The balance of power continues to shift in the NBA, as Kawhi Leonard's decision to join the Los Angeles Clippers makes the league a lot more interesting.

At the beginning of 2018-19, many seemed to believe the road to the NBA Finals ran through the Boston Celtics. Then the Milwaukee Bucks posted the best record in the league just a year removed from finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. 

But it was the Toronto Raptors who dethroned the
Golden State Warriors in the end, and now they will have a new look without their superstar. Plenty of other teams are hungry for glory and now is the perfect time to strike.

Here are three teams that could now take over the Eastern Conference:

 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Eastern Conference is now wide open, but the Bucks are ahead of the pack. After all, they retained two All-Stars — one being reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee underwent a serious transformation under Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer last season. Antetokounmpo has put up historically strong numbers in the paint, but the Bucks were also among the league leaders in three-point attempts.

Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will likely be constants, but it remains to be seen how the chemistry will be after losing Malcolm Brogdon.

Milwaukee simply have the centrepiece every other team wish they had in Antetokounmpo, so there is no reason to count them out just yet.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers may have lost an All-Star-calibre player in Jimmy Butler this offseason, but they will be just fine.

Philadelphia were one circus buzzer-beater away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season and are bringing back plenty of talent in 2019-20. The 76ers flipped Butler to the Miami Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson and lured Al Horford away from the Celtics, giving them what might be the best defensive line-up in basketball.

Small Ball? Philadelphia have never heard of it, as the shortest wingspan on their current roster is 6-10. 

The 76ers' starting group will likely feature Richardson, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. And then there is second-year guard Zhaire Smith, who was voted the most athletic player in the 2018 NBA Draft by his peers but missed most of last season due to an unfortunate allergic reaction.

Philadelphia have size, playmaking, strong defense and four players that could get legitimate All-Star consideration in the coming season. Embiid's questionable health could be a facto but getting a versatile big like Horford that can fill in if he goes down will definitely keep the 76ers in contender conversations.

Brooklyn Nets

Even if Kevin Durant cannot play until 2020, the Nets should be better this season. They lost D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors, but Kyrie Irving can be a considerable upgrade if the pieces come together just right.

Both Russell and Irving are high-usage guards, but Irving is more efficient and poses the kind of threat that makes every player on the opposing team watch him when the ball is in his hands. 

Brooklyn added veterans in DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple that should pair nicely with returning pieces like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris, who was one of the most prolific three-point shooters in 2018-19 — converting 47.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

But the wild card is Caris LeVert, who arguably was the Nets' best player before a leg injury sidelined him last November. The 24-year-old guard was establishing himself as Brooklyn's go-to guy and now he has had a whole offseason to recover after showing flashes of his potential in the 2018-19 playoffs.

Adding Durant to a group like this could prove to be lethal and would certainly make the Nets a force to be reckoned with.

The NBA is going to look quite different in 2019-20.

After leading the Toronto Raptors to their first title, Kawhi Leonard will reportedly team up with Paul George at the Los Angeles Clippers next season.

It is a move that will reignite the rivalry with a much-changed Los Angeles Lakers, while the Golden State Warriors have seen Kevin Durant jump ship and move to the Eastern Conference.

We look at the teams with a 'big two' following a series of movements in an incredible offseason.

 

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

It was a big surprise when the Clippers took defending champions the Warriors to Game 6 in the playoffs, but they will undoubtedly be a better team next season.

The additions of Leonard and six-time All-Star George – although the latter came at a high price that included sending Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five first-round draft picks, four of which are unprotected, and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder – have created a new force in the Western Conference that will be looking to contend straight away.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Despite finally pulling off the acquisition of Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Lakers freed up enough cap space for a run at Leonard.

However, they were unable to seal a deal with the NBA Finals MVP and will instead look to improve on LeBron James' disappointing first season by forming a truly formidable duo with Davis.

BROOKLYN NETS

Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but it did not lead to a reduction in interest in the Warriors star.

The 2014 MVP decided to end his time at Golden State and team up with Kyrie Irving at the Brooklyn Nets, who consequently captured two of the three biggest free agents on the market to step up their rebuild several notches.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

It looked as though the Warriors would dominate again when they signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year deal in the last offseason, despite the center being sidelined by an Achilles injury.

Cousins has not returned and with Durant out the door, Golden State will be relying on the backcourt tandem of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – reportedly on a five-year max contract – though trading for D'Angelo Russell could lighten the load.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Having lost out to the Miami Heat in their reported pursuit of Jimmy Butler, the Rockets will go again with James Harden and Chris Paul leading the charge.

General manager Daryl Morey rejected reports of a rift between Harden and Paul, though he will be keen for the team to start winning as early as possible following a sluggish start in 2018-19.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

The Blazers made a stunning run to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Warriors.

They will hope to go one better after tying Damian Lillard down to a four-year contract extension in the offseason, ensuring his partnership with fellow sharpshooter CJ McCollum will continue.

Kevin Durant is reportedly set to sign a four-year, $164million deal with the Brooklyn Nets.

Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the Golden State Warriors' NBA Finals series defeat to the Toronto Raptors and is expected to miss all of next season.

According to a report from ESPN, which cites unidentified league sources, the 30-year-old has opted to join the Nets.

Durant has yet to confirm the report and he will officially announce his decision on 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday.

Kyrie Irving, Durant's close friend, will also reportedly agree to a deal with the Nets.

Durant averaged 26 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists for Golden State last season, shooting 52.1 per cent from the field and 35.3 per cent from three-point range.

The 10-time All-Star won two championships and was named Finals MVP twice during his time with the Warriors.

Durant won the MVP in 2013-14 while with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has also been linked to the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and a return to the Warriors.

The Nets are also thought be about to land DeAndre Jordan - another close friend of Durant's - to a deal, and agreed to a two-year, $10million contract with Garrett Temple.

Kevin Durant has confirmed he has undergone successful surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles sustained during Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors.

Durant travelled to New York for treatment after he had hobbled off court against Toronto, with reports circulating that the 30-year-old had suffered an Achilles injury.

The extent of the injury was not confirmed until Wednesday, however, when the Golden State Warriors forward took to Instagram to share an update following surgery.

"My road back starts now! I got my family and my loved ones by my side and we truly appreciate all the messages and support people have sent our way," Durant wrote.

"Like I said Monday, I'm hurting deeply, but I'm OK. Basketball is my biggest love and I wanted to be out there that night because that's what I do. I wanted to help my team-mates on our quest for the three-peat.

"It's just the way things go in this game and I'm proud that I gave it all I physically could, and I'm proud my brothers got the W. It's going to be a journey but I'm built for this. I’m a hooper I know my brothers can get this Game 6, and I will be cheering with dub nation while they do it."

Durant, who had not played in 32 days since suffering a calf injury, went down in the second quarter of Monday's game and had to be helped off the court. He left the arena on crutches. 

He had worked his way back into the lineup after going down in Game 5 of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Houston Rockets, forcing him to miss the Warriors' previous nine playoff games. 

The Warriors rallied from a six-point deficit late in Game 5 to cut the Raptors' NBA Finals lead to 3-2. 

Kawhi Leonard's performances in the NBA playoffs this season, as well as the solid ones in the pre-season, have begged the question about whether or not he is the best player in the NBA. A certain Kevin Durant comes up for mention as well. The zone team looks at these two phenomenal basketball players.

Kevin Durant led Team LeBron to a 178-164 win over Team Giannis and was rewarded with his second career All-Star MVP award.

The Golden State Warriors forward was 10-of-15 shooting from the field and made six of his nine three-point attempts. He tallied a team-high 31 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the victory on Sunday.

"This is definitely going to give me some bragging rights," Durant said, as he will now get ready to return to the Warriors, where he plays alongside fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

This was Durant's 10th All-Star appearance. He has scored 30-plus points in four different All-Star games, which is the most in history.

Durant also took home the All-Star MVP in 2012.

Team LeBron took home a victory in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game, beating Team Giannis 178-164 on Sunday. 

The 2019 All-Star Game is almost here.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo completed the draft last week. James selected Kevin Durant with his top choice and Antetokounmpo followed by picking Stephen Curry.

Three of James' first four picks were impending free agents while Antetokounmpo chose multiple first-time All-Stars.

The game will be played at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday. Here are some Opta numbers to know about the matchup.

 

Complete rosters

Team LeBron: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal, Dwyane Wade.
Team Giannis: Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George, Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, D'Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry, Dirk Nowitzki.

Team comparison (Team LeBron-Team Giannis)

Combined All-Star appearances: (81-52)
Combined points: (15,923-14,326)
Combined rebounds: (4,783-5,159)
Combined assists: (3,360-3,681)
Field goals attempted: (11,681-10,881)
Field goals made: (5,703-5,116)
Three-pointers attempted: (3,694-3,829)
Three-pointers made: (1,409-1,394)

– James will be playing in his 15th All-Star game. He will tie Kobe Bryant and former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan for the second most appearances in NBA history.

– James will enter Sunday's contest with 343 All-Star game points. That is already the most by any player. He also holds the record for most field goals made and attempted.

– Dwyane Wade needs three steals to become just the fourth player ever to tally 30 or more in their All-Star careers. Bryant, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas are the only three others to reach that mark.

– The players with the top six individual scoring averages in All-Star history will appear in the game on Sunday. They are: James (24.5), New Orleans Pelicans forward Davis (24.5), Oklahoma City Thunder guard Westbrook (24.4), Golden State Warriors forward Durant (24.3), Detroit Pistons forward Griffin (21.8) and Thunder forward George (20.8).

– James was also a captain in last year's game, which was the first that did not feature the East against West format. He scored 29 points to lead his squad to a 148-145 victory over Team Curry. The 293 combined points were the fewest since the 2013 game.

– Warriors sharpshooter Curry has made just 33.9 per cent of his three-point attempts in All-Star games. Celtics guard Irving is fourth all-time in that category at 48.4 per cent.

Day one of the NBA's free agency period saw a number of huge deals reportedly agreed, while Chris Paul confirmed he will remain with the Houston Rockets. 

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