LOS ANGELES • The National Basketball Association (NBA) season opens on Tuesday with something it has not had in a while - intrigue.
Gone are the days when superstar LeBron James annually carried his team to the Finals. The dynasty of the Golden State Warriors is overhauled, if not over. The defending champions reside in Canada. The Eastern Conference has at least three teams with title aspirations, while the West may have seven.
"I think, for the first time, it's a question who's going to win the NBA championship," said Masai Ujiri, president of current champions the Toronto Raptors.
"I don't think anybody knows who's going to come out of the West, and there are very, very strong teams there."
The new-found parity was created by eight 2019 All-Stars changing teams this summer, leaving most contenders with two franchise cornerstones rather than the three or four of seasons past.
After reaching eight straight Finals in the East, James took his talents to Los Angeles last season - but missed the play-offs while suffering his first serious injury. With newly acquired six-time All-Star Anthony Davis alongside him, James is back in the title hunt.
But the Lakers may not be the best team in their own city. The Clippers prised NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard away from Toronto and landed six-time All-Star Paul George in a trade with Oklahoma City, giving them a 1-2 punch of offence and defence.
"Everyone's talking about the big winners of the summertime: Is it the Nets? The Clippers? The Lakers? It's actually Staples Centre," James said. "If you're a fan of the game, you get an opportunity to see the Clippers one night and then get an opportunity to see the Lakers."
After trading George, the Thunder sent eight-time All-Star Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets to be reunited with 2018 MVP James Harden, who took a similar path seven years ago.
"Harden is the greatest half-court player I've ever seen," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said.
"And Russell is one of the greatest transition players ever. If we could put those two skills together, we can be really special."
Golden State's quest for a third straight title was derailed by injuries to All-Stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
Durant joined Brooklyn and will sit out the season rehabilitating his ruptured Achilles tendon. Thompson should return from his torn ACL around the All-Star break.
Without Leonard, the Raptors may not have enough to challenge the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers in the East.
The Bucks won a league-best 60 games last season behind MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the 76ers added Al Horford and Josh Richardson to All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.