Kevin Durant felt the Brooklyn Nets lost their "identity" without Kyrie Irving and believes the Phoenix Suns have "all the pieces to be successful" following his blockbuster trade.

Durant last week swapped Brooklyn for Phoenix in a sensational switch that saw the Nets receive a package including Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and four unprotected first-round draft picks.

Two-time NBA Finals MVP Durant's departure came after Irving requested a trade and duly joined the Dallas Mavericks.

Durant found Irving's exit hard to take, and the 34-year-old is relishing his new challenge with the Suns.

He said in his first press conference as a Suns player on Thursday: "I was upset that we couldn't finish. I thought we had some good momentum.

"We were finally building a culture that we always wanted. I felt like every game we were building our chemistry, but I didn't know what was going on with Kyrie and his situation with the organisation, so I didn't really focus on that.

"I only focused on what we were doing on the court, and it was a blow to our team. It just took away our identity. He was a huge, huge part to what we do. His game, he's a Hall of Fame player, a great, great player that can do everything on the floor, and we relied on that.

"So without him, we didn't have a clear identity. That was tough for me to stomach. I love playing with those guys throughout the year. I felt like we had dudes that were stepping up and doing stuff that they didn't do on their previous teams.

"I enjoyed everything about it – it was tough not finishing the season, but I just tried to move forward as quickly as I can and try to figure something out for myself, but also still focus on trying to rehab and get back. So it all happened so fast, but I'm glad it worked out this way."

Durant thinks he can add to his list of honours during his time with Phoenix, who are fifth in the Western Conference at 32-28.

"I think we've got all the pieces to be successful," Durant said. "We've got guys that have experienced what it's like to play in that final round.

"We've got a champion [Suns GM James Jones] already that's overseeing us. Monty's [head coach Williams] a champion as a coach. So we've got guys that have been there, and that's half the battle, just knowing what it takes."

Durant rued not having a regular opportunity to be on court with Irving and James Harden with the Nets.

"We just didn't get on the court enough," Durant said. "I think when you have seen James, Kyrie and myself, it was amazing basketball for [16] games, but in order for you to win a championship and be a great team, you just need more time on the floor.

"It's another story about why we didn't get on the floor together, but we just didn't get enough time on the floor. And those are Hall of Fame players that I learned a lot from every day. I'm wishing them the best as well. It just didn't work out."

He added: "It was a lot of ups and downs, but I loved the grind. And everybody in Brooklyn loved the grind, too, so I built a family over there. They're going to always be part of my journey. So we didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish as far as winning a championship, but I enjoyed the grind.

"And everybody there, we tried our hardest every day, regardless of what was going on in the media or what was going on with our team-mates."

Durant continued: "I get emotional talking about them because that was a special four years in my career, coming off an Achilles [injury]. They helped me through a lot, so I don't have anything [bad to say]."

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker expects "exciting times" after Kevin Durant's trade made the rest of the NBA stand up and take notice.

Durant's move to Phoenix represents a big acquisition for new Suns owner Mat Ishbia, who completed his takeover last week and acted swiftly to bring in the 13-time All-Star and two-time NBA Finals MVP.

The 34-year-old, joining from the Brooklyn Nets with T.J. Warren, has averaged 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists this season.

After hitting the courts with Durant – who has been out of action over a month due to a knee injury – Booker hailed the small forward's quality as he lauded the Suns for attracting such talent.

"You can't put it into words, man," Booker said on Tuesday. "It's just all feeling. Looking forward to the post-All-Star break when we actually get the chance to compete with each other.

"I've never got to do that besides the Olympics with Kev, so it's exciting times around here.

"We built something that the league has picked up on. We were probably the laughingstock of the NBA about four or five years ago, and just turning that around to something serious to championship contenders is a quick turnaround for us, so we take a lot of pride in what we've built here.

"People reach out and they're like 'Oh, that's what y'all are on?' Just trying to get it done, man. Just trying to get it done.

"For us to be a destination that Kev wanted to come to is a big sign of that, to show respect for what we've done so far. We still have more to do, but we're moving in the right direction."

Phoenix fell narrowly short in the 2021 Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, losing 4-2, and Booker believes the Suns will soon achieve glory as they assemble their squad.

"One-hundred per cent. We kind of had the same approach with the team before the trade. Once you get a taste of Finals experience and having that under your belt, that's all that you want," he said.

"We have one goal; we know it's not going to be easy to get there, but we feel we have the talent, we have the mindset and everything it takes right here in this gym."

While Durant arrives with a major reputation and experience at the top of the game, Booker does not expect the Suns to have to adjust much to another star player.

"We don't have a hierarchy," he continued. "That's the thing about it. You have Chris Paul, one of the greatest leaders of all time. You have coach Monty [Williams], you have [general manager] James Jones, we have guys that are all on the same plan.

"I think we all have different types of leading styles, which is the great thing about leadership it comes in many different forms. And I think all of our games, and our mindsets, complement each other very well."

Booker sees Durant as "one of the best to ever do it", as he added: "It's just something that you got to be around. To feel when you're around greatness.

"It's just a different look, a different feel – but I'm excited to be a part of it."

The 31-27 Suns sit fourth in the Western Conference and host the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said he will need to figure out how to get the best out of Ben Simmons in the wake of losing star duo Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Irving and Durant left the Nets for the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns respectively before the trade deadline, leaving Brooklyn shorn of two players who often took opposition attention away from Simmons.

The Australian played less than 13 minutes of Monday's 124-106 loss at the New York Knicks, having only once played for a shorter period in a game this season.

"It's going to be some work that we have to do," Vaughn said after the defeat at Madison Square Garden. "Because you just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like.

"You put another big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him. Then if you put another playmaker next to him, then you got to figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball. Then if you go small with Ben, then you have to figure out can you rebound enough with him?

"So, the challenges are ahead of us. We'll look them head-on. We'll figure it out. We have the personnel to figure it out. Whether it is me mixing and matching throughout different pieces of the game, and allowing him to have a group and run with a group, that part we'll figure out, but you see the challenges that lie ahead."

 

Spencer Dinwiddie, who was acquired as part of the trade for Irving, top-scored for the Nets with 28, though he was no match for another former Dallas player in Jalen Brunson, who scored 40, making 15 from 21 field-goal attempts and six from nine three-point shots, and Vaughn said Brunson's performance was a factor in his thinking around Simmons.

"With Brunson being out there, trying to throw different bodies with him," he said. "We're always concerned about [rebounding], so didn't want Ben to be the lone big out there.

"We tried him with another big; I didn't like that rhythm of the game because we weren't scoring enough at that time. A lot of different problems thrown at you in the course of a game; you try to figure them out.

"Trying to figure out what lineup fits around Ben, what position fits for Ben, how we can make him look good at every opportunity. That's the goal. I'm still trying to figure that out. That's on me to figure that out. But I think overall as a team, we're going to try different lineups to try to figure this out."

Terrence Ross plans to sign with the Phoenix Suns after finalising his contract buyout with the Orlando Magic, according to reports.

Ross will be able to sign with a new team upon clearing waivers and becoming a free agent in the coming days, and will be eligible for any suitors' playoff roster if he agrees the buyout by March 1.

The Dallas Mavericks were reported as frontrunners to acquire Ross on Saturday, but the championship-chasing Suns are now in pole position, according to an ESPN report.

The Suns acquired Kevin Durant, as well as T.J. Warren, in a huge trade with the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week, sending Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder the other way alongside four first-round picks and a 2028 pick swap.

Ross' addition would provide cover for Durant in Phoenix after the Suns lost Johnson and Bridges to the Nets.

The 32-year-old is in the final season of his four-year, $54 million contract in Orlando, with his 22.5 minutes and eight points per game his fewest in a single campaign since his rookie year in 2012-13.

The Suns are fifth in the Western Conference following Friday's 117-104 win at the Indiana Pacers, in which Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton had 21 and 22 points respectively.

James Harden said he left the Brooklyn Nets "for a reason" after he and Joel Embiid starred in the Philadelphia 76ers' win over his former team, describing his time in Brooklyn as "frustrating".

Harden scored 29 points with six rebounds and six assists on his first appearance at Barclays Center since pushing for a trade to Philadelphia last year, helping the Sixers record a 101-98 win.

The 2018 NBA MVP and 10-time All-Star was criticised for his decision to seek a Nets exit just over a year after being acquired from the Houston Rockets.

Harden was keen to get a few things off his chest after Saturday's win over Brooklyn, who are working with a new-look roster after the recent departure of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Asked if he could have foreseen a situation where both of those stars followed him through the exit door, Harden said: "Yeah. I didn't just ask to leave for no reason. It wasn't right.

"I was in a really good place in Houston. Obviously, we didn't have a chance to win a championship, but I was comfortable. 

"So for me to up and leave my family, all the things I created there, to come to Brooklyn for a year and a half to try to just get up and leave, it was for a reason, you know what I mean?" 

Pushed on whether the Nets could have done anything to keep him, the guard added: "Yeah, there was. Like, a lot of things.

"But it was just a lot of dysfunction, clearly. A lot of internal things that I'm not going to ever say or put in the media or anything. That was one of the reasons why I chose to make my decision.

"But now, fast-forward to this date, I don't look like the crazy one. I don't look like the quitter or whatever the media want to call me. 

"I knew what was going on and I just decided, 'hey, I'm not built for this'. I don't want to deal with that. I want to play basketball and have fun and enjoy doing it. Fast-forward to today, they've got a whole new roster."

Asked to sum up his time in Brooklyn, Harden described it as "frustrating", bemoaning his lack of game-time alongside Durant and Irving after the trio only played 16 times together.

"The reason I made that decision to get out of my comfort zone, to leave Houston and do everything that I did to get out of there was to come in and play with KD and Kyrie," he said.

"That didn't happen as much as I would like to or probably the organisation wanted to. It was just something where I knew it wasn't going to change. I had to make an individual decision for the betterment of my family and my career

 "It's a lot of what-ifs when you play less than 20 games together. So it's a little bit frustrating, but it is what it is. Hopefully, everybody's in a good place now and we can move on."

The NBA added three players to the player pool for the All-Star Game as injury replacements on Friday.

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Anthony Edwards, the Toronto Raptors' Pascal Siakam and the Sacramento Kings' De'Aaron Fox have been given the nod.

They are replacing three huge names, with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Zion Williamson all missing the exhibition game in Salt Lake City on February 19.

Durant, Curry and Williamson were all selected as starters. Edwards, Siakam and Fox will be reserves, with Joel Embiid, Ja Morant and Lauri Markkanen getting promoted to the starting lineups.

While starters and traditional reserves are chosen for the All-Star Game by a combination of voting by players, coaches and fans, injury replacements are made by the office of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

Edwards and Fox have been named All-Stars for the first time in their careers, while Siakam was previously honoured in the 2019-20 game.

Fox's selection gives the Kings a second representative in the game to go along with three-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

The other teams with multiple players selected are the Milwaukee Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday), Boston Celtics (Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown) and Memphis Grizzlies (Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.).

Antetokounmpo and LeBron James will serve as captains for the All-Star Game and – for the first time – will pick their teams on the night of the game, shortly before tip-off.

The Phoenix Suns went down 116-107 against the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, but nothing could dampen their spirits after securing a trade for Kevin Durant.

In the lead-up to the trade deadline, the Suns sent Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and four unprotected first-round draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Durant, sending shockwaves throughout the league.

In an instant, Phoenix became the favourites in the Western Conference, boasting the league's best offensive duo with Durant and 26-year-old All-NBA First Team talent Devin Booker, while retaining elite point guard Chris Paul and franchise center Deandre Ayton.

Speaking to the media after Thursday's loss, Paul referenced Durant's famous "I'm Kevin Durant – y'all know who I am" interview when discussing the immense impact he can make on the Suns.

"What did KD say in that interview one time? What did he say? Y'all know who he is," Paul said. 

"So you add him to the – who is that that the Harlem Globetrotters play against all the time? The Washington Generals. You add him to them and they're going to be nice. You know what I mean? 

"KD is different, man. He different. That's why he is who he is. He's been doing it in this league for a long time. We got to see what it is."

More than anything, Paul said he is looking forward to sharing his love for the game with another future Hall-of-Famer.

"He's one of the best players to ever play the game," he said. "Just to know how he approaches the game, his nickname's 'Easy Money', just somebody who loves the game like that. 

"I think that's what brought me and Book closer together because he just loves to hoop. And KD, he just loves to hoop. So I'm excited about the process of building this team."

When asked if he feels Durant is happy about the trade, Paul said "I mean, he ain't mad", before adding some context.

"But it's also a lot for him," he said. "He's been there in Brooklyn for a while. I think that's the thing, I get it, it's definitely exciting – but there's a lot that goes into this stuff, man.

"Obviously guys are changing teams, but guys got their families. [Mikal Bridges] and Cam [Johnson]'s settled in Phoenix. KD done built a whole business and he's a big figure there in Brooklyn, New York. 

"It's a lot to deal with, so I think everybody's got to figure it out. It just happened."

Ayton was asked if he felt the trade gave them a realistic chance at the championship, and he was not bashful in his response.

"Damn right," he said. "You're damn right. That's how I feel. 

"We've been in situations where a team threw everything at us to stop us even though we didn't have the right pieces on the court... knowing what these teams can throw at us, we're ready for it man.

"It's going to be real fun because it's so many pieces, golly. It's trouble, and it's fun, because it's about time. We got the firepower for real, and you can feel it."

Head coach Monty Williams shared that enthusiasm, having previously spent time with Durant as part of Team USA's 2016 Olympic team.

"I think it's more than a lift," he said. "I think it's a jolt, if that makes sense. Just because of, not just who he is as a player, but his love for the game. 

"I think the guys are going to see something that they may not have seen before as far as his approach and how much he just loves to play basketball. 

"I think if he could hoop every day, 24/7 he would do that and I think that's who we are. So to be able to have someone like that in your gym, but who's also ultra talented, and one of the best to ever do it, I think it's going to not just compliment what we do, it's gonna uplift and give us a bit of a jolt."

However, Williams also acknowledged the tough side of trades, sharing the pain of saying goodbye to players he has watched grow up.

"There's a human side to all of this that you have to deal with," he said. "It was an emotional day talking to those guys. 

"I got to see them before they took off and it was emotional. Those two are near and dear to my heart. They literally are like my family."

The Suns sit sixth in the West with a record of 30-27, and they will be anxiously awaiting Durant's debut some time after the All-Star break as he recovers from a knee injury.

Mikal Bridges first heard he had been traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Brooklyn Nets during a FaceTime call with former team-mate Damion Lee.

Bridges had spent his entire five-season career in Phoenix, before the NBA All-Defensive First Team selection found himself the centrepiece of a trade for future Hall of Fame superstar Kevin Durant.

Along with Bridges, the Suns sent fellow promising young wing Cam Johnson and four unprotected first-round draft picks to the Nets in exchange for Durant, who had alerted Brooklyn prior to the season of his wish to be traded to Phoenix.

The trade did not eventuate when Durant asked for it, but things broke down quickly in the past week after Kyrie Irving forced his way to the Dallas Mavericks, leaving the Nets with a decision to make about the future of the franchise.

Despite Durant still having another three years on his contract, the Nets pulled the trigger, and by completing the move after midnight, the news already reached Bridges before he could be alerted by the Suns or his management.

"My boy Damion Lee, we were at the hotel and he FaceTimed me," Bridges told ESPN during the Nets' home game against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday. 

"You could tell he was upset, he was saying 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry about this and that' – I'm like 'what are you talking about?'

"He was like 'you haven't seen? You got traded to Brooklyn for KD'. I was like oh man, I went to Twitter and saw it, that's when I tweeted, and then my agent called me a couple of minutes later."

It is not the first time Bridges has been shocked by a trade. He was originally drafted 11th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers – his hometown team, where his mother also worked – before being traded minutes later on draft night to the Suns.

However, he said he knew it was a possibility this time, and he understands why the Suns would make the move.

"It's crazy, man. It's part of business, but life goes on," he said. "Coach Monty's always said 'you ain't get sent off to war, so you'll be alright'.

"I'm just excited for the opportunity. I kind of had a feeling since the summer, when KD wanted to go to the Suns, that I knew me and Cam were probably the two guys who would go.

"You kinda look at it, and yeah, I get it. I get it, man. He was one of my favourite players growing up, and I know how incredibly talented he is, so I get it."

Bridges said he is aiming to make his debut for the Nets on Saturday, when the 76ers come to town.

On January 8, the Brooklyn Nets appeared to have finally found their stride as championship contenders, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the team to 18 wins in a 20-game span.

A month later, the Nets are now starless and retooling around a collection of young players.

Nets general manager Sean Marks issued a statement Thursday night addressing the franchise-altering decision to trade Kevin Durant, less than 24 hours after dealing him to the Phoenix Suns for Mikal Bridges, Cam Thomas and four first-round picks.

"After thorough evaluation of the best path forward, we believe making this trade now positions the franchise for long-term success," Marks said. "Mikal and Cam are elite, ascending, versatile wings, plus the draft capital provides us additional avenues to continue to acquire talent. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building the team Brooklyn deserves.

"We are excited to welcome Mikal, Cam and their families to Brooklyn and thank Kevin for the moments and memories he delivered our fanbase."

The move ends a brief whirlwind of an era for Brooklyn that began with acquiring Durant and Irving during the 2019 offseason.

Despite great expectations and countless storylines – including the acquisition and departure of James Harden, the firing of coach Steve Nash and multiple trade requests – Durant and Irving won a total of seven playoff games together with the Nets, never advancing past the second round.

Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and a variety of draft picks.

Late Wednesday night, reports surfaced of the blockbuster deal that sent Durant to Phoenix, one of his preferred destinations included in his trade request before the start of the 2022-23 season.

Durant joins Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton on a Suns team that is sure to be one of the favourites to win the Western Conference.

"This gives Kevin an opportunity to go in and continue on that quest for a championship in Phoenix as their window opens up," Marks told reporters ahead of the Nets’ game against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday.

"My goal here, and our goal from ownership all the way down, is to put something out on the floor that everybody can be proud of, you can see consistent effort, you can see availability, and you can see competitive spirit."

Kevin Durant is heading out of the Brooklyn Nets and will join the Phoenix Suns in a stunning trade, according to reports.

The 34-year-old will be a prize catch for new Suns owner Mat Ishbia, who completed his takeover at Phoenix this week and pledged to create a team that is "the best in class".

Nets team-mate T.J. Warren will join Durant in making the switch, ESPN said, with Phoenix giving the Nets three players in Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder, plus four unprotected first-round picks and a 2028 pick swap.

The first-round picks will reportedly be for the 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 drafts.

Durant's exit ahead of Thursday's trade deadline follows the Nets trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks, meaning two superstars of the NBA have left Brooklyn within days.

A 13-time All-Star and two-time NBA Finals MVP, Durant has averaged 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists this season.

A knee problem has meant he has not played since January 8, with the Nets going 5-9 in his absence, having won 17 of their previous 19 when Durant featured.

Durant and Irving arrived in Brooklyn together in 2019 but started only 71 regular season games together.

Their exits will mean the Nets have traded their only two players to average above 20 points per game this season.

Durant's move will see him leave a team sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference for the side fifth in the Western Conference.

United States president Joe Biden has praised LeBron James for "inspiring the nation" after surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time regular season NBA scoring record.

Los Angeles Lakers forward James entered Tuesday's game with the Oklahoma City Thunder needing 36 points to break Abdul-Jabbar's record, which had stood for 39 years.

The four-time MVP moved past Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 career points to go outright number one with a 14-foot fadeaway jumper late in the third quarter at Crypto.com Arena.

James' game-high 38 points on 13-of-20 shooting with three steals were not enough to prevent the Lakers from losing 133-130 to the visiting Thunder.

But it was job done on an individual level as he strengthened his case as being the greatest basketball player of all time – a debate that will rumble on for some time.

A number of sports stars and wider global figures have paid tribute to James, who now has 38,390 career points to go with the four NBA titles won with three different teams.

"LeBron, congratulations. With your whole heart and soul you broke a hell of a record. You elevated the game," US president Biden said in a video message. 

"More than that, like Kareem, Bill Russell and others who came before you, you challenged and inspired the nation to be better, do better and live up to our full promise."

James rose with both arms in celebration after making history and posed for photos with 75-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, who was in attendance in Los Angeles.

Fellow Lakers great Magic Johnson said: "I never thought that Kareem's scoring record would be broken by anybody. 

"It means more to myself and to our fans because you're wearing that purple and gold and broke it as a Laker. 

"This historic moment is so special because we will never see another LeBron James."

James has 7,314 points across five seasons with the Lakers, having previously scored 23,119 in 859 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers and 7,919 in 294 for the Miami Heat.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver added: "It's a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over 20 seasons in the league. 

"And quite amazingly, LeBron continues to play at an elite level and his basketball history is still being written."

James is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, which is the seventh-best record in the division, narrowly ahead of Kevin Durant (29.7) and Stephen Curry (29.4).

Golden State Warriors guard Curry and Brooklyn Nets forward Durant also congratulated James on his remarkable achievement.

"Your sustained level of play for 20 years, reaching this pinnacle of scoring in basketball, it is unbelievable," Curry said. 

"Way down the road, when we're reflecting back on our careers, we'll be able to be at that level knowing what it was like to battle at the highest level."

Durant added: "It's even funny to just even say that, coming from where you have come from, how hard you grinded for this long. 

"It's been an inspiration since day one. Much love and keep setting the bar high."

The latest Kyrie Irving saga is over with time to spare before the trade deadline, but how will it impact the rest of the NBA?

The Dallas Mavericks agreed a trade for Irving and Markieff Morris on Sunday, sending Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and second-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Brooklyn Nets.

That shake-up had been anticipated as Irving pursued a trade, yet it leaves plenty to ponder ahead of Thursday's deadline.

Stats Perform considers the week's key questions as those hoping to be in contention respond to the Mavs' big move.

How does Durant react?

Irving and Kevin Durant arrived in Brooklyn together in 2019 but, for myriad reasons, the Nets never saw the best of them as a pair as they started only 71 regular season games together.

Durant repeatedly stood by Irving as various controversies threatened to derail the team, yet he has now been left behind.

While the package the Nets received from the Mavs should ensure they have enough to put around Durant and remain competitive, what does the two-time Finals MVP want for himself?

The suggestion over the weekend was the Phoenix Suns – under new ownership – would be keen on making a move for Durant if he became available, and there would be other potential contenders who would see the attraction of a genuine superstar to get them over the line.

Durant has failed previously to force his way out of Brooklyn, but his situation is certainly worth watching.

What now for the Lakers?

If not the Mavs, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed the most likely destination for Irving, with Russell Westbrook and two unprotected first-round picks said to make up the package offered to the Nets.

The Nets were understandably unconvinced by Westbrook's ability to have an impact in 2023, however, and now the Lakers must regroup.

Superstar LeBron James could be forgiven for being far from impressed with the team's inability to secure a trade he had pushed for, and his cryptic Twitter posts as news broke of the Mavs deal would suggest that is the case.

It is expected the Lakers will remain active ahead of the deadline, but Rob Pelinka's promise to only use the team's draft picks in "a move that puts us as a front-runner to get another championship" somewhat limits their potential moves.

The Utah Jazz and the Toronto Raptors have plenty of players they could move, yet none that fall into that category. Someone like Bradley Beal could perhaps be a possibility if the Lakers are determined to go all-in on helping James.

Do the Warriors have a move?

As the Mavs moved for Irving, news elsewhere indicated another shift in the Western Conference: Stephen Curry's leg injury is set to see him miss multiple weeks.

The Golden State Warriors are the defending champions but also cannot afford to be without Curry, given their middling 27-26 record.

This team looked set up to succeed long term, balancing the veteran brilliance of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green with a cast of exciting young talents, led by Jordan Poole.

But between the drama of a clash between Green and Poole, Curry's repeated fitness issues and the Warriors' generally middling form, there was already no room for error before the reigning Finals MVP went down again.

With an upturn required and Curry missing, Golden State may have to deal some of their young prospects – former number two pick James Wiseman being an obvious candidate – in order to improve their roster.

Is Anunoby as big as it gets?

With the Raptors seen as willing sellers, O.G. Anunoby has been popular in trade rumours for weeks now. As the deadline nears, it seems inevitable he will move.

A number of teams with designs on winning the title would benefit from the versatile Anunoby and his ability on both ends of the floor, averaging 16.9 points and 2.1 steals per game.

The New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies appear to provide the most likely landing grounds.

But will that be it? If Durant stays put, will Anunoby be the most significant mover of the final days before the deadline?

After the Irving trade, that seems very low key, but the NBA always has the facility to surprise...

Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets will travel to Boston on Wednesday to take on the Celtics in a tantalising clash between Eastern Conference contenders.

The Celtics, at 36-15, currently boast the best record in the NBA, while the 31-19 Nets occupy the fourth seed. 

Fresh off a trip to the NBA Finals, Boston have looked like genuine contenders since the opening day, building an elite, championship-level statistical profile.

Almost without fail, the eventual champion will show signs of elite play on at least one side of the ball throughout the regular season. Last year's champions, the Golden State Warriors built their identity on a top-two defense; the 2021 Milwaukee Bucks had a top-five offense and top-10 defense; the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers owned the third-best defense.

This year's Celtics side are currently in the rare air of sitting top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, guided by two no-brainer All-Stars on the wing with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and fellow All-Defensive selection Robert Williams III.

While games and series can often be decided by which team has the singular best player, the Celtics have been buoyed by the continued ascent of Tatum, who is now a legitimate MVP candidate.

This season the 24-year-old is averaging career-highs in points (31.1 per game), rebounds (8.7), assists (4.4), field goal makes (10.1) and attempts (21.8), three-point makes (3.3) and attempts (9.3), free throw makes (7.6) and attempts (8.8) – all while shooting his best field goal percentage (46.5) since his rookie season and a career-best 86.9 per cent from the free throw line.

The Celtics' elite record, profile and talent, combined with the fact they will be playing in front of their home fans will have them as favourites on Wednesday – but Irving and the Nets present a frisky opposition.

It is without question that the Nets have entered a mini tailspin since Kevin Durant suffered a knee injury against the Miami Heat on January 8. Brooklyn were 27-13 at the time but have won only four of their 10 games since.

Their ranks as the fifth-best offense and 10th-best defense for the season are both tumbling due to this past stretch, where both units have been the definition of mediocre, ranking 19th on offense and 18th defensively.

That is no fault of former Celtic Irving, who is enjoying a tremendous run of personal form. He has posted seven consecutive outings of at least 26 points and six assists, and after the Nets dropped their first four games of Durant's absence, they responded with four wins from their next six.

Also playing into Brooklyn's favour is the fact they are the NBA's second-best team away from home this season, while their 16-11 mark on the road is only bettered by the Celtics at 17-9.

Unfortunately for the Nets, Boston have also had little trouble at home. They own the fifth-best home record (19-6), and their overtime defeat against the New York Knicks on Thursday was their first loss at TD Garden since December 21.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Boston Celtics – Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White

Simply put, with Durant out of action, the Nets only have one superstar on the offensive end, and the Celtics have the perfect player to make Irving's life miserable. Or at least they normally would.

Smart became the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since 'The Glove' Gary Payton back in the 1995-96 season, and his impact on Irving has been evident in recent matchups – but he will miss this fixture as he recovers from an ankle injury.

Malcolm Brogdon – one of the favourites for Sixth Man of the Year – will take his place as the top defensive guard in the line-up, with help from Derrick White, and together they will aim to pick up where Smart left off.

In his past four games against the Celtics, Irving has only reached 20 points once, finishing with the following shooting performances: four-of-19, eight-of-18, seven-of-21 and nine-of-24.

Brooklyn Nets – Bench shooters

While Irving is the obvious focal point and the engine that will make the Nets run, they will likely need one of their shooters off the bench to get hot.

In their win against the Lakers on Monday, second-year spark plug Cam Thomas and veteran Patty Mills scored 21 points each while combining to shoot eight-of-11 from long range. The previous game, a rivalry victory against the New York Knicks, the trio of Thomas, Edmond Sumner and Yuta Watanabe combined to hit six-of-six three-pointers.

Watanabe in particular could be a game-changer, as he is shooting 49 per cent from deep – the best figure in the league among players averaging at least one attempt per game.

KEY BATTLE – How will Brooklyn slow down the Boston wings?

As previously discussed, the Nets have been a top-10 defense this season, but they will definitely be without the seven-foot Durant, and will likely also be missing six-foot-10 former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Ben Simmons and six-foot-eight T.J. Warren.

It leaves them woefully undermanned when it comes to defending the All-Star duo of Tatum and Brown, and while Tatum is the exact kind of matchup Brooklyn had in mind when they traded a first-round pick to Utah for Royce O'Neale, they will likely be stuck with Joe Harris on Brown.

Watanabe, at six-foot-eight, and perhaps even six-foot-nine veteran Markieff Morris will get a chance off the bench, but the rest of Brooklyn's perimeter options are simply too small.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Since the beginning of February 2022, the Celtics are undefeated in nine meetings against the Nets, including a clean 4-0 sweep in the first round of last season's playoffs.

Boston have won both head-to-head matchups this campaign by 11 points – one with Durant playing, and one with him out.

Stephen Curry and Joel Embiid have both been fined $25,000 in separate on-court incidents from Wednesday's game, the NBA announced on Friday.

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Curry was fined for "throwing his mouthpiece into the spectator stands" during Wednesday's 122-120 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Curry was ejected for the act, which came out of frustration after not receiving a pass from Golden State Warriors team-mate Jordan Poole, occurring with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.

It was the third ejection of Curry's career, all involving his mouthpiece, having thrown it at a referee in 2017.

"He knows he can't make that mistake again," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game.

Philadelphia 76ers center Embiid was fined for "making an obscene gesture on the playing court" during their 137-133 win over the Brooklyn Nets, where Ben Simmons returned to face his former side at a wound-up Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday.

The incident occurred when Embiid celebrated making a layup and earning a foul shot by emulating a gesture made by WWE wrestlers Shawn Michaels and Triple H.

Nets forward Kevin Durant, who was watching from afar due to an MCL sprain, described the act as a "trash celebration" on Twitter at the time.

LeBron James is set to tie the record for the most All-Star Game appearances in NBA history after being announced as one of the two team captains on Thursday.

James, who will match Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he suits up for his 19th All-Star Game in Salt Lake City next month, will be joined by Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo as the captains. 

In a league-first, the captains will draft their reserves live in the lead-up to tip-off, as opposed to previous years when the draft was conducted via a pre-recorded segment and aired weeks before the game.

While most of the expected names were announced as starters – including reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic and Golden State Warriors icon Stephen Curry – there were also some surprises.

The two head-scratchers were New Orleans Pelicans franchise player Zion Williamson and controversial Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.

Williamson is averaging the highest points per game figure (26.0) for any player shooting at least 60 per cent from the field this season, but has only played in 29 of the Pelicans' 49 games so far. He is also scheduled to miss at least two more weeks, meaning he will have only played in roughly half of the possible games by the time All-Star Weekend arrives.

Meanwhile, Irving has a stronger case as he averages 26.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists, but his addition as a starter in the East means relegating reigning scoring champion and back-to-back MVP runner-up Joel Embiid to the bench.

After James' 19th appearance, the next-most among the starters belongs to Kevin Durant, who has missed some time with injury in his own right but was playing at an MVP level prior to earn his 13th All-Star nod. Curry will play in his ninth edition, while Irving now has eight and Antetokounmpo has made seven consecutive.

The full list of starters includes:

Western Conference 

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Eastern Conference

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers

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