LeBron James, on Heat trying to make history by coming back from a 3-1 Finals deficit: ‘Why not us?’

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SAN ANTONIO — The Miami Heat are facing a deficit from which no team has managed to return in the history of the NBA Finals. But in the eyes of LeBron James, that’s more of an opportunity than it is an impossible mission.

“Why not us,” James said, when asked what his pregame message would be to his teammates before they took floor for Sunday night’s Game 5. “Why not us? History is broken all the time, and obviously we know we’re against the greatest of odds. No team has ever come back from a 3‑1 deficit in the Finals, but there was a point where no team came back from a 2‑0. There was a point where no team came back from a 3‑0. There was a point where no team came back from a 3‑1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals, and then Phoenix did it [against the Lakers in 2006]. One of our teammates was on that team, James Jones.

“There is a point where no team came back from a 3‑1 or 3‑0 deficit in the ALCS, and then the Red Sox did it against the Yankees,” James continued. “So history is made to be broken, and why not me be a part of it? That would be great. That would be a great story line, right? But we’ll see what happens. I’ve got to live in the moment, though, before we even get to that point.”

A very relaxed James spoke to reporters at the Spurs practice facility on Saturday, and was comfortable, engaging and conversational when answering every question that was asked. It was a far cry from the way he had handled the pressure of losing in the Finals just a few short years ago, and he admitted that getting over the championship hump was a huge relief that allows him to be more calm now in the face of such dire circumstances.

“Well, I mean, two championships helps that,” James said, when asked about seeming more even emotionally than he has in years past. “It helps it, for sure. But understanding what means a lot to me. Understanding what’s important and understanding what’s not important allows me to kind of just live in the moment and not focus on what’s happened in the past. I can’t control the past. I can’t redo it. I can live in the present, try to affect the future and live with the results while I’m in it.”

James isn’t being naive here; he knows as well as anyone just how much the odds are stacked against a Heat comeback in this series. But he’s managing to keep it all in perspective, which could help alleviate the pressure associated with an elimination game that could potentially affect his long-term legacy.

“I was extremely upset, sad, very emotional to myself after 3 and 4,” James said, when asked to explain his frame of mind and his apparent congenial state. “I mean, you ask me, all the bad emotions you could have. Today is a new day. I have another opportunity to help this team keep our season going.

“I’m in a good place in my life,” he said. “It’s basketball. I understand it’s the media and the sport is the greatest sport in the world. I love it. It’s done so many great things for me, but it’s just basketball. I go all into it, and I give everything to this game. But right after Game 4, I was in the ice tub in the locker room, and my two boys came running in there talking about let’s play some more basketball. I was like, If y’all don’t get away from me ‑‑ it’s the last thing I want to do right now.

“But it puts things in perspective, and I’m able to have a clear head about it.”

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.