Stein IllustrationShea Serrano

After 14½ seasons on its own, ESPN.com's famed NBA Power Rankings Committee (of One) is going to try a community approach.

On a one-Monday basis.

This is your long-awaited opportunity, faithful readers, to join the process by submitting comments via Twitter that will be considered for usage in our rankings that hit cyberspace Monday, coming out of All-Star Weekend.

The 1-to-30 order teams are placed in, of course, will remain the Committee's domain.

All rankings devotees worldwide are invited to tweet their smartest thoughts -- between now and Sunday, Feb. 19 -- summing up their team's 2016-17 season so far in 140 characters or less.

We repeat: Sum up your team's season to date -- be sure to include the hashtag #ESPNPowerRank -- and fire away!

The best tweets we get will be used in the comment space for all 30 teams Monday. It's a chance to see your Twitter handle immortalized in some of the brightest lights you'll find on ESPN.com.

This is your long-awaited chance to get involved. We're looking for smart NBA analysis for all 30 teams, so start tapping!

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSerge Ibaka is averaging a career-high 15.1 points per game with the Magic. Could he be on the move come deadline day?

While Kevin Durant was reacquainting himself with Oklahoma City soil on Saturday, former teammate Serge Ibaka was a three-hour drive away from the KD-in-OKC tension, playing for the Orlando Magic in Dallas.

Stay tuned, though.

There's a growing sense around the league that Ibaka could be on the move again as the league's Feb. 23 trade deadline draws near.

The Thunder shook up the 2016 NBA draft when, just days before Durant's free agency, they dealt Ibaka to the Magic. Orlando was willing to part with Victor Oladipo and the rights to No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis to make the swap, confident that Ibaka could be sold on a long-term future in the Magic Kingdom.

Seven months and change later, Orlando is exploring all of its options anew. League sources say the Magic are fielding calls from a handful of teams on Ibaka as the deadline approaches, amid undeniable concern that retaining the Congo native in free agency come July will prove much trickier than initially anticipated.

Sources say Toronto and Miami are among the Eastern Conference teams that have expressed interest in Ibaka this month. More than one rival club has expressed the belief that Orlando will use the next 10 days before the deadline to keep fielding offers and then, ultimately, choose the best available package for Ibaka on Feb. 23 and make the move.

Can the Magic get a first-round pick for Ibaka from a team seeking a playoff-tested vet to add to its front-court rotation? Or can they get a quality player under 25 a la Oladipo?

Like we said: Stay tuned.


Dribbling around the league for more of the latest personnel chatter in advance of the league's Feb. 23 buzzer for trades:

  • Skepticism about Atlanta's recent insistence that Paul Millsap is completely off the market has been fairly rampant. The Hawks, however, are adamant that Millsap is staying put in the wake of the Kyle Korver-to-Cleveland deal in early January ... whether rival teams believe them or not. Atlanta began sounding out teams about potential Millsap interest at the same time Korver was made available in early January. Then the team abruptly changed course and told Millsap he should plan to play out the season with the team he's about to rep in his third successive All-Star Game, even if that means Atlanta risks losing the 32-year-old for nothing when Millsap hits free agency in July.
  • Now that the Jusuf Nurkic trade we've been anticipating for weeks has materialized at last, league sources say Danilo Gallinari is a prime Nugget to watch between now and the deadline. The Raptors and Clippers are among the teams said to be monitoring Gallinari's availability, amidst a growing belief that Denver is prepared to move him, given that the Nuggets anticipate that Gallinari will bypass the final season of his current contract (valued at $16.1 million) and join Millsap on the open market, and they don't plan to spend big to retain the Italian.
  • Sources say Portland is determined to move injured center Festus Ezeli before the deadline and is pitching him in particular to teams well below the salary floor that would be willing to take on Ezeli's contract with some level of draft compensation attached. This is the first year of a two-year deal that pays Ezeli $7.4 million this season but is guaranteed for only $1 million next season. Denver ($7.6 million), Philadelphia ($7.5 million) and Brooklyn ($6.8 million) are the three teams that sit the farthest under the league's $84.7 million salary floor.
  • The Nets, as ESPN.com reported in late December, continue to demand two first-round draft picks if they are to part with center Brook Lopez before the deadline.
  • Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell revealed in his recent appearance on the "NBA Insiders" show on ESPN Radio that he had convinced Dallas to give him a two-year deal even before his 32-point eruption in a nationally televised win over Portland. The second season is a team option at $1.3 million, but it is fully guaranteed if the Mavericks elect to pick it up. Dallas will have to make that call by June 24.

Through play Saturday, there have been 66 triple-doubles in the NBA this season, with Draymond Green's one-of-a-kind contribution Friday night in Memphis putting the league just 13 triple-doubles shy of a new single-season NBA record.

That's with a full 60 days to go in the regular season.

We're on pace to see 99 triple-doubles by season's end, which would crush the single-season high established in Magic Johnson's heyday in 1988-89.

The previous league record for triple-doubles before the All-Star break, in case you're wondering, was 45 -- in Oscar Robertson's historic 1961-62 season that we've been referencing on a daily basis, thanks to the Russell Westbrook triple-double train. We saw 40 triple-doubles before the All-Star break last season.


If I'm going to reference my beloved Buffalo Braves at every opportunity -- something we've imposed on you in this cyberspace for 15 seasons and counting -- it's only right to pass along the most painful of remembrances when it's so unavoidably relevant.

Leave it to the Elias Sports Bureau to inform us that Durant, with his 34 points in Saturday's OKC homecoming, just became the first player to post three 30-point games in one season against the team he played for the previous season since (gulp) Bob McAdoo in 1977-78 ... for the Knicks against my Braves.


The last word in this Son of Weekend Dime goes to Stephen Curry, courtesy of our visit with No. 30 for SportsCenter on the floor moments after Golden State finished its 130-114 triumph on a wild night in Loud City.

Asked about the vitriol that greeted Durant, as well as KD's third-quarter tangles with both Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson, Curry said:

"For us, it was very, very similar to what we've experienced [in OKC] before. But I know, for him, it had to be weird. It had to be.

"This game meant a lot to both sides. There's a lot of chirping, a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of competition. There's some familiarity obviously. He knows every single guy in that locker room over there, so you had to expect something to happen. But at the end of the day, we focused on basketball."

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When the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't dodging the New York Knicks' attempts to sell them on a Carmelo Anthony trade, or auditioning available free agents, they're engaged in some serious finger-crossing.

They’re hoping/rooting/wishing for a quality veteran or two to pop onto the free-agent market via buyout after the Feb. 23 trade deadline passes.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jose Calderon and Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut, league sources tell ESPN.com, have emerged as two players who greatly interest the Cavs in their search for bench help.

The NBA's reigning champions, who come face-to-face with Anthony in Saturday night's ABC showcase game at Madison Square Garden, are also closely monitoring Bogut teammate Deron Williams.

Yet this is where we have to point out that merely monitoring, as they say in those commercials, isn’t the same as fixing the problem. Actually finding a way to acquire even one of those three intriguing potential contributors is another matter entirely.

The Cavs know trading for Calderon, Bogut or Williams is highly unlikely given Cleveland's various salary-cap and asset limitations. The best they can realistically hope for is that one or more of those three gets bought out after the trade deadline and eventually hits the free-agent market.

Another pesky complication: Neither Bogut nor Williams, according to the latest signals emanating from Big D, is said to be particularly interested in a buyout if they're still with the Mavericks after the Feb. 23 buzzer for trades. The Mavericks' recent 9-3 surge, furthermore, has given Dallas some life of its own in the hunt for the West's No. 8 spot despite a 6-18 start, which could well lessen Mark Cuban’s appetite for weakening his roster.

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron JamesNBAE via Getty Images, USA TODAY SportsCarmelo Anthony and LeBron James will battle at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night (ABC, 8:30 ET).

All that would appear to establish Calderon as the most likely of the three to ultimately became available for the Cavs to pursue. But rest assured that the Lakers and Mavericks will spend the next 19 days looking for workable trades first that can bring an asset back as opposed to simply setting up Cleveland to appease an antsy, edgy LeBron James.

You've been hearing for weeks now that the Cavs are on the hunt for a seasoned point guard and another big man to fortify their bench, with James openly unhappy that the voids created by the offseason departures of Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov have yet to be filled.

The trouble is that there are obstacles in any direction Cleveland looks these days.

In the most recent Son of Weekend Dime, we highlighted a couple of intriguing veteran guards -- Utah's Shelvin Mack and Denver's Jameer Nelson -- whose salaries would fit into one of Cleveland's available trade exceptions.

The respective salaries possessed by Calderon ($7.7 million), Bogut ($11 million) and Williams ($9 million), by contrast, are too big for the Cavs to absorb into a trade exception.

Utah and Denver, meanwhile, both currently sit below the league's $84.7 million salary floor for the season, which helps explain why neither team is likely itching to just send Mack or Nelson rushing to LeBron's aid. Nelson, on top of that, played meaningful minutes in Denver throughout the month of January, with Mike Malone and his Nuggets unexpectedly in a playoff chase.

Stay tuned, though. The key time frame from the Cavs' perspective, if they can’t find what they need via trades or those free-agent workouts, is what happens from Feb. 24 through the March 1 buzzer for playoff eligibility.

The rule is the same for all teams when it comes to the buyout game: Players remain playoff-eligible for their next team as long as they're released by 11:59 PM ET on March 1.


Remember the Cavs’ plan we shared after the Cavs’ Christmas Day victory over Golden State?

The one about reducing James’ minutes at the end of January?

Hasn’t quite happened yet.

James recently logged 43-plus minutes in three successive games at the tail end of Cleveland’s 2-6 nosedive. It was the first time he pulled off that sort of hat trick since March 2009 ... when he was 24 years old.

Thanks to comparatively light loads in the four games since -- minute totals of 34, 37, 37 and 34 -- James has slipped to No. 2 in the league in terms of minutes per game behind Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.

Which is a good thing.

Leading the league in minutes per game, we’re guessing, was not one of LeBron’s goals coming into the 2016-17 campaign. Finishing No. 1 in that category, in James’ 14th season, would make history, nudging him past Allen Iverson as the oldest player in NBA annals to hold that distinction.


Maybe the best news for the Cavaliers of late is the fact that Golden State has four All-Stars.

As mentioned earlier this week in our Power Rankings, it’s not the sort of good omen you’d expect, since only two of the previous 10 teams to feature four All-Stars went on to win it all that season.

Philadelphia was the most recent champ in 1982-83, after Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney represented the East in the Marvin Gaye All-Star Game in 1983. Boston was the first in 1961-62, with Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn earning All-Star status.

The Warriors will be the fifth team in the past 20 seasons to try to halt a drought that stretches back to that unforgettable ‘Fo-Fo-Fo’ Sixers team. The list:


Who would dare to take on the Super Bowl head-to-head?

For the third successive year, no less, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Amin Elhassan will join me Sunday night on ESPN Radio for another (brave!) installment of the “NBA Insiders” from 7-10 p.m. ET.

Three high-powered guests joined our first show of the season, so we’ve decided to share a highlight here from each of those convos:

*Warriors general manager Bob Myers on the looming free agencies of both Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant: “I certainly think we’re in a good spot. I think we’re a team that they want to stay with and have done well with. But at the same time you really just don’t know. We’ll do everything we can to retain them. That’s the No. 1 goal. But resting on your laurels in this business, you may be able to get away with it for a little while, but it’ll catch up to you.”

Listen to the full convo with Myers

*Hawks forward Paul Millsap on Atlanta’s recent insistence to interested teams that it has ruled out dealing him before the Feb. 23 trade deadline: “I feel good about it. But who knows? I don't decide that. Only thing I can control is getting out there playing basketball [and] helping this team win. Whatever happens happens. But I feel [that] the organization feels like we’re headed in a good direction.”

Listen to the full convo with Millsap

*Wizards guard Bradley Beal covered so much ground in our visit that ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk devoted a whole story to it.

The 2016-17 NBA All-No-Trade Team

January, 28, 2017
Jan 28
8:00
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Courtesy of the latest dramas involving the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony, talk of no-trade clauses in the NBA is a daily staple of the news cycle as the league's Feb. 23 trade deadline draws near.

The reality, though, is that only three players in the league possess an outright no-trade clause in their current contract ... half as many as last season.

In addition to Anthony, it's Cleveland's LeBron James and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki. That's the list.

Those are the headliners on ESPN.com's annual All-No-Trade Team, which we assemble every January to acquaint you with any player who possesses the rare (and usually temporary) power to block a deal if he wishes.

There are 19 players on the 2016-17 squad, in addition to the Big Three, once you account for the various folks who -- through fine-print measures in the league's labor pact -- have the privilege of saying they can't be traded this season without their consent.

Stress this season.

The aforementioned 19 players break down into three distinct categories:

1. What makes Melo, Bron and Dirk so special?

Regular readers surely know this lecture by heart by now. NBA players are only eligible for an outright no-trade clause in their contracts after spending eight seasons in the league -- at least four with the same team -- and only when the clause is specifically negotiated into a new deal as opposed to an extension to a previous contract that did not contain a no-trade clause.

Those three future Hall of Famers are the only players on the NBA map at present with the ability to check all of those boxes.

2. League rules dictate that any player who signs an offer sheet with a new team in restricted free agency, only to see that offer sheet matched by the incumbent team, can't be traded without his consent for one full year after the offer sheet was matched.

Miami's Tyler Johnson and Portland's Allen Crabbe thus both possess the right to block any trade until July 10, 2017.

Johnson and Crabbe, in addition, can't be traded to the Brooklyn Nets until after that date even if they did consent, since they are precluded from being dealt to the team that tendered the offer sheet -- Brooklyn in both cases here -- for a full calendar year.

LeBron JamesAP Photo/Kathy WillensCarmelo Anthony and LeBron James both have no-trade clauses -- Dirk Nowitzki is the only other player who currently has one.

3. The final category is made up of 14 players on one-year contracts who are commonly referred to as One-Year Birds.

Such players, in other words, possess one-year deals and can't be traded without their consent because they've signed with the same team two seasons (or more) in a row and would have to forfeit their free-agent Bird rights if traded elsewhere before the end of the current season.

The league thus mandates that One-Year Birds, before they can be thrown into a deal, have to grant permission, which affords them a soon-to-vanish measure of clout on the Anthony/James/Nowitzki level that expires on Feb. 23 as soon as the deadline passes.

Atlanta: Kris Humphries
Cleveland: James Jones
Dallas: Deron Williams
Detroit: Beno Udrih
Golden State: Ian Clark, James Michael McAdoo and Anderson Varejao
LA Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute
LA Lakers: Metta World Peace
Miami: Udonis Haslem
Milwaukee: Steve Novak
New York: Sasha Vujacic
San Antonio: Manu Ginobili
Washington: Marcus Thornton

Editor's note: We're all still learning things about the freshly negotiated and ratified labor agreement that will take hold July 1. But here's a morsel of good news for those of you (like us) who don't like change: It's status quo in the new CBA when it comes to no-trade clauses. Eight years of service time -- with at least four of those seasons coming with the team issuing the contract -- will remain the requirements.


* Orlando, according to league sources, remains focused on acquiring a proven scorer on the wing before the Feb. 23 trade deadline if the ever-elusive right deal presents itself. The corresponding expectation in league circles is that the Magic will try to move a big man to make that happen, with Nikola Vucevic continuing to rank as the most likely of Orlando's bigs to depart because Serge Ibaka is headed for free agency in July (which complicates trading him) and with Bismack Biyombo only in the first year of a four-year, $68 million deal bound to put some teams off. Vucevic, by contrast, is a proven scorer and rebounder whose comparatively modest $11.8 million salary will presumably offset some of the defensive concerns in circulation. But sources say Boston's talks with Orlando to date on the Vucevic front haven't progressed past the exploratory stage ...

* The simpler option for the reigning champions, as opposed to a Melo-sized blockbuster deal, might prove to be a smaller swap in which the Cavaliers absorb the salary of a veteran point guard into their $4.4 million Anderson Varejao trade exception that expires Feb. 20. Sources say one vet known to interest the Cavs -- one who possesses a salary that would fit into that exception -- is Utah's Shelvin Mack at $2.4 million. Mack, according to sources, is most definitely available. The Cavs, though, would be forced to use the $4.8 million trade exception they just created in the Kyle Korver deal (with an expiration date of Jan. 7, 2018) to absorb the salary of Denver's Jameer Nelson, who is said to be another Cleveland target but makes $4.5 million this season ...

* The long (and confusing) Mo Williams saga ended at last this week when the 76ers, after claiming Williams off waivers and immediately releasing him, resisted the urge to do it again. When Philly passed and Williams finally cleared waivers Thursday, it meant Denver will wind up saving $1.2 million in salary after all the twists and turns detailed in our story here. But the Nuggets had to acquire Williams twice -- once by trade and again by reclaiming him off waivers earlier this week -- to realize those savings. Denver also received $650,000 in cash from Atlanta when it first traded for Williams, who never intended to play this season but will have drawn paychecks from four teams (Cleveland, Atlanta, Denver and Philadelphia) by month's end.


Our dreams have been dashed.

We tried. We composed a video essay for NBA Countdown earlier this week to lobby on Joel Embiid's behalf. Yet we ultimately failed.

Eastern Conference coaches, as I realistically feared from the start, couldn't bring themselves to put a rookie on the All-Star squad ahead of Paul Millsap -- or, let's not forget, fellow snub Melo -- when Embiid has missed 14 of Philadelphia's 45 games this season while averaging just 25.4 minutes per outing this season.

It would have been so much fun to see Embiid in the Big Boy Game in New Orleans on Feb. 19. It would have been historic, too. Thanks to our man Micah Adams from ESPN Stats & Info, we discovered that only four players have ever previously earned an All-Star nod averaging fewer than 25 minutes per game.

They are:

1. Yao Ming appeared in only five games in his final NBA season in 2010-11 and averaged just 18.2 minutes in that handful of appearances. Houston came into the season only planning to play him 24 minutes per game (and no back-to-backs) even if everything went right, but Yao was voted in as a starter anyway even as his body was forcing him to leave the game, all thanks to his immense popularity back home in China.

2. Alonzo Mourning was selected by the fans as an Eastern Conference starter in 2001 despite missing the entire season to that point due to the kidney condition that would ultimately force him to retire briefly in 2003-04.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, averaging 22.9 minutes per game as a 41-year-old in his swan song season, was selected as a West injury replacement for Magic Johnson for the 1989 All-Star Game.

4. Nearly 30 years ago, in what ranks as one of the more surprising All-Star selections we can remember, Portland Trail Blazers big man Steve Johnson was chosen as a Western Conference reserve. He had to miss the game due to an ankle problem that ultimately limited him to 43 games and 24.4 minutes per game for the season, with Johnson later telling The Oregonian newspaper in a 2009 interview that he "really made the All-Star Game from [his play] from the year before."

Coach voting for All-Star reserve selections for the 66th NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans must be completed by Tuesday afternoon.

At Stein Line HQ, meanwhile, tradition dictates that we fill out our own ballot using the exact same league guidelines the coaches themselves must adhere to.

Those conditions are as follows:

1. Coaches must vote for two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards in their respective conferences.

2. Players must be ranked on the coach's ballot in specific order of preference in all three categories.

3. Coaches are explicitly told as part of the voting process that the position at which a player "is listed on the All-Star ballot should have no bearing on your vote." Each coach is encouraged, per ballot instructions, to vote for players "at the position he thinks is most advantageous for the All-Star team" and "not necessarily the one he plays most often during the season."

4. Coaches are obviously not allowed to vote for their own players.

The starters in the East, as announced Thursday night, are LeBron James, Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt, with Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan in the backcourt. The starters in the West are Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and hometown favorite Anthony Davis in the frontcourt, with Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt.

The respective benches, which will be revealed Thursday night on TNT, would look like this if it were up to us:

Eastern Conference

Backcourt

1. Isaiah Thomas
2. Kyle Lowry

Thomas was one of my choices last week to start in the East, so he's naturally the proverbial first name on the team sheet here. Dwell on his defensive deficiencies if you wish. I prefer to focus on Thomas' ongoing emergence as one of the league's foremost fourth-quarter forces.

Lowry is likewise unlucky to start ... especially when the unstoppable Kevin Pelton trots out numbers that illustrate just how valuable he is to the Raptors when he's on the floor compared to when he sits. But I'm stubbornly sticking to my contention that teammate DeRozan, from start to finish so far this season, has the better overall 2016-17 résumé through 43 games and thus deserved his first starting berth in the All-Star Game.

That doesn't mean DeRozan has supplanted Lowry as Toronto's most important player. And I don't think the flip-flopped roles bother Lowry too much after he started for the East in each of the past two All-Star Games. Based on everything I heard while in suburban Toronto for this week's D-League Showcase, Lowry was rooting for his backcourt mate as hard as anyone.

Frontcourt

1. Kevin Love
2. Paul George
3. Joel Embiid

Hard to believe that Love got a championship ring in Cleveland before he managed an All-Star berth with the Cavs. But it's true: This will be Love's first appearance on the East squad after conference coaches bypassed him the past two winters. Don't see any way that happens now given Cleveland's sizable lordship over the East and the way Love has expanded his game to shoot the 3 ball more than he ever has before. Despite his chilly January and recent back woes, Love is converting those long-range attempts at nearly 38 percent.

Over in Indiana, George hasn't come close to mounting the MVP challenge he was vowing to submit in the wake of his successful return to international basketball with Team USA at the Rio Olympics. Yet he remains one of the league's most celebrated two-way players -- even if Professor Pelton's numbers show there has been a drop-off defensively -- and also benefits here from the fact that there's a serious shortage of frontcourt candidates in the East playing All-Star ball. Just to erase any remaining doubt: PG-13 is one of four players averaging at least 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook are the other three.

And now for the choice/explanation you've all been waiting for:

Don't even try to feed me that old-school hooey about how rookies have to wait their turn to be chosen for All-Star Games. Spare me the #wellactually lecture about the heavy minutes restrictions Embiid has faced.

AP Photo/Matt SlocumDoes Joel Embiid belong in the All-Star Game? The Sixers rookie is averaging 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in limited minutes this season.

It's undeniably true that Embiid has been forced to sit out 12 games as an offshoot of the foot troubles that cost him his first two NBA seasons. It's also true that he’s been on the court for only 37 percent of the Sixers' collective minutes played this season.

Stuff it.

None of that matters to us. Nor should it matter to the coaches doing the voting.

Just answer these three questions:

Has Embiid been one of the East's 12 most impactful players this season? Do the Sixers function like a completely different (and competent) team when he's out there? And is there anyone in the conference who wasn't already voted in as a starter that the basketball public wants to see more in the Big Boy Game on Feb. 19?

Exactly.

The Sixers sport the average nightly scoring margin of a 55-win team when Embiid is on the floor ... compared to the scoring margin of an 11-win team when he sits. He deserves an All-Star berth, in other words, no matter how many red lights are flashing when you click to his minutes-per-game average of 25.3.

Wild cards

1. John Wall
2. Kemba Walker

For all the obvious struggles to find worthy frontcourt candidates in the East, here's the happy counter: Good guards are everywhere you look on the right side of the conference divide.

Based on these selections, Wall is merely the No. 4 point guard in the East, when the reality is that his case for a starting spot appeals to some folks more than the arguments for Thomas or Lowry.

That would naturally mean Walker has to settle for the No. 5 spot in the East's latest QB ratings. But I'm convinced he’s done enough -- with a PER of 22.8 in his breakout season as the driving force for a team with a winning record -- to earn his first All-Star berth. The selection would bring his city just a hint of solace after the city lost next month's All-Star Game to New Orleans; Gerald Wallace was Charlotte's most recent All-Star in 2010.

FIVE TOUGHEST OMISSIONS: Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard, Kristaps Porzingis and Bradley Beal.

Western Conference

Backcourt

1. Russell Westbrook
2. Mike Conley

Think we'll spare you the long-winded justification for Westbrook's presence in the top spot. He was averaging 30.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game as of Sunday morning to put the Kevin Durant-less Thunder on pace for 47 wins. I think you get it.

(But for the record: I didn't find it controversial that Stephen Curry edged out Westbrook for a starting spot in the West backcourt alongside James Harden. For those of us less than completely sold on the media's place in new All-Star voting procedures, it was reassuring to see the fan totals still carrying the most meaningful weight to break such a high-profile tie.)

The other spot, meanwhile, has to go to the game's highest-paid (for now) player and a bring a halt to Conley's l-o-n-g wait to become an All-Star for the first time.

Conley was off to the best start of his career when he suffered a serious back injury in late November, then showed the whole world how tough he is by making it back onto the floor after missing only nine games, then resumed playing as well as he ever has.

Chris Paul was the obvious first choice behind Westbrook if he hadn't ripped up his left thumb. Have to say I like Pelton's suggestion to the West coaches that they should select Paul anyway and make NBA commissioner Adam Silver name an injury replacement for CP3.

Either way, though, it's Conley's time to slip on a West jersey.

Frontcourt

1. DeMarcus Cousins
2. Draymond Green
3. Rudy Gobert

It's perhaps the lone positive you can draw from the otherwise demoralizing "race" for the No. 8 spot in the West that has uncharacteristically kept alive a slew of sub-.500 teams.

We're referring, obviously, to how the underwhelming records sported by Cousins' Sacramento Kings and Anthony Davis' Pelicans haven't hurt their respective All-Star cases.

It'll be a nice little moment to see Davis lined up for the opening tip in an All-Star Game played in the shadow of Bourbon Street. But Cousins' across-the-board production, no matter what his detractors might say, is in the same zip code as The Brow's, which should make him a lock for selection by West coaches.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsDespite losing some spotlight to Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green still deserve plenty of All-Star consideration.

Ditto for Golden State's Green. He has such an impact on the Warriors' fortunes, at both ends, that you rarely hear anyone bring up his seemingly mortal scoring average (10.8 PPG). The talk, more appropriately, is how Green is bidding to become the first player in league history to average better than seven assists, seven rebounds, two steals and one block over the course of an entire season.

Then there's Gobert, who has emerged as the co-biggest threat to Green’s dream of winning NBA Defensive Player of the Year alongside Kawhi Leonard

Gordon Hayward is the free agent-to-be who'll soon be in great demand, but Gobert just might be Utah's most influential player thanks to his offensive improvement. He's averaging 12.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, which represent three benchmarks no Jazzman in team history has ever hit in the same season.

The only player in the league at present who can match (or exceed) Gobert in all three categories? Anthony Davis.

Wild cards

1. Klay Thompson
2. Gordon Hayward

Popular question: Do the Warriors deserve four All-Stars?

My response: Did you watch them play this week?

Thompson arguably has the toughest job in Golden State's star quartet, waiting to see from night to night how much the Dubs will ask of him, but his consistency as a two-way impact player earns him bonus points with us.

Let's also not forget that Thompson can be an irresistible showman in his own right. With apologies to Harden's 53-point, 16-rebound, 17-assist masterpiece against the Knicks, it was Klay who delivered the most stirring individual display of the season so far with his 60-point eruption against Indiana in early December.

So, yeah, he’s an All-Star.

The same has to be said for Hayward, who appears poised for his maiden All-Star nod from West coaches as a reward for his offensive consistency in the face of Utah's numerous injuries – including Hayward’s fast recovery from his own broken finger during training camp. This is the sixth straight season that Hayward has increased his scoring average, nudging him to a level (22.2 PPG) that makes him the most prolific scorer seen in Salt Lake City since
Karl Malone.

FIVE TOUGHEST OMISSIONS: Marc Gasol, Karl-Anthony Towns, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon.video

Chris BoshTommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario -- In this latest Son of Weekend Dime compilation, we've amassed the freshest dribbles of pertinent chatter from the NBA's annual D-League Showcase ... with the league's annual trade buzzer just over 30 days away:

No one in the NBA knows if Chris Bosh will ever play professional basketball again thanks to his unfortunate bout with blood clots. That sadly goes for Bosh himself, as he recently explained during an appearance at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Yet there were a couple interesting Bosh rumbles in circulation this week in suburban Toronto:

1. More than one rival team has said they don't expect Bosh to be waived by Miami until after March 1, thereby ensuring he's not playoff-eligible for another team. The prospect of removing Bosh from the team's payroll becomes an active option for the Heat after Feb. 9, which is the one-year anniversary of his last game for the club.

2. If Bosh, who turns 33 in March, makes it back onto the floor next season, word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him.


The most substantive trade proposal generating buzz among the various team officials, scouts and agents assembled this week at the Hershey Centre: Orlando, according to league sources, recently tried to engage Miami on a Goran Dragic deal in which the Magic were said to be offering center Nikola Vucevic and a future first-round pick.

The Heat, of course, already have a well-compensated starting center in Hassan Whiteside and, sources say, had no interest in Orlando's pitch. The South Beachers continue to leave the impression that they're resistant to surrendering Dragic before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.


A player who is sure to move between now and the trade deadline?

Denver's Jusuf Nurkic.

Sources say that the Nuggets, having acknowledged that Nikola Jokic and Nurkic didn't click as a pairing, are actively working to find Nurkic a new home that would give him the chance he deserves to be a front-line center.


Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You'd struggle to find a single team with a representative at the Showcase that believes Atlanta has permanently pulled All-Star forward Paul Millsap from the trade market.

The skepticism has been so loud that it leads one to imagine Millsap might still prove to be the biggest name in play between now and Feb. 23, assuming Dragic indeed can't be had and with Sacramento's Rudy Gay suddenly out for the season.


The Kings naturally became a popular topic in the wake of Gay's torn Achilles suffered Wednesday night.

The bulk of the external trade interest Gay attracted came in the offseason, most notably from Oklahoma City, Miami and Portland, but sources say Sacramento has had opportunities to move Gay since the season began and chose to hold off, presumably in hopes of giving itself the best chance of snagging the West's No. 8 seed and thus bringing a halt to the league's second-longest playoff drought (10 seasons and counting).

The Kings, though, just went 1-6 on a crucial homestand to fall to 10th in the West at 16-25 and Friday begin an eight-game road trip (yes, eight) in Memphis.


Given Gay's long-term unavailability and Sacramento's well-known hopes of convincing DeMarcus Cousins to sign for the long term, two wings have emerged as the most likely Kings to be dealt:

Ben McLemore first and foremost, followed by Arron Afflalo.


The Clippers have offered a future second-round pick for Suns forward P.J. Tucker -- who is said to have a not-so-secret admirer in Doc Rivers -- but sources say Phoenix is holding out for a first-rounder in exchange for the rugged defensive specialist.

Tucker and out-of-favor guard Brandon Knight are widely regarded as the most "gettable" Suns. Coach Earl Watson announced this week that veteran center Tyson Chandler is "not going anywhere."


This one's not exactly a trade item, but there's an expectation in Denver that the Nuggets -- after taking on Mo Williams in a deal with Atlanta -- plan to re-sign Alonzo Gee once Williams clears waivers.

Denver can sign Gee to one more 10-day contract before it must decide whether to ink him for the rest of the regular season or let him go.

James Harden, Russell WestbrookAP Photo, USA TODAY Sports


Scratching out a column every January to advise East and West coaches on the All-Star reserves they should pick is an annual tradition here at Stein Line HQ.

Choosing five starters and filling out an actual All-Star ballot?

Can't remember the last time we actually did that. Probably not since my teenage years.

So, yeah, it feels strange. It will take some getting used to.

Speaking strictly for myself, it's not because casting one ballot's worth of All-Star votes presents some sort of huge moral quandary, since the reality is that many of us covering this league often unknowingly have a tangible impact on NBA proceedings with so many things we write and say. In this brain, I simply always imagined that the All-Star starters were strictly the fans' domain and should/would remain so.

But I get it.

In the electronic age, when intricate voting campaigns can be waged on behalf of undeserving All-Star candidates, adding the league's nearly 450 active players and a panel of media members to the voting process to short-circuit such shenanigans is a natural counter. It also gives the guys on the court, who've wanted more of a voice in these matters for a long time, what they've been seeking.

So here we are. Our unofficial reserve selections are coming next Friday after the starters are announced, as always, but let's first share our first-ever formal picks for the starters in each conference, with all balloting (for fans, players and the press) scheduled to end Monday night at 11:59 p.m. ET:

Western Conference

Backcourt: James Harden and Russell Westbrook

It's hard to imagine Stephen Curry finishing anywhere but No. 1 among West guards in fan balloting. But Harden and Westbrook are widely regarded as the league's top two MVP candidates at the season's halfway point, which figures to make them both pretty automatic with the media.

Harden is in the midst of a revolutionary season as a full-time point guard for the first time, meshing with new coach Mike D'Antoni and the retooled roster around him to such a positive degree that the Rockets are on pace to jump from last season's 41 wins to 62.

Westbrook, meanwhile, has a 50 percent chance of becoming just the second player in league history to average a triple-double for an entire season, according to the latest calculations from ESPN's tireless Kevin Pelton.

Our firm belief is that Curry's supposed drop-off is really more of a scaling back from last season's historic production, which was probably inevitable with the arrival of Kevin Durant and the equally inevitable adjustment phase for all involved.

He'll likely have to surrender his starting spot once the player and media votes are factored in, but Curry has nothing to worry about here. He's an All-Star lock, too.

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis

The pool of worthy candidates for just three available spots is seriously deep.

Davis and DeMarcus Cousins jump out as two names from losing teams that you suspect will do well in voting by their on-court peers, which is bound to make things interesting.

Yet there are realistically two locks no matter how you look at things.

Durant has not only made a highly efficient start to life in the Bay Area, but has also played bigger and with more consistent force as a defender than we've ever seen.

Down in San Antonio, Leonard's reputation as one of the game's foremost two-way stars only grows, thanks to the additional offensive responsibility he has taken on in his first season post-Tim Duncan, on top of his well-chronicled work as a perimeter stopper that opposing teams strain to avoid.

So those are your gimmes: KD and Kawhi. The toughest call among West starters, assuming you're casting these votes on merit, is trying to narrow down a starry quartet of deserving choices -- Draymond Green and Marc Gasol in addition to Davis and Cousins -- for one remaining slot in the West frontcourt.

As often as Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls Green "in some ways our most important player," Draymond's case is a strong one on that basis alone, given that the 34-6 Warriors -- for all the things they're purportedly still trying to iron out -- sport the league's best record.

Gasol gave us plenty to think about too, having overcome an 11-game injury absence for Mike Conley in December, as well as the intermittent availability of Chandler Parsons, to help keep Memphis among the league's top three defenses and, until recently, on a 50-win pace. Big Spain also gets some extra credit here not for the questionable Conor McGregor imitations but for expanding his game offensively to become a 3-point threat.

Ultimately, though, it’s Davis who has the edge – with the game in New Orleans -- as he tries to drag the Pelicans to the postseason in the wake of an 0-8 start. We haven’t seen that sort of recovery in the NBA since Chicago did it in 2004-05.

Both Davis and Cousins have their teams close enough to the No. 8 spot in the West to get a pass from this stubborn media mainstreamer who can't resist throwing that trusty team-success card on the table. I'd frankly be good with either one of them starting.

Eastern Conference

Backcourt: DeMar DeRozan and Isaiah Thomas

Remember when I mentioned how strange this assignment feels?

It didn't get any more comfortable when I got to this section, with only two open spots for five players who could inspire a daylong debate when you try to separate them.

Kyrie Irving. John Wall. Kyle Lowry. DeRozan. And Thomas.

Good luck.

Irving, of course, is the runaway No. 1 choice in the fan vote and, truth be told, presumably would be No. 1 on most anyone's list if the assignment were simply drafting the standout from the five players mentioned. But our aim here is to reward the best seasons we've seen to this point. I don't think Irving, on an individual basis, can claim he has had a stronger start to 2016-17 than Wall, Thomas or the Toronto duo.

Yet that still leaves plenty of work to do. Thomas or Wall? DeRozan or Lowry? The two Raptors together? Some other combination?

Tempting as it was to choose both DeRozan and Lowry, I only managed to make room for one of them. And that's DeRozan, who won bonus points here for those 19 days in a row in November when he stood as the league's leading scorer, helping Toronto get off to a fine start and, just as crucially, taking the early pressure off Lowry as his fellow Olympian eased into the season without the same splash.

Lowry is rolling now, but DeRozan -- No. 5 in the East in player efficiency rating as of Friday morning -- couldn't have come back from Rio more ready.

Wall vs. Thomas is another coin flip. You can't go wrong with either. I know Wall has won many admirers for the way he sparked Washington's turnaround from a 6-12 start, but we're giving the edge to the little lefty because of Thomas' consistency, his fourth-quarter excellence and the way he kept the Celtics afloat while Al Horford was missing all those games in November.

Frontcourt: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler

In stark contrast to the point guard overflow that complicates backcourt selections in the East, this is a frontcourt trio that essentially picks itself.

I realize that the latest returns from the fan vote, released Thursday, have Kevin Love in a starting spot, but I suspect that the overwhelming majority of media ballots will look like this one, with Antetokounmpo and Butler joining LeBron in the first five.

It's not like Love would be out of place as a starter, but there's a convincing argument to be made that The Greek Freak and Butler -- like LeBron -- have been top-10 players league-wide in terms of impact this season.

The Rise of Giannis as one of the leading vote-getters, having never been an All-Star before and playing out of humble Milwaukee, also happens to be one of the stories of the season.

There can be no dispute, at worst, that Antetokounmpo and Butler have been top-5 players in the East to this point, which we anticipate will force the likes of Love and Paul George to rely on East coaches to secure a reserve spot.

(One quick footnote on the prospect of LeBron, Kyrie and Love all starting for the East: 1989-90 is the last time three starters from one team -- -- Magic Johnson, James Worthy and A.C. Green of the Lakers -- were voted in by the fans. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all started the 2013 All-Star Game for the East, but Bosh was starting in place of the injured Rajon Rondo.)


  • The Rockets, according to league sources, were among the teams that looked into acquiring Mike Dunleavy last week when Atlanta was initially searching for a third team to get involved in the Kyle Korver trade with Cleveland.

    Sources say Houston is not currently itching to make a move -- why would you want to change much at 31-10? -- but these are still the uber-aggressive Rockets. So count on them to stay on the lookout for an extra shooter or one more big man as the Feb. 23 trade deadline draws near.

    Sources say, furthermore, that swingman K.J. McDaniels has emerged as the most likely Rocket to move this trade season ... more likely now than Corey Brewer. Our own Zach Lowe reported recently that the Rockets were gauging Brewer's trade value, but Brewer has since moved back ahead of McDaniels in D'Antoni's rotation.

  • The Cavs might not necessarily be done with trades for the season.

    LeBron James still wants a certified backup point guard to ease Irving's regular-season burden -- as you might have heard -- and Cleveland still has $4.4 million left of its Anderson Varejao trade exception to use post-Korver to take in additional salary before the exception expires Feb. 20.

    So a free-agent signing, such as Mario Chalmers, Jarrett Jack or Norris Cole, isn't the Cavs' only option.

  • Stan Van Gundy has openly scoffed at the suggestion that Detroit is looking to trade Reggie Jackson amid the disappointing Pistons' 18-23 struggles. Yet there's a growing impression around the league that, at the very least, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has moved past Jackson onto Detroit's short list of untouchables, alongside Andre Drummond.
  • It remains to be seen whether Portland proves to be as active in the trade market as many league observers expected coming into the season, but here's a pertinent bookkeeping note: Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard all finally become eligible to be traded Sunday after the big deals all three signed over the summer.

Horford will play his first game as an Atlanta visitor Friday night when the Hawks entertain Horford's Celtics.

And here’s a quick history lesson to commemorate the occasion: Seven different players appeared in 200 or more games alongside Horford in the ATL. But after last week's trade that sent Korver to Cleveland, none of those seven is still with the club.

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Seven days.

That's as long as you had to wait in 2017 for an NBA trade to be consummated.

NBA Trade Season, in other words, is fully underway well in advance of the league's Feb. 23 trade deadline. Which means it's time for some fresh dribbles of the latest chatter from the league's personnel grapevine:

Once ESPN's report hit Sunday that Atlanta was suddenly willing to trade its most dependable player, Paul Millsap became the All-Star Most Likely To Be Dealt this winter.

Denver engaged in serious talks to acquire Millsap last summer and is known to be interested again, alongside Toronto and Sacramento. (The Nuggets, for the record, are now openly shopping third-year big man Jusuf Nurkic in addition to the widely assumed availability of vets Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler).

AP Photo/Todd Kirkland


Other serious suitors for Millsap are bound to emerge, but here's the real question: Can Atlanta get a future first-round pick of better quality than the first it received for Korver when Millsap is poised to attract so much big-money interest as a free agent come July 1? Teams could well prove hesitant to surrender too much for a primo pending free agent.

The Hawks, sources say, want at least one quality first to headline a Millsap deal. The Raptors, meanwhile, have to decide whether a deal for Millsap closes the gap on Cleveland sufficiently to part with quality assets and justifies the expense involved to re-sign him in the same offseason All-Star guard Kyle Lowry is due for a new deal.

In the interim, as we all lock arms on Millsap Watch, we ask: Isn't it hard to believe he's the last starter left from Atlanta's 60-win team in 2014-15?


You're undoubtedly wondering what the Warriors will do in response to Cleveland's looming acquisition of Korver ... as well as LeBron James' latest pointed public demand for the signing of a recognized backup point guard to Kyrie Irving.

Just don't forget that the Warriors are comparatively short on trade options. Making a retaliatory move is simply tougher with their roster composition.

Yet that's not to say the Warriors' roster you see today is how it will stay. There will be buyouts in various corners of the league, after the Feb. 23 trade deadline and before the March 1 playoff eligibility deadline, because there always are.

That's how the Warriors had opportunity to sign Anderson Varejao last spring and figures to be the surest route to them adding another player who can help in the playoffs.


Given this week's loss of Justise Winslow for the season, on top of the ongoing unavailability of Chris Bosh, Miami would seem to have more motivation than ever to fully embrace The Tank and start shopping Goran Dragic.

Miami's price for acquiring Dragic, however, is still said to be too high to encourage any serious trade discussions.

Yet.


Word is that two first-round picks is the Nets' current asking price for center Brook Lopez.


Sources with knowledge of the Bulls' thinking emphatically deny the notion that All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler is available.

Given all the chaos enveloping the Bulls lately, with considerable doubt bubbling about how much longer Rajon Rondo will stick around Chicago, hanging onto one of the game's best two-way players seems prudent.


I'm told Dallas' Wesley Matthews, like Butler, is not in play. The prospect of an Andrew Bogut trade remains very real in Big D -- an outcome even Bogut has acknowledged -- but sources say that the Mavs are batting away pitches for Matthews as he continues an impressive recovery from an Achilles tear.


Word is Portland, of late, has been tracking Tyson Chandler as a potential trade target, since the Phoenix center could certainly help the Blazers with their defensive issues.

Chandler, 34, has two seasons left on his contract after this season valued at $26.5 million, but it remains to be seen how willing the Suns are to part with their interior anchor after Chandler encouraged the club to resist outside trade interest last summer.


What self-respecting compendium of trade scuttle from the 2016-17 season would fail to include an update on DeMarcus Cousins?

Not ours.

But here's the thing devoted fans of Trade Season -- of our beloved Transaction Game -- won't want to hear:

Cousins became even less likely to be moved once the NBA's new labor deal was hatched.

The Kings, as you surely know by now, are openly desperate to bring their 10-season playoff drought to a halt. Those who know Sacramento best continue to say that, as long as the West's No. 8 seed remains within the Kings' sights, they'll be increasingly reluctant to part with their All-Star center.

But sources also say that the Kings, at season's end, want to pitch Cousins on a long-term partnership in the summertime, knowing he's going to be eligible in July for a Designated Player Extension that could make him one of a handful of $200 million players league wide.

The latest signals suggest it would take a monster offer to get the Kings to tweak those plans.


The Lakers keep their pick in the June draft only if they finish in the top three of the next NBA lottery.

Maybe that's what they really want deep down.

You're moved to raise the question after watching L.A pass on signing Donatas Motiejunas. The Lakers had the first crack at auditioning Motiejunas before the Lithuanian big man ultimately signed with New Orleans. The Lakers also had more money to offer Motiejunas, who wound up settling for a prorated share of the $1.1 veteran minimum with the Pelicans.

The Lakers were in the midst of a 2-14 December -- with Larry Nance Jr. freshly injured -- when they worked out Motiejunas on Christmas Eve. They could have offered him their cap-room exception of nearly $3 million but decided it was preferable to pass on Motiejunas rather than urge Metta World Peace to shift from 15th man status to the coaching staff or waive Thomas Robinson.

The Motiejunas contract saga with the Rockets consumed more than five months and inspired plenty of debate about his value, even after Brooklyn jumped into the bidding, but a one-year deal with the versatile 7-footer doesn't seem like much of a gamble.

Especially if the Lakers -- suddenly facing a fourth straight trip to the lottery after only two during the Jerry Buss era -- are serious about trying to find something closer to the form that led to their 10-10 start under rookie coach Luke Walton.

We'll soon see, based on how Motiejunas fares with the Pels, if they made the right call.


All 450 available roster spots in the NBA have been filled for most of the season to date, but eight teams suddenly have an opening. Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Antonio are all down to 14-man rosters after making cuts from the list of players on non-guaranteed contracts provided in our last Son of WD dispatch. In addition, Cleveland went from 15 to 14, with Atlanta going from 14 to full, when the teams completed the Kyle Korver trade Saturday. ... In addition to the veteran free agents looking to make a return to the league in 2017 that we reported on earlier this week -- guards Jarrett Jack and Mario Chalmers and forward Carl Landry -- add the name Norris Cole. According to the latest from my ESPN colleague Chris Haynes, Cole is also nearing a return to full fitness after a hamstring problem scuttled his recent stint in China. ... The inimitable @AlbertRandom1 on Twitter, providing this helpful follow-up on our recent Nikola Pekovic item, spells out that Minnesota will be eligible to apply to the league to have Pekovic's cap hits ($12.1 million this season; $11.6 million in 2017-18) removed from its payroll after Jan. 31. That's one year to the date of the last time Pekovic appeared in a game for the Wolves.


A few memorable numerical milestones, courtesy of ESPN research ace Micah Adams and including both the regular season and playoffs, from the calendar year of 2016 that we just wrapped up:

*32 triple-doubles by Russell Westbrook; James Harden was next in line with 11.

*2,725 points for Stephen Curry; Kevin Durant was close behind with 2,704.

*468 made 3-pointers for Curry; Klay Thompson was second with 383.

*250 dunks for DeAndre Jordan to finish slightly ahead of Dwight Howard's 211.


Consider this a pertinent supporting footnote to our own Zach Lowe's column this week about the NBA's scoring boom:

The number of qualifying players averaging at least 20 points per game this season, after an eight-season dropoff, has risen sharply.

There were 33 players league wide, as of Friday morning, averaging 20 points or better.

Last season? There were only 20 such players.

A season-by-season breakdown of 20 PPG Men in the new millennium:

Fred HoibergKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Five NBA coaches were fired during the 2015-16 season.

A total of 12 teams, which equates to 40 percent of the league, began the 2016-17 campaign with coaches starting their first full season in town.

Four current coaches, furthermore, are only in Year 2 with their respective clubs.

Adding all those numbers up should help explain why there has been precious little chatter so far this season about coaches on the proverbial hot seat. That's a lot of new (or relatively new) faces in many, many places.

Such quiet in the NBA, mind you, is only ever going to be temporary. The last season to proceed from start to finish in which every team employed only one coach, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau, was the 1970-71 campaign ... in a 17-team league.

History thus tells us that at least one coach is bound to lose his job between now and the April 12 curtain drop on the regular season.

The latest chatter on the coaching grapevine, meanwhile, tells us that the toastiest seat on the NBA map at present belongs, rightly or wrongly, to the Chicago Bulls' Fred Hoiberg.

The Bulls’ largely disappointing play in December, on the heels of a non-playoff season, has put Hoiberg under earlier-than-expected pressure, according to league sources.

Just to be clear: Hoiberg isn’t exactly alone in the crosshairs in Chicago. Thanks to a succession of underwhelming first-round draft picks and a roster construction that has been questioned from the moment it materialized over the summer, fan frustration with the front-office tag team of John Paxson and Gar Forman has never been more tangible, rising steadily since Rajon Rondo and then Dwyane Wade were signed as the marquee additions to a roster already light on proven perimeter threats to space the floor.

Yet sources told ESPN.com this week that the Bulls have been increasingly assessing the coaching fit as well, sparked by an ongoing dip in the team’s level of play and consistency that began with an unraveling at home on Dec. 13 from 21 points up against the Minnesota Timberwolves and a certain Tom Thibodeau.

The greatest source of insulation that has protected Hoiberg to this point, sources say, is the fact that making a change now would require the Bulls to swallow significant guaranteed money on his five-year contract valued in the $25 million range.

But sources say the Bulls have been concerned with the team's responsiveness to its young coach and Hoiberg's hold on a veteran roster in his second season since making the jump from Iowa State to the NBA in June 2015.

The Bulls, remember, jumped out to a hopeful 8-4 start. Through the end of November, Chicago sported a 10-7 record and the league's fourth-best scoring margin, behind only the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

But the 1-6 funk that began with the Timberwolves collapse left the Bulls, as of Monday morning, having been outscored by 5.8 points per game in December. That represented the league's largest drop in average scoring margin from month to month at minus-11.4, worse than the November-to-December slumping suffered by the Atlanta Hawks (minus-10.2 PPG) and the Los Angeles Lakers (minus-7.6 PPG).

Although Chicago has since mustered two wins this week, neither was especially reassuring. The Bulls outlasted the equally inconsistent Indiana Pacers on Monday night in a 90-85 grind, then escaped with a two-point win Wednesday night at home over lowly Brooklyn when Jimmy Butler -- playing the ball of his life since returning from the Rio Olympics -- sank the first buzzer-beater of his career in a brilliant 40-point, 11-rebound show.

The Bulls, though, had to erase a 97-90 deficit at home with less than three minutes to go to turn away the 8-23 Nets.

Hoiberg has a longtime admirer in Forman and was handpicked by the Bulls out of the college ranks well before the end of Thibodeau's reign, billed as the ideal candidate personality-wise to mesh with Chicago management after the successful but tense co-existence with Thibodeau for the duo known locally as GarPax.

The Bulls went 42-40 in Hoiberg's debut campaign, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. The coaching staff was then shuffled coming into this season, as well as the roster, but the departures of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and corresponding arrivals of Wade, Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams haven't nudged the 16-16 Bulls any closer to the 50-win standard Thibs established.

Is the new coach really the chief culprit for those struggles? Fair question. Hoiberg sympathizers would undoubtedly say that the Bulls still don't have the sort of offensive options to carry out his desire to play a fast-paced, spread-the-floor game, which is obviously more about Paxson and Forman than the guy on the bench.

Hoiberg, however, was billed by Forman on the way in as an offensive guru. Almost a season and a half post-Thibs, Chicago’s O is as isolation-heavy and predictable as ever.

Perhaps the Houdini act against Brooklyn was the start of something. Perhaps Hoiberg can keep scratching out wins, like the past two, to ease the pressure and hush talk about the heat that’s bubbling at bench level and upstairs, too.

Perhaps this will be that thoroughly abnormal NBA season in which all 30 coaches last 82 games. Hoiberg, after all, is one of those four Year 2 coaches.

Yet as a calendar change looms, 2017 is bound to be no different than the past 40-odd years that preceded it when it comes to this old truism in basketball (and maybe every other professional sport):

The easiest change to make, when things aren't going as planned, is the coach.


Entering Friday’s play, LeBron James was averaging 38.5 minutes per game in the month of December, second in the league behind only the Minnesota Timberwolves' Zach LaVine (38.6 MPG).

On this Son of Weekend Dime Friday, LeBron celebrates his 32nd birthday.

LaVine, by contrast, is 21.

But the heavy (and seemingly worrisome) workload James has shouldered this month is, according to Cleveland Cavaliers coach Ty Lue, actually by design.

By the design of James himself, in fact, in conjunction with longtime personal trainer Mike Mancias.

As part of ESPN Radio’s Christmas Day crew in Cleveland, host Marc Kestecher (at a certain sideline reporter's urging) had the opportunity to ask the coach about the formula used to determine James’ PT.

As Lue explained it: "At the end of January or early February, we gotta be able to back LeBron's minutes down. We’ve talked about that. For the first couple months [of the season], he said he wanted 38 minutes. Him and his trainer said it'd be great for him and then, at the end of January/early February, we'll back him off. So right now, minutes-wise, everybody's where we [want them] to be.”


Houston has made no secret of its desire to add a quality big man in the wake of Clint Capela's injury. According to league sources, Sacramento's Kosta Koufos has emerged as a prime Rockets trade target. ... The latest signals continue to suggest that Suns guard Brandon Knight will be one of the bigger names to move between now and the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Knight played only nine minutes in the Suns' home win Thursday night over Toronto, less than 20-year-old rookie Tyler Ulis. ... Wolves center Nikola Pekovic acknowledged this week in his native Serbia that he's "more prepared for ending my career than returning" to the NBA. Minnesota is expected to pursue a medical retirement for Pekovic, 31, after Jan. 31, which will mark one full year since he last appeared in a game due to ankle woes. Pekovic has one year left on the five-year, $60 million deal he signed heading into the 2013-14 season and has been running the storied Partizan Belgrade club back home as team president while away from the Wolves.


It's no coincidence that three players have been waived this week after a lengthy run in which each of the NBA's 450 roster spots have been filled.

One key trigger for this activity: Players with contracts that aren't fully guaranteed for this season have to be released by Jan. 7 and clear waivers by Jan. 9 for teams to avoid paying out the full value of those salaries.

And another: Open roster spots become more appealing as of Jan. 5 when teams can start signing players to 10-day contracts.

The guaranteed salary stuff was among the factors in the respective releases of Dallas' Jonathan Gibson, San Antonio's Nicolas Laprovittola and Chicago's R.J. Hunter in recent days. (It should be noted that, in Gibson's case, he was quickly replaced on the Mavericks' roster by NBA D-League scoring machine Pierre Jackson.)

The following is a list of the league's 38 remaining players who have to endure varying degrees of uneasiness until Jan. 7 passes and their respective 2016-17 salaries graduate to fully guaranteed -- although it should be obvious that some of these guys (such as JaVale McGee, DeAndre Liggins and the esteemed @mrvincecarter15) already know they have nothing to worry about:

Atlanta: Ryan Kelly and Mike Muscala
Brooklyn: Spencer Dinwiddie
Charlotte: Treveon Graham and Aaron Harrison
Chicago: Cristiano Felicio
Cleveland: DeAndre Liggins and Jordan McRae
Dallas: Dorian Finney-Smith and Pierre Jackson
Golden State: JaVale McGee
Houston: Bobby Brown and Kyle Wiltjer
Los Angeles Lakers: Thomas Robinson and Metta World Peace
Memphis: Vince Carter*, JaMychal Green* and Troy Williams
Miami: Rodney McGruder
Minnesota: John Lucas III
New Orleans: Reggie Williams
New York: Ron Baker
Oklahoma City: Semaj Christon and Jerami Grant
Orlando: Arinze Onuaku and Damjan Rudez
Philadelphia: Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell and Hollis Thompson
Phoenix: Derrick Jones Jr.
Portland: Tim Quarterman
Sacramento: Ty Lawson
San Antonio: Bryn Forbes
Toronto: Fred VanVleet
Utah: Jeff Withey
Washington: Danuel House, Sheldon McClellan and Daniel Ochefu

* -- The 2016-17 salaries of Memphis' Carter ($2 million to a full $4.26 million) and Green ($980,431) become fully guaranteed if neither player is waived by Sunday (Jan. 1).


Let's bring the last Son of Weekend Dime for 2016 to a close with some positivity for the Bulls.

We're referring specifically to Sacramento's rise to No. 8 in the West.

You can safely presume that the Bulls are rooting almost as hard for Sacramento to stay there as Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who yearns for a 1-versus-8 playoff matchup with Golden State after his time as a Warriors minority owner.

The Bulls, you see, will take possession of Sacramento's first-round pick in June if it falls between 11 and 30, as an offshoot of the January 2014 trade in which Chicago sent Luol Deng to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum and three first-round picks.

One of the future picks conveyed by Cleveland in that trade came from the Kings in the June 2011 swap that sent Omri Casspi to the Cavs for J.J. Hickson.

The Bulls, though, need the pick to fall between 11 and 30 come June to ensure they get a first-rounder. If the pick lands from 1 to 10, Philadelphia has the right to swap first-rounders with Sacramento as part of the July 2015 Nik Stauskas trade, leaving Chicago with the Kings' 2017 second-rounder.

These past two weeks of All-Time Kicks goodness have to rank as one of the best #NBArank incarnations yet.

A veritable Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/Fill In Your Preferred Holiday gift unto itself.

No longer, though, can we merely spectate from the sidelines here at Stein Line HQ.

Are you ready for the real top five? (Or at least the top five from a nearly 50-year-old who refuses to believe he's too old to be a sneakerhead?)

Who knows more about rankings, after all, than the Committee (of One)?

Herewith, then, follows our top five hoops kicks of all time:

1. Nike Air Darwin Low Canvas
The Air Darwin is most commonly associated with Dennis Rodman, who wasn't exactly known for inspiring overnight campouts for sneaker seekers. But Rodman's preferred Darwin was actually the leather high-top version. My favorite hoops shoe of all time is the low-top model in glorious canvas: The sexiest hoops shoe I've ever seen. As a rookie beat writer covering the Clippers for the Los Angeles Daily News, I fell in love with the low-cut model when I saw Danny Manning wearing leather lows. Yet it's the canvas iteration that I find utterly irresistible.

Sadly, though, I have only one used pair in my possession. And they're literally falling apart. In my mid-20s, I hadn't yet learned the important maxim that my 13-year-old son has since ingrained in me: Buy at least "one to rock and one to stock" when you know the shoe is an all-timer.

Yet I continue to dream, as I have for countless years, that Nike will bring back the Air Darwin Low (in leather if not in canvas) for a surprise reissue. So if you're reading this, Lynn Merritt or Roy Miller or Nico Harrison, PLEASE!

CHECK OUT MY ENTIRE LIST HERE


Our recent SportsCenter sit-down with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich afforded us the opportunity to finally ask him directly: What changed Pop's mind after all those years he told us that he'd be following Tim Duncan right out the retirement door.

"I made promises," Pop said. "Manu [Ginobili] was doing a contract and Tony [Parker] was doing a contract and they ask what you're going to do, so you say you're going to be there.

"And then when we signed LaMarcus [Aldridge] as a free agent, his agent sat next to him and at the end of the meeting he said: 'Ask him. Ask him. Look him right in the eye and ask him.' And I knew what was coming, so he asked me the same question and I said, 'Yeah, I'll be here.'

"I was still on that contract that I signed a couple of years ago, so I said, 'Yeah, I'll be here for that contract.' So you make those commitments, you gotta stick it out."

This is Year 3 of the five-year extension Popovich, 67, signed after the Spurs won it all in 2014.


The Feb. 23 trade deadline is exactly two months away. Exploratory discussions leaguewide are starting to increase in intensity.

As one veteran exec said this week: "This is the time of year when everyone is deciding if they're going to be buyers or sellers."

Something to keep in mind for background purposes: There are still six teams under the salary floor for this season. It's an unusually high number but also not too surprising after last summer's unprecedented rise in the salary cap to $94.1 million.

Teams are required to spend 90 percent of the cap -- which equates to $84.7 million in 2016-17 -- or pay the shortfall to the players on their current rosters at season's end. Portland ($840,000) and Orlando ($58,000), for example, fell slightly short last season.

It'll be interesting to see how many of these teams try to address the shortfall by taking on salary in deals between now and the deadline.

Editor's note: Oklahoma City ($7.22 million) and Indiana ($4.14 million) are two more teams that still possess leftover cap space from the summer but have already exceeded this season's salary floor.


One-on-One to Five with Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood

Q: How would say the season is going so far given all the injuries you guys have had to play through?

A: I think it's going pretty well. We had one of the toughest stretches [schedule-wise] of probably any team in the league starting off and I thought we got through that pretty well. I think we're hitting our stride right now and we're getting better as a team, especially as we get more and more healthy.

Q: What was the team goal for the Jazz coming into this season?

A: To be the best team we can be ... whether that lands us in the playoffs or lands us a top five or six seed in the West. Wherever it lands us, that's the goal right now and we're pushing towards that goal. ... If we stay healthy and stay on the progression we're on now, I think we will be a playoff team. That's where most guys make their name in this league -- in the playoffs -- so that's what I'm looking forward to. 

Q: And for you personally what were your expectations coming into the season?

A: Just take that next step. There were certain situations I was in last year where it was my first time, my first full season. So I think just taking another step. I don't know whether that equals to more points or more rebounds, whatever it may be, just take that next step. Being one of the guys that can close games alongside Gordon [Hayward] and Trey [Lyles] and Rudy [Gobert]. Just be one of the leaders of the team as well.

I've really been finding guys on the weak side more and throwing lobs and things like that. I think that's the next step to my game that I'm going to continue to work on. Just making plays for other guys.

Q: What specific advantages does your size (6-foot-7) give you at the guard position?

A: It gives me advantages on both sides of the ball. Defensively it allows you to bother shots. You don't have to crowd guys as much. You can just play with distance. Offensively ... just being able to get into the lane and rise up. Just seeing over the defense and [making] plays for your teammates, so I think that's a plus as well.

I've watched a lot of big guards since I was younger. Penny Hardaway ... I tried to look at his game and take some things. Joe Johnson, who's now with us, is a guy I always watched. Grant Hill, too. I mean, there's so many big guards that came through when I was younger that I watched and [took] things from their game.

Joe makes the game easier for me. A lot of times we're not on the floor at the same time, so he tells me what he sees. He'll let me know whether I'm rushing my shot, if I'm fading or whatever it may be. And then we just work out together every single day, getting shots up. He's just pushing me right now to be the player he thinks I can be.

Q: You probably don't know this, being relatively new to the league, but I'm somewhat obsessed with left-handers because I'm a lefty myself. What do you think being a lefty adds to your game?

A: I think it's an advantage. I watch guys like [Manu] Ginobili, guys like James Harden, and they use it as a strength. A lot of guys grew up guarding right-hand players most of their lives. It's kind of awkward to guard left-hand guys. It kind of throws you off and kind of gives you a little advantage, so I try to use it to the best of my ability.

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With the San Antonio Spurs retiring Tim Duncan's famed No. 21 on Sunday night, we arranged a SportsCenter sitdown with the only coach Duncan has ever known -- Gregg Popovich -- to discuss their one-of-a-kind partnership.

Draymond GreenDerick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports


No one in the NBA openly yearns after the league's Defensive Player of the Year trophy more than Draymond Green.

You can safely consider the loquacious Golden State forward one-third of the way there.

Big men Marc Gasol and Rudy Gobert are currently submitting peak work as the respective anchors of the team defensive schemes in Memphis and Utah, who happened to rank as two of the league's top three teams in terms of defensive efficiency entering play Friday.

Two-time reigning DPOY Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, continues to be as feared an individual defender as you'll find in the NBA universe ... despite some eyebrow-raising recent chatter about overall slippage on D in Spursdom.

You'll also note in our Most Improved Player dispatch that we've got Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo on our DPOY radar.

But let's face it, folks: This is Green's trophy to lose heading into the season's middle third.

For all the well-chronicled concern about how much the Warriors had to sacrifice depthwise, on D and on the boards to make room for the offseason arrival of Kevin Durant, Green is taking turns guarding four of the five (and maybe even all five) positions, as usual, and had hauled Golden State to No. 7 in defensive efficiency entering the weekend after a slow start.

When we last connected on the matter with ESPN research ace Micah Adams on Wednesday morning, Green was tops in the league at 4.6 deflections per game and No. 3 in the NBA in contested field goal attempts per game. He’s likewise upped his steals per game from 1.5 last season to 2.2 this season.

And his late-game stops in one-on-one duels with elite scorers, of course, have become a SportsCenter fixture.

After two successive DPOY runner-up finishes, Golden State's most polarizing player will proceed into the new year with a lead on Leonard and the rest of the field this time.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports


You have to be a rebel sometimes.

You have to break the rules on occasion.

This is one of those occasions.

Regular readers of our thrice-annual award missives are well-acquainted by now with our hang-ups about Most Improved Player candidates. But we'll repeat them here for the uninitiated: Second-year players, as well as top-tier draftees with any amount of service time, typically struggle for consideration with us, since dramatic improvement is what you expect and frankly demand from those sorts of players.


Which is why, just to cite a few examples, established stars who are scoring like never before such as Anthony Davis and DeMar DeRozan, or blossoming Year 2 forces like Kristaps Porzingis and Myles Turner, really don't factor into our thinking here.

However...

Milwaukee's one-of-a-kind Giannis Antetokounmpo is proving to be a different case entirely, forcing us to divert from our usual MIP policies.

Maybe it's not even as much of a rules violation as we fear, given that The Greek Freak is a No. 15 overall pick, two turns outside the lottery. At that spot in the draft, nothing is guaranteed.

Yet here we are in Year 4 and, well, just look. Antetokounmpo is an All-Star lock in the East -- or dang sure better be -- and a certifiable Defensive Player of the Year candidate for his role in leading the young Bucks from No. 26 in that category last season back to the brink of the top 10.

He's raised his scoring average from 16.9 points per game last season to 22.6 PPG this season. He's also the only player in the league who's averaging at least two blocks and two steals, which puts the 22-year-old on course to join a very short list headlined by Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Gerald Wallace.

With his jumper still a work in progress, Antetokounmpo has nonetheless emerged as an all-over-the-floor menace under Bucks coach Jason Kidd when you throw in his 9.1 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.

Get this: For the fourth successive season, Antetokounmpo is on pace to increase his average in five major categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) and to better his field goal percentage.

Madness.

The debate here, however, might have gotten more heated if Utah's George Hill hadn't missed so much time in the season's opening third.

Hill has responded to his contract-year status by playing the best ball of his life, boosting his 11.3 points per game career scoring average to 20.0, shooting a career-best .456 from 3-point range after only one previous season in the 40s and hiking his player efficiency rating (PER) from 13.9 last season to a career-high 24.97 this season.

The problem, of course, is that myriad injuries have caused Hill to miss more games (16) than he's played (11).

Celtics guard Avery Bradley's reinvention as a rebounding machine is another fun surprise to give Antetokounmpo some solid competition. Bradley ranks alongside MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook as the only guards in the league averaging at least 18 points and seven boards, thanks to a transformation that has taken the 6-foot-2 Bradley from a minuscule career rebounding average of 2.6 RPG to a Rodman-esque 13 games already in which he's either held or shared the highest Boston total off the glass.

Other players who've shown us some MIP flashes so far include Houston's Clint Capela stepping into the Dwight Howard void, Dallas' Harrison Barnes emerging as the Mavericks' go-to guy and New Orleans' Tim Frazier establishing himself as a full-fledged NBA rotation player.

This, though, is Giannis' domain. Thus far, in 2016-17, Antetokounmpo is pronounced M-I-P.

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Kawhi Leonard. Anthony Davis. Chris Paul. Marc Gasol. Kevin Durant.

And two-time reigning Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry.

That's the ridiculously long list of top-shelf stalwarts we're about to heartlessly snub in our discussion of the Western Conference's best player so far.

Our man Zach Lowe just expertly illustrated how worthy of MVP consideration the perpetually overlooked Gasol is -- just to highlight one example -- but that's the West landscape as we speak.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden just aren't leaving a lot of oxygen for their peers to bask in.


These two are both accounting for better than 50 points per game when you add their scoring to their passing, which is something we haven’t seen in the NBA since Nate Archibald’s momentous 1972-73 season, when Tiny became the only player in history to lead the league in both scoring and assists in a single season.

Archibald and Oscar Robertson are the only players in league annals to average at least 28.0 points and 11.0 assists for an entire season; Westbrook and Harden are right in that zone.

They likewise awoke Friday ranked second and third behind New Orleans’ Davis in PER, with Westbrook (28.57) second and Harden (27.89) third.

The six guys we named off the top are playing brilliant basketball. You could scarcely go wrong picking any of them as the First Trimester MVP out West. Yet we simply can’t resist, after all the box scores they stuffed through Thanksgiving and heading into Christmas now, keeping things narrow and lasering in on Westbrook and Harden.

And then ultimately Russ.

With Harden, Houston is undeniably a better team than Oklahoma City is with Westbrook, as evidenced by the Rockets’ 20-7 start and resulting 61-win pace. But Harden has been able to lean on the likes of Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley to help steady things.

With Westbrook, it’s not merely that he’s threatening to do something no one else but the Big O has ever managed before with his preposterous averages of 30.5 points, 10.6 assists and 10.5 rebounds. It’s that we’ve reached the point that the Thunder seem to need Westbrook to post a triple-double to win the game.

On a tidy little 47-win pace of its own in Year 1 post-Durant, 15-11 OKC enters Saturday’s home date with Phoenix at 9-3 when Angry Russ gets his triple-double -- and 6-8 when he doesn’t.

As recently as Wednesday, Oklahoma City was being outscored by 12.9 points per 100 possessions with Westbrook off the floor, which would have ranked last in the NBA by some distance. The Thunder, by contrast, were outscoring opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions leading into their Wednesday loss in Utah, which would have placed them eighth in the league.

Perhaps as impressive as anything on the Westbrook résumé is his minutesper game. He’s averaging only 35.2 minutes, which is nearly 10 fewer per game than Robertson did in 1961-62 -- in an era, remember, that featured nearly 30 extra possessions per outing -- and shows some real restraint from the Thunder.

Register all the concerns you want about the sustainability of one player sporting the first usage percentage in the 40s in NBA history. Or the fact that he’s quietly shooting only 40 percent from the field (and 29 percent from deep) in December.

No matter what holes in his case you want to pinpoint, Westbrook just had the sort of Trimester we’ve literally never seen before in 24 seasons of front-row NBA coverage.

He has to be the West’s MVP to date. No matter what happens from here.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers lug an eight-game losing streak into Friday's visit to Philadelphia. The Cinderella shine stemming from the Lakers' 10-10 start under rookie coach Luke Walton has quickly, sadly faded.

So ...

We face a tough choice here at Stein Line HQ as we hand out the season's first round of award grades.

Given L.A.'s current 29-win pace, Lou Williams is bound to have little shot at the real-life Sixth Man Award in the spring, which means we should think about downgrading him for our purposes here.

Or we can go the irresistible route: Reward Lou Will now when we have the chance.

His team's win total, like it or not, will probably do real damage to his vote total on actual award ballots come April.

Houston's Eric Gordon is a highly viable Sixth Man Award candidate from a team on a 60-win pace. Denver's Wilson Chandler and Memphis' Zach Randolph are two more standout sixth men through the opening third of the season, but Gordon is Williams' biggest problem at present.

Gordon came to the Houston Rockets with just 19 previous non-starts in a eight-season career. He has responded to his new role by averaging 17.0 points, shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range, draining at least three 3s in each of his past 11 games and rising to No. 2 in the NBA behind Golden State's Stephen Curry in 3-pointers made (99 to 93) despite playing 70 fewer minutes than Curry.

That's a lot to overcome.

Williams, though, has the requisite résumé. He's averaging 19.2 points in just 25.1 minutes per game, putting him on pace to become the first player to lead any NBA team in scoring without starting a single game since ... Lou Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011-12.

With a career-best Player Efficiency Rating of 24.3, Williams is on pace to record the highest PER for any shooting guard in history in his 12th season or later not named Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.
For now, though, Williams is first among sixth men in our eyes.

Gordon, in a word, has been great. Chandler is averaging career bests in points (17.2) and rebounds (7.3) in Denver. Z-Bo is threatening to join Clyde Lovellette (1958-59) as just the second player in league history to average at least 13 points and eight rebounds in fewer than 23 minutes of play nightly. And we haven't even mentioned the San Antonio Spurs' Patty Mills yet, which is a real slight given how much sharper Mills has been to start the season than Tony Parker.

For now, though, in our eyes, Williams is first among sixth men.

He recently ran up a spree of 137 points over a four-game stretch, which, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, had never been done since the league began recording starts and non-starts in the 1970-71 season.

Williams has never averaged better than 15.5 points in any prior season.

At 30, Lou Will looks better than ever.

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