With the trade deadline having passed, NBA teams are who they are going to be for the rest of the season. For some (basically the top nine teams on this list) that's good news, while for the bottom teams, it's all about seeing what your young guys can offer while trying to con (I mean convince) your fans to still come to the games.
As the deadline passed, many of the "contenders" (Lakers, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and San Antonio) decided to stand pat. The Celtics meanwhile, made a controversial move, sending big-man Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green. The Hawks, Blazers and Hornets also made slight upgrades, and the Knicks made a slightly big deal for that Melo guy.
As we enter what could potentially be the best NBA stretch-run in two decades (nine teams legitimately could make the finals ... look back to 2002 and 2003 and we are talking about three or four teams), here are my power rankings.
#1. San Antonio Spurs (49-10)
No team has been more consistent than the Spurs, who appear to be unbeatable at home (28-2). They have a six game lead over the Mavs for the best record in the West, and if they hold on for home court, it's difficult to imagine any team (even the two-time defending champion Lakers) knocking them off.
#2. Chicago Bulls (40-17)
The Bulls have only lost two games with Rose, Boozer and Noah in the line-up, and while they don't have the star power of the Celtics and Heat, they have been playing the best team basketball in the East. Rose is my pick for MVP, and while I wanted to see them upgrade the two-guard position, I still believe they have arrived a year earlier then expected, and can make the Finals this year.
#3. Boston Celtics (42-15)
I am not an expert, and because of this, am not going to attack Danny Ainge over the Perkins trade—but I do have to question it. This team was a Perkins injury away from winning the championship last year—and they took pride that inover the past three years, no one had beaten them when they had a healthy starting five. So they trade their starting center for a wing? Jeff Green is young and versatile and can defend well, but he's not Perkins. Now Boston's chances of winning a title relies on ... the health of Shaq? This worries me.
#4. Los Angeles Lakers (42-19)
Granted it has only been a week—but no team has looked better after the all-star break than the Lakers, who took out Atlanta, Portland and Oklahoma City. As long as they are healthy, the Lakers are a serious threat to give Phil Jackson his fourth three-peat (truly amazing). They are 0-2 against San Antonio this year, making their game in San Antonio next Sunday vastly important.
#5. Miami Heat (43-17)
The Heat are starting to feel like a bully to me—they beat up on the weak, but when they are confronted by the strong, they back down. I can't write a team with LeBron and Wade off, but that they are 1-6 against the four teams listed above (and 0-2 against the team to follow), is very ominous. They need to master the last two minutes of the game if they are to knock off Chicago and/or Boston in the playoffs!
#6. Dallas Mavericks (43-16)
The Mavs are 41-9 with Dirk in the line-up, and would be right there with San Antonio for the league's best record if he never got hurt. So why do I have them sixth? Two reasons. First, I think the Butler injury will hurt more than it has showed thus far—he is a good defender and his absence creates a void of all-star level players. The Lakers and Spurs each have three stars (reluctantly counting Lamar Odom for LA) while Dallas has only one. Secondly, the Mavs seem to underachieve every year. How many times have they been a #1 or #2 seed and gone down in the first or second round? I think history will repeat itself.
#7. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-22)
The jury will be out on how good this team can be until Perkins returns from injury. I think the trade they made was the best of the deadline other than New York getting Melo. The Thunder now have size and depth. Ibaka can play his more natural position and James Harden will get on the floor more with Jeff Green gone. I'm not predicting this, but I would not be surprised if the Thunder were to take out the Spurs and/or the Lakers.
#8. New York Knicks (30-27)
The ranking is obviously based on what I forecast will happen as Melo and Billups get comfortable heading toward the playoffs. A lot of critics out there think Amare and Melo can't win, but I disagree. Melo is a better defender than people give him credit, and people are over-looking the potential impact of Mr. Big Shot—who in only his third game with the team, already came up huge in the clutch. No one wants to see this team in the playoffs—no one!
#9. Orlando Magic (38-22)
The Magic have been fading of late. Granted their recent blow-out win over the Thunder was impressive, but I thought they would be playing much better after making those trades this past Christmas. Magic fans better hope this team gets it together—otherwise they may be seeing Superman in the playoffs wearing a Magic uniform for the last time. I'm calling it right now ... Magic trade Howard for Bynum and picks next trade deadline to avoid losing him for nothing.
#10. Portland Trailblazers (33-26)
With Roy and Camby back from injury, and the addition of Gerald Wallace, this team will be a very difficult out in the playoffs. Their roster is as talented from one through seven as just about any team in the league. The questions—lack of front-court depth and uncertainty over how effective Roy can be, will likely be answered in the next month. A healthy Roy and productive Wallace could easily get this team past the Thunder, Lakers or Mavs in the first round.
#11. Memphis Grizzlies (33-28)
Memphis has been one of the hottest teams in the past month. I like the Battier trade for them, and think this team can be scary when Rudy Gay comes back. Zach Randolph has been a rebounding machine, and coupled with Gay, gives the Grizzlies arguably the best forward tandem in the West.
#12. Atlanta Hawks (36-23)
Atlanta continues to be a team lacking an identity. They're talented, and can beat any team on any given night. The problem, is that they can also lose to any team on any given night—and also can't beat a good team four times in seven games, a requirement to win in the playoffs.
#13. New Orleans Hornets (35-26)
The Hornets have been one of the streakiest teams in the league —and currently the streak is not as good one. Who knew Emeka Okafor was this important? I like the addition of Karl Landry. That said, I think they're the Atlanta of the West—a good team with no chance of getting out of the first round.
#14. Philadelphia 76ers (30-29)
If I had a vote, I'd give it to Doug Colling for Coach of the Year—and here I thought he was insane for leaving the broadcast booth for Philly. While the Sixers have no real chance of getting out of the first round, they do have a nice foundation for a potentially bright future.
#15. Phoenix Suns (30-27)
With the trades made by Denver and Utah, Phoenix could sneak into the playoffs They have played very well of late (winning 10 of 13), and how about Grant Hill going for 34 last night?!?! The Spurs and Suns make for an intriguing first round match-up ... Remember, the Suns swept the Spurs last year, albeit with a much different team.
#16. Denver Nuggets (34-26)
Denver has played relatively well since the Melo trade—I cannot however, see it lasting. If you think about it, the Nuggets are essentially what the Knicks were, only with K-Mart instead of Amare. As much as I respect George Karl as a basketball coach, I just can't see Danilo Galinari and Ray Felton holding off the Grizzlies and Suns for a playoff spot.
#17. Utah Jazz (32-28)
Similar to Denver, the Jazz traded away their best player, essentially ruining any chances of advancing in, if even making the playoffs this year. I actually like the trade—Utah saw the writing on the wall that Williams would eventually be gone, and was able to acquire an above average replacement at point guard, a player with tremendous upside and a few draft picks. If Utah makes intelligent personnel moves over the next year and a half, the rebuilding process can be a quick and painless one.
#18. Houston Rockets (30-31)
The suddenly red-hot Rockets are not yet out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Kevin Martin has been playing very well lately and I like the trades they made—Aaron Brooks wasn't working and Battier is due to be a free agent this summer. Also, as bad as Thabeet has been, perhaps a change of scenery can un-tap his potential. The Rockets got a former #2 overall pick for essentially nothing.
#19. Golden State Warriors (26-32)
The Warriors aren't going to make the playoffs this year. That being said, the future is bright for this team. If they can add a legitimate big man this offseason to pair with Curry and Ellis, Golden State may be the top candidate to follow Oklahoma City and Memphis as young break-out teams in the West.
#20. Indiana Pacers (26-32)
This year's NBA playoffs will have fifteen good basketball teams playing in them—and likely the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers' management was too incompetent to even make a trade before the deadline (for OJ Mayo) and thus, cost their team a chance to upgrade on the wing. This team is one of the main reasons the #1 seed is so important in the East this year—who would you rather play in the first round, New York or Indiana?
#21. Milwaukee Bucks (22-36)
At this point, if you don't want to read about atrocious basketball teams, you may want to stop reading —however, if you're looking for comic relief, please continue. As good as the league is this year at the top, it is equally bad at the bottom. The Bucks are a team that was supposed to be good (some idiots even bet the over on their 45.5 win over/under), but were destroyed by injuries and a lack of ability to score. Furthermore...you know what, forget it, that over/under bet haunts me.
#22. Charlotte Bobcats (26-33)
The Charlotte Bobcats ... umm, well they ... forget it, I've got nothing —just move to Seattle or Vegas already and get Jordan out of that front office!
#23. Los Angeles Clippers (21-39)
I wish I was a fly on the wall at whichever Los Angeles area Burger King Baron Davis was frequenting at the time when he got the news of his trade to Cleveland. That must have been quite a scene.
#24. Brooklyn Russians (17-42)
So NBA Drago finally made a splash—and next year when the seventh seeded Nets are swept out of the playoffs by the Knicks, Deron Williams will realize "if you can't beat em, join em" and the Nets, or whatever they will come to be called will be back to square one as they move to Brooklyn.
#25. Detroit Pistons (22-39)
An aging T-Mac is arguably your best player; Rip Hamilton hates playing for you but refused a trade; your players supposedly refused to play for your coach; and you still have a good enough record where it's highly unlikely you'll have a top five pick in a weak draft. Need I say more?!
#26. Washington Wizards (15-43)
So, is it too early to talk about where Wall will end up in the Summer of 2014? Maybe once the team realizes Wizards is the most lame nickname in sports and changes it back to the Bullets, they can convince Wall to convince his college teammate DeMarcus Cousins to join him—Cousins seems like he would love playing for a team called the Bullets, doesn't he?
#27. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-46)
I don't know what's more amazing ... Kevin Love's double-double streak, or the fact that the team only has 14 wins despite his streak and the very good play from Michael Beasley (20 ppg and 6 rpg).
#28. Sacramento Kings (14-43)
Remember about nine years ago when Shaq called them the Sacramento Queens? That just seems so fitting these days.
#29. Toronto Raptors (16-44)
This is literally the only team I have not seen play even once this year. Judging by their record, they're barely NCAA Final Four caliber roster, and with the lack of any Toronto highlights other than an occasional DeMar DeRozen dunk in a twenty point loss, I think this ranking is quite justified.
#30. Cleveland Cavaliers (11-48)
Cavs fans rejoice—you traded for Baron Davis ... Now all you have to do is trade for Eddy Curry and sign Rasheed Wallace, and you'll have enough B-cups to play in the WNBA where you might be a .500 team!