NBA Power Rankings: Everyone is chasing the Suns (and a good trade)

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns
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There wasn’t much question on who would top these NBA Power Rankings because the Suns are steamrolling the league. The interesting thing around the league right now is trade talk, and we delve into that with a number of teams.

Suns small icon 1. Suns (41-9, Last Week No. 1). How good are the Suns? They went 13-1 in January and that is their second best month so far (16-0 November). The Suns don’t look like a team that needs a roster upgrade, but they are trying to trade Dario Saric (out with an ACL tear) and his $9 million contract for help on the wing. Eric Gordon is one name to watch in that mix (but the Suns would have to send out a pick, too). Phoenix starts a four-game road trip in Atlanta Thursday that includes playing the Bulls and 76ers.

Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (39-13, LW 3). Winners of seven in a row, and they are doing it with balance — top 10 in the NBA in offense and defense over their last eight games — and with a lot of help from role players such as Jordan Poole, who had 31 against the Spurs. Draymond Green will certainly get the nod as an All-Star Game reserve from the coaches, but whether he plays or sits out to rest his back/calf injury is up in the air (although the smart money is on him sitting out).

Sixers small icon 3. 76ers (31-19, LW 8). Fans in Philadelphia are going to throw a party when Ben Simmons is finally traded, but that may end up being a summer BBQ party rather than one in February. Of course Simmons trade rumors will fly all over the place for the next eight days — how about for Bradley Beal in Washington — but Morey himself said a trade was “less likely than likely” before the deadline, and most sources around the league tell NBC Sports that it will take a radical shift by another team or the 76ers (or both) to get a deal done before the deadline.

Grizzlies small icon 4. Grizzlies (35-18, LW 5). Are the Grizzlies locked in as the No. 3 seed in the West this season? They are 4 games up on the No. 4 seed Jazz and 4.5 games back of the No. 2 seed Warriors. The Grizzlies have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, they are more likely to move up than down, but they would need the Warriors or Suns to stumble and help them out. Whatever happens, the Grizzlies will keep putting on a show nightly. Like when Desmond Bane chased down and blocked a Spencer Dinwiddie dunk, which became a Ja Morant windmill dunk on the other end (the bucket did count after a review).

Heat small icon 5. Heat (32-20, LW 2). Will the Heat have any representatives at the All-Star Game in Cleveland in a few weeks? Probably, it’s hard to imagine the coaches will not pick Jimmy Butler as a reserve, but he’s missed considerable time the first half of the season, so anything is possible. Bam Adebayo certainly is an All-Star level player, but he’s only played in 27 games. Is that enough? The Heat have lost three in a row — one in triple-OT to the Raptors — and are now 0-2 to open their six-game road trip (which does get easier from here).

Cavaliers small icon 6. Cavaliers (31-21, LW 7). Cleveland is active at the deadline trying to bring in more depth, but their best trade chip is the contract of Ricky Rubio (out for the season due to a knee injury). That alone is not going to land them Caris LeVert, or even Eric Gordon. The Cavaliers sit as the No. 4 seed in the East and one reason to think they can hold on to that seed and host a first-round playoff game is they have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the top six in the conference.

Bucks small icon 7. Bucks (32-21, LW 4). When Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all on the court together this season, the Bucks still have a +11.7 net rating, which isn’t that far off the +12.9 they were last regular season, on their way to the title. However, it sure didn’t look like that when the Bucks got blown out by 36 by the Nuggets Sunday, despite all three being on the court together for that one. “People are coming for us. People are hunting us right now. They get excited when they see, `Milwaukee Bucks, world champs.’ We’ve got to play every single night hard and build that habit,” Antetokounmpo said.

Mavericks small icon 8. Mavericks (29-22, LW 9). Dallas is an interesting team to watch heading into the trade deadline. Teams are calling and asking about Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith, but the Mavericks have no intention of trading either unless an offer blows their doors off, reports Marc Stein in his newsletter. Dallas’ defense has been good this season but the offense around Luka Doncic is not enough to be a title contender, and can they trust Kristaps Porzingis to be there every night. Dallas needs a real No. 2, but that is more likely an offseason move than a deadline one.

Bulls small icon 09. Bulls (32-18, LW 12). Look for Chicago to add some depth at the trade deadline, maybe Dennis Schroder out of Boston, maybe veteran Paul Millsap for the front line, but someone. The Bulls defense is still struggling with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso out injured, but a soft stretch of the schedule has allowed them to win 4-of-5 and climb back on top of the Eastern Conference. Also, Zach LaVine is a lock to be an All-Star reserve.

Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (28-22, LW 11). While an East Coast center is getting all the recent MVP buzz, if there was a vote today Nikola Jokic likely would win back-to-back awards. He has seven triple-doubles in January while averaging 26.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 9 assists a game. And he sparked a five-game winning streak, which came to an end Tuesday night in Minnesota. The Nuggets are 4-1 so far on their six-game road trip, with a game against a (likely shorthanded) Utah team on Wednesday closing it out.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (30-21, LW 6). The Jazz have lost five in a row and went 4-12 in January, much of that due to injuries (Joe Ingles is now out for the season with a torn ACL, Donovan Mitchell has missed the last 7 games due to a concussion, Rudy Gobert the last four with a calf strain), but the rough month also has exposed other concerns. One remains dealing with or having a small ball lineup — Rudy Gay was supposed to solve that problem, but Gay at center lineups have a -17.9 net rating. Utah will get healthy and should hold on to a top-six seed, but keeping a top-four seed and home court in the first round will be tougher. projects the Jazz to finish with 50 wins, but for the Nuggets to have 49 and the Mavericks to have 48. That’s not much margin for error.

Nets small icon 12. Nets (29-21, LW 10). The Nets have gone 2-6 since Kevin Durant went out with a sprained knee, and the problem has been the defense, which has a 118.3 net rating in those games (28th in the league). The offense, with James Harden and Kyrie Irving, has held up well, it’s getting stops that’s a problem. Brooklyn is still working to find a new home for Paul Millsap via trade, although it’s more likely the team ultimately just buys him out (the Lakers and Bulls are rumored potential landing spots).

Celtics small icon 13. Celtics (27-25, LW 14). A lot of trade buzz around the Celtics heading into the deadline, with the team looking for players to help build around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (not trade one of that duo). Point guard Dennis Schroder will likely be dealt (Chicago? That’s a hot rumor) and Josh Richardson rumors are ever-present. Some teams have called about Marcus Smart as well, but it would take an offer that would blow Brad Stevens away to get him out of Green. The Celtics have won 4-of-5 and have a soft schedule for a week, a chance to climb up the Eastern standings a little.

Hornets small icon 14. Hornets (28-23, LW 13). Will Charlotte have a representative in the All-Star Game? Yes… but it will be as an injury replacement. Probably. LaMelo Ball is on the cusp; he was my first-out when Dan Feldman and I named our All-Star reserves, it’s possible the coaches put him in, but if not someone has to replace Kevin Durant (who is out) and anyone else from the East who can’t play, and LaMelo Ball has the most fan votes of anyone not likely selected. Adam Silver, when naming replacements, tends to follow the fan vote. So, one way or another LaMelo likely plays. He’s also headlining the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night. You can make a case that Miles Bridges deserves to be an All-Star, but a lot of things will need to happen first for that to become a reality.

Raptors small icon 15. Raptors (26-23, LW 16). Toronto is playing its best basketball of the season of late, having won three in a row — two over Miami and once over Atlanta — and they have won 5-of-7. They have a top-10 defense during that stretch, which is fueling the wins. The Raptors will make at least one trade at the deadline, finding a new home for Goran Dragic, and likely bringing back a player who makes a few million less in the process to help them get under the luxury tax line.

Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (24-26 LW 18). Atlanta is the streakiest team in the NBA. In November, they lost six straight, then turned around and won seven straight. In January, they lost five in a row before bouncing back with another seven-game winning streak (that streak died at the hands of the Raptors Monday). The Hawks are doing it on both ends with a top-5 offense and defense over their last eight games. That win streak quieted trade talk around the Hawks, John Collins may ultimately still want out of town but that looks more like an off-season thing now.

17. Timberwolves (26-25, LW 15). Some Patrick Beverley trade talk bouncing around the league as good Timberwolves team pushes to make the postseason (they sit as the No. 7 seed, top spot in the play-in, but it’s going to be tough to climb up the 2.5 games to sixth and avoid the play-in without some help). They could use a strong defender at the point guard if they move Beverley out. Karl-Anthony Towns is all but a lock to be named an All-Star reserve by the coaches, he has earned it with his play this season.

Clippers small icon18. Clippers (26-27, LW 20). The Clippers — without Kawhi Leonard all season and now without Paul George for an extended time — have formed an identity of a gritty, tough team to play against, and they are one game up on that team down the hall (who has yet to form an identity). Credit coach Tyronn Lue for that, he has done a masterful job this season (even if he’s not going to get Coach of the Year votes). No word yet on if Paul George will have surgery, but any moves the Clippers make at the trade deadline will be about next season, not this one.

Knicks small icon 19. Knicks (24-27, LW 19). New York traded for Cam Reddish, but he hasn’t been able to crack Tom Thibodeau’s rotation. Which has the Knicks front office looking to trade a perimeter player — Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, Kemba Walker — so that Thibodeau is forced to play Reddish. Sitting 11th in the East and with the teams just above them playing well (Toronto, Atlanta, etc.), the Knicks need some wins, but it’s going to be tough with their schedule coming up. Wednesday night they host the Grizzlies, then they head out West for five games, including the Jazz and Warriors.

Lakers small icon 20. Lakers (24-27, LW 17). It’s hard to find a bright spot right now with Los Angeles. They went 2-4 on their Grammys road trip, and the come-from-ahead loss to the Hawks on Sunday was particularly a tough blow — it was a league-leading 11th time the Lakers have blown a double-digit lead and lost this season. LeBron James has knee soreness that has him out, and the buzz around the league is he may sit out until after the All-Star break to get it right. However, the Lakers have lost three straight without him and are 5-10 on the season when he sits. The Lakers appear destined to be a play-in team. Again.

Blazers small icon 21. Trail Blazers (21-30, LW 22). One of the hottest names on the trade rumor mill, expect Portland to make moves — yes, plural — before the deadline. There is a lot of interest from contenders in Robert Covington, but the names of Ben McLemore and Jusuf Nurkic are bouncing around as well. Then there is the CJ McCollum talk. It’s not clear if interim GM Joe Cronin has the power to blow up the Trail Blazers backcourt, and even if he does there’s little evidence any team (including the Pelicans) is offering near enough to get serious consideration for that move.

Spurs small icon 22. Spurs (19-33, LW 24). San Antonio is the unluckiest team in the league, they have the point differential of a 25-27 team, but they are 7-17 in clutch games (within five points in the final five minutes) with a -17.8 net rating in those minutes. Don’t expect any big trade deadline moves from the Spurs, while they have interest in John Collins in Atlanta they are not going to meet the Hawks’ current asking prices. That’s more of an offseason/draft day kind of discussion.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (23-27, LW 21). Washington is stumbling toward the trade deadline, and that only ramps up the speculation that they could shift course and trade Bradley Beal. That’s not happening unless Beal himself asks out, and he has not wanted to do that (even though there are reports the Wizards 13-24 play after a fast start has him disillusioned). The Wizards have been active in the trade market, showing interest in Domantas Sabonis (but his asking price may be too high) and testing the market to see what Montrezl Harrell‘s value is. Owner Ted Leonsis wants to make the postseason, so expect some kind of shake-up.

Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (19-33, LW 26). While the Pacers made headlines saying their trio of Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Caris LeVert could be available, but the reality is far less interesting. Turner’s injury (stress reaction in his foot) has dampened his market considerably, teams are unsure how much he can help this season. The asking price for Sabonis — a good young player and one or two first-round picks (depending on how good they are) — is proving more than the market will pay. That leaves LeVert as the player likely traded from the Pacers, but they still want a first-round pick and a player for him, and that may be too much.

Pelicans small icon 25. Pelicans (19-32, LW 23). Brandon Ingram returned to action Tuesday night and, predictably, the Pelicans got the win. New Orleans is 17-20 this season in games Ingram plays and 2-12 when he does not. Ingram has played well enough this season to be an All-Star — 22.5 points and 6 rebounds a game — but whether the West coaches will pick him considering New Orleans’ record remains to be seen. A lot of talk about the Pelicans wanting to trade for CJ McCollum, but would an offer of a lot of first-round draft picks (from Lakers and Bucks trades) plus a combination of Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. get it done for a Blazers team wanting to win now around Damian Lillard?

Magic small icon 26. Magic 11-41, LW 29). Orlando has won 3-of-5 and its not a coincidence that has happened as they got healthy and got their best starting five back — Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba. Suggs has played better since returning from injury and is showing real promise. He, Anthony, and Wagner will all be in the Rising Stars game in Cleveland during All-Star Weekend, and they deserve it.

Kings small icon 27. Kings (18-34, LW 25). Here are two things that are true: 1) The Kings have lost 7 in a row and 12-of-14, and now sit 13th in the West 3.5 games out of even the last play-in spot in the conference; 2) The Kings are looking to be buyers at the trade deadline because they want to make a push up the standings and get at least into the play-in. The Kings have been linked to Jerami Grant, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and others in trade talks. Harrison Barnes is among the players available (and a number of teams are interested in him). Whether or not thinking short-term is the smart move for the Kings, it’s the direction owner Vivek Ranadive wants to go.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (12-38, LW 28). Jerami Grant trade rumors are all over the league. The Wizards and Kings are possible landing spots, they have young players and picks to send back, and they can provide Grant with the prominent offensive role he seeks. Grant will not get traded to a contender to be a third option, he would push back against that role and has some leverage with his contract extension. Detroit may have lost 5-of-6, but give them credit for a quality win over the Cavaliers on Sunday.

Thunder small icon 29. Thunder (15-34, LW 30). The Thunder come up in a lot of trade rumors because they’re the only team that has (or can easily create) cap space, helping facilitate a big trade for someone like a Ben Simmons (if such a trade actually happens), but its not likely any of their players get moved. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out until at least the All-Star break with a sprained ankle, meaning it is the Josh Giddey show in OKC for a few weeks.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (14-36, LW 27). While speculation about how to pull off a John Wall trade is a fun thought exercise, the reality is it’s far more likely to be Eric Gordon, and maybe Christian Wood, who are on the move in the next 8 days, not Wall. Right now Houston is pushing to get a first-rounder back for Gordon, but that price could come down as the deadline nears. The Rockets have dropped four in a row.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.

Hawks’ Trae Young plans to shoot more 3s… is that a good thing?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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Quin Snyder wants his teams to shoot 3-pointers. A lot of them. In his final season as coach of the Utah Jazz, they took 10 more 3-pointers a game than his new Atlanta Hawks team did last season after he took over.

Trae Young has heard his coach and is ready to get up more than the 6.3 attempts a game he took last season.

That’s a good thing… but only if they are “good shots.” It’s good only if Young hits more than the 33.5% he shot from 3 last season.

While he has a reputation as a 3-point marksman, Young is a career 35.1% shooter from 3 and has been below that 35% number in three of his five NBA seasons. (Also concerning for the Hawks and Young’s fit with Dejonte Murray, he shot just 20% on the less than one catch-and-shoot 3 he took a game last season.)

Young has had better years, he shot 38.2% in 2021-22 and he is an offensive force as a creator capable of doing that again. That is the Young Snyder needs.

He also needs Young to buy into his system of ball and player movement more. Last season, 45% of Young’s shots came after he had at least seven dribbles — he pounded the ball into the ground and jacked up a shot without getting teammates involved far too often (77.9% of his shots came after at least three dribbles). Young shot 33.3% on the 3s he took after those seven dribbles, and less than that percentage on 3-pointers taken after three dribbles or more, which were the majority of his attempts.

This coming season will be an important one for Young, who has proven he is an All-Star who can put up numbers and drive an offense — he’s made an All-NBA team for a reason. The question facing him is whether he will fit into a team system that balances multiple shot creators, off-ball movement, willing passers and selflessness — what you can see in the two teams playing in the NBA Finals. Snyder will call pick-and-rolls, he wants his team to hunt mismatches at times, but there has to be more of a flow to what is happening. There can’t be many shots after seven dribbles (and that’s not touching on the defensive concerns around Young).

The Hawks will evolve over the next couple of seasons under Snyder. Where Young fits in that will be something to watch.

But we will see more 3-pointers.