Kyrie Irving acknowledged he was "conflicted" but would not divulge discussions with commissioner Adam Silver as the NBA's relationship with China remains on the agenda.

Preseason games in China - involving Irving's Brooklyn Nets - were at the centre of controversy after a since-deleted tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey supported anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

Morey's comments overshadowed what had been expected to be a celebration of the NBA in one of their key international markets, with media duties cancelled, although the games went ahead.

LeBron James, whose Los Angeles Lakers were also involved, weighed in on his return to the United States, suggesting Morey "wasn't educated" on the matter.

And Irving was asked about the situation following the Nets' final preseason game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center, where fans were pictured wearing "Stand with Hong Kong" shirts in the stands.

Questions centred on a reported behind-closed-doors meeting between Silver and the players involved in China.

"I don't know whose notes [reports are from] or who is in there that you can't really depend on to keep a conversation like that in house," Irving said. "Especially when it is about the NBA brand and the NBA players being impacted by it.

"I stand for four things, man: inner peace, freedom, equality and world peace. So, if that is being conflicted inside of me, I am definitely going to have something to say, and I left it in that room."

Irving, who scored 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting in the defeat to the Raptors, added: "I understand that Hong Kong and China is dealing with their issues, respectively.

"But there is enough oppression and stuff going on in America for me not to be involved in the community issues here as well."

Silver claimed earlier this week the Chinese government had asked the NBA to fire Morey, adding: "We said there's no chance that's happening. There's no chance we'll even discipline him."

Anthony Davis became the latest star to suffer an injury during NBA preseason as the Brooklyn Nets eased to a 91-77 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in China.

Davis suffered a sprained thumb midway through the first quarter, joining the Nets' Kyrie Irving on the sidelines after he aggravated a facial injury in the sides' previous meeting on Thursday.

Star Lakers signing Davis tweaked his thumb while going up to block a shot at the rim, staying in the game for a short period before heading to the locker room for further evaluation.

He came back to the sidelines with an ice pack taped to his right hand and was ruled out for the rest of the game.

Davis served as the starting center, finishing the game with six points while shooting 2-of-7 from the field - both buckets coming off assists from LeBron James.

The former New Orleans Pelicans superstar added three rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes before leaving due to the injury.

Los Angeles were able to keep it close through the first half but saw the Nets pull clear in the third quarter as Caris LeVert shone in Irving's absence.

LeVert left the previous clash early with a knock, but he scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed four rebounds. Taurean Prince also played a big role off the bench with 14 points.

The game brought to an end a trip to China that has been clouded in controversy stemming from a since-deleted tweet by Daryl Morey earlier this week, with the Houston Rockets GM supporting anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

The two scheduled fixtures went ahead but all media availability was cancelled, overshadowing what had been expected to be a celebration of the NBA in one of its key international markets.

As the teams return to the United States, the Lakers' next preseason game is set for Monday against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center.

The Nets host the Toronto Raptors next on Friday at Barclays Center.

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will not face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in Saturday's NBA preseason fixture after aggravating a facial fracture.

Irving left Brooklyn's 114-111 win over the Lakers early on Thursday due to the problem he suffered over the offseason.

The Nets announced on Friday that Irving will not feature against the Lakers at Shenzhen Dayun Arena in China.

Irving suffered the injury just one minute into Thursday's contest after being bumped by Lakers guard Rajon Rondo. He did not record a point, rebound or assist.

This is not Irving's first run-in with this kind of injury.

The 27-year-old point guard suffered a minor facial fracture playing for the Boston Celtics in November 2017 after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face during a game.

He also broke his jaw in December 2012 while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Whether this problem will affect his success in his first season with the Nets remains to be seen.

Irving signed a four-year, $141million deal in the offseason alongside Kevin Durant, who also signed a max contract but will likely miss all of 2019-20 recovering from an Achilles injury.

A six-time All-Star, Irving has averaged 22.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in his career.

Kyrie Irving's Brooklyn Nets debut lasted just a minute as the much-discussed NBA preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers went ahead in Shanghai on Thursday.

Irving, who signed for the Nets alongside the injured Kevin Durant for the upcoming season, was trying to play through a facial fracture suffered in a pickup game last month, wearing a clear mask.

However, the former Boston Celtics star appeared to aggravate the issue early on as he clashed with Rajon Rondo and was immediately withdrawn.

The contest at least finally meant some basketball was played amid a week of controversy stemming from a since-deleted tweet by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey supporting anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

Morey's comments overshadowed what had been expected to be a celebration of the NBA in one of their key international markets in China.

Some fallout continued, with media duties for both teams and league commissioner Adam Silver cancelled, but the game represented a brief respite from a tumultuous few days.

The Nets prevailed 114-111 as some of the NBA's top stars took to the floor, although Caris LeVert followed Irving in making an early exit with an apparent eye problem.

Their absences made Spencer Dinwiddie the key man as he scored 20 points and Taurean Prince added 18 to lead six Nets in double figures.

LeBron James scored 20 points in 24 minutes to pace the Lakers, as he and Anthony Davis (16 points in 25 minutes) shared the floor as team-mates for the first time.

Brooklyn's Theo Pinson broke 111-111 tie with 20.9 seconds to play by hitting the second of two free throws, before Dzanan Musa's dunk with nine seconds left capped the scoring.

Los Angeles had a last shot to tie on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's three-pointer as the clock ran down, but it bounced away.

Kevin Durant thinks the New York Knicks are not "the cool thing right now", which is why they have struggled to land big names in free agency.

Ten-time NBA All-Star Durant was long touted as a potential target for the Knicks, along with Kyrie Irving, and became an unrestricted free agent after declining his player option with the Golden State Warriors.

However, the 2014 MVP – who sustained an Achilles tear in Game 5 of the NBA Finals and is expected to miss the entire 2019-20 season – signed a four-year, $164million contract with the Brooklyn Nets.

Durant will team up with Irving at Barclays Center, while Kawhi Leonard plumped for the Los Angeles Clippers as the Knicks came up empty-handed.

Explaining his decision in an interview with Hot 97 in New York, Durant said: "I think a lot of fans look at the Knicks as a brand and expect these younger players — who in their lifetime don't remember the Knicks being good — [to look at it the same way].

"I didn't grow up with the Knicks being good. Well, I remember the Knicks being in the Finals, but the kids after me didn't see that. So, the brand of the Knicks to them isn't as cool to them as, let's say, the Golden State Warriors or even the Lakers or the Nets now.

"The cool thing right now is not the Knicks."

Durant admitted he "thought about" signing with the Knicks, but never seriously considered it.

"It's just a thought," he added. "I didn't really do any full analysis on the Knicks.

"Basketball is the most important thing for me, so playing with Kyrie, DeAndre Jordan, the young players they've [the Nets] got, was key.

"Playing with Golden State, playing with an older group, I thought it was time for me to kind of impose my will on a younger group.

"I just wanted to be around a nice group of young players and also a good mix of vets."

Kyrie Irving has revealed how he plans to end his career playing alongside Kevin Durant as they prepare for a new chapter with the Brooklyn Nets.

After a tough season with the Boston Celtics, the point guard opted out of the final year of his contract and instead headed to the Nets, allowing him to join forces with Durant.

Irving admitted the duo were still unsure of their next move on the morning of free agency, though feels Brooklyn is the ideal destination to put down long-term roots.

"The morning of free agency, we still had no idea what we were doing," Irving told reporters at the team's media day. 

"We just want to care for one another in a way where we can build for the next four years and on. We want to end our careers together. 

"We want to do this as a team and what better place to do it than Brooklyn, with all these guys that had worked their tails off to be where they are now, to even be in a position here in Brooklyn."

The duo will have to wait to play together, however, as Durant is recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Irving declared he will "protect" his new team-mate and not push him to come back until he is ready, something he feels was not the case with the Golden State Warriors in last season's playoffs.

"We all know K was not ready to play," the six-time NBA All-Star said.

"We all know that, whether people want to admit it or not. He was out 31 days and we put him on a national stage in the Finals to end up selling a product that came before the person, Kevin.

"Now, I'm here to protect that. And I'm going to be the protector of that all throughout the year and not allowing anyone to infiltrate that circle."

Kevin Durant said he felt it was "time for a change" after last season and so did not give too much thought to the Golden State warriors as he signed for the Brooklyn Nets.

Durant appeared as a Nets player for the first time on Friday, addressing a news conference.

Questions predictably focused on his decision to leave the dynasty he helped build with the Warriors for the hot-and-cold Nets, who have made the playoffs just once in the past four seasons.

But Durant said his achievements with Golden State were not on his mind as he entered free agency.

"I felt like it was time for a change," he told reporters. "I wanted to play for a new team and, simply put, I just did it.

"I didn't really think about what I was leaving behind or what we accomplished. I put that up on the shelf already.

"When it was time to make a decision about my future, I thought solely about me."

Asked if he considered staying with the Warriors or joining a team like the Los Angeles Clippers or New York Knicks, Durant replied: "I thought about it for a couple of seconds."

The 10-time All-Star and two-time NBA Finals MVP was ruled out of the end of last season and is expected to miss all of the coming campaign following an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the Finals series against the Toronto Raptors.

Durant had just returned from injury and that swift comeback prompted Kyrie Irving, a fellow new Nets signing, appearing alongside Durant on Friday, to discuss his thoughts.

"We all know K was not ready to play in that environment," Irving said. "We all know that, whether people want to admit it or not.

"He was out 31 days and we put him on a national stage to end up selling a product that came before the person Kevin and now I'm here to protect that.

"I'm going to be a protector of that all throughout the year and not allow anyone to infiltrate that circle.

"We have expectations for our team. We obviously know he's an integral part, but we'll wait for that.

"I'm very patient. I'll be [overly] patient with Kevin because I don't want anything to happen like that again.  I want him to be 101 per cent healthy."

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving will be assessed day-to-day as he recovers from a facial fracture he suffered in practice on Tuesday.

Irving took an elbow to the face while playing in a pickup game. He was transported to a nearby hospital for further evaluation, though Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said the team were just doing their due diligence.

"I think this is a case of us being cautious with all our guys," Marks said. "A stray, inadvertent elbow playing pickup games - yes, I did see it - those type of plays happen frequently in the same game.

"This is just a case where he caught the elbow and now we're going to do our due diligence."

Marks also gave Irving high praise for his leadership since signing with the Nets in free agency.

He said the guard has been "religious" in workouts and can already see a strong sense of camaraderie building between the veterans and young players.

Irving has dealt with injuries to his face twice before during his NBA career, with the most recent coming during the 2017-18 season. He was elbowed in the face during a game while playing for the Boston Celtics, resulting in a minor facial fracture. He also broke his jaw in 2012 during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets officially start training camp on Saturday, with their first pre-season game scheduled for October 10 against the Los Angeles Lakers in China.

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward hopes Kyrie Irving is successful with the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving left Boston and inked a four-year, $140.6million contract with Brooklyn this offseason.

Hayward was asked about Irving's departure when he met with reporters on Tuesday. 

"The interesting part of the league is the drama that happens every offseason," Hayward said, via NBC Sports Boston. "I don't know if there's any league like that, where you have major guys moving teams.

"I wish [Irving] the best of luck as he goes to Brooklyn."

The Celtics also lost Al Horford (Philadelphia 76ers) and Marcus Morris (New York Knicks) in free agency.

But, they signed three-time All-Star Kemba Walker and added center Enes Kanter.

"As a team, we're excited about who we have coming in," Hayward said. "I'm more than excited to welcome Kemba and Enes, and all the other guys that are new for us."

Hayward was inconsistent last season after he missed almost all of 2017-18 with a devastating leg injury. He averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game while shooting 33.3 per cent from three-point range. 

Hayward said he has spent the offseason focusing on bouncing back.

"More than anything, just building back some confidence; being able to do everything that I'm used to doing," Hayward said. "Reps is what gives you confidence, being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle is feeling or having to be cautious with it, has been really good for my confidence.

"That has felt really nice, being able to train how I'm used to training. Not having to worry about doing stuff for only 10 minutes, only doing a certain amount of reps. It's been really good from that standpoint."

The Celtics entered 2018-19 as the favourites to win the East but finished with a 49-33 record and were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the conference semifinals.

Kyrie Irving's decision to leave Boston and sign with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency did not come as a surprise to Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

During an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich, Ainge opened up about some of the conversations he had with the six-time All-Star in the months leading up to his free agency.

"He did express to me on a couple of occasions between March and the end of [the season] that he really wanted to go home," Ainge said about Irving, who grew up in New Jersey.

"I got the impression at that point that he wanted to go play in Brooklyn more than he wanted to play in New York or Boston."

Irving had mentioned at one point that he planned to re-sign with the Celtics, but Ainge revealed he never had that conversation with him.

"He told everyone else, but I never had that conversation with him," Ainge said. "I asked him point blank in the conversations that I had with him, 'Would you consider returning to Boston?' And he was always 'Yes'. He was always in that frame of mind. I don't think he was out the door for sure by then. I think he was contemplating all his options."

Ainge went on to defend Irving and said he wanted to take the blame away from the veteran.

The Celtics finished the season with a 49-33 record and many questioned Irving's leadership.

"A lot of people put a lot of heat on Kyrie of being the guy that's supposed to be this great leader and it was his responsibility to lead everybody," Ainge said.

"I continually tried to remove that pressure from Kyrie and [tell him to] just be yourself, just go play, just have fun, find joy in the game ... I think he did feel that burden, that he had to be too much, and wasn't able to do that.

"I don't like the fact that it's all the blame on [Irving]. I'd like everybody to take responsibility for that. I feel like the Kyrie bashing is unfair, that's all."

Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson said the Nets were "humbled" by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving's decision to join the team.

The Nets signed NBA All-Star duo Durant and Irving to go with the likes of DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler.

Atkinson, who has been at the helm since 2016, said the signings were huge for Brooklyn.

"I use the word humbled that guys of that calibre would choose to play with us," he told a news conference on Tuesday.

"The biggest credit goes to our returning players – Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert.

"I think, at the end of the day, all our free agents, Garrett Temple and DeAndre, they looked at it and [said], 'man, those are guys we want to play with'."

While Durant is set to miss most, if not all, of the 2019-20 season due to an Achilles injury, the Nets look well-placed to reach the playoffs for the second straight campaign.

Brooklyn finished 2018-19 with a 42-40 record before losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.

Atkinson believes the Eastern Conference will again be tough after several big moves in the offseason.

"I think we've added some really good players and our goal is just to continue that rise," he said.

"I think there are going to be a lot of good teams in the east, I think there is going to be a lot of parity, that's my gut.

"Jimmy [Butler] going to Miami, geez that makes them better, Philly with all their big guys and shooting, Boston sign Kemba [Walker], we all know Kemba. I see a lot of parity in the east."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he expected the changes at Boston after their 2018-19 NBA season.

Boston lost star guard Kyrie Irving, along with forward Al Horford, in free agency, but acquired Kemba Walker in a sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets.

Stevens addressed the team's recent moves when he met with reporters on Tuesday.

"Anytime you go through a year like we went through, where you don't necessarily meet expectations, there's probably going to be some change," Stevens said, via The Boston Globe.

Irving, who ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets, had a rough stint in Boston.

He was reportedly unhappy and had issues with team-mates as well as the coaching staff.

"I don't know if there's anything anyone individually necessarily feels like they should have done or could have done [to keep Irving]," Stevens said.

"That's part of free agency. You can go where you want at the end of the day. I enjoyed Kyrie. I like Kyrie, and I wish him nothing but health and success. I don't fault him one bit for choosing to follow whatever he wants to do. That's his right."

Horford was a vital member of the Celtics' rotation last season. He declined his $30.1million player option with Boston last month and was originally expected to return to the team on a three-year deal. But, the sides were reportedly far apart on a new contract and negotiations fell apart.

The 33-year-old then went on to ink a four-year contract, reportedly worth up to $109m, with the Philadelphia 76ers.

"We loved Al, we wanted him back," Stevens said. "Again, it's his choice. He can go do what he wants to do and there's a lot of factors that end up helping these guys make those decisions. But he's a heck of a player and did a great job here in the three years he was here."

Walker, meanwhile, has been an All-Star in each of the past three seasons and was named to the All-NBA third team in 2018-19.

"[Walker] is a great player," Stevens said. "And he's been able to continue to get better and better and better as his career has gone on. He's made himself into an excellent shooter, he's great off pick and rolls, he's got incredible speed, can see the game, can read the game. He's an awfully good player, and we're excited he decided to come to Boston."

The Celtics entered the season as the favourites to win the East but finished with a 49-33 record and were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the conference semi-finals.

Boston also brought in center Enes Kanter while Marcus Morris is reportedly reconsidering his commitment to the San Antonio Spurs and may end up landing with the New York Knicks.

Brooklyn Nets recruit Kyrie Irving is "misunderstood" and a "great team-mate", insisted Joe Harris.

Irving – a six-time All-Star and 2016 NBA champion – swapped the Boston Celtics for Eastern Conference rivals the Nets via free agency.

Harris and Irving were team-mates with the Cleveland Cavaliers and will be reunited once again in Brooklyn.

Irving will be joining the Nets after a rough stint in Boston, where he was reportedly unhappy and had issues with team-mates as well as the coaching staff.

Harris, however, defended Irving after telling the New York Post: "Kyrie, he's got a big personality. He's one of these guys that's misunderstood.

"The way that he's construed in the media is probably going to paint him in a light that is not necessarily true. I'd say you could ask a lot of people that played with him and they'd all say that he's a great team-mate and a good guy to be around."

Harris said he enjoyed his time playing with Irving and was looking forward to sharing the court with him again.

"None of us are perfect all the time," Harris said. "We're all going to have ups and downs throughout the course of the season. …  For him, unfortunately, he's just in one of these scenarios where there's so much more attention on him and people are paying much more attention to when he does have an off day.

"I have off days all the time, too, but nobody really cares when I have an off day. People care when Kyrie does."

Irving averaged 23.8 points and 6.9 assists for the Celtics last season.

"He's one of these guys where he's very much must-see," Harris said. "We all know the talent, but I got to see it for a year and a half every day. … He really is that talented. He's a top-10 talent."

The Nets also added star Kevin Durant and center DeAndre Jordan this offseason. Meanwhile, they sent D'Angelo Russell to the Golden State Warriors in a sign-and-trade.

Harris poured in a career-high 13.7 points per game and shot 47.4 per cent from three-point range for Brooklyn in 2018-19.

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.

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