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.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss talks steps that led to brother Jim’s removal

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Late Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss set up a very detailed trust and succession plan for his beloved franchise. His daughter Jeanie Buss would be the team’s governor, and his son Jim Buss would run basketball operations. If there was an issue, Jeanie had the ultimate power.

In 2017, after the Lakers missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year and were floundering as an organization, Jeanie used that power to oust Jim and bring in a new front office (Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, of which only Pelinka remains). Recently, Jeanie appeared on the “Daddy Issues with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson” podcast and laid out the philosophy behind removing her brother. (Hat tip Lakers Nation)

“When my brother wasn’t going with the way my dad did things, it was a little distressing for me…

“You’re down and losing, and then my brother was changing coaches every 18 months. Sometimes you have to make coaching changes, I get that. But when you go from a coach like Mike Brown, whose emphasis was defense, to a coach like Mike D’Antoni, who really doesn’t worry so much about defense, that’s two different rosters that you need. Then the outside world thinks, ‘They don’t know what direction they’re going in.’

“You should be able to see a pathway as you hire a coach, you give him the players for his style of basketball and you make decisions that follow ones before it. You follow the path and what the person is thinking. But I couldn’t see what was going on, where he was trying to go and what our identity was going to be as a team.”

The path was clearer with Magic and Pelinka because they quickly landed LeBron James as a free agent (how much they had to do with LeBron’s decision is up for debate). The Lakers instantly became a win-now team and, a year later, traded a lot of the young players and picks to put Anthony Davis next to LeBron. The result has been the team with the best record in the West heading into the playoffs (whatever they look like).

Jim Buss swung and missed plenty, but he had a few hits as well. From the outside looking in, the biggest challenge seemed to be he operated with a mindset of “Laker exceptionalism” — that the very best players would always flock to the Lakers because they are the Lakers. The NBA doesn’t work that way anymore. No doubt, the Lakers have advantages few franchises can match. But from Jerry Buss to Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, all through the Lakers’ successful runs, they didn’t approach things with a mindset of exceptionalism. The Lakers’ front office was bold, but it was grounded and smart — they identified and developed talent, they always had a strong core, and they had strong relationships with players. It wasn’t exceptionalism, it was hard work.

On top of that, Jim had become the scapegoat of Lakers’ fans, the focus of their blame for the years not in the playoffs. Fair or not, it became a public relations issue, not just a management issue.

Jeanie made the right move. And it may even lead to another ring soon.

Damian Lillard: I won’t play if Trail Blazers have no shot at playoffs

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Most players on lottery-bound teams reportedly prefer to be finished rather than return as the NBA attempts to finish its season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Someone finally put his name behind that sentiment.

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday morning via phone.

I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. It’s going to be hard to get going with no fans, you’ve been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘[Expletive] it, I haven’t played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?’ It’s going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to sneak some [expletive]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, ‘Oh, they’re in the Western Conference finals.’ It’s room for that with this situation. So the fact that it’s possible and we wouldn’t get an opportunity at that, that’s weak to me. I ain’t getting no younger.”

In ninth place, Portland is 3.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies. The Trail Blazers might still have a chance to reach the playoffs. It depends on the NBA’s format for resumption.

There’s consideration to bringing back only teams with a postseason chance, anyway. But there’s also talk of all 30 teams playing in order to fulfill local TV contracts.

Lillard is a tremendous leader. If he doesn’t play, that would cast such a negative feeling onto his Portland teammates – and beyond. Lillard’s voice could affect how the entire league handles its return.

With a super-max extension already signed, Lillard has the luxury of being able to afford risking his paycheck by not playing. Not everyone can do that. There are major complications in determining how much money, if any, non-returning players should earn.

This also gets into an issue even in normal times: There are too many games late in the season involving at least one team incentivized to lose. The Trail Blazers have made the playoffs every season after Lillard’s rookie year. He has never had to worry about this since becoming a star. But players and teams annually grapple with games that, at best, don’t really matter. It creates a horrible product.

The concern is just magnified now because of the heightened risk of playing.

The NBA should listen to Lillard’s apprehension, realize he’s not alone and take it seriously. Then, whenever normal play resumes, the league should also realize this type of situation comes up – admittedly, with lower stakes – every year.

Gary Payton was ‘hot’ about Michael Jordan laughing at The Glove, cooled off

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan and Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton
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Michael Jordan bothered plenty of former Bulls teammates – including Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Craig Hodges – with “The Last Dance.”

Former Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton was more forgiving.

In the documentary, Payton described how his defense bothered Jordan during the 1996 NBA Finals – a clip played for Jordan to react. Jordan laughed and replied derisively: “The Glove. I had no problem with The Glove.”

Payton on “The Opinionated 7-Footers:”

You know I was hot. I was thinking about calling him at the time. I’d be like, “Yo, OK, now you want to hindsight and lie in front of everybody? Alright. It’s all good,” I’d say.

But you know what, that’s what I expect out of Mike. Because I would’ve said the same thing. I would’ve said the same thing. You know me, B. I’m not going to admit to nothing, man. I’m not going admit to somebody that D’d me up or did nothing. I’ll always tell you that any time in my career, nobody gave me problems but one person, and that’s John Stockton to me. So, that is just the way the game goes.

I’m not mad at Mike, because Mike didn’t have too many games that nobody D’d him up. He always was dominant.

I’m glad he said that, because I wouldn’t expect nothing else from him. I wouldn’t expect nothing else from Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan. That’s why we’re talking about it.

I love this answer!

Payton and Jordan were great trash talkers. Jordan isn’t required to provide an accurate assessment of Payton’s defense. Jordan was just trying to hype up Jordan and diss a rival. Payton understands the game. He doesn’t need to turn it into something bigger.

He’ll just dish it right back with a line about John Stockton being harder to guard than Jordan.

Andre Drummond leaves $1,000 tip for waitress, who says she is shaking with joy

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It has been a rough few months for everyone involved in the restaurant industry, with doors closed and an estimated 5.9 million jobs lost. Even as some restaurants start to re-open to diners in parts of the country, things are not the same — social distancing dining rooms with reduced capacity — and everyone is on a financial edge.

That’s why Cleveland Cavaliers’ big man Andre Drummond leaving a $1,000 tip for a waitress in Delray Beach, Florida, left her “shaking and had tears of happiness.”

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Our waitress, @kaxandra.diaz experience yesterday, “Today, started off as slow day at work getting there for my double shift. The past week, overall, has been pretty slow of course due to COVID. Restaurants and staff have been struggling, as you can imagine. Little did I know that today I would get a tip no server would guess that they would ever receive when they open that check book. Unknowingly, I was seated and served a table with @andredrummondd I had no idea who he was, and hadn’t seen him here before but we @che.delray always welcome our new customers. When I was given the checkbook, I went to put in the tip & information to close the table and I couldn’t believe it. From a $160 check, the tip read $1,000. I was shaking and had tears of happiness after what he left me. I had no idea how to react, I didn’t want to draw attention but at the same time I couldn’t describe the the amount of appreciation I had/ have. It’s so amazing to see people displaying acts of kindness in these uncertain times. This is a story I will never forget, thank you again so much @andredrummondd “ * * * * * * * * * @che.delray wants to thank you for your kindness, it was our pleasure to have you here! We hope you enjoyed your time with us, we wish you the best!

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Good on Drummond, it was a generous gesture in a time of need for many.