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Is Friday LeBron’s last game wearing a Cavaliers’ uniform?

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CLEVELAND — “My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio…. In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

LeBron James wrote that (with Lee Jenkins) in Sports Illustrated in 2014 to announce his return to Cleveland — and he lived up to that goal. He brought Cleveland a championship two years later, the first that city had seen in any sport in more than five decades. The hometown boy delivered.

Two year’s later, things feel decidedly different.

Is Friday night LeBron’s last game in a Cleveland Cavaliers’ uniform?

Will he leave Cleveland again as a free agent in 2018?

Nothing is set in stone, I don’t believe LeBron James has made a decision or picked a direction yet.

However, the more time spent around the team through the postseason, the more time spent watching the interactions of LeBron with teammates with management, the more time feeling the vibe around the franchise, the more it feels like the end of the relationship. It’s hard to ignore the vibe that he is leaving again. The two sides look tired of each other, or, to use the great phrasing of ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, there is an “organizational fatigue.”

It’s not something picked up in one key moment but rather in countless little ones.

It’s in the phrasing of comments LeBron has made, even over the course of these Finals. Any one of them, by themselves, could be dismissed, but taken as a group they point a direction. One headed out of town.

LeBron is too polished in interviews, too careful in his words and actions to have this many little things slip through.

“So I put our team in position to try to win a championship, to compete for a championship,” LeBron said after Game 1. “You know, it’s my job to make sure that we’re as focused, laser focused as possible, do my job, and continue to instill confidence into my teammates until the last horn sounds. That’s my job. That’s my responsibility. That’s my obligation, and I need to continue to do that, which I will.”

“Job,” “responsibility,” and “obligation” are not the words someone enjoying their situation uses. Taking out the trash or mowing the lawn are obligations.

Or, there is LeBron’s comment when questioned about not giving some kind of motivational speech to his team between the devastating end of the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 1.

“I mean, we’re in the NBA Finals. I mean, how much more picking up of teammates do you want me to do?” LeBron said.

Or, there is LeBron’s cold reception to team owner Dan Gilbert in a handshake line during the Finals.

Or, on Thursday, there was LeBron talking about the first time he left Cleveland, when that team was completely overmatched in terms of talent by the teams it had to beat. Those Cavaliers’ squads also lacked the mental skill of the teams they faced — a clear echo of this series.

“I felt like my first stint here I just didn’t have the level of talent to compete versus the best teams in the NBA, let alone just Boston,” LeBron said. “When you looked at (Rajon) Rondo and KG and Paul (Pierce) and Ray (Allen), you knew they were great basketball players. But not only great basketball players, you could see their minds were in it, too, when you were playing them.”

Then there was LeBron after the Game 3, talking wistfully about the ability of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to have an off night and the Warriors to have other stars (Kevin Durant, this time) who picks the team up. Unlike Cleveland, where LeBron has to play like Superman for the Cavaliers to even have a chance.

“You know, that’s why they’ve retooled this team, went out and got K.D. to where there’s really not much pressure on — you know, I won’t say any of them to score, but if one of them has a bad game, they have three or four guys that can actually pick up the load…

“So the best thing about their team is that if one of their stars goes down, they have two or three other stars that are still able to hold the ship until everybody gets back. Steph’s injury, him going down, K.D. and Klay (Thompson), who never misses a game, and Draymond (Green) still being in the lineup — if you look at the previous time when K.D. went down, the rest of those guys were in and held it until K.D. came back for the playoffs the year before that.”

It’s more than those comments and those moments. It’s the feel, the vibe around that team right now. It feels like the end of a relationship. The end of an era.

There’s no answer to where he will go, right now it’s as much an NBA intelligentsia parlor game as anything. The Lakers are a long shot. It’s hard to put a deal together to make him going to Houston work so that seems highly unlikely. Philadelphia has to get its own house in order first but may be the cleanest option. Maybe LeBron stays another year.

Fans in Cleveland recognize the end, and unlike 2010 seem to accept it — LeBron brought them the promised title, he has spent his money on education and charities in the region, he has not forsaken Cleveland and Akron. This time if he moves on, the feeling will be resignation rather than anger.

It feels like that time is coming.

But not for one more night. At least.

Bruce Bowen after Kawhi Leonard-related ouster: If Clippers can’t attract free agents to L.A., that’s on them, not me

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The Clippers ousted Bruce Bowen as TV analyst after he ripped Kawhi Leonard, a Clippers target in 2019 free agency.

The Dan Patrick Show:

Bowen:

Oh yeah, it was, well, basically, “We don’t view your views that way and because of your comments of Kawhi Leonard, we are choosing to go a separate way.”

One thing that I’ve thought about in all of this is that Kawhi never said, “I want to play for the Clippers.” Kawhi said he wanted to play for the Lakers. And so unfortunately, if you’re going to run your organization based on hopes, maybe, and getting rid of others – now, again, if I tore him down and I was disrespectful to him, that’s one thing. But that’s not the case. As an analyst, I’m supposed to talk about what I see and what I feel for this game that I love. And so, if you can’t do that, what does that say about your organization?

I don’t think I’m that powerful, where I would be the reason why someone would not want to go to a team. What are you doing? Are you playing, or are you listening? And if you are listening, then listen to the words that are said and receive the constructive criticism. Because that’s my job, to be critical of someone’s play. Now, if I’m just tearing a player down, that’s one thing. But I don’t think I’m big enough that someone would say, “You know what? I’m not going there, because Bruce Bowen is there, and he’s on the mic. I’m not going to deal with that.”

If you can’t get free agents in California – in Los Angeles, that is – that has nothing to do with Bruce Bowen. That has more to do with the organization.

It’s unclear whether Leonard prefers the Lakers or Clippers. I wouldn’t take Bowen’s telling as gospel on that.

It’s also worth revisiting exactly what Bowen said about Leonard:

“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?…

“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili]…

“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ … I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”

Despite his latest spin, Bowen didn’t simply critique Leonard’s play. Bowen ripped Leonard’s leadership and, more troublingly, implied Leonard wasn’t as hurt as the star forward claimed.

Bowen’s TV work was intertwined with the Clippers, an organization trying to win. Nobody should have ever viewed Bowen as an objective journalist. His job was, in part, to help the Clippers promote their product. That can, at times, include criticism of players. It’s just basketball. Critiques help fans understand the game and engage.

But this went beyond that, and I have a hard time siding with someone who suggested Leonard embellished his injury. We’re not in his mind or body. We can’t know he feels. Maybe Leonard was malingering, but I don’t see a better method than just giving him the benefit on the doubt.

Bowen is right: We shouldn’t overstate his importance to free agents. But this was also an opportunity for the Clippers to signal how well they look after players. Maybe Leonard will appreciate that. Maybe he won’t. It’s tough to get a read on the quiet Leonard. But he’s potentially so valuable, I understand trying to preemptively appease him.

Considering Bowen’s status as a Clippers-adjacent employee and what he actually said, ousting him looks fairly reasonable.

Watch Aretha Franklin own national anthem before 2004 NBA Finals Game 5

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The NBA is at its best when teams have strong identities, and the 2004 Pistons sure had one. Overlooked, proud and hustling, they fit the city they represented.

That’s why there was nobody better to sing the national anthem before their championship-clinching Game 5 of the NBA Finals than Aretha Franklin, who grew up in and proudly represented Detroit:

Franklin died at age 76 yesterday, and everyone who heard her music was blessed – anyone at The Palace of Auburn Hills that night particularly so.

Report: 76ers hire former WNBA No. 1 pick Lindsey Harding as scout

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The 76ers were reportedly looking for a female scout.

They’ve found her.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Philadelphia 76ers have hired former Duke and WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout for next season.

Harding – the No. 1 pick in the 2007 WNBA draft – played nine years in that league. She was an assistant coach for the Raptors’ summer-league team and completed the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associates Program. By all appearances, she’s well-qualified for her new position.

NBA teams haven’t hired enough women in basketball operations. Relative to men, there are far more women with an aptitude for these positions than are on NBA payrolls. Teams should hire the best person for the job, but fair consideration will lead to more women hired than currently.

At some point, an NBA team hiring a woman as a scout wouldn’t be so notable. But the league isn’t there yet.

Greg Monroe says he’s working on shot to help Raptors space floor

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Last season, Greg Monroe took zero three pointers. Not one in Phoenix, nor Milwaukee, and zero in Boston. He’s not a guy known for his shooting range, last season 90 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket. His game is old-school.

That’s not what is going to get Monroe more run in Nick Nurse’s unleashed offense in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry can drive into the paint, but they need shooters around them to space the floor and finish the shots they create. Monroe gets it and is trying to fint in, he told Josh Jewenberg of TSN.

 

We’re not going to nickname Monroe “Curry Jr.” but if becomes any kind of a threat beyond the paint it will help. It also would help Monroe’s longevity in the league.

That said, we’ll buy in when we see it. This is not some flip-the-switch change to make.