NBA

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Is Melo on the move?

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Is Melo on the move?

AT AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to the latest and greatest edition of the CSN Insiders Notebook.

The rumor mill is starting to get hot and heavy with some of the game’s biggest names being talked about as being on the move.

At the top of the list these days is the New York Knicks and their star player, Carmelo Anthony.

Our CSN Philly Insider Jessica Camerato gives us the latest on how Melo is handling this latest round of trade rumors.

MELO ON THE MOVE?

Who will Carmelo Anthony be playing for after the trade deadline?

Anthony holds a no-trade clause with the Knicks, but his time in New York seems like it will be coming to a close. If the Knicks find a team that Anthony agrees to, this could mark the end of the Melo era in the Big Apple.

The Clippers have emerged as the main suitor for the 14th-year veteran who is averaging over 22 points, six rebounds and three assists this season. Now comes the challenge of finding a third team to make a deal work.

So far the Cavaliers and Celtics -- two enticing destinations for a player looking to win -- reportedly have said they are not interested. (LINK: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18561036/report%C2%A0knic ks-clippers-discussing-trade-for%C2%A0carmelo-anthony)

This leaves Anthony waiting out his time on a losing Knicks team while he waits to see what the front office does before mid-February.

"You've got to deal with that, even though I try not to read it. And everywhere you go, even if you don't hear about it, somebody is telling you about it, somebody is saying something," Anthony said, via ESPN.com (http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18570450/new-york-knicks-fans-boo-carmelo-anthony-calls-last-week-mentally-draining ). "It can be mentally draining, mentally fatiguing."

ATLANTIC DIVISION

SIMMONS RECOVERY ON TRACK

While there is no timetable for Ben Simmons’ return, the number one pick in last June’s NBA draft continues to make progress in his rehab from a Jones fracture in his right foot.

Simmons had a scheduled scan with the operating specialist last week in New York. The results showed his recovery is moving along as expected. As part of that recovery, Simmons began one-on-one activity at the Sixers training complex. He competed “very slow” at about “80 percent,” according to Sixers head coach Brett Brown, against Delaware 87ers forward James Webb.

“If you said it’s 20 percent, 10 percent I’d get thrilled,” Brown said. “I can’t wait to coach him. I really can’t wait to coach him.” (LINK http://www.csnphilly.com/philadelphia-76ers/brett-brown-ben-simmons-i-cant-wait-coach-him ) – by Jessica Camerato

CROWDER’S PLAY OF LATE STANDING OUT

Jae Crowder has far exceeded the expectations many had for him when he came to Boston two years ago as a throw-in to the Rajon Rondo trade with Dallas. His play of late has been really good which has only added to the reluctance on Boston’s part to include him in any trade.

In his last nine games, Crowder has averaged 18.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from 3-point range.

The Celtics were contacted by the New York Knicks regarding a possible deal involving Carmelo Anthony. If Boston was open to the idea of adding Melo which at the time of this writing they were not, they would most likely have to include Crowder in the deal. He is not untradeable, but his versatility, production and extremely team-friendly contract will make it difficult for the Celtics to part ways with him. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

IS SULLINGER THE ANSWER TO RAPTORS’ BIG MAN NEEDS?

The recent skid by the Toronto Raptors only highlighted what many NBA execs have been saying all season. Toronto has a good team, but title contender? Nope.

And the Raptors know this, which is why they’re in the market for an impact power forward.

Could they already have him and not know it?

Jared Sullinger was supposed to be that guy, but foot surgery has kept him off the court until recently.

 And let’s just say the early returns have not been encouraging, which is why the Raptors are open to trying to acquire another power forward such as Atlanta’s Paul Millsap.

In his first five games, Sullinger averaged 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooting a woeful 25.8 percent from the field and 18.2 percent on 3’s. The Raptors recently announced he would do a rehab stint with their Development League affiliate, the Raptors 905.

“I tell them all the time, when I come back I’m gonna bring one thing and that’s probably rebounding right now,” Sullinger told CSN’s Abby Chin recently. “Just because everybody is in midseason form. It’s gonna take time for me to fit in, know where my shots are, kind of know the offense.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 NETS AMONG TEAMS TO ‘REST’ HEALTHY PLAYERS

It’s hard to imagine that the Brooklyn Nets won’t finish this season with the NBA’s worst record. And yet you will still find some nights where some of their best players – and I use the word ‘best’ very loosely – are on the bench in street clothes. 

Like San Antonio, Atlanta, Memphis and others throughout the league, the premise is to make sure players are relatively healthy as can be as they near the end of the season and prepare for the playoffs.

And then there’s the Nets who are not only going to fail to make the playoffs, but they can’t even cash in on the one benefit to being a bad team – a high pick in that upcoming year’s NBA draft.

The Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry trade in 2013 netted Boston several picks which included the right to swap this year’s pick which at this point is looking like the top overall selection.

So no playoffs and no lottery pick and guys still getting time off to rest?

Nets guard Randy Foye is among those who likes the approach taken by GM Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson who came from San Antonio and Atlanta, respectively.

“I think fatigue injuries [result from] back-to-backs or three-in-four-nights where you don’t feel anything, but at the end of the day, you’ve strained a hamstring or pulled a muscle or something like that,” Foye told Newsday. ‘I think the way we’re doing it right here is pretty smart. We’re building toward something.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

CENTRAL DIVISION

DRAMA TAKES CENTER STAGE WITH THE BULLS

Drama, thy name is the Chicago Bulls.

First it was Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler calling out their teammates for a perceived lack of commitment, then Rajon Rondo calling out Butler and Wade on Instagram for their leadership style.

Then there was a team meeting, fines, pseudo-punishments and a blowout.

Well, a blowout loss to the Miami Heat Friday night.

But in the end, there were no regrets as Wade said he’d have no issues working and playing with Rondo despite Rondo’s feelings. And Wade stuck to his sentiment even through the firestorm.

“When you’re a leader, certain things you do and say aren’t always going to be the popular thing in the locker room,” he said. “As a leader, sometimes you can’t be liked. It’s the harsh truth and harsh reality. I’m probably not liked in this locker room today. I’m OK with that.”

And with all that, the Bulls are still holding onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. – by Vincent Goodwill

JAMES WANTS MORE HELP IN CLEVELAND

Drama seems to carry in the Eastern Conference or even more specifically, the Midwest as LeBron James again laid down the gauntlet for what he perceives is a lack of help from the Cleveland Cavaliers management and ownership.

James, in his 14th year, is averaging a league-leading 37.5 minutes per game—not a great sign for a 32-year old who’s played deep into June every year since 2011.

After a losing streak that included a puzzling loss to a New Orleans Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis, James said to reporters, “I just hope that we're not satisfied as an organization."

The Cavaliers have the highest payroll in the NBA and have paid the luxury tax in the two years since James’ return from Miami, in addition to losing $40 million in operating losses, according to Forbes Magazine.

And with his relationship with owner Dan Gilbert always being a point of contention, one wonders if the Cavaliers will continue to press forward with personnel moves or try to save a few bucks—if so, will James try to save his ailing body before the playoff run? – by Vincent Goodwill

DUMARS INTERESTED IN RETURN TO NBA

Hall of Famer Joe Dumars has been synonymous with the Detroit Pistons for 29 years, starting with being drafted in 1985 all the way through his playing career and run as president of basketball operations before his reign ended after the 2013-14 season.

Dumars has laid low from the public eye since but confirmed he wants to get back into the NBA in a podcast with the Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski this week.

“Actually, it’s been great,” Dumars said. “The run in Detroit was tremendous on a lot of levels -— on and off the court. I enjoyed every moment of it. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine straight years, I enjoyed every moment of it. But then sometimes, it’s time to turn the page and have someone else come in and do this and carry that load.”

Dumars led the Pistons to a championship in 2004, another Finals appearance in 2005 and was at the helm of a team that went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals from 2003-08.

His run in Detroit ended when he admitted he should’ve rebuilt instead reloaded, but his resume is as stacked as anyone not with an NBA job—and better than most who have jobs currently.

He should be back in the NBA and fairly soon. – by Vincent Goodwill

ROBINSON III TO COMPETE IN SLAM DUNK CONTEST

Indiana Pacers second-year forward Glenn Robinson III hasn’t hit the league by storm in the way his father, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson did two decades ago as one of the league’s most deadly scorers.

But Robinson III can get up and above the rim in a way his father never could, so it’s no shock to see him enter his name into the participants of All-Star Weekend’s Slam Dunk contest in New Orleans in the middle of February.

Robinson will be the third Pacer in franchise history to enter the contest, and the small-town Pacers have had decent moments for Robinson to live up to. Paul George was part of a winning combination in the 2014 dunk contest with John Wall, and who could forget Terence Stansbury in the 1987 dunk contest with his “Statue of Liberty” dunk that’s been remembered through time.

So basically, Robinson II has more footsteps to follow, and he’s used to it by now. – by Vincent Goodwill

NBA POTENTIALLY IMPACTED BY PRESIDENT’S TEMPORARY BAN

The Milwaukee Bucks are mired in a terrible losing streak but recent world events have put that in the background as Thon Maker’s status has come into question with President Trump’s temporary ban on the entry of non-American citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Maker was born in Wau, Sudan, which became part of an independent South Sudan in 2011. Sudan is one of the seven banned countries, along with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

With the NBA having several players who fit this description, the league has to get on top of this and league spokesman Mike Bass issued a statement Saturday saying, “"We have reached out to the State Department and are in the process of gathering information to understand how this executive order would apply to players in our league who are from one of the impacted countries. The NBA is a global league, and we are proud to attract the very best players from around the world." – by Vincent Goodwill

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

WALL-BEAL BACKCOURT CLICKING

John Wall wishes Bradley Beal could be an All-Star with him, and after an offseason in which he raised eyebrows by admitting to CSNmidatlantic.com that they had a tendency to “dislike” each other they’ve smoothed out their differences which is a big reason why the Wizards were 26-20 heading into Sunday’s game at the Pelicans.

The backcourt is having its best season together, and individually, as Wall and Beal are averaging career highs in multiple categories and defending as well as in duo in the league.

“People say we couldn’t get to this road together. Whatever dislikes we had with each other we put that to the side when we stepped between those lines because we know how much we both want to win, how competitive we are,” Wall told CSN after being selected to his fourth consecutive All-Star Game. “I know I can’t be John Wall without Bradley Beal, and Bradley Beal can’t be (himself) without John Wall.” – by J. Michael

HEAT’S WAITERS SERVING UP BETTER PLAY, WINS

With Rodney McGruder, Willie Reed and Luke Babbitt in the starting lineup – and no Hassan Whiteside – the Heat won their sixth game in a row entering the weekend to give themselves hope though they’re still mired at the bottom of the East.

Babbitt, who Tony Allen of the Grizzlies admitted he voted for as an All-Star, plays reserve minutes to score 22 points during the streak has had an impact if you believe in plus-minus ratings. With him on the floor, the Heat have been on the positive side five times.

But it’s the clutch shot-making of Dion Waiters that has keyed the hot streak as he beat the Warriors with a three and slammed the door shut with one vs. the Nets. Miami is 5-15 without him. They’re 12-15 with him.

Waiters only makes $2.9 million when he signed as a free agent and is surely going to opt out of his second year to test the market. – by J. Michael

ANOTHER REBUILD IN THE MAGIC’S FUTURE?

A team built to be defense-first is failing miserably, and the Magic lost even more offense with Jodie Meeks being knocked out indefinitely following right thumb surgery.

“It’s everybody,” Bismack Biyombo said after Orlando gave up 128 points to the Celtics which made for 100-plus in 14 of 15 games. “Our efforts are not good enough. We talk about the right thing. Everybody says the right thing but we’ve got to hold each other accountable. … It is embarrassing to be out there.”

Another restructuring seems to be in order for a roster with good pieces that don’t fit. For Meeks, he hasn’t played a full season since 2013-14 with the Lakers and he only has played 24 games after missing the start of this season with injuries. – by J. Michael

PACIFIC DIVISION

KINGS FALTER AT HOME, FALL OUT OF PLAYOFF SPOT

After a 1-6 homestand, the Sacramento Kings embarked on a season-long eight-game road trip that included three sets of back-to-backs. Six games in, the Kings are holding their own with wins over the Pistons, Cavs and Hornets. Following Tuesday’s game against the Rockets, the Kings return home where they will play 11-of-13 at Golden 1 Center. They do not leave the Pacific time zone from February 1-March 5. … Rudy Gay, 30, underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon on Monday in New York. According to Dr. Martin O’Malley, Gay is expected to make a complete recovery in time for training camp before the 2017-18 season.  … DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star again. The 26-year-old big man will make his third straight appearance in the annual event next month as a Western Conference reserve. Cousins is posting huge numbers across the board, but over his last 18 games, he’s handing out 6.2 assists per game. Not bad for a 6-foot-11 big man.- by James Ham

DURANT THE PLAYER IS GOOD, BUT THE ACTOR …

In their fourth month as Warriors teammates, Draymond Green finally is willing to admit he is not impressed with Kevin Durant.

As an actor, that is.

Green recently re-watched “Thunderstruck,” a 2012 comedy in which Durant plays himself, a star for the Oklahoma City Thunder whose talents are switched with those of his biggest fan, a 16-year-old aspiring hoopster who previously couldn’t make a simple layup. Durant, meanwhile, becomes as hopeless as the kid once was.

“I’ve seen it multiple times,” Green said. “But that’s the first time I’ve seen it since KD was my teammate, though. I thought it was bad before. But now that we’re really close, I can really voice my opinion on it.

“It was bad, man. It was really bad. Oh, it was bad.”

Identifying “He Got Game” and “Coach Carter” as his favorite hoop movies, said his review was less a knock on Durant than on the movie, which is intended for children.

“I’m not saying KD is a bad actor, I’m saying that was a bad movie,” Green said. “Somebody else should give him another shot, though.

If somebody brought me a movie (script), I would have probably done it too. But after seeing his first movie, if somebody brought me a script like that now, I wouldn’t do it.” – by Monte Poole

DOC RIVERS WILLING TO TRADE HIS SON AUSTIN?

It could happen any day, any hour, any minute. Clippers coach/president Doc Rivers could bring Knicks star Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles.

And Rivers’ son, Austin, the team’s backup point guard behind Chris Paul, reportedly is among the players that intrigue the folks in New York. Would Doc trade his son for a player entering his twilight years?

“Listen, I would trade anyone,” Doc Rivers told ESPN. “You have to be willing to do that, so -- and (Austin) would be one of them, and any of them would be one. But I don’t want to trade any of our guys. I like our team.”

The Knicks have essentially placed Anthony in a “for trade” ad. The veteran forward, however, has a no-trade clause in his contract. He’d have to approve any deal.

Because the Clippers one of the few teams Anthony would agree to join, there have been discussions regarding a deal. At issue is with whom, exactly, are the Clippers willing to part. Rivers and veteran guard Jamal Crawford are among the names.

Can Doc resist? – by Monte Poole

KOBE RETURN TO THE LAKERS … AS A COACH?
Coach Kobe?

Retired Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in a recent radio interview made it clear he’d be available to assist his former team, which sits in the Western Conference cellar.

“The Buss family knows I’m always one phone call away,” Bryant told ESPN Radio.

Though LA coach Luke Walton is a former Lakers teammate of Bryant and consistently expresses admiration for the future Hall of Famer, he’s not sure the timing is right for a dose of Kobe.

“It depends in what capacity he will come in and help,” Walton told reporters. “After losing by 40, he’s not the first guy I’m calling.

“Kobe is more about tough love. At that moment, I didn’t need tough love. I didn’t hear (Bryant’s comments), but it’s good to know he’s here for us.”

Insofar as Bryant, who retired after last season, is notoriously intense, the concern is that might alienate a talented young team seeking growth under a first-year head coach. – by Monte Poole

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

HARDEN CONTINUES MVP CHASE

James Harden went off for a historic 51-point, 13-rebound, 13-assist triple-double on Friday against the Sixers. With those remarkable numbers, he became the second player to record two 50-point triple-doubles in a single season, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Remember, we’re not even at the All-Star Break yet.

Of those 51 points, Harden scored 19 points in the third and 17 in the fourth. He finished with a stat line of 16-28 FG, 6-11 3PG, 13-14 FT, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, 5 turnovers, 4 fouls, 2 steals and 1 block in 39:09.

"Tonight was me just scoring the basketball, being aggressive," Harden said after the Rockets’ 123-118 win (LINK http://www.csnphilly.com/philadelphia-76ers/after-triple-double-vs-sixers-james-harden-praises-joel-embiid-calls-him-problem ). "They were doing a really good job of not leaving our shooters and so I had to make plays." – by Jessica Camerato

GASOL PLANS TO STAY WITH THE SPURS

 Pau Gasol intends to opt in to his $16 million player option for next season with the Spurs. The 36-year-old big man is currently out of action after undergoing surgery on his left hand. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with the injury.

Rookie DeJounte Murray went scoreless in two minutes of action in the Spurs loss to the Pelicans on Friday. But in the four games leading up to the contest in New Orleans, the 20-year-old guard averaged 13.3 points, including a career-high 24 against the Nuggets on Jan. 19. … Jonathon Simmons has missed three straight games with a wrist injury. – by James Ham

FERRELL MAKES THE MOST OF LAST-MINUTE OPPORTUNITY

A day after signing a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks, Yogi Ferrell found himself in an unexpected play … the starting lineup.

“It was definitely very eye-opening for me,” Ferrell told reporters. “You know, when coach (Rick Carlisle) told me I was going to start, my mind switched and I made sure I was ready.”

He was indeed up for the moment, helping the Mavericks pull off a 105-101 upset of the San Antonio Spurs.

Ferrell had nine points along with seven assists and zero turnovers, in addition to tallying a pair of steals.

Among his nine points were a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to secure the victory.

Regardless of whether he sticks with the Mavericks or not, to get a last-second start and deliver how he did in the clutch … it’s exactly what you have to do as an undrafted player, to stick in the NBA. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

NORTHWEST DIVISION

NOT THE BREAK THAT KANTER, THUNDER WERE LOOKING FOR

Enes Kanter, the high-scoring big for the Thunder was having a nice stretch of games before deciding to punch a chair during the Thunder’s 109-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Kanter, 24, will miss the next two months with a broken forearm, leaving Oklahoma City without their third-leading scorer.

The Thunder have won three in a row heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook posted three straight triple-doubles early in the week to give him 23 on the season. His streak was broken against the Mavericks, but he still managed to drop in 45 points, grab eight rebounds and dish out three assists in the win. – by James Ham

TWITTER BEEF BETWEEN MCCOLLUM AND PARSONS

There was quite the Twitter war last week in Portland between the Blazers’ CJ McCollum and Memphis wing Chandler Parsons after the Trail Blazers beat Memphis.

Parsons, who was pursued by the Blazers in free agency in July and offered $94 million before he opted to sign with Memphis, air-balled a three-point attempt during the game.

After the game, the Blazers’ team authorized Twitter account sent out a video of Parsons’ air-ball, with a tweet that read, “To be fair, the NBA 3-point line is really, really far away from the basket.”

Parsons immediately retaliated, tweeting back to the Blazers, “good luck in the lottery show this year” in reference to the Blazers being 21-27 at currently out of the Western Conference playoff seeding.

McCollum then fired back at Parsons: “We hit the lottery by not signing you’’ in reference to Parsons being hobbled by knee problems this season.

Parsons tried to counter with a response aimed at McCollum: “Stop it. Technically, I hit the lottery.’’

 When McCollum arrived at Blazers practice the next morning, his exchange was quite the topic. 

“A lot of jokes being made,’’ McCollum said. “I always have a sense of humor, so when I see something that I want to respond to, I respond. I felt like that was something I wanted to respond to.’’

Teammate Evan Turner, for one, said he nearly lost himself when he first read the tweets on Friday night while dining at Departure in downtown Portland.

“I knocked like everything over at the bar,’’ Turner said. “Everybody went crazy. I went crazy … threw my cellphone. It was unreal, man. It was crazy: On Chandler’s part, on CJ’s part … very funny. Hilarious.’’

McCollum said he knows Parsons in passing from a few encounters throughout the years. He said he made the response mostly because he was defending his team.

“It’s my team. I ride with my guys,’’ McCollum said.

Turner said one of the things that made the exchange so funny is knowing the personality of the two players involved. Turner said Parsons is very sarcastic and McCollum is usually very conservative.

“I’m surprised CJ said it because he is always so politically correct like he’s trying to run for president,’’ Turner said. – by Jason Quick


HAYWARD EARNS FIRST ALL-STAR SELECTION

The Utah Jazz have been one of the surprise teams this season, and the play of Gordon Hayward has had a lot to do with that. That’s why it came as no surprise when he was selected by the Western Conference coaches as an all-star reserve this season.

He becomes the first Jazz player to be named an all-star since Deron Williams in 2011.

"My teammates, our coaching and support staff helped put me in this position," said Hayward. "We still have work to do but I'm excited about the direction we're headed. I look forward to representing Utah in New Orleans."

This season, he’s averaging 21.6 points and 5.7 rebounds – both career highs.

While the numbers are good, it’s the team’s success that certainly played a significant factor in the coaches selecting him as an all-star.

Including games played Sunday, Utah (30-19) has the best record in the Northwest Division and are currently fifth in the West overall. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

LAVINE PASSES ON SLAM DUNK CONTEST

There will be no sequel to what was one of the greatest slam dunk competitions in recent memory. Zach LaVine, who defeated Orlando’s Aaron Gordon last year in slam dunk overtime – a first – said he will not participate in the event next month in New Orleans.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I could in the dunk contest,” LaVine told reporters. “I’m never saying I won’t ever do it again, but I’m focused on this (season). We’re getting close to being able to make the playoffs, and we have that on our mind. Getting the rest and I guess just focusing more on the game was a big thing.”

Gordon said he’s not sure he’ll participate in the slam dunk contest, either. And his reasons sound very similar to what ultimately led to LaVine deciding to not participate.

“I don’t know what else I have left up my sleeve or in the tank dunking-wise,” Gordon told reporters in Boston recently. “The other reason is, I’d like to focus on the Orlando Magic and game play. That’s the most important, the main priority right now.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

NBCS Northwest has you covered for Blazers Summer League

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NBCS Northwest has you covered for Blazers Summer League

2018 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas gets underway this weekend. The tournament runs from July 6th to July 17th, featuring rookies, young NBA players and, of course, free agents looking to prove they belong on a NBA roster.

Games will once again be held at Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus and, for the first time since Summer League debuted in 2004, all 30 NBA teams will be competing in Vegas.

Summer League features both a preliminary round where teams will play three games and then tournament play begins where teams are guaranteed at least two more games. The tournament comes to an end on July 17th with the championship game being played at Thomas & Mack Center.

Last season, the Trail Blazers reached the championship game, before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Blazers tip-off Summer League play on Saturday in Cox Pavilion at 12 p.m. when they take on the Utah Jazz.

Portland announced its official Summer League roster on Monday, which features center Zach Collins and rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr.

The Blazers had its first official SL practice on Tuesday.

 

 

NBC Sports Northwest will have full coverage throughout Summer League. You’ll get the latest interviews, postgame videos, and news at NBCSNorthwest.com. Plus, be sure to check out “The Bridge” with live interviews at 6pm weekdays on NBCS Northwest.

We will also have postgame coverage on “The Scoop” live stream with Chris Burkhardt and Jamie Hudson at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

Here’s the Trail Blazers pool play schedule:

Saturday 7/7 at Cox 12 p.m. – Portland vs. Utah
Sunday 7/8 at TM 2:30 p.m. – Portland vs. Boston
Tuesday 7/10 at Cox 1 p.m. – San Antonio vs. Portland

You can check out the full schedule for all teams at NBA.com.

NBA Offseason Part Two – Examining playoff teams

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NBA Offseason Part Two – Examining playoff teams

BY JARED WRIGHT

Welcome to Part Two of my NBA Season Review/Offseason Preview/Hybrid Thingy. Part One is here, if you love the sweet, fresh smell of hopeless futility and broken dreams as much as I do.

Without further ado, let’s get stuck into it.

 

Not Exactly the Plan Going In

Washington Wizards: The path was open for the Wiz this year. The Eastern Conference was as ripe for the picking as it ever had been this decade. After a strong showing in the 2017 playoffs, Washington was a sleeper pick to make the Eastern Finals, and maybe even THE Finals if they got a couple breaks (figuratively and/or literally).

The Cleveland Cavaliers had traded Kyrie Irving. The Boston Celtics, who’d loaded up by trading for Irving and signing Gordon Hayward, lost Hayward to a gruesome broken ankle. The Toronto Raptors were, well, the Raptors. Everyone else either didn’t have the talent or the experience the Wiz could boast. So, what went wrong? Why was this team eighth in the East?

Chemistry, my friends. Chemistry.

I won’t go into the details, for it’s both silly and uncomfortable at the same time, but in this modern age of superteams, bromances, and knowing everyone since the age of 10 thanks to the AAU, there are some NBA teams that still have toxic chemistry. Injuries played a part in Washington’s decline, sure, but they only exposed the real issues with this team.

The worst part is, most of these guys have contracts too large to move without giving up assets the Wizards lack. Washington is capped out as badly as the Portland Trail Blazers are (cue the tasteless joke about a D.C. team not being able to handle a budget), and they’ll have to keep their core players and just ride it out.

 

Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokoumnpo may be the do-it-all unicorn alien mutant that may dominate the league in five years, but right now, he can’t actually do it all for Milwaukee. Despite leading the Bucks in all five traditional counting stat categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals) for a whole season, and being in the top 20 league-wide in those stats, the Greek Freak will need help from his teammates if he wants to butt his way into the conversation in the East, which is dominated by Philly and Boston.

20 years ago, Giannis could probably have gotten away with being a one-man show. Unless the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe, Thon Maker, or Jabari Parker (if he’s brought back) join Khris Middleton in being useful parts of the team, and unless they stay healthy, the Bucks will not get to where they want to go. As fun as the Greek Freak Show is to watch (and also terrifying to experience; in the two games he played versus Portland last year, he dominated in a way I’ve rarely seen before), it’s a show that is doomed to end every April until a reliable supporting cast is assembled.

 

Stuck in Neutral, Is There a Reverse Gear?

Miami Heat: Owing Hassan Whiteside, a pouty rim-running center that hasn’t done as much rim protecting or rim-running as Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra would like, $75 million over the next three years has tossed a wrench into any plans to bring another top free agent to South Beach, this time to lead a scrappy band of overachievers and pseudo-stars. It’s a shame, really; a guy like Paul George or Demarcus Cousins (provided he makes a reasonable recovery from Achilles surgery) would be an ideal tentpole for a team this versatile and well-coached.

Instead, thanks to Whiteside, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Johnson soaking up about 40% of the cap between them, Miami has to miss out on the latest free-agent derby. They will be a tough out in the first round, but they will be an out. Pour one out for Spo, the best coach no one is talking about. (The man survived as LeBron James’ coach for four full seasons, and survived his departure. That alone should speak volumes about Spolestra’s abilities.)

 

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Oklahoma City Thunder: If I were Paul George, and I had a choice of where to sign in free agency, I would choose the blank slate of the Los Angeles Lakers, or the exciting young nucleus in Philadelphia, rather than commit the prime years of my career to a team showcasing the biggest ball hog to ever hog a ball, Russell Westbrook.

It’s not that George had a bad year, or a bad time playing with Westbrook; PG’s the kind of player that can oscillate between being the primary option and taking a supporting role. George having to play the supporting role too often was an issue for the Thunder, as he’d join his teammates in standing around on the perimeter while Westbrook did his thing, which could be summed up as “consumer of all possessions.” Westbrook averaged a triple-double (double-digit totals of points, rebounds, and assists per game) in consecutive seasons, the only guy in NBA history to do that, but he had to use up a Wilt Chamberlain-esque level of possessions to do it, as well as shamelessly steal rebounds. It was so bad, his teammates tried to make good-natured jokes about Westbrook being a blatant stat-chaser and rebound thief.

Westbrook is his generation’s Wilt, but that will likely come at the same Wiltian price: a lack of postseason success compared with the rest of his transcendent peers. Chamberlain won a title in the one year Bill Russell’s legendary Celtics teams had a letdown in the 1960s, then another in 1972 as the NBA was at a very weak state after Russell’s retirement, but his frenemy won 11 championships while playing much more inspired defense; in the run-n-gun sixties, Bill Russell was the only true defensive terror, and I just provided you with all the evidence you need. All the success Westbrook’s ruthless numerical dominance has gotten him in the playoffs are first-round exits, to teams that have (on paper) inferior talent to the Thunder.

As for George, if he does re-sign with OKC this summer, he’ll either see something in the franchise nobody else would, or he has a strong masochistic streak.

 

San Antonio Spurs: The news over the weekend that superstar forward Kawhi Leonard wanted out of San Antonio was shocking, and yet unsurprising. Unsurprising, because Leonard and the Spurs have been at odds over the management of his tendinopathy for months, to the point that Leonard left the team and sought medical advice on his own, without input from the team—you know, the guys that are paying him eight figures to dribble a ball.

It is also shocking, however, because the Spurs are the most stable, open-minded, player-friendly organization in the NBA, and maybe in all of professional sport. Professionalism defines this franchise, and the men running it, to a T, and has since I was a pudgy teenager eating a carrot a day to lose weight. And Kawhi Leonard would have been voted the “player least likely to start **** with his team” every year since San Antonio acquired him to serve as the heir to the immortal Tim Duncan. Stoic and emotionless almost to a fault, Leonard carried out his business with the precision, excellence, and professionalism expected of a Spur.

It’s stunning, sad, and disappointing that Leonard is reportedly seeking a trade, but all things in this world must end. Even the Spurs’ run of incredible play. Maybe Leonard felt the pressure of having to replace one of the best of all time in Duncan too much. Maybe he was hurting too much and felt the Spurs didn’t do everything in their power to help him. Maybe he felt slighted that his teammates kept pressuring him to play through his pain. I don’t know, and it isn’t my place to ask.

All I know is, Kawhi Leonard won’t be a Spur for very long, and seeing a basketball institution like the Spurs crumble is yet another change in my life, at a time where everything is changing.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs are the third team with a superstar wing player that’s a flight risk, but where the Thunder were an experiment gone wrong, and the Spurs are an aging giant about to enter its death throes, Cleveland is one of two teams that have made four consecutive NBA Finals, a feat not done since Magic Johnson was running the break for the Showtime Lakers, not sitting at a desk for them, wanting to steal away LeBron James.

There is always a chance James stays home in Cleveland, preferring the easier path to the Finals in the East (even with the Celtics and Sixers developing into legitimate challengers) to the annual charnel house that is the West. It would be a difficult sell, though; after the frustration of the 2018 Finals, LeBron would only choose to stay through some weird blend of sentimentality and masochism. He’d be nuts to willingly put his legacy in the hands of J.R. Smith.

Whether he goes to the Lakers, sets up shop in Philly, somehow worms his way onto the Houston Rockets, or chooses to go in another direction, the odds are that he’d have the best chance of winning more titles, and continuing the Chase of MJ, outside of northeast Ohio. And in case you’re the kind of person that values loyalty in athletes (especially hometown athletes), LeBron already won one for the Land. He owes Cleveland nothing.

 

Hanging on By a Thread

Minnesota Timberwolves: On the surface, the Timberpups are set for the future; Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler are a great one-two punch when Towns gives a crap about defense. There are two huge issues with this young, seemingly up-and-coming team, though.

One is Andrew Wiggins’ monstrous contract. Five years, $151 million, set to start in October, for a player who’s never shot above 35% from three-point range, is inconsistent on defense (at least by Butler’s elite expectations, and coach Tom Thibodeau’s exacting demands), and is viewed by the wider NBA community as an inefficient chucker who struggled to blend in with similarly, or more, talented teammates. While I would be inclined to say that it was just one year, and that Wiggins is young and has his prime in front of him, the combination of that five-year max contract and Thibs’ crushing demands means the learning curve gets very steep, very quick. It’s already sink-or-swim time for Wiggins, and the Wolves might sink with him.

Two, Thibodeau’s coaching style, roster usage, and roster construction as the Wolves’ president of basketball operations have combined to create a seven-man rotation that is getting run right into the dirt. Butler, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago, may be used to it now, but it’s way too easy to see a potential Luol Deng situation with Butler, where he’d get run absolutely ragged by Thibs and end up washed and a shell of himself well before his time. Minutes per game are a concern as well; no starter played below 33 minutes per game for Minnesota, and 38-year-old Jamal Crawford played almost 21 MPG, at an age when he should be a mentor instead of the top bench guy.

With Denver lurking and the Lakers looking to make drastic improvements, the Timberpups, who had to beat the Nuggets on the last day of the regular season just to qualify for the playoffs, will have to continue to dodge major injuries (only Butler missed significant time for them last season) and see if they can get anything more from Wiggins, as well as praying that one of the young guys earns enough trust from the notoriously prickly Thibodeau to get onto the court consistently.

 

The Playoff Rank and File

Portland Trail Blazers: While getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and seeing Damian Lillard become the first Blazer to make the All-NBA First Team since Clyde Drexler in 1992 was awesome, taking off the rose-colored glasses and digging deeper into the Blazers’ achievements in 2017-18 shows a different story.

For one, Lillard making the First Team was less a reward for all the work he did for Portland (last season was the first of Peak Lillard, so expect at least two or three more seasons like his last one) and more a referendum on the players above him in the point guard pecking order. Stephen Curry didn’t play enough games and shares the court with Kevin Durant. Chris Paul spent the first part of the season chilling in a banana boat somewhere. Kyrie Irving had his knee fall apart on him after the All-Star Break. Everyone felt dirty for giving Russell Westbrook the 2017 MVP, and overcompensated for their sins.

So, it wasn’t that Lillard outperformed all those gentlemen last season. It’s mostly that he was the only one left. His First Team nod felt like an FU to Westbrook from the media more than anything.

As for where the Blazers finished, it literally was three games between having the third seed, and sitting at home watching the playoffs and munching Cheetos. The Blazers did their usual “catch everyone off guard during the dog days of the season” schtick, and parleyed that seven-week hot streak into a playoff seed that they might have barfed away if the Spurs had Leonard, or the Wolves had Butler, or the New Orleans Pelicans had Demarcus Cousins, or the Thunder had a clue. The Blazers were closer to the tenth-place Los Angeles Clippers than the second-place Golden State Warriors, and that’s with the Warriors punting a solid 15 games to stay fresh for the playoffs.

Portland isn’t in the contending tier yet. And time’s running out on their chance to make that jump, if it hasn’t already.

 

Utah Jazz: I went to see the Jazz play the Blazers live last February, and it was part pleasure and part horror story. The horror came courtesy of guard Donovan Mitchell, a gem the Jazz drafted at the butt end of the 2017 lottery. Mitchell led the Jazz in scoring last season, and looks to be the kind of tentpole player Utah needed after Gordon Hayward left for Boston last summer. He was the catalyst behind a complete ass-kicking, which ended up galvanizing Portland into an epic 17-game winning streak.

As a Blazer fan, I’m not totally bummed that Portland didn’t draft Mitchell; they already have two star guards, and Zach Collins might end up being the reason the Blazers won’t have to pay Jusuf Nurkic $80 million to be the world’s biggest d*** tease. I bet there are plenty of other teams that wish they had scouts as good as Utah’s, though.

 

New Orleans Pelicans: As devastating as Demarcus Cousins’ Achilles injury was, it might be a two-fold blessing in disguise for the Pelicans. The fit on the court was slightly awkward with Cousins, especially defensively without Anthony Davis on the floor. Boogie has an infamous tendency to drift on defense, both physically and mentally, a habit picked up during his Sacramento Kings days, when he was the alpha and omega on offense for them. He had no such problems with the Pelicans, but he still lazed around more than he should have.

When Cousins went down, New Orleans traded for Nikola Mirotic, a streaky-shooting big man, and when they replaced the injured Boogie with the new guy, they became a different team. A better team. The Blazers can attest to this; they were the victims of perhaps the most one-sided beatdown in a first-round series I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a 1-8 matchup. Davis was fully unleashed at the center position, and no one in the NBA, including the Warriors, has an answer for him. Heaven help the league once Davis gets more talent around him.

Even before suffering an injury that cripples NBA careers, Cousins was a candidate for the Ewing Theory of addition by subtraction. Now, I’d be stunned if New Orleans brought him back for the max. Or if he gets the max at all.

 

Indiana Pacers: These guys went from being dismissed by everyone with a keyboard, to coming within aniiiinnncchhhh of being the first team to defeat LeBron James in the East in eight years, and in the first round EVER. Even in the NBA, it’s never safe to make assumptions.

The Pacers are young, hungry, and looking to prove they belong with the Celtics and Sixers in the discussions about the East’s future. Watching them continue to prove people wrong is a refreshing reminder that pro basketball is not always chalk.

 

Raptors LOL

Toronto Raptors: After earning the first seed in the East, modernizing their offense, developing a bench that allowed them to go literally 10-deep, and positioning themselves to finally seize the day, the Raptors had everything going their way. Surely, this year, the Raptors would shake off their playoff woes. Surely, they would take advantage of the Cavaliers’ disunion, the Celtics’ injuries, and the Sixers’ callow youngsters.

Then…LeBron James happened.

If Michael Jordan had Cleveland’s number every time, and if Kobe Bryant had Portland’s and Sacramento’s numbers every time, then James has Toronto’s number every time. This is the scope of LeBron’s ambition and overall greatness: where MJ and the Mamba were content to dominate mere cities, the King is tactically crouching (or tea-bagging) on an entire country. What a legend. The Cavs swept the top seed in the East in four games, capping a three-year run of prison-level ownage by LeBron over Canada.

The Raptors fired Dwane Casey in response to being crushed by a flawed Cleveland team, but their narrow window to make the first Finals in franchise history has likely just closed. I’d feel sorry for them, if I weren’t busy laughing at them.

 

Princes of the East

Philadelphia 76ers: There was so much to like about the Sixers last season, from Ben Simmons emerging as a reborn Magic Johnson, to Joel Embiid finally being healthy (though he needs to stop Tweeting and scarfing Twinkies, and start working on his cardio and three-pointer), to Brett Brown finally reaping the rewards for coaching all those horrible teams…so much to root for.

The Bryan Colangelo saga, however, put a damper on things. Colangelo’s wife made several burner Twitter accounts, and proceeded to do all sorts of unsavory things with them, from trashing former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie (the man her husband replaced) and Raptors president Masai Ujiri (who used to work for Colangelo before replacing him in Denver), to disclosing medical information about players under her husband’s employ. She even defended the size of Colangelo’s shirt collars and promoted his supposed virtues shamelessly; it was like watching an overbearing mother at work.

Colangelo resigned in an attempt to salvage whatever’s left of his reputation, and now the Sixers are heading into the most important offseason in their recent history without a general manager. Philly sure makes things interesting.

 

Boston Celtics: Another Eastern team to come within a bee’s phallus of dethroning LeBron, Boston has several decisions to make this offseason, including on Marcus Smart’s restricted free-agency. Smart is a defensive bulldog that struggles to shoot, basically Tony Allen with some handles, and was a huge part of the Celtics’ defensive excellence the last two seasons. He’s expecting to get paid, however. Maybe not Isaiah Thomas Brinks truck level, but a hefty chunk of change.

Chances are, he’s not going to get it from Boston. Smart is a solid player, sure, but why pay Marcus “I can’t hit the broadside of a barn with a bazooka” Smart $75 million when you can trot out this lineup: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Kyrie Irving? Good freaking luck beating that fivesome; it has the potential to be Boston’s version of the famed Death Lineup that established a dynasty in Golden State.

Odds are, Danny Ainge will be cool with some other team paying Smart. He’ll just find someone else like him, and the Celtics churn will continue.

 

Damn Near

Houston Rockets: There’s an argument to be made that if Chris Paul had not gotten injured, Houston would have beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They were that close, and had the Dubs that bamboozled; the Rockets were the first team to provide a legit challenge to the Warriors since they poached Kevin Durant, and their obsession with beating that team is only continuing to fester.

Reports are surfacing that Paul is recruiting LeBron to join their crusade. It would take some serious roster gymnastics, but Daryl Morey will do whatever it takes to give his team the best possible shot to win it all. Now, if only he didn’t have to pay Ryan Anderson $44 million over the next two years….

 

And STILL Your Reigning, Defending, Undisputed, NBA Champions of the World…

Golden State Warriors: Yeah. These guys are pretty good.

Draft Profile: Thomas Welsh (7'0" C, UCLA)

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Draft Profile: Thomas Welsh (7'0" C, UCLA)

Thomas Welsh

Height:  7’0”

Weight: 255lbs

Position: Center

School: Senior, UCLA

2017-18 season averages: 12.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 0.9 bpg

Did You Know That…

His rebounding average of 10.8 as a senior was UCLA’s highest since David Greenwood averaged 11.4 rebounds in 1977-78. One of five finalists for the 2017-2018 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the nation’s top center. Holds the No. 3 spot on UCLA’s career rebounds list (1,035). Ranks third all time at UCLA in blocks (143) and fifth in blocks per game (1.09). Registered 37 career double-doubles, tied for sixth in program history.

Draft Profile: Brandon McCoy (7'0" C, UNLV)

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Draft Profile: Brandon McCoy (7'0" C, UNLV)

Brandon McCoy

Height:  7’0”

Weight: 250lbs

Position: Center

School: Freshman, UNLV

2017-18 season averages: 16.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Did You Know That…

Top-five finalist for the 2017-2018 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award, 2017-2018 John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list for National Player of the Year, 2017-2018 Mountain West Freshman of the Year. Led the Mountain West Conference with 19 double-doubles in 2017-2018, ranking ninth in the country and third among freshmen.

Draft Profile: Jacobi Boykins (6'6" G, LA Tech)

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Draft Profile: Jacobi Boykins (6'6" G, LA Tech)

Jacobi Boykins

Height:  6’6”

Weight: 175lbs

Position: Guard

School: Senior, Louisiana Tech

2017-18 season averages: 14.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 apg

Did You Know That…

Was the only Bulldog to start in all 33 games. Became the 40th member of the 1,000 point-club, finishing with 1,393 career points, which is tied for 23-most in LA Tech history… Ranked first on the team in scoring, recording 26 double-digit scoring games.

Draft Profile: Jaylen Barford (6'3" G, Arkansas)

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Draft Profile: Jaylen Barford (6'3" G, Arkansas)

Jaylen Barford

Height:  6’3”

Weight: 202lbs

Position: Guard

School: Senior, Arkansas

2017-18 season averages: 17.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.3 apg

Did You Know That…

Named 2017-2018 All-SEC First Team by the coaches and Second Team by the media. Shot 43.3 percent from three-point range. Built like a linebacker at the guard spot. Scored at least 20 points in 13 games in his final season at Arkansas.

Draft Profile: De'Anthony Melton (6'4" G, USC)

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Draft Profile: De'Anthony Melton (6'4" G, USC)

De’Anthony Melton

Height:  6’4”

Weight: 190lbs

Position: Guard

Age: 20, University of Southern California

2016-17 season averages: 8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.5 apg

Did You Know That…

High-energy player and athlete. Likes to play in transition, where he has a solid playmaking feel. Great foot speed getting up and down the floor. Rangy defender with a good sense of anticipation. Averaged 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per-36 as a freshman. Measured with a 6’8” wingspan. Can defend either guard position given his length. Makes plays on the ball.

Draft Profile: Shake Milton (6'5" G, SMU)

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Draft Profile: Shake Milton (6'5" G, SMU)

Shake Milton

Height:  6’5”

Weight: 195lbs

Position: Guard

School: Junior, SMU

2017-18 season averages: 18.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.4 apg

Did You Know That…

Played and started 22 games…Missed remainder of season due to broken right hand… Double digit scoring in 22 games, 23 straight going back to 2016- 17. AWARDS: All-AAC Second Team... AAC Player of the Week (11/13, 12/4, 1/22)... Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, Bob Cousy, Lute Olson Watch List... AAC Preseason Player of the Year.

Draft Profile: Jairus Lyles (6'2" G, UMBC)

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Draft Profile: Jairus Lyles (6'2" G, UMBC)

Jairus Lyles

Height:  6’2”

Weight: 175lbs

Position: Guard

School: Junior, UMBC

2017-18 season averages: 18.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.6 apg

Did You Know That…

Scored 1,086 points in just two UMBC campaigns and is currently 17th on the school’s all-time scoring list... Became the third player in school history to reach 600 points in a season and his 604 points is the most ever by a UMBC junior... Also became the second Retriever (Darryl Proctor, 2008-09), first junior and first UMBC guard to amass 600 points and 200 rebounds in a season in 2016-17… Currently, UMBC’s career leader in scoring average (20.5 ppg) and has recorded the top (23.0 ppg, 2015-16) and fifth-best (18.9 ppg, 2016-17) scoring averages in school history