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PBT Power Rankings: After summer shakeups, Spurs still team to beat

Jul 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game Five Getty Images

After a tumultuous summer where LeBron James went home to Cleveland and Carmelo Anthony stayed home with the Knicks, it’s time for another PBT Power Rankings. And after all that nothing has really changed — the top three spots in our power rankings were the top three at the end of last season. But things have shifted a lot in the East.

source:  1. Spurs (Last season 62-20). Defending NBA champs bring back everyone who matters… that might be the best off-season of all. Plus, Kawhi Leonard is just getting better and better every season.

source:  2. Thunder (59-23).. They struck out adding another key piece this summer, but they were the second best team in the NBA last season, and they still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The more minutes Steven Adams steals from Kendrick Perkins the better.

source:  3. Clippers (57-25). This was the third best team in the NBA at the end of last season. If you just said “but they were eliminated in the second round” it was to the Thunder in a series where Donald Sterling was a major disruption and distraction. They added Spencer Hawes, which is a quality upgrade for their front line depth.

source:  4. Mavericks (49-33). The Mavericks had the third best offense in the NBA last season and just added Chandler Parsons working off the weak side and in transition to that. The concern was their 22nd-ranked defense but they just brought back Tyson Chandler to help on that end. If they can figure out a point guard rotation that works (between Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris) the Mavericks become a potential threat.

source:  5. Bulls (48-34). It comes down to this — if Derrick Rose is back to even 85-90 percent of his old self they have the pieces around him to be a contender, certainly a threat in the East. Pau Gasol ad Joakim Noah make the best passing front court in the league, with Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott all able to contribute up front.

source:  6. Cavaliers (33-49). They had the best off-season of any team in the NBA landing that LeBron guy. They are contenders in the East right now (but a bit young and untested come the playoffs). If Cleveland completes the Kevin Love trade they move up. Should they move Andrew Wiggins for Love? They should do whatever LeBron wants.

source:  7. Warriors (51-31). This team had arguably the best starting five in the NBA last season but depth was an issue. Adding Shaun Livingston helps a little. It’s all on Steve Kerr now. Even if management didn’t like Mark Jackson or his offense (with reason on the second part) the players would run through a wall for him. Will they for Kerr?

source:  8. Rockets (54-28). They struck out this offseason and more importantly hurt their depth (no Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons or Jeremy Lin). This is still a good team but James Harden is about to find out how important role players are.

source:  9. Trail Blazers (54-28). They are a good team and Damian Lillard is still improving, but will Chris Kaman and Steve Blake really help the bench? This team can go as far as their defense will take them.

source:  10. Grizzlies (50-32). They added some much needed three point shooting with Vince Carter, but mostly the Grizzlies are banking on continuity (see the new deal with Zach Randolph). That and Marc Gasol staying healthy — when he is this team is very dangerous.

source:  11. Suns (48-34). They need to work out the Eric Bledsoe contract situation, but the Suns will have one amazing backcourt with the addition of Isaiah Thomas. They are going to be fun to watch, how good a playoff team they are will be about how good a defensive team they become.

source:  12. Nuggets (36-46). I’m higher on Denver than most — they were ravaged by injury last season and get a healthy Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee back, combined with the quality addition of Aaron Afflalo at the two guard spot. This is a dangerous team. More like the 54-win team of a couple years ago… if Brian Shaw can get that out of them.

source:  13. Wizards (44-38). I think they will be the third best team in the East. They lose Trevor Aria but replace him with a Paul Pierce/Otto Porter combo, they keep Marcin Gortat. John Wall and Bradley Beal should both be improved this season. They just need Nene to stay healthy and if so watch out.

source:  14. Pacers (56-26). One of the hardest teams to figure out — was the second half of last season a fluke? They are going to miss Lance Stephenson’s shot creation. Indiana added C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez to knock down open looks, but are they going to get any now? Frank Vogel has some work to do.

source:  15. Raptors (48-34). They re-signed Kyle Lowry and bring back almost everyone from a 48-win team. Can the growth of DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, along with continuity, lift this team up to another top four finish in the East and maybe the second round at least?

source:  16. Hawks (38-44). Remember they were the third best team in the East last season before Al Horford tore his pectoral and he will be back this season. They didn’t land any big names this summer but bring back a solid team that will do fairly well in the East.

source:  17. Heat (54-28). They are not going to be as good without LeBron, obviously, but by running the offense more through Chris Bosh and bringing in Luol Deng they can play the same small-ball, space-and-pace system. But that system’s success was predicated on defense and that end of the floor looks to be an issue for Miami.

source:  18. Pelicans (34-48). This is a team I think can make a leap this season behind Anthony Davis, who will be a top five player in the league. I like Omer Asik next to him for defense and Ryan Anderson in the mix to space the floor. If they stay healthy this can be a playoff team in the East.

source:  19. Hornets (43-39).A playoff team last year they did it with defense, now they improved that and added some shot creation with Lance Stephenson — if his antics aren’t a distraction this could be a great pickup. This is a team that could make a jump up the ladder in the East this season.

source:  20. Timberwolves (40-42). It does’t feel like this team will have Kevin Love when training camp opens, but even if it does the level of distraction can’t be good for this team. This roster, if it could just stay healthy and execute better late in games, could be a playoff team… but only with Love. And he’s gone.

source:  21. Nets (44-38). A potentially dangerous team in the East, but coach Lionel Hollins has to get Brook Lopez to be a force at both ends, get Deron Williams to play more consistently, and get Joe Johnson in the post against smaller guards not just shooting jumpers. Plus Kevin Garnett has to return to close to his Boston form. Still a lot of interesting pieces here.

source:  22. Knicks (37-45). The kilt Carmelo Anthony and with Derek Fisher/Phil Jackson running the show there is a direction now. But they still have a lot of mediocre players, although Jose Calderon is an upgrade at the point. Still going to be a team that struggles defensively.

source:  23. Pistons (29-53). Stan Van Gundy is a good hire as coach and team president, but unless he figures out how to make Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe coexist together it’s not going to matter. They added some shooting to the roster, which should help a little.

source:  24. Kings (28-54). Nobody knows that the plan is, but we do know that Darren Collison is not as good a point guard as Isaiah Thomas. Kings need DeMarcus Cousins to have a monster year.

source:  25. Jazz (25-57). Can Quin Snyder develop young talent? They have a lot in Utah with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, and the re-signed Gordon Hayward. Build that talent up and this becomes a much better team the second half of the season.

source:  26. Lakers (27-55). They can be a decent offensive team team with Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Julius Randle, but they are going to be a defensive disaster. If Jack in the Box only gives out free tacos when the Lakers win and hold the opposing team under 100 the chain can save a lot of money.

source:  27. Bucks (15-67, LW 30). Jabari Parker is going to get a lot of minutes and could make a Rookie of the Year push, and with John Henson make a nice front line. The big question is Larry Sanders, if he plays like the guy from two seasons ago again this could be a pretty good defensive team.

source:  28. Celtics (25-57). This is a young team… and Rajon Rondo. They have a number of first round picks that should get better in the coming years but this season is going to be dominated by trade rumors in Boston.

source:  29. Magic (23-59). A really young roster with some nice pieces… plus Channing Frye and Ben Gordon. Some nice young players on this roster that should get run and time to grow.

source:  30. 76ers (19-63). Nerlens Noel looks like he could be a player in a couple years, and Michael Carter Williams should take steps forward. But Joel Embiid can’t pitch in this season. This is a team that could be really good in a few years but this season is going to be a rough one in Philly.

  1. shadowgamesshades - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Why are the Rockets ahead of the Blazers? Did you miss last year’s playoffs or something? Rockets got a lot worse by losing depth and striking out on a 3rd star?

    • bigmeechy74 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:53 AM

      Ah yes. That playoff series should definitely matter when ranking them. If lillard missed that shot, they go to game 7 and (probably) lose. But since he made it, they are clearly the better team. Gotcha. I’m not saying Houston is better than Portland, I’m just saying last years playoff series is completely irrelevant in these rankings.

      • shadowgamesshades - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:21 AM

        Did you read my whole comment? I don’t think you did.

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:53 AM

        You’re right, it is irrelevant, when you consider the Blazers won that series, and the Rockets got worse than last year, the Blazers should be ranked even further ahead of Houston.

      • watdoiknow - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:22 PM

        I see that your “witty” sarcastic approach… without any real facts to back up your argument did not go over too well… maybe next time kid…

        Gotcha!

  2. nolahxc - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    “If they stay healthy this can be a playoff team in the East.”

    You’re probably right about this. Sadly, they play in the West.

    • nolahxc - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:31 AM

      ….Pelicans

  3. deadeyedesign23 - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    It’s pretty lazy having the Nets and Knicks back to back in just about every power ranking since they started playing in the same city.

    • spursareold - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      They both suck pretty much equally, so….

      • deadeyedesign23 - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        Last year the Nets were much better and the year before that the Knicks were better. It’s just super lazy to get to one and then put the other in nearly every ranking for 3 years.

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:59 AM

      Do you disagree with the rankings? Should one team be higher than the other?

      • deadeyedesign23 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:51 PM

        I’m not sure in relation to other teams, but I think there’s a bigger gap between the Nets and Knicks. Nets lost Pierce who was pretty mediocre during the regular season, but are getting back their best player in Brook Lopez…and presumably better coaching. Knicks are returning mostly the same 37 win team, minus their second best player and best defender.

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:29 PM

        So the Nets should be higher? The Knicks should be lower? Which teams below the Knicks should be above them? Which teams above the Nets should be below them?

      • deadeyedesign23 - Jul 28, 2014 at 5:07 PM

        I wouldn’t have them in this order, but I’d take the Nets over the Hawks, Pelicans and Hornets. Knicks are probably about right, but if Kobe comes back to 2012 form I would take them first.

  4. Kevin S. - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    Lopez is already a force at both ends – he had one of the lowest FG% allowed at the rim last year when he went down. Obviously his lack of mobility limits his ability to be the more complete defender teams want from their bigs these days, but he can hold down the rim just fine. He needs to stay healthy more than anything. The game is already there for him to be one of the three best centers in the league.

    • elcaminobilly - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      Absolutely correct. If the Nets could have stayed healthy last year I suspect we would have won the division. (lifelong Nets fan here)

  5. patsmiley - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    Wizards ranked 13th is ridiculous. A team that came pretty close to making the conference Finals, now upgraded the SF from Ariza to Pierce and developed their young players (Rice jr and Porter). This team should at least be higher than the Nuggets.. and based on these rankings, Heat will finish 7th in the East???LOL C’mon Man!!!!

    • pudgalvin - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      I think the Heat are going to be a real interesting case this year. That team was so built around Lebron that it’s going to be a hell of an adjustment this year. Wade can’t attempt to coast through the regular season this year to try and be ready for the playoffs. Bosh has to see if he can regain his form as a legit number 1 guy, no more floating around the perimeter feeding off Lebron. No more laying an egg every third game and having it be ok. This team doesn’t have a point guard and doesn’t have depth or size. They’ll still be tough defensively, especially with Deng in the mix, but I think they’ll struggle to score. I don’t think it’s out of the question they make a little noise, but I think the post Lebron hang over is just going to be really difficult to overcome.

    • bigmeechy74 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      They have them 3rd in the east. Why would you care if they are behind denver

      • patsmiley - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        Do you honestly think that the return of Gallinari and Javale McGee will make them a top 12 team in the NBA/better than the Wizards? That’s insane. Just saying the rankings make no sense.

      • sire2334 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:26 PM

        West Coast bias…(Yes in the NBA there is such a thing) Denver is not better than Washington but in the end, who really cares. Like bigmeechy74 said, they do have them pretty much where they should be in the East.

      • patsmiley - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:32 PM

        Well considering this is a NBA league power ranking and not a conference ranking. My point is Wizards should be higher than the Nuggets and the Suns too. And do you also think the Twolves are better than the Nets??? Nets are garbage, but with or without KLove, the Wolves are a lottery team. These rankings are horrible.

  6. m4a188 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    The Mavs are going to fun to watch this year, they can make a deep playoff push if they stay health late in the season.

  7. worldbfree4me - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    The Spurs finally get a Post. Yeah, it will be exciting to see where every other TEAM shakes out, but in the end I see the SPURS once again hoisting the Trophy!

    • bigmeechy74 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:56 AM

      wow what a dork

  8. gerryb323 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    Too bad for the Pelicans they play in the West. Probably could make playoffs in the East!

    • pudgalvin - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      They’d be a 3 seed in the East. I think they’ve still got a pretty decent shot to make in the West as well. I don’t think it’s out of the question that the Blazers take a step back, same with the Suns. (Before I get screamed at, step back maybe is the wrong word, I could just see those teams not quite winning as many games this year, I think they’ll both still be solid.) I think they’re clearly better than the Nuggets. With a little health this year they should make it as a 7 or 8 seed.

      • gerryb323 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:52 AM

        I don’t disagree with you on potentially making the playoffs in the West. More of a comment on the actual article saying they could make it in the East.

      • pudgalvin - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:55 AM

        Ahhhhhh, i get it.

  9. saint1997 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    I really think you’re too high on this perpetually mediocre Nuggets squad and I agree that the Rockets are much too high. I think the Knicks could also give people a bit of a run if Hardaway carries over his form and follows a Beal-like growth trajectory. Agree with Pels if they could just trade Eric Gordon for a serviceable small forward! Portland for Wes Matthews? Wiz could be higher.

    • Kevin S. - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:27 AM

      The Nuggets have been a 50+ win team five of the previous seven years. They played to a 47-win pace during the lockout season. Last season, when they lost everybody to injury, was their first losing, non-playoff season since they drafted Melo. Perpetually mediocre? They’ve been a damn fine team that probably wins two or three conference titles over the past decade had they been in the East.

      • saint1997 - Jul 29, 2014 at 4:19 AM

        Okay fair point, by mediocre my intention was more to mean not bad but not good enough to win the West, which is true. I don’t think this roster has the talent of those other 50-win teams, nor the cool heads (nor the coach!)

      • Kevin S. - Jul 29, 2014 at 9:22 AM

        That’s more accurate. Because of the conference imbalance and how loaded the West has been over the past 10-15 years, it’s very easy to consistently have a really good team that never gets out of the conference.

  10. onlyavoice - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    LMAO
    Every year the Bulls are over hyped.
    They’re the IF /would have, could have, should have team.
    Bulls are placed way too high on this list.

  11. 22yearsagotoday - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Lakers, Nets, and Knicks in the bottom ten. I don’t think this will be the case, yet it’s hard to say which of the three will “break out”. Knicks have the best player of the three teams with Carmelo, so they might have the best chance.

    • spursareold - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:54 AM

      They had Carmelo last year, too. They also lost their best defender in Tyson Chandler.

      • wiltchamberlainthethird - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:49 PM

        They had Mike Woodson last year too. Addition by subtraction. Not saying it’s a definite Melo can will em to the playoffs, but last year was anomaly in his career so far. Better coaching last season could’ve made up those couple games for the 8th seed, NYK should be in the hunt.

  12. mungman69 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    The Sixers will be fun to watch with last years ROY and this season’s ROY in Noel.
    The whole league will be singing “Noel” by Christmas Day.

  13. 00maltliquor - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Someone needs to re-do these power rankings.

    Who amongst us will come up with a more conceivable 1-30?

  14. 1friendofthepeople - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    The Nuggets at 12? Yes, you indeed are “higher than most”.

    • spursareold - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:39 PM

      …and legally so!

  15. savvybynature - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    Only two Eastern Conference teams in the top 12?
    Yeah, that’s about right actually. The (L)Eastern Conference is just terrible. I hope people remember that when they recall that the Heat made 4 straight Finals appearances.

    • bball242322 - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:09 PM

      Eastern Conference isn’t great this year, but it is MUCH improved from last season

      • spursareold - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:40 PM

        Actually, I’m not sure it’s better, overall. The EC lead dog got knocked back into the pack, and Cleveland is now a bit ahead of the pack, but inexperienced as a team.

    • gofinsgoheatfloria - Jul 29, 2014 at 9:21 AM

      and split them with their West opponents. Would the LeBron Heat have made it to the Finals at all out of the West? The last two years, their regular-season record against the West was better than against the East, so it is entirely reasonable to think they might have made it though a couple of times in those four years – with an easier task in those Finals than what they actually had to do.

      It’s all moot now, though.

  16. wiltchamberlainthethird - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    Rockets are too high & I bet they’re 2015’s PHX. Clearly they shouldn’t be above a Portland team that just finished with the same record as HOU, kicked em out the playoffs & improved over the summer while HOU got worse. Nor Memphis, who will definitely challenge for home court advantage…like they would’ve last season with a healthy Gasol.

    The Pacers have been mentally exposed….I see them in the 5-6 range now. Miami is still a top 4 team, a bounceback season is in store for Wade; he, Bosh, Deng & continuity will win out.

    The Hornets make a leap, Nets fall way back. Celtics & Lakers make a little noise…definitely not in the trenches like predicted above.

    • bball242322 - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      Pacers mentally exposed? You mean mentally exhausted..? Pacers implosion was by their own doing, not other teams exposing them. Pacers will continue to be a top 4 team in the East

      • wiltchamberlainthethird - Jul 28, 2014 at 4:16 PM

        Based on the fact 2 teams in their division (Cavs & Bulls) just stocked up on plenty more talent, they won’t even qualify as better than a 5 seed.

        Whatever you wanna calll em, they were mentally weak. That extra average ending that put on last season won’t fly in the East this year. No one’s scared of them. And they just lost their only shot creator. 5-6 seed at tops.

  17. crashdavis99 - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Pistons are awful but I wanted them to get a mention so there it is.

  18. coltzfan166 - Jul 28, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    The Heat are better than 17th. They’ll be good even without LeBron.

  19. ProBasketballPundit - Jul 29, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    Hornets made the playoffs as a 7-seed, added Lance Stephenson, Vonleh & PJ Hairston and now we’re suddently 19th in the league and 8th in the West. They’re going to pin this power ranking to the board in the locker room and prove you wrong.

    • ProBasketballPundit - Jul 29, 2014 at 9:18 PM

      *east

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