Al-Farouq Aminu's key performance puts OKC on the ropes

Al-Farouq Aminu's key performance puts OKC on the ropes

OKALHOMA CITY – “Ohhh Chief, I love the way you played tonight, boy!!”

That comment was heard from across the Trail Blazers locker room as Maurice Harkless was singing, or rather yelling, Al-Farouq Aminu’s praises following the Blazers 111-98 victory over the Thunder in Game 4 of the best-of-seven-series.

Harkless was the first Blazer player to talk in the locker room and thus he was the first to give Aminu a shout-out. 

“Chief was great. He was knocking shots down; he was rebounding, getting some blocks… Those things are huge, they add up and they led us to making runs, that’s how you get out to a big lead,” Harkless said.

One of the big Trail Blazers’ adjustments in Game 4 was to find the open player who was spotting up on the opposite side of the pick-and-roll action with Damian Lillard and Enes Kanter.

Aminu was that player.

And, he was ready for it.

“I don’t know how many threes [Aminu] made, but, it felt like he made every time he shot it. I mean, he was great and Dame and CJ [McCollum] did a really good job of finding Enes and Enes did a really good job making good decisions,” Harkless said.

There’s no doubt Aminu was in zone. He hit his first three three-pointers and ended the game going 4-for-9 from deep. The Blazers starting power forward finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was not surprised one bit by Aminu’s stellar performance.

“He does it every night,” Stotts said. “Sometimes he scores, sometimes he doesn’t, but he gives a great effort every night. We ask him to do a lot of things on the defensive end, to rebound. He’s probably a better shooter than people give him credit for, and he’s been an important part of our team since he’s been here.”  

For Chief, it’s about putting personal stuff on hold and only focusing on his team.

“This part of the year everybody is so locked in on winning. Not to say that you’re not locked in during the season, but the stakes are higher. You kind of put yourself to the side a little more and you put it into the team,” Aminu said.  

“I think we trust each other. We’ve got to continue to trust each other,” Harkless added.

Throughout his career in Portland, Aminu has been the go-to defensive stopper for the Blazers and that has continued in this series with the Thunder.

Aminu made Paul George’s life difficult once again, along with the other Thunder forwards, in Game 4, but he was quick to give his teammates credit for how well they’ve been playing on that end of the floor.

“I thought we did a great job [on defense]. We helped each other. I thought Enes at the rim was big. He had a lot of verticals, as well as Zach. Zach was just flying around out there. He was giving us energy… The guards were getting into guys… I think we’ve been great defensively throughout the series,” Aminu said.

Aminu finished with the second best plus/minus on the team with a +19 behind CJ McCollum’s +25. Aminu was happy to help his team put up points. 

“I’m just glad I was able to alleviate some of the pressure… Those are the shots that we are going to have to hit,” Aminu said.

“It’s important,” for Aminu to make sure he is involved in some kind of shooting competition whether it’s during his pregame routine or after Trail Blazers practice.

“I don’t really like to just come in and just shoot jumpers, just to be shooting and I feel like it doesn’t add that element that you feel when you’re in the game whereas, you know, you’re nervous a little bit, you don’t want to lose to the other guys. It adds that competitiveness and I think it helps me,” Aminu said with a smile.    

The Trail Blazer now take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Thunder. Portland also snapped its eight consecutive postseason road lossing streak with Sunday’s win.

With all the Thunder antics and trash talking, it was clear the Blazers were happy to not only get Game 4 on the road, but to not listen to OKC chirping in the second half on Sunday night.

“Tonight was just a good day for us to shut them up,” Harkless said. “We’re focused… We’re heading home, can’t wait to get home to our crowd and we’re excited about Tuesday. We’re going to play hard and play even better than we did tonight.”

You heard Harkless, Moda Center crowd, the Blazers are coming for you and they are eager to closeout the first round series at home.

Outsiders Blog: Is Zach Collins' future at PF or C?

Outsiders Blog: Is Zach Collins' future at PF or C?

In yesterday's exit interviews Trail Blazers second-year big man Zach Collins wasn't shy about the impact he thinks he can make for this team in the future.

When asked if he thought he could be a starter in this league, Collins said "yeah, absolutely" without hesitation.

During this playoff run, Collins came up big over and over again. He showed a great ability to challenge shots at the rim and was noticeably more comfortable and confident on the offensive end. 

Fans were starting to clamor for him to start over Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward. They liked the idea of Collins playing alongside Enes Kanter. Surely fans looked forward to next season and the potential pairing of Collins alongside Jusuf Nurkic, should Aminu, an unrestricted free agent not return. 

This idea makes sense. According to Basketball-Reference, per 100 possessions Collins played about two-thirds of his minutes his season at power forward. So it only seems natural to want to slot him alongside Nurkic or Kanter in the lineup.

However, Collins would rather play the five than the four. "I like playing the five personally because I'm involved in everything especially defensively... Personally, I would like to play the five, but we'll see."

This sounds great and all, but Collins has a Bosnian Beast sized hurdle in front of him if he wants to be the starting center. Nurkic has solidified himself as a key member of the Blazers "big three" and just last offseason he signed a four-year deal to remain with Portland as its star center.

However, Nurkic suffered a severe leg injury late in the season and is out for the foreseeable future. General Manager Neil Olshey said at exit interviews that there is no timetable for Nurkic's return, but conventional wisdom says he will miss the first quarter and perhaps the first half of the season. So the door is open for Collins to grab that starting center spot to start the season.

But what about after Nurkic comes back? If Collins wants to remain at center, he would have to be ok with being a backup. Is that something Collins is willing to do long term?

Said Collins, "there's been a lot of great role players in this league. If that's what my career's going to be defined as then that's fine. I've always wanted to be the guy, I've always wanted to be a starter, and I've always wanted to be a guy that plays a lot of minutes to help a team win. I won't stop until I get to that point."

Collins could end up being a sixth man caliber player as a career backup to Nurkic. Or, he could shift his focus to playing the four and be a career starter right next to the Bosnian Beast. 

Where he fits best within this lineup is up to Collins and the coaches. With the expected departure of Kanter, Collins will likely be the answer at center to start the 2019-2020 season. What awaits him beyond that remains to be seen. But if you ask me, I think the Blazers' future looks better him playing with Nurkic instead of backing him up.

The pairing of Collins and Nurkic would give the Blazers two defensive threats in the paint. It would give the Blazers two big men that can hit mid-range jumpers, and it would give the Blazers a power forward that can space the floor. Sure, you can look at the stats and say Collins only shot 33% from deep this season, but Aminu, Portland's staring power forward, shot just 34%. Three-point shooting aside, Collins is the future. It may be time to move on from Aminu and start the former Gonzaga star. If the Blazers bring Aminu back, it may still be time to move Aminu to the bench and give the starting job to Collins. The fact of the matter is, if Collins wants to start, which he says he does, he should be looking at the power forward spot. 

Portland Trail Blazers players say farewell to the 2018-19 NBA season

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USA Today Images

Portland Trail Blazers players say farewell to the 2018-19 NBA season

What a season! The Portland Trail Blazers season came to an end this week as the Blazers fell to the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. 

Now that the Blazers season is complete and the team has went through its annual exit interviews, let’s take a look at how players reflected on the past season and what is in store for the future. 

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Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

It was exit-interview day for the Portland Trail Blazers, the final chance for the media to interview the key players, coach and management of one of the most surprising teams in the franchise’s 49-year history.

There weren’t a lot of shocking happenings – other than President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey announcing that the team has extended the contract of head coach Terry Stotts. But that wasn’t much of a surprise, either, since Stotts had just engineered a run to the Western Conference finals for a team predicted before the season to win 42 games and miss the playoffs.

The pertinent video is on this website and I invite you to peruse it, but in the interest of time, let me hit a few of the highlights for you, in order of the players’ appearance:

CJ McCollum: “It was an incredible season based on what we went through. Expectations weren’t that high. It was a pretty incredible year.”

Meyers Leonard: “The last two games were what I know in my heart I can do. Heading into this offseason I feel very confident in what I’ve done. I’m happy to know I feel I gave the staff and the organization confidence in me. I’m going to come back next year ready for a more definite role.”

Evan Turner: “It was dope. We did a lot of great things this season. We went from being a playoff-caliber team to a potential championship-caliber team. We’re legit.”

Al-Farouq Aminu: “I’ve been here four years now. It’s the longest I’ve ever been at one organization. I don’t think you heard me complain too much.”

Damian Lillard: “People who might not have believed before, people who thought I was crazy for thinking we could push that far, now I’m sure a lot of people believe it more than they did before. We were coming off a sweep in the first round (last season). It’s a great feeling just to know, OK, we had a 15-plus lead in three of the four games. We know that we were capable of winning those games. And if those things go our way, we’re looking at going to the Finals.”

Maurice Harkless: “Overall, we have a lot to be proud of this season. We would have liked a better outcome. But that’s a huge accomplishment by us as a team.”

Enes Kanter: “It’s been an amazing experience. This team made me a better person and a better player. It was the best thing that ever happened in my career.”

Rodney Hood: “I’m not sure (about his free-agency). Obviously, we know it’s a business. We’ll see how everything works out this summer. I’m on the record with how much I love it here and I want to be back. I want to be embraced. That’s a big word that means a lot to me. Whether that equals to a dollar amount,  that’s what I’m looking for.”

Zach Collins: “(On whether he’d like to be a starter next season) Yeah, absolutely. I think this playoff run, not only for myself but for the team, it was a great experience. And now we’ve been there and we know what to expect. For me personally, going through that and being able to play a big role and help our team win a lot of games the playoffs, I’ve already learned so much, just in the last month in the playoffs.”

Anfernee Simons: “(The last game of the regular season) obviously gave me a lot of confidence. It was a good kick-start for the summer. (And in the summer league) I want to prove myself. I am young but I’m still able to play with the best of them. I can’t wait.”

Neil Olshey: “(On Stotts’ contract extension) We win every year. It’s year No. 7 – six straight playoff appearances. Two division titles. A trip to the conference finals. And we still have one of the youngest rosters in the league. But it goes beyond wins and losses. It’s alignment, partnership, Our young players develop. It’s a commitment to a longer-term view. One of the things I’m most proud of is everyone who comes through here has gotten better.”

Terry Stotts: “(On where he ranks on the list of Trail Blazer coaches) Doctor Jack (Ramsay)  is a Hall of Famer and Rick Adelman will be. I’m not going to touch those guys. They are idols of mine. I don’t even presume to be in that category. There have been a lot of great coaches here.”

Enes Kanter uses his platform for good, uses basketball as his escape

Enes Kanter uses his platform for good, uses basketball as his escape

TUALATIN – There are still many question marks surrounding Enes Kanter’s future.

The Trail Blazers center along with, Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood, Seth Curry, and Jake Layman (restricted) will all become free agents this summer.

Portland owns Kanter’s non-Bird Rights, so a team will easily be able to offer him a lot more money this summer. 

One thing is certain:

Kanter has enjoyed his time in Rip City.

Since Kanter landed with the Trail Blazers in mid-February, he has shown his appreciation and love for the organization and the city. Kanter was an integral part in Portland making it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 19 years. 

The Trail Blazers center started off Tuesday’s exit interview by saying, "signing here was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career."

“It’s been an amazing experience… This team, this organization, the whole state, not just made me a better basketball player, but made me a better person on and off the court… From day one, they opened their arms, they gave me a warm welcome. From the first week, I felt like I was part of this team for years,” Kanter said.

Kanter also said his experience in Portland will play into his offseason decision.

The 7-footer mentioned “winning” is one of his highest priorities when thinking about his offseason decision on where he will end up next season.

Over the last few months, Kanter has been extremely vocal about the Turkish government reportedly requesting an INTERPOL "Red Notice" for him back in January because of his alleged ties to exiled U.S. based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Kanter has openly supported.

Being a professional athlete, Kanter has used his platform to educate people on what is going on in Turkey.

 “I’m going to spend some of my time in Washington DC this summer because whenever I go there most of the senators just always sit down and talk about all the stuff that’s going on back in Turkey,“ Kanter said.  

Kanter added, “I’m trying to use this platform to be a voice of all those innocent people [in Turkey] that don’t have one.”

Because Kanter cannot travel outside of the United States, he is going to be keeping busy with youth basketball camps.

Along with his usual workouts and offseason training, Kanter will be hosting over 30 kids’ camps in different cities across the US. All for free.

Kanter feels he is able to give back by not charging families money to come to his camps.

Kanter discussed at exit interviews that life has been hard with his situation, and he does feel that he has been put on the earth for a reason. He is also thankful to have basketball in his life.  

"Basketball is like my escape...as soon as I step on the court, all I care about is my teammates, basketball and winning. But as soon as I wake up in the morning... The fight begins."

Kanter will continue the fight for people in Turkey and weigh all of his options this offseason. NBA free agency begins July 1st at 9:00pm pacific time.

Trail Blazers have extended Terry Stotts' contract

Trail Blazers have extended Terry Stotts' contract

During "Exit Interview" day at the Trail Blazers' practice facility, Neil Olshey was asked about the contract situation with head coach Terry Stotts. 

Olshey responded simply that he had already been extended. 

When asked when that happened, Olshey replied, "about 20 minutes ago." 

Based on the success of this season it is not surprising that Terry Stotts got an extension on his contract. 

More to come about Stotts' situation and the future of the franchise from Insider Dwight Jaynes and Reporter Jamie Hudson. 

Trail Blazers discuss future in exit interviews

Trail Blazers discuss future in exit interviews

The Portland Trail Blazers are officially on vacation. Following last night's loss in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Trail Blazers took part in annual exit interviews before heading into the offseason.

The players, coaches and staff talked about the team's most successful season in nearly 20 years, as well as what could happen with free agents Rodney Hood, Seth Curry, Enes Kanter, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jake Layman (restricted) this offseason. Here's a recap of videos from Tuesday morning's exit interviews. 

Portland guard CJ McCollum reflected on what was a trying season for the team. The Trail Blazers faced a lot this year: The loss of owner Paul Allen, McCollum suffered a setback before playoffs and Jusuf Nurkic sustained a season-ending leg injury. In hard times, on more than one occasion, the Blazers stuck together. 

Reports circulated early Tuesday that Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension. Lillard didn't have many thoughts on the subject when asked about it during exit interviews.

Many of the players were impressed by the play of rookie Anfernee Simons, including veteran forward Evan Turner. 

Simons shared some thoughts on what he learned in his first NBA season.  

Meyers Leonard finished the 2018-19 season on a high note. Leonard dropped "The Hammer" in Game 4, recording a career-high 30 points over the defending champs. His standout play earned him "MEY-ERS-LEON-ARD" chants in the team's final playoff game, unlike the "boos" he once heard echo throughout the Moda Center years before.

He's heading into this offseason with confidence. 

Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey had an update on Jusuf Nurkic's recovery. He said Bosnian Beast is on a "good trajectory" towards a return next. 

Olshey also had an update on Blazers coach Terry Stotts. According to Olshey, the Trail Blazers and Stotts have reached an extension on his contract. Details have yet to be revealed. 

Enes Kanter talked about his struggles off-the-court this season and why basketball has helped him get through it all. 

Rodney Hood gave his thoughts on free agency this summer and what it would mean to return to Portland next season. 

Watch all of the live streams of Blazer exit interviews here. 

Live Streams: Trail Blazer Exit Interview Day

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USATI

Live Streams: Trail Blazer Exit Interview Day

Check in here throughout the day for links to our live streams from the Trail Blazers Practice Facility. Key players plus Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey will stop by to talk to the media. 

CJ McCollum

Meyers Leonard

Evan Turner

Al-Farouq Aminu

Damian Lillard

Moe Harkless

Enes Kanter

Rodney Hood

Zach Collins

Anfernee Simons

Neil Olshey & Terry Stotts

The Portland Trail Blazers made memories worth clinging to

The Portland Trail Blazers made memories worth clinging to

Before Meyers Leonard left the arena for a final time this season, he needed to make one more stop.

He walked down the back hallway inside the Moda Center with his wife and a small group of friends and then made a hard left, dipping back into the long deserted locker room to grab a memento from a special night that concluded a unforgettable season.

Leonard snagged a final box score, which included his stat line from the best game-winner of his seven year NBA career: 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in 40:17.

He said he probably wouldn’t frame, but he wanted the keepsake.

It’s safe to say Leonard is not the only person in Rip City who will want to save the memory from this Trail Blazers run. This team played long enough and racked up enough special moments that depending on who you ask, those lasting memories are different.

For rookie Anfernee Simons it will be the first round series against Oklahoma City.

“That … that was fun,” the Blazers rookie said through a massive grin, recalling Damian Lillard’s 37-foot series-clinching dagger that sent a bitter rival packing.

For Jake Layman, it will probably be Game 7 in Denver when the Blazers climbed back from down 17 to win on the road after avoiding elimination in Game 6.

And Seth Curry will always appreciate earning the chance to go head-to-head against his older brother, Stephen, a backyard sibling rivalry turned Western Conference Finals showdown. Like Leonard, Seth Curry left with his brothers’ Golden State jersey. It was a night to leave with a souvenir.

Perhaps those aren’t the moments you’ll cling to weeks, months or years from now when remembering this iteration of the Blazers. Maybe you’ll remember a four overtime marathon capped by Hood’s heroics. Or Lillard waving goodbye to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Or CJ McCollum drilling a mid-range daggers over a helpless Torrey Craig. Or a hobbled Enes Kanter fighting off Steven Adams and Nikola Jokic with a separated left shoulder.

“On the whole probably just getting here to Western Conference Finals,” Evan Turner said when asked what will stick with him about this season. “I think that’s pretty cool when you look at it. But there’s a lot of little moments in between.”

The little moments is what made this season special, and made the big moments possible. Even the Blazers joyous and exhilarating run was dotted with heartbreak and setbacks along the way. Three days before the season Paul Allen, the team’s long time owner, passed away suddenly. Then in the waning days of the regular season, center Jusuf Nurkic fractured his leg, ending his best NBA season nine games before the playoffs. After the triumph of the first round win over, Oklahoma City video coordinator and development coach Jon Yim was in a serious car accident that caused him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.

“We lose our owner,” Lillard said. “We dealt with injuries -- CJ missed a lot of games at a crucial stretch in the season, and we just kept answering the call. And that takes a group of guys to maybe go from not playing minutes, stepping up, giving us good minutes, trusting each other, leaning on each other. It takes a real group to be able to come together in those hard times on more than one occasion, and I thought we did that.”

It was Meyers Leonard on Monday. But it had been Evan Turner in Games 6 and 7 against Denver. Rodney Hood came off the bench to deliver a game-winning at the end of four overtimes after Enes Kanter had sealed a playoff-opening win with a two crucial late-game rebounds. Up and down the roster, the Blazers answered the call.

This year was always going to be defined by what the Blazers did in the playoffs. It was a core that had proved it could be consistently good but rarely great in years past. They had been swept out of consecutive playoffs and another early exit could have led to a major overhaul. Through adversity and with Lillard’s steady leadership guiding a collective push, the Blazers dashed preseason expectations and then exorcised their postseason demons.

“We all stayed ready,” Turner said. “Nobody really bailed out if things didn’t go their way. We stayed together as a team. I think that was the most special thing. We really stayed together as a team. You can really see how, in a lot of different ways, we grew as a team. We reached our full potential. Because before the season nobody really had us pegged to do any of this.”

You cannot capture this moment again. That’s not because the Blazers can’t get back to this stage, in fact, Lillard spent much his postgame press conference explaining exactly why he thinks his team showed they can repeat their run. That’s not because the nature of the business means this team will look a little different next season. The Blazers might come back better, stronger for having made this playoff push and wiser for passing the tests along the way.

This moment isn’t repeatable because expectations mute joy. The first time with its shocking unanticipated delight is always going to be the sweetest. The Blazers won’t be able to duplicate this even with identical results.

It’s why Seth Curry made sure to swap jerseys with his brother. It’s why Leonard made that last stop to grab a box score. It was a night to savor the memories and appreciate the ride.

“When you look back at this it’s going to be special for all of us individually and as a team,” Hood said. “We made it to the Western Conference Finals. People don’t understand how hard that is to do. And to do it in the Western Conference. And to play great basketball against the defending world champions. We can’t ask for nothing better.”

Chris Haynes Report: Damian Lillard expected to get $191M supermax deal from Trail Blazers this summer

Chris Haynes Report: Damian Lillard expected to get $191M supermax deal from Trail Blazers this summer

According to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, Damian Lillard is set to get a super max deal from the Trail Blazers this summer:

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Technically, Lillard needs to make an All-NBA team from this season in order to qualify, but it is hard to imagine that not happening. 

Lillard still has two-years left on his current deal.

Following what was an impressive season for the Trail Blazers, including their first trip to the Western Conference Finals in 19 years, it is no surprise that a new deal would be worked out for Portland's #1 man. 

The offseason however, remains a major question mark for this team with several key players becoming free agents, not a lot of cap space to work with, and an injured Jusuf Nurkic.

More to come on Damian's contract, the Trail Blazers off-season plans and full NBA Draft and Free Agency coverage from Insider Dwight Jaynes and Reporter Jamie Hudson this off-season.