NBA Power Rankings: The way, way too early offseason edition


It is way, way, way too early to do an NBA Power Rankings for next season — and we’re doing it anyway. These rankings are going up before any player movement this offseason, before the draft, before every team even has a coach. This is just some seat-of-the-pants fun projecting next season based on the bubble playoffs and what we expect next season.

Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (52-19 last season). LeBron James and Anthony Davis won the Lakers one title, and as long as those two are on the roster L.A. is a contender for another. This summer, Davis will opt-out then re-sign, but the challenge is the roster around Davis and LeBron. Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard are free agents; meanwhile, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo will opt out looking for the bigger payday. Kyle Kuzma is extension eligible. Do the Lakers run it back with last year’s team or make a bold trade (Chris Paul, Victor Oladipo)?

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (56-17). One question hangs over Milwaukee this offseason: Will Giannis Antetokounmpo sign the max contract extension put in front of him? If not, don’t expect a trade, the only way that happens is the Greek Freak tells the Bucks he will not re-sign, and indications are he still wants to win in Milwaukee. If he does wait, it puts other teams in a holding pattern. The Bucks were smart not to overreact to a rough bubble outing, but they need to tweak this roster around Antetokounmpo and get more playmaking, and more shooting would help, too.

Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (49-23). Doc Rivers paid the price for an underwhelming bubble performance. Tyrone Lue moves up a chair and takes over as head coach, tasked with improving the chemistry in this talented locker room (and just getting guys on the court together more). The biggest off-season question is will the Clippers: re-sign Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell or will they let him go? Do they re-sign Marcus Morris? Also, can the Clippers find a more traditional playmaking point guard to help spur the playoff offense?

Nuggets small icon 4. Nuggets (46-27). Jamal Murray needs to prove that his breakout playoffs — showing he was a true No. 2 option that pairs beautifully with Nikola Jokic — was not just a bubble fluke. We don’t think it was, but we’re cautious with everyone who was way up or way down in that unique environment. Paul Millsap is a free agent and the Nuggets need to re-sign him — at a reasonable price — or bet that Michael Porter Jr., or someone else, is ready to fill that critical defensive and rebounding role Millsap plays for Denver.

Warriors small icon 5. Warriors (15-50). The best backcourt in the NBA is back with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson healthy — don’t be shocked if Curry is in the MVP conversation next season. The Warriors also have Draymond Green being the glue guy/defensive anchor, plus Andrew Wiggins — for all his flaws — should fit well in a No. 4 option/Harrison Barnes role. The biggest question is at center, where there is a lot of buzz around the league the Warriors will chase Dwight Howard.

Heat small icon 6. Heat (44-29). Was their amazing run in the bubble a fluke? No question Miami earned that trip to the Finals with its mental toughness behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but is it something that the team can replicate in a more traditional season? Probably, the Heat play great defense, have a tough-to-defend motion offense, and with Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro leading the way, they have the shooting. The big offseason question is, what happens with free agent Goran Dragic? Look for Miami to offer a big one-year contract, preserving cap space for 2021 when the Heat will be a player for top free agents.

Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (48-24). This ranking feels a little low for Boston — we trust this roster and this front office more than just about any other to take another step forward next season. We trust Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to be the cornerstones. The big question is what happens with Gordon Hayward — he very likely picks up his $34.1 million option, but could he be traded (Danny Ainge will test the market). This team also has three first-round picks to play with as the Celtics look to add depth around a core that has been to the Eastern Conference Finals three out of four years (now just needs to take one more step).

Nets small icon 8. Nets (35-37). The season spent waiting is over, now things get serious with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving healthy, surrounded by quality players like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen. Is Steve Nash ready to be a head coach (or, Kyrie, do you even need a coach)? The biggest off-season move has to be re-signing Joe Harris, Brooklyn needs his shooting (he is a free agent and will have options). On paper, the Nets are beasts next season, but how close to his vintage self will Durant be? Do all these pieces fit together?

Mavericks small icon 9. Mavericks (43-32). Another team where this ranking feels it could be low. Luka Doncic for MVP is a real possibility, and he pairs well with Kristaps Porzingis (which is why KP’s offseason knee surgery, while minor, is a concern). Dallas needs to improve its defense and add another playmaker, but don’t expect fireworks this offseason as the Mavericks keep their powder dry for the summer of 2021, when the Mavs believe they will be big players in free agency.

Raptors small icon 10. Raptors (53-19). It is a tough line for Toronto to walk this summer: They have three key free agents — Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol — but want to keep enough money and options to chase Antetokounmpo if he chooses to leave Milwaukee. VanVleet will require a contract in the four-year, $85 million range to keep — and the Raptors would likely pay that — but expect the big men to get one-year offers from Toronto, which may have them looking elsewhere (for Gasol, that might include Barcelona). Pascal Siakam learned in the bubble what needs to be his next steps to become a franchise player.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (44-28). There is one easy offseason decision in Utah: Max out Donovan Mitchell off his rookie deal. Then things get more complex, starting with Rudy Gobert, who is eligible for a supermax extension but the Jazz (and likely everyone else) will want to pay less than that. The Jazz need to get back to being an elite defensive team, and while they need more shooting and shot creation getting Bojan Bogdanovic back from wrist surgery will help a lot with that.

Rockets small icon 12. Rockets (44-28). Daryl Morey has stepped down, Mike D’Antoni has walked out the door, and it’s fair to question what the Rockets will look like next season and what owner Tilman Fertitta is willing to pay for. Houston does not have a lot of roster flexibility or ways to add talent, which is why the buzz of Houston looking for Russell Westbrook trades is out there. Good luck with that. While some have speculated about a James Harden trade, that’s a discussion more likely next offseason, the Rockets will try to keep winning.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (43-30). Doc Rivers is in charge now and that should lead to more creative uses of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the court and more accountability for all the players in the film room and off the court. Rivers makes this team the hardest to place in these rankings: They should be better, but Rivers doesn’t solve the core roster issues of spacing and shooting. Elton Brand needs to find another playmaker for this roster, do that and this ranking will seem dramatically low.

Blazers small icon 14. Trail Blazers (35-39). Portland isn’t poised to make a lot of roster moves this offseason, but they will have a healthy Jusuf Nurkic to add to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, so they don’t need to do much to remain a threat. Carmelo Anthony is a free agent and says he found a home in Portland, but with Zach Collins and Rodney Hood healthy there may be a steep minutes drop for ‘Melo, which may have him looking elsewhere. Hassan Whiteside also is a free agent.

Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (30-42). Their ranking could get moved up based on who gets hired as head coach, is it someone who can convert the roster’s potential to reality? (Some around the Pelicans thought Tyronn Lue would be their guy, but he stayed in L.A.) The Pelicans will max out and re-sign Brandon Ingram, just leaving the questions of trading or holding onto Jrue Holiday, and if Zion Williamson can stay healthy and impact games.

Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (45-28) . It appears Indiana will hire a top assistant coach for the head job, which seems the smart move considering the available field (the Mike D’Antoni rumors started hot but have died off). Victor Oladipo has one year left on his contract and trade rumors are flying around, with him linked to the Knicks, Lakers, and half the teams in between. Oladipo wants to get paid in his next contract; if the Pacers don’t want to back up that Brinks truck, they need to move him this offseason.

Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (34-39). They are counting on the internal growth of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke to take a step forward next season. Memphis’ offseason was essentially trading for Justise Winslow at the deadline and re-signing Dillon Brooks, they don’t have a lot of other moves to make (other than re-signing De’Anthony Melton). Memphis should go try to find some shooting, because that Morant/Jackson/Winslow/Clarke core is not exactly spacing the floor.

Suns small icon 18. Suns (44-39). They were the darlings of the bubble at 8-0, but we’re being careful reading too much into any of the outlier bubble results. They need to replicate that in the real world now. Devin Booker is a star, and there are moments Deandre Ayton looks like he could be one as well (his defense took a step forward last season). The Suns should consider bringing back Aron Baynes as a floor-spacing big man (something odd to type), but and there are long-term questions about Kelly Oubre Jr. and Dario Saric, and exactly who fits best around the young Suns’ core. But they seem poised for a step forward.

Thunder small icon 19. Thunder (44-28). If Oklahoma City runs it back then this ranking is far too low. However, with Billy Donovan moving on as coach, it seems like a rebuild is coming and, after his All-NBA season, Chris Paul’s trade value isn’t going to get any higher. If he goes, then others (Steven Adams, for example) could be on the move as well. Danilo Gallinari is a free agent and likely puts on another jersey next season. This ranking bets on Sam Presti jumping into the rebuild with both feet, which is the smart thing to do.

Wizards small icon 20. Wizards (25-47). Re-signing sharpshooting big man Davis Bertans is the Wizards’ highest priority, but they will have competition for him. The Wizards finally have John Wall and Bradley Beal healthy and together again, is that enough (with Bertans) to propel them up to one of the lower playoff spots in the East? Maybe. But only if their defense improves and isn’t 29th-in-the-league dreadful.

Magic small icon 21. Magic (33-40). Losing Jonathan Isaac to a knee injury for all of next season is a punch to the gut of this franchise. The Magic are solid with Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Markelle Fultz, but this is a team spending a lot of money to be average. There is buzz around the league of a Gordon trade, and he has a favorable declining contract, but we’ll see if Orlando can find a taker, and if so what direction do they move as a franchise?

Kings small icon 22. Kings (31-41, 3-5, LW 20). New Kings GM Monte McNair wants to play faster, and hired Alvin Gentry as Luke Walton’s lead assistant as a warning shot that Walton needs to play by the new rules. The Kings have missed the playoffs 14 straight years and owner Vivek Ranadive desperately doesn’t want his franchise to tie the Donald Sterling Clippers in the futility department next season, but for that to happen Marvin Bagley III needs to stay healthy, on the court, and have somewhere near the kind of impact Vlade Divac thought he would.

Spurs small icon 23. Spurs (32-39). The Spurs most likely just run it back with a roster that missed the playoffs last season. DeMar DeRozan has a $27.7 option he almost certainly picks up. San Antonio has some good young players — Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV — and were interesting playing small with DeRozan at the four, hopefully we get more of that even with LaMarcus Aldridge healthy and back in the lineup.

24. Timberwolves (19-45). Timberwolves fans are going to see this ranking as too low — they have Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, a potential devastating pick-and-roll combo. They have the No. 1 pick in the draft (assuming they don’t trade it). They have some developing role players such as Malik Beasley (who was a fantastic fit) and Jarrett Culver. All true, but until we see this actually work well together on the court — and see this team play some defense — the skeptic in us wins out.

Bulls small icon 25. Bulls (22-43). Another “prove it to me” team. Billy Donovan is in as head coach, there is scoring with Zach LaVine and real potential in Lauri Markkanen and Coby White, but we have yet to see it all come together. This feels like an evaluation year for new head man Arturas Karnisovas, with aggressive moves coming in a year when he figures out what he’s got and what direction to go.

Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (20-46). Trae Young is a potential superstar (at least on offense) and he is finally paired with a strong pick-and-roll big in Clint Capela. Does John Collins fit with that combo, or is it time to look for a trade? Can the Hawks find more shooting and wing talent — and defense — in the draft and free agency? Whatever direction they go, Atlanta has a nice young core but one with serious defensive questions.

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (23-42). This team simply needs an alpha, a true star player. They have the surprisingly good Devonte’ Graham, plus quality young players such as PJ Washington and Miles Bridges, but there is no north star. Charlotte needs to get lucky at No. 3 in the NBA draft (few scouts see a true star in this class) or find another way to add talent — ideally elite talent — to this roster.

Knicks small icon 28. Knicks (20-45). Leon Rose is in charge and he has his coach in Tom Thibodeau, but there is not much on this roster outside of Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett. Before the Knicks can dream of landing an elite free agent, they need to build the kind of culture and solid roster that would draw that level of star (as the Nets and Lakers did, adding a lot of young talent that showed promise). There is talk of the Knicks making an impatient move and trading picks/players for Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul, but that’s the same old Knicks looking for a quick fix. Patience and player development is required.

Pistons small icon 29. Pistons (20-45). New GM Troy Weaver has Christian Wood, Sekou Doumbouya, the No. 7 pick, and a lot of cap space as he starts to try to stockpile young talent on this roster. He has veterans Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, who could try to trade them for picks/young players (there is a real market for Rose), but this is going to be a multi-year project that will probably not be much fun for Pistons fans.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (19-46). There are a lot of questions to answer in Cleveland: Can Collin Sexton and Darius Garland fit together in the backcourt? Is Andre Drummond a long-term answer at the five? Can they find a taker in a Kevin Love trade? Just how good can Kevin Porter Jr. be? JB Bickerstaff has a lot of player development to do as a coach, while Kobe Altman desperately needs to add more talent to this roster (and the No. 5 pick in this draft is only going to help so much).

Joel Embiid scores 46 but 76ers still fall short against Poole, Warriors


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jordan Poole emerged as one of Golden State’s most dependable performers during the championship run last season.

He resembled that go-to guy once again Friday night when the Warriors needed everything he had, with the ever-reliable Draymond Green doing his thing, too.

“Opportunity,” Poole said of his stellar fourth quarter playing all 12 minutes.

Poole scored 33 points and swished a key 3-pointer with 1:18 to play off a pretty pass by Green, Stephen Curry added 29 points and eight rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors rallied past Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers 120-112 on Friday night.

“Tonight something about it felt like last year in that playoff run when Jordan was just attacking and knocking down shots but also getting to the line just giving us an entirely different dimension offensively,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s when he’s at his best. I thought he really competed down the stretch defensively as well. He was magnificent tonight.”

Embiid checked back into the game with 8:26 left and scored 13 straight on the way to 46 points.

But the Warriors came back from 11 down for their ninth straight home win — and one of the most important yet as they fight for playoff positioning.

Green noted: “Nobody wants to be in that play-in, the play-in is dangerous.”

Curry dribbled the baseline and around Embiid for a go-ahead jumper with 2:20 to play. Klay Thompson tied it at 104 with 5:05 left, only for Embiid to drive straight down the key for a dunk. He did miss consecutive shots in crunch time, too.

Poole’s driving dunk with 8:27 left got Golden State back to 93-91 then Kevon Looney’s putback after Embiid blocked a layup try by Poole cut it to 102-101.

Embiid shot 13 for 23, made 19 of 22 free throws and had nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He helped Philadelphia take an 88-79 lead going into the fourth. He had his streak of scoring 30 or more points in a franchise-record 10 straight games snapped in Wednesday’s 116-91 win at Chicago but made up for it.

Golden State nemesis James Harden sat out with left Achilles soreness for the Sixers, who had won nine of 10 and 10 of 12.

Thompson added 21 points and six rebounds and Looney contributed six points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as the Warriors reached 30 home wins for the sixth time since 2014-15 and second in a row.

“You want to take care of home court as best as you can,” Poole said.

Green had 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for Golden State, which had some momentum from two straight wins on the road following an 11-game skid away from Chase Center.

“I feel good. It’s that time of year you’ve got to turn everything up a notch,” Green said. “I love this time of year.”

Philadelphia, which had won the last two matchups, made 10 of 17 shots to start the game but missed its first eight 3-point tries before Georges Niang connected at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter.

Luka Dončić fined for money gesture toward referee after loss


The Mavericks were livid about the officiating in their loss to the Warriors, particularly the miscommunication about a third-quarter out-of-bounds play that gave Golden State an uncontested bucket in what ended up being a two-point game.

Frustrated or not, everyone knew Luka Dončić crossed a line and would get fined when he made a gesture suggesting the referees were paid off.

Friday the NBA came down with a $35,000 fine for Dončić “for directing an inappropriate and unprofessional gesture toward a game official.” While that’s a steep price it could have been much worse — the referee did not give Dončić a technical foul at the time, which would have been his 16th and triggered a one-game suspension without pay.

Dončić wasn’t the only person fined by the league for snapping at the officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 on Friday “for public criticism of the officiating.” Williams was frustrated after losing to the Lakers on a night where Los Angeles got to the line 46 times to Phoenix’s 20.

“Where do you see a game with 46 free throws for one team?” Williams said after the game. “That’s just not right. I don’t care how you slice it. It is happening to us too much. Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting, and we’re not getting the same call, and I’m tired of it. It’s old… I’m over it. Been talking about the same thing for a while. Doesn’t matter what team it is.”

It doesn’t matter what team it is for a reason. First, the Suns do not draw a lot of fouls because they are not a team that puts a lot of pressure on the rim (especially without Kevin Durant), they settle for jump shots. Second, they have the highest foul rate in the league — they foul a lot. Those two things will lead to a free throw disparity nightly (they had players who could draw fouls, Mikal Bridges is doing it now in Brooklyn, but the Suns didn’t put the ball in his and ask him to attack as the Nets have, Phoenix used him as a shooter and cutter off the ball more often).

The tensions between players and referees feel ratcheted up this season, and these are just the latest examples.

Report: Kevin Durant targeting March 29 return vs. Timberwolves


When Kevin Durant sprained his ankle during warmups, the Suns said he would be re-evaluated in three weeks. It turns out it may be more than a re-evaluation.

Durant is targeting a return almost three weeks to the day from when he injured himself, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

There has been no official update from the Suns, but Durant’s camp has always been optimistic about a return.

The Suns have gone 2-5 without Durant and slid into a virtual tie with the Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the West. If Durant returns Wednesday, Phoenix would have seven games left to hold off Los Angeles and retain home court in the first round of the playoffs. More importantly, they could generate some chemistry before the postseason begins.

Durant averaged 26.7 points and 7.3 assists a game with a ridiculous 80.8 true shooting percentage in his three games with the Suns, and the team won all three games. The fit seemed almost seamless and if the Suns can get back to that they are a threat to win the wide-open West.

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the West.

Where’s the beef? Anthony Davis says ‘Me and Bron have one of the best relationships’ in NBA


Whispers and reports of a split in the Lakers’ locker room and a beef between Anthony Davis and LeBron James gained momentum after Davis’ reaction to LeBron James breaking the all-time scoring record went viral. Talking Lakers drama is always an excellent way to get clicks/eyeballs/listeners and so once a rumor like a beef between the team’s two biggest stars begins rolling down the hill it does not stop.

Even if Davis says there is nothing to it, everything is good between him and LeBron. Here’s the quote he gave to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Me and Bron have one of the best relationships I think in the NBA as far as duos or teammates, regardless,” Davis said. “But they don’t see that. They don’t see the stuff we do off the court and time we hang out with each other. They see on-court stuff.”

The reality is it doesn’t matter if LeBron and Davis are buddies, hanging out together drinking a lovely Pinot Noir and laughing behind Frank Vogel’s back. What matters is whether they can get along and thrive on the court. There’s a banner hanging in Arena that says they can if they stay healthy and management puts the right kinds of role players around them.

The healthy part is in the way right now, with LeBron out for at least a couple more weeks with a tendon foot injury (whether he returns before the season ends is up in the air). The Lakers are 7-5 in the dozen games he has missed with this injury thanks to a defense — anchored by Davis — that is third-best in the NBA over that stretch. That has kept their head above water, but the Lakers are in a tight race where six teams — from the 7-12 seeds, making up all the play-in teams and a couple that will miss out — are tied in the loss column at 37. The Lakers need more wins, including Friday night in a critical game against the Thunder.

The Lakers will need LeBron back — and LeBron and Davis to rekindle their on-court chemistry — if they are going to make any kind of a playoff run. First they just have to get to the postseason, which will fall more on Davis. Of late, he has looked up to the task.