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Why Anthony Davis Will Be The NBA's Golden Ticket

After a few years of adjustments and development, we are finally seeing the world created by the newest NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. The combination of shorter contracts and rare non-rookie extensions have pushed the league closer to a year-round spectacle than ever before with early July taking a much greater place in the overall future of the NBA.

Underneath all those other machinations, we have also seen another major development that hopefully changes in the near term: the league has very few elite players on rookie contracts. While talents like Kyrie Irving (also soon to be off his rookie deal with his extension kicking in beginning in 15-16) and Andre Drummond possess the ability to make the leap into superstardom, we will have to wait to see it on the court.

We have already seen the best player in the world change teams twice as an unrestricted free agent and All-Stars like Dwight Howard use the opportunity presented by their first shot at true NBA freedom to change addresses. In the next few years, young stars including Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook will have similar opportunities for the first time in their careers.

Miami’s “Big Three” and the events of the past few seasons have taught the league to understand and prepare for the unpredictability this can present. The Rockets, Lakers and others rejected near-term improvements this summer to preserve their long-term flexibility with a clear justification for doing so.

The past few wild Julys have been fun but are only the appetizers for the true main courses in 2016 and 2017. While the pool of teams gunning for the best players has deepened with shorter contracts and a few more salary-conscious owners, the NBA’s massive new television deal will open up the competition even if the league chooses to use “smoothing” to ease into the higher cap figures. Even with smoothing we should see teams have more flexibility on the aggregate than any time recently with lots of high-end players who can choose to move and existing contracts that become easier to trade for the same reasons.

Amidst all the chaos, only one team has the true golden ticket: a young elite player that they can say with certainty will be there throughout this tumultuous time.

That team is the New Orleans Pelicans because they have Anthony Davis.

After a season where his team missed the playoffs and he barely made the All-Star team, it feels like Davis’ amazing accomplishments flew somewhat under the radar. In terms of Win Shares / 48 and PER, Anthony Davis has had the best age 19 season AND the best age 20 season in the history of the NBA. Despite missing fifteen games in 2013-14, Davis put up the 13th most Win Shares of any season for a player age 21 or younger ever, with only LeBron James and Magic Johnson posting a better total in their age 20 year (both with at least ten more games played).

This insanely high quality of play for someone so young gets even more ridiculous with the fact that Anthony Davis will be paid almost half as much in the next two seasons combined as Kevin Durant and LeBron will each make per season and New Orleans can match any offer at the lower maximum salary for the least experienced players in 2016 if they are silly enough to wait that long.

While some may see this as a future selling point, I think New Orleans should start incorporating into their team vision and pitches as soon as possible.  LeBron and Dwight Howard have shown players around the league that they simply cannot rely on the assumption that the best players in the league will choose to stick around when they hit unrestricted free agency. This reality combined with shorter contracts leave very few sure things around the league unless players are in the same class and coordinate.

Even though last summer’s big additions Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans will still be under contract, I look at 2016 as the first major opportunity for the Pelicans to grab a big fish. The free agent class looks strong right now and since major power forward talents like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge will almost certainly already be on new contracts, it takes some potential options for team-ups off the table.

While Durant will presumably stand as the most desirable teammate out there two years from now, the Thunder would still have Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka on major contracts so the Oklahoma City brass could be ecstatic that the cap increases would allow them to keep their core, but not augment it beyond locking up players like Reggie Jackson that are already on roster.

If that scenario occurs, New Orleans gets to woo elite players with the opportunity to play with a star just getting into his prime in a city that works as an asset for NBA players. They will be competing with the major markets until the Knicks and Lakers exhaust their flexibility but having a golden ticket makes the Pelicans an under the radar team to watch for Stephen Curry in 2017 as well, particularly since that season marks the expiration of Holiday and Evans' lucrative contracts and an amazing chance at bring a third star to the Big Easy.

We can be sure that other players still on their rookie deals will break out over the next few seasons but New Orleans should make sure to maximize their temporarily unique opportunity.

Breaking Down Protection Of 2015 NBA Draft Traded Picks

While the concept of tanking gets plenty of ink in NBA circles, the league has a more specific problem in that vicinity due to the rules concerning pick protection. While the Sixers may be an example of a team just not choosing to re-build quickly, very strong and narrow incentives can have a greater impact on competitive balance. As an example, I covered the Golden State Warriors in 2011-12 when they only retained their pick if it fell in the top seven. Once their unreasonable playoff dream died the team did what they could to keep their selection including shelving their top players ahead of time.

I wanted to take the time to go through RealGM’s excellent pick protection page and detail the potential first round pick protection issues that could rear their head this season, ranked in order of overall impact (likelihood and significance, basically). While pick swaps can change the way teams play since it eliminates the benefit of excessive losing, I chose not to include them since playing with an indifference to losing works very differently than the incentives for teams like the 2011-12 Warriors.

- Cleveland Cavaliers: Do not swap their pick with the Chicago Bulls if 1-14 (otherwise Chicago can choose to swap): While prohibitively unlikely with the best talent in their conference, the wheels falling off the Cavs train for this year due to several injuries could force a fascinating choice since falling to the 9th or 10th place spot in the East would lead to retaining a much better choice than a low seed in the post-season. Unlikely but compelling scenario.

- Houston Rockets: Retain their first rounder if 1-14 (otherwise it goes to the Los Angeles Lakers): The Rockets got lottery protection on the pick they sent to the Lakers in exchange for L.A. taking on the final season of Jeremy Lin’s contract, but it would be hard to imagine that the team would choose missing the playoffs over making them. The protection works more as a silver lining in this specific circumstance.

- Memphis Grizzlies: Retain their first rounder if 1-5 or 15-30 (otherwise it goes to Cleveland): In January 2013, the Grizzlies sent this protected pick to the Cavs as a sweetener to take on enough salary to get Memphis under the luxury tax. It has the top and bottom protection for this season and next then becomes a more traditional 1-5 protected in 2017 and 2018 if not conveyed by then. In this case, I would expect the restrictions to actually serve as a double punishment for the Grizzlies since it would take a ton to get their pick into the top five. The Grizzlies have plenty of incentive greater than this pick to make the playoffs again.

- New Orleans Pelicans: Retain their first rounder if 1-3 or 20-30 (otherwise it goes to Houston): As long as Anthony Davis stays reasonably healthy, this one should follow the same path as Memphis’ choice where the team is too good to have their pick fall on the top end and would not prioritize keeping the pick over making the playoffs or playoff seeding. The Pelicans’ pick becomes a little more dynamic because of the 20-30 protection rather than the 15-30 playoff team protection- it could turn out that New Orleans wanting to duck a specific first round opponent (the other major impetus for the truly harmful tanking) could coincide with this incentive considering the strength of the Western Conference.

- Philadelphia 76ers: Retain their first rounder if 1-14 (otherwise it goes to the Boston Celtics): While it looks like a foregone conclusion at this point, losing a first round pick by making the playoffs this year and replacing it with two second round picks did create a clear incentive for the Sixers to avoid making a push this season. Probably not a major factor in what happened but likely a consideration.

- Miami Heat: Retain their first rounder if 1-10 (otherwise it goes to Philadelphia): Astonishingly, LeBron James affected this pick two separate times as it was originally compensation to the Cavaliers as a part of the sign and trade that brought him to South Beach and the Cavs sent it to Philadelphia as a key piece of the Kevin Love trade when LeBron returned. Having only top 10 instead of top 14 protection likely does not matter much here as the “best” non-playoff teams in the East have been very close to top-10 picks due to the quality disparity between the two conferences. In what would have to be close to a worst case scenario for the Heat, the team could have a huge reason to lose their last few games if they get knocked out of post-season contention late in the year.

- Minnesota Timberwolves: Retain their first rounder if 1-12 (otherwise it goes to Phoenix): We have already done this dance and could be doing it again this year depending on how the Wolves fare with their interesting roster. While most expect Minnesota to take a step back from the 14th-worst record last year (and #13 pick), this protection could be a factor late in the 2014-15 season if Minnesota has a better than expected year but still falls outside of the stacked top eight in the West.

- Sacramento Kings: Retain their first rounder if 1-10 (otherwise it goes to Chicago): If the Kings fall out of the playoff picture, I am fully confident they will make sure they retain this selection and hope to do better the following season. This pick has top-ten protection for three more seasons and then becomes a second rounder in 2017, so we could see the same general path as last year happen up to three more times depending on how Sacramento progresses.

- Lakers: Retain their first rounder if 1-5 (otherwise it goes to the Phoenix Suns): The biggest protection issue going into the season by far. After striking out on the impact free agents this summer, the Lakers look to be out of the playoff picture for the 2014-15 season and thus have a clear incentive to keep their own lottery pick. This pressure gets even stronger if they have the belief that the Summer of 2015 will be more fruitful since they would be adding a better young piece and sending away a worse pick in 2016. The dueling pressures of winning in one of Kobe Bryant’s last seasons and adding a key piece for their future will be a major storyline to watch all year.

15 Most Anticipated Games Of 14-15 NBA Season

The release of the NBA schedule lets us put some dates on some of the more compelling matchups that will take place during the 2014-15 regular season. These are the 15 that I am most looking forward to (no repeats allowed): 

Knicks @ Cavs (October 30): The easiest call on the list. LeBron James returning to Cleveland will be the story of the season until the Cavaliers' season ends and possibly even after that.

Thunder @ Clippers (October 30): While maybe more symbolic than anything else in a season where the team has to deal with a hard cap, the first game for the Los Angeles Clippers without a certain former owner who will remain nameless holds great importance for the franchise and the league as a whole.

Kings @ Suns (November 7): Isaiah Thomas has been an amazing success story who ended up being basically cast aside by his former team and replaced by a guy he should be able to torch. I am already excited for this one.

Hornets @ Pacers (November 19): This lost more than a little luster with Paul George’s injury but still brings the intrigue, especially if the Hornets have a better record a little less than a month in.

Mavericks @ Rockets (November 22): While I am not sure a player gets a revenge game against a team that did him a huge favor by declining a cheap team option, it will still be fun to see former role player Chandler Parsons battle stars Dwight Howard and James Harden.

Cavs @ Thunder (December 11): Despite being early in the season, this has to be the front-runner for the loudest MVP chants of the year. Oh yeah, Durant vs. LeBron too.

Thunder @ Warriors (December 18): Despite not facing each other after mid-January, these teams played two of the best games of last season and a Thursday tilt on TNT just a week before Christmas could continue the streak.

Trail Blazers @ Rockets (December 22): Damian Lillard and the Blazers’ first game in Houston since the most memorable shot of the playoffs.

Cavs @ Heat (December 25): Even though it should not be anything too groundbreaking, LeBron’s first game against the franchise he won two titles with merits inclusion.

Warriors @ Clippers (December 25): While not nearly as vicious as rivalries in decades past, these two teams legitimately do not like each other. It will also be a nice test of how the Warriors will be different under new coach Steve Kerr.

Timberwolves @ Bucks (January 9): A game that should have been on Opening Night pits two of the more entertaining young cores in the league featuring the top two picks in this year’s stacked draft in Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Cavs @ Warriors (January 9): You heard it here first: If healthy, Kevin Love drops 40+ in this game.

Thunder @ Wizards (January 21): I bet this makes a whole bunch of people in Oklahoma sick to their stomachs. Get ready, folks.

Cavs @ Bulls (February 12): The two best teams in the East playing after a few months to gel.

Spurs @ Pelicans (April 15): In what could be a beautiful touch, the best Power Forward of all time finishes what could be his final regular season against the current player most likely to eventually take that crown.

Grading The Deal: Cavaliers Trade For Kevin Love

Kevin Love was the best procurable player in the NBA for the Cavaliers, a top-10 talent at the age of 26 who will excellently complement LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

Daryl Morey, Major Markets & The Fierce Urgency Of Now

Daryl Morey and the Rockets created a good but not perfect enough situation to lure Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. His strategy of flexibility and asset accumulation would work in one of the NBA's major markets.

Grading The Deal: Carmelo Decides To Stay With New York

The presence of Carmelo Anthony is unlikely to bring a star from the younger generation to the Knicks. Despite his status as a famous and talented player, a franchise in a massive market should have understood the gigantic advantages given to them in the current CBA and aimed higher to build a championship foundation.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Sign Shaun Livingston

In signing Shaun Livingston, the Warriors fixed their single largest flaw from last season with a player who makes complete sense with their best player.

Leroux's 2014 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down which teams had Great, Good, Enh and Bad drafts with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid going in the top-3.

The Tough Trade-Off

Specialists have recently had a bigger role in the NBA. An underlying factor behind these shifts could end up coming to the forefront with the 2014 draft class: the player’s impact has to be high enough to justify coaches and other players working around their flaws.

Why The Warriors Should Trade For Kevin Love This Summer

The Warriors stand out in the Kevin Love derby because they possess the pieces to make a move without sabotaging their present or future, while also fitting his strengths and weaknesses with their remaining roster.

The Kevin Love Q+A

While working through the many twists and turns related to Kevin Love reportedly being on the market for the first time, it made sense to put together an article formatted as a Q+A to address some of the bigger questions and misconceptions surrounding what has and will go on.

Lottery Lowdown (Late-May Edition)

With the lottery out of the way, we can begin to examine which teams represent good and bad fits for the teams in a position to draft them.

Counterpunching: How The Warriors Are Losing The Series

The Clippers are clearly the better team and more often play at their ceiling, but there are several adjustments Mark Jackson could make to gain a serious edge.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.

The Third Contract

Most players have very little control over their destination for their first two NBA contracts, but the third contract creates a complete shift in power dynamics.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Trade For Steve Blake

The Warriors may have corrected their single biggest overall roster flaw for the rest of the season by trading for Steve Blake, while the Lakers get closer to avoiding the luxury tax.

Notes Ahead Of A Unique Deadline

This deadline will be both a little less active and maybe a little more interesting due to the strange alignment of teams with assets and teams with desire for them so the traditional pieces may not be the best fit.

An Open Letter To NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

Congratulations on the new job- it should continue to be one of the most important and rewarding jobs in the entire sports world for your entire tenure. While your predecessor did some remarkable work expanding the reach of the NBA, he also left some pivotal challenges for the league to address in the near term.

Constructing Better Golden State Rotations

The Warriors have a championship caliber core of players and a deeper rotation than we have seen because of how players have been used. A more cohesive and logical series of substitutions would make the team even more dangerous both now and in the playoffs.

Three Critical Days In December 2011

Considering how much has happened for the Warriors over the past 24 months, December of 2011 seems like an awfully long time ago when they signed DeAndre Jordan to an offer sheet, amnestied Charlie Bell and waived Jeremy Lin.

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