The team on the cusp of contention with a full roster is typically a bad omen for some deep-reserve player or another; in their efforts to improve via trade or free agency, teams almost inevitably have to release players as a space-creating endeavor, getting nothing in return but the freedom to go about their transaction business.
Such is the case with the Portland Trail Blazers’ Armon Johnson, who from this moment on will be former Portland Trail Blazer Armon Johnson. In order to consummate the signing of free agent center Joel Przybilla, the Blazers will waive Johnson, who has played only five minutes this season and was only briefly a relevant member of Nate McMillan’s rotation last year.
The roster-clearing decision essentially came down to the release of Johnson or former No. 1 overall pick/walking NBA tragedy Greg Oden. The Blazers opted to keep Oden, but as noted by Jason Quick of The Oregonian, the decision was hardly made on the basis of hope or sentiment. Oden’s contract simply makes for better trade filler, and as the Blazers eye further improvement before the impending trade deadline, his $1.5 million deal could prove helpful in completing a transaction on financial terms. It’s horrifying what a run of bad luck and a seven-foot frame can do to a promising player and an entire franchise, but this is where Odom and the Blazers are at present: contemplating a pragmatic split in order to bolster emergency depth. The hopes for better days and careers resurrected has run its course, and if the possibility of Oden’s release alone doesn’t signal that Portland is ready to move on, I don’t know what possibly could.
As for Johnson, the 23-year-old guard sits in a curious position. According to Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge, a league source intimated that the Blazers shopped Johnson pretty aggressively at the D-League showcase, but received no interest whatsoever in their pursuit of a second-round pick in return. Considering Johnson’s minimal salary and relentless on-ball defense, one would think he would be able to latch on somewhere as a waiver candidate. Yet that reported lack of interest casts Johnson’s immediate NBA future very much into doubt; the league still has little patience for nominal point guards with minimal offensive skills, and Johnson’s inability to either score or create plays with any consistency could push him out of the league entirely for the time being.
With time running down in the third quarter, LeBron James went hard to the basket for a layup, and the shot was contested by Jeremy Lamb, who ended up poking LeBron in the eye on the play.
It isn’t intentional, but it looks painful.
That blow could have LeBron sitting out Saturday night when the Cavaliers take on the Washington Wizards in Cleveland. From Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
LeBron James said he suffered a scratched cornea in his right eye in Friday’s 112-105 win over Charlotte after being examined by a Hornets team physician.
James, who scored 32 points in 40 minutes, could not keep his right eye open during his postgame interview session and said his vision was blurry… Summing it all up, James said “if coach decides to give me a game off (Saturday), it’s not because I’m resting. It’s because I’m banged up.”
He was treated by the Hornets’ team doctor who administered eye drops, but the Cavaliers will make the call closer to game time depending on how LeBron is feeling.
The Cavaliers are 0-6 without LeBron this season. They also have just a one-game lead over the Celtics for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. (Boston beat Phoenix on Friday, despite Devin Booker dropping 70, and they have a key game with the Heat on Sunday.) That said, the Cavaliers are two games up in the loss column on the Celtics, which is a decent lead, but the Cavs need to start winning consistently.
And beating a hot Washington team will not be easy even with LeBron.
Devin Booker was the story of the NBA Friday night.
The 20-year-old Suns’ guard — who never scored more than 19 points in a game at Kentucky in college — dropped 70 on the Boston Celtics in a losing effort. He becomes only the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 70 in a game. At the end the Suns were fouling and calling time outs to stop the clock and get the ball back to Booker, but as Phoenix coach Earl Watson said to those who complained, “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”
NBA Twitter exploded at what Booker did.
Booker himself responded this way.
There was no hesitation. None was expected.
After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.
Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.
Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.
The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.
And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.
Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”
Jerry West said he loved him like a son.
Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”
The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.
Check out the highlights above.