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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

The Deal: At present, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported the Cleveland Cavaliers will trade Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Miami’s top-10 protected 2015 first round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. The deal cannot be made official until August 23 since that will be 30 days after Wiggins signed his rookie contract. We could also see some non-guaranteed contracts go to Minnesota to complete the trade and/or Anthony Bennett moving somewhere else in a deal that makes this a three-team trade.

The trade for Cleveland

While Kevin Love is not the best player in the league or even the best young player in the league, he was the best procurable player in the league for Cleveland. A Top-10 player right now at the age of 26, Love gives the Cavaliers a player who complements both LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in ways that will continue to grow with time and experience. Putting a monstrous pick-and-pop player with two of the better PNR ballhandlers in the entire league means the Cavs will be brutally hard to defend when even two of them share the floor and the full trio will be incredibly potent. Working in catch-and-shoot players like Mike Miller and potentially Ray Allen makes a ton of sense offensively and the Cavs should score as long as their current core sticks together.

Some may harp on Love’s defense, but they are operating from two mistaken ideas.

First, Kevin Love’s defense has gotten better. Even without playing with a rim protector at Center (a must for any team but even more essential for a team with Love), he did pretty well last season on that end. Many of us also underrate the importance of defensive rebounding in the overall equation since they actually end possessions. Love has been elite on the defensive boards his entire NBA career and sat fifth last season and third over the last three combined behind only Omer Asik and Dwight Howard.

On top of that, poor power forward defense can be more easily mitigated than other positions. We saw this with the Warriors and David Lee last season and numerous other franchises in recent years.

Unlike other recent superstar trades (notably Dwight Howard in 2012), the Cavaliers gave up quite a bit to acquire Love. Even though Wiggins was not the top player on my draft board (he was fourth) because his offensive game needs a ton of improvement that may never come, he should still be a massively useful NBA player with the maximum amount of team control in terms of years. Bennett could still be a contributor and would have fit nicely on this new-look Cavs team, something I talked about with Ian Levy on last week’s RealGM Radio podcast.

Despite the heavy price, the Cavaliers acquiring Love was a masterstroke because he is the best player they could have brought in at this time. Cleveland did not have the cap space to sign Love outright next summer and waiting carried more downside risk than some in the media have argued. Wiggins’ value has more shakiness than room to grow in the short term and another disappointing stretch from Bennett could have been disastrous for his standing in the league. More than any of that, making the trade now gives the Cavs a full training camp and season to see their core together. That time and development has real importance in a league where teams can take time to gel, especially with a creative new offensive coach in David Blatt who gets the full toolbox at the outset.

Grade for Cleveland: A- (upgraded to a straight A if Love signs a longer-term contract next summer)

The trade for Minnesota

While keepig Love long-term would have been the best case scenario for Minnesota, it certainly looked like that would not happen. Given that caveat, Flip Saunders maximized the value of his best player and got an excellent return.

Other than Nikola Mirotic, Andrew Wiggins was the best single piece available given Minnesota’s specific constraints. Bringing in a player with eight or more years of team control and four years of cost control makes a ton of sense for a franchise that has trouble bringing in quality players via free agency without horrendously overpaying them. Wiggins’ athleticism should allow him to become a quality defender early in his career with the potential to become even better on that end with the knowledge that comes from NBA experience. Even if he never becomes dominant offensively, Wiggins can look at Andre Iguodala as an example of how to become a pivotal player by maximizing his positives.

Bennett should be much better than what he showed on the court last season. As a draft prospect a little over a year ago, I saw a player with power forward size and a nice perimeter game that could keep more traditional fours off-balance. An uptempo system like Minnesota should run coupled with a rim protector in Gorgui Dieng should help the #1 overall selection in 2013 immensely. I fully expect Bennett to eventually become a rotation player, which definitely has value in the league even if his draft position may have led to higher expectations. Swapping him for a single year of Thaddeus Young would be a major mistake.

The pick from Miami should be in the low 20s, a nice sweetener in an already good trade for the Wolves. While the front office will actually have to hit on the pick, Minnesota has a fair chance at a rotation player with an outside shot at becoming a starter. In addition, making the Love trade during the summer should substantially improve Minnesota’s own selection and help them pick up an impact piece high in the lottery that fits with their new foundation.

Even though I would have preferred an offer built around Nikola Mirotic and either Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson, we have no idea if such an offer was ever actually on the table before or after the draft. Even so, Minnesota picked up two cost-controlled lottery tickets with the talent to make it along with a potentially useful selection from LeBron’s former team. I am also happy that Minnesota did not use Love to offload other contracts since that would have been a comparatively inferior use of his value than better young talent.

Grade for Minnesota: A

The non-trade for Golden State

While acquiring Love may have been close to a done deal for the Cavaliers once LeBron James chose to return, it certainly appears the Warriors had a window to get a trade completed before then. Saunders reportedly liked their pieces but Golden State just could not make it happen.

Whether that failure came from not wanting to include Klay Thompson, thinking they could play hardball by waiting Minnesota out, refusing to take on Kevin Martin’s contract or some combination of the three it was a massive mistake. The Warriors now have to add extensions for Thompson and Draymond Green to their books next season with large contracts owed to David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry. In fact, barring some catastrophic event, Thompson and Lee will make less in 2015-16 than Martin and Love. Two years after declining a trade for James Harden, the Warriors passed a second time on an elite young talent to pair with Stephen Curry.

While there certainly was a chance Love would not have committed to the Warriors even if the trade happened before LeBron decided, the Warriors had the benefit of limiting Love to only teams with cap space next summer. While the Knicks and Lakers are in major markets, a move would have forced Love to leave a clear-cut playoff team and possible title contender for less money on a worse team. Very few superstars have made that choice in recent times. Heck, if the team really thought Love was going to leave after the 2014-15 season they could have sent him to Cleveland at the deadline for a package similar to what they sent to Minnesota which would have been a substantial upgrade for the Warriors.

Daryl Morey, Major Markets & The Fierce Urgency Of Now

Some time soon, I desperately want to see Daryl Morey run one of the major market teams with an owner who buys into that kind of plan.

Their attitudes align well because one of the hallmarks of Morey’s time with the Rockets has been retooling without stripping the team all the way down al a former Rockets exec and current Philadelpia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie.

While the Rockets have had problems of their own this summer, we have seen the major market teams with cap space deliberately and intentionally hurt their own future to a shocking degree over the last thirteen months.

At the outset, I should note that the reason I focus on the major markets (defined as New York and Los Angeles for this piece) is that salary cap space has more value to them than other franchises. The low individual maximum salary changes the decision-making process for truly elite player and the current CBA has actually made it even more advantageous for the large metropolises because the best free agents will nearly always hit unrestricted free agency after their second contract.

Combine players hitting a truly open market right before their prime and the way the system works and it should be apparent why these franchises should focus on flexibility and asset accumulation. Add in the fact that those markets can also add quality players on short, cheap contracts like Andrei Kirilenko, Nick Young, Darren Collison and Jordan Farmar just in the last year and you have another way to build a deep team without messing up future cap flexibility.

Instead, what we have seen from the Lakers, Knicks and Nets in the last year-plus has flown in the face of that style of management. The prime example of this flawed mentality came when the Lakers extended Kobe Bryant before he returned from injury, keeping him the highest-paid player in the entire NBA until the summer he turns 38. While the sentimentality of the extension is nice, the Lakers have to balance honoring a franchise great with making their next championship team and they ensured that it will not happen in those two seasons.

While some knocked Kobe for taking the contract, that rancor should have been aimed on the people who offered it instead since they made Bryant the one who would actively have to sacrifice in order for his team to have a better chance at adding a star. Signing him to the contract before his return from injury also showed players and other GM’s alike that the Lakers prioritized keeping Kobe happy over winning in the short term, not exactly the right message to send.

The Knicks followed a similar path by offering and then signing Carmelo Anthony a contract close to his full max that no other team could come close to. While I wrote about this decision at length earlier this week, cap space has more value for the Knicks than any other team considering how far away the Lakers are from dominance and how far the Nets and Clippers are from having workable cap space.

Carmelo is a good player not too far past his prime but it will be a hard sell to get an offensive star like Kevin Love in 2015 or Kevin Durant in 2016 to commit to a team with a talented volume scorer who should be the highest-paid player in the NBA from then until his mid-thirties. While the likely increase in the salary cap with the new TV deal will help make Melo’s deal less burdensome, having clean books would have increased the chances of getting two or more of the top-20 players in the league to MSG.

Even though their books were already jammed because of the Joe Johnson trade, Billy King and the Nets sabotaged their future by trading a boatload of useful assets for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce has already left the team with only a second-round playoff appearance to show for it and Garnett likely has one year at most remaining in his illustrious career. What’s worse, Brooklyn has to pray that Deron Williams opts out of his insanely lucrative $22.33 million final season if they want to have the space to make a legitimate splash in the 2016 free agent class. We saw from Miami’s success that adding multiple stars at the same time can help lure a player less willing to leave his current team which almost definitely will be Kevin Durant’s attitude at that time.

In same ways most astonishingly, none of the Los Angeles or New York franchises have used the last year to accumulate any long-term assets. The closest any of them got was the Lakers scooping up a late first to take on Jeremy Lin’s final deal. The Nets have given up pieces to win now while the Clippers sold low on Eric Bledsoe to add short-term pieces not worthy of that kind of sacrifice. Each one of the major market teams owes a first round pick in one of the next two seasons with only the Lin pick coming back to any of the four in the same timeframe.

This all brings us back to Morey.

In general, he has done an excellent job avoiding the kinds of contractual pitfalls that have kneecapped the Lakers, Knicks and Nets in recent years. By largely giving out only max deals to worthy players and keeping the rest of the sheet remarkably clean in terms of bad contracts and long-term money, he maintained roster flexibility that made huge moves like trading for James Harden, signing Dwight Howard, and still having the space to add another max-level piece possible.

However, he made an interesting slip-up this summer with Chandler Parsons. Like many others, I assumed that he had a deal or understanding in place when the Rockets declined that super cheap player option, ideally with an understanding that included a discount because of the bargain basement salary Parsons would have had for the 14-15 season.

Instead, we saw the Rockets’ third-best player sign a three year offer sheet for his maximum salary with Dallas that forced their hand. While not identical to Carlos Boozer and the Cavs in 2004, that episode should have provided all the prologue Morey needed to maximize his offseason. If Parsons did not want to commit to the Rockets if they picked up his option, they could have picked it up and used him as a major asset either before or after deploying their cap space this summer. Even with that failure, the overall success of the Rockets can and should be part of the model New York and Los Angeles teams follow until they get their stars.

What ended up hurting Morey most in his swing for the fences was the fact that Houston did not check every single box for any of the major free agents. It was a good situation but not perfect enough to justify leaving for Bosh and not enough money for Carmelo. Putting those same signature clean books and ruthless accumulation of assets in a city players look to sign in even when their teams are shaky would provide one franchise the opportunity to line up a future dynasty before the new CBA changes the rules for player acquisition in 2017. Fortunately for the rest of the NBA, it looks like that will not happen in time.

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.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Upgrade Bench, Heat Save Money, Celtics Sell Low

The Warriors upgraded their bench with the addition of Joe Crawford and MarShon Brooks while not giving up any valued assets, while the Heat save a ton in luxury tax payments. The Celtics, however, may have sold low on both Crawford.

Grading The Deal: Bulls Trade Luol Deng To Cavaliers

The Bulls are effectively writing off a run at the playoffs for financial savings, an improved pick of their own and an additional first rounder, while the Cavaliers continue to go all-in at exactly the wrong time.

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