LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Gerald Wallace

Portland tasked with fixing what isn’t broken

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Things are going just fine for the Portland Trail Blazers these days: LaMarcus Aldridge made “the leap,” last season, Rich Cho stole Gerald Wallace out of Charlotte with a bargain trade package, Andre Miller was replaced with a younger facsimile, Brandon Roy has shown signs of life, and the roster is loaded with capable contributors.

But then again, that’s exactly the problem: things are just fine for the Portland Trail Blazers, a team with plenty of talent and assets but no place in the top tier nor any straightforward means for significant improvement. The Blazers aren’t exactly locked into their current roster — they have plenty of movable parts — but the team already boasts good, productive players at every position. We know that Portland isn’t an elite team in every dimension of play, but they’ve reached a point where the acquisition of specific skills in order to rectify weaknesses could come at great expense to the overall talent level of the roster.

The Blazers are still without a GM (following Cho’s inexplicable firing), but whomever ends up taking the post will have their hands full. Improving an NBA team is always an arduous task, but elevating an already effective and versatile roster requires incredible finesse. There are too many considerations at this point to merely isolate the team’s weaknesses and go to work finding players that hold those skills. The outgoing talent in any potential trade (even if it’s only in the form of a relatively less essential cog) would likely be too considerable to deal without significant and immediate returns, and yet trades yielding equivalent talent for both parties typically only make sense when filling a positional need — of which the Blazers have none.

Portland could stand to have a bit more frontcourt depth, or really, could stand to have a healthy Greg Oden. But remove that supplementary need you’re left with a good team with so few “little,” moves to make. Elite squads are crafted from nuance, but this roster was already assembled with great attention to detail. They were on the right path with all of the crucial ingredients, but then Roy fell, Oden false started (and false started, and false started…), and the electricity dissipated.  The Blazers still hold all of the components, but something’s amiss in the current.

How does one rectify that problem? How does a GM with a glut of components fix the team’s flow without sacrificing that which generates its power?

It’s hard to say — I’m no electrician. But I’m unconvinced that the problem is a lack of star power. Aldridge is productive enough to act as a team’s primary offensive weapon. He’s that good, and lest we forget, the Dallas Mavericks recently concluded their demonstrative campaign to prove that the one-star model can be effective in the right context. Would Portland benefit from somehow turning Raymond Felton, Nicolas Batum, or Wesley Matthews into a more productive player? Surely. But I remain unconvinced that a lack of a true second fiddle is what dooms the Blazers. They could win with a more cumulative approach, but just don’t seem to have the right amalgamation of overall production and talent. The offensive and defensive potential are there, but the optimal result, for whatever reason, isn’t.

The answers are out there for the Blazers and their GM-to-be, but here’s a hope that the rush to find those answers takes a back seat to an enduring patience. Portland only gets one shot at this. They only have so many pieces that can be dealt and so much cap space to work with. Plus, with a newly implemented CBA, they’ll have entirely new rules and stipulations to consider. It may seem like there’s a swiftly ticking clock, but Aldridge, Wallace, Felton, Matthews, Batum, and even Roy have plenty of productive years ahead of them. There’s a window here, but also a problem worthy of careful analysis and creative thinking. There’s no rush. The evolution from good to great takes time and persistence, and the worst thing that could come of the Blazers’ season is a faulty move made by a new manager looking to make an immediate imprint.

NBA: Hornets incorrectly denied game-tying FT attempts in final seconds of loss to Clippers

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Foul or defend?

That’s the eternal question for teams trying to protect a late three-point lead.

While many fans believe fouling is the astute strategy, most American coaches opt to defend.

Defending is a better strategy than meets the eye, because it’s relatively easy to defend the arc when you know your opponent needs a 3-pointer. Plus, as coaches commonly believe, fouling offers too many opportunities for something to go wrong.

The Clippers almost learned that the hard way in their win over the Hornets on Sunday.

But an officiating error helped L.A. preserve its late lead, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

With the Clippers up three, Chris Paul intentionally fouled Kemba Walker with 2.1 seconds left. Walker made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second.

In the battle for the rebound, Blake Griffin should have been called for committing a loose-ball foul on Marvin Williams with 2.0 seconds left, per the league:

Griffin (LAC) grab Williams’ (CHA) jersey and affect his ability to rebound.

The league also ruled Williams got away with a loose-ball foul on Griffin in the same tenth of a second, but Griffin’s foul should have been whistled first.

A correct call would’ve given Williams — who’s making 85% of his free throws this season and 80% for his career — two attempts from the line with a chance to tie the game.

Instead, Griffin grabbed the rebound and was intentionally fouled with half a second left. He hit one free throw, and the Clippers won, 124-121.

Draymond Green, Kevin Durant take turns playing while holding Durant’s shoe (video)

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The adventures of Kevin Durant‘s shoe:

  • Falls off as Durant shoots a jumper
  • Left on the far side of the court for an entire Warriors defensive possession
  • Lightly kicked by 76ers forward Robert Covington, who should have tossed it into the crowed
  • Picked up by Draymond Green, who sets a screen while holding it
  • Tossed by Green to Durant
  • Held by Durant as he defends and tips a rebound
  • Put back on by Durant just in time for him to assist Stephen Curry

Patrick Patterson falls on his back, still strips Derrick Rose (video)

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This is mostly good effort by Patrick Patterson. It’s also bad luck for Derrick Rose, who’s not accustomed to avoiding a player lying on his back.

But it’s hard to resist the jokes about Rose losing a step to the point he can no longer beat even a man who’d fallen on his back off the dribble.

 

Potential top-three NBA-draft prospect, Kansas’ Josh Jackson, charged with misdemeanor property damage

Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Jackson (11) during a time-out against the Baylor Bears the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann
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Markelle Fultz is the consensus top prospect in the 2017 NBA draft, and Lonzo Ball is a strong second.

Leading the pack for third? Probably Kansas forward Josh Jackson.

But Jackson’s résumé is now tainted by a misdemeanor property-damage charge.

The incident, which allegedly involved Kansas teammate Lagerald Vick and Kansas women’s basketball playerMcKenzie Calvert, occurred just before 2 a.m. Dec. 9.

Laura Bauer and Mara Rose Williams of The Kansas City Star:

Calvert is the same female KU student who a university investigation found Vick likely committed domestic violence against more than a year ago.

Calvert reportedly threw a drink on a male patron while leaving the bar. The Star has learned that the patron was Vick.

Jackson followed Calvert to her car, according to the release, and they argued. Witnesses saw Jackson kick the driver’s door of Calvert’s car and kick a rear taillight.

The Star has learned that Calvert — a standout on the women’s team — was in the driver’s seat while Jackson kicked her car.

Investigators have interviewed several people who witnessed the reported crime. A police report categorized the $2,991 in total damage to the car as a felony. But Friday’s release listed the damage at a higher amount, $3,150.45.

“Felony criminal damage (damage in excess of $1,000) was not charged because the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all the damage to the door and taillight were caused by Jackson,” the release said.

Jackson said in a statement he would pay for damage he “directly caused.” Kansas coach Bill Self, in his statement, called Jackson a “great ambassador for this university.”

NBA teams shouldn’t and probably won’t blindly accept Self’s self-interested assessment. Jackson’s conduct will likely be investigated during the pre-draft process, determining where it falls on the spectrum of a youthful transgression and the hot-button issue of domestic violence.

The better Jackson plays, the more forgiving teams will be. Right or wrong, that’s how it works. But this incident will be included in the overall assessment of Jackson.