From cursed to charmed: 2017-2018 Blazers riding wave of luck, success

From cursed to charmed: 2017-2018 Blazers riding wave of luck, success

By now, it’s getting hard to deny that something special is happening to the 2017-2018 Trail Blazers.

The Blazers are the hottest team in the NBA, having won nine in a row heading into tonight’s game against Miami. But there is a more subtle trend that has become a part of this season:

For once in their tortured franchise history, the Blazers have been favorably affected by injuries.

From teams around the Blazers in the standings, to players being sidelined when facing Portland, the Blazers this season have gone from cursed to charmed.

A franchise that has watched injuries end careers – from Bill Walton to Sam Bowie to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy – and had late-season injuries ruin seasons (Bonzi Wells, Wesley Matthews), the Trail Blazers this season are seemingly catching a break at every turn.

In the hotly contested Western Conference, every team around the third-place Blazers has weathered a significant injury.

Fourth-place New Orleans lost All-Star DeMarcus Cousins for the season.

Fifth-place Minnesota is without All-Star Jimmy Butler for two-months of the season’s stretch run.

Sixth-place Oklahoma City lost Andre Roberson, it’s defensive anchor, for the season.

Seventh-place San Antonio has played nearly all season without All-Star Kawhi Leonard.

And the trio of remaining contenders – Denver (Paul Millsap), the Clippers (Patrick Beverley) and Utah (Rudy Gobert) – have played long stretches with key players out.

But it’s not just the teams around Portland that have been impacted.

In an uncanny trend, the Blazers this season have often benefitted from playing teams without either a star player or key players.

It started in the season opener, when Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe was held out while the team tried to facilitate a trade and has continued through tonight, when Miami will be without starting center Hassan Whiteside and guard Dwyane Wade.

In between, the Blazers have missed Stephen Curry twice. John Wall twice. Jimmy Butler twice. Whiteside twice. James Harden. Kyrie Irving. Blake Griffin. Draymond Green. Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony. Myles Turner twice.

And that list doesn’t include this season’s chronically injured, like Leonard (twice), Mike Conley (twice), Tony Parker (twice).

If you think the Blazers are going to apologize for having to play teams that are short-handed, think again. History has been too cruel.

“For us,’’ Damian Lillard reminded, “luck hasn’t always been on our side.’’

**

On March 5, 2015 the Blazers beat Dallas to improve to 41-19, where they sat in third place in the West. But it was a night their season changed.

Matthews, their starting shooting guard and the heart-and-soul of the locker room, ruptured his Achilles tendon during the game and was lost for the season.

Without Matthews down the stretch, the Blazers’ defense disintegrated, and some of the team’s grit disappeared. The Blazers limped to a 10-12 record, finished fifth and were dispatched by Memphis in five games.

It marked the end of one of the most popular and encouraging Blazers cores in years. LaMarcus Aldridge left for San Antonio. Matthews signed with Dallas. Robin Lopez signed with New York and Nicolas Batum was traded to Charlotte.

Players on that team were left to wonder what would have happened had Matthews’ Achilles stayed in tact? Not only that season, but the future?

It wasn’t the first time an injury derailed the Blazers late in the season.

In April of 2001, the Blazers were trying to stave off an epic late-season collapse when Bonzi Wells went up for a dunk at Golden State.

Moments later, Wells was pounding the court in agony, his left knee blown out. He had torn his ACL and would be lost for the final six games and the playoffs.

After beginning March in first place in the Western Conference, the team started to unravel amid the tantrums of Rasheed Wallace and internal strife amid late-season additions Rod Strickland and Detlef Schrempf.

Coach Mike Dunleavy made a controversial move during the spiral: he moved Wells to the starting lineup in place of Steve Smith, who was coming off an appearance on the Olympic team.

The move was starting to reap benefits as the team headed into April. Wells, who would finish second in the NBA in field goal percentage, was demanding double-teams on the post. And Smith began to flourish as the No. 1 option off the bench.

Coming off the Western Conference finals appearance the season before, the Blazers never got to see how the new lineup would fare in the postseason, and they were swept by the Lakers.

**

Of course, the injury curse has long been a part of Portland’s history.

After leading the Blazers to the 1977 title, Walton broke his foot in Game 60 at Philadelphia. The Blazers were 50-10 at the time, which included a 30-1 record at home, including 26 straight.

Portland finished 8-14 and lost to Seattle in the conference semifinals.

Then there was Bowie … and Oden … and Roy … all promising careers cut short by injury. Even last season, the Blazers’ late-season flurry to the playoffs was tainted by Jusuf Nurkic’s broken leg, which kept him out of all but one playoff game.

But this season, outside of Al-Farouq Aminu missing 13 games with an ankle sprain, and Lillard missing seven games with hamstring and calf injuries, the Blazers have been healthy.

Around here, people figure it’s about time the breaks went Portland’s way.

“People ask me why I’m always so optimistic, why do I always believe?’’ Lillard said. “I know that a lot of things go into an NBA season, and injuries are part of it. Bad stretches are part of it. Some guys don’t have the season you expect them to have … you just never know what is going to happen.’’

So, luck? Sure. Every team needs it.

“If that’s considered outside luck, then so be it,’’ Lillard said. “It’s part of it … Right now, things are going well for us. But we are doing the right things to give ourselves a chance to win these games and take advantage of the fact that other people might be going through things we are not.’’

Kawhi wanted to go to LA and got Toronto -- call it Spurs' Revenge

Kawhi wanted to go to LA and got Toronto -- call it Spurs' Revenge

I have a few thoughts on that crazy all-star-for-all-star trade that essentially sent DeMar DeRozan from Toronto to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard. I find some aspects of the deal fascinating.

First of all, don’t cross Gregg Popovich or the San Antonio Spurs. Not only did the Spurs land DeRozan, a very good player,  Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick for Leonard, they absolutely managed to send Leonard to the polar opposite of where he wanted to go.

You want to go to LA, young man? Here’s Toronto, enjoy yourself. Toronto is a beautiful city but between the frigid weather and the taxes -- good luck. And leave your bathing suit at home. You can't get much further from the beaches of southern California than Toronto. The Spurs' revenge cut deep.

I heard a lot of people around the league talking about trading for Leonard – with just one season left on his contract – including a lot of Trail Blazer fans. Sorry, but that’s a terrible gamble.

Just because Paul George – apparently a victim of basketball’s version of Stockholm syndrome -- decided to stay in Oklahoma City, doesn’t mean any other one-year rental would make the same decision. George's decision to stay in Oklahoma was bewildering and I have to believe that someday he’ll be sorry.

And to think other players will follow suit and stay put just because George did is silly. You can talk about rolling the dice and gambling on the big move all you want, that's a very big longshot to go all-in on. And if the gamble doesn't pay off, the penalty is way too high.

The risk/reward on this one just doesn't pencil out for the Raptors. If you think it's time to trade DeRozan, that's fine -- but a one-year rental may not be the best idea.

 

 

Wade Baldwin may have an uphill battle for playing time this season with Trail Blazers

Wade Baldwin may have an uphill battle for playing time this season with Trail Blazers

OK, so now that we know Wade Baldwin is going to be on the roster of the Portland Trail Blazers this season, where does he fit?

Will he play? Will he be in the rotation? What will his role be?

For right now, I’m not sure those questions can be answered. Training camp and the exhibition season will certainly go a long way toward solving those issues.

But at this point, I’d say Baldwin might be in a tough spot.

The Trail Blazer backcourt is going to be as crowded as Interstate-5 North at rush hour, with some veteran players in line ahead of Baldwin.

If you’re thinking about him as the prime candidate to back up Damian Lillard at the point, you might be disappointed. Don’t forget that the Trail Blazers signed free agent Seth Curry and he’s come into his own as an NBA player. He's no longer just somebody's little brother.

While Curry has never been known as a distributor, he can certainly shoot the ball – perhaps Baldwin’s weakest area.

For his career, Curry has shot 47.3 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from three-point range. And yes, we’re talking about SETH Curry, not his brother STEPH.

Now I’m pretty sure Baldwin would have an edge over Curry at the defensive end of the court and may be a better playmaker. He's also the team's biggest and most physical point guard and is capable of playing at a very fast pace.  And one more thing in his favor -- he is a player Portland got for nothing who is quickly rebuilding his value as a one-time first-round pick. At some point, he could be a valuable trade piece.

That said, in today’s NBA, the game is becoming all about firepower –- and mostly long-range firepower. Curry can provide that to a team that needs an injection of accurate three-point shooting.

It’s also reasonable to expect rookie Anfernee Simons to get some playing time at one of the guard spots. Yes, he’s young but he’s a special player who needs to play if he’s not optioned to a G-League team.

Add in the projected off-guards on this squad – Nik Stauskas and Gary Trent Jr. – and you can see that Coach Terry Stotts has some decisions to make.

He has a crowd of interesting players at off-guard and could make a little more room for them on the court by using CJ McCollum as a backup point guard frequently.

Baldwin is going to be in the same position he’s been in for most of his career:

How much he plays will be up to him. And he’s probably going to have to play pretty well to earn a regular spot in the rotation.

 

 

Social media reacts to the 2018 Summer League Champs

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USA Today Img.

Social media reacts to the 2018 Summer League Champs

To say the Blazers are excited for this championship is an understatement. Hoist the trophy high, veterans excited for their rookies, and much more on social media reacting to this championship!

 

The rookies went to Twitter following the win, excited to bring the trophy home to Portland:

 

Even the rookies alma mater's chimed in:

 

So... about the championship parade... 

 

LINKS:

Read: Give credit to the Summer League Coaches

Read: Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Watch: Why winning Summer League matters

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Moving forward, I'm not sure we can draw any conclusions about how much value -- if any -- Portland's summer-league championship will bring to the franchise moving forward. But I can say one thing for sure: it's a great tribute to the Portland coaching staff.

For the second summer in a row, the Trail Blazers assembled a roster of players who came together at both ends of the court. This year's championship team dominated every team it played and offensive execution and defensive aggression were a big part of that. And that is coaching. Head coach Jim Moran does a great job with his teams but the credit doesn't stop there. The entire Trail Blazer coaching staff -- Nate Tibbetts, David Vanterpool, Dale Osbourne and John McCullough -- contributes to the summer-league effort and these guys get only three or four days to organize and coach their squad before its first game.

And somehow, they create a solid team in a very short amount of time that plays the game hard and plays it right.

And it must also be pointed out that Neil Olshey has provided his young players a great chance to learn and improve by surrounding them in summer league with unselfish journeymen veterans who know how to play. This season it was K.J. McDaniels, Archie Goodwin and John Jenkins -- solid vets playing to land a job in the NBA or overseas -- combining with experienced Portland players Jake Layman and Wade Baldwin IV to give the youngsters a chance to succeed.

Time to say a few things about individual players who suited up for Portland's summer unit:

  • Anfernee Simons -- Way better than I expected him to be. Not intimidated and very obviously talented.
  • Gary Trent Jr. -- A pro shooter. He knows where he wants to get his shots and how to get them.
  • Wade Baldwin IV -- A legit NBA player who continues to improve. He's defending people well enough to get them mentally off their game. Man, does he need help at the foul line, though.
  • Jake Layman -- If he can bring that offensive confidence and jump shot into training camp, he's going to get rotation minutes this season.
  • Caleb Swanigan -- I'm never sure of what to expect from him. He has NBA rebounding and passing skills but struggles when playing against size.
  • Zach Collins -- He's coming along fast as a defender but would love to see him be able to consistently make shots.

In summary, you can make whatever summer-league victory parade and championship-ring jokes you want, but winning is fun no matter where you do it. And very often a lot or work behind the scenes goes into the effort.

 

 

Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Updated Thursday, July 19th - With the deadline now passed, Baldwin's contract is now fully guaranteed. The original story appears below.

LAS VEGAS - Wade Baldwin, who earned 2nd Team All-Summer League honors, said his goal was to go ‘full throttle’ and show during Summer League that he deserves to be on this Trail Blazers roster.

The deadline for the Blazers to make a decision on Baldwin’s guaranteed contract is July 18th at 11:59pm, when the clock strikes midnight, his contract becomes guaranteed.

While sporting his Championship shirt proudly, Baldwin told the media he feels good about his chances.

“I think I put myself in the best position possible in terms of accomplishments that I’ve made. In terms of being a winner, coming in here undefeated,” Baldwin said.

One person who will have some say in that is head coach Terry Stotts.
Over the last few years, the final day of Las Vegas Summer League for the Trail Blazers meant Stotts would offer up his thoughts and talk with the media members that were still around, and yes even after the team wins a Summer League Championship.

“I was really pleased with how we played, not how well we played. Obviously, it was a good week, but more importantly, we’re going to have six guys from this team that are going to be on our team and it was how they came together, how they played, they shared the ball. It was different guys, different nights, it was very encouraging,” Stotts said.

Yes, Stotts did say six players from this roster.
So, was that just a subconscious slip or is Wade Baldwin a member of this team next season? Baldwin averaged 13.4 points and 7.4 assists (3rd best in Summer League) in 25.4 minutes per game.   “It’s a team decision and I’ve talked with Neil and obviously the decision has to be made soon. It’s not my position to say what’s going to happen,” Stotts said.

[WATCH: The Scoop Postgame Show]
 

Blazer fans have been wondering who could take backup point guard minutes with Shabazz Napier now heading to Brooklyn.

After Baldwin led this Summer League team on both offense and defense, it would make sense for him to stick with Portland.
“The resume is out there. It’s up for whatever team it is or Portland to make a decision on what they want to do with me. I felt like I left it all out there and did the best I could,” Baldwin said with a smile.

One young guy who will be back in a Blazers uniform next season is Zach Collins, who finished Summer League averaging 8.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but it’s not his play that he attributes a lot of the team’s success to this year.

“We have a really good leader in Wade Baldwin at the point guard position and that’s huge coming into Summer League, being able to control the game. Summer League sometimes is really chaotic, he did a really good job of being our floor general,” Collins said.  

For a Blazers team who has lacked defensive intensity at the guard position, Baldwin would be a great asset to have coming off the bench. 

Let the countdown begin for Blazer fans waiting to see if the guy who gave James Harden fits in the regular season last year and now that same guy who led this summer league team to a championship will be back with the Blazers.

We have just hours left of Baldwin Watch 2018.

 

Outsiders demand Summer League Championship T-Shirts!

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NBCS NW

Outsiders demand Summer League Championship T-Shirts!

Joe, Shain and Dan held a special postgame edition of the Outsiders on Tuesday night to celebrate the Summer League Championship!

If you missed the show, check out the link below, join them in a toast and enjoy the look back at the Summer League run.

Blazers Outsiders

BLAZERS WIN THE LAS VEGAS SUMMER LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! It’s time to celebrate with the Outsiders.

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Scoop: Blazer enact revenge on Laker, #BeatLA

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NBCS NW

The Scoop: Blazer enact revenge on Laker, #BeatLA

There may not be a parade for this Championship but the Trail Blazers Summer League Team was very proud of their tournament win on Tuesday night. 

The Scoop was live streaming postgame as fans weighed in what this means, player evaluations, and how any of this might translate to the regular season:

Summer League Scoop Postgame

Your Portland Trail Blazers are the 2018 NBA Summer League Champs!!! The Blazers beat the Lakers, 91-73 #RipCity How you feeling, Scoop Nation!?

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis

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NBCSNW

Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis

The Trail Blazers have waived big man Georgios Papagiannis.

He plans to sign with Greece's Panathinaikos, which was first reported by Eurohoops. 

According to Eurohoops, "Panathinaikos has already included Papagiannis in the club’s long-term plans and are ready to add him with a three-year contract."

Papagiannis was first acquired by Panathinaikos when he was 17 years old and spent two seasons with the team before joining the NBA.

The 7'1" big appeared in 6 games during the Las Vegas Summer League where he averaged 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in just 7.5 minutes per game. 

Portland acquired Papagiannis this past March after he was waived by the Sacramento Kings, who drafted him in 2016 with the 13th overall pick.

Papagiannis appeared in just one game for the Blazers, playing four minutes of a 96-94 loss to the Houston Rockets 

He averaged 4.1 points and 3.2 rebounds over the course of 39 appearances over two seasons in the NBA.

Trail Blazers Are Summer League Champions!

Trail Blazers Are Summer League Champions!

LAS VEGAS - The Trail Blazers got revenge on the LA Lakers to pull out a victory in the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game by a score of 91-73. 

It was a rematch of last year's summer league finale, but this time the Trail Blazers came out on top thanks to a strong defensive performance that held the Lakers to just 14.3% from the 3 point line. 

Players and Coaches had talked all week about how winning NBA Summer League was a goal for this team from the beginning, and tonight they finished what they started. 

Summer League MVP Josh Hart was ejected after his second technical with 4:45 to go in the game, but the Lakers trailed big at that time anyways. 

Portland finished the summer league a perfect 7-0 including both pool play and the tournament. 

BOX SCORE: Portland 91, LA 73

Be sure to follow us on social media for all kinds of postgame videos, a special interview with Head Coach Terry Stotts, and photos from the ceremony!

POSTGAME LINKS:
The Scoop Postgame Show
Trail Blazers Outsiders - Live Stream
Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis
Why did this summer league team click?