LeBron on verge of slaying Celtics, demons that haunted him

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James Bond movies are only as good as the villain — unless there is someone who pushes Bond to new extremes, his victory is hollow. (Well, except for all the hot Bond girls.)

That need for the hero to have to reach new heights is true of all drama. It is true of sports. What is Muhammad Ali without Joe Frazier and George Forman? Magic without Bird (or Bird without Magic)? Even Michael Jordan had to get over the hurdle of the Bad Boy Pistons before he could become a legend.

For LeBron James, that has been the Celtics. His career had always seemed to fall short — it’s why he left Cleveland — and the Celtics had caused that demise two of the last three years (including last season when Clevelanders are convinced LeBron quit on them). While other teams had beaten him too, the Celtics had come to symbolize the mountain he had to climb.

And he almost did not scale it Monday — he made the amazing jumpstop layup in the final minute to give the Heat a short-lived lead, but after that was stripped by Ray Allen giving the Celtics a final chance to win in regulation. They blew it. Given a second chance in overtime, James did not.

He sounded relieved and excited after the game, as reported by Ian Thompson at Sports Illustrated.

“I looked at it as one of the biggest games of my career,” said James. “Me and D-Wade had a lot of conversation after Game 3 all the way to the tip-off today about how important this game is. I heard a stat that D-Wade had lost 11 straight in this building. I haven’t had much success in this building. So we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try to do whatever it took to help our team win this ballgame.”

There is a long way to go. Unlike the Lakers, the Celtics are not going to roll over and die in their closeout game. They will play harder and better than they have all series. Then there will be the conference finals, then the finals. None of it easy, most of it harder than this.

But for LeBron, it’s feeling like a breakthrough.

Rumor: Bulls’ belief in Zach LaVine waning

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Zach LaVine was the centerpiece in the Bulls’ return for trading a star. Chicago was reportedly willing to match a max offer sheet for LaVine in restricted free agency.

But maybe the Bulls have at least somewhat soured on him.

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

I don’t know why the Bulls would be down on LaVine now. I also don’t know why they were so high on him the first place.

LaVine is a good 3-point shooter and impressive dunker. But, despite his athleticism, his all-around contributions are lacking. He also hasn’t looked completely over his February 2017 ACL tear.

This leak could just be strategy. Instead of trying to scare off teams with the threat of matching any offer to LaVine, Chicago could be trying to dissuade suitors by projecting its own reluctance.

The Bulls don’t want to overpay LaVine. But they also don’t want to lose him for nothing.

Will anyone make a hard push for the 23-year-old? He surely wants a lucrative long-term contract, whether he re-signs directly with Chicago or gets an offer sheet. But, if the Bulls aren’t sold on him, I’m not sure any team will is.

LaVine’s qualifying offer will be $4,333,932. That might wind up his next salary.

PBT Extra: Grading the top of the NBA Draft

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The Phoenix Suns got it right at the top of the draft — they took Deandre Ayton.

But what of their move to trade for Mikal Bridges, the No. 10 pick, surrendering a valuable pick and the potential of Zhaire Smith for what should be a solid “3&D” wing to go with their athletic stars?

How did the Kings do at No. 2? What about Dallas’ big trade up to land Luka Doncic at three, or the Atlanta bet on Trae Young?

In this PBT Extra, I grade the top 10 picks in the draft, from the moves I like (I think Dallas did well) to ones I’m not sold on (sorry Chicago).

 

Have questions leading up to free agency? Submit your questions via e-mail for our PBT Mailbag feature. Drop us a line at pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.