Portland Trail Blazers

NBA season preview: Portland Trail Blazers

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Last season: Nothing will push you toward rebuilding like disappointment, and their 28-38 record was that. This was a 48 win team a couple seasons ago, but last season a team that should be playing fast and pressuring teams was average in pace and threatening nobody. Point guard Raymond Felton took the blame from fans for being out of shape (he was), coach Nate McMillan took the blame from management and they fired him and replaced him with Kalab Canales. None of it mattered. Outside of an All-Star season from LaMarcus Aldridge everyone else on the roster didn’t live up to expectations.

Key Departures: Consider it an overhaul — Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford are all gone. They got serious about rebuilding and shipped everyone out.

Key Additions: Through the draft they added two lottery picks — point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard. Both looked good at Summer League (Lillard was co-MVP) and both are going to get a lot of run. They are going to be key for Portland. After that, unless Joel Freeland excites you none of these additions can be called key.

Two other key additions — the aggressive Neil Olshey as GM and Terry Stotts as coach.

Three keys to the Trail Blazers season:

1) Nicolas Batum, it is time to step up and earn that contract. Through four NBA seasons, Batum has been good — last season he averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 39.1 percent from three, took on more offense and had a PER of 17.3, and he shows flashes as a defender but is not consistent. This season — with Batum sporting shiny new a four-year, $45 million contract — they are paying him to play like a star. Portland needs him to be real NBA No. 2 guy on a team. He has to be better than just pretty good most of the time.

He needs to score more and lead on offense. He can knock down the three, but his handle needs to improve so he can attack better off the dribble. The defense needs to be there nightly. He needs to find a groove with Damien Lillard. The Blazers have locked themselves in a bit with big contracts to Aldridge and Batum, those two have to be the stars. Aldridge will be, no question. Batum has got the skills, but this needs to be his breakout year.

2) After Batum and Aldridge, who is going to step up? LaMarcus Aldridge is an All-Star, one of the best power forwards in the game right now. Nicolas Batum is good and on the verge of a breakout season. And after that…

There is rookie point guard Lillard, who has been given the keys to the Blazers offense and asked to run the show. Which is a lot to ask for a rookie out of Weber State. In the middle there is rookie Meyers Leonard, who is tall and athletic but with a raw offensive game. So far in preseason it has looked like J.J. Hickson could beat him out for minutes, which speaks to how far he has to go to be a starting NBA five. Leonard was always a project but they need to see something from him this year.

And after that… who do you like on the Portland roster? Wesley Mathews is solid. Hickson has shown flashes but misses a lot of jumpers (which he keeps taking). Who is left to step up? Nolan Smith? Jared Jeffries? Luke Babbitt? Ronnie Price?

Someone is going to step up or depth will hurt Portland this year.

3) They need to need to add pieces, but how? Portland is rebuilding, but with big contracts handed out to Aldridge and Batum plus other deals on the books, Portland is not in a place where they can just add guys easily via free agency. They can have some space if they let Hickson walk and don’t bring back guys like Babbitt, but they are not “we can go get a max guy” below the cap.

Neil Olshey will be aggressive, he will make deals because that is what he does. But it will be interesting to see if he can get them more cap room to use in future seasons.

What Trail Blazers fans should fear: Meddling ownership. Paul Allen and his Vulcan crew stepping in to make decisions. The best owners stay out of the way — hire a smart GM, a smart person to run the business operations, then let the basketball people do their thing. Don’t let personal relationships with a coach or anyone influence business decisions. Only change the GM when it’s clear he has failed. But Paul Allen likes to stir the Blazers pot, and when he does plans seem to reset. It happens too often.

How it likely works out: Even if Batum does have a breakout year and Aldridge is once again an All-Star, the Blazers are trusting a rookie point guard to lead them to the playoffs. Which means it is going to be a long season. The Blazers will be entertaining and not an embarrassment, but when the inevitable injuries of any NBA season come the depth of this team will be exposed. And it won’t be pretty.

Prediction: Portland finishes 33-49 and is back in the lottery, hoping for a lucky Ping-Pong ball bounce. This is a year to be measured in growth of young players that lets them build for the future. They have Aldridge for three more seasons, they need to find a way to win with him in that time or the rebuilding may have to start again.

Liquor company Jägermeister says Bucks’ new logo is too similar to their own

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MILWAUKEE (AP) A German company that makes a popular liqueur is not raising a shot glass to the Milwaukee Bucks’ redesigned logo.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Jägermeister has filed formal opposition with an appeal board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about the registration of the logo.

The company contends it “has established exclusive rights in the DEER HEAD Marks through use in commerce in the United States” going back to 1968. It cites numerous reasons to oppose registration for the NBA team, including the possibility that people might confuse the two companies or believe they are connected or affiliated.

Both logos feature forward-looking deer with large antlers inside a circle or partial circle in about the same proportions.

Neither the Bucks nor Jägermeister returned messages seeking comment.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

Carmelo on NBA CBA opt-out deadline: “I’m skeptical of something getting done”

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - May 07, 2015
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After months of reports that the NBA and the NBAPA would be able to reach an agreement on a new CBA, it appears the two sides have hit a snag.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN is reporting that the league and the player’s union are unlikely to agree to terms before Thursday’s deadline for the players to opt-out of the current CBA.

Via ESPN:

“I’m skeptical of something getting done,” Anthony, who is the vice president of the NBPA told ESPN after the New York Knicks practiced Saturday in Los Angeles. “Do I think something could happen by the 15th? Yeah I think something could happen. But I think this kind of put a dent in conversations.

“We had something so close. We were supposed to have a deal done weeks ago, and for this to happen at the 25th hour is tough.”

This is not good news for the talks, which have reportedly gone smoothly thus far and for good reason: money.

There’s more of it to be had all around for both sides, and as Basketball Related Income (or BRI) rises, so has the NBA salary cap.

Despite this unfortunate news, it’s not all doom and gloom for NBA fans hoping to avoid a lockout. While Dec. 15 is the opt-out date for the players and they will almost certainly take it, the current CBA doesn’t expire until June of 2017.

That means there won’t be any kind of work stoppage for the 2016-17 NBA season, but both sides would have a hard date of June 30 before ostensibly triggering one.

The good news is, hopefully, that since the two sides have already been working hard on a deal that they would be close on the terms they need to settle over the following six months.

A big question is apparently whether they can still make Thursday’s deadline, as Anthony has reportedly said it would take significant discussion time and constant work to finish the deal as it stands.

No word yet on what the issue is between the league and the players, as Anthony declined to elaborate.

Rumor: Celtics, Blazers potential trade destinations for Mavericks C Andrew Bogut

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The Dallas Mavericks have one of the worst records in the NBA at just 5-17. A trade to Texas back in July was put in the works in order for the Golden State Warriors to clear enough cap space to sign Kevin Durant, but not much has come of Bogut’s time in Big D thanks to multiple other issues with the roster.

Bogut, 32, is now a potential trade target for playoff teams looking to bolter their front line, and according to a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein, both the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers have either shown interest or make a natural fit.

Via ESPN:

Boston has already emerged as a team interested in trading for Dallas center Andrew Bogut, and here’s another team that makes sense: Portland. The Mavericks have yet to make Bogut available for potential deals, per ESPN’s own Tim MacMahon, but the Blazers are a natural suitor given their clear need for a defensive anchor at the rim as the league’s 30th-ranked defense as of Friday morning.

Boston makes a lot of sense for Bogut given their high aspirations for the season and the fact that they are the 7th-worst rebounding team in the NBA despite adding Al Horford to their roster this offseason.

The Celtics already have an excellent net rating on the season, but the space added from Bogut’s screens on offense would no doubt help propel them forward as they battle for a Top 3 spot in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Portland, meanwhile, needs Bogut’s skill set in a way that can’t be stressed enough. The Trail Blazers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, something Bogut could definitely help.

In 2015-16, with a similar roster, the Blazers were a top offensive rebounding team. This season they’re one of the worst on the glass, a major contributing factor to their early struggles.

Again, Bogut would help them, but GM Neil Olshey also isn’t one to make moves to upset the chemistry of his team unless absolutely require to — see Arron Afflalo in 2014-15.

If the Blazers pull the trigger on a trade for Bogut, it might also give us a better indicator of what is happening with Festus Ezeli, who Portland signed to a 2-year deal this summer. Ezeli has been recovering from knee surgery, but the team has been notably quiet his return as of late. If he isn’t able to return in time for the Blazers to stay in the playoff hunt, Olshey could warm to a Bogut trade if the price is right.

There are a few other teams that make sense for a Bogut trade: the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks are all teams either trying to head to the next level or galvanize their place as a playoff team.

None of these teams save for the Blazers are panicking yet, so we might have to wait until 2017 for a swap given that Bogut is now injured. The Mavericks C suffered a bone bruise in his right knee that will cause him to miss significant time in December.

For any team looking to trade for an aging Bogut, injury concerns are a real issue. He famously missed the end of the 2016 NBA Finals with a bone bruise in his left knee, and has played in 70 or more games just three times in his 12-year career.

When it comes to a Bogut trade, it will come down to the last micron as teams weight the risk vs. reward as the Mavericks start to suss out their asking price.

Indeed, we’ve seen for trades for players in Bogut’s position get a little pricey. Portland rented Afflalo for just 25 games at a price of Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and a protected first-round pick. Cleveland sent out a protected first-round pick, a second-round pick, Jared Cunningham, and Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye in February.

Bogut’s statistics, meanwhile, are notably down but it’s not immediately clear how much of that is due to the Mavericks overall poor play, or if that would even matter to receiving teams. His per-100 possession stats on points and blocks are down, and his net rating is terrible. It would be easy to dismiss that, rightly, to the Dallas roster collectively. Where teams really need him — rebounding — Bogut is stellar, and he’s grabbed a career-high 21.6 rebounds per-100 possessions.

When or if Dallas gets a deal together is anyone’s guess. Dirk Nowitzki has been dealing with Achilles soreness that has kept him sidelined, but he is slated to return before the end of 2016. The Mavericks mainstay has said he wants to keep playing and fighting, and although Dallas are in a huge hole, trading a useful frontline player like Bogut might betray some of Nowitzki’s confidence from the team that they are at least trying to give him reason to play through injury.

Patrick Beverley shuts down Westbrook on final play, bowls through own coach (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets G Patrick Beverley is known around the NBA for being a dogged defender. His skill set was on full display on Friday night, where Beverley shut down Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook on a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

It all started early in the matchup, when Beverley — notorious for getting under the skin of both Westbrook and other NBA opponents — flopped with some serious gusto just 36 seconds into the first quarter.

Via Twitter:

The game continued like this, but the real highlight of Beverley’s defensive night was stopping Westbrook — who dropped his 7th straight triple-double — on an isolation play with six seconds left in the fourth quarter.

With the ball on the left garden spot, Westbrook gave a couple of dribble hesitation moves to Beverley, then tried to rise up for the go-ahead bucket.

Beverley was right up on him, and forced an airball from Westbrook:

The Rockets guard was so happy about the stop and the eventual win that he celebrated a little too enthusiastically with Houston coach Mike D’Antoni.

Going for a chest bump, Beverley wound up blasting through his own coach: