Swept, sad and still starving for another title, what’s next for LeBron James?

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CLEVELAND – LeBron James sat in his locker, covered by more ice than clothing and his right hand – which he injured while punching a whiteboard following the Cavaliers’ devastating Game 1 loss – wrapped. He hunched his towel-covered head into his left hand. He leaned back and slumped in his seat, the towel still hiding his face, and sat that way for several minutes.

LeBron looked beat.

By the Warriors, by the burden he carried leading an underwhelming supporting cast to the NBA Finals, by the weight of his second Cleveland tenure possibly ending.

Will he use his player option to leave the Cavs this summer?

“I have no idea at this point,” LeBron said after Golden State swept Cleveland in the NBA Finals. “The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family. Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So, I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that.”

A few days ago, LeBron spoke candidly about why he left the Cavaliers in 2010 – because the team wasn’t good enough. Tonight, he addressed why he returned in 2014.

“I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” LeBron said.

Did leading Cleveland to its first championship in 2016 finish that business?

“That’s a trick question at the end of the day,” LeBron said, “and I’m not falling for that.

“It made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships, and I still want to be in championship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”

The Cavaliers showed how they are not. They traded Kyrie Irving against LeBron’s wishes and whittled down their return for the star point guard to spare parts and the No. 8 pick – a valuable asset, but one that didn’t help the 2018 Cavs compete in these playoffs.

At times, LeBron’s weak supporting cast appeared to drive him mad. He vented at his teammates during a Game 4 timeout, and he melted down on the bench before Game 1’s overtime as he learned details of J.R. Smith‘s blunder. And, as we discovered, LeBron carried his frustration into the post-Game 1 locker room and tried to channel it through a whiteboard.

Gesturing while answering a question tonight, LeBron raised his right hand above the table and revealed a cast. The sound of cameras flickering overpowered the room.

“You guys like this brace, huh?” LeBron said, cracking a smile. “You guys like this cast, huh? You want me to sit it right here for you?

“Pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.”

It hurts now, but LeBron has been through too much – 15 seasons, eight straight NBA Finals appearances and now six Finals losses (behind only Jerry West’s eight and Elgin Baylor’s seven all-time) – to totally sulk through this latest challenge.

LeBron knows precisely what that challenge is. It was down the hall covering itself in champagne while LeBron sat silently at his locker and contemplated.

Finally, LeBron emerged from the locker room and turned right down the hall. Unaware LeBron was headed toward the interview room rather than leaving, a security guard called from behind that LeBron and his group should go another way to avoid crowds. LeBron stopped to sort out the confusion. Turns out, he was going the best way to the interview room, and he kept going.

After his press conference, LeBron walked out of the interview room and made a pointed turn toward Bill Russell. LeBron leaned down to embrace the legend in his wheelchair.

Then, LeBron headed straight for the exit.

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.