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Top-5 Non-National Teams For 14-15

While we are still about a few weeks away from regular season NBA basketball, it seems like a fair time to start thinking about the teams and storylines that could dominate the landscape for the upcoming season. After years of writing the Non-National Games of the Week column for RealGM, I have a sense of what teams will be on my NNGW radar to start the year. My non-national teams have to have entertainment value on a game to game basis and fascinating pieces in the form of young talent or new additions. Each of these squads fits that bill and there were a few tough omissions as well.

While I have removed teams with heavy national profiles from consideration for this column in other years, I made every team eligible this season and none of the chosen six play even thirty games on ESPN/ABC, TNT and NBATV.

Honorable Mention. Philadelphia 76ers: They will be absolutely terrible but Nerlens Noel made enough plays in Summer League to make Philly the early leader for my first quarter Eastern Time Zone team.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Unlike the Sixers, most of Minnesota’s fun young players should get at least some playing time this season and the team should be somewhat competitive. Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng have larger roles to play, but both Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine should get enough burn to make the Wolves worth paying attention to. Plus, any team with Ricky Rubio gets my attention, at least for now.

4. Phoenix Suns: The Suns came out of nowhere and ended up being my favorite League Pass team on the aggregate last season. They were fun to watch and played games of importance despite eventually missing the playoffs. While there are numerous factors which may lead to a more deflating campaign, Jeff Hornacek’s squad deserves this spot based on their large overall continuity.

3. Golden State Warriors: After deciding to keep their roster largely together despite some compelling offers that I am still not over, the Warriors did change their head coach and should have a much more effective and engaging offense to show for it. I also hope we get to see more of Draymond Green playing with Stephen Curry as well as a potential rejuvenation for Harrison Barnes after a wholly disappointing sophomore season.

2. New Orleans Pelicans: An absolutely huge test year for Anthony Davis. The Brow got muscle behind him in the form of one of the best defensive Centers in the entire league in Omer Asik. The full-strength Pelicans will be intensely fun to watch and give us a much better idea of what the next few seasons in New Orleans will look like. Plus, the three-headed PF/C monster of Davis, Asik, and Ryan Anderson causes matchup problems in each iteration and we may also see some minutes with all three sharing the court, which could lead to my favorite potential situation of the entire 14-15 season: Anthony Davis guarding Small Forwards. If Monty Williams puts Davis on Kevin Durant for 5+ minutes during some game, it would be must-see TV for basketball fans.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Amazingly, the Cavs get the #1 spot on this list for a second year in a row. Let’s hope it turns out better for them this time around. This year’s Cavaliers are the great experiment of this NBA season because their three best players were all better offensively than defensively last year and their only true rim protector on the roster has quite the injury history. Add in the intrigue relating to who starts at shooting guard and figuring out the SF/PF rotation and you have a team worth watching in both big and small moments.

On Paul George, Non-NBA Basketball And Player Safety

When something like Paul George’s horrendous injury happens, some rush to judgement and have a desire for resolution or grandiose statements about what it could mean. I will refrain from all of that.

Paul George suffering a freak injury during a televised scrimmage does not change the likelihood of something like that happening in a similar event or in some other basketball activity moving forward. It just raises awareness of that possibility and potentially could actually lead to some positive changes in terms of on-court player safety.

Those who try to make analogies to the World Cup are trying to make fetch happen. For a large proportion of American players, international basketball and the FIBA World Cup just are not the most important parts of the hoops universe for them. That is their right and it would be fine if some or all players embraced playing for their country like so many other athletes in other sports. In the interim, the solution should be readily apparent even if some are uncomfortable with holding back on their hot takes.

The endgame in terms of international basketball is shockingly simple: celebrate those who choose to participate without vilifying those who choose not to. We have seen the potentially huge benefits of these events and more importantly the practices and everything else that go into them at various points in recent time from the legendary Dream Team practices to the rumored birth of the Heatles to increases in confidence for future MVPs Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. If an individual wants to take advantage of some or all of that, awesome. Put them on a Wheaties box and show how much we appreciate them doing so. All it takes is losing the potshots taken publically and privately against those who make a different choice. While I wish players like Kevin Love made their decisions earlier because of how a late pullout affects a national team, each person has the right to act in their own self-interest.

We will inevitably see some argue that professionals should not play internationally or that teams should be able to hold their players out. Limiting the field to one subset of individuals takes away some players’ ability to grow from the experience unnecessarily. Team USA creating a pool of talent can work beautifully here as they can just create a group of the best players who are interested in representing their country and work with who shows up regardless of where they play at any given moment. The United States has the good fortune of having enough elite talent to succeed without shaming those who turn the opportunity down for whatever reason.

The one concrete change I would like to see coming out of this incident is one many of us in the media have railed on for years: get everyone back off the baselines. As someone who has covered the Warriors with a press credential for five seasons, it has become a sadly common occurrence for there to be some sort of incident that inspires this reaction like a turned ankle or rougher than necessary fall. Sadly, my experience leads me to believe that the reason the stanchion and photographers are as close as they continue to be is not because it helps lead to a better product in any way, shape or form. Rather, those people and devices have to be closer to the action than the fans who sit directly behind them and teams want to maximize their revenue from those lucrative seats. At this point, enough is enough and it is time for a change. Move everything back and design future arenas with this understanding if teams want to maintain their current seat totals. The league has already had enough major wins in CBA negotiations to make profitability a far more likely result and should immediately take this small but useful step to eliminate the most preventable kind of player injury.

Obviously this injury carries major impacts for the Indiana Pacers and most importantly Paul George himself. Once we have a clearer idea of the exact injury and a recovery timetable, those topics can and will receive plenty of attention. For right now, I wish Paul George the absolute best while hoping for a full and complete recovery.

Ben Gordon And Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Earlier this month, the Orlando Magic decided to give Ben Gordon a two-year deal worth $9 million. While there are many surprising things about cashing out a player who got cut by a playoff team that desperately needed production at his position, some of the more interesting ones come from the reportedly non-guaranteed second year of the contract.

One of the currently in vogue CBA tricks that has become more prominent this league year, non-guaranteed contracts carry a few fun benefits teams can use to their advantage. Mark Deeks wrote a great piece on how this can happen if you want to read more in-depth, but the general concept is that non-guaranteed contracts do not necessarily require teams to decide on a player’s next season before June 30 like team options and also can be used as true cap filler to make a trade work under league rules without the receiving team having to actually pay any money to those players should they prefer that.

Think about the Celtics and Keith Bogans- even though he was necessary flotsam in the huge and successful trade with Brooklyn last summer, Boston actually had to pay him millions of dollars during the 2013-14 season.

This summer, the New Orleans Pelicans ran into trouble clearing the necessary cap space to acquire Omer Asik so they ended up picking up enough non-guaranteed contracts to fulfill trade rules. Simply having those contracts in existence creates potential value for the league, at least under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. In fact, we could very well see non-guaranteed contracts play a major role in a Kevin Love trade since Minnesota appears to desire unloaded additional contractual baggage in the trade that sends away their best player. Cleveland already acquired three from Utah, giving up Carrick Felix and a second round pick to do so.

While these recent examples show the potential utility of a deal like Ben Gordon’s, the particulars of Orlando’s cap situation substantially diminish his usefulness to the team that just overpaid him. While non-guaranteed contracts help make trades happen, cap space works even better if available because it has no strings attached. I liken this to having a $20 gift card or just having $20- while both are nice, having less limitations in terms of how to spend the money makes the cash more desirable. At this point it looks like Orlando will have plenty of cap space next summer. Their astonishing $14.2 million on the cap this season for players not on their team anymore (Glen Davis, Al Harrington, Jameer Nelson and Anthony Randolph) means that it would take major pay raises from the guys currently on the team to change that reality and factoring in the cap holds for Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris who are on the last year of their rookie deals they should still have close to max room. That means the Magic are unlikely to be in the ideal situation to maximize a non-guaranteed contract.

Fortunately for Orlando, the non-guaranteed year will still have value to other teams. We just saw the Jazz (a team with cap space) pick up a player and a pick in a similar situation so the Magic can hope for that kind of a return. Something to consider though is that the most useful spot for non-guaranteed deals is when teams are butting up against the salary cap so their trade partner might need to give up some actual salary to make a trade work. It presumably would be worth the cost but another factor that affects the net value of a potential transaction.

We will have to wait almost a year to see what happens here but it should be fun to track the value of an asset that has far more usefulness to other teams.

On Warriors' Big 3 Possibility In 2016

With Stephen Curry on a below-market contract, the Warriors could comfortably sign a second max contract player in 2016, or even a third if they deal for Kevin Love.

The Human Element

The best players in the sport have transitioned from supermen to businessmen to being a business, man, at the same time the league as a whole transitioned from family owned teams to major enterprises. Like it or not, this NBA should be around for a long, long time.

The Law Of Small Numbers

While taking a quick glance at the market for Kevin Love around draft day could have led to confidence for the Warriors, any concept that letting the string play out would be to their advantage would be deeply misguided.

Why Sign-And-Trades Sometimes Aren't Possible For The Incumbent Team

Teams on the giving end of potential sign-and-trades rarely are unable to participate, but the Nets were unable to with Shaun Livingston's deal with the Warriors.

The Depth Of The 2014 NBA Draft

We could see as many as 15 solid starters from the 2014 NBA Draft with an impressive number of solid rotation players behind them.

The Third Way

While a drastic path like stripping enough cap space to sign two max contract players to join Stephen Curry would be possible, it also carries gigantic downside risk since the Warriors are already a good team.

The Updated Stepien List

While daunting at first, the Stepien Rule boils down to one thing: an NBA team cannot be without a first round pick for two consecutive years looking forward and completed drafts do not matter.

Previewing The Warriors' Offseason Cap Situation

Now that the Warriors’ season is over, we can start to figure out what the offseason could hold in terms of on-court personnel. Having a clear understanding of the starting point for the summer makes a huge difference, especially given the NBA’s soft salary cap system.

On Mark Jackson's Future With The Warriors

Even if Mark Jackson stands as the greatest limiting factor on this Golden State team, Warriors' front office should understand and appreciate both how lucky that makes them and how insanely difficult that can be to improve.

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Apr. 7-Apr. 13)

Despite the huge stakes of the final full week of the regular season, the non-national slate looks pretty weak at the outset though Warriors/Blazers on Sunday will have the 5th seed on the line.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 31-Apr. 6)

A simply excellent week of non-national games with important tilts almost every night. This also could be the last week of feisty spoiler performances for a few teams that could…let’s say “reassess their priorities” as the lottery picture clears up.

The Utter Nightmare Of Minnesota's 2011 Draft

A bad draft can happen in a variety of ways: poor selections, bad trades, or taking options off the table for no reason. All three hit David Kahn and the Wolves at the same time.

Proposing A New Playoff System

The top 16 regardless of division or conference make it into the playoffs and then the top seeds are given the choice of their opponent from the bottom-eight clubs.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 24-Mar. 30)

With a little less than a month left in the regular season, we are looking at a stretch run with intrigue all over the standings. Each conference has two teams at the top and groupings in the middle and bottom of the playoff picture while the ping pong balls hang in the balance.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 17-Mar. 23)

This week features a few games that will go a long way towards figuring out the playoff seeding as well as a few that could swing the ping pong balls. Naturally, there will be other basketball competing for your time as well.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 10-Mar. 16)

In a quality stretch with important games at the top and bottom of the standings, we have something truly unusual in NNGW this week: a team listed four times.

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