DeMarre Carroll, Dwane Casey say LeBron James is NBA's best player
Nobody should accuse the Raptors of disrespecting LeBron James
TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors do not want to give LeBron James any bulletin-board material. Speaking on a conference call a day after beating the Miami Heat to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, Raptors coach Dwane Casey called the Cleveland Cavaliers star the best player in the league.
"In my heart, I feel like LeBron James is the best player in the NBA right now," Casey said Monday. "They didn't ask me for my vote, so I didn't give it to 'em. But he does so many things for his team offensively and defensively that you can take all the other stuff, what he brings to the team, some of it you can't even quantify."
Casey also dismissed the notion that Raptors guard Kyle Lowry's post-Game 7 interview was a slight to James -- Lowry told ESPN's Doris Burke that "LeBron's probably one of the best players in the league besides Steph" while saying that he looked forward to playing against Cleveland.
"There's nothing but respect in our locker room and our organization for LeBron James," Casey said. "Anybody who thinks anything different or is trying to make anything out of that has nothing else to write about or tweet about or whatever they're doing."
If James has big scoring nights against Toronto, that's part of the plan. The Raptors want to be physical with him and make him earn his points, but they most importantly want to stop him from being a facilitator. If this postseason has taught us anything about the Cavs, it is that they are most dangerous when their stars are making each other better.
Cleveland steamrolled the Detroit Pistons and the Hawks in consecutive sweeps by sharing the ball and making a zillion 3-pointers. The last thing Casey wants to see is James creating wide-open looks for Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Channing Frye.
"What he brings to the table now is probably more lethal than his scoring, his post-up ability, his attacking ability," Casey said. "I've said this all along and when we were preparing for him when he was in Miami: his passing is probably his biggest weapon. Not only that, because he's such a smart player, he sees the floor, he finds those shooters, and they don't even have to move their hands. It's not like some of the passes, you're getting the passes at your ankles or over your head and you got to get it in your shot pocket. He puts it right on your numbers and you better have your hands ready or it'll go through your chest."
When Toronto's series against the Cavaliers starts on Tuesday, DeMarre Carroll will be matched up with James. Carroll guarded James this time last year, too, as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, but he suffered a knee injury in the first game and basically played one one leg later in the series.
"It's great man, just to be able to get the opportunity again," Carroll said Sunday. "These moments, these times don't come often. So I feel like, just to be able to get out there and play against, I feel like he's the best player in the world, it's a great opportunity."
After the Cavs swept the Hawks last season, James sought out Carroll to give him a hug and some words of encouragement. Back in September at training camp, Carroll said James was "just showing me that he appreciates how hard I come out and compete every day." It was obvious back then that Carroll wanted another chance when healthy.
"In order to make a name for yourself, you gotta play against the best," Carroll said in September. "That's how I feel. Whenever I play against the best, that's my time to shine. It's my time to display my talents and show everybody in the world who DeMarre Carroll is. So guys like that, I'm really always up for."
Carroll missed 56 games due to foot and knee injuries after signing a four-year, $60 million contract last summer. Casey said that Carroll is still "kind of feeling his way through" offensively, but is "exactly what we needed" as a defender. The Raptors do not have anyone with his combination of size, strength and defensive instincts, and they've used him against Paul George and Dwyane Wade in the playoffs.
When Carroll was sidelined, he told himself he could help Toronto get over the hump. Now that the Raptors are in the conference finals for the first time in franchise history, he thinks he has done that.
"That's what they brought me here to do," Carroll said. "I'm not going to get all the glitz and the glamor and the love, but I know what I bring to this team. And I think my teammates know."
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