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Sport LA rivalry, Zion Williamson and China disputes – the big talking points before new NBA season
Kawhi Leonard won an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors last season before moving to the Los Angeles Clippers in the summerIt has been a little over three months since the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 4-2 to win their first NBA title.The Raptors, led by Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard, prevented…
It has been a little over three months since the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 4-2 to win their first NBA title.
The Raptors, led by Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard, prevented the Warriors from claiming their third straight title in the process.
Summer moves and draft picks followed as each of the 30 teams restocked to go again next season.
With the 2019-20 campaign beginning this week, BBC Sport looks at the big talking points before another NBA season.
Battle for LA
This season the two favourites for the NBA title share not just the city of Los Angeles, but the same building – the Staples Center.
The Lakers are basketball royalty, have LeBron “The King” James and added another of the league’s best players in Anthony Davis to their roster.
For the majority of their existence the Clippers would barely qualify as noisy neighbours; entering their 50th season, they have never reached a Conference Finals. The Lakers have won the whole thing 11 times in that period.
But that dynamic has shifted in the past decade, culminating in July when the Clippers pulled off a massive coup by persuading reigning Finals MVP Leonard to sign with them instead of the Lakers. Alongside Leonard, another superstar Paul George joined via a trade. They’re ready to win now.
The NBA have scheduled the LA pair to meet on the first night of the season – Tuesday in the US, Wednesday morning (03:30 BST) in the UK – and Christmas Day. Set your alarms.
After the Gold Rush
The Golden State Warriors have dominated the NBA with a five-year run of success not seen in half a century – five consecutive finals, three titles that might have been four had they not lost All-Stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to injury late in the play-offs.
But after losing to the Raptors in June, Durant announced he was signing for the Brooklyn Nets. While Thompson’s injury will likely rule him out for the majority of this season.
They still have Stephen Curry, who at 31 is already considered as one of the greatest shooter ever and has led a three-point shooting revolution which changed the way basketball is played.
With Durant out of the picture, the Warriors will be hoping he can find the form that won him consecutive MVP awards in 2015 and 2016.
Projecting the potential of young basketball players is an inexact science, but once every decade or so, someone comes along who seemingly every seasoned observer pegs for greatness. Zion Williamson is the latest to take that mantle.
The most hyped number one draft pick since LeBron James in 2003, his one year in college produced logic-defying images that would have made MC Escher proud.
He’s 19. His high school coach thinks he could have played in the NBA at 16, so spare a thought for the sixth formers and college kids who’ve had to defend him for the past couple of years. Drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans, he’ll now get the chance to test himself against the best in the world.
However fans will have to wait to Williamson make his competitive NBA bow. The 6ft 7in forward will miss the start of the season after having knee surgery and is expected to return to action in six to eight weeks.
Disputes with China
Last month when Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, posted an image on Twitter which appeared to support the anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, he probably didn’t realise it would be the catalyst for one of the biggest off-court crises to face the NBA.
The Chinese authorities cancelled the planned TV coverage of the NBA’s pre-season exhibition games in Shanghai and Shenzhen. While several Chinese businesses who had paid to be official NBA partners suspended their sponsorship.
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver last week said that the Chinese government had asked the league to sack Morey, but he refused, defending freedom of speech.
It has put the NBA in a difficult position.
On the one hand, they want to keep access to the world’s biggest market, which they have worked hard to crack in recent years.
On the other, they’ve been outspoken in supporting freedom of expression in their own country, and the attempts of the players, coaches and the league itself to de-escalate the situation have led to accusations of hypocrisy – not least from President Trump (Steve Kerr is Golden State’s head coach).
In a salary-capped league where foreign rights and sponsorship deals are a significant revenue source, this could have far-reaching implications for the future of the league.
Who’s going to win it?
The NBA has been dominated for the past decade by LeBron James and the Golden State Warriors, but neither are the sure-thing they once were.
James is entering his 17th season and missed the play-offs last year for the first time since 2005. The Warriors have lost Durant and Thompson. The Clippers might have the best player in Leonard, the reigning regular-season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks will be a force again, Philadelphia’s young core could be ready to turn potential into results, and the Rockets have reunited All-Star former team-mates James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The signs all point to the most open and unpredictable season in years.
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