Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham says he cannot afford to waste any time managing players' feelings after benching Russell Westbrook late as they slumped to an 0-3 start on Sunday.

The Lakers surrendered a seven-point lead with 1:56 left, losing 106-104 to the Portland Trail Blazers at Crypto.com Arena, following up defeats to the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James had a two-point attempt rim out on the buzzer as they missed four of their final five shots in the last two minutes.

Leading 102-101, Westbrook missed a 15-foot pull-up jumper with 27.3 seconds remaining in the game and 18 seconds left on the shot clock. He was then sent to the bench after Damian Lillard drained a three-point to put the Blazers ahead.

"We don't have time for feelings or people being in their feelings. Like, we're trying to turn this thing around," Ham told reporters. "For one person to be in their feelings about when and where and how they should be in the game, I don't have any time for that."

Westbrook finished with 10 points on four-of-15 shooting, adding six rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes, with no turnovers, having given away four in their opening loss to Golden State.

Ham was critical of Westbrook's shot location rather than his decision to take on his jumper with 27.3 seconds left trying to execute a two-for-one, to ensure two offensive possessions in the final moments.

"I just wish we would've attacked the rim directly," Ham said. "That's the one shot that teams want you to take and want to give up – long twos, contested twos.

"With his ability to explode and get to the basket still being at a high level, I wish he would've did that. Especially with Nurkic standing back there with five fouls… shot selection is something we have to work on."

James would not be drawn on Westbrook, proactively calling out reporters for their line of questioning on the nine-time All-Star, who has started the season averaging 10.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game.

"I feel like this is an interview of trying to set me up to say something," James said. "I can tell that you guys are in the whole Russell Westbrook category right now. I don't like to lose. I hate to lose at anything.

"I don't care what happens throughout the course of my season or throughout the course of my career, I hate to lose. And especially the way we had this game. But give credit to Portland.

"You guys can write about Russ and all the things you want to try to talk about Russ, but I'm not up here to do that. I won't do it. I've said it over and over. That's not who I am."

James finished with 31 points on 12-of-22 field shooting, with eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks, while Anthony Davis scored 22 points with 10 rebounds, two steals and six blocks.

The Lakers' woes from beyond the arc plagued them again, shooting six-of-33 from three-point range.

Joel Embiid scored 40 points but it was not enough to prevent the Philadelphia 76ers from slumping to a 0-3 start to the new NBA season after a 114-105 home loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

James Harden had minimal impact in the second half as Spurs small forward Doug McDermott took control with an eight-point burst, capping his 14 points, which all came in the second half.

The 76ers, who had been beaten by contenders, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, to open their season, squandered Embiid's huge game where he shot 14-of-25 from the field and hauled down 13 rebounds with two blocks.

Harden only added 12 points on four-of-18 shooting, making one-of-six three-point attempts. The former MVP provided 12 assists with nine rebounds and two blocks, but was inconspicuous in the second half with the game up for grabs, with the Spurs defense denying him good looks.

Tyrese Maxey contributed 25 points for the 76ers, including three triples, but Philadelphia slumped to their first 0-3 start since 2016-17.

Devin Vassell (22 points with nine-of-14 field shooting, including four three-pointers) and Keldon Johnson (21 points with eight rebounds) were San Antonio's most productive offensive players.

Mitchell betters LeBron start for Cavs

Donovan Mitchell scored 32 points as he claimed his first win as a Cleveland Cavaliers player in their 128-96 victory over the Chicago Bulls in their home season opener.

Mitchell achieved a feat that not even LeBron James could, becoming the first Cavs player with back-to-back 30-point games to open a season.

The All-Star, who made a high-profile trade from the Utah Jazz to the Cavs in the off-season, landed four-of-six from beyond the arc with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Zach LaVine returned after off-season knee surgery that forced him to miss Chicago's opening two games to top score for the Bulls with 23 points.

Giannis powers Bucks past Rockets

Giannis Antetokounmpo only needed 28 minutes to put on an MVP-like display as the Milwaukee Bucks routed the Houston Rockets 125-105 in their home opener at Fiserv Forum.

Antetokounmpo scored 44 points, shooting 17-of-21 from the field with two three-pointers, along with 12 rebounds and three assists.

The Greek forward became Milwaukee's all-time free throws leader, shooting eight-of-13 from the stripe to exceed Sidney Moncrief's 3,505 record, before sitting out with 8:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Jayson Tatum also scored 40 points to lead the 3-0 Boston Celtics past the 0-3 Orlando Magic 126-120, while Paul George had 40 in the Los Angeles Clippers' 111-109 win over the Sacramento Kings.

LeBron James was encouraged by the Los Angeles Lakers' ability to limit the Los Angeles Clippers scoring on Thursday, despite ultimately losing the game.

The Clippers ran out 103-97 victors at Crypto.com Arena in Kawhi Leonard's first outing in 16 months.

It was another frustrating game for the Lakers as they failed to land enough of their shots, especially from three-point range, which was also an issue in their season-opening loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Having only hit 10 from 40 from beyond the arc on Tuesday, the Lakers were successful with just nine from 45 attempts against the Clippers, who scored as many from 16 fewer shots.

Speaking after the defeat, LeBron was in no mood to focus on the negatives, instead praising his team-mates for putting pressure on the visitors at the other end of the court, limiting them to just 80 shots in the contest.

"I'm definitely not going to sit here and harp on [about] what we can't do every single game," he said. "That's not a leader.

"What I know we can do? We can defend our ass off. We did that tonight, which gave us an opportunity to win and we just couldn't make it happen. But I'm OK with that."

On his team's inefficient shooting, James added: "If we're reliant on [that] every single game, then we're in trouble.

"So, I'm not worried about that or thinking about that. It's how hard we play, how aggressive we play, how determined we are to go out and compete every night.

"And we've got to defend. When we defend, we're going to give ourselves a good chance to win."

Kawhi Leonard scored 14 points with seven rebounds as he returned for the first time in 16 months in the Los Angeles Clippers' thrilling 103-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

Leonard, who missed all of last season after sustaining an ACL injury in the 2021 playoffs, played 21 minutes off the bench, shooting six-of-12 from the field, including a crucial two-pointer with under two minutes left at Crypto.com Arena.

The Lakers had hit the lead in the last quarter after LeBron James' block on Paul George set up Lonnie Walker IV's jam, but the Clippers were clutch down the stretch to extend their winning streak over their rivals to eight games.

The Clippers' current eight-game winning run over the Lakers is the second-longest in franchise history, behind 11 from 2014 to 2016.

James, in his 20th season in the NBA, scored 20 points with 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, while Anthony Davis was exceptional with 25 points including two triples and eight rebounds.

But the three-point issues that plagued the Lakers last season reared their head again, going at 20 per cent from beyond the arc as a team. The Lakers' two-game three-point percentage of 22 per cent this season is the worst by any team through two games in NBA history (minimum 60 attempts).

Russell Westbrook was a major culprit, managing only two points in 27 minutes, shooting none-of-11 from the field and none-of-six from beyond the arc.

Giannis in top form as Bucks open with 76ers win  

The Philadelphia 76ers lost for the second straight game to open the season after James Harden missed a floater off the glass on their last offensive play in a 90-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 76ers were booed by their fans at Wells Fargo Center in the third quarter, before rallying with a 13-0 run in the fourth, led by Harden who had eight points during that span, finishing with 31 for the game, along with eight rebounds and nine rebounds.

But Harden, who went one-for-seven from three-point range, missed his late chance straight after Wesley Matthews' triple as the Bucks won their season opener.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was in MVP form, having 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the first half, finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists with three blocks. Joel Embiid was kept scoreless in the second half, to have only 15 points with 12 rebounds for the game.

Russell Westbrook believes his hamstring injury in the Los Angeles Lakers' preseason finale could have been caused by his different role coming off the bench.

Westbrook started on the bench in Friday's preseason defeat to the Sacramento Kings but played just five minutes before coming off due to a concern with his left hamstring.

The 2017 NBA MVP recovered from his knock and returned to the starting lineup for his side's 123-109 loss to the Golden State Warriors in their NBA season opener on Tuesday.

And when asked whether his bench role against Sacramento played a role in his injury, he said: "Absolutely - I've been doing the same thing for 14 years straight.

"Honestly, I didn't even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. That's something I just wasn't accustomed to."

Coach Darvin Ham suggested in preseason that Westbrook may be used from the bench as part of a different strategy following their hugely disappointing campaign last year.
 
The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference with a 33-49 record despite boasting stars payers such as Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Westbrook's start on Tuesday, the 1,005th time in 1,022 career games that he had played with the first unit, proved futile with reigning champions the Warriors winning comfortably.

Speaking on Westbrook's starting role after the game, Ham said: "You want to start the game off the right way in terms of your energy and being in attack mode, and no one better than him [Westbrook].

"I thought he was solid. A couple possessions I wish I can get back, but overall, I thought he was solid."

Westbrook finished up with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes on court.

The Lakers face city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday as they look for their first win of the season.

LeBron James revealed the Los Angeles Lakers performed as he expected on opening night despite a disappointing defeat to the Golden State Warriors.

Tuesday's game was always likely to be a tough one for the Lakers, who missed the playoffs last season as the Warriors won the title.

And so it proved, with a dominant third quarter seeing the Warriors ease to a 123-109 victory.

James, entering his 20th season, led the Lakers with 31 points but acknowledged the team will need time at the start of the year working with new coach Darvin Ham.

"For us, I think we are what I expected from tonight," James said.

"Some great moments, some not so good moments, and that just comes from a team that's coming together for the first time. There's a lot of new pieces, a whole new system, coaching staff.

"But I loved the way we competed. Obviously with the turnovers, we're not going to win ball games like that, but once we start getting on the same page and know where guys are going to be, start going through in our system how we want to perform, that will get better with time.

"It was what I expected. We had some good times, and some other times were not as good as we would like."

The Lakers had 21 turnovers to the Warriors' 18, including 12 from their 'big three' of James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, which the four-time MVP said was "not acceptable".

That was not the only area in which the Lakers struggled, however, as they were a miserable 25.0 per cent from three-point range, making just 10 of 40 attempts.

The Lakers ranked 22nd in the NBA in three-point shooting last year (34.7 per cent), and James suggested the Warriors – 35.6 per cent on Tuesday and 36.4 per cent in 2021-22 – were letting their opponents shoot.

"We're getting great looks, but it also could be teams giving us great looks," James said.

"To be completely honest, we're not a team that's constructed of great shooting. That's just the truth of the matter. It's not like we're sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.

"That doesn't deter us from trying to get great shots, and when we get those opportunities, we take them. But we're not sitting here with a load of 40-plus career three-point shooting guys."

The Lakers have still not won on opening night since 2016.

The Golden State Warriors have begun their title defense in fine fashion, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 123-109 at home on the opening night of the NBA season.

With the Warriors receiving their championship rings in a ceremony before the game, they were determined to make it a night to remember, with reigning Finals MVP Stephen Curry leading the way.

Curry finished with 33 points on 10-of-22 shooting, hitting four-of-13 from long range and all nine of his free throws to lead both teams in scoring. He also chipped in seven assists, six rebounds and four steals.

Jordan Poole had 10 of his 12 points in the first half to lead the Warriors to a 59-52 halftime lead, before Klay Thompson took over to begin the third quarter, scoring his side's first seven points on three consecutive shots to ignite a 32-19 frame, blowing the game open in the process.

The Warriors' lead peaked at 91-64 late in the third quarter, before the visiting Lakers scored 38 in the fourth to trim the final score to a respectable figure.

In his 20th season, LeBron James looked as strong as ever, finishing with 31 points (12-of-25 shooting) with 14 rebounds and eight assists, while Anthony Davis had 27 points (10-of-22 shooting) with six rebounds, four steals and two blocks, although Davis posted the worst plus/minus of the game at minus 21.

Tatum, Brown combine for 70 in Celtics win

In what was officially the first game of the season, the Boston Celtics and interim head coach Joe Mazzulla collected an impressive 126-117 home win against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Celtics had to compete with a spectacular James Harden performance, who led the 76ers with 35 points on nine-of-14 shooting, including five-of-nine from long range and 12-of-12 from the free throw line, while adding eight rebounds and seven assists.

Harden had a plus/minus of plus one in his 37 minutes, meaning the 76ers were outscored by 10 in the 11 minutes he was on the bench.

For Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were almost unstoppable all night, scoring 35 points each at a combined 61 per cent from the field (27-of-44), while Tatum also grabbed 12 rebounds and Brown had two steals.

New signing Malcolm Brogdon showed no signs of needing an adjustment period, making an immediate impact off the Celtics' bench with 16 points (seven-of-11 shooting) and four assists in 24 minutes.

Michael Jordan is still the best NBA player of all time despite LeBron James' achievements, says former small forward Kendall Gill.

Since being drafted first overall by the Miami Heat in 2003, James has won four NBA championships and four Finals MVP awards, while being selected in 18 All-Star teams.

James is also just 1,325 points behind all-time NBA scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a record he could break this season - which gets under way with the Boston Celtics facing the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.

Gill says even if James breaks Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record, it does not make him the best player of all time above Jordan, telling Stats Perform: "You've got to be in the 'six five' club to be even mentioned in the conversation of the greatest of all time, and that's at least six championships and at least five MVPs.

"Only three players have ever done that; Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan. That's why LeBron can't be in that conversation right now.

"I think Michael Jordan is the greatest NBA player of all time. Numbers don't lie.

"This is the one that really tells me what people think deep down inside. I say, 'if you have one game to win for your life, who are you gonna pick, Michael Jordan and LeBron James?'

"The answer is always Michael Jordan."

James' Los Angeles Lakers face a tricky season opener on Wednesday against the Golden State Warriors, who are looking to retain the title they won in June by overcoming the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

Gill does not believe the Lakers have what it takes to win the franchise's 18th NBA championship, adding: "I love LeBron James but I don't think that the LA Lakers have the chemistry to win.

"You've got Russell Westbrook there, you've got Anthony Davis, you have LeBron James, you have Pat Bev [Beverley] there.

"Sometimes too much talent on a team is bad. It's not good, because everybody is trying to be the guy that they used to be on their previous team.

"I tell people this all the time. It's very hard to play with Lebron James. The reason why is because you have to completely change your game.

"LeBron is really the de facto point guard. Even though he's six foot nine, 270 pounds. He's going to handle the basketball most of the time.

"Everybody has to change the game because LeBron has the basketball most of the time. That's why Westbrook struggled last year because he wasn’t really allowed to play his position full-time."

Victor Wembanyama is honoured to have been labelled a "generational talent" and an "alien" by the legendary LeBron James.

Wembanyama is projected to be the number one pick in the NBA Draft next year and the French teenager has demonstrated why during his first trip to America this week.

The 18-year-old once again showed what the hype is all about as he scored 36 points, claimed 11 rebounds and made four blocks for Metropolitans 92 in a 112-106 win over G League Ignite on Thursday.

Over the two exhibition games this week, Wembanyama racked up 73 points, was 22-for-44 shooting, landed nine three-pointers, took 15 rebounds and made nine blocked shots.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James said of the 7-foot-3 Wembanyama: "Everybody has been labelling this unicorn thing.

"Everybody has been a unicorn for the last two years, but he's more like an alien. I've never seen, no one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor."

James added: "His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers out of the post, step-back threes, catch-and-shoot threes, block shots... he's for sure a generational talent."

Wembanyama was proud when he heard James singing his praises, but will remain grounded.

He said: "It's obviously an honour to see such great people talk like this about me, but it really doesn't change anything.

"I was like, 'Oh that's cool.' But no more. I have to try to stay focused. The thing is, I didn't do anything yet."

G League coach Jason Hart also had high praise for Wembanyama.

He said: "We will never see another player like that again. Just like I said about Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal], they just don't come around often.

"The good thing for me coaching, I'm glad I got a chance to play against him at 18. At 24, he's going to be a whole new player, somebody else's problem."

LeBron James insists he is serious about wanting to own an NBA franchise based in Las Vegas, serving a reminder of his ambitions to league commissioner Adam Silver.

The four-time NBA champion scored 23 points in 17 minutes on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers lost a pre-season road game with the Phoenix Suns in Vegas, at the city's T-Mobile Arena.

James is no stranger to sports club ownership, with stakes in Premier League outfit Liverpool and MLB team Boston Red Sox.

But with his career on the basketball court entering its twilight phase, the 37-year-old doubled down on his desire to own a franchise in Nevada, one of the few states in the American southwest not home to a club.

"I would love to bring a team here at some point," he said, before calling out Silver personally. "That would be amazing. I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe.

"But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players. So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you."

James' hopes are unlikely to materialise in the short term, given he remains under contract with the Lakers through 2025, and must be retired to own a league franchise.

Silver previously also poured cold water on immediate expansion during the NBA Finals, but did praise both Vegas and Seattle as future sites if the league chooses to grow.

"We are not discussing that at this time," Silver said at the time. "As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it's not at this moment that we are discussing it.

"We were in Seattle. I'm sorry we are no longer there. Las Vegas has shown itself to be a great sports market as well."

LeBron James scored 23 points in the first half and Donovan Mitchell made his Cleveland Cavaliers debut to highlight Wednesday's NBA preseason action.

Against the Phoenix Suns, James shot eight-of-11 from the field, including three-of-six from deep, adding four assists, three rebounds, a steal and no turnovers in his 17 minutes, helping the Los Angeles Lakers to a 69-62 halftime lead.

They would end up losing 119-115 as James would sit out the entire second half while fringe rotation players got a chance for some extended run, with Kendrick Nunn scoring 21 points on eight-of-13 shooting as he prepares for a significant role for the Lakers this season.

Devin Booker scored 22 points on seven-of-20 shooting, and Chris Paul posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists.

Meanwhile, Mitchell was impressive in his first action in a Cavaliers uniform, scoring 16 points on six-of-nine shooting before also sitting out the second half of his side's 113-112 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Tyrese Maxey led the 76ers with 22 points on nine-of-11 shooting, while Joel Embiid had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists in his 18 minutes.

It is safe to say 2021-22 was a season to forget for the Los Angeles Lakers.

A record of 33-49 meant failure to even reach the play-in tournament, unthinkable at the start of the campaign.

The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference, and only managed a measly three wins from 13 against Pacific Division opponents.

They actually won five of their first eight games, but by the end of the season they had reached peak crisis-mode.

Heading into their final 10 games, the Lakers knew they needed to win several to get into the playoffs, before proceeding to lose eight in a row, with two consolation victories saving a minimal amount of face.

It was quite the failure, and yet LeBron James did not seem to think twice about signing a new two-year, $97.1million contract extension that includes a player option for 2024-25.

Before the new season gets underway, Stats Perform has taken a look at the Lakers' prospects to try and determine if there is cause for optimism, or if James could be left to carry the load on his own once again.

Can LeBron get Lakers out of a jam?

The man has four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, 17 All-Star selections and three All-Star MVPs to his name, but this could be his biggest challenge to date.

Basketball is clearly a team sport, but as James knows all too well, it's not unusual for one player to play so well that he can carry a team to success almost single-handedly.

That did not happen last season, despite his best efforts, which goes to show just how poorly the rest of the team performed.

James scored 1,695 points in just 56 games at an average of 30.3 points per game, his best regular season return since 2005-06, and only Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers averaged more (30.6).

He also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

Of course, one of the issues was that he only managed to play 56 games, and as James turns 38 in December, is he likely to be more involved this year?

Even if he is, his impressive numbers last season achieved little in terms of the team's outcome, so will he get more help this time round? Perhaps, if the new coach can make an impact.

 

Can Ham sandwich Westbrook into his team?

The dismissal of Frank Vogel was about the most predictable thing that happened at the end of last season.

Just as you thought the Lakers were pulling out of danger, the wheels would fall off again, which was a recurring theme throughout the campaign, with Vogel unable to maintain any consistency.

His replacement, Darvin Ham, comes highly rated and with a quiet confidence he can step up having impressed as assistant at the Milwaukee Bucks.

One of his first jobs will be to form a unit out of his key players, in particular finding a way to get James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook on the court together as often as possible.

While not perfect, the Lakers did win 11 of their 21 games last season when all three featured, but had losing records when only two, one or none of them played, including defeat all five games where only Westbrook played of the three.

Westbrook actually recorded his worst scoring season since 2009-10, failing to average over 20 points per game for the first time since then (18.5).

His rebound and assist numbers were also well down on those he produced at the Washington Wizards in 2020-21, with average rebounds falling from 11.5 to 7.4, and assists from 11.7 to 7.1.

He was, at least, available though, making 78 appearances, while James played 56 times, and Davis just 40.

 

AD's lack of availability could potentially the biggest issue, as he also only managed 36 outings in 2020-21, meaning he has played less basketball in the last two years than Westbrook did last season.

However, he is – for the time being – fit now, and after the Lakers' opening preseason encounter with the Sacramento Kings on Monday, Ham said of the trio: "They allowed themselves to help one another… we have a three-series that involves all three of them, a half-court play call, and I think they're gonna thrive."

There have been persistent rumours the Lakers will trade Westbrook, but Ham is seemingly working towards life with the 33-year-old, also saying on Monday: "I have a plan for him. That plan included him when they gave me the job."

Keeping them fit is one thing, albeit mostly out of Ham's hands, but if he can find a way of getting the most out of them when they are available to him, and can coax the Wizards form out of Westbrook, that could be the support James so badly needs.

A new face and a familiar one

The consensus was that the Lakers needed fresh blood, rather than relying on older players to rediscover their magic.

So naturally, they brought in 34-year-old Patrick Beverley and re-signed nine-year NBA veteran Dennis Schroder.

In fairness, there does appear to be method in the two acquisitions. Beverley was crucial for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they returned to the playoffs last season, averaging 9.2 points in his 54 games, as well as 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 34.3 per cent of his three-pointers.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka also pointed to his "toughness" and "competitive spirit", possibly suggesting Beverley has been signed as much to inspire his team-mates as much as what he can do with the ball in hand.

Schroder was an interesting pick-up given the German shooting guard's struggles in the playoff exit to the Phoenix Suns in 2020-21, before leaving for the Boston Celtics.

Overall though, he had a good record of 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 61 games that season, and rumours are that James played a key role in getting him back to LA.

Just make the playoffs and go from there

There are definitely things to work with for Ham, but it is also far from a simple job.

While he was pleased with the showing from his main men against the Kings, he will have been alarmed to see the drop-off once he made changes in the second half.

Leading by five points at half-time, the Lakers went on to lose by 30 at the Crypto.com Arena.

They tip off with the hardest possible job of stopping Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors on October 18, but an NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint.

The Lakers do not need to be perfect, but Ham has the regular season to find the right formula and as a minimum, reach the playoffs.

Then just see where James can take them in the situation he has so often thrived in, assuming he gets more help this time.

The NBA is back, which means excitement for most fanbases – but anxiety for others.

The new season should ensure a clean slate for everyone, but some situations have been allowed to fester in recent months without the distraction of on-court action.

Now, even with basketball returning, developments around Kevin Durant's future might prove every bit as intriguing to the neutral as anything that happens in the regular season.

And Durant and the Brooklyn Nets are not the only player-team combo in a tricky spot heading into the year...

Everyone at the Lakers

Before considering the wide-ranging implications of Durant's trade request, let's check in on last year's team in crisis.

Plenty of outsiders could have forecast difficulties for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2021-22, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis joined in a 'big three' by Russell Westbrook – at this stage in his career, consistent only in using up a huge number of possessions.

Westbrook had averaged a usage rate above 30 per cent in every season between 2014-15 and 2020-21, with his average over the seven seasons (34.6 per cent) only narrowly trailing James Harden's league-leading 34.7 per cent (minimum 500 possessions). A ball-dominant player on often mediocre teams, Westbrook's winning percentage of 59.2 ranked 109th over this period among those to play 100 or more games. Harden (66.2) was a far more respectable 29th.

Although his usage dipped to 27.5 per cent around better players in LA, Westbrook remained every bit as erratic as expected and, unfortunately for the Lakers, played more than 500 more minutes than any team-mate – comfortably ahead of an ageing James and bulkier Davis.

The three superstars started just 21 games together and even then only scraped a winning record at 11-10.

Having missed the playoffs – and even the play-in – in 11th in the West, the Lakers fired coach Frank Vogel, perhaps optimistically hoping he alone was the problem, and brought back each of James, Davis and Westbrook.

Seemingly determined to further upset a team who won the title just two years ago, the Lakers were also linked with a move for Kyrie Irving before settling instead on Patrick Beverley, who might prove only marginally less disruptive.

Westbrook and Beverley have repeatedly clashed in the past, although the new Lakers signing has described his team-mate as "someone I always wanted to play with", praising his "competitive spirit, that fire, that will, that dog, that nastiness, that grit".

New coach Darvin Ham thinks the pair can work together, but the potential for fireworks is considerable even before taking into account James' own "competitive spirit".

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the Nets

The 2019 free agency moves for Durant and Irving certainly made the Nets relevant. But they haven't yet made them successful. And right now, Brooklyn might be the most explosive environment in the NBA.

Durant missed their first year together with an Achilles injury sustained playing for the Golden State Warriors, yet the Nets have still only won seven playoff games in the past three postseasons – all seven of those wins coming in a short-lived 2020-21 run.

Last season, as they had been in their first season with Durant and Irving, Brooklyn were swept in the first round. It concluded a miserable campaign that was not about to get better in the offseason.

With Irving unvaccinated and so unable to play in New York City until March, he and Durant started only 17 games together in the regular season. The Nets had started the season with their own 'big three', but Harden – much to his frustration – appeared just twice alongside the star pairing before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons came in the other direction and did not play once.

Far from a happy camp, when Irving then opted in to the final year of his contract in late June, the Nets were vulnerable to a trade request from Durant, which quickly followed.

However, with four years remaining on his own deal and Brooklyn asking for a huge price in trade talks, it was reported Durant had returned to the Nets and promised to stay if head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks were replaced.

Ultimately, Durant "agreed to move forward with our partnership" – as Marks phrased it – regardless, with Nash saying in September his relationship with the superstar was "good".

"I love the guy," added Nash, who understood Durant being "seething" at the end of the season. "Families have issues. We had a moment, and it's behind us. That's what happens."

In theory – especially if Simmons can return to his two-time All-Defensive First Team best – the Nets could have a great team in 2022-23.

Yet based on how this project has gone so far, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Brooklyn endure another desperately disappointing season and are again left attempting to convince Durant to stay.

James Harden at the 76ers

The 76ers moved one miserable superstar in Simmons for another in Harden, which was only enough to take them as far as the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year.

And en route to that unsatisfactory conclusion, team-mate Joel Embiid was not shy in criticising Harden, repeatedly calling on him to be more aggressive while recognising he is no longer "the Houston James Harden".

It was an understandable complaint; Harden attempted only 13.6 field goals per game for the Sixers in the regular season – little more than half the number of shots he was taking in 2018-19 for the Houston Rockets (24.5), when he scored a career-high 36.1 points per game. He was also only making 40.2 per cent of his field goal attempts in Philly, down on every other season in his career.

So far, it is fair to say this has not worked. Doc Rivers, in a training camp clip published by the NBA, told Harden he and Embiid needed to "listen to each other" and acknowledged the partnership needed work as it was "unnatural".

Echoing some of Embiid's complaints, coach Rivers said: "You can't just say you're a facilitator. I need you to be a scorer and a facilitator."

Rivers for now believes it can still be fixed. "When it clicks, James, we're going to be unbeatable," he told a player who, for his part, agreed to a restructured contract that allowed Philly to bolster their roster in the offseason.

But this team – and certainly Embiid – might argue more help would not be required if Harden played in the manner he is capable.

"We've got to establish Joel and you – it's a pecking order," added Rivers. "This ain't a democracy."

Embiid may not believe this is "the Houston James Harden", but the team and Harden himself seemingly do, with the former Rocket announcing: "If my conditioning can be level with my skill set and my IQ and the work that I put in, it's MVP – and I feel like my conditioning is where it needs to be."

Harden needs to start showing that, or this time his team might tire of him, rather than the other way around.

Jaylen Brown at the Celtics

Little has gone to plan for the Boston Celtics since winning Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Finals, as they lost the next three to the Warriors and then saw preparations for a bounce-back season in 2022-23 rocked by a number of key absences.

Boston will begin the year without new signing Danilo Gallinari, who tore his ACL playing for Italy, Robert Williams, who has also undergone knee surgery, and, crucially, coach Ime Udoka.

Udoka had turned around his first season as a head coach spectacularly, with the Celtics tied for ninth in the East at the turn of the year after a 17-19 start before leading the conference the rest of the way (34-12) to take the second seed.

But a year-long suspension for Udoka "for violations of team policies" was announced by the team last month.

And even between the ultimately disappointing postseason and repeatedly disrupted preseason, not everything was rosy, with Boston also impacted by the Durant saga.

When Durant looked to be on the move, reports claimed the Celtics had offered the Nets a package that included Jaylen Brown. That trade did not materialise, of course, but it is difficult to imagine Brown was too impressed.

In recent seasons, Brown has been hugely valuable to the Celtics – not least because he is being paid below his value.

Brown is one of only 11 players who has scored at least 1,400 points at an average of at least 23.5 per game in each of the past two seasons. Of the other 10, four have current or future contracts with an average annual value of more than $50m, another four are being paid over $40m per year, and the final two are bringing in a salary in excess of $30m a season.

Brown's deal, which ranks outside the top 50 contracts in the NBA in both total value and average annual value, earns him $26.6m each year.

And the rules around NBA extensions will prevent Brown being paid on par with his contemporaries unless he makes All-NBA in one of the two seasons remaining on his contract.

In theory, that carrot should encourage Brown to enjoy another big season, but at a franchise as fractured as the Celtics have suddenly become, focus could understandably drift instead towards free agency in 2024.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the Thunder

Unlike the other teams on this list, the Oklahoma City Thunder do not have the pressure of needing to win now – but that is part of the problem.

OKC moved on their ageing stars, loaded up on draft picks and put together a young core that includes Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That is all very exciting... or at least it will be.

Rookie Holmgren is down for the year, seemingly making this another season in which the Thunder will lose games and then see what they can do in the draft.

That is no great issue for 20-year-old Holmgren or 19-year-old Giddey, but it does not suit Gilgeous-Alexander, now 24 and entering his fifth year, quite so much – even if he also starts the year injured.

Among the 63 players to score 2,000 or more points across the past two seasons combined, Gilgeous-Alexander ranked 18th for points per game (24.2). He ranked 61st for wins (32).

This is not a case of an average player stat-padding on a bad team; he is simply too good to be in this situation.

And having agreed a five-year extension in August ahead of Holmgren's injury, it appeared Gilgeous-Alexander had unknowingly signed up for more of the same.

He disagrees, insisting: "I know what I signed up for when I signed a five-year extension. I don't think we're going to be losing for much longer. It's not like I signed up to lose."

But lose they will, if they have any sense – and past experience suggests they do.

Without Holmgren, the Thunder are not going to be in any position to seriously compete, which opens up the possibility to pick high in a draft that includes a potentially generational talent in Victor Wembanyama.

At some stage, OKC will be ready, but that is not now, and Gilgeous-Alexander could be forgiven for finding his patience waning.

Patrick Mahomes put on a masterclass with three touchdown passes as the Kansas City Chiefs improved to 3-1 with a 41-31 win over Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Mahomes moved beyond 20,000 career passing yards, completing 23 of 37 attempts for 249 yards with three TDs, including an improvised flick for the second of Clyde Edwards-Helaire's TD.

The Chiefs blew away the Bucs early, scoring touchdowns from their opening two drives of the game including a Travis Kelce touchdown after 46 seconds following a Tampa Bay turnover.

Kansas City scored four touchdowns before half-time to lead 28-17 at the main break, representing the most combined points scored in the first half of a game this season.

Running back Edwards-Helaire had 19 carries for 92 yards with one touchdown, along with his one receiving TD, while Kelce made 92 yards from nine receptions with one TD. Kelce also moved past Rob Gronkowski into fifth overall for most career receiving yards for a tight end.

L'Jarius Sneed led the Chiefs' defensive display with eight tackles, including a sack on Brady leading to Noah Grey's one-yard rushing TD. Mahomes found Jody Fortson with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter for their fifth TD to make it 38-17.

Rachaad White and Leonard Fournette scored further TDs for the Bucs to limit the margin after wide receiver Mike Evans, who had eight receptions for 103 yards, scored their two first-half touchdowns.

Brady managed three touchdown passes, throwing for 385 yards on 39-of-52 passing, but the Bucs were always playing catchup after the Chiefs' early domination. The game marked only the fifth time in Brady's career he has scored 31 points and lost.

Rob Pelinka says the Los Angeles Lakers are ready to trade their first-round picks if they have an opportunity to strengthen the roster and provide support for LeBron James.

Four-time NBA MVP James signed a new contract with the Lakers worth a whopping $97.1million last month.

Los Angeles failed to make the playoffs last season and Darvin Ham has been charged with the task of turning their fortunes around, having replaced Frank Vogel as head coach.

Lakers general manager Pelinka says they are prepared to give up picks if it means they can add quality to the ranks.

He said during a media day: "One thing that needs to be made clear is, there was a lot of speculation, will the Lakers trade their picks? Will they not trade their picks?

"Let me be abundantly clear: we have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game on our team. He committed to us with a long-term contract, a three-year contract.

"So of course, we will do everything we can, picks included, to make deals that give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end. He committed to our organisation. That's got to be a bilateral commitment, and it's there."

There has been talk that Russell Westbrook could be traded ahead of the new season, although he this week declared that he is "all-in" with the Lakers.

Pelinka said Westbrook is "a great part of our team", but gave no guarantees he will stay by stating: "If we have to continue to upgrade our roster throughout the season, we will."

The Lakers on Monday confirmed the signings of guard Dwayne Bacon and forward Matt Ryan.

 

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