There is basketball outside of South Beach and L.A.: 10 things worth watching

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Yes, the Heat have the three biggest stars we have seen on a team since the 1980s. Yes the Lakers are the two-time defending champs and may have more talent than any team in the league.

We get it. You love them. We’ll talk about them plenty this season.

But there is so much more to this NBA season than the Heat and the Lakers. It’s going to be a fascinating year filled with highlights and experiments, players on the rise and others on the mend. A lot of teams with questions, a lot of answers to discover.

Here are just 10 storylines that have nothing to do with Miami or Los Angeles that you need to watch:

1. John Wall and the new look Washington Wizards. John Wall is as fast with the ball in his hands as anyone in the league right now. As a rookie. He is lightning. He is a game changing point guard surrounded by athletic wings and big men who will run with him. (Plus Gilbert Arenas, who could blend right in with that group or be a show unto himself.) Washington is John Wall’s team now, make no mistake, and while there will be some bad rookie nights, it will be hard to keep up with all the highlights this guy will provide.

2. The Orlando Magic, contenders. The Magic may well be the best team in basketball. Scoff if you want, but they were the best team the second half of last season, and two-rounds into the playoffs you thought they were on pace to return to the finals after sweeping aside the Bobcats and Hawks. Dwight Howard was a beast and Jameer Nelson had found a grove. Don’t let one series against a rejuvenated and hot Boston squad fool you, this team is very good and has a new focus this year. They will be near the top of the East, and they could win it all.

3. Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento. Last year’s rookie of the year teamed with the guy who could win it this year. Evans can slash and run, Cousins is physically imposing, can get his shot off in the post or drain the midrange, and he can board. Cousins never should have fallen to No. 5. There will be rough patches, but watch as Sacramento becomes relevant again, a team on the rise.

4. Portland will remind you they were Oklahoma City before Oklahoma City. Two seasons ago, Portland was the young up-and-coming team that was next in line to become the best in the West after the Lakers. Then last season injuries decimated the team (more than 300 man games lost) yet they still won 50 games. Forget the Greg Oden saga, this team cold bounce back big with or without him. And watch for Nicolas Batum to have a huge year.

5. Josh Childress rises like the Phoenix. Everyone seems to have forgotten how smooth, how good this guy is. He was talked about as a possible sixth man of the year, a guy who could run and knew how to attack the rim. Then he took his talents to Greece for a couple years after lowball offers from the Hawks. Now he brings his game back to play along side Steve Nash, who is going to get him great looks. Childress (especially if he developed a jumper while on his European vacation) will be back to dazzling everyone.

6. Yao Ming is back. Yao Ming was the best center on the planet. (Before you say Dwight Howard was better, go check out the box scores of their head-to-head matchups.) He is 7’6” with a deft touch around the basket and who can step out and drain the midrange. He’s graceful with a high basketball IQ. He’s a good person and huge to the sport globally. With him healthy, the Rockets are threats in the West. Without him, they may miss the playoffs. He is that important, and everyone should have their fingers crossed for him.

7. Roddy Beaubois being the missing piece in Dallas. The Mavericks are good, deep, professional, and have been for years. But Beaubois can be their game changer. Their missing spark. Rick Carlisle sat on him for reasons we don’t understand last playoffs and when the guy finally got loose against San Antonio he almost won them a game single-handedly. He is the quickness, the energy Dallas needs. You’ll have to be patient on this one though, he will miss the first few weeks with a broken foot.

8. Al Jefferson comes to Utah. The people of Utah are convinced that Al Jefferson will be an upgrade over Carlos Boozer. Deron William has told Jefferson he will be an All-Star in Utah. He brings a more post-based game that may balance with Mehmet Okur (once Okur gets healthy) and he will bring some rebounds. He won’t bring much defense, but neither did Boozer. Some think this is an upgrade, we’re not convinced but it will be an interesting experiment. One Kevin Love wholeheartedly approves of, by the way.

9. Derrick Rose and the new look Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose is dynamic, one of the most entertaining players in the game. You watched the Bulls last season and kept saying, “if they just had a guy who could consistently score inside…” Now it’s “hello Carlos Boozer.” There are a lot of questions, the biggest being can new coach Tim Thibodeau get Boozer and Rose to play good defense. Another is can Rose hit a three (he worked on it all summer but shot just 27.8 percent in preseason) to open up the floor. But this is a team that looks just half a step behind the top three in the East, but it thinks it belongs. And maybe it does.

10. Games decided because of technical fouls. The NBA is cracking down on complaining by players, but in doing so has taken the issue to the other extreme and created a problem where none really existed before. At some point early this season a game is going to be decided by a technical — a foul will be whistled in the last 20 seconds of a close game, an emotional player will have an outburst and some ref with an itchy trigger finger will call the technical and change the game. Or, some star will get tossed for nothing in the second quarter. By January the two sides — players and officials — will find a groove on this, but some games will be changed in the coming weeks.

Trust us. Just watch.

LeBron James on Lakers adding Carmelo Anthony: ‘I have no idea to be honest’

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Carmelo Anthony is still a member of the Houston Rockets, but for how long?

Houston is trying to find a way to offload the aging superstar, with no apparent buyers ready to step up to the plate. Meanwhile, the NBA community-at-large has being agog with potential landing spots for Carmelo.

The most popular and obvious spot for Anthony to land is with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team made up of a veritable who’s who of former stars from the past decade-and-a-half of NBA basketball.

For their part, the Lakers don’t appear interested externally, and they don’t have a roster spot for him right now anyway. When LeBron James was asked about the potential of adding his Banana Boat friend, he even intimated as much.

Via ESPN:

I have no idea to be honest, that’s not a question to ask me. Right now, we have 15 rosters spots right? We don’t have a roster spot open right now so that’s not a question for myself.

Of course LeBron is being facetious in saying that he doesn’t have say over roster changes. His entire career has been dogged by his sometimes undue influence in either trading for or getting his buddies re-signed to his team.

Still, Los Angeles does seem like the only realistic landing spot for Anthony at this time. One could see a situation in which LeBron, much as he has tried to resist, getting fed up with LA’s middling play as the trade deadline approaches and forcing some kind of Anthony addition.

But for now, Carmelo remains a Houston Rocket and the Lakers don’t have a roster spot open. That’s the story, and they are sticking to it.

Markelle Fultz calls new free-throw routine ‘trial and error’

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The confidence of Markelle Fultz continues to be a question, not just for Philadelphia 76ers fans but for NBA heads around the league wondering just when the former No. 1 overall pick will get back to his old college self.

Fultz continues to struggle in the oddest ways. The sophomore guard was seen double clutching a free throw attempt recently, which apparently led to another new routine at the charity stripe.

In his latest change is one where Fultz does a little juggle of the ball back and forth before quickly moving into a shooting motion. It took many by surprise on social media, and reporters naturally asked Fultz about it.

For his part, Fultz said that he’s not going to change the routine because it appears to be working for him.

Via Twitter:

Hey, whatever gives this kid confidence at this time is something that works.

Stephen Curry on Warriors’ potential to fall apart: ‘That’s not going to happen’

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Draymond Green will be away from the Golden State Warriors for a little while as he deals with what the team is calling an injured toe. Meanwhile, the dust has appeared to settle after his disagreement with Kevin Durant rose to a crescendo early this week, resulting in a one-game suspension for Green and questions about whether Durant might leave this offseason in free agency.

Reports have been flying out of Golden State ever since, and now the leader of the team, Stephen Curry, has finally made his voice known.

Speaking to reporters late this week, Curry said that he was proud of how the team handled their disagreement internally, and that it would not be the thing that tore them apart.

Via the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I’m not going to let that fall apart from an incident like that. I can talk about all the different conversations that have happened — whether I’ve been included or not — but again, it’s about how we as a team move forward.”

“Obviously, from a personal standpoint, there are things that need to be worked through like any relationship in life. At the end of the day, they both understand that neither one of them is going to be the reason that we don’t win a championship this year. I can roll with that.”

Those are certainly all the things you want to see from the franchise cornerstone following a dust up like this. Whether it’s actually true is another thing altogether, but we won’t be able to make any judgment on that until Green returns to the floor.

Championship teams have teammates that hate each other. Scottie Pippen even mentioned as much earlier this week. And the Warriors are so talented that I don’t believe it alters their championship hopes one bit if Green and Durant continue to simmer on this the rest of the year.

Kevin Durant is still on the Warriors.

The Warriors are still the favorites to win the NBA championship in June.

For now.

Former Wizard Jared Dudley: ‘I’m seeing a team that has been together too long’

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The Washington Wizards are a mess to start the season. They are 5-10, have the second-worst defense in the NBA, the 20th ranked offense, and get outscored by an average of 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Which is to say, that record is a pretty accurate reflection of who they are right now, but it doesn’t do justice to how bad the locker room chemistry is.

Add former Wizard Jared Dudley to the chorus of voices saying it’s time for a change. After Dudley’s Nets beat the Wizards, Dudley said this to Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

“I’m seeing a team that has been together too long,” Dudley told NBC Sports Washington…. “They haven’t made progress, so it’s time to change things over there.”

“I think (they have) good players, but sometimes, good players need different situations. For them, I think that it’s tough the way the league is changing. They play two bigs,” Dudley said about the combination of power forward Markieff Morris and center Dwight Howard. “In this day in age, Otto [Porter] needs to play more four because he’s tall enough, more spacing.”

“I think they’ve had enough time, but they really haven’t (broken) through,” Dudley said. “I can see by the All-Star break or summer time one of these pieces moving. It’s going to be good for them. If it’s John, or Otto or Brad, one of them three, I think their next move is going to be good for both teams.”

A lot of people agree with Dudley, the Wizards should trade one of their big three. However, actually doing that would be challenging (and that’s assuming GM Ernie Grunfeld wants to make a trade).

Washington reportedly has teams calling about Bradley BealMinnesota was on that list when they were shopping Jimmy Butler — but the Wizards know he’s their best player and are not interested in moving him.

What the Wizards would prefer to do is move John Wall or Otto Porter. Good luck with that. Wall is nearly impossible to trade because his designated veteran max extension kicks in NEXT season, meaning after this season he has four more years at an average of $42 million a season on his deal. Just to make it even more difficult, if Wall is traded at the deadline there is a 15 percent trade kicker (which would lead to a big bonus this season and a little more money down the line.

Otto Porter has two years left on his contract after this one at $27.3 million and $28.5 million (the second year is a player option, but he will pick it up). This season Porter has been a pretty average player — 10.4 points a game, shoots 35 percent from three, PER of 13.8 (slightly below the league average) — on a max contract. That’s the kinds of deals teams do not want to take on, the Wizards would need to throw a lot of sweeteners to even get another team to consider a trade.

Washington, once again, came into the season talking big — Eastern Conference Finals — and with a confidence not warranted by past results. Reality has shown them something different. Dudley is right, it’s time for a change, it was last summer (if not before that), but actually doing something may prove to be too much until next July.