Paul George

The Lakers got off way too easy on that tampering charge

The Lakers got off way too easy on that tampering charge

There are a couple of things that really bothered me about that $500,000 fine the Lakers got for tampering with Paul George, who was then under contract to the Indiana Pacers.

First, it was not enough of a penalty for a team that was previously warned about tampering with George. By now, you've probably seen this clip from the Jimmy Kimmel Show that features Laker President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson joking about tampering with George. After that show aired, the league specifically sent a warning to the Lakers.

But the Lakers later defied that order when General Manager Rob Pelinka spoke to George's agent. To me, that takes the tampering to an entirely different level. I was shocked the league didn't either take a draft choice away from Los Angeles or, better yet, bar them from signing George a year from now when he becomes a free agent.

The Lakers were caught with their hand in the cookie jar and instead of pulling the hand away, they just dug deeper. That tells you something about the respect that franchise has for the league office.

Does $500,000 sound severe to you? Well, certainly not as tough as when the league took $3.5 million and five draft picks away from Minnesota for an illegal agreement with Joe Smith. That deal also led to front-office suspensions and the Timberwolves being prohibited from signing Smith. On the surface, making an illegal deal seems much worse than whet the Lakers did but really, making illegal contact with the agent of a player a year away from free agency is very serious, too. Particularly when you've been warned not to do it.

I think back to the Trail Blazers being fined $250,000 in 1984 for illegal contact with Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. It was a huge sum at the time and all the Trail Blazers did was agree to explain the salary cap to the players prior to the draft. At that time, a quarter of a million was a whole lot of money. And at a time when the league wasn't nearly as prosperous as the NBA is now.

Of course, those fines were levied by then-commissioner David Stern. I believe the current administration led by Adam Silver is much softer -- on players and ownership. It's a go-along, get-along kind of league now. Everything is cool. Silver just keeps smiling.

Fining the Lakers a half million in today's NBA is a joke. The Lakers -- a company worth billions -- probably spend that much on post-game spreads in the family room. Sure, there is all sorts of tampering going on now -- but what a perfect time to make an example of a team breaking the rules. Certainly a $500,000 fine isn't going to deter a team from illegal contact.

I mean, why bother with those tampering rules if you aren't going to enforce them?

And does anybody think the Pacers would have gotten the same treatment had they tampered with a Laker player? I don't think so. It's no secret the NBA wants the Lakers strong again and wasn't anxious to do anything that would impede their growth.

It's too bad.

 

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

As I sit back and watch another free-agent frenzy unfold in the NBA, I wish I could tell you where this is all going.

It seems to me there's a pretty good chance that in just a few seasons, nearly every team in the league that matters is going to be capped out. If there's money available under the cap, teams spend like a lottery's instant millionaires. It appeared the Trail Blazers dished out some pretty spendy deals last summer, but -- just as Neil Olshey said -- those deals look commonplace or even cheap compared to what's going on this year.

Yes, Allen Crabbe is going to be making about $18.5 million a season for the next three seasons. Maurice Harkless a little over $10 million for each of the next three, Evan Turner about $18 million a season and Meyers Leonard a little over $10 million per year.

Well, if you haven't noticed, Taj Gibson is going to be getting about $14 million a year over the next two years, Serge Ibaka about $21 million per season over the next three, Amir Johnson has a one-year deal for $11 million, Joe Ingles is going to earn $13 million a year over the next four, J.J. Redick has a one-year deal for $23 million and how about Jrue Holiday getting $25 million a year for the next five seasons?

And yes, Portland tied up Damian Lillard at an average of about $28 million a year over the next four seasons and CJ McCollum for a little more than $25 million a season over the next four years. Those deals are already looking like a bargain.

Paul Millsap just signed for three years at $90 million with Denver. Good player, but wow. Blake Griffin is going to get $173 million over the next five (probably injury-riddled) seasons with the Clippers. Kyle Lowry is going to be getting a total of $100 million over the next three seasons and Steph Curry is reported to be getting $201 million over the next five years.

Whew!

The NBA has become Escalation Station as far as salaries are concerned. It has always been that way, too. I can recall back in the 1980s when I was covering the team for The Oregonian, a young player actually called me when he signed his second contract, so excited he just couldn't keep the dollar figure a secret. "I'm getting two million over four years," he said. "I'm a millionaire."

About a year later, after inflation did its usual thing, that deal didn't look very sweet after all.

"I'm playing for chump change," he told me. "I'm getting screwed."

True story.

And as the numbers go up, the ability to shed salaries and clear cap space becomes more important. The Trail Blazers have work to do in that area but remember, when you do that, you usually lose players with some degree of talent -- which has an impact on team performance.

"Cap Space" doesn't look any better running up and down the court than "Cash Considerations."

Everyone was excited for Portland to go all-in on the Paul George Sweepstakes -- which it did. Olshey's offer of all three first-round picks in the recent draft PLUS a player of Indiana's choosing outside the Big Three was probably the real deal, although I did hear that it could have ended up with the Pacers choosing two players rather than one.

That would clear cap space when George departed a year from now. I know a lot of fans would have been overjoyed with a George deal -- a lot of them seemed ecstatic at the prospect of a season of futility chasing Golden State at the cost of long-range goals. For me, I'm fine with the two draft picks. I think there's a real chance at least one of them will pop. At some point, salaries will be dumped and that will mean their talent will go out the door with them.

As I said, I can only guess where this is going -- in Portland or the rest of the league. But I'm more convinced than ever that the great baseball general manager Bill Veeck was so prescient when he said many decades ago, "It isn't the high price of stars that is expensive, it's the high price of mediocrity."

Forget the likes of Paul George, Blazers need to stay patient and build

Forget the likes of Paul George, Blazers need to stay patient and build

I think back to the Trail Blazers' first-round exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Golden State Warriors and can't help but smile.

So many people were frustrated and disappointed that the Blazers were swept. They expected more out of their team and couldn't accept that they couldn't win one game or even take a game down to the final shot before losing.

Well, how does that look now? Nobody in the West could handle those guys and I don't expect that to change anytime soon.

So if somebody asks me what we learned from the playoffs to this point it's that fans of the Trail Blazers must find some patience. Folks, you aren't close enough to the Warriors -- barring a miracle or catastrophic injury to more than one Warrior player -- to challenge them anytime soon. It's just not yet realistic to believe.

Yes, Portland improved last season with the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic. But the Blazers -- and just about everyone else in the West -- still have a long way to go.

That's where the patience -- and some understanding of the situation -- comes in.

Instead of making a futile, desperate effort to beat what appears to be at least a temporary dynasty, it's best to plan to be the franchise on the rise. You want to be the team patiently putting the building blocks together so that when the Warriors begin to fade, you will be ready to challenge. The Trail Blazers are doing this -- making incremental changes to improve their roster WITHOUT MORTGAGING THE FUTURE! I give them full credit for resisting the pressure to make a panic move.

The Celtics have done that, too. General Manager Danny Ainge has resisted the urges of fans and media to pull the trigger on a big deal that would cost his franchise all those draft picks and young players. He's been waiting for the Cavaliers to drop back a little. But Boston has been ahead of schedule getting to the Eastern Conference finals and has nothing to lose at this point. I think, though, it's obvious the Celts are still a player or two away from being able to seriously challenge Cleveland.

Of course, that's what Boston's first-round pick is for this season.

The key thing to remember, Portland is not -- and should not -- be in the market for a high-priced rent-a-player. This is not the time for a big-ticket free agent who will be here for a season and then head to another franchise. One season of Paul George, for example, would not do this team any good and it's time people --including Portland players -- stopped talking about it. George has his sights set on southern California, most likely with the Lakers, and the price that would have to be paid to acquire him is too steep.

Now don't misunderstand me, if there's a chance for Portland to make a major leap by trading multiple players not including Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Nurkic, I would expect the Trail Blazers to do so. As long as the player acquired is under team control for the long term. This is no time to roll the dice on a futile one-year mission to catch Golden State.

The plain truth is, those guys are just too good right now. Whether they win the title this season or not, it's one of the most formidable rosters ever put together in the NBA. At some point, though, that roster will split up through injury or free agency and come back to the pack.

The smart play is the long play. Be the team in waiting.

Build. And build one piece at a time, taking the long view. Think about two or three seasons from now. Be smart and strategic. Develop the players who are here now -- there is time for improvement, individually and as a team. Use the time as a positive so that when the situation is right, this team is fully prepared to make the next step.

Yes, that's going to be difficult for some fans (and players) to swallow but until we see signs of cracks in the Golden State foundation, it's best to show some patience.

It's a virtue, you know.

 

Blazers skid to another painful loss

Blazers skid to another painful loss

INDIANAPOLIS -- One game after perhaps their most stunning loss of the season, the Trail Blazers absorbed another gut punch Saturday in Indiana when they lost a 20 point lead and eventually disintegrated in the fourth quarter of a 118-111 loss to the Pacers. 

The Blazers (12-13) were a comedy of errors and miscues in the fourth quarter, which included two air balls, a shot that only hit backboard, two passes to no one that ended up in the stands and a five-second inbounding violation. The Blazers at one point went more than 5:30 without a field goal and they started the quarter by missing their first five shots. All told, the Blazers scored 13 points in the fourth, while allowing 28 to Indiana. 

It was the third straight loss for Portland, and this one came even though Damian Lillard (33 points) and CJ McCollum (34 points) were at the top of their offensive games. Indiana, which trailed by eight entering the fourth quarter, sealed the game when Paul George grabbed his own miss from a scrum of players and rose between Lillard and McCollum and dunked, giving Indiana a 114-109 lead with 31.4 seconds left. Indiana improved to 12-12 while avenging a 131-109 loss to Portland earlier this month.

George led the Pacers with 37 points and Thaddeus Young added 24 points and nine rebounds. Indiana made 15-of-29 three-pointers. 

After leading 58-38 in the second quarter, the Blazers led 98-90 entering the fourth, but Indiana scored the first nine points ... as Portland stumbled around. Evan Turner airballed a baseline jumper and a McCollum had a straight-on shot that drew only backboard. Meanwhile, an Allen Crabbe pass intended for Meyers Leonard sailed untouched into the scorers table, and later Lillard passed into the first row of the stands, thinking Mason Plumlee would go one way, when in reality, he went the other.  

Maurice Harkless returned to the starting lineup after missing Wednesday's game in Memphis with a sprained left ankle, and Ed Davis returned to his starting role. Harkless scored the game's first basket on a driving layin and finished with seven points and one rebounds in 31 minutes. Davis had six points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu, who landed hard on his back late in the Memphis loss, warmed up but did not play because of a bruised back. 

Portland built leads as large as 20 in the second quarter, but Indiana fought back and trailed only 71-64 at halftime, thanks in part to the shooting of George, who had 18 points in the half after making four three pointers. The Blazers nearly matched their season high in first points, which came against Indiana in Portland, when they held a 73-58 lead.

Lillard hit his first five three pointers and scored 19 points in the first quarter to boost the Blazers to a 44-31 lead. He also added five assists, helping the Blazers amass their highest scoring first quarter of the season. 

Next up: Blazers at LA Clippers, 7:30 p.m. Monday (CSN).

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