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.

Report: 76ers happy with GM Elton Brand, who’s drawing Knicks interest

76ers owner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring 76ers general manager Elton Brand.

In New York, Brand would work under new Knicks president Leon Rose. Brand holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. So, Brand would likely go to New York only if fired by the 76ers.

Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

A team source on Wednesday confirmed Brand is under contract beyond this season and said the organization is very happy with his work since being named GM in 2018. The source cited Brand’s leadership and strong working relationships with players, agents, and executives around the league.

The 76ers are so pleased with Brand… someone said so without under the cloak of anonymity. If he wants to back Brand, 76ers owner Josh Harris can do so publicly. Otherwise, this is so weak.

Teams generally express support toward employees while the employees are still working for the team – whether or not the employees actually hold approval. A key way to tell whether the support is genuine? Check the source. Harris doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite. If he endorses Brand now then fires him soon, Harris would look silly. With this sourcing, nobody would get egg on his or her face if Brand gets ousted, because we don’t know the source.

I bet Brand does have good relationships with everyone. He has long connected well with others.

But his roster-building has fallen flat.

Inertia will probably keep him in his job. Philadelphia overachieving in the playoffs (whatever form they take) – certainly possible – would make that an easier call. It’s just difficult to build an affirmative case for Brand as a team’s lead executive.

Report: No chance of traditional NBA playoffs this season

NBA playoffs
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The NBA playoffs have a familiar format – four rounds, best-of-seven series, games in front of fans at home arenas.

But the coronavirus, which has forced the NBA into an indefinite stoppage and disrupted life around the world, makes that untenable. Don’t expect the league to wait until that’s workable, either.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

At this point, several team and league officials told SI.com, any chance of a traditional postseason is out.

A shortened playoffs in Las Vegas is gaining momentum. It’d allow the NBA, hemorrhaging money, to draw revenue sooner. A reduced postseason would also minimize disruption to future seasons.

But even that comes with major complications, especially containing coronavirus from undermining the entire operation. It could be a long time until its safe to hold games, even in a centralized location without fans.

It could be so long… a traditional playoffs could be back on the table. Though I find that unlikely, I’m still not convince people have a proper understanding of how lengthy this hiatus could be.

Everyone wants to finish the season. The playoffs are the NBA’s most lucrative time, and it feels right to crown a champion.

So, it’s good the focus is on alternative formats. It’d be naïve to expect business as usual when the NBA resumes.

Who should be drafted No. 1? Podcast talking NBC Sports mock NBA Draft.

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Should Anthony Edwards be the No. 1 pick?

Or James Wiseman? How would Obi Toppin fit with the Warriors?

More importantly, how is anyone preparing for a draft when nobody knows when it will take place?

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports — who just completed his mock draft — joins me to discuss what they know and don’t know about the 2020 NBA Draft, starting with having no idea when it will take place. We discuss Obi Toppin, Lonzo Ball, sleepers to watch, and everything in between in a draft preview podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Bucks hoping to complete title pursuit after coronavirus stoppage

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks remain confident the coronavirus pandemic won’t put a permanent halt to the season and that they’ll get to resume chasing their first league title in nearly half a century.

The Bucks had a league-best 53-12 record when play was suspended three weeks ago. With Giannis Antetokounmpo having a potential second straight MVP season, the Bucks seemed poised to make a run at the title that has eluded this franchise since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led them to an NBA championship in 1971.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst thinks they will get that opportunity.

“We believe that we’re going to play,” Horst said Wednesday in a conference call. “Everything that we’re doing every day in our communications, in our preparations, everything we talk about is being prepared to play at some point, finish out the season and have a resumption.”

That’s why Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has spent part of this hiatus making sure the Bucks don’t lose their edge whenever they do get back on the floor.

He’s been studying the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets — the Bucks’ two most likely first-round playoff foes — as well as other Eastern Conference teams Milwaukee could see later in the postseason. He’s tried to learn from his experiences as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach during the NBA’s most recent work stoppages.

“One of my reference points with the coaching staff has been lockouts,” Budenholzer said. “Sometimes when you come out of a lockout, things have been kind of slow, you haven’t been able to maybe do your normal routines and preparation, and things happen really fast. Whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker.”

His instructions to his players have focused on conditioning while understanding they might not have as much time to spend working on their basketball skills.

“I think that we feel that there are things they can continue to do as far as continuing to stay strong, continuing to maintain a conditioning level and really just put a lot of time and effort and energy into their bodies,” Budenholzer said.

After blowing a 2-0 lead to the eventual league champion Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee appeared to have all the elements in place to make a serious championship run this year before the pandemic struck.

The Bucks had just returned from a winless three-game trip west when the hiatus occurred, but that was the first time they had lost as many as two straight contests all season.

Despite their optimism and their confidence that league officials will do what’s best for the safety of everyone, the Bucks realize that play might not resume. However, Budenholzer said they aren’t thinking about what impact canceling the season might have.

“If for some reason this season is not played or there’s nothing to look forward to or to complete, I’ll process it then,” Budenholzer said. “I would add that I don’t think it’s being totally head-in-the-sand. I think hopefully watching news, listening to the commissioner, listening to whether it be Tony Fauci or Dr. (Deborah) Birx or whoever it is, it does feel like there is I think some realistic hope and belief that we will get through this.

“I know that there are some negatives, some less optimistic modeling, but literally all we think about is we are going to play and we want to be the best team when we do play so how do we prepare for that, how do we get better? It’s a great way to get through this.”