Are the Blazers playing on borrowed time with Maurice Harkless injury?

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Are the Blazers playing on borrowed time with Maurice Harkless injury?

The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a hot start. The team has ridden a season-opening win against LeBron James in the Los Angeles Lakers well into the third week of the year, and after Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rockets find themselves sitting at 5-2. 

The story of the season so far has been the play of the bench unit, who have been unselfish as they’ve bought into Terry Stotts’ overarching strategy to shoot more 3-pointers and share the ball on offense. The bench has been so good that it's even allowed fans in Rip City to gloss over early struggles from the likes of CJ McCollum and to an extent, Jusuf Nurkic. 

To that end, Maurice Harkless almost seems like an afterthought.

Harkless went through knee surgery to remove loose bodies late last season. It held him from contributing in the playoffs against the New Orleans Pelicans, and Harkless entered training camp still battling persistent soreness. He’s played just 88 minutes so far this year, and just as we thought his minutes restriction might get lifted the team announced Harkless be out on a day-to-day basis.

Management has done a good job not to talk up Harkless’ importance to the team over the offseason, knowing perhaps that his knee might take a bit longer to heal than previously thought. However, that hasn't kept the team from remarking, in a roundabout way, that Harkless might be exactly what this Blazers squad needs.

If we're talking about 3-point shooting and passing, that’s Harkless at his best.

Last season the 25-year old was Portland's best 3-point shooter (min: 500 minutes) at 41.5 percent. If there was critcism to be had on Harkless last year, it was that the number of shots he took beyond the arc per 100 possessions was below even that of Zach Collins. When he did shoot, however, Harkless’ statistics show he took a lion’s share of his jumpers as 3-pointers.

Cut though the stats mumbo jumbo, and Harkless was a good shooter that should have shot even more. That’s exactly what Stotts is going for his season, and it’s just part of the reason the team is missing the forward from Queens. 

The Blazers have sustained themselves in 2018-19 on tight execution by Damian Lillard, team basketball off the bench, and surprising play from up-and-comers like Nik Stauskas and Jake Layman. Collins has been a beast and Stotts’ decision not to stagger Dame and CJ has worked wonders. 

But the issue at hand is not that the Blazers can’t sustain good play, or that they have a don’t have a formula that should compute the rest of the season. It’s that, in missing Harkless, they are missing so much more. 

It also begs the question: Is Harkless close to being healthy? And if he’s not, should the Blazers rest him now instead of later?

Stauskas and Layman have been helpful in their new roles with this team, and backup point guard Seth Curry has done what the front office was looking for when they signed him this summer. But from a realistic perspective, not having Harkless in the lineup should douse the flames Blazers fans might have for their young, surprising bench players.

Because Harkless’ injury situation is so tenuous, Portland will need to rely on those players — Stauskas, Layman, Curry, and Turner — to play exactly the way they have to keep this pace. 

Ask yourself, dear reader. Is that what you feel is most likely?

That Curry, Collins, and Stauskas are going to shoot better than 50 percent apiece from the 3-point line? 

That Turner’s assist rate will remain more than double his average as a Blazer?

That this team will have the second-best offense in the NBA at the end of the year?

Teams gather film over the course of the season, and eventually there’s going to be some regression. Even if some of the more negative statistics see a reversal — basically any of McCollum’s stats, or Al-Farouq Aminu shooting 10 percent under last season’s 3-point percentage — it leaves you putting a lot of hope in multiple players having career seasons all at once.

If Harkless was healthy and a part of this team, his positive contribution would be noticeable. His being a part of the rotation would naturally move everyone down a notch. At that point, the benefit from Stauskas and Layman would be extra rotational firepower instead of what it is now: an absolute necessity.

Blazers fans were mad about this offseason, not because they believe it’s possible to knock off the Golden State Warriors and become a potential Finals contender. Instead, the next rung that Portland would like to see this team grab onto is that of a serious Western Conference Finals challenger. The loss to the Pelicans last season spoiled that progression somewhat, and because of the historical lack of free agency signings in Oregon, the only real way for the Blazers to get to that level is by adding rotational depth. Harkless is the key to having that, and missing him is going to catch up with Portland eventually.

What the front office and coaching staff needs to decide now is how bad Harkless’ injury is, what can be done to get him on the floor this season, and if he needs to simply shut it down and reassess things later in the winter. 

Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is THE app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

How a duo of techs ALMOST doomed the Trail Blazers

How a duo of techs ALMOST doomed the Trail Blazers

How many times have you watched your favorite team in a mid-game slump, only to yell at the screen “coach really needs to get a tech right now! Pump some life back into this team!”?

Well, that is exactly what Spurs fans thought about their team on Saturday night, and it’s exactly what head coach Gregg Popovich did.

With 9:37 left in the third quarter and the Spurs trailing 77-64, Popovich had had enough. Upset with a call, he voiced his displeasure to the refs. Apparently, he said the magic words because he was handed two technical fouls on the spot and was promptly ejected.

Damian Lillard hit two technical free throws to makes it a 15-point game, but the Blazers' good feelings were ripped away shortly thereafter. 

Popovich walked out of the tunnel to the roar of the Spurs faithful showing their approval. There was energy in the stadium, and energy back in the Spurs lineup. With newfound life, the Spurs went on a 30-11 run to end the quarter and take the six-point lead into the fourth.

San Antonio only built on the lead from there, and it looked like it was going to be another big lead blown by the Blazers. But this is not how this one ended.

The Blazers showed poise, they showed character, and with their backs against the wall they were able to claw back and counter. Portland ended the game on a 17-6 run of its own, grabbing the lead back from the Spurs and the win with it.

The Blazers came out victorious, but they can still take a few notes from Pop and Co.

Sometimes it’s beneficial to shake it up. To do the unconventional in an attempt to ignite a fire. When Popovich earned the ejection, the Spurs regained their focus. Tim Duncan and Becky Hammon took the reigns and guided the ship and it almost worked.

However, the Blazers were ready for the challenge. Finishing strong has been hard for the Blazers early this season, but they were able to put the pieces together against the Spurs.

The lesson here is - next time you are watching the Blazers and think Stotts should take one for the team… you might get what you wished for. On Saturday, the Blazers saw just how effective that strategy can be.  

 

Whiteside leads Trail Blazer "other guys" to win at San Antonio

Whiteside leads Trail Blazer "other guys" to win at San Antonio

That win in San Antonio Saturday night for the Trail Blazers?

It was engineered by the “other guys.”

With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum – usually the ones carrying the heavy load in the fourth quarter – suffering through 1-7 efforts from the field in the final period, their teammates stepped up and forged a rally from a 15-point deficit with 8:32 left to a 121-116 win over the Spurs.

And it was the rest of the starting lineup that provided a good deal of the firepower. In the fourth quarter:

  • Rodney Hood hit both his field goal attempts and only free throw opportunity, including a huge three-point play with 1:21 to go that pushed his team into its first lead of the period.
  • Nassir Little had five rebounds in the quarter, some outstanding defense, big hustle plays and a resounding dunk shot.
  • And Hassan Whiteside was the biggest of them all, hitting four of his five shots from the floor, all three of his free throws, grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots – all in the final quarter. Whiteside finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and made perhaps the biggest play of the game with 37.1 seconds left and his team clinging to a one-point lead. He made a terrific block on DeMar DeRozan and then drew a loose-ball foul on DeRozan, who grabbed Whiteside’s shirt and pulled him down after the blocked shot.

Whiteside, a 57.5 percent career foul shooter, calmly made both free throws to push the lead to three.

“Hassan played a terrific fourth quarter at both ends,” Coach Terry Stotts said.  “He scored for us, he finished around the bucket, made his free throws. He was a big presence at the rim. He deterred a lot of shots. He really made a difference.”

Portland once led this game by 23 and had an 18-point lead after the first quarter. But the Spurs caught fire after Coach Gregg Popovich got booted out of the game at the 9:37 mark of the third period and climbed all the way into that 15-point lead.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Whiteside said. “The difference in this one is we communicated down the stretch. We got stops at the end. I was telling the guys, we worked too hard to let this one slip away. We were just locked in on defense. Everybody just said it’s winning time. We definitely need a sense of urgency, but it’s not like the season is over. Guys are getting better. I’m doing things I’ve never done before in my career.

“I’m passing the ball more. Making backdoor passes to Dame. It’s the system here.”

The Trail Blazers were not sharing the ball early in the fourth quarter and missing quick shots. The big problem was a lot of one-pass or no-pass possessions before Stotts seemed to call for some multiple-player weaves, just to get the ball moving. The result was an 11-0 run that got the Blazers back in the game.

“Defensively, the fourth quarter was really important for us,” Stotts said. “We came up with a lot of loose balls and got some steals. It was a great game, big for us.”

Portland plays Game 2 of this six-game junket Monday in Houston.

Trail Blazers ordered up a side dose of energy in the form of Nassir Little

Trail Blazers ordered up a side dose of energy in the form of Nassir Little

SAN ANTONIO— An energy difference maker? 

That is Trail Blazers rookie Nassir Little’s emerged role these days.

Portland fought back from being down by as many as 15 points in the second half to beat San Antonio 121-116. The Blazers tightened up on the defensive end and were able to come up with big plays down the stretch. 

And that’s where Little enters the conversation. 

“I think he made some amazing plays tonight," Rodney Hood said postgame. “Offensive rebounds… His energy was amazing and that’s what we needed. If we didn’t have that I don’t think we would’ve pulled this win out. I think he was one of the MVPs of tonight.”

Little finished with a plus/minus of a plus-15, the third best on the team.

The 19-year-old was in the game when it mattered in crunch time. He had an impact giving the Blazers extra possessions and bringing that energy.

Little threw down a monster dunk with 3:03 remaining in the game.

That dunk was mentioned on numerous occasions as a game changing moment with Little brining that spark.

“His got a lot of energy and a lot of athleticism, and he using that. I think he’s been great for us in terms of his energy. He’s still learning and figuring out the game, but one thing he is going to do is play hard, and I think you can see that,” CJ McCollum added.

Little explained how the seas parted ways for him and he took it hard to the rim for the jam.

“CJ came off a pick-and-roll and I was coming behind rather than standing on the three-point line. I just cut because CJ was going off… I cut to the basket and then just went off. That’s one of my roles on the team -- is to bring energy, make those kinds of plays, and get my team extra possessions and keep us in the game,” Little said.

Just seconds before the dunk, Little was called for a shooting foul.

His teammates thought it was a clean block, but it cost the Blazers just one point with Derrick White making 1-of-2 from the line.

Little’s teammates loved his aggressive nature.    

“I think Nas got called on the foul, it wasn’t a foul but he really was the MVP. He made big plays tonight,” Hood said.

And so did Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.

“Nas got called for a foul on a block, but it was a great energy play,” Stotts said.

Little had played in just three games with 32 total minutes prior starting the last two contests.

In his second straight start, Little is now averaging 6.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and four personal fouls.

Little said he is “trying to do the small things” now that he has been given the opportunity.

As Damian Lillard put it postgame, Saturday’s game was a “super important one" for the Blazers to win.

And now, Little is showing off his super important athleticism and energy. Through the last two games Little has been a valuable piece to the puzzle. 

 

Listen to the latest Talkin' Blazers podcast below:

Instant Analysis: Blazers rally late vs. Becky Hammon & Tim Duncan led Spurs to save the win

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Instant Analysis: Blazers rally late vs. Becky Hammon & Tim Duncan led Spurs to save the win

SAN ANTONIO – The Trail Blazers jumped out to a good start, like they have done in numerous games so far this season, but the difference on Saturday night vs. the Spurs was that the Blazers were able to come up with big plays in the finals seconds.

Of course, San Antonio made its run in the third quarter. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was hit with two technical fouls within seconds of each other in the third period.

With no Coach Pop, Becky Hammon became the first female acting head coach in the league since she is officially listed as San Antonio’s first assistant. Hammon and Tim Duncan worked together to handle timeouts. 

The move by Pop to get tossed looked like his way of lighting a fire under his team.

It worked until a loose ball foul on DeMar DeRozan meant two free throws for Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside sank them both and then came up with a big rebound in the final seconds.

FINAL BOX SCORE: Trail Blazers 121, Spurs 116
Here are three quick takeaways from Saturday’s win:

1. Portland lets it fly from three

Multiple Blazers were getting in on the action from three-point range. Whether it was Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, or Mario Hezonja, there were plenty of made threes on Saturday night.

Rookie Nassir Little, who has been labeled as a guy that needs to work on his shot from deep, had one early from the corner. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts gave Little the starting nod at power forward for the second straight game.  Little also assisted on a couple of threes as well.

2.  Whiteside making his presence known

Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside went to work early on both ends. Whiteside forced LaMarcus Aldridge out of the paint. LA shot from three, and went to his fadeaway jumper more often than not as to not take it to the rim against Whiteside. On the other end of the ball, Whiteside started the game a perfect 4-for-4. He wasn’t as effective in the pick and roll in the second half.  

3.  CJ is back

After what he has called a slow start to the season offensively, CJ McCollum was cooking on Saturday night. He was efficient from three, and was able to score in a variety of ways. He looked like his old self, and the Blazers needed every bit of McCollum’s 32 points.

Up Next: Portland continues its six-game trip with game number two in Houston on Monday night. The Blazers and Rockets tip-off at 5:00pm PT.

Check back throughout tonight and tomorrow for more articles and videos from the player!

 

Listen to the latest Talkin' Blazers Podcast below:

How do Trail Blazers handle a six-game road trip? -- Certain tips and tricks

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How do Trail Blazers handle a six-game road trip? -- Certain tips and tricks

SAN ANTONIO – Being a leader on and off the court, Damian Lillard makes sure to get his mind right before every game, especially on a grueling six-game trip.  

The Blazers tip-off their 11-day trip in San Antonio on Saturday night.

As Portland embarks on their first of two six-game trips this season, Lillard offered up his tips and tricks of handling a long road trip.

“I’m a big mental person,” Lillard said after Friday’s practice. “Just like what your mentality is, as in how you feed it, and usually on these type of trips I come in and I try not to think about it being a long trip and what teams we play and all of that stuff. I just come into it with like – I’m going to get some rest tonight, come out tomorrow and I’m going to have my mind sharp, have myself convinced that this is what I’m going to come into the game and do – I’m going to come in, I’m going to be aggressive, I’m going to come in and give the effort defensively.”

After Saturday’s game, the Blazers will visit Houston, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and wrap things up next Tuesday in Chicago.

Portland is currently 3-4 on the road heading into Saturday’s contest.

Since the Trail Blazer All-Star point guard has been in the league, he has made sure to take the advice of not letting his mind wander.

“When we get to the next one, it’s like, alright, the first game is behind us. Let’s do the same thing over again. And, I always have been able to literally separate a six-game trip into one game every time, and it helps you not wear down when you don’t think about it all as one. It helps you mentally and physically stay sharp and strong,” Lillard said.

Rodney Hood mentioned how “a lot more team dinners together” will also be key in how the team is able to manage a long trip. 

For Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, he finds peace of mind in his daily walks.  

“When you’re old like me, walking is your exercise. San Antonio is a good walking city. In every NBA city I kind of have a path that I get my five-mile walk in,” Stotts said.

Coach Stotts also mentioned that life on the road means everyone needs to be better with managing their time.

Oh and what he brings with him in his suitcase is also a concern.

“Packing is the main issue,” Stotts said with a smile. “Making sure I’ve got three suits, six shirts, six ties, but as far as preparation -- it’s the NBA schedule you just get ready for the next game, some nights we’ll spend the night [after a game], some nights we won’t. A lot of it is just time management.”  

Now with the Blazers and Spurs slated to tip-off at 5:30p.m. tonight on NBC Sports Northwest and on the 'My Teams' App (and on Blazers Pass), the Blazers are looking to even up the season series at one apiece.

What sticks with Lillard the most when thinking about the last time these two met nearly three weeks ago?

“Having a 19-point lead and blowing it,” Lillard said.

“I think we got off to a great start, defended, the ball was moving, and obviously it’s a game of runs. Teams, especially on their home floor are going to have moments, they’re going to find it and have stretched in games… But to go from up 19 to down 19… We blew it, that’s what comes to mind,“ Lillard said.

Coach Stotts gave more insight to their matchup against the Spurs during his pregame interview.

He also mentioned that Carmelo Anthony is in New York right now. Melo will get his physical there, and Stotts hopes to have him join the team in New Orleans on Tuesday.

HEAR FROM COACH STOTTS PREGAME HERE:

Talkin’ Blazers Podcast: Should Carmelo Anthony start for Portland?

Talkin’ Blazers Podcast: Should Carmelo Anthony start for Portland?

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen!

Former Trail Blazer and NBA Champ Channing Frye has some opinions about Carmelo Anthony reportedly set to join the Blazers.  

The Talkin’ Blazers Podcast duo of Frye and Dan Sheldon discussed freeing Melo and so much more on this week’s podcast.

Frye shared his thoughts on the Trail Blazers starting lineup and how the rotations should work once Anthony suits up for Portland:

 "I would start Nassir Little. Because I don't want Carmelo out there in the first unit because there's not enough shots for him to be productive... He's a stand still shooter... And defensively, he's not guarding four men in this league anymore. His biggest threat is his offensive firepower."

Not only could the second unit use Anthony’s shot making ability, but Blazers head coach Terry Stotts expressed after Little made his debut on Wednesday night vs. the Raptors that he “felt like it was worth taking a look at” Little in the starting lineup. And Stotts believes "it is easier for a young guy to be out there with the starters and blend in."

Melo doesn’t need to blend in. In fact, he’d probably prefer leading the second unit and feeling like he has the ultimate green light to get more shots up because the Blazer bench has struggled to be productive on the offensive end thus far this season.

You can listen to the full podcast below:

How to watch, stream Portland at San Antonio tonight at 5:30pm

How to watch, stream Portland at San Antonio tonight at 5:30pm

SAN ANTONIO -- Things just got very interesting.

Now that the Portland Trail Blazers (4-8) are set to sign power forward Carmelo Anthony, fans should get their first glimpse at Melo in a Blazer jersey at some point during this grueling 6-game road trip. According to the latest report, Anthony will not be available to play until the Trail Blazers take on the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

The Spurs (5-6) are looking to take a 2-0 series lead over the Blazers after beating Portland 113-110 back on October 28th.

Of course, Rip City has been reacting to the Anthony signing on social media. For the most part, fans are excited to see what the 35-year-old still has left in the tank once he finally suits up. 

You can watch the Blazers-Spurs game on NBC Sports Northwest, the Official Network of the Portland Trail Blazers and you can stream the game on our website or by downloading the MyTeams app!

And, have you heard about Blazers Pass? You can watch tonight's game via Blazers Pass if you don't get NBC Sports Northwest!

You can get 15 live Trail Blazers games, pre and postgame shows, and on-demand full-game replays with Blazers Pass! (Only available to fans located in Blazers Territory, pursuant to NBA rules and agreements. No TV provider required. Subscription Period: November 4, 2019 - April 16, 2020. Subscription auto-renews prior to start of next season.)

Don't miss any of the coverage of tonight's game:

2:00pm Blazers Game Day with Chad Doing

4:30pm Blazers Warm-Up

5:00pm Trail Blazers Pregame Show

5:30pm Trail Blazers vs. Spurs

After the game catch Blazers Outsiders with hosts Joe Simons and Dan Marang!

Plus, full coverage of the game from Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team. Follow us on social throughout the night for the latest updates. 

Quotable

“But let’s keep it real about the Trail Blazers right now: the loss of Zach Collins has left a gaping hole at the power forward spot. And at the same time, Portland is struggling to score. Frankly, there is little chance before the return of Jusuf Nurkic that this team is going to somehow figure out a way to consistently hold a team to fewer points than it is scoring. So why not try Carmelo Anthony? Why not try to put enough points on the board that the defense doesn't have to be so tight?

Half the league is playing that way in this era.” – Dwight Jaynes on why Melo to Portland is a good idea

Trail Blazers "are all for it" when it comes to Carmelo Anthony to Portland

Trail Blazers "are all for it" when it comes to Carmelo Anthony to Portland

SAN ANTONIO – It’s hoodie season in Portland.

Hoodie Melo season, to be exact.

But as the Trail Blazers embark on a six-game road trip starting with San Antonio on Saturday, Anthony is not with the team.  

The 16-year-veteran is reportedly not expected to be available until Tuesday night in New Orleans

After the Blazers wrapped up practice at the Spurs practice facility Friday night, players gave their initial thoughts and showed their excitement about bringing in a future Hall of Famer. 

“I’m all for it,” Damian Lillard said. “We’ve had a lot of guys hurt. I think he can do something to help us with his size, his ability to space the floor, his ability to shoot, another option to throw somebody the ball that can score in isolation situations, good rebounder, and just the experience. He’s a good player, regardless of what the last few years, you know, in Houston and OKC looked like. I didn’t think either one was a great fit.”

Through 10 games last season, Anthony averaged 13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.5 apg with the Rockets.

“I think he can do things to help our team… So, hopefully, it can bring some excitement and help us getting going in the right direction,” Lillard said.

Both Lillard and CJ McCollum spoke with Anthony on Thursday night.

“He seemed excited,” Lillard said. “Obviously, with the situation he has been in, being in and out of the league, and not going out the way he wanted to go out, and the fact that he can still play, I think he was just excited for whatever opportunity presented itself.”

“He’s coming here to help our team,” Lillard added.

Smiling as he said “Free Melo,” which seemed to be very fitting coming from McCollum.

McCollum and Lillard had publicly tried to recruit Anthony numerous times over the years.

Now the stars have aligned for Melo and the Blazers.

“It took some time, but glad it finally worked out,” McCollum said.

“I’m excited. I’m happy for him,” McCollum continued. “I know how hard he worked to get back to the league, and it’s a shame it took this long for him to get back, but I’m looking forward to it… Most importantly, he can help improve our team.”

The 10-time All-Star hasn’t suited up in more than a year.

Thus, there are question marks surrounding how much Anthony has left in the tank and what kind of shape he is in at the moment.

To those questions, Lillard offers this message:

“A professional and future Hall of Fame guy like him, who I think it’s been obvious that he planned on still being in the NBA, you know he wasn’t at home on the couch waiting for a job. You know he was preparing himself so when an opportunity came, he could come in and show it. I’m expecting for him to come in ready.”   

Rodney Hood, who said his back is continuing to feel better after dealing with back spasms all week, also had plenty to say about his eventual new teammate.

“I think it’s a great pick up for us. I think it can really help from many different angles, from an experience standpoint, from a scoring standpoint. I know he’s excited to get another chance and we’re excited to have him,” Hood said.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the Trail Blazers will pay just under $15,000 per day that Anthony is with the team. The contract will only become fully guaranteed if he makes it past January 7th.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts wouldn’t comment on the Anthony news because nothing has become official yet.

But for McCollum, he’s ready to get Melo in the mix and start moving forward.

“We made the playoffs six straight years,” McCollum said. “That’s what we’re playing for. We’re playing to get back into that race. Obviously, it's early in the season, but we’ve struggled and now we’re trying to turn the page and kind of move forward.”

Talkin' Blazers Podcast: Is Carmelo Anthony the difference-maker for Portland?

Talkin' Blazers Podcast: Is Carmelo Anthony the difference-maker for Portland?

It's Frye Day which means the latest Talkin' Blazers Podcast is here!

Big week for the Portland Trail Blazers (4-8) as the organization plans to sign former All-Star Carmelo Anthony.

NBA Champion Channing Frye and his Emmy Award-winning co-host Dan Sheldon discuss the Trail Blazers' signing of Anthony and what to expect when he takes the court. Plus, find out if Channing and Dan think Anfernee Simons a legit contender for "most improved player" and the best NBA cities for entertainment options.

Listen to the full podcast below:

MORE ON THE BLAZERS

HeadStrong: How Channing Frye emerged from the fog

Michael Rapaport: It's criminal that CJ hasn't been an All-Star yet

Dribble, dribble, dribble: What Shaq & Barkley think about Melo to Portland