NBA Power Rankings: It’s Golden State’s world and we just live in it

Getty Images
2 Comments

The Warriors are running away with the West and the NBA, and that includes knocking off one of their big threats from the East in Boston last week. The playoffs between the top four in the East may be more interesting than what happens in the West this postseason.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (36-14, last week No. 1). The Warriors with DeMarcus Cousins are as good as you thought they would be (and as good as the rest of the league feared). The five-man starting lineup with Cousins has been +37.4 per 100 possessions through its first four games, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring at a 128 per 100 pace. The Warriors are winners of 11 in a row, including a 5-0 road trip with DeMarcus Cousins starting every game at center. That has the Warriors with the best record in the West, if it’s that way on Feb. 3 Steve Kerr will coach the All-Star Game for the third time.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (36-13, LW 2). Giannis Antetokounmpo has played 24% of his minutes this season at center, and that lineup can be very effective — against the Hornets the Greek Freak got put in at the five for the fourth and outscored Charlotte 14-12 by himself, leading a come-from-behind win. The Bucks are reportedly putting their big toe in and testing the Anthony Davis trade waters, but it’s hard to picture them pulling it off it because any deal would gut the depth of this team and leave them with two stars, not enough shooting and little else. By the way, Antetokounmpo can still do this to teams.

Nuggets small icon 3. Nuggets (34-15, LW 4). The Nuggets have won three in a row, but the impressive part is they got one without Nikola Jokic (a letter-of-the-law suspension for leaving the bench during a fight) and the last two without Jamal Murray (left ankle). It fits the pattern. All season this team has had to adjust due to injuries, and all season Denver has just kept on winning with the next guy stepping up. It speaks to the coaching of and depth of this roster. Jokic will get an All-Star nod this week, it’s well deserved. Monday’s win in Memphis was the first of 6-of-7 on the road.

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (37-15, LW 3). Toronto went 3-1 resting Kawhi Leonard for four games, but his return against Houston was not enough to slow James Harden or stop the Rockets from winning. Resting Leonard may hurt the Raptors on the court short-term, but the long-term goal is to win Leonard over so he re-signs and showing him they put his health and welfare first is a big step in that direction. Fun showdown Thursday night against the Bucks.

Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (31-19, LW 7). Celtics fans and brass will be sitting on pins and needles for the next 8 days until the trade deadline passes — once it does they move into the driver’s seat to land Anthony Davis. Until then they can just beg the Pelicans to wait and watch the Lakers. Recently, Boston has looked like the team we expected, a team that will challenge for a trip to the Finals out of the East, and they’ve done it with Kyrie Irving running the show late in games. The problem with a one-man attack late in games was exposed against Golden State — they put the clamps down on Irving and nobody else was able to step up. That could be an issue in the postseason.

Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (33-18, LW 5). Philly went 2-1 while Jimmy Butler was sidelined with a wrist injury, but he returned Tuesday in a victory against the Lakers (which means Butler will be ready to go Thursday night in Golden State). Butler also returned with a new “smoking” celebration. The Sixers keep coming up on the fringes of the Anthony Davis trade talks, but the only deal that really works sends Ben Simmons and filler (Markelle Fultz?) to the Pelicans, and Simmons is a client of Rich Paul’s (Davis’ and LeBron’s agent) and the fierce pushback from Paul makes that trade unlikely (he would push AD not to re-sign with Sixers).

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (32-18, LW 8). Winners of six in a row, and while Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles (four straight games) and Paul George’s MVP-level play get the bulk of the attention, something else is going on: The Thunder have become a good shooting team. For the first 40 games of the season, the Thunder shot 32.3% from three as a team (bottom 10 in the league), but in the last 10 games they are shooing 42.9 percent. Those shots falling off kick-outs or other actions opens up everything else because defenders have to contest. The Thunder need to keep it up as OKC has the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA (based on opponent win percentage).

Blazers small icon 8. Trail Blazers (31-20, LW 9). Damian Lillard is a lock to be named as a reserve to the All-Star team this Thursday. While he has had another phenomenal season and is the clear leader on this team, the other reason the Blazers have won 5-of-6 is the role players stepping up: Jusuf Nurkic, Jake Layman and Seth Curry in particular. Don’t expect Portland to get in on the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, but also don’t be shocked if they make a small move at the deadline to add some depth.

Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (29-22, LW 11). Just six weeks ago the question was “what’s wrong with the Jazz?” as they were in 14th place in the West, with just an okay defense and a struggling offense. That seems like another lifetime ago. The Jazz have won 9-of-10, have a +9.1 net rating in those games, their defense is back to being elite led by Rudy Gobert (second best in the NBA in the last 10) and Donovan Mitchell has his groove back. Utah is the seven seed in the West as you read this, but they are just two games back of having home court in the first round, and the Jazz have the second easiest schedule in the league the rest of the way.

Rockets small icon 10. Rockets (29-21, LW 10). Chris Paul is back but he doesn’t change the underlying problem: Houston is 6-4 in its last 10 games with James Harden carrying the offense to a top 10 ranking in that time, but the defense can’t get a stop so those efforts go to waste. Tuesday night was a perfect example, Harden had 37 points (his 24th straight 30-plus point game) but the Rockets could not stop the Pelicans’ Jahlil Okafor, who had 27 points and grabbed 12 boards, so the AD-less Pelicans won. That’s an ugly loss. The Rockets are a playoff team but that’s it right now.

Spurs small icon 11. Spurs (30-22, LW 12).
Will LaMarcus Aldridge make the All-Star team? He’s got a great case averaging 21.1 points and 8.8 rebounds, leading the Spurs into a playoff position, but the West is so ridiculously deep with talent he is on the bubble. The Spurs have won three in a row as they move through a soft part of the schedule, which continues this week. That doesn’t mean all the wins are easy, Gregg Popovich was livid at his team for the way they came out against Phoenix, but Rudy Gay bailed them out.

Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (32-17, LW 6). Victor Oladipo is lost for the season with a torn quadriceps tendon, and that’s a huge punch to the gut. The Pacers have gone 0-2 without him (and now head out on the road for their next four). This team is not going to fall out of the playoffs in the East, if they go just 10-23 the rest of the way they are above .500 for the season, but the team struggles to score without Oladipo and they are no longer a threat in the playoffs. Which is unfortunate, this was a team everyone wanted to avoid in the postseason before because of their balance and defense.

Nets small icon 13. Nets (28-24, LW 13). The loss of Spencer Dinwiddie to a thumb injury for 4-6 weeks is a blow, he’s in the Most Improved Player conversation for good reason and their bench will not be the same without him. That said, D’Angelo Russell is playing the best basketball of his career the last month and will take on more responsibility as the starter and this is why Shabazz Napier is on the roster. Tough season for the Nets losing Caris LeVert and now Dinwiddie, but this team keeps plugging guys in and winning.

Clippers small icon 14. Clippers (28-23, LW 14). Will Tobias Harris make the cut for the All-Star reserves? He is right on the bubble despite averaging 21.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and shooting 43.3% from three this season because the West is so stacked with talent. He deserves it, but his reward will come this summer when he’s a free agent and gets paid. The Clippers had won 4-of-5, much of that on a tough road trip, but a sloppy loss Sunday to the Hawks is the kind of game L.A. will look back on and regret if they miss the playoffs.

Heat small icon 15. Heat (24-24, LW 17). The Heat get mentioned in the fringes of the Anthony Davis trade talks, but if they end up in it — before the deadline or in July — it will be as a third team in a big deal. Which is to say it’s unlikely, but the rumors will not stop. Miami picked up a couple of road wins in Cleveland and New York this week — the kind of games playoff teams should win — and now are home for a week before heading back out on the road. Miami needs to rack up wins as it has the second-toughest remaining schedule in the East

Lakers small icon 16. Lakers (26-25, LW 15). The Lakers are 6-11 without LeBron James, who is expected to return Thursday against the Clippers, which is just in time for one of the toughest stretches of the schedule for the Lakers. But nobody wants to talk about any of that. The Lakers are pushing hard to force an Anthony Davis trade before the deadline — before Boston can get involved — and the offer reportedly would involve Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, a first-round pick and more. Sources have told me the Pelicans will be patient making this move (meaning after the Feb. 7 deadline) but the Lakers and Rich Paul are going to do everything they can to force a move now.

Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (24-25, LW 21). Kemba Walker gets to start in the All-Star Game in his city of Charlotte — that is huge for him and the organization. The Hornets are holding on to the eight seed in the East, they have a three-game lead over the Pistons, but they need to keep finding wins. Which is why the loss to the Bucks — when Milwaukee went small with Antetokounmpo at the five and outscored Charlotte 35-12 — sting. Stealing wins against good teams will be a huge boost for Charlotte in a playoff push.

Kings small icon 18. Kings (25-25, LW 16). The Kings will have Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox in the rising stars challenge and taking part in events All-Star Saturday night, but if the Kings were in the East both of those guys would have a good argument to make the All-Star Game itself. In the West, sorry, but the conference is just too deep. Sacramento is home for its next six and needs to rack up wins to make a playoff push (they are 2.5 games back of the Clippers right now).

19. Timberwolves (24-26, LW 18). Karl-Anthony Towns will make the All-Star team reserves announced Thursday, and that’s well deserved (although his slow start to the season may keep him off the All-NBA squad). Minnesota has gone 7-6 without Robert Covington, sporting a middle-of-the-pack defense without their best defender. He’s riding a stationary bike now and his return could help the defense and spark a push to the playoffs by the timberwolves.

Mavericks small icon 20. Mavericks (22-27, LW 22). Luka Doncic will be in the All-Star Friday Rising Stars game, then on Saturday in the skills competition, but will the coaches vote him in as a reserve for Sunday’s All-Star Game itself? While the fans had Doncic second in the voting (ahead of Paul George and Anthony Davis) it’s unlikely the coaches will put him quite on that pedestal.

Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (23-28, LW 19). Anthony Davis wants out, and while the team makes its trade decision — sources told me they will not be rushed to make, meaning it will likely drag out past the trade deadline and likely until the June draft or July — there is another question: Do the Pelicans bring him back and play him this season? They are not making the playoffs this year and are about to start a rebuild, I would say no — send him home, trade guys like Nikola Mirotic if there’s a good deal, and improve their draft position. There’s no reason to invite the circus to town whenever he plays a home game and gets booed.

Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (21-29, LW 20). The Wizards were telling teams very recently that they were not sellers — no Bradley Beal or Trevor Ariza trades — because they were making a playoff push. Does the loss to Cleveland Tuesday, dropping them 3.5 games back of the playoffs, change that equation? Washington is 8-7 without John Wall sporting a +1.8 net rating in those 15 games, basically treading water but not making up ground either. If they become a seller teams will be interested in Ariza and Otto Porter (there’s interest in Beal, too, but Washington isn’t moving him).

Pistons small icon 23. Pistons (21-28, 23). Rarely has one gif, one moment from a postgame interview summed up a team’s season so well. The Pistons are not making a playoff push, they are falling back in the East, and after the one win in those five — an ugly win against the Pelicans — Blake Griffin was talking about the team’s lack of focus, when Reggie Jackson proved his point.

Magic small icon 24. Magic (20-31, LW 24). Will Orlando be trade deadline sellers? The team has lost four in a row, 7-of-8, and is five games out of the playoffs — they are not going to make a run and get in. There’s a lot of interest around the league in Terrence Ross and there may even be a taker for Nikola Vucevic (although he is a tougher fit, a good player but one who needs to been the right system to be effective). The Magic had been holding off, thinking playoff push, but the smart move now would become sellers while giving their young players even more run.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (16-33, LW 25). Trae Young got buried by the narrative at the start of the season — he couldn’t buy a shot while Luka Doncic looked like the savior in Dallas — but of late Young has started to show a more rounded game. In his last 15 games, he’s shooting 34.8% from three (although he is still inconsistent) and in his last 10 has averaged 20.2 points and 7.1 assists a game. The Hawks almost certainly will be sellers at the trade deadline, with Jeremy Lin and Kent Bazemore at the top of the list of available players.

Grizzlies small icon 26. Grizzlies (20-31, LW 26). Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the anchors of this franchise seemingly since the Carter administration, are available via trade. It’s the end of an era… eventually. It’s not going to be easy to trade the big salary and diminishing skills of Gasol at the deadline. There’s a lot of interest around the league for Mike Conley, but he’s making $30.5 million this season and has $67 million essentially guaranteed the following two seasons. It takes a lot of players to balance out the salaries, which is why trades that large usually are completed in the offseason.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (11-42, LW 27). Devin Booker has All-Star numbers — 24.8 points, 6.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game — but being the best player on the worst team in the West is not going to get him an invite to Charlotte. Don’t tell anyone, but Dragan Bender has had a few good games in a row, the question is can he start to do that consistently.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (11-41, LW 30). Break up the Cavaliers, they have won two in a row, beating the Bulls and Wizards. The Cavaliers will try to be sellers at the deadline — J.R. Smith has been available in the bargain bin for months — with the most likely to be moved being Rodney Hood, followed at a distance by Tristan Thompson. A trade for Kevin Love will have to wait until the off-season (at best) because of his injury (and even then it will be hard, he has one of the hardest-to-move contracts in the league).

Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (11-40, LW 29). There has been talk about them trying to bring Anthony Davis home to Chicago via trade, but it makes no sense. Any deal for AD would have to include Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and anyone else the Pelicans wanted off the roster. Even if the trade happened, this would be a gutted Bulls roster leaving Davis to take on the world alone, and we’ve seen in New Orleans how much he likes that scenario. Then AD would leave as a free agent and the Bulls would be back to square one. Chicago just needs to keep building and save their moves for another day.

Knicks small icon 30. Knicks (10-39, LW 28). With the Knicks having lost 10 in a row, time to give their beleaguered fans a stat they care about (via Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports): In ACC conference play, Zion Williamson is scoring 25 points a game on 71.8 percent shooting. That is insane. Of course, it leads to a big question: If the Knicks did win the lottery and the rights to draft Williamson, would they try to trade it along with Kristaps Porzingis to land Anthony Davis? Should they? Should they if Kevin Durant said he would come to play with AD?

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

DENVER NUGGETS VS LOS ANGELES LAKERS, NBA
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
0 Comments

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
Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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.