Author: Dan Feldman

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard: ‘I’m not going to be the hero’

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — It was Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts who first addressed the elephant in the room.

General manager Neil Olshey took the stage to face the media at the start of fall camp, and Stotts jokingly lobbed the first question: “Why didn’t you sign LaMarcus?”

LaMarcus, of course, is LaMarcus Aldridge, a fixture on the Trail Blazers’ roster for the past nine years, who left for San Antonio as a free agent in the offseason.

Aldridge wasn’t the only starter to leave: So did guard Wesley Matthews (Mavericks), center Robin Lopez (Knicks) and fellow forward Nicolas Batum (Hornets). Those four, along with point guard Damian Lillard, anchored a team that went 51-31 before getting bounced from the first round of the playoffs by Memphis.

Lillard, the only starter standing once the summer was over, now shoulders the “face of the franchise” tag.

He’d prefer the focus be on team.

“I’m not too interested in all this leadership talk to be honest with you. It’s kind of funny that it has become the story,” he said. “Everything that we’re doing is going to be based on the group. I’m not going to be the hero.”

Lillard, an All-Star who signed a five-year, $120 million contract with Portland in the offseason, averaged a career-high 21 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds last season.

He’ll be surrounded by a yet-to-be announced cast of starters, from a roster that ranks the third-youngest in the NBA.

Some other things to watch for when it comes to the Blazers’ upcoming season:

MCCOLLUM AT POINT: Coach Stotts in the preseason played guard CJ McCollum at point guard, suggesting he will be Lillard’s backup. McCollum saw minutes at shooting guard late last season, stepping in after Matthews tore his Achilles, averaging 17 points and four rebounds in the postseason, including a career-high 33 points in Game 5.

“It’s a comfortable role for me, and one that I can thrive in, I just have to get more reps at the NBA level,” McCollum said.

OH MEYERS: 7-foot-1 Meyers Leonard, poised to break out in his fourth season with Portland, made seven starts for Portland last season and appeared in all five playoff games. Athletic for a big, he also emerged as a surprising 3-point threat and came off the bench for a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) against Memphis in Game 4 of the playoffs.

It’s possible the Blazers slide him to power forward because of his athleticism and shooting ability.

NEW FACES: The new guys include 6-foot-11 Mason Plumlee, who spent his first two NBA seasons with the Brooklyn Nets. He was acquired, along with the draft rights to rookie Pat Connaughton, from the Nets in a deal that sent guard Steve Blake to Brooklyn.

The most veteran of the newcomers is Gerald Henderson Jr., with six years in the league, and center Ed Davis, who has played for the Lakers, Toronto and Memphis over five NBA seasons. Forward Al-Farouq Aminu signed as a free agent after five seasons with several teams.

CONNAUGHTON GOES WITH BASKETBALL: At least for now, it appears Connaughton has settled on chasing his hoop dreams. The rookie out of Notre Dame has a 96 mph fast ball and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2014 before deciding to return to the Fighting Irish for his final season of basketball.

The 31st overall pick by Brooklyn, Connaughton averaged 12.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season at Notre Dame.

SO THAT STARTING 5?: Only the Blazers know for sure, and they’re probably still trying to figure it out, too. Portland is still waiting on Henderson to get healthy from offseason hip surgery. But it appears that it will be Lillard at point (McCollum at backup), Henderson at shooting guard, Aminu at small forward, Davis or Leonard at power forward and Plumlee at center.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Kevin Garnett (video)

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Highlights: The psyche-up speech, causing a tangle and then walking away with arms raised in feigned innocence just like Kevin Garnett would

Lowlight: Not finding someone smaller to play the player Garnett torments

Are Knicks rebuilding? Derek Fisher: ‘Was Atlanta rebuilding last year?’

Derek Fisher

NEW YORK (AP) — When Phil Jackson went looking for players last summer, the best ones available had the same thoughts about joining the New York Knicks.

No thanks. No way.

Jackson should know as well as anyone that a team needs multiple stars to win championships, as he did in all of his 11 championship-winning seasons as a coach. Now as a team president, he still has just Carmelo Anthony.

But though that may mean the Knicks aren’t championship material, they believe Jackson did well enough to make them winners, not just rebuilders coming off the worst season in team history.

“If rebuilding for us is based on the fact that we don’t have a certain caliber of player on our roster quote-unquote other than Carmelo, so people assume that we’re rebuilding,” coach Derek Fisher said. “But was Atlanta rebuilding last year when they didn’t have that quote-unquote player on their roster?”

“So it just depends on who your team is and we think that our group, as we figure some things out, will be more competitive than maybe what people think.”

Players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe couldn’t be enticed to come to New York, but Jackson found interest in another tier of players. The Knicks signed Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, Kyle O'Quinn, Kevin Seraphin and Sasha Vujacic, players who don’t stand out individually but might fit nicely on a team.

“We want to win, so we didn’t go out and sign six rookies,” Fisher said. “We signed quality veteran players because we’re trying to win right now.”

Jackson said before last season he thought the Knicks could compete for a playoff spot, and they ended up going 17-65. He’s staying away from predictions this time, as did Anthony when he reported for training camp after missing the second half of last season following knee surgery.

But Anthony was adamant that they could be competitive by just a few days later, and is seeing progress as they approach the season opener.

“We’re moving in a good place,” he said. “Some good things that we’re doing, some things that we can get better at, that we will get better at with some time.”

Here are some things to watch with the Knicks:

PORZINGIS’ PROSPECTS: Jackson used the No. 4 pick on 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 forward from Latvia who has range well beyond the 3-point line. Knicks fans are optimistic but cautious, recognizing his potential but fearing the bust factor after getting little or nothing from Europeans Frederic Weis and Andrea Bargnani.

FOCUS ON FISHER: Fisher had a miserable first season as coach and a rocky start to the second after missing a practice following an altercation with former teammate Matt Barnes in Los Angeles. He insists he’s focused on his job, but his team could keep further pressure off him by playing well.

CARMELO’S COMEBACK: Limited to a career-low 40 games last season before left knee surgery after the All-Star break, Anthony has looked sharp and completely recovered during the preseason. Many of the players Jackson added play power forward, which could allow Anthony to spend more time at his natural small forward spot and take less of a pounding.

JACKSON’S JOB: Jackson, at Fisher’s request, plans to spend more time around the coaching staff this season to offer his expertise, saying perhaps he stepped back too far last season in his first full year as an executive.

WATCHING WILLIAMS: The second overall pick in the 2011 draft has averaged just 9.3 points playing for Minnesota and Sacramento, but looked comfortable while providing some surprising scoring punch during his first preseason with the Knicks.

Kings waive Marshall Henderson, Vince Hunter

Marshall Henderson
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In filling their training-camp roster, the Kings made a splashy signing (Marshall Henderson) and a smart signing (Vince Hunter).

But neither will last to the regular season.

Kings release:

The Sacramento Kings announced today they have waived Marshall Henderson and Vince Hunter, according to Kings Vice President and General Manager Vlade Divac.

Hunter ($30,000) and Henderson ($25,000) both received small guarantees. Presumably, those were in part to entice the players to sign in the D-League. The Kings can assign them to their affiliate, the Reno Bighorns – but Hunter and Henderson will remain NBA free agents if they clear waivers.

I’d be shocked if someone claims Henderson, who went undrafted last year. At 6-foot-2, he’s an undersized shooting guard without the passing ability to become a point guard. He doesn’t score efficiently enough inside the arc, either. Plus, he’s already 25 and has a history of off-court problems. He was fun to watch at Mississippi, but NBA teams aren’t enamored.

Hunter, just 21, has a better chance of enticing a team if its end-of-roster players failed to impress in the preseason. He went undrafted out of UTEP this year, but the forward rebounds well and can defend multiple positions.

Most likely, though, both wind up in Reno.

This leaves Sacramento with 16 players, one more than the regular-season roster limit. Eric Moreland ($200,000 guaranteed) and David Stockton (unguaranteed), the only two Kings without guaranteed salaries, are probably vying for that final spot. Moreland’s bigger guarantee and Sacramento’s point guard depth ahead of Stockton (Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison and Seth Curry) suggests Moreland will win the competition.

Report: Lamar Odom opens his eyes

Lamar Odom
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The good news keeps coming for Lamar Odom.

Martin Rogers of USA Today:

Lamar Odom opened his eyes Friday morning, a person at the hospital where he remained in intensive care told USA TODAY Sports.


When asked if he wanted to see his children, the 35-year-old former NBA star communicated “Yes,” according to a source, though it is unclear if he spoke or used body language.

At least for the moment, things appear to be trending in the right direction. There will surely be more ups and downs ahead, though.