Greetings from New York, where Langston Galloway is the new face of the New York Knicks, and where Phil Jackson’s apologists are applauding the fact that his addition by subtraction trade of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert netted a second-round draft pick in 2019. In other local news, the New York Times invited its readers to find better things for Scott Cacciola to do other than cover the ‘Bockers. His editors feel sorry for him.
Memo to Phil: It is one thing to dump future salary; it is quite another to accept pennies on the dollar for what little assets you have. Look at what David Griffin was able to do this week: Not only acquire a pair of shooting guards who can provide alternating doses of offense and defense, but also picking up a first-round pick from Oklahoma City in the process that was the key to obtaining Timofey Mozgov from the Nuggets.
Once upon a time in 2011, Mozgov was the most important player in the NBA — back when the trade of Carmelo Anthony from Denver to New York hinged on Stan Kroenke turning Jim Dolan upside down and shaking out all the pocket change after already emptying Dolan’s wallet. The big Russian went on to be a pretty nice center in Denver, and now he could be the piece of the puzzle that lifts David Blatt’s team out of its doldrums and back into something resembling a decent ballclub.
In the meantime, what else do we have going on around the league in this bizzarro season?
The longest current winning streak belongs to the Detroit Pistons, who had their own addition by subtraction moment by eating the $35 million left on Josh Smith’s contract. They haven’t lost since, and their back-to-back victories over San Antonio and Dallas are the type of confidence-building Ws that can turn a team that was 5-23 a short time ago into a playoff contender. Hey, don’t laugh. Stan Van Gundy has never missed the playoffs as a coach, and the Pistons are suddenly three games behind Miami for the eighth spot.
Kobe Bryant went scoreless in the first half against the Clippers and finished with four points, and the Lakers were outscored by 34 points when he was on the court. Their leading scorer was someone named Jordan Clarkson, who apparently is the West Coast version of Langston Galloway. Lakers fans, like Knicks fans, should be alerted that Jahlil Okafor and Duke play North Carolina on national television on Feb. 18 — the night before the NBA trading deadline. Maybe that will be the night that Jackson gets rid of Jose Calderon.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back and look awful. The San Antonio Spurs are seventh in the West and have gone 12-13 against Western Conference opponents. History has not been kind to them when they have failed to finish as a top four seed, as Jan Hubbard recently pointed out.
And the MVP race?
It really couldn’t be more wide open, if only because Steph Cury is getting so much help from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green that it is impossible to pinpoint him as the No. 1 reason for the Warriors having the NBA’s best record. Jimmy Butler would be a bigger part of the MVP debate instead the MIP debate if he did not play for a team that just lost by 20 at home against Utah. Chicago has been better on the road (12-4) than at home (11-7). That puts them in the company of the 76ers, whose tank trail moving forward will reportedly include the gifting of Tony Wroten to a contender. My guess is that Sam Hinkie will do better than Phil Jackson did.
Oh, and the Atlanta Hawks are the best team in the East. They have not been on national TV yet. And you can get them at odds mostly around 18-1, for those who choose to place wagers. A full list of different worldwide odds on the Hawks and others can be found at SportsBettingAcumen.com.
So I don’t know about you, but I am scheduling my Friday night around Mozgov’s debut at Golden State, waiting like the folks in Cleveland for the hammer to drop on David Blatt.
On to the rankings.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. In a related note, nominations for Coach of the Year are now closed. Steve Kerr, we offer our congratulations. As noted above, the biggest thing keeping Curry from being the hands-down favorite to win this award are Thompson and Green. Thompson, after going for 40 against Indiana, is averaging less than a point and a half (21.6) than Curry (22.9) while outshooting him 44 percent to 39 percent from deep. But check out Curry’s assist totals from the past five games — all double-digit victories. They include a 9, a 12 and a 15. And Curry has shot 50 percent or better in four of those games, just missing a fifth (8-for-17) against the Pacers. Statement game for this team Friday night against the reeling Cavaliers. (PREVIOUS EDITION: No. 2)
2. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks. Breaking in with a bullet, as Casey Kasem used to say. Question: Does one sound like an old man when invoking Casey Kasem. Guys who are 49 wonder about stuff like this. It’s like how 39-year-olds feel when they reference Urkel. What is Teague oing to merit this kind of a leap, from obscurity to No. 2? How about his scoring of 22-20-25 in the Hawks past three games, amazing quality wins over the Trail Blazers and Clippers on the road and a home victory over the Grizzlies.That’s six straight 20-point games for Teague. Pop quiz: How many times have the Hawks lost since Thanksgiving? That answer is two. But will there be a third against the JuggerPistons on Friday night? Perfect warmup game on the sofa before watching the Dubs steamroll Blatt by 39. (PREVIOUS EDITION: UNRANKED)
3. James Harden, Houston Rockets. He leads the league in scoring, so that has to count for something. But his team has regressed to the mean, and you have to wonder whether upgrading Patrick Beverly to Jose Calderon might help them. Now that everyone knows Phil Jackson is selling low, the Rockets could probably get Calderon for Jason Terry’s expiring contract, along with a second-rounder (they have the Knicks’ pick in June). They need somebody to get the ball to Dwight Howard where he is in position to score. You know where he ranks among the league scoring leaders? 34th. To put that in perspective, there are two players on his old team, Orlando, ranked higher — Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic. Harden has the same number of turnovers (17) as made free throws in his past four games. (PREVIOUS EDITION: No. 1)
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. Went for 32 and 12 with four blocks against the Hornets, but the Pels’ lost that game Wednesday night. If they want to sniff the playoffs, they can’t have games like that one — especially in a conference where there is some separation developing between the No. 8 team, Phoenix, and the pursuing Pelicans and Thunder. A couple of stats on Davis: He is shooting above 80 percent from the line, rare for a big man, and has more assists (54) than turnovers (48) — also a rarity for a man of his size. Prediction: He is going to be the MVP of the All-Star Game. Monday begins a nine-day cupcake stretch in which they should go 7-2. They get the Celtics, Pistons, Sixers (twice), Raptors, Knicks, Lakers, Timberwolves and Mavs. (PREVIOUS EDITION: No. 4)
5. Jimmy Butler, Bulls. Max man continues to combine with Pau Gasol to carry the team as Derrick Rose continues to stink. The 2011 NBA MVP is shooting 25.5 percent (28 for 110) in his last six games. Butler has gone for 20 or more points 22 times. Rose has done it nine times. Butler also shut down James Harden on Monday night. Not a lot of guys on any team have done that this season. The Bulls are one of five teams getting maximum production out of guys on comparatively minimum salaries, as noted in this terrific column by Chris Bernucca that helps make sense of this wacky NBA season. The Bulls are kicking themselves for offering him only $11 million per season when they could have extended him. He’ll be part of a terrific restricted free agent class that will include Tobias Harris and Kawhi Leonard, among others listed here. (PREVIOUS EDITION: No. 3).
DROPPED OUT: Marc Gasol (5).
THE NEXT FIVE: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; Klay Thompson, Warriors; Chris Paul, Clippers; Damian Lillard; Trail Blazers; Kyle Lowry, Raptors.
EDITION V: LeBRON JAMES APPROACHES THE BIG THREE-OH
EDITION IV: FROM NEW YORK TO SLOVENIA TO CUBA
EDITION III: PRINCE WILLIAM MEETS LeBRON JAMES
EDITION II: HEADLINE PORN FOR MARK CUBAN
EDITION I: ODE TO VANCOUVER
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.