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NBA PM: The Reemergence of Rashard Lewis

Rashard Lewis has emerged as Miami’s most important player outside of the Big Three, after barely playing for much of the season … The Spurs reflect on their sustained success

Alex Kennedy

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Steve Kyler, Jessica Camerato, Alex Kennedy and Bill Ingram discuss which NBA head coaches could be on the hot seat next season.

The Reemergence of Rashard Lewis

Two summers ago, Rashard Lewis had just been bought out and was determined to join a contender. He was coming off of back-to-back lottery seasons in Washington and a trade to New Orleans, and he wanted to be return to the postseason and add a championship to his impressive resume. Shortly after hitting the open market, Lewis received interest from a number of teams including the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks among others.

Then, Lewis received an unexpected phone call.

“Pat Riley called,” Lewis said with a smile. “He called and said, ‘This is Pat Riley.’ I’m like, ‘Who? Nah, this is someone playing on the phone. Who is this?’”

Once he realized that it really was Riley on the other end, he was ecstatic. The defending champion Miami HEAT were interested in signing Lewis, to put him alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the recently-signed Ray Allen. As a 14-year veteran who desperately wanted to win his first championship, Miami was by far the most attractive situation for Lewis. He knew that he’d be able to go deep into the playoffs and get plenty of open looks since he would be surrounded by star players. He set up a meeting and, several days later, finalized a contract with the HEAT.

Lewis had been offered more playing time and money elsewhere, but at this point in his career competing for a title was the most important thing for Lewis. He had cashed lucrative paychecks and achieved individual success, but he wanted to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy before his playing career came to an end. During his introductory press conference with the HEAT, a giddy Lewis sat next to his former Seattle SuperSonics teammate Allen and couldn’t stop smiling.

However, Lewis’ first season in Miami didn’t go exactly as he planned. While he knew he was signing up for a smaller role on the HEAT, he didn’t realize that there would be many nights he didn’t play at all. Last season, he appeared in just 55 regular season games and averaged just 14.4 minutes. In the 2013 playoffs, he saw the floor even less, appearing in just 11 games and averaging 4.3 minutes. Lewis was able to win his first title last year, but he was more of an observer than contributor for the HEAT. He barely played in the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, but still enjoyed the ride.

It seemed like Lewis’ role would be similar this postseason, after he played in just 60 games and averaged 16.2 minutes during this year’s regular season. Through the first 11 games of these playoffs, Lewis averaged just 1.9 points while shooting 25 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three.

Then, Chris Andersen suffered a thigh injury in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and suddenly Lewis was thrust into Miami’s starting lineup. Now, after sitting for much of the season, Lewis has emerged as arguably the most productive HEAT player outside of James, Bosh and Wade.

Over the last five games, the 34-year-old has averaged 13.8 points and has scored in double figures in every contest. He has hit 18 three-pointers over that span, sinking 52.9 percent of his long-range attempts. Lewis is the perfect example of a veteran who stays ready all season long and then delivers when his number is called.

“You always want to stay mentally prepared,” Lewis said. “I knew, especially with Mike Miller not being here anymore, I knew we would have to go to someone on the bench who would need to step their game up and go win ball games. On any night, it can be someone different – it can be Shane Battier, James Jones, Toney Douglas or myself. I think we all know that, and all stay prepared and ready.

“I had pretty much the same approach [after being moved into the starting lineup]. It was an increased opportunity for me, getting more playing time, [that led to this production]. It was more just focusing on being a role player and doing the little things to help us win the ball game, just trying to defend and do the small things to get us to that next level.”

“He’s had a big impact,” HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Lewis. “Look, our team is built on sacrifice.  A lot of guys have had to sacrifice in their games to do different things for us to be successful.  Veteran players have had to sacrifice minutes.  We talk about it all the time, that this team and this opportunity isn’t for everybody. Rashard signed up for it two years ago knowing that it wouldn’t be quite the role that he’s had before, but it could still be a significant role and you could have great playoff moments. He’s kept himself ready, he’s an absolute pro. … It might look easy from the outside for veteran players to sacrifice and give up minutes, [but it’s not]; they could probably get more [playing time] other places, but they understand the big picture and what this team is built for. Rashard at times this year wasn’t playing, but he kept himself ready.”

This is the most productive stretch that Lewis has had in years. Prior to this run, the last time he had five straight games in double figures was back in January of 2011, shortly after the Wizards acquired him. The last time he had five straight postseason games in double figures was in April of 2010, when he was still on the Magic.

“He’s showing a little bit of his younger bounce right now, and I think he’s feeling the healthiest he’s felt in two years,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been building for it.  He’s really been working hard behind the scenes. We were able to give him enough minutes during the regular season, but not wear him out at his age, that now he can [contribute]. Not necessarily it was planned for this, but he kept himself ready, and when the opportunity happened, you’re seeing a fresh body right now. He always was skilled.  His skill set is one of the reasons we went after him.  He was coached well, was in a defensive system, was already in a spread system offensively that’s very similar to ours.  We thought he’d be a terrific fit and is a veteran player that’s willing to sacrifice.  There aren’t a lot of those types of guys. He was willing to sacrifice and sit out oftentimes for weeks on end, but he kept himself ready.  His body was getting stronger, healthier and he gave us a punch.  There’s no question about it. We talk about it all the time with our team.  It’s about moments.  It’s not necessarily about every single game or minute during January and February.  It’s about the big moments, keeping yourself ready and having an opportunity to make an impact at some point during the postseason.”

Miami is already a juggernaut with so many weapons, but they’re even tougher to slow down when Lewis is spreading the floor and producing at this high level.

“Rashard has been huge for us ever since he’s been inserted into our starting lineup, from the Indiana series,” James said. “He’s been in this position before. He’s been to the Finals with Orlando Magic. He’s been in huge playoff games, and his experience and ability to knock down shots helps us out a lot. It spreads the floor for us, and every time he catches the ball, we tell him just to shoot it. Don’t think about nothing else besides shooting the ball, and we live with his results.”

“He’s done a great job for us,” Norris Cole said of Lewis. “On the defensive end, he’s been good and on the offensive end, he’s a great ball mover and obviously spreads the floor with his three-point shooting ability. He’s an ultimate pro. That’s why he’s been in the league for so long. He’s a super veteran. He has played in the Finals before and he has played in big playoff moments before. He’s been the leading scorer on teams before. Knocking down shots is part of his arsenal – that’s what he does as a professional.”

Lewis understands his role and he describes the star-laden HEAT as a perfect situation for a shooter.

“It’s makes it easier, it makes it easier for myself to have guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and even Ray Allen out on the court around me because you have to double team those guys and it leaves me wide open,” Lewis said. “All I have to do is knock those shots down when I’m wide open.”

As a 16-year NBA veteran, Lewis is respected among his peers and considered one of the best shooters of all-time. He has scored over 15,500 points over the course of his career and he has hit the eighth-most three-pointers in NBA history.

“He’s a great player who can really score the ball from the three-point line,” Marco Belinelli said of Lewis. “I have a lot of respect for him. I mean, he’s one of the best three-point shooters in history. Everybody knows what he can do, and we have to stay very close to him because he can score the ball from three. But they really play together. LeBron is just amazing – he really finds open guys and he’s really been looking for Rashard at the three-point line. It’s tough.”

“It is a little different [having Lewis play in this year’s Finals], since he’s taking the minutes from Shane Battier pretty much and he’s a great shooter,” Boris Diaw said. “We have to be careful and locate him at all times. He has definitely spread the floor for them.”

“He’s a stretch-four who is making a lot of shots; he’s really kind of doing what [Mike] Miller did for them last year,” Tiago Splitter said. “I think we have to do a little bit of a better job on him. Sometimes we have left him a little bit too open, and he’s scoring the ball well.”

“He’s been playing great for them,” Danny Green said. “He’s been shooting the ball really well and we didn’t expect that from him. He’s a guy who we’re going to have to focus on a little bit more. He’s getting a lot of threes in transition, and we can’t let him get those clean looks. It just shows how deep their team is, how good their bench is. When one guy isn’t hitting [shots] or playing, they have others. Last year, it was Mike Miller and Shane Battier. They don’t have Mike anymore, but they still have Shane. They also have James Jones and obviously Ray Allen; just so many shooters on the bench that they can choose from. This year, Rashard has been stepping up and knocking down shots. It complements them having multiple shooters on the perimeter. It makes them that much more dangerous because then we can’t just pack the paint, we have to rotate to those guys. It really shows how deep of a team they are.”

When Lewis was told that Green said the Spurs “didn’t expect” him to shoot the ball so well, he laughed.

“I guess the past couple of years I haven’t been getting a lot of playing time; hopefully I’m not on the scouting report and I can keep shooting it well so they can keep leaving me over there in that corner,” Lewis said with a smile. “I’m surprised Danny Green said that, as a three-point shooter. He should know his history of three-point shooters.”

Lewis’ place in that history is cemented; now he’s just hoping to add to his ring collection.

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Spurs Reflect on Their Sustained Success

There’s no question that the San Antonio Spurs are the NBA’s model franchise. They have earned this label because they excel at identifying talent, developing players and playing unselfish basketball, which has led to sustained success for the franchise. The Spurs have won 50 or more games in every full season since 1997-98, hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy four times in that span.

It’s rare for a team to keep the same core pieces in place for over a decade, but that’s exactly what the Spurs have done with Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. This group has allowed the Spurs to contend each and every season, even when outsiders counted the team out due to their age or minor personnel moves. Now, they’re two wins away from yet another championship and they took some time today to reflect on their success.

“Well, I think what we have accomplished hasn’t been seen a lot in many other cities or teams,” Ginobili said. “Maybe you saw it with the Lakers or Celtics, but having a group of three players and a coach for more than a decade and winning three or four championships and making it to the Finals.  I don’t know what the word “dynasty” means exactly, but I know that we accomplished a lot of things.  We won a lot of games together.”

“I think in the last couple years I’ve really kind of taken a step back and stopped and enjoyed what the journey means,” Duncan said. “I think, as it comes to a close on my career, and I know it is, I appreciate it more.  I appreciate every game more.  I appreciate every accomplishment, and everything that we get to go through and every experience, knowing that it might be the last time I do it.”

Popovich credits Duncan, Ginobili and Parker’s attitude and approach for their sustained excellence.

“I guess the most enjoyable thing is that they’re team‑oriented players,” Popovich said. “They’ve gotten over themselves is what we always talk about.  It’s absolutely not about any one of them, and they know that.  Last night Timmy and Manu didn’t do anything amazing, but they are thrilled for Danny [Green] and Kawhi [Leonard] and for the few minutes Matt Bonner gave us, that sort of thing.  If you have three people on your team that lead the way in that manner, it’s to be enjoyed on a daily basis.  So that’s probably the first thing I’ve enjoyed about them.  It makes my job so much easier.”

There’s no question that San Antonio is a modern dynasty, and basketball fans should appreciate their greatness while they still can.

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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