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Stars’ success fuels hope for mid-major prospects at NBA Draft Combine

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CHICAGO (AP) — As he watched Golden State take out Portland, A.J. English felt some mid-major pride, not to mention hope for his own future.

The guard from Iona saw two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson leading the Warriors back to the Western Conference finals, and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum leading the rebuilt Trail Blazers to a place few would have anticipated at the start of the season.

For English, watching was inspiring. He hopes to join their club, and the NBA Draft Combine this week is a crucial step.

“I know how it is,” English said Thursday. “You’ve got to kind of do the right things, always be on attack mode. The four guards that I watched last night were all from mid-majors – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. They have the mindset like they also struggled with that mid-major thing. The stories they tell and they show them on TV, I know exactly what they’re talking about right away. That’s the thing. It’s a group, club. I’d love to be a part of that club right now.”

The 6-foot-4 English is trying to convince NBA executives he is more than just a mid-major star as he tries to move up from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and in that sense, he has company. Oakland guard Kay Felder and Weber State forward Joel Bolomboy are trying to do the same.

“I kind of almost like when the mid-major players pop out of nowhere and just make a name for themselves just because that’s the situation I’m in – just trying to make a name for myself and get my name even bigger than it already is,” Bolomboy said.

They are among the many players gathered in Chicago this week trying to boost their stock for next month’s draft, whether that means getting chosen at all or being taken with one of the top picks.

California forward Jaylen Brown has no worries about getting drafted. The question for him is how high he will go.

He could be a fit for the Lakers, particularly if they wind up with the third pick and Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons are off the board.

An athletic wing player with the ability to outmuscle opponents and attack the basket, Brown even said Thursday he is trying to emulate Kobe Bryant‘s work ethic.

“They say `Kobe Bryant, he wakes up at 5:30 every morning,’ so I’m trying to do the same thing and kind of just catch up to him,” he said. “I know if that’s what it takes to be where he is then I’m going to try to do that, too.”

While there is little question he has the physical skills NBA teams seek, one area of concern is his outside shot. Brown hit just 29.4 percent of his 3-pointers in his lone season at California, but he does not have to worry about getting picked.

He is one of the biggest names in the draft, someone who figures to go early.

Felder said other players didn’t recognize him until he introduced himself. Then, they knew who he was – one of the nation’s top scorers and the leader in assists per game as well as the Horizon League Player of the Year.

“That’s pretty cool to have other guys notice you that you didn’t think would know you,” he said.

The 5-9 Felder opened a few more eyes by recording a 44-inch vertical leap at the combine. He said seeing his name on an NBA jersey this week is “like a dream come true.”

Bolomboy has been staying in Chicago, where his agent is based, the past 6 1/2 weeks, training in the gym where the Combine is being held. He described himself as an underrated player who has flown under the radar and is intent on showing he can make it in the NBA after being selected Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player.

“I feel like I can play with anybody,” he said. “With me knowing that, I feel like I fit in perfectly. Once you get together, the school you came from kind of goes out the door. Everybody’s just here. Everybody has the same opportunity and an equal chance to make a name for themselves so I don’t think I’m behind anybody. I don’t think I’m at a disadvantage.”

Cavaliers still look to trade, waive J.R. Smith before Sunday; He may ultimately be a Laker

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The math is simple: J.R. Smith is set to make $15.7 million next season, however, if he is waived before Sunday, the Cavaliers team — or whatever team he is a member of — only has to pay $3.9 million of that. For a team looking for salary cap savings in this fiscal year, that’s about as good a deal as can be found.

Which is why the Cavaliers listened to trade offers for Smith on draft night, but they didn’t jump at anything reports Chris Fodor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Thursday night hoping to trade JR Smith, but turned down a few offers that would have returned a first-round pick, league sources tell cleveland.com…

As of now, the Cavs are still trying to make a deal, according to sources familiar with those conversations, but it’s complicated and it has to be the right move, as general manager Koby Altman laid out when recapping the NBA Draft late Thursday night.

“We’re definitely going to investigate what we can do there,” Altman said. “There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we’re in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax.”

Those savings are why the Cavaliers may choose to just waive Smith themselves (in a trade they need to bring back $15 million or so in salary, so to pay the tax they need to get a player they really want). Cleveland understandably built a team on expensive, shorter contracts for veteran players around LeBron James — it helped bring them the 2016 title. Now they are still paying a price for that as they want to rebuild around youth, and Dan Gilbert doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax for a team that won 19 games last season.

One way or another, J.R. Smith is going to be a free agent.

Expect him to land with his old friend LeBron James and the Lakers, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo sports.

That makes sense. However they go about filling out the roster, the Lakers are going to have a number of minimum contract players on the bench and they will want veterans who can play with LeBron. J.R. Smith may be in decline (he shot 30.8 percent from three last season), but he fits that bill and can still make a few plays. Kyle Korver is in that same mold, someone Haynes points to as a fit with the Lakers.

Still, the guys taking the minimum are doing it for a reason, which means the Lakers can’t miss on other players they spend real money on this July. GM Rob Pelinka doesn’t have a

Masai Ujiri: DeMar DeRozan and I put aside differences and embraced in February

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Still bitter about being traded (to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard), DeMar DeRozan said in January he had no reason to speak to Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

DeRozan’s stance apparently softened when San Antonio played in Toronto in February.

Ujiri:

When San Antonio came here, I’ve never said this to anybody, but something unbelievable happened. DeMar came into our locker room, and to show you the class human being he is, he came up to me, and he hugged me, and he asked me how my family was doing.

It meant a lot for him to come and give me a hug. At the end of the day, this is life. Time heals things. And one day – I know I’m confident that one day, we’ll both sit down and talk about this.

Time heals nearly all wounds. Winning heals most wounds.

Ujiri has both on his side, and he didn’t even need the Raptors’ championship to get embraced by DeRozan. Ditto with Kyle Lowry, who rebelled in solidarity with his friend DeRozan but ultimately reconnected with Ujiri.

I always thought those days would come, and I share Ujiri’s optimism he and DeRozan will eventually have lengthier conversations. They’ve been through much together. Toronto’s title makes it even more difficult for DeRozan to hold a grudge. At some point, he will get on an even-better page with Ujiri.

As expected, Dallas reportedly set to offer Kristaps Porzingis max contract extension

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At his introductory press conference in Dallas, Kristaps Porzingis was asked if he planned to stay with the team as a free agent (there had been rumors he would take the one year, $4.5 million qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent, a rumor met with eye rolls around the NBA). Mark Cuban jumped in before Porzingis could answer the question:

“I can answer that for you. Yeah, he does.”

Dallas is about to put its money where Cuban’s mouth is and offer Porzingis a five-year max contract, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This was expected the day they traded for him. Dallas is betting big that Porzingis, coming off a torn ACL that cost him a season, can return to the form of an All-NBA level big man who plays 70+ games a season. The hope is in Porzingis and Luka Doncic the Mavs have their core for the future, their next Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pairing.

Expect Dallas to be aggressive chasing free agents this summer as well, they have been linked to Kemba Walker and Kevin Durant, although as long shots. Patrick Beverley and some other mid-level role players could be in Dallas future, and turn them into a dangerous team.

Report: Celtics to pursue Kemba Walker in free agency

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The Celtics appear set to lose Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency.

That’ll open a lot of cap space and create needs at point guard and center.

A possibility at starting point guard: Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Celtics project to have about $34 million in cap space. That’s enough to offer Walker a max contract that projects to be worth $141 million over four years.

But the Hornets can offer Walker a super-max contract that projects to be worth $221 million over five years. Charlotte and Walker have described each other as the priority.

The Lakers and Mavericks are also reportedly interested in the point guard.

Boston will face plenty of competition. Walker’s stellar player has earned him multiple good options.

The Celtics – with talented young wings like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and plenty of draft capital – look like one. They still have a reasonably bright future, and Walker would elevate their present.

But the same could be said of the Mavericks with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Lakers look even better immediately with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And the Hornets can offer all that money and the comfort of home.

There will be plenty for Walker to consider this summer.