LeBron James is suddenly looking very clutch

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Fair or not, deserved or not, the national narrative on LeBron James has been that he wasn’t clutch. For all the games he took over, despite some impressive endings, the perception that he quit in Game 5 against the Celtics last season seemed the dominant memory for many.

LeBron doesn’t have a ring. Kobe has a ring. Wade had a ring. That made those two more clutch in the eyes of many.

That perception should be changed now.

LeBron took over at the end of Game 2 Wednesday night, getting 9 of his points in the final four-plus minutes of the game, plus he spent a chunk of his time covering and shutting down Derrick Rose on defense. In a game where the Miami Heat had to grab defensive rebounds, he had 10 boards. In the Heat’s biggest game of the season, he played his best.

Or maybe his best was last series against Boston, when he flat out took over the end of a couple games.

Either way, the narrative is changing. Look what Adrian Wojnarowski wrote at Yahoo.

This was clutch, winning basketball out of James. As closers go, this was pure Jordan, pure heartbreak.

“That’s why we put the ball in his hands,” Dwyane Wade(notes) said. “He’s going to make the big plays.”

Clutchness gets defined in odd ways. Some great shots or missed opportunities weigh more heavily than others. It’s a matter or perception, with some eye-of-the-beholder thrown in. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN tweeted this on Wednesday.

90% of clutch reputation can be explained by two factors: 1) Are you a shot-creator?; 2) Do you have a ring?

Coming into these playoffs, a lot of basketball fans would have said that LeBron was not clutch. He did not have that ring.

Things seem to be changing on both of those counts.

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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.