Tag: Noah Vonleh

Nerlens Noel, LaMarcus Aldridge

Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey chose chance of greatness over safer route to being merely good


At face value, the Trail Blazers’ and 76ers’ offseasons took completely different approaches to rebuilding this offseason.

The Blazers traded for Noah Vonleh, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee and Maurice Harkless. They signed Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis. They also signed Enes Kanter to an offer sheet, though the Thunder matched.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, highlighted free agency by… signing Pierre Jackson and Scotty Wilbekin, two players without NBA experience. Sure, the 76ers also traded for Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry. But Thompson and Landry were the tax necessary to require positive assets, and Philadelphia already flipped Thompson. Even Stauskas, a nice piece, was an afterthought relative to the draft considerations conveyed by the Kings.

Portland acquired five Stauskases – recent first-round picks still looking to find their place in the NBA.

But, as Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey tells it, his team has a similar philosophy to the 76ers. Portland is just taking a different route.

Michael Lee of The Washington Post:

Once Aldridge decided to leave, the Blazers didn’t waste their time trying to chase Matthews (who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Dallas), Lopez (who took a four-year, $52 million deal with New York) or even reserve Arron Afflalo (who left for a two-year, $16 million deal with New York).

Olshey didn’t feel the need to keep together the same core while simply trying to replace a four-time all-star because, “absent LaMarcus Aldridge, that group was not going to be good enough,” he said. “We judge ourselves by high standards and if we can’t compete at the highest levels, then we had to go in a different direction.”

76ers general manager Sam Hinkie has made clear his lengthy and deep rebuild is designed to culminate in championship contention. There are simpler paths to getting good, and Hinkie clearly isn’t taking those. (Matt Moore of CBSSports.com wrote an excellent article on the difference.)

Being great usually requires a superstar. Getting a superstar usually requires a high first-round pick. A high first-round pick usually requires a terrible record.

There is logic behind Philadelphia’s unprecedented multi-year commitment to tanking.

Olshey definitely indicates he has a similar championship-or-bust attitude, and he concluded retaining Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum after LaMarcus Aldridge joined the Spurs would have taken the Trail Blazers further from a title. They might have been better in the short-term, but those highly paid veterans would have limited Portland’s potential to grow into a great team.

That’s a logical assessment, similar to the one Hinkie made with the Jrue Holiday-led roster he inherited.

At this point, Olshey took a different route than Hinkie.

The Trail Blazers paid a relatively small price for its young veterans, and I like the moves. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of Vonleh, Plumlee, Harkless, Aminu and Davis becomes capable of playing a major role on a title contender. It’s a luxury to bet on so many intriguing players.

But the moves come with a cost. Those players are already decent, and they should make Portland better than Philadelphia this season. That means the Trail Blazers effectively moved down in the draft. Maybe the value of these additions offsets that, but Philadelphia has done little to jeopardize its draft position.

Perhaps, Olshey didn’t have a choice. Damian Lillard might have dictated Portland couldn’t fully tank. Just how bad could a team with Lillard really be? The 76ers don’t have anyone near his caliber, so declining to become good now is an easier choice.

Maybe Olshey and Hinkie would have acted differently if they were in the other’s situation. Circumstances matter.

But bottom line: The Trail Blazers and 76ers have the same mindset. They want to be great. They’re not as concerned with being good before that’s possible.

Report: Nicolas Batum wants to play in Toronto

Nicolas Batum, Quincy Poindexter

When the Hornets traded former lottery pick Noah Vonleh to Portland for Nicolas Batum, it was always going to be something of a gamble. Batum has just one year left on his contract, and will become a free agent in time for the massive salary cap spike of 2016. Charlotte will have to pay big if they want to keep him, and Grantland’s Zach Lowe reports that the French forward has his sights set on another team: Toronto.

Batum is an impending unrestricted free agent on a borderline playoff team, diving into an unprecedented cap frenzy in which two-dozen suitors could offer $20 million per season. Batum’s people have already made noise about how much Batum would like to play in Toronto, a city that appeals to his international roots, per several league sources. He is a flight risk, even though both Cho and Chad Buchanan, the team’s assistant GM, know Batum well from their days in Portland. “We are very comfortable given that Chad and Rich know Nic well,” Polk says.

This is all purely hypothetical at this point, because Batum’s free agency is a year away, but the Toronto fit is interesting. They could potentially have an opening on the wing if DeMar DeRozan opts out of the final year of his deal, which he almost certainly will. DeRozan could command max money in next summer’s free-agent market, and it’s very possible that the Raptors will be uninterested in giving him that type of money. A defensive duo of Batum and DeMarre Carroll on the perimeter is incredibly versatile and dangerous, and Batum is an outstanding passer and ballhandler in addition to a solid shooter. It would cost the Raptors a lot to sign him, but if his interest in playing there is real, he’d be a good fit for the team Masai Ujiri is building.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts says no hard feelings toward LaMarcus Aldridge, “we move on”

Portland Trail Blazers Team Practice

Trail Blazers fans will not be so forgiving. Boos will rain down on LaMarcus Aldridge next time he sets foot in the Rose Garden.

While the NBA business model is built on fans having deep emotional ties to a franchise, players and team management knows it’s a cold-hearted business.

As last season moved along the Trail Blazers knew more and more that Aldridge was going to bolt town as a free agent (he eventually joined the San Antonio Spurs to become a contender there). Now that it’s over Damian Lillard wished Aldridge well, and now Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said essentially the same thing, talking to the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn.

“I knew it was going to be a close decision — it wasn’t an easy decision for him and it came down to the last minute,” Stotts said. “I certainly respect his decision and it was a difficult one. And personally I thanked him for the three years I was here with him. He earned the right to be a free agent and we’re certainly going to miss him. But we move on.”

What else was Stotts going to say? He looks bad ripping Aldridge and that would get the attention of agents who might want to send their client to Portland in the future. Stott’s attitude is what you see around the league — it’s a business. You move on.

Portland secured Lillard with a max deal this summer to be their foundation to rebuild around — he certainly speeds the process.

Now it becomes about drafting, finding young talent, and player development in Portland. They made some nice moves this summer, getting Mason Plumlee and taking a shot on Noah Vonleh, who looked good at Summer League. It’s a different role for Stotts and staff, but if they do it well, Portland is positioned to bounce back much more quickly than other teams trying to rebuild right now.

Five players who impressed in Las Vegas at NBA Summer League


Summer League is over. Finally everyone can head home from Las Vegas. The San Antonio Spurs won there just like they have been winning all offseason.

Summer League isn’t about wins and losses; it’s about development, and a status check on players. With the rookies, we see where they really stand right now. For returning players, it’s a chance to benchmark their development.

These are five players that stood out to the PBT crew in Las Vegas (myself and Sean Highkin were there). This is not a list of the best players at the event, if so guys like Seth Curry and T.J. Warren would have been here. This is also not a complete list of guys who looked good or that we liked, otherwise Jahlil Okafor of the Sixers or Kyle Anderson of the Spurs would be on the list (among others). Bottom line, this could be a lot longer list.

But here are the five that turned our heads.

1) Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver Nuggets). He has an incredible maturity to his game for a rookie. While other players struggled to adjust to the increased athleticism in Las Vegas and defensive pressure that can bring, he was calm and making the right decisions. Mudiay would recognize what defenses were trying to do then quickly worked to exploit a weakness. He can step in right now and be a starting point guard in the NBA (while there still will be rookie bumps along that road, he is far more prepared than most).

“I feel like playing overseas professionally, that really helped me,” Mudiay said of the patience in his game. “Coming from high school to pro ball, in high school I was rushing everything. Straight out to China I was rushing everything. But I’ve got to let the game come to me.”

“When things are chaotic he remains calm, he’s very comfortable with his abilities, and he’s able to make pretty much any pass at any time, which is big time,”Denver Nuggets Summer League coach Micah Nori told PBT. “And I think the one thing about Emmanuel that allows him to do that is his skill level with his ball handling. And the other thing is he’s a big kid, a big strong kid. Some guys, when they get pressure, turn their back to the floor, the one thing he’s able to do is be facing forward, facing that rim, and that’s why he can make any pass at any time. He finds guys that are open and hits them on time and on target.”

Nuggets fans are going to love the flair he has in his game — he pushes the pace, and he’s fond of behind-the-back and jump passes. He’s got a great change of pace dribble and has shown some real explosion to the rim.

“The first thing you see is he is a true point guard…”  said. “Guys are going to love to play with him, they are going to continue to run for him because he is a pass-first point guard…. And I see him being able to lead. With his ability to pass and his unselfishness, guys are going to want to follow him.” (KH)

2) Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves). We knew the No. 1 overall pick had physical talent, but what we really liked was the high basketball IQ he showed. He does well recognizing the double teams being thrown at him, he was patient and made clever passes out of them. His game also grew quickly as he adjusted to Summer League defenses — he showed an ability to score a variety of ways, from back-to-the-basket to 18-foot jumpers. He cuts and moves well off the ball. Like every other rookie there is plenty of work to do — he picked up fouls at an alarming rate, and he needs a diversity of post moves — but there is a lot to like there for Timberwolves fans dreaming of a bright future. (KH)

3) Bobby Portis (Chicago Bulls). The Bulls were surprised on draft night when Portis was still available at No. 22, and they have to be pleased with his Summer League showing. In his Vegas debut, Portis had 23 points and 7 rebounds playing against No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns. His later games weren’t as impressive statistically, but new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg raved about his motor and intensity. The Bulls’ frontcourt is crowded, but Taj Gibson is coming off recent ankle surgery, Pau Gasol is 35 and Joakim Noah looked like a shell of himself last year, so it’s easy to see a scenario where Portis plays significant minutes this season. He looks ready. (SH)

4) Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks). After all the questions pre-draft and the boos on draft night, here is the simple assessment of Porzingis:

He belongs.

He belongs at the top of the draft board; he deserves to be mentioned with Okafor and Towns. Make no mistake, he is still a project that will take a couple of years to develop, but he has the potential to be that good. Porzingis showed a raw game but one that could be efficient and smooth — he averaged just more than 10 touches a game at Summer League but was efficient with them, scoring 1.024 points per possession (much better than Towns or Okafor did). Porzingis showed a high basketball IQ, good passing skills, and while he can shoot the three he showed off an ability to get inside and make plays off the bounce as well. He was better on the defensive end than expected because of his crazy length.

“Just how it complements so many different players and situations,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said of how Porzingis’ game fits in New York. “I think defensively he complements guys because of his length and his rim protection. He’s pretty active and can guard multiple guys. I think offensively because of his ability to stretch the floor and do some things around the basket as well. I think he’s a player that fits with just about any lineup, no matter how you’re trying to play. So I think that versatility has been obvious during Summer League.”

5) Noah Vonleh (Portland Trail Blazers). Vonleh, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, didn’t play very much in his rookie season in Charlotte, and they gave up on him after one year to trade for Nicolas Batum. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to get minutes at power forward for the Blazers, who just lost LaMarcus Aldridge and are very much in “throw a bunch of young guys with upside out on the floor and see who sticks” mode. The “it’s only Summer League” caveats fully apply here, but Vonleh was impressive in Vegas, showing off an uncommon handle and shooting range for a big man in addition to the explosiveness that made him such a high pick in the first place. He’s still a very raw prospect, but the tools are there, and there’s reason to believe the Blazers got a steal in their rebuilding effort. (SH)

Spurs’ Kyle Anderson named Summer League MVP; leads All Summer League team

Kyle Anderson

The Spurs are an organization with the infrastructure and patience to develop players. Kawhi Leonard is exhibit A, and they are paying him max money now after bringing him along.

Then there is Kyle Anderson.

The 30th pick a year ago, a guy who spent time in the D-League and got in just 33 games in his rookie season, was named the NBA Las Vegas Summer League MVP on Sunday by a vote of the media.

Anderson has averaged 22 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.3 steals in leading The Spurs to a 5-1 record and the Summer League Championship Game (played Monday at 9 .m. Eastern against the Suns).

“He’s put in a ton of work…” Spurs coach Becky Hammon said, naming a series of other Spurs shooting and training staff he had spent time with. “Over the summer I’ve seen him in the gym a lot. He knows our system the best. He knows those conversations coaches have had with him and what’s expected of him and he’s absolutely stepped up.”

What was expected of him was to step up and be a leader on this Summer League team.

“I think he’s great,” Hammon said of his leadership skills after a recent close Spurs win. “The last defensive possession he’s the one who rallied everyone on the court, he’s the one who’s speaking, he’s the one being more demonstrative in a leadership role — and that’s really what we want to see from him in this setting. It was nice to see him take ownership of the situation.”

With a veteran team ready to win now, Anderson is going to need this MVP level of play just to crack the rotation. He could and should get some minutes behind Kawhi Leonard, but he’s going to need to play well to keep those minutes. At least in Las Vegas, he looks like he can.

Here is the entire list of the Las Vegas All-NBA Summer League teams:

All-NBA Summer League First Team
Kyle Anderson (San Antonio)
Seth Curry (New Orleans)
Doug McDermott (Chicago)
Norman Powell (Toronto)
T.J. Warren (Phoenix)

All-NBA Summer League Second Team
Larry Drew II (New Orleans)
Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver)
Dwight Powell (Dallas)
Noah Vonleh (Portland)
Alan Williams (Houston)