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Reports: 76ers-Pelicans Jahlil Okafor trade talks include New Orleans sending 2018 first-rounder, Alexis Ajinca

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The Pelicans are tied for the NBA’s fifth-worst record.

They might be even worse next year.

That also might be someone else’s problem.

So, the rumored Jahlil Okafor trade apparently focus on New Orleans sending the 76ers its 2018, not 2017, first-round pick.

 

Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders:

Justin Verrier of ESPN:

The 2017 draft is loaded. The Pelicans might dream of Okafor lifting them in the playoff race, but that seems far-fetched. So, it’d be foolish to deal that 2017 first-rounder, at least depending on the protections.

Trading a 2018 first-rounder becomes even more logical for New Orleans when you consider general manager Dell Demps’ seemingly shaky job security. Okafor could help the Pelicans become more respectable in the short term — and if the center doesn’t, Demps might be gone for the 2018 draft.

That’s why the protections on the pick, even if it won’t convey until 2018, will still be so crucial.

As lousy as this season has gone for New Orleans (19-32), next year could be even worse.

Anthony Davis has missed just four games this season. He has never missed fewer than 14 games over a full season. The top members of his supporting cast so far this year, Jrue Holiday and Terrence Jones, head into unrestricted free agency next summer. Meanwhile, underwhelming performers Solomon HillE'Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca are locked into long-term contracts. The Pelicans’ clearest path to even reasonable cap space involves Holiday leaving.

Dumping Ajinca (owed $10,247,192 over the next two years) would help New Orleans a bit. He holds negative value (though having him on the books would be less costly for the 76ers, who are under the salary floor and have more cap space in coming years than they know what to do with).

But there are still numerous viable paths to the Pelicans declining — even while adding Okafor. Okafor, a talented interior scorer with majorly concerning defensive limitations, does not justify an all-in move.

If you’re a New Orleans fan looking for good news, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said Jahlil Okafor would start against the Pistons tonight. If the 76ers thought the trade were close, they’d probably sit Okafor until finalizing it.

Should Okafor escape tonight uninjured and these teams continue exploring the deal tomorrow, keep a close eye on the pick protections.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.