Dan Feldman

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Report: Celtics, Nuggets, 76ers frontrunners to trade for Tyreke Evans

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Grizzlies guard/forward Tyreke Evans might be the player most likely to get traded before Thursday’s deadline.

He’s having a good year on a bad team and will be a free agent next summer. It’ll take cap space or the mid-level exception to give him a starting salary more than $3,948,000. The way he has played, he might draw even more than the mid-level exception, which is all capped-out Memphis is likely to have available. The Grizzlies have already sent him home in anticipation of a trade.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

As a scorer/ball-handler/playmaker who can play all three perimeter positions, Evans could help all those teams.

But is he worth the first-round pick Memphis wants? That’s the key question as the deadline looms.

Would the Grizzlies take bad long-term salary to get a better pick? Is Evans career-high 39% 3-point shooting, up from 31% for his career, sustainable? Those are a couple of smaller questions teams on each side of a deal must assess to answer the larger question.

Report: LeBron James still won’t waive his no-trade clause

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LeBron James was reportedly set on not waiving his no-trade clause to leave the Cavaliers this season.

The Cavs are doing nearly all they can to test his commitment.

Is LeBron having second thoughts?

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This is the best sign in a while LeBron will stay with Cleveland next summer.

LeBron said before the season he still planned to finish his career with the Cavaliers, and many of the reasons he returned in 2014 remain intact: He wants to live in his native Northeast Ohio. He wants to bolster his legacy with a homecoming. He wants to market a homecoming.

Approving a trade now would undercut all that.

Perhaps, LeBron still leaves this offseason. But he’s not ready to abandon his Cleveland plan quite yet.

Escaping shadow of LeBron James’ tweet, Shabazz Napier seizing opportunity with Trail Blazers

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DETROIT – When Shabazz Napier led Connecticut to the 2014 national title, LeBron James – then with the Heat and months before free agency – tweeted:

That was atypical thinking. Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis were generally rated higher than Napier, and Elfrid Payton also got drafted higher. Napier was commonly seen as a second-round pick.

Miami traded up to get him with the No. 24 pick, anyway. Though Heat president Pat Riley downplayed LeBron’s involvement in the selection, LeBron was clearly pleased.

But LeBron still bolted for the Cavaliers a couple weeks later, leaving Napier in Miami with an organization that wasn’t necessarily sold on him.

“I knew for a fact they picked me because LeBron,” Napier said. “Which is understandable. I would want to keep the best player on the planet, too. So, that sucked for me.”

Napier tried not to let it affect him, but he couldn’t help but notice how LeBron’s tweet loomed over his pro career.

“To everyone else, it was big. Whenever he says something, it’s big. And that’s because of the impact he has,” Napier said. “But, to me as a person, I always try to live in the moment. I don’t look at it as, ‘Oh, this guys said my name.’ He doesn’t make that big of an impact on my life.

“Unless it’s like my mother or something like that, no one else has a big impact on my life to make me feel a certain way.”

Napier said he lacked confidence throughout his rookie year, taking the blame for that and noting he was too immature. But he also clearly believes he deserved more than fringe-rotation minutes.

“I felt like they didn’t really give me an opportunity,” Napier said.

The next offseason, the Heat traded him to the Magic of practically no return.

“When I went to Orlando, I thought there was going to be an opportunity,” Napier said. “But there wasn’t, really.”

Napier’s production regressed, as his role shrunk even further. He didn’t look cut out for the NBA.

After only one year, Orlando sent him to the Trail Blazers – again, for no real return. In Portland, his role remained minor last season and to begin this season.

But Napier appears to be finally coming into his own.

Shooting more efficiently than ever while remaining pesky defensively, Napier ranks sixth among backup point guards in real plus-minus:

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Napier has made solid gains in most facets of his game, but the biggest change has come with interior scoring. At 6-foot-1, he struggled mightily in the paint against bigger NBA players. After shooting 39% his first three years, Napier has made 57% of his shots in the restricted area this season.

His 3-point percentage has also improved – to 40%, up from 35% his first three seasons. The outside-inside game is producing 9.4 points in 21.6 minutes per game, tilting defenses and creating passing lanes.

Napier can sometimes get overpowered defensively, but he makes up for it with a knack for getting steals.

Important for any Trail Blazers role player, Napier also plays well with both C.J. McCollum (+6.7 points per 100 possessions) and Damian Lillard (+10.9 points per 100 possessions).

But Napier might not be long for Portland.

The Trail Blazers already have $110,456,026 committed to just eight players next season, and that doesn’t even account for pending restricted free agent Jusuf Nurkic. The luxury-tax concerns don’t dissipate in 2019-20, when Portland has $110,128,053 committed to seven players (including rookie-scale options for Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, but not a probably re-signed Nurkic).

Considering their ability to stagger Lillard and McCollum as lead guards, the Trail Blazers might deem Napier a luxury they can’t afford. Heck, they might not even extend his $3,452,308 qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent.

The way Napier is playing, he might fetch more in free agency. Plenty of teams could use him as a backup point guard, and someone could devote a nice chunk of its mid-level exception to signing Napier.

If he’s bound to leave Portland this summer, could the Trail Blazers preemptively trade him for return before Thursday’s deadline? They should consider it. Shedding him and a minimum-salary player (Pat Connaughton or Jake Layman) would allow Portland to dodge the tax this season.

But tied for sixth in the West at 29-25, the Trail Blazers are also trying to win this season. Having Napier helps. It’s unclear how a cost-cutting move would sit with Lillard.

No matter where he ends the season, free agency will be a big opportunity for Napier. After four years at UConn, he’s already 26. This could be his only shot at a major payday.

Portland coach Terry Stotts credited Napier with working extremely hard last summer in advance of a contract year. That’s why Stotts believes Napier has improved so much, though he recognizes another explanation.

“Probably, if you ask him, he’s given an opportunity,” Stotts said.

In that regard, Napier has finally found a team on the same page as him.

“Everyone talks about I’m playing better,” Napier said. “I think it’s just all about opportunity.”

Report: With 2018 hopes fading, Lakers might aim for 2019 free-agency splash

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The Lakers have been building to chase two stars this summer. The biggest names tied to that plan:

So, where does that leave the Lakers?

Ramona Shelburne and  Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

As the Los Angeles Lakers become more realistic about the franchise’s chances of snaring superstars in the free agent class of 2018, the front office is increasingly looking through a longer lens in its team building process, league sources told ESPN.

The Lakers aren’t abandoning a summer pursuit of stars, but rather recalibrating on the possibility of a 2019 class that could include San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, league sources told ESPN.

This is just the Lakers posturing and spinning as they lose battles. They haven’t given up on the war, but it’s clear the fight is tougher than they anticipated.

Of course, the Lakers still want to add a star or two this summer. No team would wait an additional year if not necessary. A key step in that process is shedding Luol Deng‘s and maybe Jordan Clarkson‘s contracts. Letting Julius Randle walk – or preemptively trading him now – is also imperative. How do the Lakers maximize their return for Randle and Clarkson and minimize the cost of dumping Deng? Convincing teams they’re not desperate to make a splash this summer and are willing to wait until 2019.

On one hand, waiting would work. The Lakers can keep building with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Larry Nance Jr. and Josh Hart. Of that group, only Nance’s cheap rookie-scale contract will expire by 2019 – and his cap hold ($6,817,172) will be low that summer. Each season the Lakers pay Deng and Clarkson, the easier it becomes to trade them.

On the other hand, waiting until 2019 will make it tricky to handle Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez in free agency this summer. The Lakers shouldn’t commit to multi-year deals if they’re prioritizing 2019, but they also need to win in the interim to impress 2019 free agents. It’s tough to add as much talent on expiring and one-year contracts as this year’s Lakers did.

And how long until Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler fall through as targets? He’s not there yet, but Magic Johnson is moving one step closer to becoming like Jim Buss.