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Blazers fans put up billboard asking LeBron James to be Damian Lillard’s ‘third option’

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LeBron James is an MVP candidate this season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Next year, he may be elsewhere. Perhaps with the Los Angeles Lakers or the Houston Rockets. But what if he played behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for the Portland Trail Blazers instead?

That’s what one set of Portland Trail Blazers fans have jokingly said they want when free agency begins this summer, going so far as to put up a billboard asking James to join the star guards when he inevitably opts out at the end of the season.

We wrote about the Go Fund Me for the billboard last month, the details of which are pretty straightforward. Ira LaFontaine, Keith Kunis, Nick Nanpei, and Spencer Groshong are the foursome that make up a local Portland culture brand Trillblazin. Their idea was to turn the recent spate of LeBron billboards on its head by putting up their own tongue-in-cheek ad. While folks from Los Angeles and Philadelphia took shots at each other, the Trillblazin crew wanted to do something uniquely Portland.

And here we are.

With an original goal of $2,000, the Go Fund Me campaign finished with $6,820. The campaign started off slowly, but LaFontaine told NBC Sports that they were confident it was going to gain traction. As they approached their $2,000 goal, Kunis began asking a local billboard company for prime spots around the Blazers’ home arena, Moda Center.

For $2,750 they were offered locations directly around the NE Portland neighborhood where the Blazers play. LaFontaine and Kunis leaned into that, opening up donations to major sponsors who would also get mention on the billboard. Eventually, Portland brands like Poler, Sizzle Pie, and Stumptown bought in.

“We had a ton of small donations, but once we brought on the larger sponsors we just kind of crushed that goal,” says LaFontaine. “We thought let’s just keep it going. We told everybody, ‘If you’re putting into this, all this money is going back into the billboard or things surrounding the billboard.’”

Now the billboard is up at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and NE Broadway, some six blocks from Moda Center. In what LaFontaine called a happy accident, the billboard is conveniently positioned above a Kia dealer (Kia is one of James’ sponsors). Broadway is one of the main thoroughfares for people driving from east Portland neighborhoods get to the arena, so it’s in a choice location for Blazers fans.

But with a single billboard only costing so much and their pockets deepened, LaFontaine and Kunis needed to figure out what else to do with the money. On social media, the Trillblazin crew joked about putting up a second billboard in Cleveland. The big issue with advertising halfway across the country was how far out billboards are typically booked.

“Dollar-wise, it’s kind of tough because of the funds and the lead time,” says LaFontaine. “The other option we looked at was having a mobile billboard to drive around Quicken Loans Arena, but it was really, really expensive.”

With the fundraising period over, the Trillblazin guys settled on a larger campaign back in Oregon that will expand beyond the billboard at MLK and Broadway. LaFontaine says the leftover money will go toward bus shelter ads and wheatpaste posters, the kind you’d typically see glued en masse to plywood outside of a construction site.

And while folks on social media might still not get that the entire billboard — including the copy — is one big joke, LaFontaine says the campaign says something special about the online Blazers community.

[The billboard] is not necessarily a Trillblazin thing, we were just the catalyst to get it going,” says LaFontaine. “All those sponsor donations, those are all people from Blazers Twitter too. When you see Poler or Stumptown or Portugal the Man, everybody is doing it because they’re a Blazers fan.”

LaFontaine thinks the idea of fans banding together for a gag billboard could only happen through NBA Twitter given its propensity to be jocular and focused on having a good time.

“NBA Twitter in general looks at things differently. They’re more apt to humor and things that have a little bit of a different approach,” says LaFontaine. “I think this concept set up perfectly for the fanbase that we live in, our niche.”

As far as the billboard’s impact, the Trillblazin crew isn’t anticipating an earth-shaking announcement from James after he sees the effort they and the donators have made. Like most Portland fans, LaFontaine and Kunis are aware of the Blazers’ cap situation and the complete roster overhaul it would take to actually get LeBron to the Willamette Valley.

Mostly, they just want LeBron to be in on the joke.

“I don’t think anyone has any unrealistic expectations about the billboard bringing LeBron here,” laughs LaFontaine. “It’s pretty absurd that anyone would realistically think he would be a third option anywhere. I think he would see it right away and kind of just chuckle.”

Meanwhile, the billboard is slated to be up until at least April 29, long enough to get through Game 7 of the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs if need be. The wheatpaste posters and bus shelter ads should be up shortly, and as Blazers fans get geared up for the postseason no doubt it will be a fun reminder that the town is and will always be Rip City.

And if those who don’t “get” the billboard campaign still aren’t happy after everything? That won’t bother LaFontaine at all.

For the Trillblazin guys, the best kind of acknowledgement from LeBron would be about the city of Portland itself.

“I hope [LeBron] will be left with the idea of Portland as being something a little bit different than the other cities,” says LaFontaine. “All the other billboards are all very straightforward — ‘Come here! Please come here!’ — and ours is at least something different.”

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.