Plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry on big stages as NBA releases 2015-16 schedule

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For NBA junkies, this is like opening presents on Christmas morning — the NBA schedule is out.

There are 1,230 games out there to be played starting on Oct. 27 and running through April — and that’s before the two months of NBA playoffs start. It’s a marathon.

But there are highlights — and the NBA still is the master of getting its biggest stars on its biggest stages, meaning you’re going to get a lot of LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Here are some schedule highlights.

• Opening night, Oct. 27, we get a double-header on TNT:

Cleveland at Chicago: Arguably the two top teams in the East. Well, no argument about Cleveland in the top slot, but are the Bulls and new coach Fred Hoiberg going to grab that second slot? Also, LeBron James vs. Derrick Rose in a rematch of a fun playoff series from last year

New Orleans at Golden State: Stephen Curry and the Warriors swept Anthony Davis and the Pelicans out in the first round of the playoffs last season, but it wasn’t that simple. Now a healthy and improved New Orleans — with coach Alvin Gentry, just hired away from the Warriors — comes to the Bay Area looking to spoil the night the banner goes up at Oracle (title teams often struggle in this game, they tend not to be focused).

Also that night, but not nationally televised, Detroit at Atlanta.

• The next night, Oct. 28, San Antonio at Oklahoma City: Is Kevin Durant all the way back? How is LaMarcus Aldridge fitting in with the Spurs? We will get some early (but far from definitive) answers to those questions.

Also Oct. 28, New York is at Milwaukee — the first time the Bucks have opened at home since 1984. Milwaukee made the playoffs and looks like a team on the rise, and they have been rewarded with a dozen nationally televised games.

Finally that same night, Minnesota is at the Los Angeles Lakers — No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves vs. No. 2 D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers.

• On Oct. 29, Dallas at Los Angeles Clippers. DeAndre Jordan’s first matchup against the Mavericks — the team he reversed course on and spurned this summer — is in the friendly confines of Staples Center (where they are happy to have him back).

• Wednesday, Nov. 11, will be the night of returns:

San Antonio at Portland: The one big free agent changing teams this summer was LaMarcus Aldridge heading to San Antonio. How will he be received by Blazers’ faithful, and can the Spurs beat a fired up Damian Lillard and Portland?

Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas: Now it gets fun. Jordan faces the team he agreed to play for then backed out on in the American Airlines Arena — it is going to rain boos in Dallas like a Spring thunderstorm.

• Dec. 5, Cleveland at Miami: Everybody has pretty much moved on from LeBron heading home (except maybe Pat Riley) but this is still a matchup of two of the top teams in the East.

• Dec. 23, Dallas at Brooklyn: Deron Williams returns to Brooklyn — where his star never burned as brightly as Nets fans hoped — with his new team the Dallas Mavericks.

• Christmas Day, Dec. 25, the unofficial start of the NBA season for casual fans, will feature five games again:

Chicago at Oklahoma City: Two teams near the top of their conferences and with star power will pay in the first of two ABC national games. Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Cleveland at Golden State: This NBA Finals matchup features the two biggest stars in the game — Curry and LeBron James — and drew the biggest NBA television ratings since the Jordan era. You think the NBA would miss a chance to put that in their prime Christmas slot?

Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers: Is this our last Christmas with Kobe Bryant? This is all you need to know about the strength of the Lakers’ brand — as bad as they were last season, for all the questions about the one coming up, you can’t get them off the Christmas Day card. Or, look at it this way: The Lakers have 19 nationally televised games, the same number as the Western Conference Finalist Houston Rockets.

The other two Christmas Day games: Anthony Davis and New Orleans at Miami, then San Antonio at Houston.

• Jan. 14, Orlando vs. Toronto: It’s the rare mid-week NBA day game — because it’s being played in London at the O2 arena.

• On Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 18), the TNT double-header is the other NBA Finals rematch with Golden State at Cleveland, then at night a great playoff rematch with Houston at the Los Angeles Clippers.

• Feb. 6, Oklahoma City at Golden State: The last two MVPs — Durant and Curry — face off in a national ESPN game, part of their new Saturday night package (which starts in 2016 after the college football season).

• Feb. 8 Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana: A couple years ago Roy Hibbert was seen as a cornerstone of a young, impressive Pacers team. Now they have pushed him out the door. This is the night he returns to the Fieldhouse in Lakers gold to take on the Pacers.

• Feb. 18, coming out of the All-Star break, TNT has a killer double-header: Chicago at Cleveland, followed by the Spurs at the Clippers.

• Last season there were 70 instances where teams had four games in five nights (almost always on the road), it’s one of the big complaints of teams and where they often rest guys. This season there are just 27 instances, the league has worked to cut those back.

• Teams will have an averaged of 17.8 games in back-to-back situations, that is down from 19.3 last season. Improved, but the league has a long way to go here.

• Entering year three of their tank-a-thon, the Philadelphia 76ers have no national television games scheduled. The Pistons, a team that could be in the playoff mix in the East, also are not on the national schedule.

• Once again, there is a

Report: Lakers feel they got played in Kawhi Leonard pursuit

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The Raptors reportedly felt Kawhi Leonard‘s advisor and uncle, Dennis Robertson, made unreasonable requests of them before Leonard signed with the Clippers.

The Lakers, the other team that waited for and missed out on Leonard, also apparently has misgivings about the process.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

I’ve heard complaints in the days after the signing. I heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played. I heard complaints from the Raptors that Kawhi came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars then left them at the altar.

The implication: Leonard knew all along wasn’t signing with the Lakers, waited a week into free agency so other top free agents would commit elsewhere then announced his decision just to sabotage the Lakers.

I don’t think Leonard did that. That’d be so calculating and sinister.

But I don’t know. We really don’t have much insight into how the famously secretive Leonard operates. I can’t rule it out.

Also, if Leonard did execute a devious plan to spite the Lakers, it’d look a lot like his actual free agency went.

Of course, nobody forced the Lakers to wait a week for Leonard. There had been longstanding reports Leonard didn’t want to play with LeBron James. The Lakers could have followed the Knicks model of dropping the Leonard pursuit to sign other players.

This is the calculus small-market teams must do frequently. They often bow out of star races, lacking confidence about succeeding.

The Lakers (often incorrectly) believe they can get anyone.

In this case, they were correct to chase Leonard until the end. He’s that big of a prize. Leonard is arguably the NBA’s best player. He can transform any franchise. The Lakers could also offer Leonard his desired Southern California locale and an opportunity to inform an incredible top trio with LeBron and Anthony Davis. For better or worse, that differentiated the Lakers from the Clippers.

The plan just didn’t work. Getting to the Clippers was clearly Leonard’s priority. He convinced George to join him, even moving a meeting with the Lakers so he could meet nearby with George unseen. That probably adds to the Lakers’ suspicion.

I don’t mind the Lakers venting. It must have been frustrating to miss out on Leonard.

Most importantly, they took care of business in the aftermath. The Lakers signed some good role players, chiefly Danny Green.

Their roster would likely look better now if they never pursued Leonard. But that opportunity cost was absolutely worth the potential upside of landing Leonard.

Report: Celtics complained about 76ers tampering with Al Horford

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Kyrie Irving was thinking about leaving the Celtics in December, according to Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Rumors of Irving leaving Boston had gotten so intense by February, he practically admitted he was open to leaving. Even Celtics president Danny Ainge said he got the impression by March or April that Irving could leave. By early June, it was apparent Irving wouldn’t re-sign. By mid June, it was clear he’d sign with Brooklyn. Irving announced July 1, the second day of free agency, he chose the Nets.

Al Horford‘s exit from Boston came more suddenly.

He declined a $30,123,015 player option that had to be exercised by June 18. The Celtics were on board with that, hoping to re-sign him to a long-term deal, presumably with a cheaper starting salary but more overall compensation. But the same day, a report emerged he’d leave Boston. Horford reportedly believed a four-year, $100 million contract awaited him in free agency. On the first day of free agency, he agreed to a four-year deal with the 76ers that guarantees $97 million and could be worth $109 million.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Celtics were, from what I am told, one of the teams that kind of stomped their feet about what they felt was tampering. Not with Kyrie, although that looked like it was lined up pretty far in advance. But with Horford. What happened with Horford – again, from what I am told – really upset the Celtics, that they were thinking they were going to be able to negotiate with him, talk to him about a new contract, and all of a sudden, it was like he already knew what his market was and was out of there.

The Celtics are hypocrites.

By June 26, Boston had become clear favorite to sign Kemba Walker. By June 29, he had reportedly told the Hornets he’d sign with the Celtics.

Again, free agency began June 30.

How does that happen without Boston tampering?

This is the game. Teams are generally clear to talk to players after the season, even though that’s technically against the rules. The Celtics cut the same corners as nearly everyone else. It’s ludicrous for Boston to complain about Horford’s departure, as if Walker didn’t arrive the same way.

The NBA hasn’t announced any fine for Philadelphia. But the league doesn’t announce all tampering violations.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is correct: This system is broken. The league’s tampering rules are vague and arbitrarily enforced. The NBA should set realistic rules then enforce them fully.

Rumor: Marcus Morris left agent Rich Paul over backing out of Spurs deal to join Knicks

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Thes are the facts on the ground: Powerful agent Rich Paul negotiated a two-year, $20 million contract for Marcus Morris with the Spurs, and he verbally agreed to it. The Spurs made a series of moves to clear out the cap space to honor that agreement. However, by the time the moratorium ended and players could sign deals, Morris had started to move on and soon reached a new, one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks. A few days later, Morris and Paul parted ways.

Now the rumors are starting to come in around how that went down.

The buzz at Summer League was Morris was disappointed with the market for his services, which he thought would be more robust. He took the Spurs offer that Paul set up, but when the Knicks came with $5 million more per year on a one-year deal — which makes Morris a free agent again in a much weaker class next summer — he wanted it. Paul, however, was not part of those talks and urged him to stick with the original Spurs deal, according to Marc Berman of New York Post.

Morris’ super-agent, Rich Paul, was not involved directly in Morris breaking his verbal agreement with the Spurs, according to a source, and the Knicks and Morris worked on a new deal together. The source reports Paul preferred Morris stick to his original agreement and the two are headed toward a breakup over the incident.

Morris’ move did not sit well with teams executives I spoke to at Summer League. Not because he backed out of a deal, that does happen (it’s not common, but it’s not unheard of), but because in this case the Spurs moved on from Davis Bertans and made roster moves to clear the cap space for Morris they would not otherwise have made.

Morris has made a bet on himself that there is a bigger, better contract for him next summer after he puts up numbers in New York (plus he gets $5 million more this season). We’ll see how that plays out.

Reports: Tristan Thompson will not play for Canada at World Cup; Rui Hachimura will play for Japan

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With national teams getting close to heading to training camp for the FIBA World Cup (which starts at the end of August), rosters are starting to shake out. For example, we know Anthony Davis will not play for Team USA, and Ben Simmons is out for Australia.

Now comes some more updates.

First, big man Tristan Thompson will not suit up for Canada, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Canada will still field a team made up almost entirely of NBA players. They should have a deep run in the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura will suit up for Japan, according to the Wizards official website.

Now, his attention turns to the 2019 FIBA World Cup, where Hachimura will lead the Japanese national team ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The FIBA World Cup tips off August 31 in China, and is not only the world championship but this time around also the primary qualifier for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Close to home, USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.