NBA Power Rankings: Bucks still on top of trade deadline talk edition

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We are about 24 hours away from the NBA Trade Deadline, and today’s NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings are heavy on trade talk. The Bucks and Lakers remain on top, but the Raptors are climbing fast.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (43-7, Last Week No. 1). While the Bucks are talking to teams, the sense from sources is they will stand pat at the deadline. Which makes sense. The Milwaukee Bucks remain on a 70-win pace this season, with a +11.8 net rating that compares to the Durant-Curry Warriors of a few seasons back (Cleaning the Glass projects the Bucks to “only” have 68 wins this season). Milwaukee remains the clear best team in the NBA this regular season.

Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (38-11, LW No. 2). The Lakers continue to dangle Kyle Kuzma in trade talks, but because he makes just $2 million (low in NBA terms), it becomes hard to match salaries and trade for a quality player. The Lakers will be more active on the buyout market and maybe they will land Darren Collison. Things seem to be returning to a more normal rhythm around the team following Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, but LeBron James‘ words at the first game back were worth remembering.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (36-14, LW 5). Winners of 12 in a row, the Raptors are poised to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers, although the most likely action is they stand pat. With all the injuries the Raptors have had to battle through — the latest is Norman Powell’s broken hand — they could use a little more depth, but finding a deal that works is not that simple. Congrats to Nick Nurse, who will coach his first All-Star Game this year.

Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (34-15, LW 6). Boston is in the market for a rim-protecting, big-bodied big man, and Daniel Theis tweaking his ankle (he is out Wednesday, maybe longer) is a reminder how thin the Celtics are up front. The challenge is, with Clint Capela off the market, there may not be a good trade option for Boston (Andre Drummond is not a good fit, and it’s too hard to construct a deal for his $27 million salary anyway). If any All-Star Game roster spots open up due to injury, Jaylen Brown should be near the top of the list of replacements.

Clippers small icon 5. Clippers (35-15, LW 4). The Clippers are looking at trying to find a more traditional big man and maybe more shooting at the trade deadline, using their 2020 pick and Moe Harkless’ salary as the bait. Maybe that’s enough to land Andre Iguodala (and keep him away from the Lakers), but in the end the Clippers may stand pat — and that’s fine. This team is still +12.1 per 100 possessions when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are on the court together, and that will happen a lot more in the playoffs.

Heat small icon 6. Heat (34-15, LW 7). Pat Riley and company are always active around the trade deadline, and they would love to find a trade that sends out Dion Waiters (and maybe James Johnson). However, mostly the Heat will keep their powder dry and look for a blockbuster move this summer that brings another star to to with Jimmy Butler. With Monday’s win over Philly, the Heat are 8-3 against the other top seven teams in the East (13-9 overall against +.500 teams).

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (35-16, LW 9). Denver became the fourth team in Tuesday night’s blockbuster 12-player trade, and they did well for themselves. Denver added depth with Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh (a third center), Shabazz Napier (an overqualified third point guard), and Keita Bates-Diop, plus they get Houston’s 2020 first-round pick. While they lose Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangómez, the Nuggets could not have re-signed both next summer. Denver made a statement last week with back-to-back road wins at Utah and Milwaukee.

Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (31-19, LW 10). Indiana is expected to be quiet at the trade deadline any moves they make likely are on the fringes of the roster. Teams have called about Aaron Holiday but have been shot down. Victor Oladipo is still getting his legs back underneath him and finding his rhythm, he’s shooting just 20.5% through three games. That will improve.

Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (32-18, LW 11). The Rockets have gone all-in on small ball — they have traded away Clint Capela and got back wing shooting and defense in the form of Robert Covington. P.J. Tucker is now the starting center (Rockets fans, pray for his knees to hold up) and Jordan Bell can play a few minutes behind him as needed. James Harden is out of his slump and the small ball has worked so far in the regular season, but is this a viable playoff strategy in the West?

Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (32-17, LW 3). All is quiet on the trade front in Utah, the biggest news is that Mike Conley is back to being the starting point guard. The Jazz have dropped four in a row and the reason is the defense has been dreadful, allowing a 120 defensive rating in those games (for perspective, the Wizards 116.3 defensive rating is worst in the league for the season). With their next five games against playoff-bound teams (starting with Denver on Wednesday).

Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (31-19, LW 12). Dallas was around the fringes of the Robert Covington trade talks, and they have been linked to Andre Iguodala (but denied it), however don’t expect much movement from Dallas at the deadline. With Luka Doncic sidelined by a sprained ankle, Kristaps Porzingis has stepped up with 35 and 38 in his last two games. Interestingly, Dallas is 14-12 at home but a much stronger 17-7on the road.

Thunder small icon 12. Thunder (30-20, LW 13). A team that a few months back was expected to be a seller at the deadline may stand pat. Chris Paul and Steven Adams aren’t going anywhere, their big contracts have kept teams at bay. Danilo Gallinari is still part of ongoing trade talks, and that could come together before the deadline, but as of now things are quiet. The Thunder had a rough schedule in January and came out 12-5 and comfortably in the playoff mix in the West. Chris Paul will be an All-Star for the 10th time this year.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (31-20, LW 8). Philadelphia had been in the mix for Robert Covington, but with him headed to Houston this may be a quiet deadline in Philly. This is not necessarily a good thing — this team needs to be shaken up (and Brett Brown could be the fall guy for it after the season). The road issues for Philly have become such a thing that Ben Simmons is calling the team “soft” — and Mike Scott agreed with him. The Sixers are an NBA-best 22-2 at home, but just 9-18 on the road, and that includes losing 10-of-12.

Blazers small icon 14. Trail Blazers (23-28, LW 16). Damian Lillard‘s ridiculous hot streak — which included being the most Kobe-like player on the court the night of his tribute at the Lakers’ return to action — ended with an off-night Monday. Still, that streak has Portland just 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and they are close to getting healthy with a Jusuf Nurkic return. Don’t expect Portland to make a trade deadline move to add a player, if anything happens it will be a small move to get them below the luxury tax line. BTW, GM Neil Olshey’s name surfaces in some of the “who is next to run the Knicks” rumors.

Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (25-25, LW 14). Expect Andre Iguodala to be traded by the deadline, the only question is where? Clearly, he and his camp didn’t like some of the names that surfaced, hence the leaked “I will sit out a year” comments if he’s not sent to a team he approves. The Grizzlies should not care about that and take the best offer presented. The team’s young players want the trade to happen, Dillon Brooks said this week: “I can’t wait til we find a way to trade him so we can play him and show him really what Memphis is about.”

Nets small icon 16. Nets (22-27, LW 21). Brooklyn made its moves last summer, and while they have kicked around some trade talk — they were in some preliminary talks with Atlanta about John Collins that went nowhere — expect them to stand pat at the deadline. Kyrie Irving is out again, this time with a sprained knee, so once again it’s back to the Spencer Dinwiddie show in Brooklyn for a week or two.

Spurs small icon 17. Spurs (22-28, LW 15). San Antonio is shopping wings DeMarre Carroll and Marco Belinelli, hoping to find them new homes at the deadline (with teams that may have a bigger role for them). However, any move will be around the fringes of the rotation, not its core. The Spurs have started the annual Rodeo Road Trip 0-2 (losses to both Los Angeles Teams) and they have six more games before they return home Feb. 26.

Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (20-31, LW 17). While there are still teams calling about Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors, it appears the Pelicans will stand pat at the trade deadline and make a playoff push. That said, 5.5 games to make up, and four teams to leap, is a tall task. My favorite Zion Williamson play of the week his him ripping the ball out of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hands.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (22-28, LW 20). While there are teams calling about Evan Fournier, and to a lesser degree Aaron Gordon, the Magic are currently the eight seed in the East and seem likely to keep the roster in take and aim for the postseason. The playoffs are a reasonable goal considering the Magic have the fourth easiest remaining schedule in the league. If Orlando decides to make dramatic changes to the roster it’s more likely to come this summer.

Kings small icon 20. Kings (19-31, LW 22). The Kings have fielded a lot of calls about Bogdan Bogdanovic, but have yet to find a trade that works (no, Kyle Kuzma is not an option). Bogdanovic wants a bigger role and that may not be something the Kings can offer, plus he is a free agent this summer, so he can just bolt. Sacramento also is still expected to find a trade for Dwayne Dedmon before the deadline, the big man wants out and the Kings are ready to move on, plus plenty of teams could use depth at center.

Suns small icon 21. Suns (20-30, LW 18). Phoenix remains deep in talks to acquire shooting guard Luke Kennard from the Pistons for a first-round pick, but so far the deal has not been finalized. That trade would make sense for the Suns, who need more shooting to go with Devin Booker. Speaking of Booker, yes he should have been an All-Star, and if a player is forced out due to injury he should be the guy at the front of the replacement line.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (19-33, LW 19). Chicago is getting calls about Thaddeus Young — the Clippers are among the teams interested — and that’s a name and a deal to watch as the deadline nears. Teams also have called about Zach LaVine but have been turned away. The injuries just keep hitting Chicago hard, with point guard Kris Dunn’s knee sprain being the latest.

Pistons small icon 23. Pistons (18-34, LW 23). At the start of the trade season Andre Drummond’s name came up a lot as a target, but sources tell NBC Sports that market is now nearly dead. Drummond brings skills, but the game is moving away from Drummond’s style and he makes $27 million (with an opt-out after this season), both of which are keeping teams away. There is a lot more interest around Derrick Rose and it’s more likely he gets traded before the deadline.

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (17-32, LW 24). The Wizard are not going to be sellers at the deadline, teams keep calling about Davis Bertans and the message is the same: Washington isn’t trading him and they plan to re-sign the sharpshooting big man this summer. If anything, Washington could be a buyer at the deadline, with Tristan Thompson being linked to the Wizards.

Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (15-36, LW 27). Steve Mills is out as team president, but what that really means will depend on who replaces him. Will James Dolan hire an experienced executive — Masai Ujiri’s name is linked, I think Daryl Morey would be an interesting fit and may be open to a move after the season — and give that person complete autonomy to make changes to the culture? Or, will it be someone safe and more of the same? Scott Perry is running the show through the trade deadline and Marcus Morris talks are ongoing.

Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (13-38, LW 25). Atlanta was the big winner of the four-team trade — they landed a quality pick-and-roll center in Clint Capela, a guy on a reasonable contract, and they did it without giving up their first-round pick or John Collins. Speaking of Collins, it won’t happen at the deadline but expect to hear a lot of trade chatter about him this summer as Atlanta decides if he can play next to Capela, and how much they want to pay him (his rookie contract is up in the summer of 2021).

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (16-35, LW 26). The Hornets have been talking to the Knicks about a possible Julius Randle trade, with some combination of Terry Rozier, Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr. going to New York, however, that may not have a lot of traction. Congrats to Devonte’ Graham, who will be competing in the three-point shooting contest All-Star weekend, he deserves a little shine considering the season he’s had.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (13-38, LW 28). Expect Tristan Thompson to be traded before the deadline — he wants out and there are a number of playoff teams looking for the toughness and shooting he can provide for the playoffs. There is no heat around Kevin Love talks right now, he’s more of a summer trade (if it even happens then). Collin Sexton has been putting up some decent numbers of late, even if he still pounds the ball into the ground like he’s James Harden.

Warriors small icon 29. Warriors (12-39 LW 30). While the Timberwolves made a push and there was a lot of media buzz about D'Angelo Russell being traded, that was never likely (unless Minnesota made a Godfather offer). The Warriors do want to see what Russell and Stephen Curry look like in the same backcourt (if it goes well it just raises Russell’s trade value). Plus, because of the Russell sign-and-trade, the Warriors are hard-capped, if they wait until after July 1 they can be far more creative in a trade. That’s when a deal is likely to happen.

30. Timberwolves (15-34, LW 29). Thanks to the combination of injuries and the team’s current 12-game losing streak, the last time Karl-Anthony Towns was on the court for a Timberwolves win was November 27. Minnesota made a push to get Towns a friend in D’Angelo Russell but the warriors don’t want to do that dance until next summer. The bench additions of Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangómez — both guys the team can re-sign this summer — make the four-team trade a good one for the Timberwolves. It gives them bench depth.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer and Thunder’s Billy Donovan win Coach of Year from peers

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Thunder coach Billy Donovan
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The Bucks (high) and Thunder (low) entered the season on near-opposite ends of the pressure spectrum. Despite their radically different situations, both teams have experienced success this season for a common reason:

They were well-coached.

National Basketball Coaches Association release:

Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan are the 2020 recipients of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced today.

The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award recognizes the dedication, commitment and hard work of NBA Head Coaches and is presented annually to a Head Coach who helps guide his players to a higher level of performance on the court and shows outstanding service and dedication to the community off the court. It honors the spirit of Michael H. Goldberg, the esteemed long-time Executive Director of the NBCA, who set the standard for loyalty, integrity, love of the game, passionate representation and tireless promotion of NBA coaching. It is unique in that it is the only award voted upon by the winners’ peers, the Head Coaches of all 30 NBA teams. This year’s voting was based on games played from the start of the 2019-20 regular season through games played on March 11.

The depth of coaching excellence in the NBA is reflected in this year’s voting as 8 Head Coaches received votes. In addition to Budenholzer and Donovan, the following Coaches also received votes: Taylor Jenkins, Nate McMillan, Nick Nurse, Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens and Frank Vogel.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was third in the race — and just one vote away from creating a three-way tie, sources said.

This is not the main Coach of the Year. That’s voted on by media and will be announced later. This in a new award created by coaches a few years ago.

Nurse remains favorite for the NBA’s recognized Coach of the Year. (He was our unanimous choice.) It’s surprising he didn’t win this award. But it’s also easy to see how fellow coaches would be reluctant to honor an up-and-comer who supplanted Dwane Casey, a coach beloved by his peers and who won this award while getting fired by the Raptors in 2018.

That shouldn’t take away from Budenholzer and Donovan, though. Both had strong seasons.

After turning the Bucks into an elite team last season – winning this award and the NBA’s official Coach of the Year – Budenholzer has Milwaukee looking even stronger this season. The Bucks’ defense is historically dominant, and their role players fit so well around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Donovan got dealt a tricky hand – an all-time great point guard in Chris Paul who’s past his peak but still in his prime and a point guard of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Donovan made it work while squeezing in another point guard in Dennis Schroder. Donovan’s versatility remains an asset for Oklahoma City.