portland-trail-blazers Gerald Wallace

Portland’s bandwagon getting full as Lakers come to town

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As you read this, the Portland Trail Blazers are the top seed in the Western Conference. Which after five whole games has all the meaning of a politician’s campaign promise, even in a 66 game season. Few people mention them as title contenders.

But if you were watching the other day they beat Oklahoma City comfortably. A few people took notice. Thursday night they get the Los Angeles Lakers, win that (and the Lakers always struggle in Portland) and that Trail Blazers bandwagon is going to start to fill up.

How did this happen? Portland was a team built for Brandon Roy and Greg Oden to be the stars, but their bodies betrayed them and the Blazers had to go another direction.

They went that direction fast — every season since ’05-06 the Trail Blazers have been one of the three slowest-playing teams in the league. This season they are the fourth fastest (97.4 possessions per game, stats via Hoopdata). With that they have maintained their offensive efficiency, which at 104.7 points per 100 possessions is fifth best in the NBA.

Part of the reason for that success is they are not settling for jumpers any more, as Zach Lowe broke down at Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward.

The Blazers took a lot of shots (26) at the rim (against the Thunder), something they have done much more of this season. About28 of Portland’s 83 shots per game – 33.7 percent — have come at the rim; such close shots accounted for just 30.5 percent of its overall attempts last season, and considering how often this team is getting to the line now, those stats undersell the degree to which it is going to the basket. LaMarcus Aldridge is shooting more jumpers, but he hasn’t reduced his close shots or free throws in the process. Gerald Wallace is barely shooting long two-pointers at all so far, preferring to either fly to the rim or shoot threes.

They also have the fifth best defense in the league, 94.7 points allowed per 100 possessions.

That’s’ a 10 point per 100 possessions differential. The only teams with better ones are the Heat, Bulls and Nuggets. (You expect the Heat and Bulls, the Nuggets are another team surprising us early.)

Can they keep it up? That is the big question. Can they continue to defend at this level — they were an average defensive team the last few years, are they just playing well in a hot streak to start the season or are they this good? Will other teams’ threes start to fall? Portland has six players averaging double-digits in scoring per game, can they maintain that kind of balance? Can Aldridge be the go-to guy in the clutch? Jamal Crawford can keep up this pace, but can Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas? Portland has been a great rebounding team this season after being weak at it in years past, will they revert?

I’m not convinced they are contenders, not yet. But I also don’t think all the numbers are flukes. In a Western Conference in transition Portland is going to be a top-four seed in West and come the playoffs they will be a handful for any of the preseason contender

Report: Celtics to pay second-round pick Demetrius Jackson more than 10 first-rounders next year

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Demetrius Jackson #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers with a score of 56 to 61 during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Celtics became the first team to pay a second-round pick more the season immediately following the draft than some first-rounders received. Last year, No. 37 pick Jordan Mickey had a higher salary than four 2015 first-rounders.

Now, Boston is pushing the envelope even further.

No. 45 pick Demetrius Jackson will make more than the last 10 (!) 2016 first-rounders can earn in the NBA next season.*

*At least two players picked in that range, No. 23 pick Ante Zizic and No. 26 pick Furkan Korkmaz, will play overseas next season. Their salaries with their foreign teams might be higher than they could’ve gotten in the NBA.

Jackson’s salary will be $1,450,000, according to Yahoo Sports. No. 21 pick DeAndre’ Bembry will get $1,499,760 from the Hawks next year, and following first-rounders will fall in line behind him.

The issue is the antiquated rookie scale, which was set well before new national TV contracts pushed the salary cap north of $94 million. With all this new money flooding the system, everyone can grab a share — except first-round picks, who are tied to the scale.

That leaves even more money for second-rounders, and Jackson is the second to cash in in this major way. No. 31 pick Deyonta Davis will get $1,275,917  next season — more than the last six first-rounders. But the Grizzlies also guaranteed Davis’ first three years.

Jackson’s contract becomes much more team-friendly after this season. His salary the following three years is slated to be lower than this year’s: $1,319,500, $1,384,750 and $1,319,500. Yahoo’s wording is ambiguous, but it appears none of those seasons have any guaranteed compensation.

So, the Celtics are getting something in exchange for paying Jackson more now — flexibility in later years. The bargain works for them, because with the salary cap suddenly so high, they had little other use for that 2016-17 money. They essentially bought a better deal later by spending more when they were overrun with cap room.

And Jackson gets a bigger payday as he enters the pros. If he plays well, he’s stuck with a lower salary — though, for the next couple years, it’s still higher than a few first-rounders. If he doesn’t play well, he can be waived at no more cost. This is the opposite of betting on yourself, but that’s totally fine. Jackson will earn a lot of money this year in exchange. He got something significant with his bargaining power.

Projected by some to be a first-round pick, Jackson fell to the middle of the second round. Predictably, that probably turned out better for him.

Watch the best plays of the 2016 Orlando Summer League

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Summer League is long in the rear view mirror — particularly the Orlando Summer League from the beginning of the month.

But with no NBA basketball on the horizon for three months (although we do have the Olympics, here on NBC), why not look back at the top plays from Orlando? So here you go.

Heat fans, Briante Weber is at the top of the board.

Former NBA player Von Wafer takes to Twitter to beg for one more NBA chance

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers, Game 7
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Von Wafer was the quintessential gunner without a conscious during his six NBA seasons. He never saw a shot he didn’t like.His propensity to shoot rather than make the right basketball play is why he bounced around the league for six seasons. Well, that and his locker room fights and throwing of chairs and the like.

Wafer looks back on that and winces.

And he went to Twitter to beg for another chance, despite not having been in the league since 2012. The message came after a tweet showing part of his last workout.

Wafer is now 31 and last set foot on an NBA court in 2012, having played in China, Russia, Puerto Rico, and the D-League since them. We’ll politely call his comeback attempt a longshot.

But a guy who can shoot the rock asking for one more chance? We know there will be worse and stranger camp invites.

(Hat tip Ball Don’t Lie).

 

Report: If Durant/Curry relationship goes south, teams will try to poach Stephen Curry. Well, duh.

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07: Kevin Durant speaks to the media during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are a handful of true game-changing players in the NBA. Not max players, there are a chunk of those, we’re talking “you can build a contender around him” guys. Kevin Durant is one, and he is headed to Golden State.

Stephen Curry is another. And he is a free agent next summer. So many teams — including one contender — are ready if the Durant/Curry relationship goes south, reports Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report.

B/R EXCLUSIVE: A contender is planning to poach Steph Curry from Dubs if chemistry with Durant turns 'poisonous'

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Well, duh.

Again, there are not many Curry level players; teams should have a “what if” plan. Including contenders.

That is very different than saying Curry is going to leave the Warriors — nobody around the league sees that as likely. Nobody expects a “poisonous” Durant/Curry relationship. Everyone expects Curry to re-sign for the max with the Warriors. The man just recruited Durant, now he’s going to bolt?

But like a Boy Scout, a team is always prepared. So they should have that plan, just don’t count on it for a primary option.