement 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu.

The news was met with elation on social media by Jones, Ionescu and Nets star Kevin Durant, who said on a podcast that he had reached out to Stewart to get her to come to New York.

Stewart was the second big-name free agent to announce her intentions to play for another team this season. Candace Parker said last weekend that she was going to sign with the Las Vegas Aces and officially did.

“As I’ve gone through free agency this time around, of course I’m thinking of where I can compete for my third championship, but the words home and family are what I kept coming back to,” Parker said. “After evaluating the landscape together with my family, we’ve decided the Las Vegas Aces are the right organization for us at this point in our lives. To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

Wednesday was the first day that free agents could sign with teams. Other moves announced included:

— Brittney Sykes with Washington

— Lexie Brown and Stephanie Talbot with Los Angeles

— Teaira McCowan with Dallas

— Alysha Clark with Las Vegas

Many free agents were waiting for Stewart to make her decision, including Courtney Vandersloot.

Vandersloot announced on social media that she wasn’t returning to Chicago, where she had spent her entire career. She has led the league in assists six times during her 12-year career and helped the Sky win the 2021 WNBA championship.

“To the Sky organization who drafted the little guard from a mid-major and believed in me from the jump, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Vandersloot wrote on Instagram. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have realized my dreams because of you. Although I never planned for this day to come, I have decided it is time for me to pursue a new beginning.”

Stewart and Vandersloot are currently playing together in Turkey.

While Stewart and Vandersloot will be playing for different WNBA teams this season, Brittney Griner, who is also a free agent, announced in December when she returned home from her 10-month ordeal in Russia that she planned to remain with the Phoenix Mercury. Her long-time Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi is also a free agent, but she too is expected to go back to Phoenix.