Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard winning Magic Johnson Award only half the story

Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard winning Magic Johnson Award only half the story

Since entering the NBA five years ago, Damian Lillard has maintained two streaks of which he is proud:

He has never declined to sign autographs before games, and he has never skipped out on speaking with the media after games.

“Never,’’ Lillard said. “Not once.’’

On Tuesday, the Professional Basketball Writers Association announced Lillard as the 2016-2017 Magic Johnson Award winner, which is awarded by writers who cover the league to the player who best combines excellence on the court with cooperation with the public and the media.

 “It comes with the job,’’ Lillard said. “There will come a day when people won’t want my autograph … and there will come a day when the media doesn’t care what I have to say. So I think you have to appreciate it, and that’s what I try to do. I don’t take either for granted.’’

Lillard was a finalist for an unprecedented third consecutive year. This year, he beat out Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Indiana’s Paul George, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap and Golden State’s Draymond Green. Last season, Stephen Curry of Golden State won, and the year before Pau Gasol, then of the Chicago Bulls.

Lillard becomes the second Trail Blazers player to win the award, joining Brandon Roy, who won in 2008-2009.

The award is not just a reflection of how accessible Lillard is with the media, it’s also a recognition for what he has to say. He has become one of the more thoughtful and transparent players in the NBA, both unafraid to tell it like it is while also maintaining a grounded and reasoned tone.

He could be blunt, like in November after a blowout loss in Houston, when he said “We kind of suck right now. It’s that simple.

He could be inspiring, like in February, after his late turnover contributed to a home loss against Atlanta: “Sometimes I just tell myself that you have to go through a struggle. Sometimes it has to be hard on you … and sometimes you have to grind it out and stay with it, and it will come back to your favor as long as you stay true to what you’ve been doing.’’

And he could be prophetic, like in Salt Lake City, when he succinctly captured the Blazers entering the break: "You've got two options: You can either run from it or ... man up. I know, personally, I'm going to … man up. Period. That's what has to happen."

He is, as writers like to say, locker room “gold” … a player whose candid remarks can carry your story … a can’t miss interview.

Keep in mind, this is a league where some players decline to be interviewed after a poor performance or a painful loss. And more in more in all pro sports, players are increasingly viewing the media as the enemy.

In Portland, the players treat the media with respect, and only rarely – Maurice Harkless in playoff frustration and CJ McCollum escaping out the door while everyone interviews Lillard -- does a player skip out without talking. Lillard, meanwhile, answers every question after every game, regardless of his performance or the outcome.

“It’s my opportunity to share what is going on, or what I think about something,’’ Lillard said. “That way, I can limit people having to assume things, or make things up. I can explain myself, or share my thoughts. It’s my opportunity to take the stage, so to speak, to say my part.’’

For the Blazers’ organization, the award likely doesn’t come as a surprise. Lillard has been serving as the team’s unofficial spokesman since his rookie season. But to those around the franchise, how Lillard handles the public and represents the organization through the media is only half of the story.

Lillard over the years has established what can best be described as a culture inside the Blazers. It is a culture rooted in hard work. In accountability. In relationships. And in caring.

You have heard his interviews, and read his quotes which have earned him the Magic Johnson Award.

Here is a deeper look at what you don’t see or hear when the microphones and cameras have gone away. They are little moments that stand for big concepts, and it is where Lillard separates himself.

**

The day after the Blazers were eliminated from the playoffs with a disappointing sweep at the hands of Golden State, Lillard still had one task to perform: Getting the rest of the team to sign off on donating their playoff checks.

When a team makes the playoffs, they are awarded a bonus check. This season, any team participating in the first round of the playoffs was given $223,864 to be divided among players. For the Blazers, that is roughly $16,000 per player.

As captain for the past two seasons, Lillard has made it clear to his teammates that their playoff checks should be donated to the Blazers’ support staff, which consists of everybody from massage therapists to the trainers at the practice facility.

With some Blazers teams, the locker room leadership was not always as generous. Three seasons ago, when veteran Chris Kaman joined the team, he became appalled that the Blazers were keeping their playoff checks. Kaman, who became close with Lillard, told him if he ever led a team he should insist on getting the guys to donate to underscore the importance of unity and having one’s back.

Once again this season, with Lillard going from player to player to assure they followed through, the team voted to give up their full shares. The money was divided among 25 support staff, with some getting more than others depending on their role.

“We divide our playoff shares to give to the people who we work so closely with because they spend as much time away from their families as we do, and they are just about as invested as we are,’’ Lillard said after the season. “They also do as much as possible to make our lives easier, even if it makes theirs more difficult – all while making far less. So it’s a further way of showing appreciation beyond a thank your or a handshake.’’

**

In October, both Lillard and CJ McCollum paid a surprise visit to the home of a Portland cancer patient. At the time, the Blazers requested the visit be kept private because it wasn’t made for publicity.

But the day after, the patient posted a picture on social media of himself with Lillard and McCollum, and the two players were peppered with questions. Both seemed taken aback at why it was such a big deal.

“I mean, I do stuff like that all the time,’’ Lillard said in October. “But I do it because I want to, not because the team says I should, or because I think it looks good. I understand in this position I can help people, and I try to do that as much as I can.’’

He has stopped at a young boys’ birthday party in West Linn, he has visited people in the hospital and he has donated everything from backpacks to tickets to shoes.

“We have to realize we are in position to make an impact on people’s lives,’’ Lillard said.

One of the bigger impacts has been made with Portland teenager Matty Vachter, who has cerebral palsy.

A partial season ticket holder, Vachter has formed a special bond with the Blazers players, coaches and front office. When he attends games, the team allows him backstage access. Positioned in the tunnel that leads from the locker room to the Moda Center court, Vachter slaps high fives with each player as they head and from the court, with each player knowing his name and some stopping to chat. The coaches went as far as charting how often they won with Matty in attendance after they noticed a spiked in wins when he attended.

Lillard, who is a global ambassador for Special Olympics, spends the most time with Vachter.

“I care to make him feel part of our team,’’ Lillard said. “Every guy shakes his hand on the way to and from the court, and he’s as big a Blazers fans as anyone. He was even at a road playoff game this year.’’

**

When Evan Turner arrived for his first tour of the Blazers’ practice facility after signing a free agent deal this summer, he got a first-hand view of what it meant to play for the Blazers.

It was just past 9 a.m., and in the gym, covered in sweat on a July morning was Lillard. And his workout still had another hour left.

Later, as the team struggled and teetered on falling out of the playoff picture, it was Lillard setting a different example.

In interview after interview, often times with his teammates pausing at their lockers to hear what he had to say, Lillard persisted in keeping a positive outlook. He kept reminding that the struggle would make the reward more meaningful, and he kept urging for personal accountability.

In a day and age when stars want to leave teams for the comfort of success, Lillard continues to relish playing in Portland, embracing the challenges and the fight it takes to build a winner.

Lillard can’t say how close the Blazers are to becoming a championship team. He figures it will take some development from some players, probably some key moves, and likely some time. But he knows the first step of the foundation – the team’s culture – is secure.

“Our culture is great and beyond solid,’’ Lillard said. “From the relationships, to the work ethic, and that is not one bit fabricated.’’

Magic Johnson Award winners
2000-01 Ray Allen, Milwaukee Bucks
2001-02 Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers
2002-03 Jalen Rose, Chicago Bulls
2003-04 Jermaine O’Neal, Indiana Pacers
2004-05 Antawn Jamison, Washington Wizards
2005-06 Grant Hill, Orlando Magic
2006-07 Shane Battier, Houston Rockets
2007-08 Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Lakers
2008-09 Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers
2009-10 Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors
2010-11 Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
2011-12 Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
2012-13 Shane Battier, Miami Heat
2013-14 Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
2014-15 Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
2015-16 Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

 

 

Get to Know: Talen Horton-Tucker from Iowa State

Get to Know: Talen Horton-Tucker from Iowa State

The Trail Blazers hosted their final round of pre-draft workouts today at the practice facility in Tualatin. Horton-Tucker is a 6’4’’ Guard/Forward from Iowa State. He was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and a Big 12 All-Freshman team selection for the 2018-2019 season. He was second among Big 12 freshmen in scoring at 11.8 ppg.

Horton-Tucker’s strengths include a well-balanced combination of power and skill as he is built like a power forward but has skills like a guard but is still working to develop his three point range. Also a benefit, Horton-Tucker has the build and athleticism to guard multiple positions.

Scoop Journal: Who else wished they were partying it up in Jurassic Park on Thursday night?

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NBC Sports Northwest

Scoop Journal: Who else wished they were partying it up in Jurassic Park on Thursday night?

Welcome to The Scoop Journal, where every week I empty my notebook of wide ranging Trail Blazer thoughts, observations, and randomness. I hope you enjoy this light-hearted weekly blog...

June 14, 2019

Dear Scoop Journal,

This is my first journal entry since the Trail Blazers season ended and it seems fitting to write down my random Trail Blazers/NBA thoughts today since the season came to an end last night with the Toronto Raptors taking home the 2019 NBA Championship.

Now that I’ve had a night to sleep on it, with all the injuries for the Warriors, and the celebrations in Toronto, here are my latest Blazers and NBA thoughts:

*Everyone I talk to today, I want to ask them this question: How bad did you wish you were partying it up in Jurassic Park on Thursday night in Toronto? (Toronto knows how to celebrate a championship!)

*First off, Congrats to Toronto and the Raptors fans on earning their first NBA Championship! I know I’m not alone in thinking Blazers fans are happy for their fellow northern neighbors.

*It’s so hard not to think about what it would be like here in Portland for the Blazers to win a title in the modern NBA era. Rip City will go absolutely crazy when the next championship happens here. This is something I think about often. Obviously, I can’t wait for that day!   

*There were so emotions for Golden State fans on Thursday night. It was the last game played at Oracle Arena, the Warriors had just lost Kevin Durant to a ruptured Achilles a couple days before Game 6, and then Klay Thompson goes out with what we all later learned was a torn ACL.

*Injuries are the worst part of the game. You hate to see players go down with these horrific injuries.  

*And not to mention, Thompson and Durant will both become free agents this offseason. This summer is going to be very interesting and next season could now be wide open.  

*I saw a Blazer fan tweet this out on Thursday night and I think this is how every non-Warrior fan was feeling:

*For now, NBA fans wish for a speedy recovery to all the players who went down with major injuries this season.

*Let’s now shift our focus to the NBA Draft. Thursday evening can’t come soon enough. Who will the Blazers pick at No. 25? Or will Portland trade the pick in a package deal? We’re about to find out!

Trail Blazers react to the World Champion Toronto Raptors

Trail Blazers react to the World Champion Toronto Raptors

The 2018-2019 NBA season has come to and end. The Toronto Raptors have dethroned the dynasty that is the Golden State Warriors defeated the Dubs in six games. 

This is the first NBA Championship for the Raptors and "Jurassic Park". 

Several players of the Portland Trail Blazers took to social media following the game to congradulate the World Champs:

The end of this NBA season can only mean that the NBA Draft and the NBA Summer League are just weeks away.

We are about to head into the crazy that is the NBA offseason with so many major players up in free agency. To the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard. For the Warriors, injuries to All-Stars Kevin Durant and now Klay Thompson (ACL tear in game six) will be something to watch next season and what Golden State will do.

CJ McCollum recognized Thompson's heart, coming back into the game and shooting two free throws on a torn ACL.

Outsiders: Will the Blazers actually use the No.25 pick?

Outsiders: Will the Blazers actually use the No.25 pick?

The Blazers have the 25th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and have already held three pre-draft workouts, but will they actually end up using the pick?

So far the players they have brought in point to no, but workouts don't always tell the story.

Remember the Blazers drafted Zach Collins without ever bringing him in for a workout.

So what will the Blazers do on June 20th? Our Blazers Outsiders discuss in the video above.

Trail Blazers could make a move, but don't expect Anthony Davis

Trail Blazers could make a move, but don't expect Anthony Davis

Now that the season is over and it looks as if the Golden State Warriors are going to have to make a miracle move not to look like a mediocre team next season, the talk turns to the Western Conference and the most basic of questions:

Who’s next?

As the runner-up to Golden State in the playoffs this last season, the Trail Blazers would certainly be a logical choice. And that means there’s pressure on Portland to make the Big Move to push it over the top – something that might duplicate what the Raptors did when they acquired Kawhi Leonard.

And the trade that is being tossed around the most, of course, is for New Orleans’ Anthony Davis. And I would advise those wishing for the Trail Blazers to pull that one off to slow down and be a little more realistic.

The Blazers would probably be willing to go all-in on Davis but they just don’t have the chips to tempt the Pelicans. Or, more correctly, other teams have more to offer.

And let me say first, if you think the Trail Blazer brass hasn’t already thought of this and hasn’t already engaged in some discussions with New Orleans, you’re probably off base. I would assume by now a whole lot of teams have not only knocked on David Griffin’s door, but have been rebuffed.

There’s a reason the Lakers continue to be the most-talked-about destination for Davis. No, not LeBron -- although that's certainly a factor in Davis wanting to be there. They have the most to offer. Los Angeles could send the Pels two previous No. 2 picks in the draft along with the current No. 4 pick – as well as Kyle Kuzma. The Blazers would be offering high-salaried players who could provide cap room in one more year but I would also assume a team welcoming Zion Williamson doesn't want to think about cap space NEXT year.

It wants talent now.

So if Davis doesn’t land in Portland it doesn’t mean the team didn’t give it a shot. Those guys in the front office know exactly what’s out there for them in the West and are more excited about that prospect than you are.

And I do think the Trail Blazers will pull something off – and it will probably prove to be better than you thought it was going to be. That’s the way a lot of Neil Olshey’s moves have turned out over the last several seasons.

Who could they get? I have no idea. But I certainly didn’t know Jusuf Nurkic and a pick could be had for Mason Plumlee – and I had no idea Nurk would prove to be the player he’s become. I also didn’t expect Rodney Hood and Enes Kantor to show up here for the stretch run last season.

Olshey’s plan all along has been to prepare this franchise for the time when the Warriors drop off. The Warriors didn’t just drop off, though, they fell down in a heap due to injuries.

But the Blazers are closer to a Western Conference title now than they’ve been in a long time. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are in their prime and Jusuf Nurkic – when they get him healthy – is a force at both ends of the court.

Portland could still use more three-point shooting and a rim protector until Nurkic heals and to back him up after that.

You can play with one of those online digital trade machines all you want, but I’m not sure you really know which players to plug into it.

So my best advice would be to be patient and see what happens.

CJ McCollum is finally the star that Blazers fans have wanted him to be

CJ McCollum is finally the star that Blazers fans have wanted him to be

The 2018-19 NBA season started out rocky for CJ McCollum. Terry Stotts wanted him to be handcuffed with Damian Lillard in the starting unit to start the year, and that led to some growing pains for McCollum. Where before he had free reign, the inclusion of Lillard in more of his minutes required McCollum to be more ingenious and efficient.

Things didn't start out that great for McCollum. He struggled to shoot the ball, particularly in November and into December. It was clear that he was trying to play within the confines of someone else's game, and McCollum didn't angle to his own strengths.

That changed, particularly after the All-Star break, when McCollum's offensive rating shot up to 120. He was more useful in the passing game, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, it was clear the Blazers could rely on McCollum yet again.

He was huge in the first round, particularly in Game 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. McCollum scored 33 points while shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. He was a +25 in Game 4 of that series, and in Game 3 against the Nuggets in the next round, he scored 41 points en route to a 2-1 Blazers series lead.

McCollum’s penultimate performance came in Game 7 when he hit a clutch jumper in with  2 seconds to go against the Denver Nuggets. His shot sealed the win vs. Denver, and pushed Portland to the Western Conference Finals.

So how should we feel about McCollum? Adaptation and fearlessness are the two things that defined McCollum’s season. He could have very well folded under the pressure of a new role earlier in the season. The same could be said about how he could have given up in tougher games in the playoffs when Lillard was struggling and he had to take over. But instead, McCollum rose to the challenge and became something more. In doing so, he earned the praise we lumped onto him after he signed his massive new contract in 2016.

National talking heads like to put on a show about the Blazers. They watch some highlights, check out some stats, and make a big show about sending some respect out west to the Blazers for both Lillard and McCollum. But the amount of minutes that folks on the East coast actually watch this team is minimal. Believe me, I lived there, and if you talked about staying up late to watch West Coast basketball people would look at you as if you were crazy. 

Yes, both of Portland stars deserve this praise. But the lack of understanding about what kind of players they are, and the kind of lip service that's been paid to them has created a gap between perception and reality.

In particular, because he's the second banana, it seems sparse what many on the other side of the Rockies could tell you about McCollum — other than the fact that he's a scorer. And to be honest, up until this season, it wasn't clear that there was another level to McCollum game other than that fact. The national understanding of McCollum game was accurate, whether it was obtained honestly or not.

But this season has changed how we should think about CJ McCollum. His adaptability — to operate differently after five seasons within the geometric dance of an NBA offense — is admirable. It was a test of character that McCollum passed, and it may have also been the thing that gave McCollum the chutzpah to handle adversity in the playoffs the way he did this season. 

Before 2018-19, CJ McCollum was “smooth” “crafty” and “shifty”; a second-tier scorer on a second-tier team, standing in the shadows cast by a light shining brighter than himself in Damian Lillard. Now? McCollum is finally the star that so many Portland Trail Blazers fans have ascribed him to be. 

Blazers Pre-draft Workout: Late-bloomer KZ Okpala is looking to showcase his versatility

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USA Today Images

Blazers Pre-draft Workout: Late-bloomer KZ Okpala is looking to showcase his versatility

TUALATIN – The Portland Trail Blazers held their third pre-draft workout on Thursday morning at their practice facility. Portland’s fourth and final workout will take place this Sunday.

The Blazers hold the No. 25 pick in this year’s draft, to be held on Thursday, June 20.

Portland brought in six hopefuls on Wednesday, David Crisp (Washington), Matur Maker (Slovenian League), KZ Okpala (Stanford), Samir Sehic (Tulane/Vanderbilt), Jaylin Walker (Kent State), and Cameron Young (Quinnipiac).

Stanford forward KZ Okpala, whose full name is Chikezie Okpala, is the biggest standout from Wednesday’s group.

Okpala is projected to be a mid to late first round pick, which could mean he is available for the Blazers at No. 25. Okpala has been linked to the Nets and Jazz in several Mock Drafts.

At 6’9”, 215 pounds, Okpala is the definition of a ‘3 & D’ guy.

Okpala talked with the media after his workout, discussing what stood out to him about the workout with the Trail Blazers saying, “The energy. Everybody was playing extremely hard, we’re competing, that was the biggest thing.”

While attending Esperanza High School in Anaheim, California, Okpala only played the guard position despite his huge growth spurt. He even brought the ball up when he grew to 6’8”.

“It’s just a blessing, Okpala said. “Nothing more than a blessing. [I was] 5’10” coming in as a freshman [in high school] and now I’m 6’10” almost. I’ve got guard skills, that helps with my versatility for sure.”

 “Whatever position coach needs me to play, I can do it,” Okpala said. 

With his size he looks to be a lock for the modern NBA and that is what Okpala is looking to showcase.

“Versatility, that I can handle it for my size, get downhill, get to the middle, I have a quick first step, play-make, can shoot it, and then defensively I think that’s where I can come in on a team and make an impact right away just because I think I can really get after it, Okpala said. “I can guard 1 through 4. I’m just confident on the defensive end and the offensive end.”

During his sophomore year of college, Okpala earned 2018-19 All-Pac-12 First Team selection.

At Stanford, he averaged 16.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He played in 29 games his sophomore year, while averaging 46.3% from the field, 67.1% from the free throw line, and 36.8% from three-point range in 32.7 minutes per game.

The sophomore forward spoke with the Blazers team physiologist during the NBA Combine last month, which may show that Portland has had some interest in the young fella.

Okpala has been very busy during the pre-draft workout process.

“I’m getting up there. I think [this] is my ninth. I think I have a couple more… I just take it one day at a time really,” Okpala said. “It’s been so exciting, every place I go, the atmosphere, just meeting all the staff and front offices it’s been a blessing."

The 20-year-old also said he grew up watching the Blazers backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

“What they did in the playoffs is amazing, Okpala said. “I know the culture out here is incredible.”

The Scoop: Happy Trail Blazers Day!

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USA Today Images

The Scoop: Happy Trail Blazers Day!

The Scoop livestream presented by Toyota of Portland is back for the summer! On Wednesday afternoon, Jamie Hudson took fan questions live on Facebook and made sure to get all of Rip City up-to-date on all the happenings surrounding the Trail Blazers.

The two big topics of the day:

Wednesday morning ahead of the Portland City Council Session at City Hall, the Trail Blazers organization was honored by the city.

Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts, along with President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey, and Senior Vice President of Venue Operations Chris Oxley sat in front of Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Nick Fisher, and the rest of the City Council while Wheeler proclaimed June 12th, 2019 "Trail Blazers Day".

Plus, it was announced on Wednesday that Damian Lillard has been named the winner of the NBA’s prestigious J. Walter Kennedy Award. The award is given annually to an NBA player, coach or staff member who has shown “outstanding service and dedication to the community.”

Other Scoop topics include:

-Damian Lillard working out with former Blazer Tim Frazier

-Jusuf Nurkic’s rehab progress

-Trail Blazers vacations

-Pre-draft workouts for Portland

Watch the FULL EPISODE right here:

Scoop Summer Show

Happy Trail Blazers Day!!! The Scoop brought to you by Toyota of Portland is back for the Summer! Let’s get you up-to-date on all the Rip City happenings and NBA reports right now on The Scoop…

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Portland City Council is committed to keeping Trail Blazers in PDX

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USA Today Images

Portland City Council is committed to keeping Trail Blazers in PDX

The Portland City Council is determined to keep the Portland Trail Blazers in Rip City for the long-term.

Wednesday morning ahead of the City Council Session at City Hall, the Trail Blazers organization was honored by the city.
Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts, along with General Manager Neil Olshey, and Senior Vice President of Venue Operations Chris Oxley sat in front of Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioner Nick Fisher, and the rest of the City Council while Wheeler proclaimed June 12th, 2019 Trail Blazers Day.

“This is a proclamation honoring the Portland Trail Blazers. I’d like to thank coach Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey, Chris Oxley, and the Blazers staff for joining us this morning. I want to congratulate the Blazer players for having a truly incredible season this year,” Mayor Wheeler said.

Commissioner Nick Fish spoke to Stotts and Olshey directly, as well, showing his commitment to keep Portland an NBA city.

“I want to make a pitch for the future,” Fish said. “We were very lucky to have an owner of this team that invested freely in building great teams and keeping [them] here… We lost Mr. Allen to cancer. His sister is now running the team and obviously will be making some decisions about the team in the next few years about the direction of the team and her intentions."

“I wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity too for the city to go on record of saying, we’ll do everything that we can within our power to keep the Trail Blazers here forever,” Fish added.

Commissioner Fish made sure to drive home his point that the city is determined to keep the Blazers in Rip City, adding, “there will be other cities competing for the Trail Blazers, there may be owners that have fancy ideas, but the Trail Blazers belong in Portland and the city is committed to keeping you here.” 

Mayor Wheeler then concluded the presentation to the Trail Blazers with a simple, but powerful statement:

“The Blazers are part of the DNA of this city.”

It’s obvious that Mayor Wheeler understands how much the Trail Blazers are rooted in this city and it’s clear the City Council is prepared to keep this team in Portland well into the future.