Portland Trail Blazers v Charlotte Bobcats

The fall of the Portland Trail Blazers

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Every person is going to have their individual sticking point. The one thing that they’ll point to, keep coming back to. For most, it will be Brandon. If Brandon Roy’s knees had held up, if he he had meniscus left in just one of his knees, it would have been different. Others will go to Oden. “He was great when he was on the court,” they’ll say (which is an exaggeration brought about by the circumstances but he was very good). “If he had just been able to recover, he would have been the missing piece.” Some will point to a tough matchup with the Mavericks (which most fans wanted and were surprised when they lost) that caused an inspiring team to fall short. And some will pin it on coaching, management, ownership, this player or that. And the fact remains.

We are witnessing the fall of the Portland Trail Blazers.

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It’s March 10th, and the Trail Blazers dropped to 19-21, two games back of the 8th spot in the Western Conference. By no means are they out of it. A five game winning streak likely puts them back in 8th. They are in the midst of a long road trip against tough opponents which makes things more difficult. But all of this belies how they’ve looked. And how they’ve looked is a ship taking on water.

They lost to the struggling Boston Celtics 104-86 Friday night, and at one point were down 40-17. It was one of those “There’s so much blood!” games where you want to look away, it’s so gruesome. They are 3-7 in their last 10, and 5-14 on the road. They have looked out of place, out of sorts, out of effort, and without much of anything in the way of basketball ability. One of their wins in this awful stretch came against the Spurs on one of those nights where Pop rests the Big 3. An inspiring win it was not.

Worse still are the non-court things in play. There is rampant talk that Nate McMillan has lost the group, that players want him fired, that guys are checked out. There’s dissension between those players playing out the year wanting to win and those playing out the year wanting to collect a paycheck and go home. All of the things you associate with a bad situation, that’s how this thing is described. The word “cancerous” has been tossed around repeatedly to describe the locker room. It’s as bad as it can get without gun play, according to most.

This, from a team that has always relied on the strength of its chemistry.

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You need to try and remember where this team came from. Portland fans are so dedicated, so committed, so passionate. They’re one of the iconic fanbases of the sport. The Lakers are loud and many. The Celtics fans proud and abundant. But Blazers fans are, to be quite honest, lunatics. You love interacting with them because no one cares about their team as much as they do, takes the team into their hearts the way they do. You hate talking to them for this exact reason, but that comes with the territory. And the Trail Blazers era wrecked so much of that.

They were disgraced, they were embarrassed, they couldn’t get behind their guys. But then this new era erupted and there was so much to be excited about. A young group that had no reason to dissolve. Brandon Roy was the phenom, the future “jersey in the rafters” kid. LaMarcus Aldridge was never given the top billing but worked his way to be the kind of impact player Oden was designated to be from draft day. Oden was going to make it all come together. Those years when the Blazers were rising to near the playoffs and then making their first appearance were filled with nothing but hope and confidence that this Blazers team would be a Finals contender for the next half-decade. What could go wrong?

Everything.

Nearly everything.

Ownership, too quick with the trigger on GMs who were good at their job. (Yes, multiple GMs in a three-year span, how does that happen?) Management too attached to ideas of players than production or what they can acquire at some points, and too rushed to bring in veterans at others. Injuries, of course. Dynamics. And a coach who always seemed to get more out of his guys than you could expect but not as much as you could demand.

And so it ends. A dream that was set on fire and left to slowly burn out, a reminder that being young and well-formed does not mean that team is destined for greatness, that it’s more than coaching, talent, and desire, that luck is often the determining factor in basketball fate. The trade deadline is five days away. While you’re waiting for that next move which is inevitably coming, if not a total blow-up, try and remember what this team meant, what they were supposed to be, and how good that made everyone feel. And use it to remind yourself that basketball can be melancholy sometimes. It can be disappointing. It can be sad.

The Blazers are on fire. But it’s not a disaster or a hilarious explosion or an egotist exploration.

It’s a funeral pyre.

God Save the Blazers.

Kevin Durant: ‘They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league’

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quater in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, insisted his decision to give Draymond Green a flagrant 2 rather than suspending him had nothing to do with Green’s star status or the Warriors’ place in league history.

But Kevin Durant doesn’t believe that.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Durant:

They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league on arguably one of the best teams in the history of the game. They’re not going to suspend him. I didn’t even really think about it. I knew the league was going to let him play or fine him or upgrade him to a flagrant 2. We all knew that was going to happen. The league is about business.

Durant will probably get fined for this. Team employees questioning the league’s integrity is at the heart of why the NBA fines people. The league is trying to protect its image, and Durant completely blew that up.

I have no idea whether Durant is right. I can read VanDeWeghe’s mind as much as I can Green’s while he’s extending his foot toward Steven Adams‘ groin. I.e., I can’t. There’s definitely financial interest in extending the Western Conference finals (which the Thunder lead 2-1) keeping the best players on the floor and having bigger markets advance deeper into the playoffs. But there’s also financial interest in people believing the NBA is fair. It’s not always clear how the league balances those sometimes-competing forces.

Here’s what I know: This is getting fun. It was fun when Russell Westbrook was involved in the Green controversy. It’s even better with Durant looping himself in.

7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye staying in NBA draft

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 20:  Mamadou Ndiaye #34 of the UC Irvine Anteaters in action against Mangok Mathiang #12 and Quentin Snider #2 of the Louisville Cardinals during the second round of the 2015 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Key Arena on March 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye declared for the NBA draft without an agent.

And he’s staying in it.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

If Ndiaye makes it to the NBA, he’d be the league’s tallest player since Yao Ming – becoming just the fifth player taller than 7-foot-5 to play in the league. Gheorghe Muresan and Manute Bol were 7-foot-7, and Shawn Bradley and Yao were also 7-foot-6.

But Ndiaye is not a lock even to be drafted, let alone make a roster. He has developed tremendously, but he’s still unrefined offensively – though good luck stopping him when he gets the ball near the basket. Defensively, he protects the rim and is predictably awful in space. Teams have too much shooting to allow him just to camp out in the paint.

Someone could take a flier on him in the second round – especially if he’s willing to delay signing to spend a year in the D-League or overseas.

Going pro is probably a good move for Ndiaye, though. He needs to face taller and more athletic foes than he sees in the Big West.

Cavaliers getting open 3s again, just not making them

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three point basket in front of the Toronto Raptors bench in the third quarter in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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LeBron James backed down Kyle Lowry on the left block and swung a bullet pass to Matthew Dellavedova in the right corner. As Dellavedova caught the pass, Richard Jefferson screened a closing DeMar DeRozan, ensuring Dellavedova remained open for his 3-point attempt.

Airball.

LeBron tapped the rebound to Channing Frye for a 3-pointer from the top of the key, his spot.

Miss.

After that sequence with about two and a half minutes left, the Cavaliers scored just three more points in their Game 4 loss to the Raptors. The Cavs are again getting the outside looks they desire. They’re just not making them.

Toronto (relatively) shut down Cleveland’s potent long-range attack in Games 1 and 2, holding the Cavaliers to 7-of-20 and 7-of-21 3-point shooting as Cleveland took advantage inside. The Cavs averaged 36 3-point attempts per game in the first two rounds.

But the Cavaliers have adjusted in Games 3 and 4, taking 41 treys in each game. Their 27 and 29 open 3-pointers (defined as the defender being at least four feet away) are right in line with their averages against the Pistons and Hawks and far above the 13 and 15 they produced in Games 1 and 2:

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Cleveland just isn’t making those open 3s.

The Cavaliers shot 34.5% on open 3-pointers in Game 4, a far cry from the 43.6% these made against Detroit and 51.5% they made against Atlanta. It’s even below their regular season mark of 37.8% – which is misleadingly low, considering Channing Frye – a key playoff 3-point shooter – didn’t arrive until a midseason trade.

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There’s a school of thought that 3-point defense is more about limiting attempts than lowering percentage. The Cavs are generating plenty of good attempts. They space the floor and share the ball, getting it to open shooters. LeBron attracts so much attention.

They were probably bound to regress from their hot shooting in the first two rounds. But likewise, they’re better than they appeared in Game 4.

If the Cleveland keeps getting these shots, I’m not convinced Toronto has much control over whether they go in.

The Cavaliers just have to make them.

Report: Goran Dragic pledged to re-sign with Suns before they traded him

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball upcourt during the second half of the NBA game against the Houston Rockets at US Airways Center on February 10, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rockets defeated the Suns 127-118.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With trade rumors swirling, Goran Dragic told the Suns in February 2015 that he wouldn’t re-sign the following summer. Dragic said he no longer trusted Phoenix’s front office.

So, the Suns traded him to Miami.

But did they have to?

Then-Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek apparently got Dragic to change his stance.

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

Within days of Hornacek having a heart-to-heart with Dragic and securing a commitment from the Slovenian point guard to re-sign with the Suns as a free agent the following summer, the Suns shipped him to Miami in a three-team trade, a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports.

This substantially changes how we view that trade. At the time, it seemed the Suns got a tremendous haul for a player they were going to lose anyway. But if they could’ve re-signed him, it changes the equation.

Maybe not enough to say Phoenix erred, though.

Dragic was clearly wavering in his thinking. He later said he regretted his harsh comments about the front office. Just because he told Hornacek he’d re-sign doesn’t mean he was bound to re-sign

And Phoenix got solid return – a top-seven protected 2017 first-rounder that becomes unprotected in 2018 and an unprotected 2021 first-rounder. Picks with so few protections rarely move anymore. The Heat look solid right now, but they’re fairly old. That far into the future, anything can happen – giving those picks great upside.

So, maybe the Suns still made the right move. But maybe just keeping Dragic was more on the table than we previously realized.