January's Top 5 (01/27/16)

By Tom W. Brewer @Tom_W_Brewer
NBA - January's Top Five Headlines

January was a huge month in the NBA. HUGE. Like bigger than the Cloverfield monster super-glued atop Godzilla. Let's get to it.

1. Cleveland parts ways with head coach David Blatt

This is easily the biggest news of the month and, honestly, I'm not sure anything that happens from here to the end of the season is going to top it. The Cavaliers brass let go of the coach of the reigning conference champion, a guy with an 83-40 record that was about to coach the East in the All-Star game. The decision to fire Blatt came after the Cavs got stomped by the Golden State Warriors in Cleveland. In the wake of his ouster, the team promoted assistant coach Ty Lue to head coach and inked him to a three-year deal. As for David Blatt, well…

The Cavaliers' decision was stunning and unprecedented. Much of the controversy around the Blatt firing swirls around LeBron James' involvement in the decision or lack thereof. Depending on whose account you believe, his hands are either entirely clean and he was a mere bystander, or he pulled the trigger himself. We'll have to wait for the inevitable 30 for 30 to know the truth.

Let's move on to happier news, shall we?

2. All-Star Starters Announced

The people have spoken and selected their starters for the 2016 All-Star Game. Here's who will take the floor when the NBA's best get together in Toronto to play the world's most exciting pickup game:

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Kyle Lowry Stephen Curry
Dwyane Wade Russell Westbrook
LeBron James Kawhi Leonard
Paul George Kevin Durant
Carmelo Anthony Kobe Bryant

Without a true Center on either starting roster, it looks like the world has embraced small ball. I voted for Andre Drummond and Jimmy Butler over Melo and Wade in the East and Draymond Green over Kobe in the West, but these starting fives will make for a fun, up-and-down start to the game. Besides, an exhibition game is the perfect place to pay tribute to Kobe in his final season.

All-Star reserves will be announced tomorrow night before the Raptors/Knicks game.

3. Brooklyn cleans house

Brooklyn Nets owner/future Austin Powers villain Mikhail Prokhorov dismissed head coach Lionel Hollins and reassigned GM Billy King, whatever that means. Despite what you see in the above photo of that baller tea party, the Nets are a mess. They traded away several of their first round picks when they went into “win now” mode at the beginning of Prokhorov's reign, and the Joe Johnson contract looks worse every day. Their only trade assets are Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, the very players the Nets should build their team around. Taking on that locker room sounds as appealing as chewing glass, yet the Brooklyn job is rumored to be attractive to some accomplished coaches, including Tom Thibodeau and Mark Jackson. There was even talk the University of Kentucky coach John Calipari might take over in Brooklyn for a ten-year, $120 million deal and all the silver in Moscow. Since Prokhorov took over, the Nets haven't always been good, but they've never stopped being interesting. Can't wait to see what they do next.

Side note: This would have been much bigger news were it not for what happened in Cleveland. Even when it comes to surprise firings, Brooklyn can't compete with the best teams in the game.

4. The Warriors smoke the Spurs

Wouldn't you know, some NBA news about actual basketball? The Warriors trounced the Spurs in a meeting of Western Conference favorites, winning 120-90. The defending champs overwhelmed San Antonio with relentless offense and swarming defense. The Spurs were without Tim Duncan and you can't put it past Pop to be running some gambit wherein he tells his players to take their feet off the gas in the present to deliver a shock-and-awe campaign of ball movement and defensive rotation in the future. Anything's possible, but one thing's for certain: Golden State proved that they are the team to beat.

5. Everyone is injured

Just when the football season is coming to a close and sports fans have a lot of free time on their hands, they can hardly find an NBA player they recognize. Here's a depth chart of injured players who've missed time this week. Keep in mind, it's only Wednesday.

Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Center Power Forward
Eric Bledsoe Bradley Beal DeMarre Carroll Tim Duncan Blake Griffin
Goran Dragic Brandon Knight Rudy Gay Dwight Howard Carmelo Anthony
Jarrett Jack Nic Batum Kobe Bryant Jahlil Okafor Al Jefferson

Pretty good team, right? I had to move Al Jefferson and Carmelo Anthony to the 4 just to squeeze them in, and Jarrett Jack, Hassan Whiteside and Greivis Vasquez couldn't make the cut. Plus, this list makes no mention of Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Stephen Curry who missed time this month. This is bad news for a league so dependent on marketing its stars. All-Star weekend and a chance to rest can't come fast enough for these teams, and in the meantime, all the injuries have created some strange fantasy lineups. Hopefully, for the NBA's sake some of these guys return to action soon.

Ready for some oven-fresh playoff predictions? Glad to hear it, because we convened in a stealth submarine to simulate the rest of the NBA season 50,000 times. Division winners are bolded.

Eastern Conference
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
2. Toronto Raptors (53-29)
3. Atlanta Hawks (48-34)
4. Boston Celtics (47-35)
5. Chicago Bulls (45-37)
6. Indiana Pacers (44-38)
7. Miami Heat (44-38)
8. Detroit Pistons (44-38)

Biggest Change: Deeeeeeetroit BASKET-ball! Our simulations have the Pistons in the playoffs for the first time this season. Personally, I hope we get a few more games of Reggie Jackson's helter-skelter drives, Andre Drummond's paint dominance, and SVG's sideline grimaces. Who doesn't love seeing this?

Western Conference
1. Golden State Warriors (71-11)
2. San Antonio Spurs (69-13)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (57-25)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (50-32)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (44-38)
6. Dallas Mavericks (43-39)
7. Houston Rockets (41-41)
8. Sacramento Kings (39-43)

Biggest change: The Utah Jazz fall out of the postseason tournament to make way for the Houston Rockets. In a tight Western Conference race, the Rockets have propelled themselves into the playoffs by going 9-4 in the month of January.

January was a whirlwind in the NBA, and between the All-Star Game and the looming trade deadline, don't expect things to calm down in February.