The liberation of Lillard: At All-Star Break, Damian Lillard got his body, and mind, right

The liberation of Lillard: At All-Star Break, Damian Lillard got his body, and mind, right

When Damian Lillard retreated to his Lake Oswego home during the All-Star Break last month, he did more than just rest his aching body.

He healed a troubled mind, and worried heart.

As much as the Trail Blazers’ 23-33 record at the time was bothering him, so too was a family matter that touched him to his core.

“If it’s really in my heart, it’s going to weigh on me, consume me,’’ Lillard said while touching his chest.

Lillard asked that the issue remain private, but he admitted it had seeped so deeply into him that it affected his sleep, his focus, his persona, and ultimately, his play.

“It wasn’t like I was going through something off the court, then it was working out on the court,’’ Lillard remembered. “It was like – we’re losing games, we’re not performing like we need to, I’m not playing my best basketball, and I’ve got things stressing me off the floor. It was kind of a tough spot.’’

So during the mid-February break, he holed up in his Lake Oswego home and did something he hasn’t done in some time:

He opened himself up and let those close to him inside.

From his home, he phoned his grandmother. His uncle. And three times he spoke with his former college assistant coach, whom he calls one of the most important people in his life.

“That was the first time in a long time that I allowed people to pour into me, to give something to me,’’ Lillard said.

By the time the break was over, Lillard said more than his ankle had healed. He had become liberated from a burden he had carried for much of the season.

“A weight,’’ Lillard said, “was lifted off my back.’’

That weight has freed him to assume a more familiar load – the Trail Blazers – and since the All-Star Break Lillard has been one of the NBA’s most dominant players, carrying the Blazers from the precipice of a disappointing season to the cusp of perhaps a memorable late-season run.

Lillard is averaging 31.2 points since the break, a mark eclipsed only by Russell Westbrook, while leading the Blazers to a 9-4 record and to within one game of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Never was his newfound liberation more on display than the last week, when the Blazers went 4-1 on a crucial five-game trip. Lillard averaged 36 points while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 54.8 percent from three point range, which was capped by a 49-point performance Sunday at Miami.

On Monday, Lillard was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for the third time in his career. 

“Dame,’’ coach Terry Stotts said, “is leading the charge.’’

**

Lillard, of course, is not unique in encountering personal struggles during the course of a season.

Teammate Maurice Harkless said he has dealt with personal issues both last season and this season. And Meyers Leonard recently revealed his beloved Siberian Husky, Bella, was diagnosed with lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy.

“We all go through things; we are human,’’ Harkless said. “I’m not going to go too deep into detail, but there’s been times in my career where you have family stuff, stuff with your friends, or something happens to you, and when you wake up, if affects your mood the whole day.’’

Leonard two weeks ago was on the road when he learned of Bella’s sickness, and was so devastated that he had trouble sleeping, let alone focusing on the game. When the team celebrated a victory in the locker room at Oklahoma City, Leonard was by himself, crying.

“Almost every NBA player deals with more than people think,’’ Leonard said. “Yes, we are treated so well, but a lot of times people see us almost as robots. It’s almost like we don’t have feelings.’’

Harkless said so much goes into being a professional athlete, both mentally and physically, that it starts the minute you wake up.

“The game is not just two hours on the court,’’ Harkless said. “It’s the whole day. Preparation starts when you wake up. So when you are going through something else, it affects your mood, affects the way you prepare, affects the way you play. It’s as simple as that.’’

There were signs something was amiss with Lillard. His bottle-rocket start to the season, which put him in the early MVP conversation, tailed off amid shaky shooting and rashes of turnovers. Radio talk shows wondered if he had become content playing in the first season of his $125 million contract, or disengaged with the team’s poor start.

More tangible signs could be seen in his body language. His smile and playfulness were not as easily displayed, instead replaced by a quietness and steely stare. And his interactions with the media, where he is always one of the most cooperative and insightful interviews in the league, started becoming shorter, and more terse.

After the Blazers’ last game before the All-Star Break, in Utah, Lillard stayed in the arena long after the team had departed. With his head down, Lillard sat in the shadows underneath the bleachers with assistant David Vanterpool, engaged in a long conversation.

 “I was trying to do what I need to do on the court, but I also had some personal things with my family, and I was trying to manage all this stuff,’’ Lillard said. “It was wearing me out. It was just hard.’’

Around the All-Star Break, Lillard talked with his mentor, Phil Beckner – the former assistant coach of Lillard at Weber State who is now with Boise State. Beckner, who has travelled to China with Lillard and trains with him during the summer, said he could sense something was wrong.

“He looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders,’’ Beckner recalled.

Over the course of the week-long break, Beckner said the two had three one-hour phone conversations.

Those conversations, Lillard said, opened the door to his liberation.

**

For as long as Lillard can remember, this is how he would handle a conversation within his circle:

“Hey Dame, you good?”

“Yeah, I’m good. How are you?’’

From there, Lillard would absorb the life, and sometimes problems, of those people.

“Automatically, I would always flip it to ‘what’s up with you?’’’ Lillard said. “For me, I’ve always tried to be there for people.’’

But somewhere in all those conversations, somewhere in all the goodwill Lillard was  bestowing upon family, friends and co-workers, he forgot about himself.

Beckner could sense Lillard was becoming bottled up with emotion and that it was starting to overwhelm.

“I thought where he was with how the team was doing, and with the other stuff he was going through, he was trying to get it all done in a hurry, and on his own,’’ Beckner said.

So the former coach offered some advice.

“He told me I have to allow people to pour into you,’’ Lillard said. “He said I can’t always be the one to pour into other people, because I would drain myself. So he told me to open myself up and allow people to pour into me so I can have something to give.’’

So during the All-Star Break, save for nightly workouts at the practice facility, Lillard said he didn’t leave his home. Inside, he picked up the phone and took Beckner’s advice. He opened himself, and his problems, to his family.

“Had a long conversation with grandma. We talked about it,’’ Lillard said. “Called my uncle. We talked about it. It was real helpful. When people genuinely love you, and they care about you and they know who you are as a person,  they can come forward, and that’s what my family did. Just hearing those voices and having that support, it allowed me to relax.’’

**

When Lillard and the Blazers reconvened in Orlando after the All-Star Break, it was clear the team’s star had returned to his old self.

After a sterling fourth quarter performance in a win over Orlando, Lillard remarked how his body felt refreshed. It wasn’t until nearly a month later, during a practice in Atlanta, that Lillard revealed his mind was healed, too.

“Once I was able to get to the break, I was able to check in on things, step away, and speak to my people,’’ Lillard said. “Then, I was able to move on from it.’’

Since then, he has been moving the Blazers closer and closer to the playoffs. With a series of stirring games, Lillard has carried the Blazers to wins in eight of their last 10 games.

On the recent 4-1 trip, he ignited each game with inspiring first quarters, averaging more than 12 points in the opening stanza.

“I think it’s just important to come out and establish the mindset ‘We comin’,’’ Lillard said. “As a leader, it’s important for me to spark that up, and I guess put that urgency in our minds that this is the way it’s going to be.’’

He can help establish that mindset because now, his own mind is clear and free.

Up next: Milwaukee at Blazers, 7 p.m. Tuesday (CSN)

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

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?

 

Wade Baldwin earns All-NBA Summer League Second Team honors

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nbcsnw

Wade Baldwin earns All-NBA Summer League Second Team honors

The following is a press release from the NBA:

 

LAS VEGAS, July 17, 2018 – The Los Angeles Lakers’ Josh Hart today was named Most Valuable Player of MGM Resorts NBA Summer League 2018.  The 6-5 guard also headlines the All-NBA Summer League Teams.

 

MGM Resorts NBA Summer League, an 82-game, 12-day event showcasing all 30 NBA teams for the first time, culminates tonight when the top-seeded Lakers face the second-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the Championship Game at 10:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.  The meeting is a rematch of last summer’s Championship Game, which was won by the Lakers.

 

In this year’s competition, Hart is averaging an NBA Summer League-leading 24.2 points (on 47.1 percent shooting from the field), 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals in six games.  He scored 27 points and added six rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Lakers’ 109-92 victory over the New York Knicks on July 10.  In the tournament semifinals on July 16, Hart recorded 37 points and nine rebounds to lead the Lakers past the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-109 in double overtime.

 

Joining Hart on the MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League First Team are Chicago Bulls forward Wendell Carter Jr., Knicks forward Kevin Knox, Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton and Milwaukee Bucks center Christian Wood.

 

The All-NBA Summer League Second Team is composed of Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, Trail Blazers guard Wade Baldwin IV, Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., Lakers forward Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.

 

A media panel selected Hart as MVP and voted for the MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Teams.

 

MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League First Team

Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago)

Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers)

Kevin Knox (New York)

Collin Sexton (Cleveland)

Christian Wood (Milwaukee)

 

MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Second Team

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)

Wade Baldwin IV (Portland)

Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis)

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Los Angeles Lakers)

Trae Young (Atlanta)

 

Summer League: If you win it, you can say it matters

Summer League: If you win it, you can say it matters

Some thoughts on the morning of the Trail Blazers' Summer League Championship game vs. the Lakers:

There's really only one reason why winning the summer league matters:
1 – If you win it, you can say it matters. And maybe then it does. You can use it to sell tickets for the upcoming season or just get your fan base geeked up about the future. And if you think I’m kidding, just think back to last year’s summer league when none other than Magic Johnson proclaimed, “The Lakers are back!” after his team beat the Trail Blazers in the championship game. Uh, back? Sure they were – back in the doldrums.

Conversely, there are plenty of reasons why winning summer league does NOT matter:
1 – Each team is a collection of players – many of them key contributors – who won’t even be on your team this season. 
2 – While you may care about winning, many of the other teams do not and they sit key players in tourney games just because they’ve played enough and nobody wants to risk injury. Beating those teams means nothing (such as the Blazers tournament game vs. Atlanta).
3 – Well, it just doesn’t matter, you know. No championship parades or rings, no bonuses, no big deal. Get over it. 
3 – Players do like to win. It’s akin to playground games where you want to keep winning to stay on the court. In summer league, you want to keep winning so you have more games to show scouts and front-office personnel you are good enough to play for their team. But that doesn’t mean front offices and coaches like to win.
4 – How many days in Las Vegas are too many? About the time the tournament starts is the time when people suffer from neon fatigue and get irritated by the strange noises those slot machines make.
5 – If it mattered, wouldn’t all the teams try to win?