NBA

NBA Power Rankings, Post-Kevin Love Trade

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterAugust 23, 2014

NBA Power Rankings, Post-Kevin Love Trade

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    At long last, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers can make it official. They don't have to keep their Love a secret.

    Their Kevin Love trade, that is.

    According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the T-Wolves have sent Love to the Cavs in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2015 first-round pick. Minnesota, in turn, traded the pick, Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to the Philadelphia 76ers for Thaddeus Young and a $6.3 million trade exception.

    The news is hardly Earth-shattering. Multiple reports, including ones from Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Windhorst (h/t SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell), forecasted this frenzy back in early August.

    But, unlike then, it's official now and has already begun to shake up the NBA landscape. Where, then, does that leave the league as a whole? Read on to find out, as we attempt to rank each of the league's 30 teams according to what they've done this summer and how those moves bode for the fall and beyond.

30. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Here's another reason we know the Philadelphia 76ers have no intention of winning this season: They still have a boatload of cap space available, some of which they'll have to fill.

    According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, the Sixers currently have a shade under $40 million committed to player salaries in 2014-15, and could have even less on their tab with Thaddeus Young off to Minnesota. That leaves them well below the league's minimum team salary of $56.759 million and even further south of the $63.065 million salary cap.

    Philly will need to reach the salary floor before the end of the season, lest it dole out the difference to the players it has on hand. Per Kyler, there could be an easy remedy for this situation, perhaps by way of the Big Apple:

    What’s far more likely is that the long rumored Amar’e Stoudemire to Philadelphia deal gets done at the deadline. The Sixers take on Stoudemire’s $23 million salary cap number, which pushes them way over the minimum. They would only owe him roughly 30 percent of his remaining contract, so they’d end up paying him $7 million in cash and likely extract a draft pick or a rookie scale player for their troubles.

    Perhaps the Sixers, then, should adopt the famous quote from the Statue of Liberty as their own motto.

29. Orlando Magic

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Orlando Magic wouldn't seem to be in any position to start committing serious money to any of their players. They've won just 43 games in the two seasons since Dwight Howard skipped town and still have a mish-mosh of a roster to sift through before they're ready to start winning again.

    But the collective bargaining agreement, like time, waits for no man. Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris, two of Orlando's most promising prospects, are both up for extensions ahead of their potential forays into restricted free agency next summer. According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, the Halloween deadline may well come and go without either one landing a new deal:

    Like Harris, the Magic are talking extension with Vucevic, and also like Harris the Magic are in essence bidding against themselves. There is a chance that a deal gets reached this summer to start locking in core pieces, but given that Orlando doesn’t have to set a price today, there is a bigger chance that both Vucevic and Harris hit restricted free agency and let the market place set their price after seeing what both contribute in a season that should be about winning games.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Timberwolves are starting from scratch now that Kevin Love is officially out of the picture.

    The cupboard Filip Saunders has to work with is far from barren. Andrew Wiggins is a superstar-type talent the T-Wolves could build around in the years to come. Anthony Bennett, who looked beastly in Summer League, could be a long-term contributor if he's not traded in short order.

    The pick, originally from Miami, that's headed to Minny isn't likely to land anywhere near the lottery, though it could be a valuable asset nonetheless. The addition of Thaddeus Young, in a separate deal with the Sixers, may prove fruitful much sooner, while the trade exception will help this team grab a solid contributor once they're in a position to contend. 

    As solid a package as those three pieces, along with Young, represent in tandem, this haul isn't likely to swing 'Sota's fortunes right away. Rather, it'll be on the incumbents, namely Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, to snap the T-Wolves' decade-long playoff drought. If Rubio improves his accuracy from the field, where he shot an abysmal 36.8 percent over his first three seasons, and if Pekovic can stay healthy after missing at least 17 games in each of his four pro campaigns, Minnesota might have the makings of something sustainable.

    Though, in truth, this team won't be reaping any rewards until something becomes of Wiggins, Bennett and the pick.

27. Boston Celtics

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    There's still plenty at stake for Rajon Rondo in what could be his final season with the Boston Celtics, ahead of unrestricted free agency in 2015.

    First of all, Rondo will have to show that he can be the focal point of a squad and make his teammates better. He spent the first seven seasons of his career leaning on the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to lead the way. Rondo got a taste of how the other half lives last season, though only after returning from a torn ACL.

    Speaking of which, it'd help Rondo's cause to demonstrate that he's come all the way back from his devastating knee injury. A line of 11.7 points and 9.8 assists in 33.3 minutes looks pretty darn good on paper, but can he rediscover a measure of productivity closer to his former self over the course of an 82-game schedule?

    It'd be helpful, too, if Rondo could hit his jump shots at a reliable rate. As great a passer as he is, he'd be hard-pressed to be an effective No. 1 option on a team if he can't get opposing defenses to respect him as a scoring threat.

    Then again, if he winds up playing alongside a superstar somewhere—like Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks—that might not matter.

26. Utah Jazz

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Gordon Hayward's summer with Team USA has come to a close, though this could be just the beginning of something special for him. He'll return to Salt Lake City with not only a max contract in his back pocket, but also the invaluable experience of competing alongside and against some of the best basketball players in the world.

    Better yet, Hayward won't be tasked with running the Utah Jazz's offense to the same extent that he did last season, now that Trey Burke's healthy and rookie Dante Exum's on the roster. Instead, he can focus on his strengths: shooting, slashing and being a pest on defense.

    "I had a pretty big role last year," Hayward told The Indianapolis Star's Michael Pointer. "I'll probably be asked to be more of a leader. I'm one of the older guys on the team at 24. Them matching the deal just shows the respect they have for me and my game and the commitment to be part of that team."

     

25. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kent Horner/Getty Images

    There's no telling what kind of Kobe Bryant the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans will see this season after an injury-riddled 2013-14. What they shouldn't expect, though, is to see the same Kobe who torched the league prior to his Achilles tear in 2013, or even the one who performed unevenly during last season's six-game stint.

    Which might not be all bad for Bryant.

    "So when I hear pundits and people talk, saying, 'Well, he won’t be what he was,'" Bryant told Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard. "Know what? You’re right. I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before."

    The Lakers can only hope Bryant's confidence is enough to get him and them back on track in 2014-15.

24. Sacramento Kings

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    DeMarcus Cousins seems to have shaken off the knee injury that kept him out of Team USA's exhibition against Brazil in Chicago—with or without the help of one Taylor Swift. Cousins returned to practice on Tuesday and accounted for two points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes during the Americans' 105-62 blowout of the Dominican Republic at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

    That return to fitness certainly bodes well for Boogie's chances of logging significant playing time with USA Basketball in Spain.

    “He should be a guy who’s in the rotation," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told Sheridan Hoops' Chris Sheridan. "The fact that he’s come here and I’ve gotten to know him, I can push him better and I can understand him better. He gives us somebody different when Anthony is out of the game."

    The Sacramento Kings can only hope that a trip to the medal stand at the FIBA World Cup will be enough to help Cousins mature in a way that's healthy and productive for his NBA future and their chances of snapping an eight-year playoff drought.

23. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Jabari Parker seems far more aware of what's at stake for him than the average 19-year-old would. Then again, he isn't your normal 19-year-old. For one, he's already a millionaire, backed by a shoe deal with the Jordan brand and a contract with the Milwaukee Bucks as the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

    Parker, for one, knows the sordid history of the slot from which Milwaukee plucked him.

    "There’s been a lot of second pick busts," Parker said during an appearance at the opening of Nike Chicago's Jordan space (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Brett Pollakoff). "I’m just trying not to be that bust. Everyday that I step on the court, I just remind myself that I have a long ways to go. If I want to be one of those guys in the first tier of the NBA, like a LeBron, like a Kobe, like a [Blake Griffin], then I have to have that mentality starting off from the ground, and work my way up."

    If the Bucks' recent track record on draft day (i.e. Larry Sanders in 2010, John Henson in 2012, Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013) is any indication, Parker should have little trouble fitting into a much more favorable lineage.

22. Detroit Pistons

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Forget about Greg Monroe and his one-year qualifying offer. The real hope for the Detroit Pistons' salvation rests with Andre Drummond.

    The 21-year-old made the cut for the Team USA roster for the FIBA World Cup, thanks to a late surge in the team's exhibition games. After spending all of America's exhibition against Brazil on the bench, Drummond came out with a vengeance opposite the Dominican Republic, pouring in 12 points on an impressive array of powerful finishes.

    It's no wonder, then, that Team USA's coaches were raving about him in camp.

    "I’m impressed," Team USA assistant and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told the Pistons' Keith Langlois. "He’s getting better and better. Big guys take time. Young big guys always take time and especially when they come out of college early. He’s physical. He gives you a physical presence out there that not many people can bring to the table. And he’s a good kid who works hard. He’s been fun to work with."

    Stan Van Gundy should also have plenty of fun working with a kid who, with the proper tutelage, could be the NBA's next Dwight Howard—for all the right reasons, anyway.

21. Indiana Pacers

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Paul George feels good about his now-ongoing comeback from a gruesome leg injury.

    "I plan on making a full recovery," he said during his first press conference since the end of his run with Team USA (h/t The Indianapolis Star). "... It will make me stronger."

    The same can't be said for the Indiana Pacers. They're now without their two top perimeter players from last year, with Lance Stephenson off to Charlotte.

    The absences of George and Stephenson could be just the beginning of a much bigger teardown. According to multiple reports, the Pacers have already talked to at least two teams—the Phoenix Suns and the Detroit Pistons—about trading Roy Hibbert. Both Hibbert and David West can opt out of their current contracts and into free agency next summer, thereby leaving Indy without its formidable frontcourt.

    This might be an opportune time, then, for the Pacers to hit the reset button. They have their own pick in 2015 and could bring back more before the February trade deadline if they put Hibbert, West or anyone else on the block. That way, they can start laying a new foundation in preparation for George's eventual return.

     

20. New York Knicks

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    John Shearer/Associated Press

    This summer has introduced an interesting counterweight to the annual "Musclewatch" that's become a staple of the NBA offseason. Let's call it "Weightwatch," with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony slimming and trimming their way to a burgeoning basketball trend.

    "I really don’t know how much I lost. I just know I trimmed down," Anthony told The New York Post's Fred Kerber. "I really didn’t do nothing special, just working hard, that’s it."

    A more fit 'Melo should help the New York Knicks bounce back from a forgettable 2013-14 season, with Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher now at the controls. They'll need all they can squeeze out of Anthony if they're to crack a crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture with a roster that's due for a facelift next summer.

19. Brooklyn Nets

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    There's no telling what the Brooklyn Nets will look like at season's end, given all the fragile players they'll be relying on in 2014-15. At the very least, their frontcourt—specifically, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez—should start the campaign in decent shape.

    "He said he feels great," Mason Plumlee said of Garnett (via The Bergen Record's Andy Vasquez). "He’s hungry, too, for this season. He didn’t like how last season ended. I think everybody. You have a team with guys who are used to winning and be successful and they didn’t like how last season ended. So everybody has a hunger, a drive, going into next year."

    As for Lopez, who missed most of last season with another foot injury, general manager Billy King won't hold him back once training camp gets going in October, as reported by SiruisXM NBA Radio. 

    That's all well and good for now, but won't matter much if these two aren't still fit to play come April and May.

18. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Pelicans have to be happy with what they've seen from their incumbent core this summer.

    Anthony Davis has been busy soaking up the spotlight with Team USA. He was particularly impressive during a 95-78 exhibition blowout of Brazil, tallying 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks while off his improving game and filled-out frame.

    With any luck, Davis won't have to fly solo once he returns to the Bayou, either. According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Nakia Hogan, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson—each of whom missed significant time to injury last season—are all healthy and working out, albeit in different places.

    Once those guys come together and get some more reps as a unit, the Pelicans could find themselves on the brink of something special.

17. Phoenix Suns

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    If this stalemate between the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe goes on any longer, we might just have to pull Brian Fantana off Panda Watch.

    As it happens, this saga might be nearing its conclusion. According to sportscaster Jude LaCava (h/t SB Nation's Dave King), the Suns are "discussing trade possibilities" for Bledsoe, who's thus far refused to sign the Suns' offer and has yet to field any others in restricted free agency.

    Where Bledsoe winds up is anybody's guess. There aren't many teams out there with a glaring need at point guard, particularly if the addition in question has a recent and troubling history of knee problems.

    Then again, players of Bledsoe's profile—a physical point guard who can attack on the offensive end and be a pest on the defensive end—don't exactly grow on trees. At some point, someone is going to take a risk on a 24-year-old who averaged 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals last season.

16. Denver Nuggets

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    What do Kenneth Faried and Carmelo Anthony have in common? They're the last two Denver Nuggets to compete internationally with Team USA.

    Faried solidified his spot with a heaping helping of his signature heart and hustle, albeit with some benefit from the attrition in USA Basketball's frontcourt. He started in Team USA's first two exhibitions, with a solid 11 points and nine rebounds against big, burly Brazil.

    The Nuggets already had the makings of a strong outfit on account of their returns—Arron Afflalo from Orlando, JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari and Nate Robinson from injury. If Faried can parlay his experience with Team USA into a transformational season, Denver could be back in the postseason business in short order.

15. Charlotte Hornets

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    Don't sleep on the Charlotte Hornets as possible benefactors from the Kevin Love trade.

    How so? Follow the bouncing ball.

    Had Love gone to Golden State, the Warriors might've found themselves on the precipice of championship contention. Instead, with Love in Cleveland, the Dubs will have to ride with a capped-out roster that's struggled with injuries and failed to make it out of the first round this past spring. It's tough to imagine the Warriors doing much more than that this coming season in a loaded Western Conference without better health and a breakout campaign from Klay Thompson.

    What happens if that doesn't come about? At what point might Stephen Curry start looking around and wondering about his other options? Could his hometown Hornets come calling?

    "I've always had thoughts about playing at home, what it would be like," Curry said during a recent appearance on The Doug Gottlieb Show (h/t The San Jose Mercury News' Diamond Leung). "My dad played there for 10 years, and people around the Greater Charlotte area in North Carolina have done a lot for my family growing up, so you always think about it."

    A lot could change between now and the summer of 2017, when Curry will be a free agent. Until then, the Hornets can keep their fingers crossed that things go sour in Golden State and that Curry, in turn, decides to try out the whole "hometown hero" thing.

14. Atlanta Hawks

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    Paul Millsap didn't last long with USA Basketball this summer, and Kyle Korver didn't make the final cut, though those shouldn't hinder their combined ability to help the Atlanta Hawks in the slightest this coming season. If anything, their confidence should be bolstered by the fact that they were able to hang with with such a star-studded squad at all.

    Certainly, the Hawks will be better for it. With Millsap and Al Horford back in the fold, they could bolster one of the best frontcourts the NBA has to offer. Throw in Korver's shooting and Jeff Teague's slashing, and Atlanta's core looks like the sort that'll be solid enough to support a winning outfit for years to come.

13. Toronto Raptors

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    Tim Leiweke has fashioned himself into something of a long-term miracle worker in the sports world. He made his bones as an executive with Anschutz Entertainment Group, turning the long-languishing Los Angeles Kings into an NHL powerhouse—in a warm-weather city, no less.

    In more than a year as president and CEO of Maples Leaf Sports and Entertainment, he's overseen a similar rise for the Toronto Raptors, who look like Eastern Conference contenders with the return of Kyle Lowry, and brought the 2016 NBA All-Star Game to the Canadian metropolis.

    According to CBS Sports' Chris Peters, Leiweke is due to step down from MLSE next June, though he may have one more surprise in store for the Raptors before he goes. Per The Toronto Sun's Don Peat, Leiweke is pushing for the approval of a new team practice facility in time for the NBA's midseason festivities in 2016.

    "I think this is great for the sport and as you look around the country and you look around our city in particular you begin to see that this is a sport that is very attractive to the majority of people who live in the city," Leiweke said.

    A new building of that sort could prove fruitful in the Raptors' future free-agent pursuits as well. The more Toronto can do to put itself on par with other major NBA cities, the more likely it is that players will trek north of the border in search of new contracts.

12. Miami Heat

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    Pat Riley's is still pursuing a competent pivot in Miami. According to The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the Heat have been in contact with a slew of bargain-basement bigs, including Emeka Okafor, Ekpe Udoh, Andray Blatche, Jason Maxiell and Elton Brand.

    None of those guys comes off as more than a stopgap solution to the Heat's persistent lack of size. Then again, considering the list of over-the-hill duds Riley's brought in over the years (i.e. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Erick Dampier, Greg Oden), the bar that those aforementioned five would have to clear isn't very high to begin with.

11. Houston Rockets

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Whether you like James Harden, hate him or fall somewhere in between, you'd have to admit that the guy isn't afraid to speak honestly and candidly—for better or worse. Between separating himself and Dwight Howard from the rest of the Houston Rockets' "role players" and picking himself as the "best basketball player alive," Harden has occasioned all manner of bulletin-board material for teammates and opponents alike.

    It'll be Harden's responsibility to back up his self-praise with commensurate on-court performance. To that end, so far, so good. The bearded ball-handler has been a force of nature for Team USA thus far, getting to the line at will and (GASP!) playing some honest-to-goodness defense.

    The Rockets will need Harden to live up to the lofty expectations he's set for himself if they're to hang among the contenders out West. They'll miss Chandler Parsons' Swiss-army-knife contributions in the starting lineup, just as they will the support that Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik once provided off the bench.

     

10. Washington Wizards

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    There's no use faulting folks in the Beltway for getting excited about the possibility of Kevin Durant coming home to join the Washington Wizards in 2016. All this talk about him potentially leaving Nike for Under Armour, the latter of which is based in Baltimore, has only stoked that flame even further.

    As if the prospect of snagging the NBA's MVP weren't cause enough.

    But let's not forget, the Wizards should be pretty darn good well before Durant hits free agency. They had a shot to upset the Pacers and sneak into the Eastern Conference Finals this past spring and have only improved since, thanks to the additions of Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair.

    Not to mention the priceless experience John Wall and Bradley Beal gained from their time with Team USA.

    It's possible, then, that once the Durant sweepstakes begin in earnest, the Wizards could be in the market for one last piece to put them over the top, rather than for a savior to rescue them from their misery.

9. Golden State Warriors

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Golden State Warriors' hopes for the 2014-15 season were always going to be lofty, with or without Kevin Love. 

    "The expectations are already high, and we have to deal with that," Stephen Curry told The New York Times' Beckley Mason. "Thinking about it, it will kind of be similar to last year. People thought we were a 50-win team, and we accomplished that, but it still didn’t feel like we accomplished as much as we should have."

    Having Curry and Klay Thompson around should help the Warriors' chances of reaching their goals to some extent, especially with the success those two are enjoying—and are due to enjoy—with Team USA.

    But the challenges ahead for Golden State will be daunting nonetheless. Between the integration of new head coach Steve Kerr, the injury concerns that'll dog so many on the existing roster and the sheer depth of the Western Conference, the Warriors might have just as tough a time as ever of making significant noise come playoff time.

    Which, as it happens, could amplify the cries of "Where is the Love?" that figure to emanate out of the Bay Area in the years to come. 

8. Dallas Mavericks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    If not for Paul George's injury and Kevin Durant's withdrawal, Chandler Parsons would probably be focused on his upcoming debut with the Dallas Mavericks. Instead, he nearly made the cut to head to Spain for the FIBA World Cup.

    Playing in the tournament would have afforded Parsons ample opportunity to learn from the best players in the game and bolster his own understanding of what it takes to win at the highest level.

    And, frankly, he needs every shred of that he can get his hands on if his contributions to the Mavs are going to warrant the $46 million he'll be pocketing over his three years in Big D.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    It says a lot about Damian Lillard's immediate future and long-term prospects that he was able to hang with Team USA for as long as he did. Lillard outlasted John Wall in training camp, but couldn't quite overcome the obstacles at point guard posed by the likes of Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving—and James Harden, if you count him as a primary ball-handler.

    Lillard still has plenty of work to do to improve as a distributor and a defender, as many young point guards do. But he clearly already has the whole "clutch" thing down, and should find himself back in the mix for a spot with USA Basketball once the program ramps up again ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

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    USA TODAY Sports

    THIS JUST IN: the Memphis Grizzlies intend to retain Marc Gasol.

    Okay, so maybe that's not exactly breaking news, considering both how good Gasol is on his own and how much he means to Memphis' success. Still, as Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler noted:

    There is always a risk of losing a player whenever they can hit unrestricted free agency, but the sense from Gasol and the Grizzlies is that as long as a max offer is there in June, he’ll re-sign.

    In the meantime, Gasol can focus on leading Spain through the FIBA World Cup of Basketball on his home turf.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kevin Love's arrival doesn't make the Cleveland Cavaliers the favorite in the Eastern Conference—not yet, anyway. There's still so much to be sorted out, from David Blatt translating his coaching acumen to the NBA, to organizing an offense around LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love; to figuring out how in the heck the Cavs are going to protect the rim and beyond.

    But the ingredients are there for the Cavs to contend right away if everything comes together. So, too, are the historical parallels.

    Remember, it was four years ago that James joined a new team, with a (somewhat) unproven coach and a crafty All-Star guard already in place, a jumper-happy big man on the way and seemingly no serious depth or size up front, particularly on the defensive end.

    Those Heat finished behind the Chicago Bulls in the East before taking them out in the conference finals. This season's Cavs could very well do the same, though doing so will be anything but a cakewalk.

4. Chicago Bulls

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls and their fans shouldn't fear the idea of Derrick Rose representing his country at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. Sure, the recent "general soreness" he dealt with during training was cause for some concern, but Rose is going to have to adjust to that and a multitude of other discomforts eventually if he's to become an NBA regular again, much less return to his MVP form.

    If anything, playing shorter games with a squad that's loaded at the point should provide the perfect opportunity for Rose to re-acclimate himself to competitive basketball without having to shoulder too much of a burden right away.

    "He's gotta play at some point," Team USA assistant and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau told ESPN's Marc Stein after Team USA's second exhibition game. "He's basically been out for three years, so he's gotta play, and I think this is a great setting for him—as I've mentioned many times—because of the depth of the team."

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    It's the dawn of a new era in Los Angeles, one that should feel at once familiar and bizarre to long-time Angelenos.

    There's a basketball team in town that plays an exciting, fast-paced brand of basketball, led by a transcendent point guard and a fleet-footed, high-flying power forward. The squad itself is guided by one of the game's most revered coaches and now paid for by a charismatic owner.

    No, I'm not talking about the "Showtime" Lakers. Their day has long come and gone. Instead, it's Steve Ballmer's Clippers who are equipped to capture hearts, headlines and hardware, especially now that Donald Sterling is out of the picture.

    Meanwhile, the Lakers are languishing at the bottom of the West, with a hodgepodge that passes for a roster and an ownership situation that remains somewhat flummoxing.

    It's a new era, indeed.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Brett Deering/Associated Press

    It's okay to be nervous about Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder fans. It's understandable that you'd be worried about your MVP skipped home to Washington D.C., what with the Wizards on the rise and Under Armour reportedly splashing so much of its cash at the Seat Pleasant, Maryland native.

    Just remember: Durant is under contract in OKC until the summer of 2016. In the meantime, the Thunder will be among the leaders in the clubhouse for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, thanks to a fantastic trio of which Durant is but one part, albeit the best one.

    And who knows? Perhaps a title (or two) would help to quell whatever concerns Durant might have about staying, along with whatever worries folks in the Sooner State might have about him fleeing.

    "Two (championship) years straight? That would be cool," Durant said back in July (via USA Today's Sam Amick). "It would definitely be tough to (leave then). That's one of those things where you've got a dynasty now. But like I said, I don't want to think too far down the line. I'm trying to focus on today. I love my teammates, my coaches, the front office, the city, but we'll see."

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Surprise, surprise: of all the San Antonio Spurs who've had time with the Larry O'Brien Trophy this summer, Kawhi Leonard's probably had the least fun.

    "I didn’t have any time to do anything with it," Leonard told U-T San Diego's Mark Zeigler. "My workout schedule is crazy."

    That should come as little shock to the Spurs. So far, Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, has hardly shown the inclination to speak, much less party with a big hunk of metal.

    Not that it interests him in the least.

    "I’m just a low-key guy," he added. "I’m just happy we won it. I don’t even care about the trophy. The title matters the most."

    The Spurs must enjoy hearing that. What better way to ensure a team's prospects of a repeat by having players who aren't at all concerned with the spoils of previous victories?

     

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