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Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova to return to lineup vs. Philadelphia 76ers

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CLEVELAND — Cavaliers star center Kevin Love will play in just his fifth game this season after being sidelined by a severe calf strain.

Coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Love – and guard Matthew Dellavedova, who hasn’t played in more than a year – are available Thursday night as the short-handed Cavs face the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s Love’s first action since March 14, when he came back after missing 32 games.

Dellavedova is making his season debut after being out with a concussion and appendectomy.

Bickertstaff said Love and Dellavedova, the only players left from the Cavs’ 2016 NBA title team, will be on a minutes restriction as they ease their way back into game shape.

Love played 45 total minutes in Cleveland’s first two games before missing more than two months with the injury, which he initially sustained during the exhibition opener and was only supposed to keep him out for a month.

The injury lingered, and the five-time All-Star struggled to gain enough confidence to play at less than 100%.

The 32-year-old Love returned for his first game since Dec. 27 on March 12 and played 10 minutes against New Orleans. Two nights later, his calf didn’t feel right against Atlanta and the Cavs decided to shut Love down and give the injury more time to heal.

Dellavedova hasn’t played since March 10, 2020, the final game before the Cavs’ season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He sustained a head injury during the preseason and was close to coming back when he felt ill and had his appendix removed in February.

“He’s extremely grateful to be able to play the game,” Bickerstaff said. “Our conversation, he just talked about how appreciative he was, how we’ve dealt with this and been patient in giving him this opportunity. He loves the game of basketball, he throws his heart into it completely.

“So you can imagine how frustrating and how difficult this process has been for a guy like that. But he’s extremely appreciative and grateful and he’s definitely excited about getting back on the court and joining his teammates.”

The Cavs need both Love and Dellavedova back with forwards Larry Nance Jr. (illness), Dylan Windler (knee soreness) and center Jarrett Allen (concussion) all out.

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Chris Paul declines $44 million player option for next season

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Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul has formally declined the $44 million player option on his contract for next season, but both Paul and the Suns are motivated to negotiate a new deal once talks can begin at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Sunday.

Paul had a midnight ET deadline to decline the option and become an unrestricted free agent.

Paul was faced with the decision after coming just two wins away from the first championship of his 16-year career in his first season with the Suns.

The 11-time All-Star is coming off a season in which he averaged 16.4 points on 49.9 percent shooting (39.5 percent from 3), 8.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game

Following the Suns’ Game 6 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals, Paul seemingly hinted at interest in staying in Phoenix to help the Suns get over the hump.

“I think for me, I just look at myself and figure out how can I get better, what I could have done more and make sure I come back next season ready to do it again,” he said.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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Miami Heat positioning to become frontrunners to land Kyle Lowry in sign-and-trade with Toronto Raptors

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The Miami Heat are positioning themselves to become front-runners to land Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade agreement once discussions are permitted to begin with the opening of NBA free agency on Monday, sources told ESPN.

Lowry has long been intrigued with joining Heat star Jimmy Butler and the Miami organization, and now Miami has maneuvered to have two key elements of a possible sign-and-trade package — guard Goran Dragic and forward Precious Achiuwa — to offer the Raptors once talks can ensue at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, sources said.

While negotiations on sign-and-trade agreements aren’t allowed to begin until free agency opens, teams are able to prepare for scenarios and those contingencies are beginning to take shape inside front offices ahead of Monday.

Lowry’s free agency decision promises to have a domino effect throughout the league, where several free agent point guards are looking to line up with teams wanting new starters at that position.

The Heat picked up the option on Dragic’s $19.4 million contract for the 2021-2022 season, making him an ideal contractual fit to include in talks to make a deal possible with the Raptors. A market exists for the Raptors to move Dragic, 35, onto a new team, including the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans, sources said.

Achiuwa, a well-regarded 2020 first-round pick out of the University of Memphis, showed significant promise in his rookie season and would serve as a sweetener to Toronto to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal, sources said. Miami could add draft assets to a package, too.

Dragic has been a longtime mentor to Mavericks star Luka Doncic, both natives of Slovenia. They also share an agent, Bill Duffy of BDA Sports. The Raptors have Fred Van Vleet returning at point guard, and drafted playmaker Scottie Barnes out of Florida State with the No. 4 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.

Lowry, 35, made $30 million in the final year of his contract and is seeking a deal in a similar neighborhood of starting annual salary over multiple years with his new team, sources said. New Orleans and Dallas are two teams with salary cap space and strong interest in Lowry who are beginning to search elsewhere for starting point guard help, sources said.

Because Miami doesn’t have the salary cap space to sign Lowry outright, the Heat are motivated to provide the Raptors with assets that would incentivize Toronto’s participation in helping Lowry land in Miami.

Lowry could sign into cap space with Dallas or New Orleans, which would cause Toronto to lose Lowry for nothing.

Lowry has been a six-time All-Star since arriving in Toronto in 2012 in a trade and helped the franchise win an NBA title in 2019.

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Kawhi Leonard declines $36 million player option for next season

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Kawhi Leonard has declined his $36 million player option for next season to become a free agent, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Sunday.

The expectation is that Leonard will negotiate a new deal to remain with the LA Clippers, according to Wojnarowski. Leonard can potentially sign a four-year, $176.2 million deal or could do a one-and-one and become a free agent in 2022, when he could sign a five-year deal worth $235 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

Leonard’s decision to decline his option comes in the wake of July 13 surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL that kept him out of the Clippers’ final eight playoff games. Leonard is expected to miss significant time as he rehabs his injury.

“We hope to have a very long-term relationship with him,” Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said last week. “… Right now our focus, like Kawhi, is on his health. He had major surgery. He tore his ACL. That’s going to require a great deal of time and we want to support him in that.”

Leonard said back in December that declining his option doesn’t mean he is necessarily leaving the Clippers.

“Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option,” Leonard said in December. “But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying.”

Leonard averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 52 regular-season games during his second campaign with the Clippers. He missed nine out of 10 games in April because of a foot injury.

Prior to Leonard’s knee injury, the Clippers got a glimpse of their potential with Leonard and Paul George playing their best basketball together on the playoff stage. Leonard averaged 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 57.3 percent in 11 postseason games.

After the Clippers reached their first Western Conference finals in franchise history, they hope to bring back their biggest free agents like Leonard, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. Center Serge Ibaka opted into the second year of his deal on Saturday.

Leonard’s decision to decline his player option was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

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