Eighteen former NBA players have been charged over an alleged scheme to defraud the league's health and welfare plan out of nearly $4million.

The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that 19 defendants had been charged after allegedly submitting "fraudulent reimbursement claims for medical services that they never received".

One of the 18 ex-players was Tony Allen, a six-time All-Defensive Team selection who was part of the championship-winning Boston Celtics squad in 2008. His wife was also charged.

Allen's former Celtics team-mate Glen Davis, Shannon Brown – twice a champion with the Los Angeles Lakers – and Melvyn Ely, a title winner in 2007 with the San Antonio Spurs, were also named among the defendants.

FBI assistant director Michael J Driscoll said: "Today we've charged 18 former NBA players and one spouse for their alleged participation in a health care fraud scheme that resulted in nearly $2million in losses to the National Basketball Association's health and welfare benefit plan.

"The health care industry loses tens of billions of dollars a year to fraud. Thanks to the work of our dedicated FBI agents and partners alike, cases like this demonstrate our continued focus in uncovering health care fraud scams that harm both the industry and the consumers of their services."

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: "The defendants' playbook involved fraud and deception. Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners, their alleged scheme has been disrupted and they will have to answer for their flagrant violations of law."

New York City Police Department commissioner Dermot Shea said: "Today's federal indictment represents the NYPD's long-term commitment, working with its law enforcement partners, in making sure those accused of health care related fraud are held accountable. I commend those involved in the investigation, the FBI, and the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District in New York for its work in ensuring there is justice in this case."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant envisions Kyrie Irving being part of the NBA championship contenders this season but admitted if he misses games his quality will be hard to "duplicate".

Irving has not trained with the Nets in New York this week as part of the city's COVID-19 protocols that only allows players with at least one vaccination shot to practice and play.

Nets star Irving faces missing all of Brooklyn's home matches in the 2021-22 season, which gets underway against reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks on October 19, if his vaccination status does not change.

The drawn-out situation has created a major distraction for title favourites the Nets, who bowed out to eventual champions the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals last season.

"I'm envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team," Durant told reporters after Wednesday's practice. "Maybe I'm just naive, but that is just how I feel.

"But I think everybody here has that confidence in themselves, in our group, that if we keep building, we can do something special."

Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in the 2020-21 season where he played 54 times.

The Nets struggled to find continuity with their big three, Irving, Durant and James Harden, who joined from the Houston Rockets in January, on the court due to injuries but that seemed set to change after injury-free pre-seasons ahead of the new campaign.

"I mean he's a special player so it is going to be hard to duplicate what he brings," former MVP Durant said.

"But professional sports are about the next man up mentality so we are looking forward to guys stepping up and filling in that role as best as they can."

Durant and the Nets have tried to insist the Irving situation is not a distraction, although the 33-year-old forward said he would not get involved in his team-mate's decision-making.

The Golden State Warriors faced a similar situation last week with Andrew Wiggins under the San Francisco city laws, although he opted to get his first vaccination ending the discussion.

"He is dealing with something personal right now and while he is dealing with that, we are going to focus on us here in the gym and keep working," Durant said. "When they are ready to figure that out, he'll figure it out."

Durant added: "I want him a part of this group. He's a special player. We want him a part of this group. But a lot of stuff is out of our control and we will let him figure that out for himself.

"It doesn't mean that I will say that I don't want him on the team. He's a huge part of what we do but guys got to step up in his absence and be who they are and move forward.

"I'm not really trying to get too involved in it. It's far bigger than myself and each one of us individually. This is one man's personal decision on his wellbeing."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the team will not move practice so Kyrie Irving can bypass the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

Irving missed Tuesday's practice due to New York's coronavirus vaccination protocols, with local mandates restricting unvaccinated persons from entering sports arenas, restaurants and other public spaces.

Nets star Irving faces being unable to play home games while losing significant portions of his salary if he is not vaccinated.

Asked if the Nets considered moving training outside of New York, Nash told reporters: "No, this is our home. This is where we're going to practice and we have almost a whole group.

"So that's a positive, and we're just working at getting better every day and focusing on the things we can control."

Addressing the Irving situation, Nash said: "No further update. We support him. We are here for him. Things change. When there's a resolution, we're here for him."

"I'm not really worried about anything," Nash added, with the Nets due to open their season against champions the Milwaukee Bucks on October 19. "We're just trying to work every day.

"We came in today and had a great practice and we'll do the same tomorrow, and that's kind of where I leave it."

Irving was unable to attend the Nets' media day in person in Brooklyn on September 27.

"I know that I'll be there every day no matter what and just be present for my teammates as one of the leaders on the team and be there for my growing tribe off the court," Irving said remotely.

"I know the focus has to be at an all-time high, no distractions. This is the last thing I wanted to create, was more distractions and more hoopla and more drama around this. I'm doing my best to maintain this with good intentions and a good heart."

In 2020-21, Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game as the Nets lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Irving enjoyed a career-high 50.6 field-goal percentage and joint-career best 92.2 free-throw percentage last season.

Spanish legend Pau Gasol has announced his retirement from basketball at the age of 41.

The former Los Angeles Laker, who returned for a second spell with his first club Barcelona eight months ago, confirmed his decision to call time on his illustrious career a press conference on Tuesday.

Gasol enjoyed an extraordinarily successful NBA career spanning 18 years, playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks.

He won two NBA titles and was a six-time NBA All-Star after being named the 2001-02 NBA Rookie of the Year.

"It is a very difficult decision as you can imagine, but it's a decision that I have contemplated well," Gasol said. "It's nice to be able to retire as an active player and not on crutches, to retire having won another title with Barcelona and having played in a fifth Olympics with the national team.

"I remember when I was on the youth team coaches used to say to that the important thing was not to reach the top, but to stay there. I didn't try to stay there, I tried to improve with every game and become the best I could."

Gasol was FIBA Basketball World Cup champion in 2006, won three FIBA EuroBasket titles - earning the MVP award in 2009 and 2015 - and three Olympic medals (two silver and a bronze).

He is Eurobasket's all-time leading scorer with 1183 points in 58 appearances, averaging 19.9 points in seven tournaments.

"The example that Pau has given us all, that leadership even this last year, with humility, with an ability to try things that he had never even done, things that he did not even need because of his great talent," said Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo. "Another stage of respect and the consideration that we can only have towards Pau."

Gasol and his younger brother Marc, 36, announced their international retirement after playing in the Tokyo Olympics.

Pau Gasol said: "I was lucky to be a member of great teams with great team-mates, and some of them are here today.

"We started playing in the backyard of our grandparents' house and having [Marc] as my brother and playing the same sport, trying to be the big brother also in basketball, was always a great motivation for me.

"I'd like to be remembered as a player who gave it his everything, who tried to do the best he could and, at end of the day, being able to play until the age of 41 is not bad at all."

Golden State Warriors star point guard Stephen Curry says Anthony Wiggins handled his responsibilities in deciding to get vaccinated ahead of the new NBA season.

Wiggins faced missing all of the Warriors' home games this season, 41 games, due to San Francisco's vaccine mandate having previously refused to get the shot, citing religious reasons.

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr confirmed on Sunday that Wiggins had since been vaccinated, opening up his availability.

"Obviously I think it’s great he’s available,” Curry said on Monday after Warriors shootaround. "Whatever process he went through to get to that decision, he’ll be able to speak on that.

"We’re excited to have him. It’s a good sign he’s handling his responsibilities as a part of the team. Whatever the process was is for him to explain."

Wiggins, who was the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft before joining the Warriors from the Minnesota Timberwolves last year, averaged 18.6 points, 2.4 assists and 1.0 blocks per game in his first season with the franchise.

Curry has previously been outspoken about public health during the COVID-19 pandemic but insisted he would not have held any hard feelings towards Wiggins if he opted against the shot.

"I wouldn’t think badly of him had it not turned out that way," Curry said. "I hate that part of the conversation. The fact is, we can have a conversation about it and be respectful.

"There’s no way I would let that affect how I see him as a human being, as far as before this pandemic started versus now. I’m glad he’s available and he’s able to be with us today."

Wiggins and Green both started Monday's preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Andrew Wiggins will be available for all Golden State Warriors games this season having been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Wiggins' vaccination status had been a subject of much controversy in recent days, the former first overall pick facing the prospect of being unable to play in home games for Golden State.

San Francisco is among the major cities that have laws restricting unvaccinated persons from entering sports arenas, restaurants and other public spaces.

That would have meant Wiggins being prevented from featuring in games at the Warriors' Chase Center and forfeiting salary as a result.

The NBA confirmed on Wednesday that players would not be paid should they miss games for a failure to comply with local vaccine mandates.

Wiggins, therefore, risked missing out on a substantial portion of a salary worth over $30million for the 2021-22 season.

But head coach Steve Kerr confirmed on Sunday that Wiggins had elected to get the vaccine.

Wiggins had previously applied for an exemption on religious grounds but saw that request rejected by the NBA.

Veteran Los Angeles Lakers recruit Carmelo Anthony says he is open to any role in the side as he strives for his first career NBA title.

The 37-year-old boasts a decorated CV, including being an NBA All-Star 10 times, but he is confident not being an automatic featured player for the Lakers this season.

Anthony moved from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Lakers over the off-season, having played 69 games last season, starting only three times.

"At this point, man, whatever we need to do, let's do it," Anthony said on Friday at the Lakers' training camp.

"It ain't ... 'I can't sit,' and, 'Oh, I want to start,' 'I want to come off the bench.' Whatever it is, it is.

"I've had experience being a starter for 18, 17 years and had an experience of coming off the bench for one year. It's not something I think about."

Russell Westbrook also joined the Lakers ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season which commences on October 17 for the Lakers against the Golden State Warriors.

There have numerous roster changes for the Lakers, meaning there is uncertainty about how the line-up head coach Frank Vogel deploys for the new season.

"When we spoke before he signed here, I told him that I envisioned a big role on this team," Vogel said.

"I don't know what that's going to look like, whether he's going to start, whether he's going to come off the bench, but that he's going to be a factor for us."

Vogel confirmed Anthony along with Westbrook and LeBron James will all sit out Sunday's pre-season opener against the Brooklyn Nets for rest.

Forward Anthony played a career-low 24.5 minutes per game last season for the Blazers, but had a career second-best three-point percentage of 40.9 per cent.

Anthony averaged 13.4 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game and 1.5 assists per game last season.

A report Ben Simmons no longer wants to play alongside Joel Embiid and his absence from the Philadelphia 76ers are "borderline disrespectful", according to the All-Star center. 

The 76ers this week began training camp ahead of the new NBA season without Simmons, who is holding out for a trade following the fallout from the team's shock Eastern Conference semifinals elimination at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks last season. 

A report in The Athletic citing anonymous sources on Tuesday claimed Simmons wants to leave because he does not think trying to fit in alongside Embiid is right for his style of play. 

Embiid believes the information has come from his team-mate's camp. While he is frustrated by Simmons holding out, he admitted the 76ers remain a better team when he plays. 

"I saw it. I don't know if it came from him or whatever, but over the past few months stuff has been put out there, looking at the reaction of him not being here. I feel like it's fair to assume it's coming from his agent or his people or whatever," said Embiid when asked about the report. 

"I feel like our teams have always been built around his needs, so it was kind of surprising to see. [Simmons was] The reason we signed Al [Horford]. We got rid of Jimmy [Butler], which I still think was a mistake, [because] he needed the ball in his hands, and that's the decision they made. Like I said, it's surprising. 

"But I'm really focused on the guys that are here. The situation is disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives. Some guys rely on the team being successful to stay in the league and make money. Because if you're on a winning team, you're always going to have a spot in the league because you contributed to a winning team.

 

"Obviously we're a better team with him, we're not a better team without him, that's for sure. We still hope he changes his mind, but I owe it to these guys to worry about what we have here. 

"To figure out what's going to happen, that's not my job, I'm not the GM, I'm not an owner, so that's none of my business." 

Simmons only attempted one shot in the fourth quarter of the final six games of the series against the Hawks, while he passed up a layup to tie the game last in the fourth quarter of Game 7. 

Doc Rivers said he did not know whether the 76ers could be champions with Simmons as their point guard, though he has since attempted to backtrack in a bid to convince the Australian to stay in Philadelphia. 

Los Angeles Lakers recruit Russell Westbrook labelled Anthony Davis as "the ultimate weapon" and said it is his job to bring out the best of the eight-time NBA All-Star.

Davis was below his best during the 2020-21 season as the Lakers were dethroned and eliminated in the playoffs in the first round, with injuries forcing the 28-year-old to miss 36 games.

An NBA champion in 2019-20, Davis – the number one draft pick in 2012 – averaged 21.8 points per game last season, which was his lowest return since his second campaign with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013-14, along with a career-low field goal percentage of 49.1.

Defensively, Davis had a career-low season averaging 7.9 rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks per game, but former MVP Westbrook was bullish about maximising his talent in the 2021-22 season.

"[He is] The ultimate weapon," Westbrook told reporters about Davis on Wednesday, having arrived via a trade from the Washington Wizards.

"It's my job to supervise it to the best of my ability to make sure that AD, LeBron [James], whoever is in the pick and roll are put in positions to be successful.

"He's one of a kind. There's nobody like him who can do everything he's able to do at his size.

"My job is to make sure I continue to push him each day, each practice, each game, so he can be at the top of his game each and every night.

"He's been in this league a long time, so he understands how to play the game. He knows what he needs to turn up, and I know now he wants to turn up. So it's my job to make sure that's up every single night."

Davis, who is a four-time All-NBA First Team member and has led the league for blocks on three occasions, said the demanding presence of players like nine-time All-Star Westbrook was good for him.

"I like team-mates who are going to push me," Davis said. "Encouragement -- I don't need encouragement. I want to be pushed.

"I want guys to tell me when I'm messing up. Me and Russ had numerous conversations in this first practice alone about things we can do together as a duo when we're both on the floor."

Davis added that he expects to play center for the Lakers this season, which Westbrook endorsed saying his team-mate can "pretty much do everything" in the role.

NBA players unvaccinated against COVID-19 risk losing salary if they are not able to play in games due to non-compliance with local health protocols.

NBA spokesperson Mike Bass confirmed on Wednesday that players will not be paid should they miss games for that reason, as vaccination status continues to be a thorny issue for some of the league's high-profile stars.

Major cities such as New York and San Francisco have laws that restrict unvaccinated persons from entering sports arenas, restaurants and other public spaces.

That means players such as the Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors face being unable to play home games and losing significant portions of their salary.

Players travelling to those areas would also miss out on pay for failing to comply with local mandates.

Both Irving and Wiggins have salaries over $30million for the 2021-22 season.

"Any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for games that he misses," Bass said.

Wiggins this week saw his request for a vaccine exemption on religious grounds rejected by the NBA, having previously said he would not get the vaccine unless he was forced into doing so.

 

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden says he has never felt better heading into the new NBA season after enduring an injury-ravaged 2020-21 season.

Harden missed 23 games in the 2020-21 season due to a hamstring injury, which he aggravated during the Nets' playoffs campaign.

The 32-year-old, who had joined the Nets in January, played through pain as Brooklyn bowed out of the postseason in the Eastern Conference semifinals to eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden's teammate Kyrie Irving also had injury problems derail the Nets in the playoffs, leaving plenty on the shoulders Kevin Durant, the final member of 'the big three'.

"I've had two and a half months to recover, and I feel very, very good," Harden told ESPN. "I get an entire year, training camp included, with the guys."

He added: "I've tried to get my mind and my body right. That's all I've tried to focus on this summer. I've come back even better, bigger, stronger and quicker. I feel better than I probably have ever felt before.

"[I'm] just more confident knowing we have a legit chance to be the last team standing."

Harden, who won the 2018 NBA MVP award, also offered an update on his contract status with title favourites Brooklyn, having not yet extended his deal, which has a player option for $47million at the end of the coming season and expires the following year.

"Over the course of my career, I've never been a free agent before," Harden said.

"I've always been loyal, signing contract extensions and being there, being there, being there. I want to take my time with it.

"It's going to be very difficult to leave here or leave Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. I want this season to focus on winning the championship. Everything else will work itself out."

Harden played 36 times for the Nets during the 2020-21 season, averaging 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game.

His 24.6 points per game for the year, including eight games with the Houston Rockets, represented his lowest average since his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011-12, when he started just twice.

However, playing alongside Durant and Irving, Harden's usage rate fell to 29.0 per cent, having been as high as 40.5 per cent in 2018-19.

The Golden State Warriors remain reluctant to put a timeframe on Klay Thompson's return from injury, but head coach Steve Kerr said the shooting guard is showing positive signs.

Thompson, who has not played in the NBA since June 2019, participated in team practice on Tuesday for the first time since tearing his Achilles in November last year.

The three-time champion tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, before sustaining an Achilles injury during his comeback.

Last week, Golden State put out an injury update, vaguely stating he was making "good progress", but his return to training is a significant step in the right direction.

The five-time NBA All-Star remains months away from a competitive return, however, Kerr was upbeat about his recovery on Tuesday.

"Everyone's excited that Klay is out on the floor," Kerr told reporters. "He basically did every single thing in practice today.

"We didn't scrimmage, we didn't have any live contact, but Klay is just so happy to be playing and we're all so happy to see him part of it. So just a really good first day, first couple of days, and good energy as we start to get rolling."

He added: "Klay looked great. Shooting the lights out. His team won the daily shooting competition. And he was smiling, laughing, joking around, it was really fun to see the old Klay back."

Thompson said on Monday that he was around "75 or 80 percentile of what I need to do" in terms of his Achilles injury rehabilitation, while Warriors general manager Bob Myers indicated December or January may be a likely return timeframe.

Kerr added the Warriors playing group were boosted by Thompson's return to training as the franchise seek a return to the playoffs after missing out the past two seasons.

"Part of it is his spirit, his energy, his joy," Kerr said. "A big part of it too is, 'Yeah, we got Klay.' The confidence level as a group -- we're getting Klay back.

"It makes us all feel better. And that's the sense that I have from our guys."

Kent Bazemore and Kelly Oubre Jr. have left the Warriors this off-season, with veteran Andre Iguodala re-joining along with Serbian power forward Nemanja Bjelica as free agents.

Golden State – who are reportedly among the teams interested in disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons – added teenagers Jonathan Kuminga (pick 7) and Moses Moody (pick 14) in the NBA Draft.

Russell Westbrook said LeBron James knows what it takes to win in the NBA as the Los Angeles Lakers recruit attempts to claim his first championship.

Westbrook and James will team up in Los Angeles after the former joined his hometown team following a trade from the Washington Wizards.

A nine-time All-Star and former MVP, Westbrook has a long list of honours in the NBA but the 32-year-old is still searching for his maiden ring.

Westbrook, though, is excited to join forces with four-time champion James at Staples Center, having tasted defeat in the 2012 NBA Finals when the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the latter's Miami Heat.

"LeBron out of anybody else, he knows what it takes to win a championship," Westbrook told ESPN.

"My understanding of the commitment, understanding the sacrifices that we are both going to have to make, including myself and [Anthony Davis] as well for the betterment on the team, and finding ways to be able to win a championship.

"And that's the ultimate goal. So anything along the way we, we cannot get distracted, cannot get the deterred from our ultimate goal."

Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds with the Wizards last season.

On playing alongside James in LA, Westbrook – a dominant ballhandler – added: "It was going to work."

"When you get a chance to play against one of the greatest players of all time and consistently, it helps my game," Westbrook said.

"It helps my preparation, makes me focus more on the things I need to focus on to get to a point where I can sit down and say, 'I've accomplished everything I can accomplish in this league and now I'm lucky enough to be able to play alongside him.' So I'm looking forward to that, looking forward to the things we can accomplish here together this season."

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he retains a "burning desire to win trophies" in an ominous sign ahead of the upcoming 2021-22 NBA season.

James is entering his 19th season aged 36 and following an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign, which saw the Lakers dethroned after bowing out of the playoffs in the opening round.

The four-time NBA champion and MVP missed 27 games last season due to injury and averaged the fewest minutes per game (33.4) of his illustrious career.

James averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game last term, while his field-goal (51.3) and three-point (36.5) percentages were his best since 2017-18.

Gearing up for another run, James insisted he is feeling great, having overcome injuries in his quest for a fifth championship ring.

"I still have a burning desire inside of me to want to continue win, hopefully I can bring some trophies at the end of the season," James told ESPN, with the season due to get underway next month.

"That's always been my goal. I love the process more than anything. Hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can do that at the end of the season.

He added: "I'm just a guy who is very determined, who is willing to do whatever it takes for his body to be in the best shape possible to dominate at a high level.

"I'm not afraid to get uncomfortable with anything to get in the best possible shape I can be in."

The Lakers' roster has vastly changed since last season, with Alex Caruso, Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond, Markieff Morris, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma among those to exit.

Los Angeles have added NBA veterans Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo along with former MVP Russell Westbrook.

Nine-time All Star Westbrook, who turns 33 in November, led the NBA in assists last season and broke Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson's all-time triple-double record in May.

"Right away he ups our pace," James said. "He's always in the top five as far as pace, being able to get out on the break, able to get some early buckets before the defense is set.

"He's also a flat-out playmaker. A lot of people don’t talk about how unbelievable a passer he is. Everyone sees the rebounds and the scoring but how his passing makes other guys run and better doesn't get talked about a lot. We all look forward dot that as team-mates."

James (35,367) sits third on the NBA's all-time scoring charts, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928) ahead of the new season.

The 17-time All-Star refused to get drawn into the current NBA debate around COVID-19 vaccinations, which has sparked with the likes of Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors small forward Andrew Wiggins set to miss home matches due to their refusal to get the vaccine under local state rules.

"I can only speak about myself, everyone has their own choice… I was very sceptical, but after doing my research I felt like it was best suited for myself, my family and my friends," he told reporters on Tuesday. "That's why I decided to do it."

Cade Cunningham might experience "growing pains" but will not "be a bust", insists Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey.

The Pistons selected Cunningham out of Oklahoma State with the first overall pick in this year's draft.

Much is expected of the 20-year-old as he seeks to lift Detroit, who finished bottom of the East last season having been in the playoffs as recently as 2019.

Cunningham scored 20.1 points per game in college last year and should offer help to Jerami Grant on offense.

After Grant's 22.3 points in 2020-21, Derrick Rose (14.2) was the team's next-best scorer, and he left for the New York Knicks after 15 games.

It meant the Pistons had the fourth-worst offense in the NBA (106.6 points per game).

Cunningham, who had 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks, is a two-way talent, but the need is less pressing on the defensive end of the floor, where Detroit ranked 10th in giving up 111.1 points.

The focus will certainly be on his scoring, yet Casey is happy to stay patient with the team's young new star.

"One thing I know: Cade won't be a bust. He's not. That's one thing, you can guarantee that," Casey said. "But there will be growing pains.

"We have to be supportive. He's going to have a target on his back each and every night, and it's something that [we], his team-mates, the coaching staff, the whole organisation [have] to make sure we support him.

"There's going to be some nights he scores seven and there's going to be some nights he scores 25."

Reflecting on his status as a number one pick, Cunningham said he was "just writing my own story" and added: "This is a different pressure than I've ever faced before, I guess, but I don't really look at it as pressure.

"It's more an opportunity to show people something than to think about all the bad things that can happen."

He echoed Casey's sentiments, however, as he said: "I know it's the NBA and nothing is given to you.

"You have to be humble coming in and just take it for what it is, just try to work your way up. I feel like if you can be consistent every day and just work hard, the good things will come.

"I'm not really going to press, trying to force the issue too early. I want to make sure everything is smooth with the squad and be patient."

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