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Report: Blazers C Festus Ezeli likely candidate for season-ending surgery

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The Portland Trail Blazers might have just lost a little more hope to fix their ailing front line. On Saturday, it was reported by Yahoo! Sports that Blazers center Festus Ezeli will likely undergo season-ending knee surgery.

Ezeli, 27, was signed by Portland in the offseason to a 2-year, $15 million deal, the second year of which is a team option.

Declining Ezeli’s option for next year and filing for a disabled player exception would give the Blazers — a team $18 million over the salary cap — a little bit of financial leeway, but it still leaves a gaping hole on the floor for 2016-17.

Portland has struggled defensively, and while their rim protection numbers aren’t horrible, they have clearly had issues defending as a team thanks to the play of their forwards and centers.

The Blazers have run out Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh, and Maurice Harkless up front, and have sorely missed the defensive presence of Al-Farouq Aminu, who has played in 12 games due to injury.

Plumlee is a sore spot for Portland, a short-armed offensive center who is a delightful passer and fits well into Terry Stotts’ flow offense. However, his inability on the pick-and-roll has been a point of exploitation for opposing teams.

So, too, have the Blazers felt a sting as Davis’ advanced numbers have receded from last year. The 7-year veteran has not been as effective on the offensive glass, and his finishing around the rim has dipped significantly.

Meanwhile, Leonard has been recovering from a shoulder injury as he rounds into playing shape, and Vonleh is still developing.

Ezeli — who entered 2015-16 with the Golden State Warriors — was slated for a big payday, but injuries have hampered much of his career. He received a bone marrow injection in September, and folks in Portland seemed hopeful he would return. The Blazers seemed to think Ezeli’s signing was more akin to a mid-season acquisition, but they went suspiciously quiet on him as fall turned to winter.

Now we know that the Blazers will likely be without him entirely, and we may never see Ezeli in a Portland uniform if the team declines his option for next year.

Rumors have swirled for Portland about potential trades as a disappointing 13-15 start to the season has them at the No. 8 position in the Western Conference, below where many — including yours truly — slated them to end up.

Potential targets have ranged from Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut — also injured and an unlikely cultural fit in the Willamette Valley — to disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers youngster Nerlens Noel.

It’s unclear what or if Portland is willing to give something important up to bolster the front line. Although the Blazers have started off slow, they are still ahead of where they were at this point last season when they were 11-17. Their schedule is supposed to get easier after the All-Star break, and GM Neil Olshey has shown a propensity to play the slow hand, instead waiting out the season to see what comes of the market and his developing teams.

Still, it’s hard to see a season with so much hope for Portland start to fizzle. Realistically, even if they do end up being a playoff team with a low seed, there’s not a lot of fighting hope for them come elimination time if they can’t do a lot of things well defensively. Just this week the Denver Nuggets lit them up for 132 points thanks to 15 3-pointers, and indeed they are one of the worst teams in the NBA at defending the arc, both in terms of percentage and allowed shots.

It seems unwise that the Blazers will sit tight. Expectations are high this year and with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum playing at increasingly high levels, it’s going to be hard for the team to waste a year of their primes.

Several Blazers players — including Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe — will become trade-eligible on Jan. 15. Between those two, Aminu, Harkless, and the two first-round picks the team holds, it seems that Portland should have enough to get into serious trade talks in light of Ezeli’s potential surgery.

While Olshey may have wanted to do what he always does — wait, see, and prosper — it seems that Ezeli’s left knee may force the Trail Blazers’ hand sooner rather than later.

Damian Lillard talks about his “no pressure” pitch to Carmelo Anthony, selling Portland

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Self-made, over-achieving players in the NBA tend not to be the recruiters. They worked hard and made it to where they are more on their own, and their world-view follows that path. Think Derrick Rose in Chicago.

Damian Lillard was one of those guys, but he has done a little recruiting of late — he reached out to Carmelo Anthony last week. Lillard told Chris Mannix of NBC Radio (who is filling in for Dan Patrick for the day on his national radio show) that it wasn’t really the John Calipari hard-sell.

“It wasn’t really a pitch, I just reached out to him and let him know the interest just wasn’t from our front office, if there was a possibility there was definitely interest from the players as well, and I didn’t want that to be confused,” Lillard said on the radio show. “I didn’t put no pressure on him or ask him a bunch of questions, I just said what it was from our end.”

That is nice, but Anthony reportedly has focused in on Houston, and might settle for Cleveland (if there was a deal to be had). Would ‘Melo waive his no-trade clause to head to Portland?

“I didn’t get a sense that he wouldn’t,” Lillard said in a tepid response. “What we have here is a good situation for him and that’s just kind of where it went. I let him know what I thought he could do for our team and what our team could do with his presence. And that was it. We didn’t go over no details or talk about a no trade clause or nothing like that. He’s gonna make his own decision to do that or not, I just want to make sure we had some kind of a conversation.”

It’s a start. It’s likely not enough. Anthony wants to go somewhere and chase a ring, and despite what C.J. McCollum thinks, Portland with ‘Melo isn’t a contender. Even with Anthony, I would have them sixth in the West, maybe fifth at best (Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and probably Minnesota are better still). And this is assuming Portland can find a team to take on Myers Leonard’s contract to make a deal work.

What Lillard wanted to get across was that Portland is a great place to be an NBA player.

“I think people talk about what it would be like in Portland or to play in Portland, but actually having lived here, I live here year-round, so I know it’s a great place to live,” Lillard said. “Some of the best food in the United States. You talk about loving the game of basketball, our team and the soccer team are all the city has, so we get a lot of support and our fans really back our team and are really passionate about our team. That type of environment, and that type of love and support around the city, what NBA player wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Jimmer Fredette re-signing in China

AP Photo/George Bridges
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Jimmer Fredette played well in China last year, and buzz even emerged about him re-joining the NBA after the Chinese season ended in March. Never happened.

Even in the offseason, when every NBA team had open roster spots, nobody stateside has signed Fredette.

So, he’s returning to the Shanghai Sharks.

Fredette:

Fredette retains a cult following in America, but not the talent of an NBA player. He can score plenty in a lesser league, but his game doesn’t fit with better players on the floor.

Perhaps, he could’ve gotten a training-camp invite, maybe even with a small guarantee. But would’ve faced an uphill battle sticking into the regular season. Better for him to lock into a bigger salary in China now.

Rumor: Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder ‘officially circling each other’

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Carmelo Anthony prefers to be traded to the Rockets. He might soon be traded to the Rockets.

Are the Thunder trying to interject themselves before it’s too late?

Bill Simmons of The Ringer:

Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse when Anthony played there. Weaver is also well-connected in the Washington area (D.C./Maryland/Virginia). I’m not sure how much that means to Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore – in many ways, a different world from the DMV (which includes only parts of Maryland and Virginia closer to D.C.). Still, Weaver and Anthony at least share their Syracuse connection.

The problem: An Oklahoma City trade for Anthony would almost have to include Steven Adams (way more valuable than Anthony) and/or Enes Kanter (way less valuable than Anthony). There’s no easy way to bridge either gap, especially considering how much the Thunder need Adams’ interior presence.

Here’s my best stab at a workable framework for a trade, via ESPN’s trade machine:

screenshot-www.espn.com-2017-07-24-12-26-16

The Clippers would get a more-skilled backup center while just shuffling bad contracts (at least that’s how it seems they view Wesley Johnson‘s deal). The Thunder would still need to send the Knicks more assets (Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant and/or draft picks). The Knicks would get a veteran point guard in Austin Rivers while Frank Ntilikina develops and, more importantly, additional young assets. It’s just a matter of determining whether there’s an overlap in the picks Oklahoma City would trade and New York would receive. That window might be tight – or not exist.

Adding Paul George and Anthony to a team led by Russell Westbrook would be exciting. I’m just not sure it’s realistic.

Rumor: Knicks likely to trade Carmelo Anthony to Rockets this week

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After numerous starts and stops and starts and stops, maybe the Knicks will actually trade Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets soon?

Tarek Fattal of the Los Angeles Daily News:

So, they found a third team to take Ryan Anderson or a fourth team to take Meyers Leonard?

If true, that’d please at least Anthony.

There’s room for a trade to work. New York is clearly ready to move on from Anthony, and Houston wants him to join James Harden and Chris Paul. The Rockets can add sweeteners to convince another team – or maybe even the Knicks – to take a bad contract in the trade.

But this has dragged on so long, I need more evidence the deal is actually close before I believe it.