Power Rankings For the Week of December 21st

(Previous week’s Power Rankings can be found here)

One of my favorite parts about following the NBA is that it allows me to tie in my interest in how organizational structures work in businesses with my interest in the sport of basketball.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been very interested in what’s gone on with the Philadelphia 76ers. I have been very critical of Sam Hinkie’s tanking strategy – not the tanking itself, but the way in which it was handled. The off-court issues with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor may be overblown as proof of not developing a winning culture, but I think it’s safe to say that the team could have used more seasoned players to help the squad out, a point that Hinkie himself conceded in a discussion with Zach Lowe on ESPN.

Then, we get the news that Jerry Colangelo, a huge personality and important figure in the sport, has been brought on to serve as Chairman of Basketball Operations, a huge move that without question alters the current trajectory of the franchise. I don’t think you can bring in a giant like Colangelo and expect that he simply advise Sam Hinkie and 76ers ownership and back Hinkie 100%. Colangelo is here to shape this franchise, that is still in better shape in terms of assets it has due to the shrewd work of Hinkie, but I don’t see how Sam Hinkie is here long term. Hinkie had a bold vision – sold it to ownership – and then ownership got skittish.  Combined with the fact that the league couldn’t afford this debacle to continue much longer, ultimately the Process couldn’t see it’s way through. I credit Hinkie for sticking with the bold plan, but I blame him directly for continuing to let his head coach be the only one to really answer for the disastrous on court product night after night. Hinkie should’ve been much more polished about it by engaging more with the media and by bringing in vets that couldn’t have possibly added to the wins, but could’ve brought respect and stability to the locker room.

Now onto the second part of the juicy transition, the return of Mike D’Antoni to the NBA as an associate head coach to Brett Brown. I don’t think Mike D’Antoni is coming out of cashing those sweet Lakers checks (where he was unfairly attacked for his last year there) without some idea of where the organization is being taken by Jerry Colangelo. I know that Brett Brown was just given an extension, and here is my answer why that doesn’t change my opinion:
1. The Brett Brown extension decision had to pre-date Colangelo’s authority
2. Coaches like Kevin McHale have been fired shortly after their extensions

I am not saying that this is some evil plan hatched by Jerry Colangelo to sabotage Brett Brown, who certainly hasn’t done anything but been a good soldier and doing his best with what he has, it’s just an organizational reality. When a huge outsider enters an organization that has hired him or her because the organization is in trouble (which is what happened here), part of putting their stamp on the effort to turn things around is to bring in your own people. Mike D’Antoni is absolutely a threat to Brett Brown just as Jerry Colangelo is absolutely a threat to Sam Hinkie. #RIPTheProcess

Snapshot:
1. Warriors (26-1) [LW:1]
2. Spurs (23-5) [LW:2]
3. Cavaliers (18-7) [LW:3]
4. Thunder (18-9) [LW:4]
5. Pacers (16-10) [LW:8]
6. Raptors (17-12) [LW:6]
7. Clippers (16-12) [LW:10]
8. Bulls (15-10) [LW:9]
9. Heat (16-10) [LW:11]
10. Pistons (16-12) [LW:12]
11. Hawks (17-12) [LW:14]
12. Celtics (14-13) [LW:7]
13. Hornets (15-11) [LW:5]
14. Mavericks (15-12) [LW:13]
15. Magic (15-12) [LW:18]
16. Grizzlies (15-14) [LW:15]
17. Bucks (11-18) [LW:20]
18. Timberwolves (11-16) [LW:21]
19. Knicks (14-14) [LW:24]
20. Suns (12-17) [LW:19]
21. Wizards (11-14) [LW:22]
22. Kings (11-16) [LW:23]
23. Jazz (11-14) [LW:17]
24. Rockets (14-14) [LW:16]
25. Nuggets (9-14) [LW:26]
26. Trailblazers (10-15) [LW:25]
27. Pelicans (6-17) [LW:28]
28. Nets (7-16) [LW:27]
29. Lakers (3-21) [LW:29]
30. 76ers (1-23) [LW:30]

Rankings:

1. Warriors (26-1) [LW:1]: Even though the Bucks gave the Warriors trouble twice in a short span, I don’t think the “formula” is quite out to beat these guys yet. The Bucks have a highly unique physical attribute in their long armed lineup that other teams can’t quite replicate. As long as they maintain their semi-regular blowouts that allow their starters to rest, 70-72 wins is still in play, and for us being 27 games into the season already, that makes me happy.
2. Spurs (23-5) [LW:2]: Kawhi is taking that leap that we thought he’d take a year ago, and the Spurs are quietly (!) on pace for 67 wins. No big deal.
3. Cavaliers (18-7) [LW:3]: They’re on a roll, Kyrie is back, nice wins against OKC and Boston and they have solidified themselves as the best in the East. Their only goal for the rest of the season: keep Lebron fresh.
4. Thunder (18-9) [LW:4]: They lost a close game to Cleveland this week, otherwise taking care of business with blowout wins over the Lakers and Blazers. If they click and can start adding more wrinkles to their offense, I’m really curious to see if they can enter the elite of the West with San Antonio, right under the champs. It’s so good to have KD back. *pinch myself*
5. Pacers (16-10) [LW:8]: Another solid week for the Pacers with their loss coming @Memphis on a second night of a back-to-back. Paul George continues his dominance on both ends of the floor.
6. Raptors (17-12) [LW:6]: Offensively this team needs some juice, and they have the talent. In Sunday nights loss to Sacramento at home, they combined for a gross 12 assists on 35 makes while Rajon Rondo had 13 assists on his own.
7. Clippers (16-12) [LW:10]: I firmly believe that the Clippers have the tools to compete against the Spurs, OKC, and Golden State, and in the playoffs all three of those teams should be afraid of them. Yet, they can be so frustrating – from coaching to the players themselves. No shame in losing at San Antonio in a highly competitive game, in a game where Blake and CP really gave it their all. Why then during a 20 point blowout the next night against the Rockets is Doc bringing them back in the 4th quarter? Is it a coincidence that CP and Blake are gassed every playoffs?
8. Bulls (15-10) [LW:9]: Something really funky going on here. After losing to the Pistons in a 4OT classic and then losing the next night to the Knicks, Jimmy Butler called out Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg asking for him to be more vocal about what the players are doing wrong. Could it be frustration that Jimmy feels that this team should be his and Derrick Rose isn’t being held accountable for all his bad shooting nights? It might not be that dramatic, but something has to happen with that dynamic: either Derrick steps down a la Wade with Lebron, or the Bulls could be forced to do something more drastic.
9. Heat (16-10) [LW:11]: Turned it around after a rough week – if this team can hit their 3’s they could go on a nice little run, solidifying their position in the second tier in the East behind Cleveland. Hassan Whiteside continues looking like a monster.
10. Pistons (16-12) [LW:12]: Lose to the Clips in OT, gutsy 4OT win against Chicago and a win against Boston. A really tough stretch that could’ve gone bad but ended up bringing the team more together – SVG is really building something and bringing along KCP and Stanley Johnson too! Remember when Josh Smith was on this team?
11. Hawks (17-12) [LW:14]: I’ve kind of ignored the Hawks despite them being one of my league pass darlings from last season, and I shouldn’t be. Although their story isn’t as sexy as it was last year, this is still a good team.
12. Celtics (14-13) [LW:7]: Three losses in a row against solid East teams is more indicative of where they are in the hierarchy of the conference given their talent level. If the Dwight Howard rumors heat up, how active do the Celtics get? As a Laker fan I’m all for this, MAKE IT HAPPEN
13. Hornets (15-11) [LW:5]: This team shouldn’t be losing to Orlando and Washington especially after a few days off. I probably had ranked this team too high, and we are currently living through the regression to the mean.
14. Mavericks (15-12) [LW:13]: Crazy stat: Zaza is averaging 13 rebounds over his last 10 games. Given the age of some of their critical players, it is understandable that they will be a little bit up and down all season. The Mavs infrastructure will keep them competitive on average.
15. Magic (15-12) [LW:18]: While it still bothers me that Oladipo is now a bench player on this team, a 3-1 week with only a close loss to the Hawks should shut me up for the time being.
16. Grizzlies (15-14) [LW:15]: Moving ZBo to the bench is another unsettling sight, but hey at least the Grizz aren’t getting blown out any more! This roster is another one due for a true shakeup, any rumors of Joerger being in trouble seem unfair for the time being.
17. Bucks (11-18) [LW:20]: Frustrating that a team that could’ve easily beat the Warriors twice also lose to the Lakers. MCW needs to bring his “Warriors” game every night for this team to make the playoffs. Giannis has looked excellent, the low simmering rumors about his character bother me a little bit.
18. Timberwolves (11-16) [LW:21]: Staying competitive almost every night with so many young players really speaks well to the veterans presence on this team. Giorgui Deng and Zach Lavine are better than I expected, and oh yeah, Ricky Rubio is killing it. Fun team for whoever coaches them up next year (Thibs destination?)
19. Knicks (14-14) [LW:24]: 4 wins in a row, .500 again, KP continuing to impress especially on the defensive end, Aflallo is hitting his shots…good times.
20. Suns (12-17) [LW:19]: Rough patch in the schedule, by which I just mean that they had to play the Warriors this week. After the inevitable Markieff Morris trade, what does this team need to succeed? I’ve gone from excited to confused with the direction of this franchise over the past few years, but definitely no need to panic yet.
21. Wizards (11-14) [LW:22]: John Wall will keep Washington relatively afloat, but without a healthy Bradley Beal this team is not a playoff team. They’re 3.5 games out with the teams in the lower end of the playoff bracket not looking like they’re going to drop out any time soon.
22. Kings (11-16) [LW:23]: A solid week and the Kings may be finding what’s working with Rondo continuing to rack up the high assist numbers. Aside from basketball, a really disappointing non-apology from Rajon Rondo over his vicious language used against referee Bill Kennedy. While there is still time to properly show contrition and do something meaningful, it’ll be a while for me before the stink of the initial reaction is gone.
23. Jazz (11-14) [LW:17]: The NBA Schedulers should be questioned for potential Mormon hate crimes scheduling Utah to play OKC twice and then the Spurs in three consecutive games.
24. Rockets (14-14) [LW:16]: I just don’t like Dwight Howard, I don’t like James Harden stupid commercial, I think this team no shows way too many games to be considered professional, and again, I just don’t like Dwight Howard. The team who gives Dwight his next big contract will regret it immediately. Book it.
25. Nuggets (9-14) [LW:26]: With Mudiay out for a couple of weeks, not a bad time to showcase their veterans to see what trades are out there for them. There’s a ton of vets on a team that’s in super rebuild mode and the Nuggets should start dealing while the value for players like Faried and Galinari are high.
26. Trailblazers (10-15) [LW:25]: They will compete many nights simply because they have solid players who have heart and are coached well but the talent just isn’t all there against a lot of teams. At some point Damian Lillard is going to lose steam (signs of that already) and this team will have an ugly stretch.
27. Pelicans (6-17) [LW:28]: Why is Asik still starting? Where is Alvin Gentry’s offense? When will they shut AD down due to some mystery nagging injury to tank? Do they want him to play through All Star? Watching this team can be so sad at times, we need to see Anthony Davis shine on a good team. Was Monty Williams a decent coach?
28. Nets (7-16) [LW:27]: Is it crazy if I say that I am still kind of impressed by this Nets team that has now lost 5 in a row? They lost by 6 to Miami, 7 to Indy, while having no business of even being close in these games. As a Nets fan, I totally see how you feel differently.
29. Lakers (3-21) [LW:29]: “Hey Daman, how does it feel when your team starts Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Anthony Brown, Larry Nance, Jr., and Roy Hibbert against a full strength OKC Thunder lineup, lose by 40 and then have your coach call out your players afterwards instead of taking any accountability of the situation and his own performance?” I’m glad you asked! It feels horrible and it hurts my soul and I can’t wait for the Lakers to move on from Byron Scott in the offseason.
30. 76ers (1-23) [LW:30]: #RIPTheProcess

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