Here are the NBA’s Top 5 stories of 2016

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I’m in the camp 2016 sucked — just the deaths of Bowie, Prince, and Ali alone would rank it there.

Except not in the NBA — 2016 was about as amazing a year in hoops as you are ever going to find. It had everything. Narrowing this list down to five things was hard, there were so many other things that could have made this list: The passing of Craig Sager, the exit of Sam Hinkie in Philly just as Joel Embiid urges everyone to trust the process, Dwyane Wade going back to Chicago, and on and on.

Take a stroll with us down (recent) memory lane, here are our five biggest NBA stories of 2016.

5) Kevin Durant signs with Golden State.

So many things had to come together for this to happen: A new television deal that led to a massive spike in revenue for teams that would drive up the salary cap; the NBA players union refusing to go along with Adam Silver’s plan to smooth in that cap spike; the Thunder blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals; and mostly Durant seeing something in a franchise outside Oklahoma City that he wanted to be a part of. A year out from his decision the sense around the league was that Durant was likely to stay, but as all those pieces mentioned above started to fall into place there became more and more of a sense that he was willing to leave a little money on the table to go to Golden State because of the on-and-off court chemistry the team had. When Durant made his decision last July, it shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference — two of the three best players on the planet had teamed up. In 2017 we will see if they can reach their goal, but it has already led to some impressive highlights.

4) Warriors win record 73 games.

Because they lost in the NBA Finals (in dramatic fashion) we tend to sleep on what an unbelievable accomplishment this was. Back when Phil Jackson coached the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, he was asked about his team chasing that record, and he said no team from the West Coast could do it because of the increased travel demands (everything is farther apart, the road trips are longer). The Warriors did it with a combination of great players, a small-ball “death lineup” that nobody could plan for and stop during the regular season, and a lot of luck with health. Maybe it wore them down come the playoffs (they think so), but that does not diminish what was the greatest regular season we have every seen.

3) New Collective Bargaining Agreement reached — and way before the deadline.

When was the last time anything at your office/school got done long in advance of the deadline pushing it? Exactly. That’s maybe most amazing thing about the NBA owners and players’ union reaching a deal on a new CBA before even the opt-out deadline, let alone the July 1 lockout one, that it came together this easily and way in advance. Give NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and players’ union executive director Michelle Roberts credit for not bringing the scar tissue of past negotiations to the table. The two sides agreed on the money split — which remains basically 50/50, just as it was in the last CBA — and the players got more from, and more control over, player image licensing. The new CBA adds a “designated player” exception so teams such as Oklahoma City can pay more to keep players such Kevin Durant. Also, the two sides agreed to start the season earlier to reduce back-to-backs, and they put together a medical insurance plan for former players. But mostly, this new CBA is the status quo, which shows that the influx of cash from the new television deal had both sides making so much money nobody wanted to screw it up.

2) Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett all retire.

That is one insane Hall of Fame class coming in five years. Kobe and Duncan should vie for the greatest player of their generation — both with five rings, both were cornerstones of powerhouse franchises for decades, and both evolved their games with age and with the changes in style in the NBA. Also, it was fitting that both Kobe and Durant left the game exactly the way you’d expect them to: Kobe gunning his way to 60 points in a blaze of glory final game that was enthralling; Duncan didn’t even show up to his retirement press conference, leaving Gregg Popovich to do the talking.

Every time you see a big man spacing the floor, showing his handles on the wing, and then getting back and defending, you should thank KG. Of these three, maybe nobody more influenced the direction the game has gone than Garnett and how he transformed what could be expected of a seven footer.

1) LeBron James leads Cavaliers from 3-1 down to break Cleveland’ title cures.

What, you thought it could be anything else? LeBron played as great a three games in the NBA Finals of anyone ever. He lifted a team that I thought looked broken after a Game 4 loss at home and refused to let them die (the Draymond Green Game 5 suspension was both earned and opened that door for the Cavs). But this was more than LeBron lifting Kyrie Irving up to a point he could sink the series-clinching three on the road — this was LeBron lifting an entire city, and entire region up. It had been 52 years since a title came to Cleveland, and he the hometown boy put everyone on his back and got them there.

LeBron did more than win a third ring with that title, he secured a legacy.

Report: Heat, Udonis Haslem nearing deal for him to return for 16th season

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Does this give us a hint about what Dwyane Wade is thinking?

Probably not. What it means is that the Heat want some depth along the front line and, more importantly, a quality presence in the locker room. They want to bring back one of the icons of the franchise.

Udonis Haslem is reportedly nearing a contract with the Miami Heat, reports Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

Haslem played in just 14 games for the Heat last season, and 72 total minutes. He just turned 38 and the Heat could use that roster spot to develop a young player. But this is about loyalty, and it’s a move that will play well in the locker room and with the fan base.

Wade also will like it. Whether it is an omen of his decision remains to be seen.

LeBron James on top of MVP odds rankings

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The 2018-19 NBA MVP race feels more wide open than we have seen in years.

What kind of numbers will LeBron James put up with the Lakers and how far can he lift that team? Can James Harden repeat? Is Kawhi Leonard back in MVP form? Will a new coach in Mike Budenholzer lift Giannis Antetokounmpo up to a new level? Does Russell Westbrook put up MVP numbers again?

Online betting company Bovada released these odds for the 2019 MVP award.

LeBron James            10/3
Anthony Davis           4/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo   9/2
James Harden            11/2
Kevin Durant            9/1
Kawhi Leonard           11/1
Russell Westbrook       14/1
Stephen Curry           15/1
Joel Embiid             16/1
Kyrie Irving            16/1
Ben Simmons             35/1
Damian Lillard          45/1
Karl-Anthony Towns      50/1
DeMar DeRozan           80/1
John Wall               80/1
Donovan Mitchell        85/1
Jimmy Butler            100/1
Nikola Jokic            100/1
Victor Oladipo          100/1
Chris Paul              100/1
LaMarcus Aldridge       125/1
Paul George             125/1
DeMarcus Cousins        150/1
Gordon Hayward          150/1
Jayson Tatum            175/1
Blake Griffin           225/1
Devin Booker            275/1
Kristaps Porzingis      275/1
Kyle Lowry              325/1
Lonzo Ball              450/1

A few quick thoughts:

• If you’re betting on Porzingis to win the MVP this season, just donate that money to charity where it can do some good. He may not even play this season.

• If you believe Kawhi Leonard is healthy and back to form, 11-1 is a good betting value.

• Westbrook at 14-1 also seems a good value, if you think he and Paul George can lift the Thunder up to a new level.

• My preseason prediction for MVP is Anthony Davis. But that’s betting on him staying healthy.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey says LeBron is GOAT by a “pretty big margin”

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had it right — the GOAT argument is a comparison of different players with different teammates and different rules, it’s cannot be definitive. To use his Highlander analogy, “there doesn’t need to be only one.”

But if you ask Rockets GM Daryl Morey who is The Greatest, he is going with LeBron James. Something he said on the Dan Patrick Show Wednesday.

LeBron is the best of his generation, maybe the greatest athlete the NBA has ever seen, and he entered the league with a basketball IQ off the chart (remember when short-sighted people used to rip him for passing to the open player with the game on the line rather than taking the contested shots?).

Is he the GOAT? Fun discussion while sitting on a barstool with a Steady Brewing Unrefined hazy IPA in front of you, go at it in the comments, but there is no answer.

Unless you’re Morey.

Five free agents still available who can help teams

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The NBA summer is basically over. We are now closer to the start of the new season than we are the end of the NBA Finals and most teams have their rosters set, they are just adding training camp invites. Or, guys who could maybe get the 14th or 15th roster spot.

Still, some name free agents can help teams.

Here are the big five on the market still.

1. Rodney Hood (restricted). At this point, he’s going to remain a Cavalier next season. No team is making an offer the Cavaliers wouldn’t just match (only Sacramento has the cap space to do it, and they are focused on others at the wing), meaning the only question left is if he plays for the $3.4 million qualifying offer or if the two sides work out a different deal.

How his stock has fallen. One year ago he was preparing for a season where he expected to be the go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz. By the end of the season he barely got off the bench in Cleveland (and in one case would not get off the bench).

That said, he can help a Cavaliers team that doesn’t want to just tear it down despite LeBron James leaving (see the Kevin Love contract). Hood is a 6’8” wing who can get buckets, and the Cavaliers could use that. Play well, rehab his image, and he will not be in this situation a year from now.

2. Jamal Crawford. He’s 38 years old (which scares some teams), and his efficiency has slipped, but the man can still get buckets off the bench (10.3 points per game last season) and more than a few teams could use that. Plus he’s seen as good in the locker room. He turned down a $4.5 million player option with the Timberwolves because he wanted a bigger role (he was getting 20 minutes a game last season) but at this point that is apparently off the table. Still, some team is going to pick him up.

3. Dwyane Wade. He’s made it clear, if he comes back it will be with the Miami Heat for one year. While a rumor got going on Twitter Tuesday that he was close to signing a contract with the Heat, I was told by sources that is not the case. Then Wade Tweeted this:

Nobody knows for sure, but I would lean retirement over return at this point. That said, the decision will come when Wade is ready, not before. He’s earned that right.

4. Nick Young. No team could use some Swaggy P? He’s a character, often doesn’t play within the flow in the offense, he doesn’t play great defense, but he just played 17 minutes a game for the NBA champions, hr hit some threes and shot 41 percent from deep, and made some plays. Another guy who is not young (11 years in the league) but some team will likely give a chance (if not at the start of the season, as a mid-season replacement).

5. David West. His role shrank with the Warriors last season — he averaged 6.8 points last season on 13.7 minutes a game — but he was still efficient when he was on the court (a 20.9 PER). Plus, he is excellent in the locker room. A lot of younger teams could use his presence in the locker room, but he may be a mid-season replacement for a team looking for front-line depth.

Honorable Mention: Joe Johnson. He’s 37-years-old and has 17 seasons of miles on his legs, but he still knows how to play the game. He struggled to help Houston or Utah last season, but don’t be shocked if he is a mid-season pickup by a team.

• Added note: Trevor Booker would have been on this list, but he decided to take the cash in China for a season.