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NBA PM: Another Durant Suitor Prepping for ’16?

The Knicks hired a Kevin Durant favorite as an assistant coach today, signaling a potential desire to make a run at him in ’16.

Yannis Koutroupis

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Knicks Prepping For Run at Durant?

We’re still two years away from the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, hits free agency but that hasn’t stopped teams around the league from already preparing themselves to make a run at him when that time comes.

Earlier this summer, the Washington Wizards hired David Adkins as an assistant coach. The vacant position had a long list of applicants with extensive NBA experience, yet the Wizards went with Adkins, who had spent the last five years as an assistant coach for the Maryland women’s basketball program. Going from a college women’s basketball assistant coach to the NBA is as uncommon of a leap as you will find, but Adkins had something going for him that none of the other applicants did: a close relationship with Durant stemming from his time coaching him in high school.

In Adkins’ defense, he has worked with several other professionals including Greivis Vasquez, Victor Oladipo and Alex Len, and was very well respected prior to joining the Wizards, but it seems that his relationship with Durant is what pushed him over the top. John Wall, the face of the Wizards franchise, has made no secret about his interest in helping recruit Durant back closer to home, something that Durant admitted was intriguing to him during Team USA’s training camp before he pulled out.

“I grew up watching the Wizards, (the) Bullets-Wizards,” Durant said to the Washington Post then. “I grew up taking the train to that arena all the time. I watched Georgetown, I watched the Bullets, I watched the (WNBA’s) Mystics, so that whole city is a part of me, is in my blood. Like I said, I love going back home to see my family and stuff and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City too.”

Durant does indeed love Oklahoma City, but has to be a bit frustrated by the team’s lack of success. He’s emerged into the league’s second-best player next to only LeBron James, yet only has one NBA Finals appearance to show in seven seasons. He has a certified second star next to him in Russell Westbrook, but the team has not been anywhere near as formidable since sign-and-trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets when they couldn’t come to terms on a contract extension with him.

These next two years are going to be critical as Durant is clearly not committing to them beyond 2016 right now. At that point in time he’ll have played nine years with the Thunder franchise and if he doesn’t have a championship ring to show for it at that point, it’s going to be hard for him to believe that things are going to be any different. He’s going to go into free agency with an open mind in that case and could be lured away by a team that offers him a better opportunity to contend.

The Thunder’s lone advantage in trying to re-sign him is going to be the fact that they have his Bird rights and can offer him more money than any other team. However, Durant’s recent extension of his Nike endorsement deal is one of the richest in sports history. It’s going to pay him in the neighborhood of $300 million over the course of 10 years, which is actually more than he’s going to get for playing. Add all of the other endorsement deals he has, like the most recent one he signed with Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, and money is going to be one of the least important things on his mind going into free agency. He’s doing just fine monetarily, and is going to want to be in the situation that gives him the best opportunity to compete for a championship, especially after seeing how much the aforementioned James benefited from a change of scenery and improved supporting cast. James went to the Finals in four straight years after leaving the team that drafted him and won twice. Now he’s returned to that franchise and they seem to be equipped with a team that may be better than any he had in Miami. The competitor in Durant, who has consistently finished second fiddle to James throughout his career, whether it be in MVP voting until this past season or Finals appearances, has to be jealous and interested in taking a page out of his own book in order to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy that has been so elusive so far in his career.

By the time 2016 rolls around, there could be more than a third of the league that has cleared enough cap space to make a run at Durant. Judging by their recent hiring of former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Brian Keefe, another coach very close to Durant, it looks like the New York Knicks could be another team lining up to make a run at Durant. They’re poised to have plenty of cap room, and potentially two stars as they already have Carmelo Anthony locked up to a long-term deal and the space to sign another star this offseason. With the cap poised to increase significantly by 2016 and the Zen Master Phil Jackson working his magic in the front office, the Knicks should have no trouble being in a position to make a convincing pitch to Durant. Not only is he close with Keefe, but they have the allure of Jackson’s championship background, one of the league’s biggest media markets and another close friend of Durant’s in Derek Fisher, who he played with in Oklahoma City for a couple of years.

In all actuality, the Wizards and Knicks wouldn’t have made these hires if they didn’t think that they were the right fit and there were benefits beyond their Durant ties. They’re still two years away from being able to even talk to him about signing with them, but the Thunder should be painfully aware that they are going to be facing stiff competition come that summer, especially if Durant is still ringless.

“Two (championship) years straight? That would be cool,” Durant said to USA Today Sports in July. “It would definitely be tough to (leave then). That’s one of those things where you’ve got a dynasty now. But like I said, I don’t want to think too far down the line. I’m trying to focus on today. I love my teammates, my coaches, the front office, the city, but we’ll see.”

‘Melo Wanted Long-Term Deal

The New York Knicks, by virtue of keeping Carmelo Anthony alone, were one of the winners of the offseason. Not so much because it makes them a better team now, but because stars are one of the hardest things to get in this league. Keeping them is even harder, and good luck on trying to recruit a star without one already in place. Keeping Anthony was a necessity in order to get back to a championship level and they’re going to have Anthony in place for the next five years.

News has surfaced today that the Knicks were willing to do whatever it took to keep Anthony, even if that meant having to settle on a short-term deal that would have allowed him to opt out two years in so that he could re-sign for the increased max with a higher salary cap like LeBron James is planning to with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, according to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, Anthony wasn’t interested in going through the free agency process again anytime soon. Citing the stress that he experienced with his run through free agency and all the hoopla that came prior to it, Anthony never strongly considered inking a short-term deal.

Only time will tell what kind of shape the Knicks are in the final two years of the deal when they’re paying Anthony $26.2 million at 34 years of age and $27.9 million at 35 years of age, but the security of having a star in place right now to help remain relevant and recruit other stars is well worth putting the concerns of the long-term risk on the back burner.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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NBA AM: Is It Smart To Bet On Yourself In This Market?

Many extension-eligible players opted to bet on themselves and a questionable free agent marketplace next summer.

Steve Kyler

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No Big Surprises On Draft Extensions

The big news yesterday wasn’t a new extension for a 2014 first round draft pick, it was the news that the San Antonio Spurs reached a three-year, $72 million extension with veteran LaMarcus Aldridge.

The news was surprising for a couple of reasons. The biggest being the Spurs had shopped Aldridge in trade scenarios this offseason under the idea that he was a problematic fit for the Spurs.

Ultimately, Aldridge and the Spurs ended up in the same place on his deal. The Spurs were not going to be big free agent players and locking Aldridge in now gives them some security as well as trade leverage later. In Aldridge’s case, his camp saw the marketplace this past summer and all of the mouths that need to be fed in July and realized he wasn’t likely getting more money on the open market come free agency.

One of the things the Spurs found out was that trading a player with a player option is not an easy task as teams that would give up value want to know what comes next, either way. Over the past few years, player options have become almost toxic in trade, mainly because there are two classes of trade partners, one that wants the ending contract and a player for a stretch run in the postseason and teams that want the player for next season. The options make valuing the player sticky at best.

In doing a deal for Aldridge, the Spurs basically lock him into their roster for this season but give themselves a trade chip next summer, if they need it. This was smart for both sides. The Spurs locked in the player and the trade asset, Aldridge locked in money he likely wouldn’t have gotten in the open market.

For those players drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, yesterday closed the window on the “Early Extension Period.” While there were talks all the way to the wire on several players, the bulk of the deals that didn’t get done didn’t get close enough to seal the deal.

The Boston Celtics and Marcus Smart frequently talked about an extension, and his camp labeled the talks as getting “close” but ultimately, future luxury tax concerns killed a possible deal before the extension deadline, meaning Smart will hit free agency in July.

The Celtics will have a couple of months to see if Smart continues to evolve before they have to make decisions, and they now know what a deal would take for Smart to sign outright. Given the Celtics tax concerns, there is a window for a team with cap space to poach him in July if they come with the right kind of offer sheet. While the Celtics can obtain the right to match Smart with a $6.53 million qualifying offer, the tax issues won’t go away without a cap dump of a trade. Equally, the Celtics roster is loaded with point guards, so the C’s have the luxury of seeing what unfolds in the next three months before the February 8 trade deadline.

The Orlando Magic and their pair of 2014 draftees, Aaron Gordon and Elfird Payton, talked about extensions, mostly out of courtesy. The Magic would have done deals if it favored the team, but the new front office in Orlando has been open and honest that they are still very much in evaluation mode on the roster and were not going to pay a premium at this point.

The Magic’s reluctance to do a deal wasn’t about valuing either player as both are said to have been very good so far, this preseason. The Magic don’t have a clear-cut direction yet and inking a long-term deal with either would have been counter to their goal of flexibility. Equally, the Magic also know that both players are unlikely to get huge free agent offers unless they blossom this season, which would make matching an easier decision after seeing how they play this season.

Neither player entered the process expecting to reach a deal, so there is no ill-will about not getting an extension. Both players have said publicly and privately they knew they had to earn their next deal and came into camp with that mindset.

The Utah Jazz and guard Rodney Hood engaged on an extension most of the summer. The Jazz are very committed to Hood, but would not commit to a deal at this point for a bunch of reasons, the biggest being they don’t really know what the team is yet. Hood is going to get a big opportunity this year, and the Jazz want to see if he can handle the increased load and stay healthy. Injuries have ravaged the Jazz lately, and they were reluctant to lock in a big number to a player that hasn’t been durable.

Of the bunch, Hood is the most likely to get a deal without the restricted free agent offer sheet process next summer—the Jazz may simply pony up and pay him if he can fill the void they hope he can for the team.

The Milwaukee Bucks and injured forward Jabari Parker did talk about an extension despite him having torn his ACL for the second time. The Bucks looked at the idea of locking Parker in at a value, but ultimately, neither side got close enough for it to be realistic. Parker is expected to return to action sometime in February, meaning he may log enough games for a big deal in July to be realistic, especially if the Bucks are as good as they project to be this year and land home court in the postseason.

The big hurdle for all of the players that did not get an extension is that the free agent marketplace in July does not project to be as robust as it was even last year. A number of agents urged their clients to take the security of money on the table this summer, and many players opted to bet on themselves, which always sounds like a great idea until the reality of restricted free agency sets in.

Nerlens Noel and JaMychal Green were both causalities of a shrinking marketplace this past summer. It will be interesting to see if some of the players that got close this week get less in the open market in July.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton@jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_ and @Ben__Nadeau.

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