NBA Power Rankings: Trade deadline passes, Bucks still on top followed by Raptors, Lakers

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The trade deadline has passed, rosters are set (sort of, the buyout market does exist), and still the Bucks are locked in at the top. The Lakers slip back to third behind a Raptors team that has won 15 in a row.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (46-7, Last Week No. 1). Milwaukee makes a quality pickup getting Marvin Williams on the buyout market, he is a stretch four at this point in his career, he spaces the floor well and is a reliable defender. He can eat up some minutes for Khris Middleton and others down the stretch of the season, keeping them fresh. Milwaukee continues to be carried by an elite defense, best in the NBA by a wide margin for the season, and it has been even better the past 15 games allowing less than a point per possession.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (40-14, LW 3). Pascal Siakam will head to Chicago this weekend for a much-deserved All-Star Game start, the leap he made this season is impressive. Toronto has won 15 in a row, and has the best offense in the NBA over that stretch, which is what has carried them (the defense is sixth-best, not shabby at all). All of that despite a rash of injuries, the most recent of which is Kyle Lowry out with whiplash. How do they do it, what is Toronto’s secret weapon? Serge Ibaka’s scarf.

Lakers small icon 3. Lakers (40-12, LW No. 2). It wasn’t for lack of effort, but the Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline, which was always the most likely outcome considering how hard it was to construct a good deadline around Kyle Kuzma. The bigger blows are the Clippers getting Morris and Darren Collison deciding to stay retired. J.R. Smith/Dion Waiters are not the answer. Still, the Lakers sit atop the West by 3 games and have won 4-of-5 because they continue to beat up weak teams (26-2 against teams below .500).

Celtics small icon

4. Celtics (37-16, LW 4). This trade deadline was like so many others in Boston: a lot of rumors, smoke and mirrors, and when it all clears away the Celtics stood pat. That’s a good decision with this roster, a team that just had a seven-game win streak (snapped Tuesday by Houston), has won 11-of-13, and they have done it against a much tougher schedule than the Raptors have faced. Still, this team could use a little more size and toughness in the middle for the playoffs, and the buyout market may not offer that this year.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (38-16, LW 7). Nikola Jokic’s strong play of late moves him into the MVP “on the ballot” discussion (he’s not in the “can he win it” talk this season). He could well get some fourth and fifth place votes. Denver has won 8-of-10 because it has gotten healthy (or, healthier) and started to play good defense again, seventh best in the NBA over those 10 games.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (37-17, LW 5). Doc Rivers’ team is treating the regular season like a team that has just won back-to-back titles — some nights they take it seriously (and handle Miami comfortably), then a few nights later they let Minnesota snap a 13-game losing streak against them. The Clippers upgraded at the deadline landing Marcus Morris, this is an incredible team on paper but just a good one on the court. After the All-Star break, can the Clippers put together a run and start to build some good habits?

Heat small icon 7. Heat (35-18, LW 6). The addition of Andre Iguodala at the trade deadline has gotten all the headlines, but picking up Jae Crowder in the Memphis trade could be key for Miami down the stretch. In his first two games with Miami Crowder has averaged 19.5 points per game, shooting 56.3% from three, and is pulling down 9.5 boards a night. Miami is 1-3 on their current road trip, with 3-of-4 still to come away from South Beach.

Jazz small icon 8. Jazz (38-18, LW 10). Since his return from injury, Mike Conley has looked much more like the point guard the Jazz thought they were getting last summer: 18.6 points per game, shooting 45.2% from three, with four assists a night in his last five games. Utah snapped out of its slump and won three in a row. Highlight of the week goes to Bojan Bogdanovic for going playground on Kristaps Porzingis.

Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (34-20, LW 9). Houston has gone 3-2 since going all-in on the small-ball lineup, and the team’s offensive rating hasn’t taken off yet like we expect (small sample size and all). The one guy who is thriving with this style is Russell Westbrook: 34 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6 assists a game in his last five. Good test against the Jazz Saturday night in Utah.

Sixers small icon 10. 76ers (34-21, LW 13). Joel Embiid “shushing” the Philly crowd then trolling everyone on social media grabbed a lot of headlines, as did the idea that other teams are watching the Sixers thinking they might break up Ben Simmons and Embiid. The All-Star duo answered that with their best game together — maybe ever in Brett Brown’s mind — in a big win over the Clippers Tuesday night. That was impressive, but let’s see them take this show on the road and make it work before we celebrate too much.

Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (32-22, LW 12). While there was some flirtation with the idea of sending Danilo Gallinari to Miami, Oklahoma City came out of the trade deadline deciding to ride or die with this group. The Thunder are good with their core five on the floor — Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams — but the lack of depth is the only issue. Still, this team sets up to be a tough playoff out for whomever lands them.

Mavericks small icon 12. Mavericks (32-22, LW 11). Luka Doncic returns from his sprained ankle Wednesday night, and the Mavs went 3-4 without him. The league-leading offense was still clicking without him (119.5 offensive rating, actually 3.2 per 100 better than their season average) but the defense has been bottom 10 in the league in that stretch (5.6 points per 100 worse than their season average). Dallas added Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the buyout market, he will provide some defensive depth on the wing (but don’t count on much offense).

Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (31-23, LW 8). Losers of six in a row, and if it wasn’t for that long game-tying Victor Oladipo three in his return game against the Bulls it would be eight. While the offense has been bottom 10 in the league during the losing streak, the real issue is the usually solid Pacers defense is off more than 7 points per 100 in this stretch (with a good defender in Oladipo back in the lineup). Indiana gets Milwaukee right before the much-needed All-Star break.

Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (27-26, LW 15). Zach Kleiman, the guy with the hammer in Memphis basketball operations, must love Justise Winslow, because they gave up their 2020 cap space and took on a lot of dead salary to get him. “To be able to add one player that we believe in as a key piece to fit what we’re building, that was plan A. That was the deal that we were hoping to get.” Winslow is that guy? He will get a chance next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Blazers small icon 15. Trail Blazers (25-30, LW 14). Portland is still fuming over the blown goaltending call on a Damian Lillard driving layup to tie the game against Utah last Friday — in a tight playoff chase that call might come back to bite them. That said, they bounced back with a win against Miami, not letting the anger over one loss become two. Lillard has returned to being human, averaging “only” 28.4 points per game over his last five.

Nets small icon 16. Nets (24-28, LW 16). Brooklyn has won 3-of-4 time time around without Kyrie Irving, thanks in large part to Caris LeVert stepping up and playing like the guy the Nets thought they had at the start of last season. Brooklyn is four games below .500 and sits as the seven seed in the East, but their playoff spot looks secure (they have a five-game cushion over the nine-seed Wizards, and the eight-seed Magic are not looking like a team about to make a run to get past the Nets).

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (23-31, LW 18). Zion Williamson is becoming must-watch television averaging 21 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and he apparently has a quote of at least one spectacular dunk a game. The Pelicans kept the roster together at the deadline, and New Orleans is 5-4 since Williamson entered the lineup, but the team remains 4.5 games out of the playoffs because the Grizzlies are not coming back to the pack.

Magic small icon 18. Magic (23-31, LW 19). Here is everything you need to know about the bottom of the East: Orlando is 2-8 in its last 10 games with a -8.6 net rating, yet they maintain a three-game playoff cushion over the Wizards (and 4.5 over the Bulls) because nobody can string together some wins. Coming out of the All-Star break, Orlando has 7-of-10 on the road.

Kings small icon 19. Kings (21-32, LW 20). Sacramento came into this season with dreams of ending the longest playoff drought in the NBA; instead they head into the All-Star break six games out of the playoffs in the West. Injuries certainly played a part in that, but roster building and player development have not been strong suits in Sacramento — to put it kindly — and now it seems owner Vivek Ranadive is finally setting his sites on team president Vlade Divac as part of the problem. If Ranadive makes a change, will he give the new president the authority to clean house as needed?

Spurs small icon 20. Spurs (23-31, LW 17). San Antonio is 1-6 so far on the rodeo road trip (with two more games after the break), the lone win coming in Oklahoma City. As it has been all season, the challenge on this road trip for the Spurs has been defense — a 118.3 defensive rating that is third worst in the league over the last eight games. The Spurs stood pat at the deadline, but this trip has knocked them 4.5 games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot, it seems the Spurs historic playoff streak will end at 22.

Suns small icon 21. Suns (21-33, LW 21). Despite plenty of Kelly Oubre trade rumors flying around, the Suns held on to him at the deadline (and they could have gone ahead with Oubre bobblehead night, an event they wisely cancelled last week, just in case). Since getting healthy and joining the starting lineup, Deandre Ayton has averaged 19.9 points and 12.3 assists a game, shooting 54.3%.

Pistons small icon 22. Pistons (19-37, LW 23). That the Pistons found a taker for Andre Drummond is a win — despite the numbers Drummond put up and his solid play as an old-school big, he was an anchor on their rebuild. The Pistons were wise to value the salary cap space more, which is what they should have done during a rebuild. What the front office does with that cap space this summer (and there are a variety of options) will be the next step in the drive to get the Pistons back to the top of the East.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (19-33, LW 24). Washington is just three games back of Orlando for the final playoff spot in the West, and the Magic are stumbling down the stretch. The playoffs are within reach, but Orlando has one of the easiest remaining schedules and the Wizards have the sixth toughest in the league. It was a smart long-term move by the Wizards to trade out point guards at the deadline — 31-year-old Isaiah Thomas for 22-year-old Jerome Robinson — but I’m still sorry to see Thomas go.

Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (17-37, LW 25). Superagent Leon Rose is the next in line to save the Knicks (without World Wide Wes), and that’s not a bad choice. If owner James Dolan wasn’t willing to wait and do the dance to land a Sam Presti/Masai Ujiri level experienced POBO, then Rose is a good roll of the dice. Sometimes having an agent in charge works (Bob Myers, Golden State) and sometimes not (Lon Babby, Phoenix) but Rose is smart and connected. There’s a lot of work to do to build a Knicks culture and foundation, only then will the elite talent come.

25. Timberwolves (26-36, LW 30). They got their man in D’Angelo Russell, a good move because it makes Karl-Anthony Towns happy, and it gives Minnesota a a genuine pick-and-roll combo. I just picture a lot of games like Monday’s in their future: Minnesota put up 126 points with an impressive 115 offensive rating, but they lost because Toronto put up 137 — Russell and Towns could be a defensive disaster. Gerson Rosas has to get quality defenders around those two.

Bulls small icon 26. Bulls (19-36, LW 22). The All-Star Game is coming to the basketball Mecca that is Chicago this weekend, but the Bulls mostly need the break to get healthy. Here’s the current list of their walking wounded: Otto Porter Jr. (broken foot), Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle), Lauri Markkanen (hip), Kris Dunn (knee), and Daniel Gafford (ankle). In theory, the Bulls could make a run at grabbing the eight seed and getting to the postseason, but they need to get healthy, and even then 4.5 games would be a challenge to make up.

Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (15-40, LW 26). Atlanta got its center at the deadline in trading for Clint Capela, and it was a nice pickup to get Dwayne Dedmon behind him. The real question now becomes what does this mean for John Collins? He’s athletic and has played better at the four than the five this season, but is he going to be worth what some team likely will pay him as a restricted free agent in a couple of seasons? Expect a lot of Collins trade rumors this summer.

Hornets small icon 28. Hornets (17-36, LW 27). Charlotte is trying to do a spring cleaning on their roster, and that started with buying out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams (who were signed by Dallas and Milwaukee, respectively. Expect more of the same this summer as they try to find a taker for Nicolas Batum’s contract. There is a lot of rebuilding to do in Charlotte, but at least they found one piece to that puzzle this season in Devonte Graham.

Warriors small icon 29. Warriors (12-42 LW 29). In terms of a pure positional fit, I get why the Warriors traded for Andrew Wiggins and set out D’Angelo Russell. The Warriors are selling that the combination of their culture and a smaller role (next season, when everyone’s healthy) is going to be good for Wiggins and make him productive. A lot of Timberwolves fans just laughed at that. Bottom line, could the Warriors have found a better wing (at a better price) by the start of next season?

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (13-40, LW 28). On one hand, the Cavaliers got a former All-Star, productive NBA center for pennies on the dollar in trading for Andre Drummond. Cleveland looked at the free agent market and said this was a better use of their cap space for 2020. Drummond and Love next season will form a $60 million front line that may be the slowest in the league.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.

Stephen Jackson speaks passionately at a rally in remembrance of his “twin” George Floyd

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Stephen Jackson, the former NBA player and current ESPN analyst, knew George Floyd from when he pair grew up near each other in Texas.

Friday, Jackson spoke about the man he called his “twin” at a rally Minneapolis City Hall Rotunda (an event with Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie in attendance. (Video via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, there is NSFW language involved.)

“I’m here because they’re not gonna demean the character of George Floyd, my twin. A lot of times, when police do things they know that’s wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background, to make it seem like the bulls*** that they did was worthy. When was murder ever worthy? But if it’s a black man, it’s approved.

“You can’t tell me, when that man has his knee on my brother’s neck — taking his life away, with his hand in his pocket — that that smirk on his face didn’t say, ‘I’m protected.’ You can’t tell me that he didn’t feel that it was his duty to murder my brother, and that he knew he was gonna get away with it. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the look on his face.”

There has been a powerful reaction across the NBA world — and across the nation — in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery (a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood) and Floyd. In a sport with many black players, the murders of these men were reminders of the systemic race issues still part of American culture. LeBron James captured the feelings of many players and others when he took to Instagram.

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STILL!!!! 🤬😢😤

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Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Vote on NBA restart format expected next Thursday, here are four plans on the table

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
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The NBA is almost guaranteed to return to action in July, with the games taking place in Orlando.

What format the return takes is undecided, but the owners are expected to vote on that next Thursday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

On Friday’s conference call with owners, Adam Silver reportedly laid out four options for them, something Shams Charania of The Athletic reported.

There was no consensus behind any one option, teams are all lobbying for what they want to see. Come next Thursday, Adam Silver is going to have to make a recommendation and get everyone to line up behind it, something the owners and players will do. This is Silver’s call.

Let’s break those options down.

• 16 teams going directly into playoffs. This is the cleanest, most straightforward option, and it has support from a number of owners. This keeps the number of people in the bubble relatively small, making it easier to maintain the safety of players, coaches, staff, and everyone involved. The league likely would keep the conference format rather than go to 1-16 seeding (many owners from the Eastern Conference and coastal cities reportedly are not fans of 1-16 and fear if they do it once, even in this unique season, it would become a regular thing).

One downside is players have asked for some regular season games — or games with meaning — before the playoffs to get their legs under them, this does not provide any (increasing the risk of injury). The other downside is this takes almost half the NBA’s markets and tells them “you’re done, no games from March until Christmas (the expected date for the tip-off of next season, or maybe a week or two earlier). That’s a long time without games and can hurt momentum for those franchises.

• 20 teams, group play for the first round. This is the World Cup soccer idea, with four groups of five teams each and the top two teams in each group advancing to the playoffs. Some fans and teams backed this idea because it provided a bit of randomness to the mix — soccer sees a lot of upsets in this format. On the flip side, the top teams were not fans of this plan for the same reason.

The buzz around the league is this format is basically dead to the owners.

• 22 teams with regular season games to determine seeding, followed by a play-in tournament to the 16-team playoffs. This idea, in a couple of different forms (one with just 20 teams, some with 24) has some momentum. The idea is the 22 teams — all teams within six games off the last playoff spot in each conference, which is the Wizards in the East and the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns in the West — would play eight regular season games, then standings at the end of those games would set up the play-in tournament for the eighth seed. After that, the playoffs would start. This gets more markets involved, gets some regular season games (helping some regional sports networks), and still has a full playoffs.

There are downsides. It brings more people into the bubble and is that risk worth the reward? There are going to be some meaningless regular season games here, both by teams eliminated and teams locked into their playoff spots (the Lakers and Bucks will treat these games like exhibitions). It also adds a couple of weeks to the season and pushes the end-date back deeper into September and maybe October.

• 30 teams, a regular season to get to 72 games, then a play-in tournament followed by the playoffs. This is the idea to “finish” the regular season. We’re not going to waste time on it because my sources, and those of other reporters, have called this one dead on arrival.

Silver is going to get lobbied all week by different factions backing different plans, but by next Thursday he has to pick a one he can sell to owners and to players. There are no good options, he has to choose the least bad one.

From there, players will get called back to market for workouts and the clock will start.

So long as the league can keep everyone safe.

Bradley Beal: Contract extension gives Wizards opportunity, me flexibility

Wizards guard Bradley Beal
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Bradley Beal, through word and action, has shown an incredibly strong commitment to the Wizards.

But is there an opening to pry him from Washington?

Beal on his contract extension, via “All The Smoke“:

It was definitely tough. I came down to damn near the deadline on my decision, because I kind of play devil’s advocate. The whole year, I’m weighing pros and cons of staying or leaving, signing and not signing. Do I wait and try to sign this summer? Or do I wait and try to get traded? Or do I wait and play my contract out? So, I had a bunch of options.

I secured two more years. I have two more years here. Well, three. And, so for me, it was like that puts me – to me, I don’t think I’m going to hit my prime until I’m – what? – 29, 28, 29, 30? And so I feel like – at the end of this extension, it puts me right there. And it so kind of puts me in the prime time of my basketball. And so it still gives me the flexibility with also giving my respects and loyalty to the organization that drafted me. So, I’m still giving you all an opportunity here to make it with work with John, to make it work with everybody. So, here we go. We’ve got a couple more years. And granted, I think my extension is the length of John’s contract, as well. So, this is the time we’ve got. We’re going to see what we can do, and we’re going to make it work.

Beal on the Nets being interested in trading for him, via Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk,” Beal told ESPN. “It’s interesting. To me, I look at it as a sign of respect, that I’ve been doing good things and guys want to play with me.

“That’s an unbelievable feeling. When you hear that Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant] want you, s—, that’s amazing. At the same time, you don’t know how much there is to it, or how easy it would be to do. And I’ve put down roots in D.C. I’ve dedicated myself to this town, this community. I love it here, and it would feel great to know I could grind out winning here instead of jumping to another team.

“But I’d be naive to say that I don’t think about it when these stories come up.”

Beal, 26, is locked up two more seasons. Both he and John Wall have player options for 2022-23. Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, declared: “There are no Beal Sweepstakes.”

Everything Beal has said and done about staying in Washington is far more concrete than anything he has indicated about leaving.

But…

It’s interesting how close he came to not signing his extension. It’s interesting he publicly admitted to thinking about trade interest from other teams.

To me, Beal sounds like Anthony Davis – after years of stating loyalty to the Pelicans – subtly hinting he was dissatisfied in New Orleans. The key: Davis requested a trade only after the Pelicans kept struggling to build around him.

Beal is giving the Wizards an opportunity. Maybe they can assemble a winner around him. But even if Wall gets healthy, that’s a tough job.

If Washington becomes successful in the next couple years, great. That’s easy. Beal seems to be looking for reasons to stay.

But if the Wizards keep losing the next couple years, other teams will definitely line up to acquire the star shooting guard. Many players in that situation have greased the wheels of their exit by saying they won’t re-sign or even outright requesting a trade.

We’ll see how Washington does. We’ll see what Beal does at that point.

Considering Beal previously said he’d finish his career with the Wizards if he can control it, these recent interviews leave the door cracked slightly – only slightly – more ajar for Beal to depart.