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Report: Raptors “strongly leaning” toward firing Dwane Casey as coach

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Dwane Casey is going to finish somewhere in the top three in the Coach of the Year voting. (It’s a very crowded field, more than a few guys could win it, but Casey had consistent backing from some voters.)

That may well not be enough to save his job.

After another sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers, changes are coming to Toronto. Changes to the roster are not going to be easy, and it will be hard to get equal value back. Which in the NBA often leads to the coach getting axed. That appears to be coming in Toronto, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN.

The evaluation period is ongoing but, according to sources, the Raptors are strongly leaning towards making a coaching change.

If he’s let go or, more likely, he and the team mutually agree to part ways, it won’t be an indictment of Casey or what he’s accomplished in his seven seasons at the helm of a franchise he’s helped turn around. After being swept out of the playoffs for the third time in four years – twice as the higher seed – the sense is it’s time for a new direction and a different voice.

Around the league, from sources outside Toronto, the expectation has been the same — Casey is going to be the fall guy.

Is that fair? Probably not. But “fair” and “NBA head coach” are not phrases ever meant for the same sentence.

As for a replacement, look for the Raptors to stay in-house with lead assistant Nick Nurse or G-League coach Jerry Stackhouse, both of whom have drawn interest from other teams and had interviews during this season of the coaching carousel. It’s unlikely the Raptors will look beyond their own house.

Does it matter who coaches the team if the roster doesn’t change? LeBron may well still be in the East, Philadelphia is young and improving, Boston is good and will get Gordon Hayward/Kyrie Irving back, Milwaukee should take a step forward with a new coach and system.

Changing the roster is not that simple. The Raptors would love to get out from under the two years, $45 million Serge Ibaka is still owed but no team is taking that deal on, he’s as close to untradable as a player can be. Jonas Valanciunas is owed a fairly-reasonable $16.5 million next season (with a $17.6 million player option the season after that) and he does provide value on the court, but he’s an old-school style center and that’s not the kind of player teams are looking to take on. To trade JV likely would mean taking a worse contract back or adding a sweetener such as Norman Powell or Delon Wright.

The big question: Is Masai Ujiri ready to try to trade DeMar DeRozan? There would be plenty of teams interested, although getting a fair deal back is not going to be easy.

All of this is going to make it one hot and interesting summer in Toronto.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.