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Minnesota to meet with Chauncey Billups, Trajan Langdon for lead front office job

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Minnesota may have settled on its coach for next season — Ryan Saunders seems to have a lock on the position — and are now working backward to hire his boss, the new president of basketball operations.

That could be former Pistons legend and current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups, or Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon, both of whom have interviews coming up with Minnesota’s leadership, according to reports.

Billups has the most recognizable name of the group and a high basketball IQ, but he also has zero front office experience. While Billups has shown interest in other GM/basketball ops jobs before, there are some around the league questioning if Minnesota owner Glen Taylor is going to pay what it would take to get Billups out of ESPN. That said, there will at least be a conversation.

Minnesota also has met with Clippers GM Michael Winger, Rockets’ No. 2 Gersson Rosas, and Nuggets assistant GM Calvin Booth. This is a strong lineup of people from the “guys who have paid their dues and deserve a shot” file.”

Whoever takes over the job will fill the shoes of Tom Thibodeau, who was let go mid-season and who hamstrung the roster with his win-now decisions. In the positives column, Minnesota has All-NBA level player in Karl-Anthony Towns at the heart of the roster. After KAT there is work to do. Andrew Wiggins will make $27.5 million next season and has four more seasons after that at max money (right now that contract is as close to untradable as any in the NBA). Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million, and Jeff Teague opted into his $19 million. Lowering the cost of this roster while turning the Timberwolves back into a playoff team will require a lot of creativity.

Minnesota reportedly to speak with Clippers’ GM Winger, Rockets’ Rosas for team president

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Minnesota is looking to fill Tom Thibodeau’s other chair as the head of basketball operations, and owner Glen Taylor looking hard at a couple of the top “next in line” guys around the NBA.

Minnesota has gotten permission to talk to Clippers GM Michael Winger and Rockets’ No. 2 Gersson Rosas, according to multiple reports.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski had the news about Winger, who was Sam Presti’s right-hand man in Oklahoma City for seven seasons before coming to the Clippers. Winger was in the middle of both building up the Thunder over the years, then for the past two seasons being part of the Clippers’ impressive transformation. He has been one of the guys at the front of the line for a top basketball operations job for a while, he just needs to get a shot.

Rosas in Houston is another highly respected person around the league who deserves a shot, and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported he is in the mix.

Either of these choices would be good calls, both deserve a shot. One of the deciding factors could be who fits best with Ryan Saunders, who is poised to remain coach in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves job is not an easy one, even with an All-NBA level player in Karl-Anthony Towns at the heart of the roster. Andrew Wiggins just finished the first season of his five-year max extension, will make $27.5 million next season (with raises every season to follow) and he is an anchor on rebuilding, but the contract is nearly unmovable. Jeff Teague can opt into a $19 million deal for next season. Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million. The list goes on, but there are a lot of big contracts for guys who do not produce at those levels. There is a lot of work to be done to reshape and remold this roster into something that can be a playoff team, and not be flirting with the tax to miss out on it (like this season).

Presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson declares for NBA draft

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This is not a surprise, it’s just now official.

Zion Williamson, the Duke star projected by basically everyone to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, is headed to the NBA. He made it official on his Instagram account in a message largely about how much he appreciated his year in Durham, North Carolina.

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🔵Thank you Duke🔵#thebrotherhood

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“I will pursue my next dream and declare for the 2019 NBA Draft.”

Willaimson is is a 6’7″ versatile forward with an NBA-ready physique who has the potential to be a perfect fit in the modern NBA game. Sources from multiple NBA front offices have told me he is their highest rated prospect since Anthony Davis (some throw in Karl-Anthony Towns). Williamson is an insane athlete who can leap out of the building, but also shows a point guard’s feel for the game and has the potential to be an excellent defender. He needs to work to get his shot to an NBA level, but every report about him says he has a fantastic work ethic.

Now comes the race to see who will be his agent, and from there which shoe company signs Williamson. He is expected to get one of the — if not THE — largest rookie shoe contract ever.

Also on Monday, Virginia’s De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome, as well as Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, also all declared for the draft.

2019 PBT Awards: All-NBA

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Kurt Helin

First team

G: James Harden, Rockets

G: Stephen Curry, Warriors

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

F: Paul George, Thunder

C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

G: Kyrie Irving, Celtics

F: Kevin Durant, Warriors

F: Kawhi Leonard, Raptors

C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Third team

G: Russell Westbrook, Thunder

G: Kemba Walker, Hornets

F: LeBron James, Lakers

F: Blake Griffin, Pistons

C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

At center, it was tough to leave Karl-Anthony Towns off the list, but his early-season struggles — even if Jimmy Butler deserves blame for that — set him just behind Gobert. The final guard spot on the third team was the other hard choice, leaving Bradley Beal and Klay Thompson off was difficult, all three were deserving, but to me Kemba had to carry the heaviest burden for his team the longest last season.

Dan Feldman

First team

G: James Harden, Rockets

G: Stephen Curry, Warriors

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

F: Paul George, Thunder

C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

G: Kyrie Irving, Celtics

F: Kevin Durant, Warriors

F: Kawhi Leonard, Raptors

C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

Third team

G: Bradley Beal, Wizards

G: Jrue Holiday, Pelicans

F: LeBron James, Lakers

F: Blake Griffin, Pistons

C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

After filling out my MVP ballot, the first team and most of the second team came together easily. Considering his big advantage in minutes, Nikola Jokic landed solidly ahead of Joel Embiid for first-team center. Pascal Siakam drew consideration for third-team forward, but Blake Griffin and LeBron James got the nod for carrying far bigger loads.

The real drama came with third-team guards and center.

The two center spots came down to Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker and Mike Conley. Beal took everything on his plate for Washington after John Wall got hurt and did so well in that lone-star role. Holiday was by far the best defender of the group, and he was also darn good running New Orleans’ offense. As many all-around contributions as Westbrook made, I just couldn’t overlook his terrible shooting.

At center, I valued Rudy Gobert helping to make this season meaningful for the Jazz over Karl-Anthony Towns failing to set a tone then later dazzling offensively. I also gave real consideration to Anthony Davis. His trade request torpedoed the Pelicans’ season, and that should count against him. But he was also absolutely awesome before that, and he continued to show up to play afterward. New Orleans’ response to the trade request wasn’t all on him.

Dane Delgado

First team

G: Stephen Curry, Warriors

G: James Harden, Rockets

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

F: Paul George, Thunder

C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

G: Kyrie Irving, Celtics

F: Kevin Durant, Warriors

F: Kawhi Leonard, Raptors

C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Third team

G: Ben Simmons, 76ers

G: Bradley Beal, Wizards

F: Pascal Siakam, Raptors

F: Blake Griffin, Pistons

C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

It feels like the only squabble on All-NBA is with the center position of the first team. Whether you want to go with Embiid or Jokic is your personal preference — longevity vs. a more well-rounded game. The only real issue I have is with putting Kyrie Irving on second team. His actions this year have been pretty off-putting, but I’m not sure that the All-NBA teams require the same kind of narrative that the MVP award does. I won’t be alone in leaving LeBron James off of the third team, and instead substituting more valuable players who deserve their spots accordingly. It seems like we’ve all argued about who goes on these All-NBA teams, but they’re pretty well-sorted already this year.

NBA Power Rankings: Of course Golden State ended on top, what did you expect?

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Golden State is still the team everyone has to beat to win a title, they are the heavy favorites to threepeat, so of course they end the season on top of the rankings. The Bucks are second, and then it gets interesting.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (57-24, Last Week No. 1). Golden State ends the regular season on top of these rankings, and that’s as it should be. We all know this is the team to beat if anyone else wants to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June. For all the ups-and-downs of the regular season, the Warriors end it with the best record in the West and relatively healthy heading into the playoffs (Stephen Curry’s ankle sprain Tuesday was minor). Those things are always the goals.

 
Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (60-21, LW 2). There are plenty of doubters, people questioning if these Bucks can carry their regular-season success over to the playoffs. Milwaukee does not deserve that level of skepticism — they have been to the playoffs before, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be his usual self, Khris Middleton was a beast against Boston a season ago, and this team has veterans who understand playoff pressure. That said, they need Malcolm Brogdon back for the second round, and even that may not be enough because Boston has been a matchup problem for Milwaukee.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (53-29, LW 4). Houston has finished its season, but depending upon what happens Wednesday could be anything from the 2 to 4 seed in the West. Denver played games (resting guys against Portland) to push Houston to the four seed and the Warriors side of the bracket, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Houston facing Golden State in the second round means James Harden isn’t as tired and Chris Paul is less likely to be injured (he has a history), that may be better for the Rockets than waiting until the conference finals.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (58-24, LW 3). While nobody was looking too closely, the Raptors have played some of their best basketball of the season in resent weeks — they are hitting the playoffs in stride. Marc Gasol has been a big boost — the Raptors are 11-4 when Gasol, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyle Lowry all suit up. When Gasol, Leonard, Lowry, and Pascal Siakam are on the court together, the Raptors have a net rating of 14.3.

 
Jazz small icon 5. Jazz (50-31, LW 7). Utah is locked into the five seed in the West, win-or-lose their final game on Wednesday against the Clippers. The Jazz likely are rooting for shorthanded Portland to stay the four seed (Utah’s goal is to get out of the first round again), but Houston could fall to four, and that would be a real matchup challenge for the Jazz. For fans, however, Donovan Mitchell vs. James Harden would be a very entertaining show.

 
Nuggets small icon 6. Nuggets (53-28, LW 5). Denver has to win its final game against Minnesota to secure the No. 2 seed. The Nuggets’ gambit — resting players against the Trail Blazers and losing to them last weekend — could pay off, if Portland wins Wednesday (and Denver does, too) then Portland is the three seed and Houston falls to fourth. That means the Nuggets avoid the matchup they least want in the second round. But whoever they face, Denver has a lot to prove in its first postseason with this core.

 
Blazers small icon 7. Trail Blazers (52-29, LW 8). If Portland can beat Sacramento on Wednesday they likely finish as the three seed (Denver has to win, too) and with 53 wins — the second straight year as the three seed and with four more wins. That’s an impressive accomplishment. This summer the Trail Blazers should pay Damian Lillard the supermax extension (he will make the All-NBA team and qualify) then decide how to approach the rest of the roster. But make Lillard a Blazer for life, he’s too good on and off the court for this franchise to do anything else.

 
Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (49-33, LW 10). Boston enters the playoff having won 6-of-8 and with things setting up well for them: A shorthanded Pacers team in the first round followed by a Bucks team they match up well with in the second round. Boston’s key is health. Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum have battled little injuries and need to get right before the postseason. The Celtics also need Gordon Hayward to play like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

 
Sixers small icon 9. 76ers (50-31, LW 6). No team has undergone a metamorphosis this season like the Sixers — trading away a lot of depth to acquire Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, going all in on a title this season. “The Process” seems like a distant memory. No team in the East has a starting five as talented as Philly, but will the lack of depth and questions about chemistry catch up with them in the second round? Conference Finals? Never. This is going to be a fun team to watch through the playoffs.

 
Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (48-33, LW 12). The team in the bottom half of the West that nobody in the top half wants to face in the first round. With a win against the Bucks (who have nothing to play for) Wednesday, the Thunder secure the six seed in the West. Oklahoma City has two All-NBA level stars in Paul George and Russell Westbrook, and a solid team defense, which makes teams nervous about playing them in the postseason. However, Westbrook has been inefficient and the Thunder role players have stumbled, if that continues it will be another short playoff run for OKC.

 
Spurs small icon 11. Spurs (47-34, LW 11). Gregg Popovich deserves some Coach of the Year love from voters this season, taking a team filled with guys you don’t know — and the ones you do know love the midrange shot a little too much — and turning them into a playoff team. Again. The man is a wizard. The Spurs can finish anywhere from the 6-8 seed by the time Wednesday night ends, but the fact they are in the playoffs is a win in and of itself.

 
Clippers small icon 12. Clippers (47-34, LW 9). The Clippers have stumbled, losing three in a row down the stretch, which puts them in danger of getting the Warriors in the first round (the Clippers can finish 7th or 8th, depending on what happens Wednesday night). Whatever happens, Doc Rivers is deservedly going to get a lot of Coach of the Year votes. This team entered the season with low expectations from pundits, traded their best player midway through the season (Tobias Harris, although Boban was close), and still made the playoffs. The Clippers are well positioned to land a star free agent next summer, now we’ll see if that plan comes together.

 
Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (47-34, LW 13). The third straight team in these rankings where the coach — in this case, Nate McMillan — deserves credit and should/will get Coach of the Year votes. This was a team heavy on guys who would be free agents, yet they bought in and played as a team. That’s a credit to McMillan. The Pacers hung on to the five seed in the playoffs and will face Boston in the first round, a team they can push but not likely beat without Victor Oladipo.

 
Magic small icon 14. Magic (41-40, LW 15). They will finish the season as at least a .500 team and as anywhere from the 6 to 8 seed in the East — that is a huge accomplishment for this franchise. The question for Orlando this summer is will they pay enough to keep All-Star Nikola Vucevic from bolting, because he will have options. My guess is that after they got a look at Mo Bamba for a season they will pay Vucevic to stay, figuring if/when Bamba is ready to take over the starting job someday they can trade Vucevic.

 
Nets small icon 15. Nets (41-40, LW 17). The Nets have been rebuilding — without high draft picks or big time free agents — for years now, and that they will turn that into a playoff appearance this season is impressive. The wins last weekend against the Pacers and Celtics speak to the scrappy play this team has shown all season. Now they enter the summer as big game hunters in free agency, although, like the rebuild, that may require patience as well. Brooklyn was not rebuilt in a day.

Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (40-41, LW 14). With Blake Griffin hobbled, the Piston have struggled to hold on to a playoff spot and now must win the final night of the regular season to ensure they get a ticket to the dance. If the Pistons make the playoffs, they aren’t much of a threat with Griffin slowed as he is. Detroit can finish as the 7,8, or 9 seed — win Wednesday and they are 7 or 8, lose and they are at the mercy of the next team on this list.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (39-42, LW 20). Kemba Walker will not let this team die. While he has stumbled some after the All-Star break, he has willed this team to still have a shot at the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Kemba Walker loves Charlotte, but the man is going to have options from coast-to-coast next summer — literally from New York to Los Angeles — and he will be able to choose his city and working environment. The question is, what does Kemba really want?

 
Heat small icon 18. Heat (39-42, LW 16). Thank you, Dwyane Wade. Few if any players were as entertaining on the court, as professional, as gifted, and a joy to watch as Wade was. He got rings as the best player on the team and as the guy willing to make the sacrifices to win. He was a smart player and maybe the best shot blocking guard of all time. It’s not going to be the same watching Heat games or the NBA without him. It’s too bad his final season ended without one more trip to the playoffs.

 
Kings small icon 19. Kings (39-42, LW 18). Coaches and players hate the term “moral victory,” but that’s what this season was in Sacramento. The Kings could not sustain their fast start and eventually fell out of the playoffs, but this season the Kings found their identity in pace. The Kings found two guys who can be part of the foundation of what is being built — De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley — plus other players such as Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Harry Giles who could play roles on a good team. There is a lot to like, now the Kings just have to build on it. And not screw it up.

 
Lakers small icon 20. Lakers (37-45, LW 19). No team enters the offseason with more uncertainty than Los Angeles, Magic Johnson made sure of that. As big a shock as it was, Magic leaving can be good for the Lakers — he was not good at his job. It now falls on Jeanie Buss to be aggressive, use the draw of that Lakers’ brand, and go get an elite president of basketball operations. Poach him from another team, go with David Griffin, whatever, but the Lakers need a guy to set a direction and build a culture. Right now they are just a brand. And LeBron James.

 
21. Timberwolves (36-45, LW 21). Minnesota is going to keep Ryan Saunders as the coach, he had a connection with Karl-Anthony Towns and sparked the offense, that’s a good sign (although he needs a defensive-minded assistant). They are keeping Scott Layden as GM and hiring a new person to oversee all of this and set direction, a new head of basketball operations. With Towns they have a centerpiece, but in Wiggins they have an anchor of a contract (and there are some other bad ones on the books, too). There is work to do in Minny.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (32-50, LW 22). The Wizards need to find a new GM/president of basketball operations, then figure out the biggest question facing the franchise: Re-sign Bradley Beal to a max (or, if he makes an All-NBA team, supermax) contract that keeps him with the Wizards for six years, making him the franchise cornerstone; or trade him while at his peak and jumpstart a rebuilding/retooling. Don’t expect John Wall to play next season following his torn Achilles.

 
Mavericks small icon 23. Mavericks (33-48, LW 26). Dallas is well positioned: Luka Doncic faded a little as the season went on (rookies often do) but he showed the potential to be a franchise player, they landed Kristaps Porzingis via trade already (even with the cloud of charges hanging over him), and they have the cap space to add quality players to the roster this summer. Dirk Nowitzki is a legend who will be missed (but will still be around the franchise), but Dallas is prepared for the next chapter.

 
Grizzlies small icon 24. Grizzlies (32-49, LW 24). Memphis will finish with 32 or 33 wins this season — which is still 10 or 11 more than a year ago. That speaks more to the disaster of 2017-18, but these Grizzlies did play hard and found a future star in Jaren Jackson Jr. The big question this summer is if they will trade Mike Conley — they probably do — and what they can get in return. He’s an All-Star level player, but on a big contract.

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (29-52, LW 23). No team near the bottom of the standings/top of the lottery should feel as good as the Hawks — they have two cornerstone pieces in Trae Young and John Collins. Add to that this draft, continue to develop guys and this is a franchise that is headed in the right direction.

Pelicans small icon 26. Pelicans (33-49, LW 25). Anthony Davis really worked hard to make sure he squandered all the good will he had built up in New Orleans, didn’t he? Own your clothing choices. What matters most in New Orleans now is who they bring in as the new GM/head of basketball operations. That’s the person who sets the direction, and with that what they want/will get back in the eventual Davis trade.

 
Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (22-59, LW 27). New coach Jim Boylen is hard driving, and that doesn’t sit well with every player, but John Paxson likes him and it feels like the Bulls are going to ride Boylen as coach into next season. It will be interesting to see what this young team can look like together if healthy to start a season, and with a little more experience.

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (19-63, LW 28). The Suns have got their man, Jeff Bower is going to set the direction for the franchise. Will he bring back Igor Kokoskov as coach? They have an All-Star level player (almost, anyway) in Devin Booker and potential in Deandre Ayton, but they need a lot more talent and a lot more defense to make this all work going forward.

 
Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (19-63, LW 29). Collin Sexton came on as a scorer the second half of the season. Put him with a healthy Kevin Love — probably hard to trade him this summer — and whoever the Cavaliers draft and maybe they can be less bad next season. But this rebuild is going to be a process. A long one.

 
Knicks small icon 30. Knicks (18-64, LW 30). Are the Kevin Durant rumors — which are rampant around the league — true? The Knicks are quietly confident. If it does happen the Knicks are going to be fast-tracked to a turnaround next year whether they land the top pick and Zion Williamson or not. The question is who they can get around him. Also, if KD goes to the Knicks he is my preseason MVP pick for next season.