Saturday, February 21, 2015

J-Speaks: The Passing of a Trail Blazer Great on and Off the Court

In the history of the National Basketball Association, many players have come into the league via the draft or another avenue that have played for many years by the simple fact that they played with a tremendous amount of energy, enthusiasm and joy that it made practices fun and the games ones to remember. Those kinds of players are the glue that keeps the team together, especially in the rough times. That player is one that the fans enjoy seeing and embrace like no other because in some form, that fan sees a mirror image of themselves. The Portland Trail Blazers of the late 1980s into the middle of the 1990s had that player and he not only was the glue of their team, especially on two of their best teams in their history, he became a beloved figure not just in the organization, but the city. That beloved basketball player and human being passed away in the middle of this past week.
On Wednesday, Jerome Kersey, the starting small forward for the Portland Trail Blazers on their 1990 and 1992 NBA Finals teams passed away.
The 52-years-old Kersey leaves behind his wife Teri Donnerberg, who he married on Sept. 2, 2013. They have four children together, three daughters Kiara, McKenzie and Maddie, one son Brendan and granddaughter Harley. Kiara is Kersey’s daughter from a previous relationship and Donnerberg’s two other daughters and son are also from a previous relationship.
A call coming from Kersey’s home was made to the Lake Oswego Fire Department that they responded to a little after 5 p.m. He was taken to Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin, OR where he passed away.
Kersey had surgery on his knee just days prior. One day he left the Trail Blazers’ Rose Quarter office because he was not feeling well.
It was discovered by medical examiners of Legacy Meridian Park that Kersey’s death was linked to a blood clot which traveled up to his lungs, which caused a pulmonary embolism.
“Today we lost an incredible person and one of the most beloved players to ever where a Trail Blazers uniform,” Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen said in a statement on Thursday.
“My hearts and condolences are with the Kersey family. He will be missed by all of us. This is a terrible loss.
Kersey’s teammate for a decade with the Trail Blazers and an ambassador for the team All-Star guard Terry Porter said that Kersey was, “the best teammate you could ever have.”
“He would run through a wall for you. Got every ounce out of his talent that was humanly possible. The joy and the smile. The way he embraced life.”
Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT analyst Charles Barkley said on “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA on Thursday said how whenever he visited Portland for Nike he would meet up with Kersey and catch up.
“I just cried. It hurt me. I feel so bad,” Barkley said on Thursday. “I don’t get emotional a lot, but I just cried. I felt so bad.”
Kersey’s basketball journey began at Longwood College, a NCAA Division II school at the time in Farmville, VA, where he set school records for points, rebounds, steals and blocks while connecting on 57 percent of the baskets he scored. He averaged 14.2 boards in his senior season, leading all Division II players.
In 2008, Kersey was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and was selected to receive the William Henry Ruffner Alumni Award for this year, the highest award given to an alum of Longwood.
Three years prior, Kersey was inducted into Longwood’s first Hall of Fame class, where he was joined by former Major League Baseball star Michael Tucker LPGA golfer Tina Barrett.
While he left school early to pursue his NBA dream, he did get his degree nine years later needing just two college courses to graduate.
Kersey was selected with the No. 46 overall pick by the Trail Blazers in the 1984 NBA Draft, which included the likes of Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Oscar Schmidt.
He went from being a regular contributor coming off the bench to eventually becoming significant starter at the small forward position alongside power forward Buck Williams, center the late Kevin Duckworth, Hall of Fame shooting guard Clyde Drexler and Porter at the lead guard spot.
From 1987-92, Kersey averaged 19.2, 17.5, 16.0, 14.8 and 12.6 points per game respectably along with rebound averages of 8.3 twice, 8.4, 6.6 and 8.2. In four of those five seasons, the Trail Blazers won over 50 games.
That starting quintet help lead the Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals in the next three seasons. They lost to the Detroit Pistons, also known as the “Bad Boys” in 1990 Finals 4-1 and then to Jordan, Scottie Pippen and then head coach Phil Jackson in the 1992 Finals 4-2.
One person who really admired those teams and the play of Kersey was current NBATV/NBA on TNT Insider David Aldridge, who covered those Blazer teams that made it to The Finals twice.
“Jerome Kersey may have been one of the five or six hardest playing guys I’ve ever seen. He played every possession literally like it was his last one,” Aldridge said on Thursday.
“He played with so much energy and purpose and fire. He was just a joy to watch. Out on the break either leading it or finishing it. It didn’t really matter, he could do both.”
By the 1994-95 season, the Trail Blazers had a stable of forwards including eventual All-Star Clifford Robinson, who eventually took the place of Kersey in the starting lineup.
He was left unprotected in the expansion draft the next season and was selected by the Toronto Raptors, but was waived before the season began and rejoined his former head coach Rick Adelman with the Golden State Warriors where he started 58 times. He averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest.
The next year, he moved on to the Los Angeles Lakers signing as a free agent and because of injuries and trades got a lot of playing time and was very productive scoring 6.8 points and 5.2 boards in 70 games, 44 of them as a starter.
Former Lakers center and eventual four-NBA champion and current analyst for NBATV/NBA on TNT Shaquille O’Neal was a teammate of Kersey that season and he admired that even at his age of 34 at that time, he played all out each night. He was a true professional, who taught him a lot.
“For me, the things that got me to the next level wasn’t about practice, but about information. He [Kersey] would give me certain information that helped my game out. He’s definitely going to be missed. He was a great man and a great teammate,” O’Neal said on “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA this past Thursday.
After an injury riddled season with the then Seattle Supersonics in 1997-98, Kersey spent two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and was a part of their 1999 title team that defeated the New York Knicks 4-1 to earn the first of their five championships.
He spent his final season in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, who made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and lost to 2001 MVP Allen Iverson, Coach of the Year that season Larry Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers.
When he retired, Kersey finished at top in many Trail Blazer career categories. He was second in games played and block shots, third in minutes played, steals and scoring, second in rebounding and sixth in assists.
Over the next few years, Kersey served as a coach in various roles for several NBA teams. For a while, he worked for Wells Fargo. Eleven years ago, the Trail Blazers hired Kersey to be their director of player programs.
The next year, Kersey was hired as an assistant by the Bucks where he worked under his former teammate Porter, who was the head coach and worked alongside Mike Schuler, who coached both Kersey and Porter for two seasons in the late 1980s.
After being let go after the 2004-05 season, Kersey moved on to join the automotive industry as an auto wholesaler.
Earlier in the week, Kersey, Porter and former Trail Blazers’ forward/center Brian Grant made an appearance at James Madison High School in Portland, OR as ambassadors for the Trail Blazers in celebration of Black History Month.
There are a lot of players that are measured by how great their career was by their individual stats and how many titles did they win.
While Jerome Kersey career stats were not off the charts, 10.3 points, 5.9 rebounds for his career, his overall take no prisoners, leave it all out on the floor, love and cherish all around you was worth its weight in gold, which produced playoff appearances in all 11 seasons with the Trail Blazers and in 16 of his 17 years in the league overall.
It is something that his teammates, opponents both players and coaches, future Trail Blazers and fans appreciated at all times.
“Just a fine young man and he made you feel when you met him that you were important and he made a city feel that way. You could argue that Jerome Kersey was Mr. Portland, OR,” former head coach with the Knicks, then Vancouver, now Memphis Grizzlies and current NBATV analyst Stu Jackson said on Thursday.

“What a competitor that he was. You always had to be so mindful of him because of his energy and then also coaching in Portland, I know from the fans in that city how much they loved this guy. He was always there. He was Mr. Portland Trail Blazer. Everybody should be so lucky to have people feel that way about them,” NBATV analyst and former Trail Blazers head coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr., who coached against Kersey and the Trail Blazers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals as the first year head coach of the Lakers, winning that series in six games.
In the world of professional sports today, it can be hard to find sometimes athletes who are or were amazing on the court as well as off the court. They had a way of engaging their teammates, the media and the fans in the same vacuum. Jerome Kersey was one of those rare athletes who did it during his career and after that. He made plays that impacted games and he was a person that impacted lives. He had a love for life and a respect for it to never take it for granted. Along the way he made life-long acquaintances who respected him for his game as well as his the way the Trail Blazers played and what he was away from the hardwood.
“He was a terrific guy. I really loved talking to those guys because they played with a lot of not just great energy, nut great passion and played like they really cared about the game and it showed,” Aldridge said.  
Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of 2/19/15 1 a.m. edition of “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA on TNT with Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley; 2/19/15 NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Mike Dunleavy, Sr., David Aldridge and Stu Jackson;; and

J-Speaks: NBA First Half in Review/Trade Deadline

The unofficial first half of the 2014-15 National Basketball Association (NBA) campaign has been one of surprise, excitement, intrigue and disappointment. The leaders of the Eastern and Western Conference has gotten off to historic starts. One of the supposed teams that was supposed to contend has had their highs and lows this season. The Western Conference is full of contenders for the title and a few teams are already looking to next year as this season has been one to forget On top of that, this past Thursday 39 players via 11 trades involving 17 teams at the trade deadline changed teams in order to bolster their championship hopes or putting themselves in a better position for the future. Here is a synopsis of each team’s first half of the season, the trade they made yesterday and their grades for first half of the season.
Abbreviation Key: ppg (points per game); rpg (rebounds per game); spg (steals per game); bpg (block shots per game); FG% (field goal percentage); 3-Pt.% (three-point percentage); opp.-opponent’s.
Atlanta Hawks: 43-11 (1st Southeast Division; No. 1 Seed East) 25-3 at home, 18-8 on the road.
-103.4 ppg-6th; opp. ppg: 96.8-4th; 40.9 rpg-27th
When this season began, many did have the Atlanta Hawks leading their division, let alone garnering the best record in the East.
Since being 7-6 on Nov. 26, 2014 after a 126-115 home loss versus the Toronto Raptors, the Hawks have won a remark 36 times in their last 41 opportunities.
They had a franchise record 19-game winning streak from Dec. 27 to Feb.2 was tied for the fifth longest in NBA history with victories coming against the likes of Cleveland Cavaliers twice; Portland Trail Blazers twice; the Los Angeles Clippers; the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies; Washington Wizards and the aforementioned Raptors.
The Hawks 17-0 record in the month of January was the first team in NBA history to record 17 victories in one calendar month without a defeat. Their 12 straight wins against the West was a franchise record and the team also won 12 straight games on the road. Both of which came to an end on Feb. 2 from a 115-100 loss at the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Hawks achieved another milestone in the month of January as the starting quintet of Jeff Teague (17.0 ppg-leads team, 7.5 apg-leads team, 1.7 spg), Kyle Korver (12.7 ppg, 51.2 FG%, 52.3 3-Pt.%), Al Horford (15.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg); Paul Millsap (16.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 57.8 FG%) and DeMarre Carroll (12.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 39.7 3-Pt.%) were named Eastern Conference Players of the Month. It was the first time in NBA history that this has occurred.
The Hawks also became the eight team in NBA history to have four players make the All-Star. Horford, Millsap, Teague and Korver represented the Hawks for the 2015 All-Star weekend in New York City last week joining head coach Mike Budenholzer, who became the first Hawks since Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens in 1994 to coach the East All-Star.
The Hawks are more than just their four All-Stars. This team has complied the best record in the East because they are a team that plays as such.
Teague’s understudy Dennis Schroder (8.5 ppg, 3.5 apg) has played really well in his second season. Forward Mike Scott (7.6 ppg, 39.8 3-Pt.%) has given the Hawks perimeter shooting off their bench. New editions from the off-season Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore have had an impact on both ends and the likes of Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack have had their moments.
The consistent level of winning has also energized the fan base, which has not been seen for a long times. Games at Phillips Arena are selling out for the first time in many years.
The question now is going forward, can the Hawks make some serious noise in the playoffs. If that is going to happen, they must improve their overall rebounding.
In their last three losses at the Hornets, at the Grizzlies and at the Boston Celtics, the Hawks were a -50 on the glass.
So far, the poor rebounding has not deterred the Hawks, but if they plan on going far in the playoffs, their overall rebounding must get better.
Grade A+
Boston Celtics: 20-31 (3rd Atlantic Division) 12-15 at home, 8-16 on the road.
-100.8 ppg-11th; opp. ppg: 102.3-25th; 43.8 rpg-13th
With the Celtics continuing to rebuild the team back into a perennial playoff team, the $64,000 question was what was going to happen with Rajon Rondo?
On Dec. 16, the All-Star lead guard and last true part from the Celtics 2007-08 title team was traded to the Mavericks along with forward Dwight Powell for forward Jae Crowder, veteran lead guard Jameer Nelson, center Brandan Wright and a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick.
Back in early January, forward Jeff Green was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies for a protected future first-round draft pick and newly acquired Wright was sent to the Phoenix Suns. Days later, they sent Nelson to the Denver Nuggets for guard Nate Robinson, who was waived a few days later.
This past Thursday at the trade deadline, the Celtics acquired guard Isaiah Thomas (15.2 ppg, 3.7 apg. 39.1 3-Pt.%). They also acquired forwards Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome from the Detroit Pistons for forward Tayshaun Prince.  
This has left starting shooting guard Avery Bradley (13.4 ppg) and Brandon Bass (9.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) as the only players left from the 2012 Celtics playoff roster.
The team’s future is now in the hands of some young, but talented players like forward Jared Sullinger (14.4 ppg-leads team, 8.1 rpg-leads team), who is on the shelf indefinitely because of a stress reaction in his left foot; center Tyler Zeller (9.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 55.7 FG%); guard Marcus Thornton (8.9 ppg, 41.9 3-Pt.%) and the Celtics two high draft choices from this past June, 2014 in future lead guard Marcus Smart (No. 6 overall pick)  out of Oklahoma State and guard James Young (No. 17 overall pick) out of Kentucky.
The future is not just in the current players that are on the roster right now. Through the acquisitions that the team has made, general manager and champion with the Celtics as a player, Danny Ainge and the organization have acquired a high number of first round draft picks, with many of them protected.
This upcoming June the Celtics will have their own 2015 1st round pick as well as the one they received from the Los Angeles Clippers and three second round picks.
In the 2016 draft, the Celtics will have their own first round pick and the Brooklyn Nets, Cavs and Mavericks, along with five second round picks.
In the next five drafts overall, the Celtics will have as many as 12 first-round picks and up to 26 overall picks.
One other thing that the Celtics have in their favor is that they signed former Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens to a six-year contract last summer, which states that he is the man to lead this proud franchise with 17 titles to its name back to prominence.
After a tough stretch in late January, the Celtics have played great in the early stages of February with four victories in six tries so far and right now, they stand 1 ½ games out of the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the East, which is occupied currently by the Miami Heat.
For a lot of talk about some teams tanking to improve their draft lottery status, the Celtics are proving that building a roster and making it better for the future starts from within. It also helps when you have a major asset that team’s want, especially when that asset is a perennial All-Star lead guard like Rondo, who can get put up a triple-double in the blink of an eye.
While the team has some nice pieces already in place, it is what the Celtics do in the Draft and free agency from this point forward that will determine their future. If all goes according to the script of general manager and former NBA champion with the C’s Danny Ainge, the future will be so bright that the great fans of Boston will have to wear shades.
Grade: B-
Brooklyn Nets: 21-31 (2nd Atlantic Division) 10-15 at home, 11-16 on the road.
-95.5 ppg-26th; opp. ppg: 99.5-14th; 41.8 rpg-23rd
In the world of professional sports, things can change very quickly. You can have dreams of accomplishing great things and then reality comes to the fore front and it does not happen. The next thing you know, you are back to square one.
After a rough beginning a season ago under then, new head coach Jason Kidd, the Nets managed to get into the playoffs and they defeated the Raptors in seven games despite not having home court advantage. They lost in the Semifinals to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Heat in five games.
Things changed a lot since then. Kidd, who wanted more power in the organization was shown the door and these days is leading the Milwaukee Bucks who are playing well this season. Forward Paul Pierce left in free agency to join the Washington Wizards.
The Nets hired former Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins to be their new head coach. Unfortunately, the fortunes of the Nets unlike the last two years have not gotten better.
Since winning six out of seven games from Dec. 21, 2014 to Jan. 2, 2015 to get back to the .500 mark at 16-16, the Nets have lost 15 out of their last 20 games.
Key players like Joe Johnson (15.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.7 apg), Brook Lopez (15.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg), Deron Williams (12.9 ppg, 6.1 apg) have not performed at a consistent level this season.
Williams, who has missed a number of games because of injury since coming to the Nets is posting his lowest scoring average since his rookie season nine years ago. His assists per game have gone down in the last five seasons.
Lopez has had moments where he plays like a dominant center and then there are times he still does not rebound at a consistent rate and does an intimidating presence in the paint on the defensive end.
When back-up guard Jarrett Jack (12.6 ppg, 5.0 apg), who has started 27 times so far this season, plays like the he’s the best player for the Nets, there is something wrong.
The one positive for the Nets this season has been the development of second-year forward Mason Plumlee (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), who has really come on as of late.
One of the hardest things to see in professional sports is a player past his prime. That has been evident in the play of Kevin Garnett.
When he and Pierce came to the Nets a season ago, they were expected along with Lopez and Williams to help the Nets contend for supremacy in the East and lead them to a championship.
That has not been the case and on Thursday at the trade deadline, Garnett waived his no-trade clause in his contract and was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves for forward Thaddeus Young (14.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 45.1 FG%).
Even with all of their problems, the Nets are just one game behind the Heat for the No. 8 and last playoff spot in the East.
If they can somehow get things on track, they could make back into the playoffs and see what they can do. It will not be easy though and Williams, Lopez and Johnson have to lead the way.
Grade: D-
Charlotte Hornets: 22-30 (3rd Southeast Division) 13-15 at home, 9-15 on the road.
-94.3 ppg-27th; opp. ppg: 96.9-5th; 43.9 rpg-11th
In the NBA, there are three words that best describe teams that consistently make the make the playoffs and can build towards the dream of winning championships. Consistency, stability and chemistry.
These are three words that the once Charlotte Bobcats, now Charlotte Hornets that were a very far fetch for their organization.
That all changed a season ago with then new head coach Steve Clifford, the signing of free Al Jefferson (17.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg-leads team) and the growth of mainstays in guard Kemba Walker (18.8 ppg-leads team, 5.2 apg-leads team) and Gerald Henderson (11.2 ppg).
The result, they went 43-39 and made the playoffs as the No. 7 Seed in the East, but were swept by the eventual East champion Heat.
This off-season, the Hornets signed in free agency guard Lance Stephenson (9.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.9 apg) Brian Roberts (7.1 ppg) and Marvin Williams (6.6 ppg). In this past June’s draft, they selected forward Noah Vonleh with the No. 9 overall pick out of Indiana and with the 26th pick, sharp shooter P.J. Hairston out of North Carolina and the NBA D-League.
Those new editions, Walker and Henderson, along with key roles players like forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (10.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg), center Cody Zeller (7.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg), guard Gary Neal, forward/guard Jeff Taylor and center Bismack Biyombo were supposed to make the Hornets a playoff team that had a chance to make some noise.
Unfortunately, injuries to the likes of Jefferson, Walker Stephenson and Vonleh, not to mention their troubles at the offensive ends got the Hornets off to a tough start.
After a 91-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers back on Jan. 2, the Hornets were 10-24 and out of the playoff race.
A five-game winning streak from Jan. 3 to Jan. 10 and a 14-8 stretch has gotten the Hornets back into the playoff picture, where they currently hold the No. 7 position in the East.
Three straight losses before the All-Star break though has them tied with the Heat only and just a one-game separation from the Nets and Celtics who are on the outside of the playoff line looking in.
That is most likely one of the reason back on Feb, 10, the Hornets traded Neal and a second-round draft pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for guards Mo Williams (12.2 ppg, 6.4 apg, 34.7 3-Pt.%) and Troy Daniels.
Williams whether he starts or comes off the bench, he will bring a steadiness to the team and added offense from the perimeter. He most likely will be the starting lead guard with Walker out for some time because of knee surgery.
Last season, the Hornets made the playoffs because they were one of the best defensive teams in the league. They have been able to get back on track because they got back to being a team that makes it tough for their opponent at the offensive end.
They rank seventh in the NBA in opponent’s field goal percentage giving up just 43.9 percent from the floor and in blocks at 5.5 per contest.
For this team to improve their playoff seeding and be more than just a one and done team if they make it, Jefferson must get back to being the bread and butter of the Hornets at the offensive end. Stephenson must somehow get his offensive game back on track. Marvin and Mo Williams, Hairston, Roberts and Daniels must be able to strike a match consistently on the perimeter for the Hornets.
Grade: D-
Chicago Bulls: 34-20 (1st Central Division; No. 3 Seed East) 15-11 at home, 19-9 on the road.
-102.2 ppg-9th; opp. ppg: 99.1-12th; 45.6 rpg-3rd
When this season began, many considered the Bulls the team to beat in the East with four-time MVP LeBron James going from Miami back to the Cavaliers.
The 2011 MVP Derrick Rose was returning from injury and the additions of forward/center Pau Gasol (18.4 ppg, 12.1 rpg-4th NBA, 2.1 bpg-5th NBA); guard Aaron Brooks (10.8 ppg, 44.2 3-Pt.%) and rookie forward Nikola Mirotic (7.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) have made the Bulls a legitimate contender to win it all. 
The additions of Gasol and Brooks have been a big reason why the Bulls having one of the best statistical seasons under Head Coach Tom Thibodeau.
They are tied for eighth in the league in three-point percentage at 35.9 percent. They are in the middle of the pack in assists per contest at 21.6, tied for 14th and they are second in free throws attempted per game at 26.0 and they are third in free throw percentage at 78.4 percent.  
Gasol, who made the All-Star team for the fifth time in his career and started, leads the league in double-doubles with 35, including, the last 15 games in a row, which is now third all-time in team history.
Also, starting swingman and first-time All-Star selection Jimmy Butler (20.4 ppg-leads team, 5.8 rpg, 46.1 FG%) is how the Bulls got off to such a great start being 25-10 after a 114-105 win versus the Houston Rockets on Jan. 5.
Since that time though, the team has gone 9-10 since then with some very tough losses versus the Utah Jazz (97-77 on Jan. 7); versus the Orlando Magic (121-114 on Jan. 12); versus the Heat (96-84 on Jan. 25) and the Los Angeles Lakers (123-118 in double-overtime on Jan. 29).
Two big reasons for the slide, injuries to the likes of forward/guard Mike Dunleavy (9.3 ppg, 41.1 3-Pt.%), forward Taj Gibson (10.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), center Joakim Noah (7.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.7 apg) and Kirk Hinrich (6.5 ppg), who have missed a combined 49 games.
Games missed by Gibson, Noah and Hinrich have been tough for the Bulls at the defensive end.
To bring this into a better focus, in the first four seasons under coach Thibodeau, the Bulls lead the league in points allowed three times and finished 3rd once.
This season alone, they have given up 100 points 25 times, where they have gone 11-13 in those contest.
The Bulls still rank eighth in opponent’s field goal percentage surrendering just 44.1 percent; sixth in opponent’s three-point percentage at 33.5 percent and seventh in rebound differential with a +2.3. The also lead the league in blocks per game at 6.3
Even with their inconsistent play of late, they are still leading their division and are just 2 ½ games from being the No. 2 Seed in the East, which is occupied by the Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors.
For the Bulls to win the East and the NBA title, Rose (18.9 ppg, 5.0 apg-leads team) has to pick and choose his spots to dominate at the offensive end. With more options now, he does not have to be the primary scorer any longer. Just in the closing moments of games.
As far as the defensive end, as long as Thibodeau has been in the “Windy City,” it has been the Bulls calling card. With the entire roster back together, things should get back on track, like the last four games going into the All-Star break where the Bulls have surrendered an average of 88.3 points per contest.
Grade: B+
Cleveland Cavaliers: 33-22 (2nd Central Division; No. 5 Seed East) 21-9 at home, 12-13 on the road.
-102.2 ppg-10th; opp. ppg: 99.3-13th; 42.7 rpg-18th
There are two words that best describe the season of the Cavs to this point. Up and Down.
They won just five of their first 12 games. They then won 12 out of 15. The Cavs a serious rough patch losing 10 out of twelve, which included a six-game losing streak from Jan. 5 to Jan. 13.
During that 12-game stretch, four-time MVP LeBron James missed eight games recuperating a nagging knee and sore back.
Upon returning in the middle of January, the Cavs went 11-1, which included 10 consecutive wins to close out the month and James (25.9 ppg-2nd NBA, 7.3 rpg and 5.6 apg) averaged 29.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 6.3 apg on 51 percent shooting from the field.
They stretch the streak to 12 games, but it concluded with a 103-99 loss at the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 6.
The Cavs did win two of their last three prior to the All-Star Break bring them within a 1.5 game lead of the Bulls in the Central Division and the No. 3 Seed in the East.
Along with James getting healthy and playing at his usual high level, the Cavs made two key trades to improve the roster, acquiring center Timofey Mozgov (9.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg; 10.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg with Cavs) from the Denver Nuggets for two protected 2015 first round picks who has given the Cavs a much needed presence in the paint on both ends. That has been especially important since starting center Anderson Varejao was lost in late December with a torn Achilles.
The Cavs also acquired back in January guard Iman Shumpert and guard/forward J.R. Smith (12.7 ppg, 35.5 3-Pt.% with Cavs) from the Knicks and those two have added perimeter shooting and better perimeter defense for the Cavs.
Since the acquisition of Shumpert and Smith, the Cavs have gone 15-6. Along with winning consistently, the Cavs have become a more balanced team overall.
Starting lead guard Kyrie Irving has really come on averaging 23.8 points per game in January. On January 28 at the Detroit Pistons Irving scored 38-points going 13-23 from the field, including 6 for 10 from three-point range in leading the Cavs to a 103-95 victory. The next just 24 hours later, Irving had an incredible game with a career-high of 55 points going 17 for 36 from the field, including hitting a franchise record 11 three-pointers in 19 attempts and going 10 for 10 from the free throw line in leading the Cavs to a 99-94 win versus the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the 10th 50-plus point performance in Cavs history.
It is clear that the Cavs are getting things together at the right time. For them going forward the rest of this season and into the playoffs, first-year head coach David Blatt, who has had his ups and downs this season has to define a set a consistent rotation for his bench and decide finding a consistent minutes for the likes of Tristan Thompson (9.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Shawn Marion, James Jones, Mike Miller and Brendan Hayewood.
On top of that, they need Kevin Love (17.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg) to play more consistently. Shooting 42.9 percent from the floor and 34.5 percent from three-point territory will not cut it. If he can come close to playing like he did versus the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 8 when he had 32 points, 10 boards on 11 for 18 from the floor, which included going 7 for 8 from three-point range, the Cavs will be back in the championship conversation.
Right now, the Cavs have no chance of catching the Hawks for the top spot in the East. If they can continue to play consistently, they could get as high as the No. 2 Seed.
Grade: C+
Detroit Pistons: 21-33 (4th Central Division) 10-18 at home, 11-15 on the road.
-98.3 ppg-21st; opp. ppg: 99.8-17th; 45.2 rpg-4th
Even with a new addition of Stan Van Gundy as their new head coach and president of basketball operations, the Pistons were the same old Pistons, who lost more than they won.
At 5-23 after a 110-105 loss at the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 22, something had to give. In a bold move, the team waived starting forward Josh Smith, who was then picked up by the Houston Rockets.
While the team is currently still under .500 mark, they have gone 16-10 since then and find themselves just two games out of the No. 8 playoff spot in the East, currently occupied by the Miami Heat.
The subtraction of Smith has allowed the dynamic starting front court duo of forward Greg Monroe (15.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg-2nd team) and Andre Drummond (12.6 ppg, 12.8 rpg-2nd NBA, 1.8 bpg-leads team) to work more cohesively together.
On top of that, starting lead guard Brandon Jennings had played the best basketball of his career overall.
With Smith in the lineup, Jennings averaged just 12.6 points and 6.4 assists on 36.8 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three-point range. In the games that followed, Jennings averaged 19.8 points, 7.0 assists on 43.9 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three-point range.
In the Pistons 128-118 victory versus the Orlando Magic on Jan. 21, Jennings played the best all-around game of his career with 24 points, 21 assists and just two turnovers, going 10 for 21 from the field. Drummond had a strong performance as well with a team-high 26 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three block shots. Monroe also had 24 points and 10 rebounds.
The good fortune of the Pistons took a serious turn three nights later at the Bucks, when Jennings sustained a serious foot injury late in the third quarter.
The next day, it was confirmed that Jennings suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon, bring an end to his season. He did have surgery to repair the Achilles and rehabilitation is expected to take 6-9 months.
The Pistons lost their next four games in a row, giving up 100-points in three of the four games. The team regrouped to win four out of seven prior to the break.
Without Jennings for the rest of the season, it is up to understudy D.J. Augustin to lead the Pistons, which he has done well as a starter this season averaging 18.7 points, 7.8 assists on 45.1 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from three-point range.
In his first game after the Jennings injury, Augustin had a career-high 35 points to go along with eight assists going 12 for 20 from the field, including five for nine from three-point range.
With the playoffs within reach, the Pistons went work during the trade deadline yesterday and in a three-team deal with the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder acquired guard Reggie Jackson (12.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) and dealt Augustin and forward Kyle Singler to the Thunder.
In another trade at the deadline, the Pistons acquired forward Tayshaun Prince from the Celtics for his second tour of duty with the team that he help win a championship back in 2004. The Celtics received forward Jonas Jerebko and guard Luigi Datome.
The addition of Prince, who helped the Pistons win it all back in 2004 will be a big help in terms of bringing experience and knowledge for this young team on how to win games and make a serious run to make the playoffs.
Along with Monroe and Drummond continuing to play consistently in the paint on both ends, the perimeter players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (11.9 ppg), Jodie Meeks (11.7 ppg) and Anthony Tolliver (7.9 ppg, 39.1 3-Pt.% with Pistons), who the team acquired from the Phoenix Suns back in December for forward Tony Mitchell must get more consistently play on the perimeter on both ends. More than anything, they need Jackson to come in and become the starting floor general he has voiced he was capable of being very quickly.
On top of that, the Pistons must play more consistently at the defensive end. For a team with two big men of the likes of Drummond and Monroe, it is hard to fathom that the Pistons are 23rd in field goal percentage allowed at 45.9 percent and 23rd in opponent’s three-point percentage at 35.6 percent.
The playoffs are within striking distance. Just two games, three on the loss side separate the Pistons. They have no room for error as the Celtics, Nets and Heat are in front of them. If they are going to make it, the new additions and the mainstays must come together quickly.
Grade: C-
Indiana Pacers: 21-33 (4th Central Division) 11-14 at home, 10-19 on the road.
-95.8 ppg-23rd; opp. ppg: 97.2 7th; 44.7 rpg-7th
For three consecutive postseasons, the Pacers championship dreams ended at the hands of the Heat, with the last two happening in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven and six games respectably.
The chances of getting back for a third year in a row went by the wayside in the off-season when starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson bolted in free agency for the Charlotte Hornets and All-Star swingman Paul George suffered a broken leg during USA Basketball tryouts.
Things went from bad to worse as three other key cogs in starting forward David West (13.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg), starting lead guard George Hill (14.1 ppg, 46.6 FG%, 40.0 3-Pt.%) and his back-up C.J. Watson (10.3 ppg, 40.9 3-Pt.%) began this season on the shelf with injury.
Hill has played just eight games so far this season.
If there is one silver lining in the Pacers season so far is that new additions C.J. Miles (12.4 ppg) and Rodney Stuckey (11.6 ppg) along with the likes of Solomon Hill (9.6 ppg), Donald Sloan (9.4 ppg, 4.3 apg) and Chris Copeland (7.0 ppg) have gotten more playing time and have been solid.
Along with that, the Pacers have not lost their identity in playing solid defense ranking 11th in opponent’s field percentage at 44.2 percent and 13th in three-point percentage allowed at 34.7 percent.
Along with West, starting center Roy Hibbert (11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg-leads team), and forward Luis Scola (9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) have held things together as much as possible along with head coach Frank Vogel.
According to reports, George is expected by Mar. 1 to begin practicing and play in an NBA game two weeks later.
While they stand just two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, they have to leap frog the Heat, who occupy the No. 8 spot now, the Nets and Celtics and that will be a tall task.
Grade: C-
Miami Heat: 22-30 (3rd Southeast Division) 9-15 at home, 13-15 on the road.
-92.8 ppg-28th; opp. ppg: 96.6 2nd; 37.8 rpg-30th
When LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Heat and decided to return to the Cavaliers, it was clear that the Heat were no longer a title contender.
With the re-signing of Chris Bosh (21.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Mario Chalmers (10.8 ppg, 4.3 apg 1.6 spg-leads team), Chris Andersen and the signing of Luol Deng (14.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 48.8 FG%, 37.7 3-Pt.%) Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, Shawne Williams, they were at least a playoff team.
Unfortunately for the Heat, they have been very inconsistent and find themselves clinging to the No. 8 Seed right now.
A big reason for the inconsistent play of the Heat is that Wade. The 11-time All-Star has missed 17 games this season with injuries. The most recent one he is dealing with is a strained right hamstring that has kept on the shelf for the last seven games. He is expected to return this Friday when the Heat resume action at the New York Knicks.
Along with Wade, Granger and Andersen have missed have missed time this season because of injury as well.
The one shine light for the Heat this season has been the play of their newest addition Hassan Whiteside (10.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg-leads team and 2.4 bpg-leads team).
The 2010 second round pick out of Marshall, who was signed back in November, 2014 introduced himself to the national audience back on Jan. 25 at the Bulls when he had his first career triple-double of 14 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high 12 blocks shots in helping the Heat to a 96-84 win.
In the Heat’s 93-72 setback against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 30, Whiteside had 14 of his career-high 24 rebounds in the first quarter. The 24 boards matched the second most in a single game in team history. He also finished with 16 points.
The play of Whiteside has given the Heat an inside presence that they have not had in a few years and if he keeps playing like he has, the Heat might have found their starting center for years to come.
The outlook on this season change within the last 48 hours as at the trade deadline, the Heat got a new starting lead guard in acquiring from the Phoenix Suns All-NBA Third team selection a season ago in Goran Dragic (16.2 ppg, 4.1 apg, 50.1 FG%, 35.5 3-Pt.%) in a three-team deal with the Suns and New Orleans Pelicans.
The Heat also acquired his brother Zoran Dragic and sent the Suns Granger and two first round picks in 2017 and 2019.
The Pelicans received Williams, guard Norris Cole and center Justin Hamilton.
The news was not all good for the Heat though in the last 24 hours. According to Associated Press reporter Brian Mahoney, Bosh was undergoing more tests in a South Florida hospital in the early part of Friday amid concerns of a blood clot on one of his lungs.
The report also said that the Heat forward had been dealing with side and back pain for the past several days. He did go to the hospital on Thursday to be evaluated.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has stated that it is too soon to draw any conclusions and that they are waiting for a full diagnosis and expected prognosis.
If a blood clot is found, Bosh could potentially be out the remainder of the season. Which is the same thing that happened with Nets’ forward Mirza Teletovic.
This trade pulled off by the Heat and Pat Riley has gotten the Heat back to serious playoff contention and the opportunity to defend their East crown that they have held the last four seasons. Not having Bosh will put a serious snag into those plans.
Going forward, a healthy Wade and Bosh and consistent play from the rest of the supporting cast is what is going to be required for the Heat to make the playoffs and contend.
Grade: C+
Milwaukee Bucks: 30-23 (3rd Central Division; No. 6 Seed East) 15-10 at home, 15-13 on the road.
-99.2 ppg-19th; opp. ppg: 97.2 6th; 41.3 rpg-25th
With the worst record in the league a season ago at 15-67, the Bucks had nowhere to go but up.
Nobody expected them though to go from the worst record in the league a season ago to being a playoff contender, especially from how they got to that point.
In the off-season, long time team owner Senator Herb Kohl sold the team to New York-based billionaires Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million.
With the No. 2 overall pick in 2014 NBA draft, the Bucks selected forward Jabari Parker (12.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 49.0 FG%) out of Duke University.
On July 1, 2014, the Bucks acquired head coach Jason Kidd from the Nets in exchange for two second-round picks in 2015-2019. The team proceeded to fire then Head Coach Larry Drew.
After being steady for much of the season being at the .500 mark or one to two games over, eight victories in their last 10 outings leading up to the All-Star break, which included a five-game winning streak from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4 has the Bucks now six games over the .500 mark.
The team has done this without Parker, who was lost Parker to a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) back on Dec. 15, a 96-94 win at the Phoenix Suns.
A big reason for that has been the play of lead guard Brandon Knight, who was in the running to make his first All-Star appearance and has a chance to make a lot of money this summer when he becomes a free agent.
Most Improved Player candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo (12.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg-leads team, 50.7 FG%), who has garnered four double-doubles in the last seven games leading towards the All-Star break.
The Bucks have also gotten great play out of forward Khris Middleton (11.4 ppg, 47.6 FG%, 42.3 3-Pt.%) and O.J. Mayo (11.8 ppg).
One of the big things that Kidd has gotten this team to do on a consistent basis is play defense.
They are fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed surrendering 43.5 percent. The Bucks are third in opponent’s three-point percentage at 32.9 percent. The team is tied for third in the league in steals at 9.6 and are second in forced turnovers per contest at 16.2. The Bucks this season are 17-0 when they hold the opposition under 90 points.
In a stunning move at the trade deadline, the Bucks in a three-team deal with the Suns and Philadelphia 76ers acquired last season’s Rookie of the Year in starting lead guard Michael Carter-Williams (15.0 ppg, 7.4 apg, 6.2 rpg, 1.5 spg).
The Bucks received from the Suns in the deal guard Tyler Ennis and center Miles Plumlee. Knight and guard reserve guard Kendall Marshall were sent to the Phoenix Suns.
The 76ers received from the Suns the 2015 protected first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Bucks not only got a new starting lead guard for this season, they got one who if he continues to improve one that can lead them to greatness. Carter-Williams will have one of the best to ever play the position in Kidd.
What will help this team going forward is getting better play from mainstays like center Larry Sanders (7.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Ersan Ilyasova (8.8 ppg).
It was just a couple of years ago that the team made big time commitments contract wise with both and because of injuries and in the case of Sanders immaturity on and off the court that they have performed below what they are capable of.
That is one of the reason the team traded for Plumlee and brought in veteran big man Kenyon Martin earlier in the season.
If Sanders and Ilyasova can ever get things together and the Bucks can continue to get consistent play from the likes of Jared Dudley (8.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 50.6 FG%, 44.2 3-Pt.%), ZaZa Pachulia (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Jerryd Bayless (7.9 ppg) and John Henson (7.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg-leads team) the Bucks will make the playoffs, which was unthinkable when this season began.
If it was not for the excellent season that the Hawks were having under Budenholzer, Kidd would be a shoe in for Coach of the Year.
Grade: A-
New York Knicks: 10-43 (5th Atlantic Division) 7-19 at home, 3-24 on the road.
-92.5 ppg-29th; opp. ppg: 100.2-19th; 39.8 rpg-29th
This past weekend was the only time that New York basketball was under the lights for something great as the host for the 2015 All-Star Weekend, which just past.
It has been a long, painful cannot bear to watch season in the “Big Apple” when it comes to professional basketball.
In nearly seven decades of Knickerbockers basketball, which has seen seven players have their jersey retired; worth approximately $2.5 billion according to Forbes; won eight Eastern Conference crowns and two NBA titles, this season has been the worst in the history of the franchise.  
To put this painful season into perspective, the Knicks lost 16 games in succession from Dec. 14, 2014 to Jan. 15, 2014. Prior to that, they went through a seven game losing streak from Nov. 4, 2014 to Nov. 14, 2014 and then a 10-game losing from Nov. 24, 2014 to Dec. 10, 2014.
As this season has gone on, it became crystal clear that change had to take place.
The house cleaning started with the trades of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavaliers for forward Lou Amundson, C Alex Kirk, a 2015 first-round pick from the Thunder and a 2019 second round pick from the Cavs in early January. Also during that time, the Knicks waived center Samuel Dalembert.
On Monday, the Knicks waived forward Amar’e Stoudemire, who five years ago signed a $100 million contract and made a statement that the Knicks were back.
On Thursday at the trade deadline, the Knicks sent guard Pablo Prigioni to the Houston Rockets for guard Alexey Shved and two second round picks in 2017 and 2019.
Ever since his first year in New York, things have gone down hill for him with the nagging injuries and the inability for his game and Carmelo Anthony’s (24.2 ppg-5th NBA, 6.6 rpg) to mesh together.
Speaking of the eight-time All-Star, his season came to an early end as he opted for season-ending surgery on his left knee.
So far in the 13 games he has missed this season, the Knicks have yet to put one in the win column.
This is not what first year head coach Derek Fisher, who was a five-time champion with former Lakers head coach and now Knicks team president Phil Jackson, expected.
It has given a chance for players like guards Langston Galloway (11.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (11.1 ppg) and Shane Larkin, centers Jason Smith (8.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), Andrea Bargnani and Cole Aldrich, forwards Quincy Acy, Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas and and rookies Cleanthony Early and Travis Wear to get serious playing time for the rest of this season and allow the Knicks to figure out if any of them could be a part of the team next season and going forward.
While they may have the worst record in the league, there is now guarantee that they will get that real high draft pick in the NBA Lottery in the late spring.
If they have any plans on getting any marquee free agents or even second tier free agents to sign, the Knicks have to show some kind of consistency for the remainder of this season, with or without Anthony. Above all else, they have to show that they can effectively run the famed “Triangle Offense,” which has been a serious struggle this season.
New York is a city of big dreams and many possibilities. It is also a city where you are front page news and there is now where to hide from it. The Knicks are terrible right now, but the organization has hope they can turn things around and fans have hope of better days ahead. It is up to the organization to turn that hope into results and it starts this offseason.
Grade: F-
Orlando Magic: 17-39 (5th Southeast Division) 7-18 at home, 10-21 on the road.
-95.7 ppg-25th; opp. ppg: 101.7-24th; 40.8 rpg-28th
In the NBA, especially in this current era, you only have so much time to turn the fortunes of a team around, especially when it is your first chance as a head coach.
Nearly three years ago, 12-year veteran guard with the Utah Jazz, Hawks, then New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs and assistant coach with the Spurs Jacque Vaughn was hired to be the new head coach of the Magic.
Coming in, he knew that the team was rebuilding after the trade of All-Star center Dwight Howard and that building the team back to a perennial playoff participant was going to take time.
Unfortunately, the organization felt that the team was stuck in neutral and not going anywhere fast. That resulted in the early part of this month reliving Vaughn of head coaching duties and replacing him with assistant James Borrego on an interim basis.
Unlike most teams walking into a rebuilding situation, Borrego has some real good parts to work with.
Starting center Nikola Vucevic (19.6 ppg-leads team, 11.3 rpg-7th NBA, 53.6 FG%) who the Magic acquired in the Howard trade three years ago has been a walking double-double, which he ranks third in the league with 32.
The starting backcourt of second-year guard Victor Oladipo (16.6 ppg, 1.6 spg-leads team) and rookie lead guard Elfrid Payton (7.9 ppg, 5.7 apg, 3.7 rpg) have shown flashes of being a backcourt to watch out for in the years to come.
Ever since come over from the Bucks during the season three years ago, Islip, NY native Tobias Harris (17.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 46.5 FG%, 37.5 3-Pt.%) has proven a serious find at small forward and has played very consistently that he will have a lot of suitors when he becomes a free agent this summer.
For the rest of this season, Borrego and the Magic organization have to figure out how to fill out the rest of the roster around the Vucevic, Oladipo, Payton and Harris, who the Magic have made their top priority to re-sign.
Other than swingman Evan Fournier (12.1 ppg, 37.7 3-Pt.%), some of the other young players like forwards Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, center Dewayne Dedmon and guard Devyn Marble have risen to the moment and proven that they are a part of the Magic long term.
For veterans like guards Luke Ridnour, Willie Green and Ben Gordon, this might be just another stop for them in their NBA journey, but for someone like Channing Frye (7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 39.3 3-Pt.%), who the Magic signed to a four-year contract has to pick things up and be the veteran presence this team needs.
Grade: D+
Philadelphia 76ers: 12-41 (4th Atlantic Division) 7-19 at home, 5-22 on the road.
-89.8 ppg-30th; opp. ppg: 100.5-20th; 42.2 rpg-21st
When you are in the process of rebuilding a team from the bottom up, there are a lot of things that have to happen in the early stages to show that there is hope for better days ahead.
For starters, you need a head coach, who is willing and able to teach a young group of talented players the right way of doing things. The Sixers have in long time Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown who has championships on his resume.
Second, you need to draft talented players who can be coached to become great players and who are willing to put in the work day after day to become great.
The Sixers hope they have that last season’s Rookie of the Year in guard Michael Carter-Williams forward/center Nerlens Noel (8.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg-leads team, 1.7 bpg-leads team), who missed all of last season recovering from a knee injury he sustained in his only season at University of Kentucky and second-year guard Tony Wroten (16.9 ppg, 5.2 apg and 1.6 spg-leads team), who will be out the rest of the season to repair a partially torn ACL in his right knee.
The team in a surprising moved traded Williams to the Bucks in a three-team deal, where they netted a 2015 protected first-round pick of the Lakers from the Suns.
In another trade, the Sixers acquired often injured center JaVale McGee from the Denver Nuggets and a 2015 lottery protected first-round pick and the rights to center Chukwudiebere Maduabum.
Back in Dec. 2014, the Sixers acquired a 2020 second-round pick and cash considerations from the Nets along with forward Andrei Kirilenko, who has not played for them and guard Jorge Gutierrez, who was released
Third, it takes having young players who can show the potential of being a part of the team in the future.
Some of the Sixers that have shown flashes of being a big part of the team in the years to come include second round pick guard K.J. McDaniels, who the team traded to the Houston Rockets for guard Isaiah Cannon and a 2015 second round pick; second-year center Henry Sims (8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), guard Hollis Thompson (8.0 ppg, 35.9 3-Pt.%), and second round pick forward Jerami Grant (5.7 ppg).
The most important thing that is necessary in this process is management to sell the plan to the fans, especially fans who do not hold their tongue when it comes to expressing their feelings about how their hometown professional teams are doing.
Team President and General Manager Sam Hinkie has been steadfast in explaining through the press that this plan will show results.
This season did not start well for the Sixers, losing their first 17 games. Since then though they have won 12 games in 41 chances. It may not be much, but it is a start.
The hopes and dreams of better days ahead rest on the shoulders of Noel, Carter-Williams, center Joel Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in this past June’s draft, who is out for the season recovering from injury and forward Dario Saric, the 12th overall pick in this past June’s draft, who is playing these days for Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League.
They also have to turn the number of draft picks they have gotten in a number of these trades into players that the team can build with for this so-called bright future.
Grade: D
Toronto Raptors: 36-17 (1st Atlantic Division; No. 2 Seed in East) 21-9 at home, 15-8 on the road.
-105.6 ppg-5th; opp. ppg: 100.7-22nd; 41.9 rpg-22nd
The true measure of a team that came out of nowhere a season ago, but saw their season come to a crashing end in the postseason is coming back better and more determined to take another step to being great.
The Toronto Raptors have shown this season that they are ready to take that next step.
Leading the way is starting lead guard Kyle Lowry (18.6 ppg,-leads team, 7.2 apg-leads team, 4.8 rpg), who made his first All-Star, as a starter in his ninth NBA season, solidifying the new four-year contract he got this off-season re-signing with the team.
Starting center Jonas Valanciunas (12.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg-leads team) has come on in his third season and has been a solid compliment to veteran forward Amir Johnson (9.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 59.6 FG%).
The acquisition of guard Lou Williams (15.2 ppg) has added serious scoring punch off the bench to go alongside back-up guard Greivis Vasquez (9.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, 36.2 3-Pt.%), forward Patrick Patterson (8.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 46.8 FG%, 40.6 3-Pt.%) and forward James Johnson (8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg).
The Raptors season at first was put in serious jeopardy when starting shooting guard DeMar DeRozen (18.3 ppg) in the 106-102 loss versus the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 28, 2014 sustained a lower body injury. The injury turned out to be a torn left adductor longus tendon.
DeRozen missed the team’s next 21 games, where the Raptors went 13-8 and remaining in the No. 2 spot in the East.
As mentioned earlier, what hurt the Raptors in the playoffs a season ago was their lack of experience, which cost them against the No. 6 Seeded Nets, who defeated the Atlantic Division champs and the No. 3 Seeded Raptors in seven games.
On top of that during the regular season, the Raptors had an inability to pull out games that were down to the clutch. This season, they have gotten better with a 5-3 record in games decided by four points or less.
Two big questions are in front of the Toronto Raptors heading into the home stretch of the season.
One, will swingman Terrence Ross (10.3 ppg, 36.8 3-Pt.%) emerge from the serious shooting slump that he has been in since the seven game setback to the Nets in the first round of the playoffs a season ago?
Two, can the Raptors play consistently at the defensive end of the court?
Surrendering 45.8 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from three-point range, No. 12 in the league and ranking 18th in block shots per contest at 4.5 will not get it done.
Baring a serious collapse, the Raptors will make some history. With 14 more wins, they will earn their first 50-win season in franchise history.
If they have any plans on making a serious run in the postseason, the defense must match the offense.
Grade: A+ 
Washington Wizards: 33-21 (2nd Southeast Division; No. 4 Seed East) 20-8 at home, 13-13 on the road.
-99.7 ppg-18th; opp. ppg: 97.3-9th; 44.1 rpg-9th
It is one thing to go from a bad team to a playoff team. It is something totally different going from a perennial playoff participant to a championship contender.
When this season began, the challenge for the Washington Wizards was being a team that could win at a consistent level when they no longer had the element of surprise.
What they had in their favor was a group of players and a head coach ready to accept the challenge.
At the head of this strong team is one of the best starting backcourts in the business of two-time All-Star John Wall (17.4 ppg-leads team, 10.1 apg-Leads NBA, 4.5 rpg, 1.9 spg-leads team), who leads all guards and is tied for fifth in the league with 29 double-doubles and  Bradley Beal (15.0 ppg, 43.6 3-Pt.%).
A strong frontcourt lead by center Marcin Gortat (11.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg-leads team, 53.7 FG%), Nene (11.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Kris Humphries (8.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Kevin Seraphin (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Drew Gooden.
Solid perimeter players in Rasual Butler (8.8 ppg, 42.9 3-Pt.%), Otto Porter and Ramon Sessions, who the Wizards acquired at the trade deadline from the Sacramento Kings for guard Andre Miller and Martell Webster.
The one thing that the Wizards lack a season ago in the second round against the Pacers, the East runner up a year ago is experience.
This off-season, the Wizards went out and got some in NBA champion Paul Pierce (12.5 ppg, 45.1 FG%, 38.4 3-Pt.%).
His experience, especially in the clutch of tight playoff games should help the Wizards this time around coming down the stretch of this season, but in the postseason.
Two things that can hold this team back from really making some noise the remainder of this season is injuries and their inability to remain focused on the task at hand.
Beal, who missed the start of this season because of a broken wrist, is dealing with nagging toe injury and a stress fracture in his lower right fibula. There is now timetable for how long he will be out of the line-up.
Along with Beal, Webster has barely played this year because of herniated disc in his back that he had surgery on in the off-season.
Prior to taking two of their final three games prior to the All-Star break this past weekend, the Wizards had not been so magical losing five consecutive games from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5 and dropping seven games in nine chances.
After sustaining their second loss in a three-day span to the Hornets 94-87 back on Feb, 5, head coach Randy Wittman said after the game blew another big lead in the second half, “Until we understand it, it’s going to be like that. The same exact thing over and over again.”
What the Wizards have to understand as the second half of this season begins that playing at a high level has to be part of their DNA. Becoming a great team has to start in practice and has to translate to the game. It must be sustained from one quarter to the next; from first half to second half; from one game to the next and from one season to the next.
Grade: B-
Western Conference
Dallas Mavericks: 36-20 (3rd Southwest Division; No. 5 Seed West) 17-9 at home, 19-11 on the road.
-106.0 ppg-3rd; opp. ppg: 101.0-23rd; 42.3 rpg-20th
A season ago, the Dallas Mavericks took their interstate rivals and the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games, but fell to the eventual champs in seven games.
In the off-season, owner Mark Cuban and the Mavs organization new they needed to get some new blood to help All-Star forward and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki (18.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 46.5 FG%, 35. 3-Pt.%), some more help if they were going to win another championship.
They signed restricted free agent Chandler Parsons (15.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 37.5 3-Pt.%) to a three-year $46 million offer sheet that his former team the Houston Rockets did not match.
In free agency, they signed veteran forwards Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva and Al-Farouq Aminu, and guard J.J. Barea (7.7 ppg, 34.7 3-Pt.%).
In a trade with the Knicks, the Mavs got center Tyson Chandler (10.7 ppg, 11.9 rpg-6th NBA), who played a major role in the Mavs taking down the Heat in the 2011 Finals in six games. The team also acquired guard Raymond Felton.

While the team was doing very well early in the season, something was missing.
In the middle of December, the Mavericks traded forward Jae Crowder, guard Jameer Nelson, center Brandan Wright a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick to the Boston Celtics for All-Star guard and NBA champion Rajon Rondo (9.0 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.9 rpg, 1.5 spg) and forward Dwight Powell.
Earlier this week, the Mavs claimed forward/center Amar’e Stoudemire (12.0ppg, 6.8 rpg) off waivers from Knicks.
The acquisition of Rondo has had mixed results as the Mavericks have gone just 13-10 since then and Rondo is right now on the shelf because of a facial injury he sustained in Dallas'108-93 victory at the Magic back on Jan. 31.
While the Mavericks have played well at times this season, they have two big issues that have kept them from being even higher in their tough division as well as the West in general.
While they have an okay rank in opponent’s field goal percent at 13th giving up 44.5 percent shooting and they are ranked 10th in blocks per game at 4.9, the Mavericks are just 26th in opponent’s three-point percentage at 36.3 percent. Despite having one of the best rebounders in the business in Chandler, the Mavs are dead last in rebound differential being out-rebounded by nearly four per game at -3.8.
This hands down is one of the best offenses in the league ranking eighth in assist per contest at 22.9; sixth in field goal percentage at 46.3 percent and 12th in three-point percentage at 35.7 percent.
With that being said, if the Mavericks want to be a more serious contender in the tough Western Conference, their defense must improve.
On top of that, they must win more games against the rest of the conference. Against the other seven playoff teams, the Mavericks are just 3-10.
If the play like they did at the Thunder on Thursday night, where they lost 104-89, this season could end very quickly in the playoffs.
Shooting just 36.3 percent from the field; getting out-rebounded 62-39 and allowing 25 points or more in three of the four quarters will not get it done.
Grade: C+
Denver Nuggets: 20-33 (3rd Northwest Division) 12-14 at home, 8-19 on the road.

-100.7 ppg-12th; opp. ppg: 104.1-26th; 44.9 rpg-6th

It is one thing to be a team loaded with talented players who can take your breath away with the tremendous amount of skills they can put on display. Then that same group of talented players can put on a performance that leaves your head scratching making you ask, why, how?
Those are the highs and lows that best describe the Nuggets this season.
Last year, this roster performed below expectations because injuries decimated them and yet they still had a solid showing under first year head coach Brian Shaw.
While the team has suffered the injury bug again, they have performed as a whole below expectations across the board.
It is hard to fathom that a high scoring team that scores the ball well only shoots 43.4 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three-point range, ranking 26th and 28th in NBA respectably.
On the other end of the floor, this team is one of the best rebounding teams in the league as well as one that defends the three-point line well giving up just 34.4 percent, ranking 9th in NBA and yet they ranked in the middle of the pact in rebound differential at +0.2 per contest, which is 15th in the league.
A big reason for that is the opposition shoots 45.2 percent against them, tied for 16th in the league. The Nuggets get 4.7 blocks per game, tied for 13th in the NBA and they only force 12.7 turnovers per game, ranking 22nd in the NBA.
Ever since winning two in a row in late November, 2014 to the beginning of December, which got them to above .500 at 9-8, they have gone 11-25 since and have been unable to recover.
Forward Kenneth Faried (11.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg-leads team), who really came into his own a season ago and was a huge reason that Team USA captured Gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain this past summer and got a contract extension has not had the same impact this season.
Arron Afflalo, who the Nuggets acquired from the Magic in the off-season has played okay, but he impact on both ends has been minimal, especially from three-point range where he is shooting just 33.7 percent.
At the trade deadline yesterday, he was dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers along with forward Alonzo Gee. The Nuggets in return got forwards Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and a lottery protected 2016 first round pick and a 2017 first round pick.  
Center JaVale McGee has missed time again because of injury and illness and when he has been out there, his presence has been tardy at best. He also was shipped out of town, being traded to the Sixers along with a 2015 first-round pick that is lottery protected from the Oklahoma City Thunder and the draft rights to center Chukwudiebere Maduabum. The Nuggets in return receiving the draft rights to guard Cenk Akyol.
Back in January, the Nuggets sent back-up guard Nate Robinson to the Celtics for Jameer Nelson.    
They also sent center Timofey Mozgov to the Cavaliers for two protected 2015 first-round picks.
Forwards Wilson Chandler (13.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg), J.J. Hickson (8.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Danilo Gallinari (8.2 ppg), Darrell Arthur and guard Randy Foye (5.5 ppg) have also been inconsistent with their play.
To put the struggles of the Nuggets into better perspective, this team used to dominant at home. Two years ago, they won 38 out of their 41 games at the Pepsi Center. This season, they are just two games over .500 mark on their home court.
Just two years ago, the Nuggets were one of the best teams in the West under the direction of now Sacramento Kings head coach George Karl. Look where they are now.
The only saving grace for the Nuggets is that the will be minutes for young guys like Jusuf Nurkic (7.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg), who has performed well in spurts and rookie guards Gary Harris and Erick Green.
While it can be said now that the organization should not have let Karl and GM Masai Ujiri go two years ago, but that was then. This is now.
It is clear the Nuggets have a lot of work to do to get back to the form of where it was two years ago. The biggest key is deciding if starting lead guard Ty Lawson (16.1 ppg, 10.1 apg, 44.7 FG%, 36.0 3-Pt.%), who has 22 double-doubles on the year is their leader of the future.
While he has been the only consistent Nugget of late, his attitude and reliability have been a question mark. That has to change quickly for things to get better at least on the floor for the Nuggets.
Grade: F
Golden State Warriors: 42-9 (1st Pacific Division; No. 1 Seed in West) 23-2 at home, 19-7 on the road.
-110.6 ppg-1st; opp. ppg: 99.6-15th; 45.1 rpg-5th
It has been close to four decades since the loyal fans of the Bay Area can say that their basketball team has a legitimate chance of winning a title. This is that season.
The driving force behind the great dream is the high level of play from the All-Star backcourt of “The Splash Brothers” Stephen Curry (23.6 ppg-6th NBA, 7.9 apg-leads team, 4.7 rpg, 2.2 spg-Leads NBA, 48.1 FG%, 39.9 3-Pt.%) and Klay Thompson (22.1 ppg, 47.1 FG%, 44.0 3-Pt.%), who have taken their experience in helping Team USA capture Gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain and run the Warriors to the top of the NBA mountain. 
Along with superstar play of the backcourt, career seasons from forwards Marreese Speights (12.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Draymond Green (11.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.6 spg) and Harrison Barnes (10.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 50.3 FG%, 43.2 3-Pt.%) have pushed the Warriors to a serious title contender in the tough West.
While by the numbers the bench for the Warriors has not been great, swingman Andre Iguodala (7.2 ppg), guards Leandro Barbosa (7.1 ppg, 49.1 FG%, 35.9 3-Pt.%), Shaun Livingston and Justin Holiday have been a major reason the Warriors earlier this year won a franchise record 16 wins in a row from Nov. 13, 2014 to Dec. 16, 2014.
At home, the Warriors have been as dominant as ever winning a franchise record 19 consecutive times at Oracle Arena from Nov. 13, 2014 to Jan. 27.
What has made this season even more impressive is that the Warriors have done this without starting center Andrew Bogut (6.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg-leads team, 1.8 bpg-leads team) and forward David Lee who has missed 38 games combined this season because of injury.
To put this in perspective, the Warriors lead the league in field goal percentage allowed at 42.1 percent and are fourth in opponent’s three-point percentage at 33.0 percent. They are second in the league in block shots per contest at 6.1; fourth in steals per game at 9.6 and they are third in the league in forced turnovers at 15.8.
In terms of offense, they are just as good leading the NBA in assists per game at 27.2 and field goal percentage at 48.1. Only the Rockets make more three-point field goals per game than the Warriors at 10.4 and only the Hawks make them at a higher percentage at 38.4 percent.
It has been a honeymoon season for first year head coach Steve Kerr, who replaced Mark Jackson this off-season. The five-time NBA champion with the Bulls and Spurs has been able to take the Warriors from being a good team to a title contender.
The Warriors stellar play has also given some well-deserved buzz around the league about Curry being a leading candidate for MVP and Kerr as a top candidate for Coach of the Year along with Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer and Bucks’ head coach Jason Kidd.
The question now is can the duplicate what they did in the regular season in the postseason, where a season ago they fell in a tough seven games series with their heated Pacific Division rival the Los Angeles Clippers.
This postseason will not be an easier as it is likely they will face an improved Thunder team, who really improved their bench at the trade deadline on Thursday in the first round.
That is why it is important that Bogut and Lee stay healthy for the rest of the season and give the Warriors major production in the paint on both ends.
The Warriors will get tested right out of gates as their early post All-Star break schedule has them playing four of their first five games against the defending champion Spurs and at the Wizards, Cavs and Raptors.
Grade: A+
Houston Rockets: 36-17 (2nd Southwest Division; No. 4 Seed in West) 18-8 at home, 18-9 on the road.
-103.1 ppg-7th; opp. ppg: 99.8-18th; 43.4 rpg-15th
Last season ended painfully for the guys from “Clutch City” as Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard hit a three-pointer at the horn to win the series 4-2.
Unlike the last two off-seasons when the Rockets acquired James Harden (27.4 ppg-Leads NBA; 5.7 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.0 spg, 45.5 FG%, 38.3 3-Pt.%) and signed All-Star center Dwight Howard (16.3 ppg, 11.9 rpg-leads team), the Rockets lost lead guard Jeremy Lin as he was traded to the Lakers and starting forward Chandler Parsons signed an offer sheet with the interstate rival Mavericks, which the Rockets did not match.
The roles that were expected to be counted on this season included newly acquired Trevor Ariza (12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Donatas Motiejunas (11.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), rookie Kostas Papanikolaou, Patrick Beverly (10.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 36.5 3-Pt.%), NBA champion Jason Terry, Isaiah Cannon and Terrence Jones (9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
This season so far has been good for the Rockets, especially with injuries to the likes of Jones and Howard, who missed 64 games combined because of injury.
Harden has taken his game to a level that has many talking about him winning the MVP Award for the first time in his career. On top of that, the Rockets have made a commitment to being a top notch defensive team.
The edition of Josh Smith (12.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.7 apg) off waivers in late December and the acquisition of Corey Brewer (11.1 ppg) from the Minnesota Timberwolves have added much needed depth to the bench.
The Rockets added more depth by acquiring forward K.J. McDaniels (9.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg) from the Sixers in exchange for Canaan and a 2015 second round pick from the Nuggets or Timberwolves. They also received guard Pablo Prigioni from the Knicks for guard Alexey Shved and second round picks in 2017 and 2019.
The biggest reason why the Rockets have stayed consistent all season despite the injuries and some minor changes has been their stellar defense. 
Opponents are shooting just 44.4 percent against them, which is 12th in NBA and they are No. 1 in the league in three-point percentage allowed giving up just 31.6 percent. They are second in steals at 9.6 per contest and are fourth in forced turnovers per contest at 15.7.
The biggest concern for the Rockets going forward this season is the health of Howard, who received a bone marrow aspirate injection on his right knee back on Feb. 4 to relieve the swelling in the joint. Howard will be re-evaluated in the next four weeks while he rehabilitates. There is no timetable for his return though.
So far the Rockets have done well at 14-7 without their big man in the middle, but things are not going to get any easier as eight of the next 13 opponents are above .500 mark.
If Harden can continue his high level of play and the role players can continue to grow, the Rockets should be fine as they have shown all season long.
Grade: B-
Los Angeles Clippers: 36-19 (2nd Pacific Division; No. 5 Seed in West) 22-7 at home, 14-12 on the road.
-107.0 ppg-2nd; opp. ppg: 101.0-22nd; 41.7 rpg-24th
When it comes to excitement, anticipation of what’s to come at the offensive end and playing the game at a high octane level, nobody does it better for the Los Angeles Clippers.
They are third in the NBA in assists per contest at 24.6, led by the perennial All-Star floor general Chris Paul (17.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 9.8 apg-3rd NBA, 1.9 spg-leads team); second in field goal percentage at 47.3 and fifth in three-point percentage at 37.1.
In terms of inside and outside offensive attacks, the Clippers have one of the best in All-Star forward Blake Griffin (22.5 ppg-leads team, 7.5 rpg, 5.1 apg).
Perennial Sixth Man of the Year contender Jamal Crawford (16.2 ppg) and J.J. Redick (14.6 ppg 46.8 FG%, 43.2 3-Pt.%) are two of the best perimeter players in the game.
What has held the Clippers back at times this season is the fact that other than Crawford, their bench of forward/center Spencer Hawes (6.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg), guard Jordan Farmar, forwards Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu and Austin Rivers, son of head coach Doc Rivers that was acquired earlier in the season from the Celtics and the play of starting small forward Matt Barnes (9.8 ppg, 36.6 3-Pt.%) have been inconsistent.
What has also been inconsistent has been their play at the defensive end.
A season ago, the Clippers lead the league in opponent’s three-point percentage. This season, they are just 10th at 34.6 percent. Teams overall a season ago shot just 44.1 percent against the Clippers, which was fifth in the league. The Clippers have fallen to 19th field goal percentage allowed at 45.3.
Even with the best rebounder and one of the best shot blockers in the business in center DeAndre Jordan (11.0 ppg, 13.9 rpg-Leads NBA, 2.3 bpg-2nd NBA), the Clippers are 19th in rebound differential at -0.7 per game and rank just 15th in block shots per game at 4.7.
After winning six games in a row from Jan. 17 to Jan. 28, the Clippers lost five out of their next six, which included a four-game losing streak from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8.
The team went just 3-5 on their latest road trip as their home court The Staples Center was preparing for The Grammy Awards.
They did however win their last two games prior to the All-Star break by winning at the Mavericks 115-98 lead by Jordan’s 22 points and career-high 27 rebounds to go along with three blocks. He followed that up with a game-high 24 points, 20 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in helping the Clippers to a 110-95 win versus the Rockets.
The road ahead for the Clippers will not be an easy one as Griffin will be on the shelf for at least three weeks following surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow that took place last week.
If there is one thing good about this is the fact that the team played without Paul for a period of time because of a shoulder injury and the rest of the team picked up their play to remain a top the West.
This time around, it is Paul and Jordan who have to pick it up until Griffin gets back.
Along with that, the Clippers must improve on the defensive end as the stretch to playoffs begins.
Coming into this season, the Clippers wanted to finally get out of the shadow of their so-called “Big Brother” the Los Angeles Lakers and win a title. If that is going to become a reality, they must play better starting now.
Grade: C+
Los Angeles Lakers: 13-40 (5th Pacific Division) 7-18 at home, 6-22 on the road.
-99.1 ppg-20th; opp. ppg: 106.2-30th; 43.6 rpg-14th
Here is an interesting fact. Last season was the first time the Knicks, Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers all missed the postseason in the same year. That is how bad things have gotten for three of the NBA’s flagship franchises who combined to win 35 NBA titles, have countless players in the Hall of Fame that have impacted the game greatly and have given moments one after the other that are legendary.
While it has been a struggle for the Lakers to say the least this season, they did add another proud moment to their resume as future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant on Dec. 14, 2014 at the Minnesota Timberwolves passed Hall of Famer and the man he has been compared to Michael Jordan into 3rd place on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list. He finished with 26 points in leading the Lakers to a 100-94 victory.
That would be one of the last bright moments for the five-time NBA champion and 2008 MVP as on Jan. 21, he hurt his shoulder that occurred on a drive to the rim that he threw down hard. It was revealed later on that week that Bryant sustained a torn right rotator cuff that he eventually had surgery on ending his season early for the third straight year.
This is just another egg thrown on the Lakers season, which has seen them lose nine straight games from Jan. 11 to Jan. 27, which fell one shy of tying the franchise record for consecutive losses, which occurred during the 1948-49 season when they were the Minneapolis Lakers.
Their 102-86 defeat at the Portland Trail Blazers before the All-Star break last week, was their sixth straight defeat and set a new franchise record for setbacks in a row on the their 11th in succession on the road, a new franchise record.
The difference between the aforementioned Knicks and Celtics, the Lakers do not have a clear road map on how to get back to their usual winning ways.
Other than Bryant, who will be a 37 years-old and fighting back from another injury, the Lakers do not have a true star moving forward.
Sure they will have a high draft pick this June, but other than that what do they have.
The current roster which consist of guards Nick Young (13.5 ppg, 36.7 3-Pt.%), Ronnie Price, Jordan Clarkson (7.6 ppg) and Jeremy Lin (10.2 ppg, 4.6 apg, 37.4 3-Pt.%), forwards Carlos Boozer (12.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Wesley Johnson (9.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Ryan Kelly and Ed Davis (8.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg), center Jordan Hill (12.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg-leads team) and Robert Sacre does not have that next star to take the place of Bryant when he does eventually retire. fs
The team hoped that they could groom rookie forward Julius Randle into that next great Laker player, but he got hurt in the first game of this season and is out until next year.
This has been a tough season for team, head coach and three-time champion with the team Byron Scott and the fans.
While the Lakers may have the mystique, the championship legacy and the cap space to get back to being a playoff team again, it is not going to happen in the blink of an eye. It is going to take patience, work and a whole lot of luck.
Grade: F-
Memphis Grizzlies: 39-14 (1st Southwest Division; No. 2 Seed in West) 23-5at home, 16-9 on the road.
-100.6 ppg-15th; opp. ppg: 95.7-1st; 43.2 rpg-16th
Sometimes, one simple thing can separate one team from another. It can be a statistic or even a player and their value to that particular team.
Last season, Grizzlies starting center Marc Gasol missed a chunk of time because of a knee injury and the Grizzlies were not the same.
A healthy Gasol (18.3 ppg-leads team, 8.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg-leads team), who is having the best season of his career has made them a legitimate championship contender again.
He and fellow front court mate Zach Randolph (16.9 ppg, 12.0 rpg-5th NBA) formed one of the most dynamic front court duos in the league.
Running the show at the lead guard spot is Mike Conley (16.9 ppg, 5.3 apg), who is having another banner season.
Forward Jeff Green (15.9 ppg), who was acquired recently from the Celtics back on Jan. 12 has been a welcome addition and has given the Grizzlies much needed athleticism in the front court.
While by the numbers he has not had a serious impact that many expected when he signed this off-season, swingman Vince Carter will be counted on when he does return from the foot injury to give the Grizzlies a serious perimeter threat alongside guards Courtney Lee (10.7 ppg, 47.6 FG%, 44.8 3-Pt.%) and Beno Udrih (7.8 ppg).
The moto of the Grizzlies over the past few seasons has been “Grit and Grind” and no one has symbolized that better than defensive ace guard Tony Allen (8.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.9 spg-5th NBA) along with the likes of center Kosta Koufos, forward Jon Leuer and guard Nick Calathes.
The Grizzlies have been over the past few years one of the best defensive teams in the league and that has been the case this season as they are ninth in opponent’s field goal percentage at 44.1; tied for eighth in steals at 8.4 per game and ninth in forced turnovers forcing the opposition to cough it up 14.8 times a night.
The difference from years past is the offensive output has matched the defensive output as the Grizzlies rank 11th in assists per game at 22.0 and they are eighth in field goal percentage at 46.0.
Off all the teams that have a chance to come out of the West, Memphis is right up their because of their top notch defense and that they have Randolph and Gasol to go to inside on offense.
The key for them is can Green, Conley, Carter, Lee and Udrih keep the defense honest enough on the perimeter to give more room for Gasol and Randolph to operate inside.
Grade: A
Minnesota Timberwolves: 11-42 (5th Northwest Division) 6-21 at home, 5-21 on the road.
-97.5 ppg-22nd; opp. ppg: 106.1-29th; 41.2 rpg-26th
When the Timberwolves said goodbye to All-Star forward Kevin Love trading him this past off-season to the Cavaliers, it was a clear white flag that the team was starting over. When you are in that position, you want to start over with someone you have visions of one day being what Love was.
The T’Wolves hoped that No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft in forward/guard Andrew Wiggins (15.2 ppg, 35.8 3-Pt.%), who was acquired for Love is that guy to lead them to better days.
So far he has been up to the task winning NBA Rookie of the Month for all four months to this point.
You also want to in this process have players along with the so-called future to grow with that particular player.
Fellow rookies guard Zach LaVine (7.6 ppg) and Adreian Payne, who the T’Wolves acquired from the Atlanta Hawks for a future first-round draft pick earlier this month; second-year forward Shabazz Muhammad (13.6 ppg, 48.6 FG%, 39.2 3-Pt.%) and center Gorgui Dieng (9.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg-leads team, 1.7 bpg-leads team), lead guard Ricky Rubio (10.8 ppg, 7.8 apg) and forwards Anthony Bennett, Chase Budinger and Robbie Hummel have the talent to be that supporting cast alongside Wiggins.
Third, you need a group of veteran players, who can not only play, but have the knowledge and work ethic to show the young and talented players the necessary tools to grow into being great players individually and a great unit together.
The T’Wolves took care of that at least for the rest of this season, maybe more when they traded for the greatest player, statistically for sure in franchise history in Kevin Garnett from the Nets for Thaddeus Young.
Garnett along with guard Kevin Martin (20.2 ppg, 44.6 FG%, 41.3 3-Pt.%), center Nikola Pekovic (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and guard Gary Neal, who the T’Wolves acquired from the Hornets and in exchange for guards Mo Williams and Troy Daniels are tasked with showing some of the young talented T’Wolves how to become a great players and great team.
Finally is having a coach who can guide this young team through tough losses how to become a team that is a perennial playoff participant. That coach is Flip Saunders, who along with Kevin Garnett guided the Timberwolves to seven straight playoff appearances from 1997-2004.
In Garnett’s 12 seasons, where he was coached by Saunders for seven of them, the T’Wolves went 501-451 making the playoffs eight times, going to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Since leaving in a trade to the Boston Celtics eight years ago, the team has gone 186-425 with no playoff appearances.
It is going to take time for the Timberwolves to recapture the glory years of the late 1990s and early 2000s. With the likes of Wiggins, LaVine, Dieng, Muhammad, Rubio, Bennett and the rest can get together, the T’Wolves future is bright with many playoff appearances.
With one of the greatest competitors on their team in KG teaching them what it means to be a pro, they will get better just from that.  
Grade: C+
New Orleans Pelicans: 27-26 (5th Southwest Division) 17-10 at home, 10-16 on the road.
-99.8 ppg-17th; opp. ppg: 99.7-16th; 44.0 rpg-10th
When you are blessed as an organization to have a great player who can be the face of the franchise for years to come, it is important to surround that players with other players that can mesh with him and that group has to strive to become a perennial playoff participant.
The Pelicans have that kind of player in former No. 1 overall pick in forward/center Anthony Davis (24.5 ppg-4th NBA, 10.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg-Leads NBA), who tied with Wizards’ guard John Wall and Pistons’ center Andre Drummond for fifth in double-doubles with 29.
The guard combination Tyreke Evans (16.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.1 apg), Jrue Holiday (15.2 ppg, 7.1 apg-leads team, 1.6 spg-leads team) and Eric Gordon (12.6 ppg, 44.9 3-Pt.%) has shown flashes of excellence at times, but they have not been consistent over the last two years and they have bee injury prone. Gordon and Holiday, the starting backcourt have missed a combined 37 games because of injury. Evans has played real well as a starter averaging 16.6 points, 6.2 assists and 5.3 boards in his 49 starts. In 34 starts as a forward, Evans has averaged 17.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds.
With Holiday still out because of injury, the Pelicans in a three-team deal with the Heat and Suns, acquired guard Norris Cole from the Heat. They also acquired forward Shawne Williams, who they are expected to put on waivers and center Justin Hamilton.
Speaking of the frontcourt, off-season acquisition in center Omer Asik (7.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg) has been a solid compliment to Davis. Forward Ryan Anderson (14.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 34.7 3-Pt.%) has been okay as a shooter, but needs to do more.
The rest of the supporting cast of centers Alexis Ajinca (5.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Jeff Whitey, forwards Dante Cunningham, John Salmons and Luke Babbitt, guards Jimmer Fredette and Nate Wolters when they have gotten time have shown they can contribute in a big way. Neither one of them though has separated themselves to get consistent minutes on the floor.
For most of this season, the Pelicans have been up and down, sometimes more down than up. Five wins in a six-game stretch, which included four straight wins from Jan. 21 to Jan. 26 put the Pelicans three games over the .500 mark. A 3-5 stretch which proceeded that wiped that good karma by the wayside, which included three straight defeats prior to the All-Star break.
To make matters worse, Davis is day-to-day with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the All-Star Game this past weekend. He is scheduled to play when the Pelicans visit the Magic on Friday night.
Right now the Pelicans are 1.5 games behind the Phoenix Suns for the No. 8 and final playoff spot.
For head coach Monty Williams and his team to leap frog the Oklahoma City Thunder as well as the Suns, they need Davis to get back soon and play at the high level he has been all season. They need to find a way to get Evans, Gordon and Holiday significant time on the court where they are producing consistently. They also need some of their other role players to step up and play big when their number is called.
Grade: C-
Oklahoma City Thunder: 29-25 (2nd Northwest Division; No. 8 Seed West) 17-8 at home, 12-17 on the road.
-100.7 ppg-13th; opp. ppg: 98.6-11th; 46.8 rpg-1st
Missing the All-Star dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook (26.0 ppg-3rd NBA, 7.7 apg-leads team, 6.3 rpg, 2.2 spg-2nd NBA) and Kevin Durant (25.4 ppg-leads team, 6.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 51.0 FG%, 40.3 3-Pt.%) to start this season, put the Thunder right behind the eight ball.
It has been an uphill climb just to make it above the playoff line, but three straight victories prior to the All-Star break and a 104-89 victory versus the Mavericks on Thursday night, their seventh wins in their last ten chances has leaped frogged the Thunder into the No. 8 and final playoff spot over the Phoenix Suns, who they have beaten in their first two meetings and will meet them two more time on Feb. 26 in Phoenix and Mar. 29 in Oklahoma City.
They were the clear cut winners at the trade deadline acquiring in a three-team deal with the Pistons and Jazz forward/center Enes Kanter (13.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 49.1 FG%), guard D.J. Augustin (10.6 ppg, 4.9 apg), forwards Kyle Singler (7.1 ppg, 40.6 3-Pt.%) and Steve Novak and a 2019 second round pick.
Center Kendrick Perkins, forward Grant Jerrett were sent to the Jazz as well as the rights to center Tibor Pleiss, a 2017 second –round pick from the Pistons and a future first-round pick from the Thunder. Perkins is expected to be bought out of his contract by the Jazz.
The new additions strengthen the bench of the Thunder tremendously. Kanter gives the Thunder a low post presence on offense and another rugged rebounder. Augustin will be a solid back-up to Westbrook and Singler and Novak give the Thunder serious outside threats, especially from three-point range.
With the new additions and the high octane duo of Westbrook and Durant, the Thunder have gone from being a one and done playoff team to one that can be very dangerous.
For that to happen, head coach Scott Brooks needs to get a more consistent paint presence offensively from forward Serge Ibaka (13.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.2 bpg-3rd NBA), who has turned into more of a three-point shooter this season.
If he can perform like he did on Thursday versus the Mavs, when he had 21 points on 8 for 12 from the field, 5 for 6 from the free throw line and a career-high 22 rebounds, the Thunder will be even more dangerous.
They also need more from the likes of Dion Waiters (10.5 ppg), who has averaged 10.8 points on just 38.6 percent shooting in 19 games since being acquired by the Thunder from the Cavaliers earlier this season as well as from Anthony Morrow (9.5 ppg, 37.2 3-Pt.%), Mitch McGary, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones.
Forward/center Nick Collison and guard Andre Roberson can only give so much in terms of the intangibles, the scoring is going to have to come from the other aforementioned players.
At about the midway point of this season, there was a question of whether the Thunder were going to even make the playoffs. The talk has changed and now the question is, what team can stop them that they meet in the playoffs
Grade: B-
Phoenix Suns: 29-25 (3rd Pacific Division) 16-11 at home, 13-14 on the road.
-105.9 ppg-4th; opp. ppg: 104.7-28th; 42.5 rpg-19th
After one of the worst seasons in team history two years ago, the Suns were one game from making the playoffs a season ago.
Losing seven of their last 10 games has dropped them out of the No. 8 and final playoff spot, which the Thunder now occupy.
Ever since they produced eight wins in 10 chances from Jan. 2 to Jan. 21, the Suns have won just three times in their last 10 games, which includes two straight losses prior to the All-Star break.
It has not helped that starting lead guard Goran Dragic has expressed his unhappiness about his situation with the team about him being re-signed this off-season when he is set to become a free agent. It has gone as far as Dragic saying he no longer trust the organization.
In a bold move, the All-NBA Third team selection, his brother Zoran were traded to the Heat at the trade deadline on Thursday to the Heat and received forward Danny Granger, forward/guard John Salmons from the Pelicans and two first-round picks, one for 2017 and another for 2019.
In another trade on Thursday, the Suns sent Sixth Man of the Year candidate Isaiah Thomas, who signed a four-year, $27 million deal this past off-season in a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings to the Celtics. The Suns received 2016 first-round pick of the Cavaliers and guard Marcus Thornton (8.9 ppg, 41.9 3-Pt.%).
In a three-team deal with the Bucks and 76ers, the Suns acquired lead guard Brandon Knight (17.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 40.9 3-Pt.%) and guard Kendall Marshall.
Bucks received guard Tyler Ennis and center Miles Plumlee.   
For the Suns to get back on the winning track and capture the No. 8 spot, they need Bledsoe (17.2 ppg-leads team, 5.9 apg-leads team, 5.2 rpg) and Knight to mesh together as soon as possible.
They need members of their frontcourt like the Morris twins Markieff (15.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Marcus (9.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 39.7 3-Pt.%), center Alex Len (6.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.5 bpg-leads team) and center Brandan Wright, who the Suns acquired back in January from the Celtics for a protected first-round pick.
If the Suns and head coach Jeff Hornacek want to overtake the Thunder for that final playoff spot, which will be very hard now, they have to take care of business starting Friday night at the Timberwolves, because three of their next five opponents over the next eight days are at the Bulls, versus the Thunder and versus the defending champion Spurs.
Grade: C-
Portland Trail Blazers: 36-17 (1st Northwest Division; No. 3 Seed in West) 23-5 at home, 13-12 on the road.
-102.6 ppg-8th; opp. ppg: 97.3-8th; 46.0 rpg-2nd
A season ago, the Portland Trail Blazers had the same record at the All-Star break a season ago. The difference between last season and this one is that they are ahead in their division, but unlike last season, they had to deal with injuries to key players, in particular their starting center and All-Star power forward.
Starting center Robin Lopez (9.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg-leads team) missed 23 games this season because of broken hand on Dec. 15, a 108-95 victory versus the defending champion Spurs.
In his return on Feb 3 versus the Utah Jazz, Lopez had 11 points, six boards and two blocks in the 103-102 win.
All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge (23.6 ppg-T-7th NBA, 10.3 rpg-leads team, 46.3 FG%) back on Jan. 19 versus the Sacramento Kings, a 98-94 win, hurt his left thumb in the second quarter and did not return.
It was revealed a couple of days later that, the Trail Blazers forward tore a ligament in that thumb and needed surgery that would keep him out six to eight weeks.
After two tough close losses at the Suns and versus the Celtics, Aldridge decided to delay surgery and have his left thumb taped and splinted up and that he would play through the pain.
In his first game since that announcement, he had 26 points and nine boards in leading the Trail Blazers to a 103-96 victory versus the Washington Wizards.
Since then, he has played great and alongside fellow All-Star in lead guard Damian Lillard (21.5 ppg, 6.3 apg-leads team, 1.5 spg-leads team, 4.6 rpg) to four wins in their last five games prior to the break, which was on the heels of eight defeats in 10 chances prior.
Another big difference between the Trail Blazers of last season and this season has been their bench. The additions of veteran center Chris Kaman (8.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and guard Steve Blake have helped to some extent, but the team still is ranked 28th in bench scoring in the league with just 25.8 points per contest.
The injury to Lopez opened up playing time for center Meyers Leonard (6.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 45.0 3-Pt.%) and he along with guard C.J. McCollum, forwards Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Allen Crabbe have made the most of their opportunity.
The Trail Blazers used the trade deadline to fix this chink in their armor by acquiring guard Arron Afflalo (14.5 ppg) from the Nuggets along with forward Alonzo Gee.
Forwards Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and guard Will Barton and along with a lottery protected 2016 first-round pick.
The addition of Afflalo gives the Trail Blazers a big time offensive threat from the perimeter off the bench to go alongside Blake and Kaman, they now have another perimeter defender that is not afraid to take the challenge of guard some of the explosive guards in the league.
Over the past season and a half, the Trail Blazers starting five has been one of the best in the league of Lopez, Aldridge, Lillard, Wesley Matthews (16.4 ppg, 45.4 FG%, 39.9 3-Pt.%) and Nicolas Batum (8.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.7 apg).
This season for Batum has been one of his worst in terms of scoring since his rookie season. For the Trail Blazers to be a serious threat in the postseason, they need him to get back on track scoring wise.
While the Trail Blazers have the same record as they did last season at this time, the difference is that they are a better defensive team.
Teams are shooting just 43.1 percent from the field and just 32.0 percent from the three-point line against the Trail Blazers, ranking third and second in the league respectably and rank ninth in the league in blocks per game getting five.
The Trail Blazers are in a good place entering the post All-Star break, but they know getting comfortable is not the way to go in the tough Western Conference.
For this team to make noise, the All-Star duo of Lillard and Aldridge must perform at a high level and Aldridge cannot not have any setbacks with the injured left thumb.
On top of that, getting Afflalo comfortable with his role off the bench is imperative.
Grade: A-
Sacramento Kings: 18-34 (4th Pacific Division) 11-17 at home, 7-17 on the road.
-100.0 ppg-16th; opp. ppg: 104.2-27th; 44.6 rpg-8th
If there is one thing that professional sports is management manages, coaches’ coach, players play. When all three do not stay in their lane, chaos and losing ensues.
Even with a 9-6 start to this season, the chances of the Kings making the playoffs was slim, very slim.
When first-time All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins (23.8 ppg-6th NBA, 12.5 rpg-3rd NBA, 1.7 bpg-leads team) missed game because of injury, the Kings good start was gone and they have not recovered since winning just nine times in 37 chances.
On Dec. 15, 2014, the organization fired head coach Michael Malone. When it occurred it was head scratcher because he had this team headed in the right direction. According to sources around the league, Malone was let go because of a difference in philosophy from GM Pete D’Alessandro and owner Vivek Ranadive. They wanted the Kings to play a more up tempo style instead of one that functions consistently out of the half court.
Under interim head coach Tyrone Corbin, things did not get any better for the Kings and earlier this week made another coaching change hiring former ESPN NBA analyst George Karl, who garnered 1,131 victories in his career with the Nuggets, Bucks, then Seattle Supersonics, Warriors and Cavaliers.
In Karl, the Kings have the most credible coach since they had Rick Adelman on the sidelines who lead the Kings to eight straight playoff appearances from 1999-2006.
Along with having a centerpiece in Cousins to work with, Karl will have other talented players to work with like forwards Rudy Gay (19.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.9 apg), Carl Landry (7.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Jason Thompson (5.6 pg, 6.3 rpg), Omri Casspi (7.1 ppg) and Derrick Williams (6.6 ppg); guards Ben McLemore (11.7 ppg, 36.2 3-Pt.%), Darren Collison (16.1 ppg, 5.6 apg-leads team, 1.5 spg-leads team), Ray McCallum and Nik Stauskas.
At the trade deadline, the Kings acquired one of Karl’s favorite players from his time with the Nuggets in veteran guard Andre Miller from the Wizards in exchange for guard Ramon Sessions.
There was a time when this franchise had stability from the top down. If the Kings expect to ever see those days again, they have to get that cohesion back in order. They have one of the best coaches ever. A great player in Cousins, who if he matures can be one of the greats, Talented players who need direction and one of the most loyal fan bases in professional sports. It on the entire organization to fix this and it has to start with the rest of this season.
Grade: F
San Antonio Spurs: 34-20 (4th Southwest Division; No. 7 Seed West) 20-7 at home, 14-13 on the road.
-100.9 ppg-11th; opp. ppg: 97.1-5th; 43.7 rpg-13th
Yes they are a team that has some age on it. Yes they are a team that believes in being united as one on both ends and not as a group of individuals. Above all else, they are coached hard and they respect putting the work in.
It is because of that the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs have been a championship contender, winning five championships with perennial All-Stars Tim Duncan (14.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg-leads team, 1.9 bpg-leads team), Manu Ginobili (12.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 36.1 3-Pt.%) and Tony Parker (14.7 ppg, 5.0 apg-leads team, 47.6 FG%) and head coach Gregg Popovich leading the way.
Unlike previous years however, they are at the bottom of the playoff standings in the West.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that they have had injuries to key role players like forward Kawhi Leonard (15.1 ppg-leads team, 7.5 rpg, 2.1 spg-leads team), guards Marco Belinelli (9.8 ppg, 38.7 3-Pt.%) and Patty Mills (8.6 ppg, 36.1 3-Pt.%) and center Tiago Splitter (7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), who have missed 92 games because of injury.
Without Leonard in particular, the Spurs are just 9-9.  
Those injuries are a major reason why the Spurs went 8-10 in the month of December.
The Spurs picked themselves up in January going 10-4 and have won four out of six so far in February.
The other thing that the Spurs have in their favor is the ability to win on the road, especially in the postseason.
Besides the aforementioned “Big Three” of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and some of the other aforementioned role players that have been hurt this season, the likes of guards Danny Green (12.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 39.3 3-Pt.%), Cory Joseph (8.4 ppg), centers Aron Baynes and Matt Bonner have gotten minutes and have kept the team afloat as they have so many times before.
This season marks the 20-year anniversary that the defending NBA champion Houston Rockets led by Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, who were the No. 6 Seed in the West won all three playoff series on the road as well as the NBA Finals defeating the Jazz, Suns, Spurs and Magic to win their second straight title.
The Spurs are right now in that same position as the No. 7 Seed right now, but have a chance to move up. Even though the likes of the Warriors, Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Rockets, Clippers and Mavericks are in front of them in the standings, the Spurs are one team they are fearful of facing in the postseason, even though they will never admit it.
Grade: B-
Utah Jazz: 19-34 (4th Northwest Division) 10-15 at home, 9-19 on the road.
-95.7 ppg-24th; opp. ppg: 98.2-10th; 42.9 rpg-17th

When you are a young team and you are trying to become one that contends for the playoffs year in and year out, it takes having the core players putting in the work to make getting better a standard.
For the Jazz, those core players include swingman Gordon Hayward (19.7 ppg-leads team, 5.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 46.0 FG%, 39.2 3-Pt.%), forward Derrick Favors (15.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg-leads team, 1.7 bpg) and second-year guard Trey Burke (12.6 ppg, 4.7 apg).
It also takes having a coach who will demand that standard be met each day. That falls in the hands of first year head coach Quin Snyder, who has been an assistant head coach in the NBA, in college and overseas.
On top of that, being a part of team that is so young trying to figure it out, it gives players a chance to play and see if they can be a major piece of the future.
That is the case right now with second-year center Rudy Gobert (6.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg), who averaged 9.4 points, nine boards and three blocks in January. He will get a lot more time now with forward/center Enes Kanter being dealt to the Thunder at the trade deadline on Thursday in a three-team deal with the Thunder and Pistons.
The Jazz received in return for Kanter, center Kendrick Perkins, who is likely to be bought out of his contract, forward Grant Jerrett, the rights to center Tibor Pleiss, a 2017 second-round pick from the Pistons and a future first-round pick from Thunder.
Along with Gobert, the likes of forward Trevor Booker and rookies Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles and Dante Exum must use this time to better their games and see if they are fixtures for the Jazz going forward.
Yes it is going to take time for this team to become a playoff regular, but they have talented players to make that future a reality. It is up to Snyder to implement his system that the players can buy into and execute on the floor.
Grade: D

Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of; 2/19/15 6 p.m. NBATV’s “The Starters” with Trey Kerby, J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas and Leigh Ellis and; 1/26/15 6:30 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “The Starters” with Tre Kerby, J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas and Leigh Ellis and the 2014-15 Trade Tracker on