Fans give Dirk Nowitzki fitting send off in final game in Portland

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Fans give Dirk Nowitzki fitting send off in final game in Portland

There wasn’t a postgame jersey swap at midcourt. There was no extended walk off to bask in the cheers. There was just a final one-legged fade away and a quick wave.

The Dirk Nowitzki maybe-but-maaaaybe-not retirement tour made a stop in the Moda Center on Wednesday night and fans, plenty of whom came clad in No. 41 Dallas Mavericks jerseys, got to pay respects to an all-time great.

But unlike year long celebrations courted by future Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, Nowitzki’s potential final game in Portland didn’t have the manufactured pomp and circumstance.

“Well he hasn’t said he’s going to retire so I’m not going to be sad tonight,” said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who spent four years with Nowitzki as a Mavericks assistant and was part of the 2011 Dallas championship team.

When Nowitzki and the Mavs came through Portland in December earlier in the season, Nowitzki, 40, sat out. The Mavericks were on the second night of back-to-back games they gave their aging star the night off. So when Stotts saw the former MVP in the back hallway he playfully taunted Nowitzki about needing rest after a grueling 12-minute outing.

The two shared another laugh before tip-off on Wednesday when Stotts found Nowitzki out on the court before his pregame shooting routine and told him that the Blazers were going endlessly hunt him in pick and rolls.

His sense of humor hasn’t faded, but Nowitzki’s game is certainly in a twilight stage. His gait does nothing to hide the miles he’s logged as a 40 year old playing in his 21st season. It certainly looks like it’s his final season, even if he insists he won’t make that decision until the summer. He finished with three points and two rebounds against the Blazers, treating fans to one final one-legged fadeaway while missing his only other two shot attempts in 14 minutes.

Once the game was decided late in the fourth quarter on Wednesday fans inside the Moda Center started a “We Want Dirk” chant, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle didn’t oblige. Nowitzki, who two days earlier had passed Wilt Chamberlain to move into sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, stood and acknowledged the Portland crowd, for what seemed like the final time.

The strange thing about playing two decades in the league is that you up competing against a generation of players that looked up to you in your prime when they were pre-teens with hoop dreams. Damian Lillard said he owned Nowitzki jersey as a 5th grader and Zach Collins reiterated that he had always tried to model his game after the Mavericks star. There was shared appreciation from the stands, the players on the court and the coaches on the sidelines. If this wasn’t a “goodbye” it was a “thanks for the memories.”

Nowitzki is far from a villain in the northwest even if he did usher the Blazers out of the playoffs in 2002 and 2011. There were no boos like Kobe Bryant earned in his final game in Portland. There was no “maybe he’s still got it” moment like when Dwyane Wade carried the Heat to a win in Portland  back in February of this year. There’s certainly no hashtag or uniform swap. Nowitzki plays a little bit. He waves to the fans and then he repeats some version of the explanation he’s uttered at arenas across the country.

“My plan was always play year to year my last couple years,” Nowitzki said. “See how the body feels and make the decision after the season.”

So this summer he’ll take some time and decide whether he is ready for season 22 or to move into some other role with the Mavericks front office or a third option away from the game. One thing he hasn’t ruled out is an encore, running the retirement tour back for another 41 nights of admiration on the road.

“No, I mean, I enjoy it,” he said. “If I come back, we’ll do it all over again.”

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are dejected fans

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are dejected fans

A free weekend day in the world of NBA players is rare, but the Portland Trail Blazers found themselves with one while staying in Phoenix waiting for Monday's game against the Suns. 

This same weekend, it turned out the Cleveland Browns were in town to play the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Trail Blazers guard and Ohio native CJ McCollum rented out a suite to watch his favorite NFL franchise on the road. 

McCollum invited numerous teammates such as Mario Hezonja, Hassan Whiteside and Jusuf Nurkic. 

 

Hezonja in particular had a great time at his first NFL game. 

 

Unfortunately for the team, the Browns got killed 38-24 in a game that wasn't even as close as that score indicates.

 

As a result, CJ swore to never attend a road game again. 

At the same time, the Oakland Raiders, the favorite team of Blazers superstar Damian Lillard, lost their final game ever in Oakland before they move to Las Vegas next season. CJ tweeted that they were in this together. 

 

It just goes to show you, that even the players that give us those amazing highs and demoralizing lows to us fans, get those same emotions from their favorite teams as well. 

Here are the members of the Trail Blazers who just became eligible for a trade

Here are the members of the Trail Blazers who just became eligible for a trade

Today's December 15th, which means in the NBA world that trade restrictions have been lifted and players can be traded. 

In total, 123 players around the league had their trade restrictions lifted Sunday. 

You can view that full list here.

Here's how a player qualifies for this category:

A free agent who signs a standard NBA player contract (or a player who signs, or is converted to, a standard NBA player contract while under a Two-Way Contract) cannot be traded for three months following the date the contract is signed or until December 15 of the Salary Cap Year in which the contract is signed, whichever is later.

According to the rules, here are the following members of the Portland Trail Blazers that could be traded as of today. 

  • Anthony Tolliver ($2,564,753)
  • Mario Hezonja ($1,737,145)
  • Rodney Hood ($5,178,000)

Now, that doesn't mean that it's going to happen today or any day in the future. 

In fact, as Dwight Jaynes pointed out, the likely scenario for the Trail Blazers, who are 10-16 to start the season, is to stand pat... for now.

That doesn't mean the Trail Blazers won't make a deal this season, though.

This franchise would be stupid to sacrifice any of its future to obtain a role player just to attempt to improve its position this season. 

In the meantime, there is still a chance that a major trade could be made that would make sense for the future.

 -- Dwight Jaynes

What will the Blazers do? Only time will tell. 

The Trail Blazers are back in action Monday vs. the Phoenix Suns. 

No relief for Nassir Little as back spasms continue to linger

No relief for Nassir Little as back spasms continue to linger

Trail Blazers rookie Nassir Little was walking around gingerly of the Phoenix Suns practice court at Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday. 

Little, who sat out Thursday night's game vs. the Denver Nuggets with back spasms, is not getting any relief from them.

Little told NBCSNW that he did not go through practice Saturday and that he didn't know if he'd be able to suit up on Monday vs. the Suns. 

Right now, he said, "Even putting on shoes and socks is painful." 

Back spasms are a frustrating, debilitating injury to go through. They can come and go, flare up at any time. There's generally no timetable for return. They're involuntary. 

An athlete at the peak physical fitness playing in the best basketball league in the world, Little is limited so much in his mobility to the extent of not being able to perform normal tasks such as putting on his shoes without experiencing back pain.  

Little isn't the only one on the Trail Blazers who has dealt with back spasms this season. Rodney Hood and Damian Lillard both missed time earlier this season because of them.

Hopefully a few days of sunshine and relaxation will do the body good for the Trail Blazers rookie.

The Trail Blazers are back in action Monday night vs. the Suns. Tipoff is at 6pm PT on NBCSNW.  

Here's where to go if you're looking to place blame for Trail Blazers' rough start

Here's where to go if you're looking to place blame for Trail Blazers' rough start

PHOENIX – The Trail Blazers have struggled through the early season and a segment of the fan base is always looking to blame someone.

And rather than simply looking at the injury list and being done with it, they’re trying to blame just about everyone but Blaze the Trail Cat.

What I’m hearing a lot is the idea that the team should have held on to Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. And should not have “let go” of Enes Kanter and Seth Curry.

I’ve dealt with this before, but this seems like a good time to go over it again.

First, let’s differentiate between trades and free agency. Kanter and Curry were free agents last summer and it wasn't a matter of the team "letting them go." The Trail Blazers knew they would be priced out of the market for Curry, who had a very good season with Portland. He eventually re-signed with Dallas, where he played before he became a Trail Blazer, for $32 million over four years. That was out of Portland’s reach, since all it could offer was the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.7 million.

Kanter was given the first call by Neil Olshey last summer at the onset of free agency and he vacillated on his decision to take the TMLE. So, Portland went to its second choice, Rodney Hood, who had been off to a career year before suffering a season-ending injury. A good move, obviously … and Kanter ended up signing with Boston for about a million bucks less than he would have made in Portland.

Now, let’s get to the other three players. Harkless and Leonard went to Miami in a deal for Hassan Whiteside, who is in the final season of his contract. Whiteside was brought in to give the Trail Blazers a replacement at center for Jusuf Nurkic, who isn’t expected back until sometime in the new year. Bazemore, also on an expiring deal, came in a trade with Atlanta for Evan Turner.

Both those deals allowed Portland to preserve cap space for one more big trade – hopefully for a major star making a lot of money with multiple years left on his deal. Since the Blazers have had little luck luring free agents to town, the idea of making a deal for a big-time player who would be under their contractual control for a while, is the next best thing.

And it's also a big (and expensive) commitment to building a team that can compete for a championship.

OK, that said, those trades have turned out just fine for Portland and I’m tired of hearing how much the departed players have been missed. I’m not knocking them in any way, but the fact is, what came in return has been very good for this team.

Whiteside has averaged 16.2 points. 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.4 blocked shots per game this season. Leonard, Harkless and Aminu (who is now hurt) have COMBINED for 15.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

And oh yes, a player by the name of Carmelo Anthony was added to the mix a while back – amidst all sorts of pleas from fans begging them not to do it because of fears about the bad raps that have dogged Anthony,

But so far, Anthony has been a solid player who has blended seamlessly with his new teammates. And, of course, he’s given the team 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.

So, this all leads back to the original point. If you have trouble figuring out what’s wrong with your Trail Blazers, look no further than that injury report – which features Zach Collins, Hood and Nurkic.

That’s this team’s entire starting front court. And they are most certainly missed more than the players who were traded away.

Get ready for 'The Double Beast’ when Jusuf Nurkic returns

Get ready for 'The Double Beast’ when Jusuf Nurkic returns

Rip City has missed having ‘Nurk Fever’ more than ever this season. 

As Jusuf Nurkic continues to rehab his left leg, this week, fans have been treated to videos of Nurk working out.

Saturday, Nurkic spoke with the media for the first time this season since Blazers Media Day at the end of September.

“I’m right where I want to be... Pain-free,” Nurkic told reporters.

The Blazers 7-footer says he feels that he is about “60 percent.”

After talking with the media in Phoenix following Saturday's practice, it was clear that Nurk is not just focused on getting healthy, but also coming back better than ever.

I’m not expecting myself to just do the rehab; I want to get better, so I want to get better as a player, better as a person. I see a lot of things differently from the court, from the bench, and in the locker room… I’ve been there, like a totally different person to see the different perspective and I feel like I can help even more.  -- Trail Blazer center Jusuf Nurkic

Nurk and the Blazers have not established a timeline for his return. Previous reports of a return around the All-Star Break were not confirmed by the Trail Blazers big.

It’s all about being smart at this point.   

“Trying to listen to my team and doctors, and everybody around me to do the right way… I just need to be smart with my decisions,” Nurkic said.  

As the Bosnian Beast gave updates to reporters, he stopped himself to make sure he took time to thank all the Trail Blazers fans who have been supporting him during his recovery.

“Thanks everybody who did the support of my injury. I mean, with the Billboard and stuff, it mean a lot to me. Knowing the people want to see my practice and stuff."

Nurkic added, “I want to be healthy when I’m done playing basketball.”

But the 25-year-old said he still has a lot of “check marks” to get to before he can get back on the court.

“It’s important for me to be really smart with what I’m doing,” Nurkic said.

For the big fella it’s all about perspective right now:  

Mentally is going to be okay. I’ve been through a lot, like all the people in the world going through some hard times, but I feel like it’s nothing compared to the people on the street, compared to the people who don’t have no money to live.  

As Nurk takes it “day-by-day,” the Blazers are looking at a 10-16 record, and even if he is making sure not to rush his rehab, that doesn’t mean he isn’t extremely eager to get back out there.

I feel hungry… When I’m with the team I feel even more hungry. I lost some weight and I feel great, more explosive, more quick. I just feel like when the day comes, I’m going to be the double beast.

Nurkic has lost about 10 pounds as he works to be 'The Double Beast.' Envisioning a quicker more agile Bosnian Beast will make fans even more eager to see his return. 

Nurkic recognizes that fans are not happy with the Blazers' start of this season. He wants everyone to know that he has to do what is best for everybody involved. 

“I understand people are disappointed, but injuries suck, man, and they’re part of the job, part of the life, and I think for me I need to do whatever is best for me and for the team.”

Here's your ultimate Jusuf Nurkic workout highlight

Here's your ultimate Jusuf Nurkic workout highlight

Jusuf Nurkic continued to show how his rehabilitation is going Saturday in Phoenix. 

Nurkic going through drills is yet another evolution in his rehabilitation, this coming days after he was seen running stairs at Pepsi Center after Trail Blazers shootaround. 

It's a welcomed sight, to say the least. 

While there are reports that Nurkic is angling to return around the All-Star break, the Bosnian Beast isn't putting a timetable on it. 

"I need to do what's best for me," he said. Nurkic mentioned that not only is he going to come back healthier, but also a better player as a whole.  

Check out the highlight video above to see how Nurkic's workout went!

Nurkic, covered in sweat after a workout, talks about his progress

Nurkic, covered in sweat after a workout, talks about his progress

PHOENIX – Apparently, this has been going on for a while now.

Jusuf Nurkic was on the floor of the practice gym in Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday afternoon, spinning, jab-stepping, jumping, dribbling, shooting and looking for all the world like a man healthy enough to play NBA basketball.

Which, of course, he isn’t. Nurkic, after a workout that left him drenched in sweat, pronounced himself “right where I want to be” and “pain-free.”

Pressed, he put his readiness at “60 percent.” Nurkic has been sidelined since last March 25 ,after suffering compound fractures in his left tibia and fibula that required surgery.

It was originally estimated he could be out of action for a year and then the talk was that he could be ready to return to a Trail Blazer uniform by the All-Star break in February. But he raised the hopes of Portland fans when he was shown on video shooting free throws prior to Tuesday’s game in Moda vs. the Knicks and then shown again on video running the stairs in Denver’s Pepsi Center before Thursday’s game with the Nuggets.

The team made him available for interviews after the Blazers’ practice Saturday afternoon and seemingly showcased his workout for the media – because we see only what they want us to see of their practices.

The franchise has refused to put a timetable on his return to active duty and Nurkic dodged all those questions, as did his coach. But it was made clear that he has been doing more work on the court than previously thought.

“He’s been doing a lot of stuff,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “This is the first time you’ve gotten to see it. He’s been doing things similar to this. Today wasn’t anything new from our standpoint. You just haven’t seen it.

“I think we’re all encouraged by the progress he’s made.”

And the 7-foot center made it a point that every day is not like the heavy workout we saw Saturday.

“If I was doing this every day, I probably would have played already,” he said.

But during an interview that stretched longer than what the team may have expected, Nurkic refused to dig deeply into what he’s been doing and what his schedule will be, moving forward.

“I can’t tell you everything,” he said with a smile.

 

Listen to this week’s Talkin’ Blazers podcast here: