Five Things To Watch: Memphis Grizzlies

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zach randolphThe more things change, the more they stay the same.

Everyone is familiar with that old cliché. It’s one the Grizzlies understand well after the 2012-13 season. Over the past year, there has been a complete changing of the guard in the Bluff City. An ownership swap was the first domino to fall when Michael Heisley officially completed the sale of the team to tech mogul Robert Pera right before the regular season began.

From there, the rest of the hierarchy was dismantled systematically. John Hollinger was hired away from ESPN to become vice president of basketball operations. The first roster change under the new ownership came when Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first-round pick were traded to Cleveland for Jon Leuer. Hardly a week later, Rudy Gay, the face of the franchise, was shipped north of the border midway through the season.

Despite a multitude of momentous changes, the Grizzlies continued to obliterate opponents with nasty defense and grind-it-out offense just like in years past. With that said, the Grizzlies didn’t simply stay on track. They ascended into the NBA’s elite. The team finished with its best record in franchise history and played better than ever, post-Rudy. In the playoffs, the Grizz made an impressive run to the Western Conference finals before being picked apart by the San Antonio Spurs.

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Five Things To Watch: Miami Heat

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Chris BoshAs the back-to-back defending NBA champions, one could say that the Miami Heat stand in the best position of any team in the league. That’s probably true, but the 2013-14 campaign also stands as one of the most pivotal seasons in team history.

Why?

After this season, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will all have the option to test the free agent waters.

Although Wade said he wants to stay in Miami, perhaps a disappointing season with an aging core could give James pause about re-upping with the Heat. Already a champion as a supporting player, Bosh may want the spotlight. Regardless of whether the Heat three-peat, it is entirely plausible that key role players such as Ray Allen and Shane Battier will retire after this season.

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SH Blog: Nash knew ball would stick to Kobe, Billups never wanted to play the two in LA

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Chris PaulYou never know what to expect when dealing with the NBA offseason on a day-to-day basis. Some days, the biggest news turns out to be Tyreke Evans crossing up the mayor of Seattle in a Pro-Am game. Then there are days like today, where there are an endless number of eye-catching stories around the league.

Here is something in particular that will make you say “whoa, really??”: Chris Paul, at one point during free agency, was going to leave Los Angeles to team up with James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston. Now that’s a scary thought for the rest of the league. As we know, though, Paul will remain with the Clippers, making this story something that would have been much more juicy had it been leaked before things settled down with the addition of Doc Rivers.

This one has been expected for a while, but John Wall has officially come to terms with the Washington Wizards on a maximum contract worth approximately $80 million over five years. The question is, did anyone else think that Wall deserved a contract that only the best point guards in the league have received? Shlomo Sprung explains why that’s not the case

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Mighty Moke’s 25 Best Available NBA Free Agents — July 25 Update

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Manu Ginobili, Argentina

FIBA Americas, Baby!

As the calendar turns to August, international basketball junkies (such as your truly, as well as our Chris Sheridan) have their sights set squarely on the FIBA Americas tournament in Caracas, Venezuela. The tournament tips off on August 30 and will feature a pool loaded with talent.

And while thoughts of international basketball run rampant in the minds of some, many across the NBA are already thinking about July 2014.

Paul George is the latest to be asked questions about potentially signing an offer sheet with the Los Angeles Lakers while some New York Knicks fans are quietly wondering whether or not Carmelo Anthony is worth the maximum five-year, $135 million contract he will be eligible to sign next summer to remain in Gotham.

It is almost as though the Summer of 2013 had ended … only it has not.

Nikola Pekovic

Nikola Pekovic

In years past, by the time August rolled around, the top free agents were off of the market. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, our top two—Nikola Pekovic and Brandon Jennings—are still unsigned. All the while, many of the smaller dominoes around them continue to fall.

One of our personal favorites, Gary Neal of the San Antonio Spurs, will become an unrestricted free agent after the Spurs brass decided to revoke his $1.1 million qualifying offer.

After seeing Nate Robinson agree to take his talents to Denver to play for the new-look Nuggets, we tend to believe that Neal’s market value is somewhere in the same stratosphere as what Robinson signed for in Denver: two-years, $4 million.

And while Kyrie Irving has begun fielding questions and concerns about whether or not he plans to remain a Cleveland Cavalier for the long haul, reader beware: the Cavaliers are amongst this offseason’s biggest winners—having hauled in a catch featuring Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bynum, first overall draft pick Anthony Bennett and Earl Clark.

Clark, it should be remembered, signed with the Cavaliers for two years and $9 million.

Brandan Wright, on the other hand, has agreed to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks—a team that also made some wholesale changes.

Mark Cuban agreed to pay Wright a guaranteed $10 million over two years, while Wright has the ability to earn an additional $1.1 million in incentives. Wright is actually coming off of a career-best season in which he scored 8.1 points and grabbed 4.1 rebounds per game. He will rejoin the new-look Mavs, who also signed Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, Gal Mekel, and Wayne Ellington.

Wright did not make the cut in our rankings, but the Mavs had his “early” Bird rights and opted to re-sign him to what amounts to a mid-level exception type deal.

Greg Oden

Greg Oden

Now finally, Greg Oden.

According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Oden has six teams in his mix—the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, and the Mavs.

Oden was enjoying the sights of South Beach back during the NBA Finals, fueling speculation that he would sign with the Heat, but that was before the Pelicans got creative with their salary cap and opened up $3 million for the big guy.

While we wait for resolutions on Pekovic and Jennings and wait for Lamar Odom to determine whether he is playing or not and for a team or two to throw some money at Beno Udrih—Oden’s comeback attempt is as interesting as it is inspiring.

It is there that the free agency focus shall shift for the foreseeable future.

Here are the updated rankings…

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SH Blog: Parsons credits himself for influencing Howard’s decision, Wall and Wizards in advanced talks for max contract agreement

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Chandler ParsonsDuring the recruitment of Dwight Howard, you often heard the name Chandler Parsons attached to the Houston Rockets anytime there was news about making efforts to convince the center to join them.

Most of us took the news that Parsons had been talking to Howard everyday with a grain of salt with the mindset of “as if he can really make a true difference.” But as it turns out, the forward played an enormous part in helping Howard make his decision. Just ask Chandler himself, from Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:

“I think I had a big impact,” Parsons said at USA Basketball’s mini-camp. “The first thing he said at the press conference was that, ‘You guys should thank Chandler Parsons because he is a big reason why I am here.’

“Obviously, he loves the team, [general manager] Daryl Morey, coach [Kevin] McHale and all that. But I think I just gave him that comfort that you got one of your boys here who is also a key part to the team, a young guy. And we can grow on this for a long time.”

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