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Shabazz Napier Thriving in Portland but Might Not Be Immune to Trade

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-18 season has been a breakout for Portland Trail Blazers guard Shabazz Napier, whose NBA career got off to a rocky start just four years ago. Drafted by the Miami Heat in an effort to appease then free agent LeBron James, Napier landed with a team that had no specific plans for him after James left—a situation that Napier spoke candidly about with Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk.

“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.

The Heat would trade Napier to the Orlando Magic for a top-55 protected second-round pick after his rookie season, where his role diminished further before being sent to Portland in exchange for cash considerations in July of 2016.

A lot has changed since then. Napier is one of the league’s premiere backup point guards, slotting in behind and often alongside the Trail Blazers’ elite backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. For the first time in his career he has seen a consistent role, thanks to his efficient scoring and unrelenting defensive effort. No longer the 14th or 15th man, he’s comfortably top-5 on his team.

But his newfound success in Portland may make it harder for him to stay long-term. The Trail Blazers are in a terrible money crunch following the historic free-agent spending of 2016 that saw nearly a quarter billion dollars spent between Allen Crabbe (since traded), Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Meyers Leonard. Napier, bound for free agency this summer—restricted or otherwise—may command a higher price than the Trail Blazers are willing to pay.

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.

This begs the question: Should the Trail Blazers trade Shabazz Napier ahead of the deadline? According to Feldman, “They should consider it.”

The Trail Blazers presently hold a record of 29-25, good for the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference. Although hope springs eternal in Portland (as does despair), a championship remains unlikely in the immediate future—unlike a luxury tax bill unless something changes.

Packaging Napier with a minimum-salary player would “allow Portland to dodge the tax this season,” per Feldman. Of course, moving Napier is just one of many possibilities for Portland at the trade deadline, and they certainly do not wish to lose what he gives them on the court.

At the same time, that spark, that grit that makes him special, is exactly what makes a deal potentially doable. Despite countless fan concoctions in the ESPN trade machine, buyers at the deadline want value and most teams are sellers this year anyway. So, it is a lot more challenging to move players with massive contracts and minimal impact. Napier is just the opposite.

The NBA trade deadline is just two days away. Would you consider selling high on Napier, or is he too vital to backcourt chemistry and Portland’s current playoff aspirations?

You can read Feldman’s full article here.