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New direction in Portland

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New direction in Portland

What ever happened to the Portland Trailblazers? It seems just like yesterday that they were on the doorstep of being a factor in the western conference for years to come and then poof, they were gone.

After a knee injury to all-star guard Brandon Roy that forced him into a short-lived retirement, the Blazers slumped to a 28-38 record last season. Couple that with Greg Oden -- the former 2 overall pick -- done for good with another knee injury, the Blazers struggled. Last year's swoon cost Nate McMillan his coaching job midway through the season and the team hired offensive-minded Terry Stotts this summer to head up the squad.

It certainly will be a rebuilding season for a young Portland team this upcoming season.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the biggest name that returns for the Blazers. The 6'-11" power forward pumped in 22 points and grabbed 8 rebounds a game for the Blazers last year as he made his first all-star game. Aldridge can play center but is better suited at the 4 and that's why the team went after Roy Hibbert but the Pacers matched the offer sheet and retained the all-star center. Unable to get that deal done, Portland drafted center Meyers Leonard out of Illinois with the 11th overall pick.

Leonard only played two seasons at Illinois, averaging 13 points 8 rebounds and 2 blocks a game. Leonard made a huge jump from his freshman to sophomore season and the Blazers hope he can do the same at the pro-level and erase the memory of Oden's disappointing career.

The Blazers also believe they have the team's point guard for many years to come after drafting Damien Lillard, the high-scoring play maker out of Utah State with the 6th overall pick in the draft. Lillard put up 24 points and 5 assists a game in his senior season for the Aggies. Lillard will likely be the starting point guard from the jump with Nolan Smith and Ronnie Price fighting for back up minutes.

Portland opted to match the 4-year 46 million offer made by Minnesota to restricted free-agent forward Nicolas Batum this summer. Batum, only 23 years old, averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds in his fourth season as a pro. The athletic wing player can defend guards and provides solid three-point shooting for the Blazers.

Portland inked forward J.J. Hickson to a one-year deal. In 19 games for the Blazers last season, Hickson averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds a game.

There are a slew of forwards on the Blazers roster who will fight to earn minutes, including former Wizard Jared Jeffries who came over from the Knicks in that trade for point guard Raymond Felton.

It'll probably be a long season in Portland as the Blazers' roster is extremely young with eight players having less than two years of NBA experience. So don't expect Portland to make a run at the playoffs anytime soon.

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Now that the Lakers got Anthony Davis, could the Knicks and others turn to Bradley Beal?

Now that the Lakers got Anthony Davis, could the Knicks and others turn to Bradley Beal?

With all but one of the brick-and-mortar movie stores closed down, there are really only two instances that you hear the word 'blockbuster' these days: when describing Marvel movies and for the type of trade we saw this weekend between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers.

The Anthony Davis deal is a blockbuster trade in every sense. It is big in the number of pieces involved and because Davis is one of the best players on the planet.

It is important because it could immediately vault the Lakers into title contention. And it provides a new superteam for the league to revolve around and for people to loathe with the Golden State Warriors currently licking their wounds.

But it is also the type of deal that will have major consequences around the league, one that will affect far more than just the teams at the top. It will force a collection of other teams to redraw their blueprints.

The obvious ones are the Knicks and Celtics, the two teams most closely linked to Davis in trade rumors. Now, it is New York that has more urgency, if not desperation, to strike in free agency. Boston to regroup and will probably need to ponder other trades if they want to reassert themselves in the Eastern Conference.

The Davis trade would be a major deal no matter the year, but it is fascinating to evaluate in the context of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson's injuries. The league went from being very predictable to a wide open pasture of possibilities.

Now, the Warriors are good still but are also a beatable team. A window of NBA parity is cracking open and surely the Lakers won't be the only team to pounce.

Houston, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City are always aggressive and will clearly be thinking big. Portland and Denver could see this as the year to go all-in.

Not all teams looking to make a splash will have money to spend in free agency. That points to an aggressive trade market this summer, but there is arguably one big problem. After Davis, it doesn't seem likely many other stars will be available.

Teams seeking stars via trade have enjoyed plenty of options in recent years between Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. The formula is generally fairly simple: an All-Star player on an underachieving team with the end of his contract in sight. Recently, the supply has met the demand.

But currently, few fit that description. There are some like Mike Conley Jr. of the Grizzlies, and Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside of the Heat. But none of those players are All-Stars in their prime.

All of that makes it easy to connect the dots to the Wizards and Bradley Beal. They are in an interesting spot, needing to decide whether to retool for playoff contention or take the long view and undergo some degree of a rebuild.

Beal, as their best player, is the catalyst. There are logical reasons to keep him or to trade him. He is one of the best players in franchise history, is only 25 and he's on a team-friendly contract in the era of the supermax. But the Wizards are going to have a tough time improving their roster with John Wall's Achilles injury and contract, which starts at 35 percent of the salary cap. 

The Wizards have held a stance of not wanting to trade Beal and still do. They also likely wouldn't make such an important decision without a long-term team president in place.

But that won't stop teams from calling and there is already speculation around the league about whether Beal will be dealt. One front office executive told NBC Sports Washington that Beal could be the top prize in the trade market if made available now that Davis is gone. 

For a lot of these situations, trades are more likely when a player is entering his walk year. Beal is signed through the 2020-21 season and, even if he grows unhappy, will say the right things.

He won't create necessary drama. And, if you take him at his word in a February interview with NBC Sports Washington, he wouldn't request a trade himself.

Also, there is a reason to believe keeping Beal wouldn't hurt their ability to rebuild through the draft. With the new lottery system, bottoming out doesn't offer the guarantees that it used to. And even with Beal playing all 82 games last season, the Wizards still lost 50 of them and finished with the sixth-best odds.

Just like some have argued the Wizards have reasons to trade Beal, they also have reasons not to. But that won't stop other teams from picking up the phone.

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Wizards bringing in UNC teammates Coby White and Nassir Little for pre-draft workout

Wizards bringing in UNC teammates Coby White and Nassir Little for pre-draft workout

The Wizards are holding their highest-profile pre-draft workout yet on Monday, hosting UNC teammates and projected lottery picks Coby White and Nassir Little. 

White earned All-ACC and All-Freshman honors during his lone season in Chapel Hill, averaging 16.1 points and 4.1 assists per game. Little's season with the Tar Heels did not go as smoothly as White's, but he is an NBA-ready athlete with tons of upside. 

Both White and Little could be options for the Wizards at No. 9 and would provide solutions to some of Washington's major needs. White would give the Wizards a primary play-maker while John Wall recovers from his Achilles injury, while Little would fill Washington's hole at small forward and bring some much-needed defense and rebounding to the team.

Before White and Little, the Wizards had brought in very few projected lottery picks during their pre-draft process, outside of Kentucky forward Keldon Johnson and French prospect Sekou Doumbouya. But with the 2019 NBA Draft looming on Thursday, the Wizards are ramping up their search for the player they'll pick at No. 9. 

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