FIBA World Cup Schedule 2014: Complete Preview Heading into Semifinals

There have been a number of surprises throughout the FIBA World Cup, but we are now down to four teams all fighting for a gold medal.

While Spain was considered a top contender as the host nation with a number of NBA stars on the roster, the squad was eliminated by France in the quarterfinals. This makes the United States the overwhelming favorite to win its next two games, but it is clear anything can happen in this competitive tournament.

All four remaining teams have a chance to take home gold with two wins, while one more win will at least secure a medal. Here is a look at what each team has to do to reach that goal.

 

United States vs. Lithuania

When: Thursday, September 11

Time: 3 p.m. ET

Where: Barcelona, Spain

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

The United States has not faced incredibly difficult competition in this tournament so far, winning all six of its games by at least 20 points. 

Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried have been almost unstoppable in the low post, averaging a combined 26.7 points and 15.1 rebounds per game. Their pure athleticism, combined with incredible work ethic, has helped them lead become leaders of this young squad.

Arash Markazi of ESPN explains that Spain’s loss in the quarterfinals makes an American title much more likely:

Still, head coach Mike Krzyzewski knows what he is up against in Lithuania. Team USA barely escaped with a win against this opponent at the 2012 Olympics, while Jonas Valanciunas is playing as well as ever as a leader for this squad.

“He gets a piece of the paint in numerous ways, and then he is a great offensive rebounder,” Krzyzewski said of the Toronto Raptors star, via Chris Kudialas of the Detroit Free Press. “Not a good one, but a great one.”

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated sees the center as a threat for the United States big men:

Just as importantly, Lithuania has hit 40 percent of its three-point shots in this tournament and can find ways to score against a more athletic opponent. This will help ensure this game remains close throughout.

That being said, Team USA is simply too good to stop and should come through with a tough win.

Prediction: USA 88, Lithuania 80

 

France vs. Serbia

When: Friday, September 12

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Where: Madrid, Spain

Watch: ESPN2

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

Few expected either France or Serbia to make it to this point in the tournament. France and Serbia finished third and fourth in Group A, respectively, and had subpar performances against the top teams in the group.

However, the quarterfinals featured major upsets for both teams, as each squad was able to avenge a loss from earlier in the tournament.

France had an impressive showing in a 65-52 win over Spain, utilizing its size inside to get the advantage over the elite frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Rudy Gobert especially stood out in the victory, as John Schuhmann of NBA.com pointed out:

Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated joked about how good the center was in the defensive battle:

With Boris Diaw and Thomas Heurtel also coming through with big performances, the French were able to pull off the massive upset over the host nation and biggest rival.

While you would think France could keep this momentum to possibly move into the finals, it is important not to count out Serbia, which had a dominant victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Like Spain, Brazil was expected to advance thanks to its NBA talent. As HoopsHype noted, this did not go as planned:

Milos Teodosic led the way with a game-high 23 points, including 10-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line, as he was clearly unafraid of contact. The entire squad has continually improved throughout the tournament and is now playing as well as ever.

When these two teams face off in the semifinals, expect the competition to be a lot like the first time they played when France edged out a 74-73 victory. Boris Diaw hit a game-tying shot with 18 seconds left before Joffrey Lauvergne put his team ahead for good with a made free throw in the final seconds.

France has the size inside to make a difference in this game while still waiting for the outside shooting of Nicolas Batum and Evan Fournier to come around. Although this matchup should be close, the French should be able to pull off the narrow win.

Prediction: France 67, Serbia 63

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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UNC Basketball: Breaking Down the Tar Heels’ Complete 2014-15 Schedule

Most of the opponents were already known, and a handful of dates and locations were penciled in. But now that North Carolina has formally released its 2014-15 basketball schedule, we can really start looking ahead to what the Tar Heels will face this season.

We can also start picking apart the hills and valleys of the slate, which is a tough one but also one that can provide UNC with great preparation for the postseason.

The 2014-15 schedule features 13 nonconference games before Carolina gets into the 18-game ACC lineup. All told, UNC plays 15 home games in the Dean Smith Center, with 12 games on the road and four set for neutral sites. That includes three games in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

The 15 dates in Chapel Hill are the fewest since the 2010-11 season, when UNC only played 30 regular-season games.

The full schedule is listed below. You can also find a PDF of it to download here.

The schedule features either 13 or 14 games against teams that made the NCAA tournament last season, depending on who UNC’s final opponent is in the Bahamas. Only seven of the games will come against foes that finished below .500 a year ago.

 

Easy street

* Jan 18-24 (vs. Virginia Tech, at Wake Forest, vs. Florida State): The trio combined to go 17-37 in ACC play last season, with Florida State winning nine of those games. The FSU game is the toughest of the three, but it’s at home, though it does fall two days before UNC hosts Syracuse on ESPN’s Big Monday lineup.

 

Toughest stretch

* Feb. 7-18 (at Boston College, at Pittsburgh, at Duke): Sure, BC was among the worst major college teams in the nation last year, but with the trip to Chestnut Hill serving as the opening leg of a three-game, 12-day road trip, it’s the kind of game that could get overlooked. That’s enhanced by the face UNC goes from there to Pittsburgh and then back to Tobacco Row for the annual trip to Duke.

According to Adam Lucas of GoHeels.com, it marks the first time under Roy Williams and the first occasion since the 2000-01 season that Carolina plays three straight ACC road games.

You could stretch it out even further and take in the two games before the three-game trip, making it an even more difficult spate. On. Jan. 31 UNC visits Louisville, then two days later hosts Virginia. Even with BC in there, that’s a quintet that went 121-56 in 2013-14.

 

Schedule traps

* Nov. 14-16 (vs. NC Central, vs. Robert Morris): Yes, both teams come from the kind of conferences (Northeast and MEAC, respectively) that usually earn no better than a No. 14 seed in the NCAA tournament. But these are the reigning conference regular-season champions, with Robert Morris getting upset at home in the Northeast tourney final and NC Central won 28 games en route to an NCAA berth.

* Feb. 28-March 3 (at Miami, at Georgia Tech): These teams combined to go 33-33 last year, but both should be improved in 2013-14. This is Carolina’s final road trip of the regular season, with the Tech game coming four days before the Heels host Duke.

 

Worth the trip

* Nov. 26-28 (at Battle 4 Atlantis; Nassau, Bahamas): As if you needed a reason to go to the Bahamas, Carolina is entered in a whopper of a preseason tournament. After opening with Butler, UNC will face either Oklahoma or UCLA, both of which reached the NCAA tournament last year. The Heels’ final game will also be a challenge, with the possible opponents being Florida, Georgetown, Wisconsin or UAB. If it’s UAB, that would mean facing the Blazers twice in a month (along with the Dec. 27 game in Chapel Hill).

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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5 NBA Players That Need a Trade to Fulfill Complete Potential

The NBA is a dream come true for the players who work hard enough to make it, but plenty still find themselves one trade away from being in the right situation.

For the five in this slideshow, reaching their full potential may be just around the corner, but getting there will be next to impossible with the teams they currently represent.

Whether it’s a logjam at the player’s position, an issue with management or just the need for a fresh start, there’s a reason to believe each one would be better off individually somewhere else.

They’re in order by age, and each has qualified for the list by being involved in some kind of trade rumor during the last year.

Begin Slideshow

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FIBA World Cup Schedule 2014: Complete Preview for Preliminary Round of Tourney

The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gives fans of international basketball the opportunity to watch their favorite nations in action outside of Olympic play.

Hosted by Spain, the 2014 FIBA tournament is going to be filled with excitement. The Spanish team is loaded with talent, evidenced by its silver medal in the 2012 Olympics. Its main competition is the United States, a team that won gold in the Olympics and also won 2010′s installment of this tournament against host nation Turkey.

The two teams have plenty of history, and they’ll enter the tournament as likely favorites to take home the top spot. Before group play gets underway, we’ll have to get through the preliminary rounds. The entire preliminary schedule can be found below.

 

Preliminary Round Schedule

Preliminary schedule is courtesy of NBA.com.

 

United States

Kevin Durant has pulled out of the FIBA tournament, and Paul George will miss out on the tournament because of a terrible injury he suffered in a scrimmage. Regardless, this team is poised to dominate in Spain.

Of course, it won’t be easy. Team USA’s schedule is a grueling one, and that even includes its pre-tournament tuneups. Nick Gallo of NBA.com broke down the team’s itinerary:

The United States’ training in Las Vegas ends on August 1st with the USA Basketball Showcase at 8:00 p.m. CDT. The team will then travel to Chicago, Ill. For two more days of training and an exhibition game against Brazil on August 16th at 8:00 p.m. CT. From August 18th-22nd, the United States squad will be training in New York City, squaring off against the Dominican Republic on August 20th and Puerto Rico on August 22nd in two more exhibition games before departing for Spain. Training camp concludes for the Untied States in Gran Canaria, Spain with two days of practice and a final exhibition tune-up against Slovenia on August 26th.

That’s a lot of basketball, but the tuneups will be necessary for success in this tournament. Basketball is a game of consistency, and it’s hard to find consistency if you aren’t playing consistently. Makes sense.

Team USA’s exhibition against Brazil is Saturday evening, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski has already named four of his five starters for the game, tweets NBC’s Kurt Helin:

The other spot won’t be occupied by DeMarcus Cousins, as SportsCenter tweeted that he won’t play in the contest:

Even without Durant, George and now Cousins (for at least one game), the United States have the weapons to make noise. Just look at the four listed in the starting lineup. Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis are a scary quartet on the floor.

This lineup might be fluid during exhibition games as Coach K works out the kinks with his roster, but there are multiple candidates to start games on this stacked roster.

 

Spain

The Spanish team is loaded with talent.

Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol are the three headliners. This frontcourt is absolutely dominant in every facet of the game, so it will be interesting to see how teams combat these big bodies.

Veterans like Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez and Juan-Carlos Navarro are also set to play well. They’ve proved themselves in international competition in the past, making them candidates to help keep the offense flowing efficiently.

Ricky Rubio is the X-factor for the Spanish. Everyone is aware of his incredible passing ability. It’s that ability that’s going to help Spain confuse opposing defenses and get easy baskets, so in that regard, Rubio is a plus.

But then there’s Rubio‘s ineffective jump shot.

Rubio isn’t a good shooter. The whole world knows it. Sometimes he himself doesn’t, however. Rubio tends to lean on that jumper a bit too much, and if he does that in this tournament, Spain will lose a good amount of their dominance.

Playing in front of their home fans gives Spain an edge, but there is certainly something playing against them. If Rubio realizes that he needs to dish before shooting, Spain can challenge the United States.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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What Offseason Moves are Next for Denver Nuggets With the Draft Complete?

Last summer was a trying one for the Denver Nuggets.

The franchise watched wunderkind general manager and 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri depart the Friday after Memorial Day to take the same position with the Toronto Raptors, then fired Coach of the Year George Karl a week later.

A month after those twin debacles, Andre Iguodala left Denver, agreeing to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Golden State Warriors—the team that ended the Nuggets’ tremendous campaign with a first-round playoff upset.

On the heels of one of the greatest regular seasons in franchise history, it was a disaster of the least mitigated sort. Denver tumbled from 57 wins to 36. So by sheer virtue of the fact that nothing colossally damaging has happened to the Nuggets this spring and summer, this offseason represents an improvement.

Good thing. The Nuggets are an organization with lofty goals. In Denver, as GM Tim Connelly explained to Nuggets.com, “good” isn’t good enough.

We’re aware of where we need to get better, and we’ll address those needs, whether it’s on draft night, whether it’s through free agency, whether it’s through trades. We’re not content. Our goal’s not to be a bubble playoff team. Our goal is to be a team that’s playing for the Western Conference finals and then you have a puncher’s chance at winning a championship. We’re going to be very aggressive on our end. It takes two to make a deal, so who knows if we’ll find willing suitors, but we’re going to be really aggressive trying to improve this team and use every tool at our disposal.

Connelly has already been plenty aggressive. On draft day alone, he swung a deal to get shooting guard Arron Afflalo back to Denver and traded with the Chicago Bulls to bring rookies Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris into the fold. Both moves were wins.

But while Denver has plenty of holes to fill and weaknesses to fortify, the team might be done tinkering with the roster. Coach Brian Shaw surmised as much during a post-draft interview with Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post.

“If everybody is healthy and available, then I think we’re good,” Shaw told the reporter. “That’s how I felt last year going into the season.”

But even if the roster is largely set, that doesn’t mean the Nuggets’ work is done. The training staff will be hard at work rehabilitating the many Denver players who were bit by the injury bug last season. Ty Lawson missed 20 games. Nate Robinson was unavailable for 38. JaVale McGee played in five. Danilo Gallinari missed the whole year with a torn ACL. Simply getting these players back healthy should make the Nuggets considerably more competitive. Call it upgrade by inertia. 

But the most meaningful maneuver of the offseason won’t come in the training room but at the negotiating table. The biggest agenda item for Denver is coming to terms with Kenneth Faried on a long-term extension.

The first thing that jumps off the page about Faried is that, statistically, he doesn’t have any real weaknesses. There’s nothing that he doesn’t do well. In 2013-14, relative to other power forwards, Faried was an above-average scorer in terms of volume and efficiency, posted steal and block rates that exceeded the positional average along with a foul rate that came in below it, all while grabbing nearly 33 percent more rebounds than his fellow 4s, according to Boxscore Geeks

This well-roundedness is reflected in the advanced metrics, which are simply googly-eyed with affection for Faried. According to Basketball-Reference, he’s never posted a player-efficiency rating below 18.5 or a win shares per 48 minutes lower than .144 in his three NBA seasons (average is 15 and .1, respectively) while, per Boxscore Geeks, he’s produced 10.7 and 9.4 wins the last two years, both of which led the Nuggets.

And then there’s the remarkable energy the forward plays with, which is something else entirely. Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey explained it thusly:

There may not be another player in the league who plays harder on a nightly basis. That’s overly simple analysis, but have you seen this guy play? Every loose ball and rebound is attainable in his mind, and he goes after them with unbridled energy. It’s no wonder he’s known as “The Manimal.”

Bailey suggested the Utah Jazz’s contract with Derrick Favors would be a helpful template for Faried and Denver. Something like the four-year, $49 million deal Favors signed last October would likely work for both sides.

If Denver can get Faried locked-up long term and the rest of the roster healthy and ready to roll by November, it might not be long before the Nuggets return to their winning ways. The summer of 2013 was a disaster for the organization, but so far in 2014 the franchise has made strides to repair the damage. 

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Complete list of potential free agents

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade have company in being potential free agents.

      
 

 

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Charlotte Hornets with the Draft Complete?

The completion of the Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats) draft opens up the door for the most exciting part of the NBA offseason: free agency.

Big name free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will get plenty of airplay and rightfully so, but the smaller moves often help complete the equation. For instance, Shane Battier helped swing the 2013 title in the Miami Heat’s favor with his shooting, while Boris Diaw had a similar effect with his passing for the San Antonio Spurs during the 2014 championship season.

In the case of Charlotte, the endgame isn’t a title, but competing for a second-round postseason berth would surely be a welcomed development for its fans. How do the Hornets get there?

Excellent question if I do say so myself.

In order to properly respond, we will look at the glaring needs on the roster, and from there see which players could potentially come in and help.

 

Shooting

The Hornets made 44.2 percent of their shots during the 2013-14 campaign, a figure that ranked 25th in the league.

Those numbers are only slightly better than those of a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 15 games last year. In other words, the Hornets weren’t quite good enough on this front, and that will have to change.

The main problem was that Charlotte was incredibly dependent of Al Jefferson. He is the only player on the roster capable of creating quality shots for himself and others.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe offered this take in late March: “Jefferson commands a double-team on the block against almost any defender, and that has made life easier for his teammates.”

His post-ups produce high-percentage scoring chances either for himself or his teammates whenever defenders converge on him. But that’s not enough.

The front office will have to address the lack of offensive options before the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The Hornets desperately need players capable of manufacturing and making shots.

LeBron and Carmelo would certainly give the Hornets ample help in this spot, however both have title aspirations, and Charlotte isn’t the kind of destination that will help them in their quests.

Instead, there are lesser talented players such as Paul Pierce and Vince Carter who could give the Hornets what they are looking for. Pierce scored 17.1 points per 36 minutes last year, on 45.1 percent shooting for the Brooklyn Nets.

He was an adequate option in isolations and post-ups, where he got to the areas he wanted and produced scores. The same is true for Carter, who averaged 17.6 points per 36 minutes, albeit on 40.7 percent shooting. He offset the low field-goal percentage by shooting a very solid 39.4 percent on three-point shots.

Also, Carter spent his college days playing for North Carolina. That’s not necessarily high on the priority list, but fans might enjoy seeing one of their own in a Hornets jersey.

Considering that Charlotte will have nearly $20 million in cap space, they could potentially sign both Carter and Pierce to orbit around Jefferson. This sounds at least a bit interesting in theory, but both players will be 37 years old when next season opens.

That means there might be too much mileage on their respective legs to carry a heavy burden. In addition, it’s probably fair to assume they might retire after the 2014-15 campaign.

Instead, the Hornets might want to focus their energy on luring Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors and Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers.

Lowry averaged 17.9 points and 7.4 assists on 42.3 percent shooting last year. One can forgive the low shooting number in this instance because he was effective in setting teammates up for easy scores.

Lowry is a good drive-and-kick player, and he always does a solid job in the pick-and-roll of sucking defenders toward him and then finding the man rolling to the basket.

Lowry gave Toronto some extra gravy by converting 44.1 percent of his spot-up treys during the 2013-14 campaign, per SportVU player tracking. The shooting and playmaking make Lowry a superior option to current Hornets starter Kemba Walker (39.3 percent shooting during 2013-14).

Lowry would be an ideal fit because he addresses the team’s offensive dilemma.

In the event Charlotte fails to get Lowry, Stephenson is a really interesting option because of his ball-handling ability. The Pacers used him as a backup point guard with the second unit and gave him the freedom to orchestrate the offense. He beat defenders off the dribble in one-on-one scenarios and also did a good job of setting up his teammates on pick-and-rolls. His handles allow him to get to most spots on the floor without much of a hitch.

To be fair, playing alongside All-Star Paul George meant that Stephenson didn’t always draw the best defender from the opposing team. But by the same token, George’s presence was part of the reason Stephenson averaged “only” 13.8 points and 4.6 assists in 35.3 minutes per game.

If Charlotte can get one of these players, I would then put the full court press on getting a shooter. P.J. Hairston was drafted to help in this area, but it’s entirely possible that it will take him some time to get acclimated to the professional ranks.

Thus, the Hornets should pull out all the stops to acquire Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies, who would open up the floor for Jefferson.

Some might prefer to see the Washington Wizards’ Trevor Ariza instead, given his defensive acumen and the fact he made 40.7 percent of his three-point shots last year. I can’t fault anyone for that line of thinking.

But I have concerns.

Lowry and Stephenson enjoyed their best professional seasons in contract years (career high PER of 20.1 and 14.7 respectively), which could be a red flag. It’s possible they might never be as good again.

Know who else has that problem?

Ariza!

During the 2009 playoffs, he drilled 47.6 percent of his treys and helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the title in a contract year. He then signed a five-year $33.9 million deal with the Houston Rockets after the 2009 NBA Finals.

In the final year of that contract (the 2013-14 campaign), Ariza had the best three-point shooting year of his career. Coincidence? It’s a possibility, but it could also be a trend that’s taking shape.

That’s why I’m more inclined to pick Miller and his 40.9 percent career mark from long range.

 

Help Inside!

Jefferson is certainly a load on the interior, but he is the only reliable big man on the roster.

The Associated Press reported that Brendan Haywood and the new draft pick Dwight Powell were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Alonzo Gee, which removes a center from the lineup. Haywood missed the 2013-14 campaign due to a stress fracture.

In addition, Bismack Biyombo has proven he’s only a bench option at best judging from the fact he averaged 13.9 minutes per game during the 2013-14 season. Cody Zeller wasn’t much better. He played 17.3 minutes per game and shot 42.6 percent from the floor. Further exacerbating issues, Josh McRoberts is opting out of his contract, according to ESPN.com.

McRoberts was a key piece to the team because of the mix of skills he brought to Charlotte. He’s a good passer with range on his jumper, talents which prompted Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford to use him as a high-post passer at the three-point line.

Instead of stationing him at the free-throw line, Clifford pushed him further out where defenders were forced to abandon the paint and give Jefferson more room to operate.

“He [Jefferson] stays on me to shoot the ball from the outside just because it will give him more space,” McRoberts said to Sporting News’ DeAntae Prince in late January. “That’s something that I have to do in order for him to have more room. Make some plays out there and just stay aggressive so that throughout the game he gets open and we can get him the ball a little bit easier.”

The numbers might not be all that impressive, but they do have the feel and impact of Boris Diaw. McRoberts averaged 10.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes coupled with 36.1 percent shooting from downtown (Diaw’s per 36 numbers: 13.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, four assists and 40.2 percent three-point shooting).

Even though the Hornets drafted Noah Vonleh, losing McRoberts would be a big blow.

“He was a big part of our team and we definitely want to re-sign him,” general manager Rich Cho said at a pre-draft press conference per ESPN.com. He helped Kemba (Walker) and he helped Big Al (Jefferson). He’s such a great passer. He’s a connector to the team. And he’s a great teammate also. So we’re hoping we sign him.”

In the event Charlotte can’t re-sign McRoberts, the Hornets simply might have Vonleh learn on the job or perhaps go after someone with skills similar to McRoberts. In an odd twist of fate, Diaw is a free agent, but he played before in Charlotte, and the franchise paid him (waived) to go away.

That’s probably still in the back of his mind, and also, there’s that small thing where Diaw was an integral part to a Spurs team that just won the title. I think he wants to enjoy defending it.

That leaves Charlotte with two wildly different choices: Marcin Gortat of the Washington Wizards or Channing Frye of the Phoenix Suns.

Gortat is your classic center: sets picks, rolls to the basket, protects the interior and rebounds in traffic. He’s not a great low-post player, but he can generate some offense down there.

Because Gortat is a center, that means he would either back up Jefferson or play next to him, with big Al sliding over to power forward. Smart coaches can get away with lineups featuring two interior players (see Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Spurs to name a few) provided they have an abundance of shooters.

Because Charlotte doesn’t yet have an army of snipers coupled with passers to hit them when open, we go to option No. 2.

Frye won’t much get in the way of Jefferson on offense, because he will be stationed beyond the three-point line. He averaged 5.3 long-distance attempts last season and hit 37 percent of them.

That’s a terrific way of loosening the defense while still having a big man on the floor. Frye isn’t the passer that McRoberts is, but Frye’s a better rebounder (6.5 boards per 36 minutes).

These are the moves that I can see Charlotte executing to improve the roster. It should allow them to build on the success of last season’s postseason berth and potentially become a better team.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Minnesota Timberwolves with Draft Complete?

Fresh off a successful 2014 NBA draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves now are faced with some tough decisions in free agency.

Most notably is superstar Kevin Love‘s future. There’s little to no chance Love will opt in for his extra year, so the T-Wolves will have to either find a trade partner or let him walk and get nothing in return, the worst of choices for Minnesota.

The result of Love’s situation will shape the rest of the free-agency period for the Wolves as they’ll try to fill out their roster with pieces that could get them back in the playoffs.

Their second unit is in dire need of shooting after very bad years from J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved. Rookie guard Zach LaVine and second-round pick Glenn Robinson III could both remedy that situation, but they could take a while to pan out.

Minnesota could also fortify its frontcourt with some strength and athleticism as Dante Cunningham is a free agent, and their backups at the 4 aren’t very effective.

The Wolves have limited cap space, but some creativity could land them solid rotation players.

 

Sign a Backup Point Guard 

Barea had a very disappointing year, shooting 31 percent from downtown, his second-worst career mark. If his struggles continue, he could certainly find himself riding the pine.

LaVine could fill in as a backup point, but his inexperience might delay his insertion into the regular rotation during the opening weeks. The T-Wolves can always sign a new backup, and there are a few good players available with different skill sets.

Ramon Sessions could be a cheap option.

Sessions excels at attacking and finishing around the basket, scoring on 56 percent of his attempts near the rim. He has had some struggles with his shot over the past few years, though.

If the Wolves want more of a shooting specialist, they can look at someone like Mo Williams.

Williams opted out of his contract with the Portland Trail Blazers recently, wanting a three-year deal, per James Herbert of CBS Sports. If Portland is unwilling to offer him that deal, Minnesota, which needs shooters, could step in and give him a chance.

He has proved to be a streaky scorer throughout his career, helping spark the second unit. He can also play the 2-guard and line up alongside Ricky Rubio, an excellent drive-and-kick player. Williams would also be a solid veteran presence.

Whichever way Minnesota goes, an upgrade is necessary, as Barea may be entering the downside of his career.

 

Sign a Backup Power Forward 

Minnesota needs a backup 4 not only due to the imminent Love departure , but also because Luc Richard Mbah a Moute isn’t exactly a great option.

Mbah a Moute didn’t see the court a lot, and he hasn’t shown much throughout his career and struggles because of his size. He might be more fit as a 3, but the Wolves are stacked at that position.

Minnesota could use some rebounding specialists, and there are a couple of solid options.

First is Jordan Hill, a high-energy rebounder who is also fairly effective from short-to-mid range. He’d be a nice upgrade at power forward as his season averages of 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game are better than Cunningham’s and Mbah a Moute’s combined.

The Timberwolves could also look at Jeff Adrien, another rebounding forward who can knock down the mid-range jump shot on occasion. Adrien benefited from being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he found a spot in the rotation and averaged over 10 points and nearly eight rebounds per game.

Even if Love isn’t dealt before the season, the Timberwolves would benefit from adding a stronger option behind him, preferably someone who could continue to crash the boards as well as protect the rim.

 

Trade Kevin Love 

Minnesota has to try to get something in return for the star forward. The longer it waits, the lower the value of any returning assets since teams will know they can sign him outright during free agency.

The Golden State Warriors‘ deal including budding star Klay Thompson appears to have stalled as ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein reported. And while that deal made the most sense for Minnesota, as it could build around Thompson for the future, there are still a couple of other options.

The Chicago Bulls apparently have interest and were rumored to have offered forward Taj Gibson, second-year guard Tony Snell along with the two picks they held in the draft, per ESPN’s Chad Ford (subscription required).

With the draft now behind us, though, the Bulls could offer a similar package that includes their draft pick along with the rights to Euro star Nikola Mirotic. Convincing Chicago to part ways with so many pieces would be the hard part.

Another option is the Houston Rockets.

They’re interested in both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, and they will surely clear cap space to make either signing a possibility. Bleacher Report’s own Ric Bucher has more on the Rockets as a possible trade partner:

As Bucher stated, a deal is more than likely contingent on the Rockets landing either Anthony or LeBron, as they could then deal Chandler Parsons without a problem. If Parsons is in fact No. 2 on Minnesota’s list, it should try to get the deal done regardless of what Anthony or James do in free agency.

Minnesota would add a player it likes and wants and could build around as it looks toward the future and past the Kevin Love era.

Whatever team the Timberwolves choose to strike a deal with, it’s imperative they do it fast before teams are unwilling to trade for him and simply steal him during free agency.

It could be another rough season in Minnesota, but adding a few good bench pieces and retooling the roster will at least turn a new chapter for the struggling franchise.

Chances are it will lose its biggest start since Kevin Garnett, but with a new head coach and perhaps a new roster, the T-Wolves could be looking at a postseason appearance in the near future.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Milwaukee Bucks with NBA Draft Complete?

The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t win a basketball game between Jan. 30 and March 28 and yet the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the worst record in the NBA. In fact, in the long history of the National Basketball Association, only 15 teams won a fewer percentage of their contests than the 15-67, 2013-14 Bucks.

So, at the moment, nobody is too fearful of the deer.

But with a strong offseason, that could change.

The Sixers are an instructive example here. Philadelphia, too, brazenly some would say, tore down its roster in the last 13 months to rebuild a stronger one. Likewise, the primary thing the Bucks need to do this summer is take things apart, accept that the team needs another high lottery pick—maybe two—to put around Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo for the franchise to have any hope of really competing. In other words, Milwaukee won’t raise a banner until it razes its roster.

“We have a piece that we’re sure is going to take us to another level,” coach Larry Drew told Genaro C. Armas of the Sheboygan Press. “Any time you go through a rebuilding process, it’s important you get the right pieces.”

The first step is finding new homes for veterans OJ Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova. According to HoopsHype, Mayo will cost the Bucks $16 million over the next two seasons, while Ilyasova is on the books for 7.9 million in each of 2014-15 and 2015-16, with an $8.4 million team option in 2016-17.

The logic behind moving the veterans is that neither player is young enough to help Milwaukee when the Bucks are liable to start winning basketball games again, but each player is good enough to win a few games now. This is exactly the opposite of the sort of player Milwaukee needs to stock its roster with.

While neither figures to be in high demand, both have a track record of recent success, and both can shoot the basketball. Ilyasova in particular might intrigue rival general managers. In a game that’s increasingly about three-point shooting, there will always be a home for 6’9” marksmen. In 2011-12 and 2012-13, the forward shot 45.5 and 44.4 percent from behind the arc.

It’s possible Milwaukee will consider moving Larry Sanders given his salary—the center’s four-year, $44 million contract kicks in this season—but that probably isn’t the smart play here. Sanders is just 25 and has established himself as an elite rim protector and generally efficient player. According to Basketball-Reference, he posted .149 win shares per 48 minutes in 2012-13. This is almost 50 percent greater than the league average.

Furthermore, given that he played in just 23 games in 2013-14, Sanders value is at an all-time low at the moment. If Milwaukee has any designs on moving him, it would be wise to let him recoup it first.

Another offseason move Milwaukee’s new ownership is surely eyeing is replacing head coach Larry Drew. Drew is a decent man and a decent coach, but he doesn’t make a ton of sense for a Bucks’ team at this stage in its development. As Bleacher Report’s DJ Foster has argued, the most sensible thing for Milwaukee to do would be to fire Drew and take a gamble on a young coach who might turn out to be great. The Bucks know what they have in Drew—mostly a mediocrity—so, to quote Foster, the franchise is probably “better off making a gamble and hoping they land the next Brad Stevens.”

But before any of these moves can be considered, Milwaukee’s new ownership needs to solve the GM position. While it’s difficult to say how much of the Bucks’ recent troubles stem from general manager John Hammond—there’s an argument to be made that he made the best of a bad situation; that being former-owner Herb Kohl’s “win now” mandate—they could probably upgrade here. GM is arguably the most important position in an organization, and Hammond has done little to distinguish himself since taking over from Larry Harris in April of 2008, beyond bizarrely winning Executive of the Year in 2010.

Hammond has proven to be a capable drafter—he found both Antetokounmpo and Sanders with the No. 15 overall pick—but has done little else. At risk of sounding reductive, the Bucks intended to be a playoff team last season and won 15 games. That’s a pretty stinging indictment.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Detroit Pistons with NBA Draft Complete?

The Detroit Pistons left Barclays Center Thursday night heading for free agency with Spencer Dinwiddie in tow. They also have an armored truck with at least $20 million to deliver. If (read: when) they decline options on Chauncey Billups and Josh Harrellson, the truck gains another $3.5 million.

So, which doors should the armed delivery men knock on this summer? And how did we get to this point?

 

What’s been going on lately?

In a flash: Detroit finishes the 2013-14 season with a 29-53 record, fifth worst in the East and eighth lowest overall. Head coach Maurice Cheeks is fired in February and replaced by assistant John Loyer. The Pistons continue being the Pistons, and lure Stan Van Gundy out of retirement in May with the highly sought after coach/team president power grab. So he gets to start by adding a lottery pick to a disjointed but individually talented roster, right…?

Once upon a time two years ago almost to the day, former team president Joe Dumars made what looked to be a savvy move. He sent Ben Gordon’s two years and $25 million and a protected future first-round pick to Michael Jordan’s Bobcats in exchange for Corey Maggette’s last hurrah. The move saved Detroit $15 million, though that became Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings one year later.

Unfortunately, the Pistons had to pay the draft piper in year two on account of rotten luck. When Cleveland vaulted everyone to grab the top pick in the draft, Detroit dropped from their likely eighth spot (the last protected one in the Gordon trade). Having lost out on protection for their earned shot at the lottery, the Pistons conveyed that valuable No. 9 selection to the new Charlotte Hornets.

 

Draft night!

Only the eighth pick in the second round remained, and with it Stan Van Gundy chose the University of Colorado point guard recovering from a January torn ACL. But there’s reason for optimism with Dinwiddie. ESPN Insider and NBA draft expert Chad Ford wrote in his post-draft grade that the 6’6″ point guard had lottery potential prior to the injury (subscription required).

Though Dinwiddie is projected to contribute further down the road as his knee recovers and strengthens, Detroit’s crowded backcourt will need some shaking out before he can make his case. Will Bynum and Peyton Siva are ahead of him in line behind Jennings. They could also elect to use him as a combo guard to challenge Kyle Singler and last year’s lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

 

The summer ahead: Monroe or Smith?

Aside from the lone selection, Detroit participated—whether willingly or by name onlyin plenty of draft-time trade chatter. I like to call it chattah

Though in the end it is all for naught, the move would simultaneously sting and feel like a sense of relief. Detroit breaks up the misguided and crowded Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond trio and allows Van Gundy to match any offer at Monroe’s restricted free agency.

This should be the theme of Detroit’s summer. Smith had his worst season as a pro in the Motor City, shooting a career-low 41.9 percent from the field. He also recorded a dreadful .264 three-point shooting percentage, jacking nearly 3.5 threes a night. Monroe, meanwhile, stayed relatively close to his 2012-13 level of production. The sweetener is that Monroe has already played four seasons in the NBA but is only a year older than some of the players drafted Thursday.

All indications are that Van Gundy is on board with this notion. MLive reporter David Mayo reports that Van Gundy would prefer to have the 6’11″ power forward on his roster than not. ”I think teams think it’s better, especially with younger guys, to have an asset, even if he’s overpaid, that can bring value down the road, than to have a guy go for nothing,” Van Gundy said.

Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin believes the Pistons boss will match a projected max offer of four years, $63 million, leaving $10 million in cap space. That doesn’t mean he won’t listen to sign-and-trade offers since Smith’s contract could easily prove unmovable.

I like Monroe’s game and think he can develop another few feet of range with proper coaching. The opportunity to trot out such talented twin towers doesn’t come too often, so let’s hope Van Gundy is shrewd in assessing trade proposals.

 

That’s not it, though, right?

Assuming the right decision is made and Monroe sticks around, SVG will need to consider unloading Smith and address his guard situation. Predicting a trade for Smith, now that Sacramento has ended talks, is difficult with the preps-to-pros star still owed $40.5 million over three years.

If Dinwiddie is to learn the point, some of that leftover $10 million should go to forcing either Singler or Caldwell-Pope out of the rotation. Both guys have upside but neither player made a huge impact last season. Singler deserves a shot at being a key role player. Caldwell-Pope can retain his starting spot if Detroit wants to return to the lottery. Avery Bradley could probably be had for most of that and cap the roster.

The other idea is to dangle Brandon Jennings in a package to a team in need of a scoring point guard. Though they’ll certainly get a lower return than what Jennings’ contract suggests, the Pistons can stand to absorb a small hit to remove the defensive pariah. Perhaps Indiana can be convinced that he’s an upgrade over George Hill or oblige Boston in taking Rajon Rondo off their hands.

 

The long con

Van Gundy can also opt to sit tight another year. Maybe Smith works out the kinks, and the frontcourt trio dominates as they were meant to.

Aside from any money given to Monroe, only Smith and Jennings will be under contract in the summer of 2015. The three would combine for around $36 million, assuming a sliding scale on Monroe’s max contract. Jennings would serve as the mother of all trade bait with an $8 million expiring contract.

All Van Gundy has to do is convince the game’s top players that Detroit Auburn Hills is a delightful place to live.

 

All salary information taken from Spotrac.com.

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