The talk in the NFL right now is about who is not there rather than who is.

In MLB, teams are starting to battle injuries and, in the NBA, a young team just locked up a key piece officially.

All that and more this week from the United States.

 

1. Holdout season

Let's be honest, NFL training camps aren't about who shows up anymore, they're about who is staying home. Le'Veon Bell didn't show up to Pittsburgh Steelers camp last season and missed the entire year because he refused to play under the franchise tag. That has to be in the back of everyone's minds this year as key players continue to stay away from their teams.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is officially holding out for a new deal, Dallas Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott wasn't on the plane with the team camp on Thursday and Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones also has yet to show up to any offseason activities with Kansas City.

Will any of these men be brave enough to do what Bell did and miss some of the season? We shall see.

 

2. Taylor Lewan's start of season in question

The Tennessee Titans are built on their offensive line, but one key piece may be gone to start the season.

Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan apologised to the Titans as he faces a four-game suspension after failing a drugs test. Lewan insists he never knowingly took a banned supplement.

This is huge to Tennessee's start to the year as quarterback Marcus Mariota has already dealt with a lot of injuries and will need all the protection he can get.

3. MLB injuries piling up

It's that time of year in baseball. As the 100-game mark passes, more little injuries start to pop up and playoff hopefuls have already been hit leading up to the trade deadline.

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is out with a groin injury for a while, Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell could be out for a month after undergoing surgery on his elbow and Texas Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo could miss a month with a hamate bone injury.

All three of these players' teams have playoff aspirations and they will need each man going into the playoffs. It's tough to get hurt now, but missing a month in July is far better than missing one in September.

 

4. Jamal Murray extended

The Denver Nuggets have one of the best teams in basketball and they secured their future this week by officially announcing they have signed Jamal Murray to a five-year max extension.

The deal is reportedly for $170million and will make him the highest-paid Canadian basketball player in NBA history, according to TSN.

The Nuggets finished second in the Western Conference last season and will have some of the best continuity of any team in the conference as they bring back a great young core which includes Murray and Nikola Jokic.

The Denver Nuggets have signed star guard Jamal Murray to a five-year contract extension, it was announced on Wednesday.

Murray's new deal with the Nuggets – who reached the NBA Western Conference semi-finals last season – is reportedly worth $170million.

The 22-year-old was set to become a restricted free agent next offseason and is scheduled to make about $4.4m in 2019-20.

Murray was selected seventh overall by Denver in 2016. He is coming off the best season of his career so far after averaging 18.2 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.2 rebounds on 43.7 per cent from the field and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc.

"I want to thank the man above for showing my family and I how life works in a full circle," said Murray. "I also want to thank the Nuggets organization for believing in a kid from a small unheard-of town in Canada, and finally to Nuggets fans, I can't wait to shoot more arrows for you all."

Nuggets president and governor Josh Kroenke added: "It's an exciting day for our franchise to officially announce this contract extension with Jamal.

"My father and I know what kind of kid Jamal is both on and off the court, and there wasn't a second of hesitation to get this done as soon as we could. He is an extremely talented player and we look forward to watching him continue to grow as one of the cornerstones of this team for many years to come."

The Oklahoma City Thunder have landed another future first-round pick after agreeing a deal to trade forward Jerami Grant to the Denver Nuggets for a 2020 draft selection, according to ESPN.

The trade, which saves the Thunder $39million in salary and luxury tax, marks the sixth first-round pick the team have obtained in the past week after securing five future first-rounders for trading Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers in a shock move.

The Thunder found themselves in rebuild mode after George requested to be traded to join Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles. 

Speculation is rife over Russell Westbrook too. Reports suggested the former NBA MVP and his agent had asked for a meeting with the general manager Sam Presti, with a trade before the new season not ruled out.

Grant is under contract for the next two years and will have a player option for the 2020-21 season.

The 25-year-old was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 39th overall pick in 2014 and spent two years there before being traded to the Thunder.

Grant averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds for OKC last season, both career highs.

The Denver Nuggets have exercised a $30million team option on forward Paul Millsap.

Denver announced the move on Saturday, the 34-year-old having initially signed with the Nuggets as a free agent in 2017.

Millsap, a four-time All-Star with the Atlanta Hawks, averaged 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game last season, his second with the team. 

The Nuggets were 54-28 in the regular season, second only to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference, and advanced to the conference semifinals before losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games. 

It was the Nuggets' first trip to the playoffs since the 2012-13 season, which was also the last time the team won 50 games (57-25).

Millsap averaged 14.6 points per game in the playoffs, the third best total on the team.

"From how I want to do it and how I want my story to be told, this is definitely the group that can help me do it [win a title]," Millsap said during his exit interview in May.

"It's been a dream and goal of mine. I see the drive in these guys to get better. I feel comfortable with that."

The move should enable the Nuggets to retain its $9.2million mid-level exemption and still avoid the luxury tax in 2019-20.

Remember when the Toronto Raptors created history by winning the NBA title? You should do, as it was less than three weeks ago when the Finals finished.

However, with the playoffs over and the draft done and dusted, it is now time for the NBA to move on to the next major event - free agency.

At 18:00 ET (22:00 GMT) on Sunday, the negotiating can officially begin. Those out of contract get the chance to hold meetings with prospective new employers, and this year's list of available players includes some of the biggest names in the league.

The Los Angeles Lakers created waves by acquiring Anthony Davis, and now it is time to sit back and see how that blockbuster deal ripples through the rest of the NBA. It only takes one big trade – or two major injuries to deposed champions – to create a completely different landscape.

So, before the madness starts, we look at those who can expect to be making the headlines in the coming days and weeks.

 

THE TEAMS

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have grand plans but are light on numbers. Trading for Davis came at a high price and they have gutted the roster with the clear aim of another superstar to combine with Davis and LeBron James. However, the desire to hit the jackpot has forced them to mortgage their long-term future.

Los Angeles Clippers

Yes, that's right, there are two teams hoping to make it big in LA. The Clippers reached the playoffs last season and landed a couple of haymakers on the Golden State Warriors in the first round, yet that was all a welcome bonus. In the shadow of their city rivals, they want to land one of the big fish in the free agency pond.

Brooklyn Nets

Like the Clippers, the Nets surprisingly reached the postseason. They did so with a collection of players cobbled together through trades and the draft. There is room to add superstars (note the plural there) to those still under contract in Brooklyn, but that will alter the dynamic of a group that gelled so well together.

New York Knicks

The Knicks are hoping the lure of New York can help add a star to make them a headline act again. But, much like the Lakers in Los Angeles, they suddenly have noisy neighbours. It will be a major blow to the Knicks if any of their leading targets opt to relocate to Brooklyn instead.

And the rest...

While Kyrie Irving failed to pan out as planned, the Boston Celtics still have young talent and enough cap room to work something out. Then there is the New Orleans Pelicans, minus Davis but with top draft pick Zion Williamson and a number of the Lakers' cast-offs. Watch out for the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers as well, two teams with serious title aspirations.

 

THE PLAYERS

Kevin Durant – The ruptured Achilles suffered in the NBA Finals could cost him an entire season but will not hurt him in terms of his next contract. Long linked with the Knicks, he could still yet opt to stay with the Warriors. Even with his injury, Durant is going to be in high demand.

Kawhi Leonard – Toronto's gamble to trade for Leonard paid off in spectacular fashion. The lure of defending the title with largely the same roster may sway Leonard to remain in Canada a little while longer, though Los Angeles has always been rumoured as his likely long-term destination.

Kyrie Irving – The point guard did not perform as expected in Boston, but that will not deter teams from showing interest. Could he join up again with LeBron at the Lakers? Possibly, though Brooklyn are thought to be heading the queue to secure his signature.

Kemba Walker – Irving is not the only All-Star point guard up for grabs. Charlotte can offer Walker more money to remain a Hornet, yet their former first-round pick could decide the time is right to buzz off. Boston and the Dallas Mavericks are reportedly keen.

Jimmy Butler – The 76ers leaned heavily on Butler in the playoffs, and the presence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons makes Philadelphia a genuine contender in the East. Both Los Angeles franchises could call, while the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat are rumoured to be exploring sign-and-trade possibilities.

Klay Thompson – After Durant went down in the Finals, Golden State suffered a second serious injury blow when Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6. So, could we have seen the last of the Splash Brothers in tandem? The Warriors will be loath to lose Stephen Curry's back-court partner, particularly to a Western Conference rival.

And the rest…

Malcolm Brogdon, Kristaps Porzingis and D'Angelo Russell are all restricted free agents, giving their teams the chance to match any offer they receive. Khris Middleton, JJ Redick and Bojan Bogdanovic are shooters who can expect to be well paid, while big men Al Horford and Nikola Vucevic will not go short with their next contracts. Then there is DeMarcus Cousins, who showed flashes with Golden State after returning from injury.

Isaiah Thomas is ready to bounce back.

The 30-year-old guard has been limited to just 44 total games over the past two seasons because of injuries.

But, he said he believes he can return to All-Star form beginning in 2019-20.

"I'm going to get back to the level that I was playing at," Thomas told ESPN. "I'm excited to show what I can do again."

Thomas had hip surgery before signing a one-year, $2million veteran's minimum deal with the Denver Nuggets last July. He missed the team's first 56 games before returning in mid-February.

Thomas, however, was in and out of the rotation for the rest of the season and he did not see the floor in any of Denver's 14 playoff games.

"Denver allowed me to take really as much time as I needed, to get back to 100 per cent health," Thomas said. "Obviously I wanted to play and I thought I could've contributed in the regular season and playoffs, but I understood [the team's] decision and I think I contributed in other ways as a leader, as someone who was there to answer the questions of the younger guys. I stayed ready and prepared to play.

"When I look at it from the outside, I understood it. I missed 50 games, the team was having a [great] season, and it wasn't easy to just squeeze me in there when so many guys were playing so well. They didn't want to mess up what they had going. I understood it."

Thomas made back-to-back All-Star teams and averaged 25.5 points per game over two seasons with the Boston Celtics from 2015-17. He was sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the Kyrie Irving trade and then played for the Los Angeles Lakers before joining Denver.

"Nobody knew what to expect with me coming off hip surgery last year, and two summers of rehab," Thomas said. "Now I can go back to being a gym rat this summer, work on my game again and build my body back up – my muscle mass, my leg strength – all like I had going into the 2017 season."

The Denver Nuggets surprisingly finished second in the Western Conference this season, but fell to the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Denver's young team accomplished more than what most expected them to, and there is still room for growth.

Here are three reasons the Nuggets can be even more dangerous in 2019-20.

 

Denver still have Porter Jr. in their back pocket

The Nuggets selected Michael Porter Jr. with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, and he might have been the steal of the night.

The 6-10 forward was considered to be the consensus top pick in the draft by many out of high school, but an unfortunate back injury kept him sidelined for most of his freshman season at Missouri. Concerns over his health likely caused him to drop, and while the Nuggets held him out for all of 2018-19, a healthy return this year could take them to the next level.

Porter has all the tools necessary to be a difference maker. He is long, can score from all three levels, handles the ball, has quick feet for his size and can create opportunities for his team-mates.

The Nuggets had the least production from the small forward spot this season. In fact, Denver only had one player even listed at the position. Porter will likely spend the bulk of his minutes there, and he could genuinely make the team better in almost every aspect of the game. This year's summer league will show how much he has progressed in a year of training.

 

Denver's stars haven't peaked

It is safe to say this season's Nuggets could only go as far as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic could take them. These two were Denver's most vital pieces in 2018-19, and they likely are not finished products just yet.

Murray, 22, averaged 18.2 points and 4.8 assists. Both of these stats are only second to those of Jokic. The Serbian big man led Denver in points per game (20), rebounds per game (10.8), assists per game (7.2) and steals per game (1.4).

Denver entered the season as the second-youngest team in the NBA and had the second-least experience. But they won 54 games and only trailed defending champions the Golden State Warriors in the league's most competitive conference.

The Nuggets were tested in not one, but two seven-game series in the playoffs. If given time to develop their skills and mindsets, the Nuggets could be more lethal moving forward.

 

Nuggets' roster has flexibility

Some coveted talent is hitting the market this summer and Denver could take advantage of that. Their bench point production ranked in the middle of the pack last season, and while they could use some improvement, the Nuggets could scour the free-agent waters for a big catch.

Trey Lyles, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Lydon's contracts have expired and Denver have a team option on the final year of Paul Millsap's three-year, $90million deal. Should the Nuggets part ways with Millsap – who posted his lowest scoring numbers since the 2007-08 season – they have a ton of options who could replace him.

Tobias Harris, Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic come to mind as possible fill-ins, but guards could also prove to be valuable. Regardless, the Nuggets have proven they can win a lot of games and many could consider joining a team that appears like they will be competitive for years to come.

Kawhi Leonard delivered to see the Toronto Raptors to a thrilling win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA playoffs on Sunday.

Leonard had 41 points, eight rebounds and a ridiculous game-winning jump shot as the Raptors edged the 76ers 92-90 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

He dominated the 76ers in Game 7 on Sunday and hit possibly the most improbable jump shot in NBA history.

With the game tied at 90 with 4.2 seconds left, the Raptors got one last shot and Leonard put it up from the corner.

It bounced once, twice, three times and rolled in to give Toronto a 92-90 win.

In Denver, it was not Damian Lillard's night.

The Trail Blazers' best player was three of 17 from the floor in Game 7 and Portland needed more.

Fortunately, they had it in the form of CJ McCollum, who dropped 37 points to lead the team to a 100-96 win over the Nuggets and a berth in the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.

McCollum finished his night 17-of-29 from the floor with nine rebounds and iced the game late with a beautiful mid-range jumper in the face of Torrey Craig.

 

Tremendous Turner

Evan Turner scored 14 points, but more importantly was eight of nine from the free-throw line, including several big ones down the stretch for Portland.

 

Misery for Murray

Jamal Murray had a good line with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, but four-of-18 shooting and 0 for four from beyond the arc is not what Denver needed in an elimination game.

 

Leonard, McCollum produce highlights

Of all the people to posterise an opponent, Meyers Leonard was probably low on the list of players expected to do it.

McCollum produced a chase-down block.

Trail Blazers at Warriors

The Warriors made a statement by getting a Game 6 win over the Houston Rockets without Kevin Durant. Game 1 against Portland is on Tuesday.

Mike Malone is optimistic about the Denver Nuggets' future.

The Nuggets lost Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Portland Trail Blazers 100-96 at home on Sunday.

Despite the defeat, Malone believes the team are trending in the right direction.

"The future is so bright. You guys heard me say it all postseason," Malone said.

"I love where we're at, but more importantly I love where we're going and who we're going there with."

The Nuggets had the youngest team in this year's postseason. Their roster was headlined by All-Star center Nikola Jokic and blossoming guard Jamal Murray.

Paul Millsap, 34, has the most postseason experience of the group, who were forced to Game 7s twice in this year's playoff stint.

Despite their lack of experience, Denver weathered the storm and finished the regular season as the second best team in the Western Conference.

Malone emphasised that Murray is expected to be very important to the team moving forward after he struggled shooting in the Nuggets' chance to close out Portland.

"We won 61 games this year," Malone said.

"It's been over 10 years, I think, since we've won that many games. And Jamal will be a huge part of that future. Going into the offseason having a game like he had, you know, four of 18 from the field. That's going to be a great motivational tool for him.

"Great players bring it every night and they produce every night. He [Murray] didn't have a great night, but it wasn't for a lack of effort. We would not be here without Jamal Murray's efforts all season long."

Murray averaged 21.3 points through his first 14 career playoff games.

Portland Trail Blazers big man Enes Kanter is already joking about eliminating the Denver Nuggets from the NBA playoffs.

Kanter tweeted that Denver fans should get refunds if they bought Western Conference finals tickets, following Sunday's 100-96 victory in Game 7.

The Nuggets had started selling Western Conference finals tickets despite not yet getting past the Trail Blazers, who won their series 4-3.

Kanter is averaging 12.9 points and 10.6 rebounds in the postseason. He joined Portland after being released by the New York Knicks late in the regular season and has seen an increase in production since Jusuf Nurkic went down with a season-ending leg injury.

Kanter has been a serious asset for the Trail Blazers, giving them physicality, toughness and rebounding.

He has been playing through a separated shoulder since the first round.

The Turkish enforcer's presence will likely be crucial in the Western Conference finals against defending champions the Golden State Warriors.

The Portland Trail Blazers edged the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 to move into the Western Conference finals on Sunday.

CJ McCollum (37 points and nine rebounds) led the Trail Blazers to a 100-96 win in the deciding game of the series in Denver.

The win moved Portland into the conference finals, where the Golden State Warriors await, for the first time since 2000.

McCollum's heroics were much-needed for the Trail Blazers as star Damian Lillard struggled, going three-of-17 for just 13 points, although he contributed 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic had a double-double of 29 points and 13 rebounds.

Seth Curry stoked the fire by stating the Denver Nuggets have "a few sassy dudes" after the Portland Trail Blazers guard clashed with Will Barton in Game 6.

Curry and Barton had to be separated in the final quarter when things got heated at Moda Center on Thursday.

The Trail Blazers went on to set up a Western Conference semi-final decider with a 119-108 victory.

Curry claimed Barton was to blame for their altercation.

"He waited for a few people to get in between us, and when a few people were in between us, he put his finger in my eye," Curry said.

"You know what I'm saying. I can't allow people to put their fingers in my eye.

"That's real sassy. They got a few sassy dudes over there. Front-runners. And we can't allow that."

Nuggets forward Barton gave a different account of the incident.

"He fell right into my knees, look at the replay. I was trying to protect myself. Curry came over and gave me a little push, I gave him a little push back and that was it," said Barton.

"We probably said some stuff, I don't remember everything in the heat of the moment."

The Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers forced Game 7's in their respective Conference semi-finals.

In Portland, the Trail Blazers took down the Denver Nuggets 119-108 to even the Western Conference series 3-3 and set up a Game 7 in Denver on Sunday.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard starred 32 points and CJ McCollum added 30 in the NBA playoff clash on Thursday.

Nikola Jokic had 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in Denver's loss on the road.

Earlier on Thursday, the 76ers defeated the Toronto Raptors 112-101 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference.

Jimmy Butler had 25 points, Ben Simmons posted 21, Joel Embiid put up 17 and Tobias Harris finished with 16 as the 76ers forced a deciding seventh game in Toronto.

The team that wins Game 7 will play the Milwaukee Bucks – who defeated the Boston Celtics 4-1 – in the Eastern Conference finals.

 

Kawhi shines again

Kawhi Leonard had 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the Raptors' loss.

 

Gasol struggles in Philadelphia

Marc Gasol just has not worked out for the Raptors this year as he recorded seven points and three rebounds on eight of eight shooting.

 

No stopping Lillard

Lillard was in the mood as he helped the Trail Blazers avoid elimination in the west.

 

Warriors at Rockets

The Houston Rockets are down 3-2 in the series but the Golden State Warriors lost Kevin Durant to a calf injury in Game 5. Do not sleep on Golden State without Durant, though. This team won 73 games without him in 2015-16 and are more than capable of winning one of the next two games, including Game 6.

Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone hailed Paul Millsap as "the calm for our team" after a resounding 124-98 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 on Tuesday.

Millsap scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a performance that set the tone for a physical display from the Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference semi-final series 3-2.

The 34-year-old power forward is averaging 19 points, 9.6 rebounds and a field-goal percentage of 55.1 against the Trail Blazers in the postseason.

Coach Malone said: "He's been phenomenal, but it's not surprising for any of us.

"[He's a] 13-year vet, a lot of games under his belt and he's stepping up when we need him to step up.

"The best thing about Paul Millsap is he's true to himself, he never tries to be someone he's not. He's not a guy who's going to be screaming and yelling, but his calm nature, his calm demeanour has an effect on our group – a young team going through all this for the first time.

"When you can look to a four-time All-Star with 90 playoff games under his belt, that's reassuring. He's the calm for our team and I think that has a tremendous impact on all our young players."

Millsap made seven of his first 10 shots as he scored 19 points in the first half and center Nikola Jokic, who put up 25 points and 19 rebounds, was impressed by the way the veteran set the tempo.

Jokic said: "He was huge. He set everything: physicality, pace, offensively, defensively. He was really huge.

"He's actually playing really good these playoffs. Maybe he turned on the playoff mode."

Denver are one game away from reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009, but Malone is cautious of the threat posed by Damian Lillard after his heroics in Portland's first-round win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"No disregard to anyone else on their roster, he's their best player and when you watch the five games against OKC in the first round he dominated that series," he said.

"We guarded him really well in the regular season and we've guarded him well for five games now.

"But he's a great player, he's an All-Star for a reason and he's capable of scoring 50 in Game 6 and we're well aware of that, so we have plenty of work to do. We're not done yet."

Lillard had 22 points, his second-fewest in this postseason, and acknowledged the impressive defensive job the Nuggets have done on him but warned he could well step through the gears with the Trail Blazers on the brink of elimination.

"They're doing a good job, they're making me see bodies, they're playing physical, guys are chasing hard over the screens, they're not quitting on plays so there's not a lot of space out there," said Lillard.

"I think the opportunity [to score 50] is there. I've had big games against tough defense in games where I was getting a lot of attention. With our season on the line and knowing we've got to have two games in a row, you never know.

"We know that we're more than capable of getting it done in the next game. We don't feel like we've played our best basketball yet and with our backs against the wall we don't have a choice."

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