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NBA PM: 10 Centers the Cavaliers Should Target

Which big men should the Cleveland Cavaliers target in trades and free agency? Here are 10 options.

Alex Kennedy

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Since the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been searching for a big man. The team realized early on that they needed to add an interior presence and general manager David Griffin and his staff have been working the phones ever since.

Cleveland’s big men have left a lot to be desired, as the Cavs rank 26th in rebounds per game, 22nd in blocks per game and 22nd in overall defense. Teams often dominate the glass and get easy baskets in the paint against Cleveland, and the team’s frontcourt just got even weaker now that Anderson Varejao has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

What options do the Cavaliers have as they look to add a rim protector? Here are 10 big men whom Cleveland should target:

Brandan Wright, Boston Celtics – The Boston Celtics just acquired Wright as part of the Rajon Rondo trade with the Dallas Mavericks, but reports have suggested that the 27-year-old big man could be dealt again before the February 19 trade deadline. The Cavaliers have already expressed interest in Wright, according to reports, and he would seemingly be a perfect fit for them. Wright is a good interior defender, averaging 1.4 blocks in 17.7 minutes, and he leads the league in individual defensive rating. He also thrives in the pick-and-roll and is one of the most efficient players in the NBA, shooting an NBA-best 73.2 percent from the field to average 8.2 points per game. Boston is loaded with frontcourt players, which makes Wright somewhat expendable, and it seems that they’re open to flipping the veteran big man to acquire other assets that would help them rebuild. Wright is making $5 million this season, so his salary would fit into Cleveland’s $5.2 million traded player exception.

Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets – The Cavaliers, and other teams, have reportedly been trying to pry Mozgov away from the Nuggets for some time now. He has proven to be a starting-caliber center, averaging nine points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26 minutes per game. Because Denver has a number of quality big men (including JaVale McGee, Jusuf Nurkic and J.J. Hickson), it’s possible that they would consider moving Mozgov if the right offer presented itself. They have previously rejected overtures for Mozgov, but that could change, especially if the Nuggets continue to struggle and sit outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. The 28-year-old Mozgov, who is 7’1, would be an excellent solution for the Cavaliers’ interior issues and it seems he is one of their top targets at the moment.

Kosta Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies – Koufos is another player who has been linked to the Cavaliers throughout this season. He would be a perfect rim protector for Cleveland, as he averages 4.2 rebounds and one block despite playing only 15.1 minutes per game on the Grizzlies. He averages 3.3 blocks per 48 minutes, which ranks 10th in the NBA. Because he plays behind Marc Gasol, Koufos’ minutes are limited in Memphis, and his camp has reportedly voiced their displeasure with his diminished role. They would likely be open to a trade to Cleveland since it would allow Koufos to play more minutes and shine on a national stage in a contract year. At only 25 years old, it’s possible that Koufos’ best basketball may still be ahead of him and an increased role could allow him to take his game to another level. Koufos is making just $3 million this season so he’s an excellent bargain and would fit into Cleveland’s $5.2 million TPE. While the Cavs would love to acquire Koufos, Memphis hasn’t shown a willingness to part ways with him, as he’s the only backup center on their roster and there’s really no reason for them make any drastic changes considering they’re one of the best teams in the NBA.

Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers – With the Lakers struggling and sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, many executives will be calling Mitch Kupchak in an attempt to steal away some of his veteran contributors. Moving some of their best players, like Hill, could make sense for the Lakers in the long run as they need to land a top-five pick in order to keep their lottery selection, otherwise it’ll go to the Phoenix Suns due to the Steve Nash trade. While the organization has insisted that they won’t tank, trading away veterans for picks and prospects would seemingly be best for the franchise since they’re rebuilding. Hill is an attractive asset, as he’s having the best year of his career. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and one block – all of which are career-highs. He has been one of the few bright spots for the Lakers this season and many teams will likely be calling to express interest in the big man, who has a $9 million team option on his contract for next season. He’d be a very good pick up for Cleveland. Fellow Lakers big man Ed Davis could be an option as well, since he can test free agency this summer by opting out of his bargain contract. L.A. may trade Davis rather than risk losing him for nothing in the offseason. The Lakers just claimed center Tarik Black off of waivers, so they have plenty of big men and just may be willing to part ways with one of them.

Emeka Okafor, Free Agent – The only reason Okafor isn’t already on an NBA roster is because he is still recovering from a herniated disc in his back. There have been quite a few teams expressing interest in Okafor’s services, but he’s still recovering. However, some reports have indicated that he could be ready to play sometime in January, so he could emerge as a serious candidate to join the Cavs at that time. Other teams will likely call too, but few will be able to offer the significant role and chance to contend that Cleveland can. Okafor is a very good rim protector who has been a starting-caliber big man throughout his career. He has never averaged less than a block per game in any of his nine NBA seasons, and he last averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and one block during his stint with the Washington Wizards in 2012-13. Okafor would make a lot of sense for Cleveland since he’s the type of big man they’re searching for, and they wouldn’t have to part ways with any assets since they could sign him outright.

Jermaine O’Neal, Free Agent – If Okafor isn’t healthy or chooses to sign elsewhere, O’Neal could be an option for the Cavs. He hasn’t decided if he’s going to play this season, but many people around the NBA expect him to sign with a team and suit up for one final season. He has said that he’ll choose one way or the other in early January, so an announcement is likely coming from him very soon. O’Neal obviously has a lot of wear and tear on his body after playing 18 seasons in the NBA, but he has held up pretty well. After a rough two-year stint with the Boston Celtics in which he struggled, O’Neal bounced back with two solid seasons – one with the Phoenix Suns and one with the Golden State Warriors. O’Neal is a solid rebounder and interior defender, and when pressed into the starting lineup due to injuries last year in Golden State, he came through by averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. He’s obviously not a long-term solution for Cleveland, but he could help them this year. Some reports have indicated that O’Neal is leaning toward signing with the Dallas Mavericks, which could rule him out as an option for Cleveland.

Samuel Dalembert, New York Knicks – The possibility of Dalembert landing in Cleveland was recently tweeted by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. He said that if all of their other options fall through, Dalembert is available and could be a last resort for the Cavs. The 33-year-old is averaging four points, 5.3 rebounds an 1.3 blocks in 17 minutes for New York this season. While he’s not the most productive big man, he does rebound and block shots, which is all Cleveland really needs from their center. It’s worth noting that Dalembert is making $4,051,527 this season, so the Cavs could acquire him using their $5.2 million TPE. With New York struggling and sitting at the bottom of the standings, it’s possible that they’ll look to trade away some of their veterans in order to acquire assets that will help them rebuild.

Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets – Biyombo is the youngest and rawest player on this list, but he could be an interesting option for Cleveland. The 22-year-old was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Instead, he has settled into a role as a reserve center for Charlotte, playing limited minutes behind Al Jefferson over the last two seasons. Still, he’s a solid shot blocker, averaging 1.3 blocks in 14.2 minutes and never averaging below 1.1 blocks in a season during his four-year career. He is second in the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes (4.24) and he would likely be one of the better shot-blockers in the league if given more minutes (and if he learns to limit his fouls). He’s not skilled on the offensive end and can’t do much aside from block shots, but that’s the main thing Cleveland needs since they don’t have a rim protector on their roster. Also, Biyombo could becomes a long-term answer for Cleveland as he continues to develop. It remains to be seen if Charlotte would part ways with Biyombo, but they have reportedly been active in trade discussions as they look for ways to shake up their roster to salvage their season after a rough start. Moving Biyombo for a veteran who could help them win now may interest them. Biyombo also fits into Cleveland’s $5.2 million TPE since he’s making just $3,873,398 this season. This wouldn’t be as ideal as acquiring a veteran like Mozgov or Koufos who’s already fully developed, but it could be an option if those players aren’t obtainable.

Jeff Withey, New Orleans Pelicans – Withey hasn’t played much since being drafted by the Pelicans in the second round of last year’s draft, but he’s a 24-year-old rim protector who could be available. Withey is barely playing for New Orleans this season, appearing in just 17 games and averaging 6.7 minutes since he’s buried on the depth chart behind veterans Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, but that just means it’d be relatively easy to pry him from the Pelicans. Unlike most second-year players, Withey is ready to contribute right now since he spent four years in college, where he emerged as one of the best big men in the nation while at Kansas. Remember, as a senior he averaged 3.9 blocks per game and was named the National Defensive Player of the Year. Last year when he got the chance to start four games for New Orleans, he averaged 2.8 blocks. Many NBA fans have no idea who Withey is, but a move to Cleveland could give him the chance to display his skills and he could be exactly what the Cavaliers are looking for from their center. Withey is the cheapest option on this list, making just $816,482 this season.

Willie Reed, Grand Rapids Drive – Reed is the lone D-League player on this list, but he warrants a mention since he has been one of the top centers in that league this season. The 24-year-old has significantly improved the Grand Rapids Drive since joining the team and he has filled the stat sheet, averaging 12.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He has been incredibly efficient as well, shooting a ridiculous 70.4 percent from the field. Reed is a high-energy player and rim protector who would be perfect for Cleveland. He has had previous stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets, so he’s no stranger to the NBA. If the Cavaliers can’t trade for a big man, calling up Reed or another top D-League big man could be a solid back-up plan for Cleveland and one that wouldn’t require them to part ways with any of their assets.

Harden, Butler Named NBA Players of the Week

The Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 22, through Sunday, Dec. 28.

Butler led the Bulls to a 4-0 week behind averages of 23.0 points (seventh in the conference), 7.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 blocks. His 40.2 minutes per contest led the league. On Dec. 22, Butler went 11-for-11 at the foul line en route to 27 points, and added 11 rebounds, five blocks and four assists during a 129-120 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Harden helped the Rockets to a 2-1 week, which included wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged a league-best 34.7 points and added 7.3 assists (eighth in the conference), 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals. On Dec. 22, Harden posted 44 points, seven assists, five steals and three rebounds during a 110-95 win over the Trail Blazers.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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