Circle your calendars: Games not to miss on NBA schedule

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We’re not so presumptuous as to tell you what to watch… well, yes we are.

There is an NBA schedule littered with good games worth watching that was just released today. What follows are the games that leapt off the page at us as ones not to miss.

Dec. 25: Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks: A rematch of the NBA finals from last year. Plus, enjoy the look on LeBron James’ face as he watches Dallas raise a championship banner to the rafters (for LeBron haters that may be the best Christmas gift of all).

Dec. 25: Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers: We know the Bulls will play hard and defend, but we don’t know what the Lakers will look like under Mike Brown. Or who their center will be for that game.

Dec. 25: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder: Do we get to see Dwight Howard vs. Kendrick Perkins in the post? My guess is we do (if Howard is traded it will be later, closer to the deadline) but what kind of mental state will the Magic be in? And how much have the Thunder improved?

Dec. 27: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat: This is the first of four meetings between the old guard and new guard of the East.

Dec. 29: Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder: The champs head to face maybe their biggest rival for the crown in the West this season. Plus, the Kevin Durant vs. Dirk Nowitzki scoring fest.

Dec. 31: Phoenix Suns at Oklahoma City Thunder: Before you pop the Champagne watch Steve Nash vs. Russell Westbrook. That will be fun.

Jan. 1: Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards: When you get tired of watching college football, watch the Rajon Rondo vs. John Wall showdown.

Jan. 10: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies: Battle of the “teams of the future” in the West.

Jan. 14: New Jersey Nets at Utah Jazz: Deron Williams makes his return to Utah. The people of Salt Lake City do know how to boo. Trust me.

Jan. 16: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers: Last time these two met the Mavs unceremoniously swept the Lakers out of the playoffs. You know that stuck in Kobe Bryant’s craw — and he has a history of going off on the Mavs for big numbers.

Jan. 16: Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis is playing on Martin Luther King day. The Grizzlies are going to be a team to watch this year, and here is a big test against an elite team.

Jan. 25: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers: The “battle for Los Angeles” is actually interesting now. Plus, Blake Griffin will dunk on someone.

Jan. 28: Sacramento Kings at Utah Jazz: Jimmer Fredettte returns to Utah for a game. (He does it again March 30.)

Jan. 29: Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat: Last year’s Eastern Conference finalists square off, and late enough in the season that we might be able to read a little bit into this one.

Feb. 16: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls: Bet the under in the battle of the former best defensive team in the league and the new best defensive team in the league.

Feb. 20: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls: On Presidents Day you can catch President Obama’s hometown Bulls in action. And Al Horford, who is a good reason to watch the Hawks.

March 4: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat: By then the rosters of these teams will be set and they should be in a groove. This will be a good test for where these contenders stand heading into the playoffs.

March 11: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers: These franchises still hate each other.

March 17: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks: Who is the best team in Texas… sorry Rockets fans, unless you get Chris Paul you’re not in the conversation.

March 29: Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat: Dallas returns to the place they won the title and Heat fans pretend this somehow counts as revenge.

April 20: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs: Will either of the West’s old guard be on a roll with the playoffs around the corner?

April 28: The playoffs open, and then every game is must watch.

Report: Cavaliers flying blind into draft because LeBron doesn’t know what he’s going to do

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The first day we’re going to get a hint of LeBron James‘ plan this summer is June 29 — that’s the date he has to opt into, or out of, the $35.6 million on his contract for next season.

Opt-in and that means either he’s staying with the Cavaliers or there has been an arrangement made to trade him (likely to Houston). Opt- out and he becomes a free agent on July 1 — he could re-sign with the Cavaliers, or he could sign anywhere else for next season.

What LeBron is doing could impact what the Cavaliers do at the NBA draft, keep the No. 8 pick and draft for the future or try to trade it (probably packaged with Kevin Love or another player) to get LeBron more help now.

But LeBron isn’t going to let the Cavaliers know because he himself doesn’t know, reports Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

According to sources, the Cavs’ front office and James’ camp have been in contact over the phone and in person, though there has been no meeting with James present, nor has there been any real dialogue as far as James’ future is concerned.

Because the superstar himself doesn’t know.

The Cavs have been signaling (strongly, in some cases) that they’re looking to upgrade their team from the group that was swept out of the Finals this month, whether James stays or goes.

If LeBron is going, then the Cavaliers should consider trading that pick to a team eager to land someone still on the board (if Michael Porter Jr. is still available there likely would be plenty of solid offers). However, if he’s going they should use that pick to start the rebuild (and Porter would be a good step that direction).

In reality, the Cavaliers have to act as if LeBron is gone. That was the sense one got being around the team through the playoffs and Finals, that this relationship had run its course. The Cavaliers should draft the best player they can with that pick, unless some team comes through with a killer offer for the slot (and Love plus the No. 8 is not going to land Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are not moving that fast to trade anyway). Then, if and when LeBron leaves, start looking at possible trades for Love, Kyle Korver, and every other veteran on the roster. Start the rebuild.

Still, new GM Koby Altman is flying blind on draft night, and LeBron’s not going to help the team out.

 

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.