Al Horford waiting until next summer to discuss contract situation

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As the Hawks try to replicate the success of last year’s 60-win campaign, they will have one major question mark hanging over their heads: Al Horford’s impending free agency. Obviously, the marquee free agent next summer will be Kevin Durant, and he will be the object of the biggest free-agency frenzy since LeBron James in 2010. But Horford will be arguably the second-best player on the market, and coming off a bargain five-year, $60 million deal as the salary cap explodes, he’s going to get paid.

Throughout the season, there will be plenty of speculation about Horford’s future, in Atlanta or elsewhere. But one person who will not be participating in that talk is the Dominican big man himself, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Horford’s free agency talk isn’t going to go away, but with the Hawks looking to be an Eastern Conference contender again, it’s smart of him to nip the speculation early. He may stay with the Hawks and he may not. Either way, he’s going to command a max contract as one of the best and most versatile centers in the NBA at both ends of the floor. It’s a good bet that Atlanta will be aggressive in their effort to keep him. With a good core and coaching staff in place, they have to be considered the clubhouse leaders at this point to sign Horford. But he’ll have no shortage of suitors around the league.

Report: Wizards, Bradley Beal not progressing much on contract extension

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Bradley Beal and the Wizards have been talking about a contract extension.

How’s it going?

J. Michael of CSN Washington:

The Wizards and Bradley Beal don’t appear to be any closer to reaching terms on an extension — the window is open until the start of the 2015-16 regular season — with both sides downplaying to CSNwashington.com during the past few weeks about the progress of talks.

The good thing for them, of course, is that they haven’t shut down negotiations

Beal will make $5,694,674 next season. An extension would begin with the 2016-17 season.

He surely wants a max contract, and he might be worth one. But the Wizards have incentive to wait.

If Beal signs an extension now, his cap number at the beginning of next summer will be his 2016-17 salary. A max contract projects to have a starting salary of $20,947,250.

If Beal waits until next summer to sign, his initial cap hold will be $14,236,685. Then, Washington could use its cap space and then exceed the cap to re-sign Beal to up to a max deal.

That extra $6.7 million cap room could help ensure the Wizards have enough space for Kevin Durant. Plus, the remainder would come in handy, Washington with Durant would become an appealing destination to mid-level free agents.

Given that Beal would be a restricted free agent, there’s no risk he leaves next summer. The only risk is he’d sign a shorter offer sheet, allowing him to leave sooner, but that shouldn’t be a huge concern.

Of course, Beal doesn’t want to wait to sign. He has missed 54 games in three seasons, and another injury could torpedo his value.

There’s a lot to like about Beal, especially because the sharp-shooting guard is just 22. But the cap rules dictate the Wizards should wait to re-sign him – unless he’s will to sign an extension that starts at $14,236,685 or less (which should be a no-go for him) or give Washington savings in later years (maybe).

If he insists upon a max contract, the Wizards should wait. If he proves this season he deserves one, that’s a win for both sides – especially because that would give Washington a little extra cap room.

Kevin Durant reveals second, previously undisclosed, break in his foot

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Kevin Durant had three surgeries last season – one in October when he broke his foot, one in February to replace a screw and a third in March due to what the Thunder described as “persistent soreness.”

I suppose that might technically be true, but here’s a more accurate depiction: Durant broke his foot again.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Durant has no fear in acknowledging the severe state he found his fifth metatarsal in despite the two prior surgeries.

“It had a crack in it,” Durant told Bleacher Report.

Durant used a controversial bone-graft material that is not FDA approved for use in the foot to promote greater bone growth this time. It mandated a longer recovery time in part because of an additional procedure to protect against overgrowth of bone.

“They stuffed some bone-graft thing in, and they pasted over the top of the area. That healed up in a couple of weeks,” Durant said. “But then they stuck something else in there just to smooth it out and make sure it was thick. They did a lot.”

It was all done because of how surprising it was that Durant’s foot fractured again after it had been healing.

You can spin this one of two ways:

1. It was a fluke that Durant re-broke his foot. There’s no good explanation for the second break, so it was just bad luck.

2. There’s something peculiar about Durant that causes repeated foot trouble. It might be his body type, playing style or both, but there’s a reason.

Obviously, there’s a world of difference between the two. Any team that considers Durant in free agency next summer will inquire deeply into his medical records.

For now, we must be content knowing Durant is making progress. He practiced with Team USA in Las Vegas this week, and he should be ready for the NBA season.

Beyond that is a lot more uncertainty than desirable for one of the NBA’s best players.

Kevin Durant: ‘I’m the best player in the world’

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LeBron James recently called himself “the best player in the world.”

Kevin Durant isn’t ready to cede that title to the Cavaliers star, though

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

I expect LeBron to consider himself the world’s best player. I expect Durant to consider himself the world’s best player.

I expect Dwight Howard to consider himself the world’s best player. I expect James Harden to consider himself the world’s best player. I expect… really, you can name any All-Star-caliber player, and I’d expect him to have that faith in himself.

LeBron, Durant and the rest didn’t reach this level by doubting themselves. They did it by having enormous confidence in their ability and putting in the work to realize their potential. They succeed because of that arrogance.

As to the actual question, it’s a three-man race between LeBron, Durant and Anthony Davis.

Like most people, I thought Stephen Curry and Harden had the best seasons last year. But, perhaps unfairly, neither has produced long enough at that level to get real consideration from me.

Davis does because he’s younger and has probably improved more since just the end of last season than anyone else. Durant believes he’s the best, but he also knows his window falls between LeBron’s and Davis’.

A healthy Durant belongs in the thick of the discussion with LeBron and Davis. LeBron is slightly declining. Durant, when not injured, is holding steady. And Davis is rapidly rising. That puts all three around the same level right now.

Which of the three is the world’s best player? For me, it depends on the day you ask.

For them, the answer is probably the same from each: “Me.”

Ten must-watch games from new NBA schedule

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It’s the reason broadcast networks are paying ungodly sums of cash to secure rights to leagues like the NBA — you need to watch live. This isn’t Top Chef where you can set the DVR and then watch it later in the week, when it comes to sporting events you need to carve out the time to watch the games.

But what games are good enough you tell your girlfriend you have to work late that night, and then head to the bar with your buddies to watch because you don’t want to miss them? (Remember, do not post pictures of yourself at said bar to social media that night.)

That’s why we’re here. The following are 10 games you do not want to miss this coming season.

• Oct. 27, New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors: The championship banner is going up at Oracle Arena, the first title for the Golden State franchise since before Led Zeppelin broke up. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the entire Warriors band are back to defend the title. Well done by the NBA to set the Pelicans as the opponent — their new coach is Alvin Gentry, who last season masterminded the Warriors’ offense. Also, Golden State swept New Orleans out of the first round of the playoffs, but this is going to be a better Pelicans team.

• Oct. 28, San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder: I can sum up why to watch this game in five words — how does Kevin Durant look? The former MVP battled foot injuries last season but is back and expected to be ready opening night. While you’re at it, see how LaMarcus Aldridge looks in Spurs black and gray. 

• Nov. 11, San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers: There was only one big time free agent that switched teams last season — Aldridge, who jumped from Portland to San Antonio, where he teams up with and becomes the heir apparent to Tim Duncan. But he’s got to go back to Portland some time, and that is Nov. 11. How will Blazers fans treat Aldridge? You can be sure Damian Lillard will be pumped up to get the win.

• Nov. 11, Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks: I know how Mavericks fans are going to treat DeAndre Jordan, who first said he would come there as a free agent then changed his mind. The Clippers were already one of the more hated teams by many fans around the league, this just played right into that narrative.

• Nov. 23, Philadephia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves: Who did you think should go No. 1 last draft, Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor? Flip Saunders had the only vote that counted and he cast it for Towns, and while that may be the right call long term (I think it will be) Okafor will be the better rookie. Watch these two young bigs go head-to-head (on League Pass because the Sixers are not on national television once this season).

• Nov. 30, Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics: There has been no better rivalry in NBA history than the Celtics and Lakers, and Kobe Bryant has added to that with a must-watch Finals series. Kobe very well may walk away from the NBA after the season, and if so this will be his final game in the Boston Garden. That will be emotional.

• Dec. 23, Dallas Mavericks at Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams returns to Brooklyn. The Nets paid a lot of money for him to turn their franchise around in a Chris Paul kind of way, and they did not get their money’s worth. So they just paid him to go away. Now he returns, and he should not expect a love-in from Nets fans.

• Christmas Day, Dec. 25, Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors: Were you not entertained by the NBA Finals? It had Stephen Curry and LeBron James, and that helped draw the biggest NBA television ratings since the Jordan era. The NBA puts its biggest stars on its biggest stages, and this is that. The difference is this time LeBron has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy.

• Jan. 18, Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets: The Clippers were up 3-1 on the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs, and were in total control of Game 5. And then the wheels came off. The Rockets played better, the Clippers looked exhausted (worn down by an epic series with the Spurs the round before), and Houston came back to take it. This eats at Chris Paul like you would not believe. Clippers/Rockets is becoming a real rivalry and all their meetings this season will be entertaining.

• April 13, Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers: Is this Kobe’s final game? It will be the last game of the season for the Lakers (who are unlikely to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference). Kobe does not know right now, and there’s a chance he may not know when this game tips off, or at least not be saying publicly. But this game could be the end of one of the great careers in NBA history, and that is as must watch as it gets.