The Blazers, the Sixers, the Pistons, rebuilding and you

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It sits there on your desk, staring at you. Just a big red button. It doesn’t implore you, it doesn’t call out to you, it’s just a button. But you can’t help but glance at it with the first few losses. Then more and more, you stare. Your mind is racing with what to do. Should you?Shouldn’t you? You can’t. You can’t just throw away everything you’ve built, everything you’ve worked towards, just because…it’s not working. Can you? Can you really press it?

The Rebuilding Button.

Any team can be driven towards it at any time by the cruel hands of fate. Everyone has to use it at some point. Boston will have to within a few years, when those gnarled, courageous bodies pass that delicate apex between experienced veterans and aged liabilities. LA may have to, though they do better than most in immediately reloading, relatively speaking. But this year’s candidates are an odd mix.

“The Blazers?!” you ask. How can I possibly put them here? 6-5, big wins over good teams. They’re a contender, not a rebuilding project. And you’re right. It’s entirely possible that they won’t have to push the big red button. That Rich Cho will be able to continue building on the success of Kevin Pritchard and finally deliver on all the promise this Blazers team has held for four years. But then there’s the injuries. Portland’s tired of talking about them. Trust us, we’re tired too. But the reality is you can’t just not look at them. Oden’s knees, his legs, his hips, which may never be 100% again. Przybilla, with two surgeries in a year. Elliot Williams, a rookie, caught the bug. But all of this pales for the Blazers’ hopes compared to Roy. No cartilage. Unable to make it through games. Roy is talking like a 35-year-old worn-out veteran, not the young All-Star of a team headed to contention. Again, maybe he’ll be fine. But if he’s not, Portland may not have an option. Is it worth sifting through year after year of purgatory hoping the Basketball Gods will reverse your fortune and make the unhealthy healthy? We’re a long way from that. But that button is on Rich Cho’s desk. And with each report that comes in, he’s got to glance at it.

The Sixers should be winning. They just should be. Not destroying everyone, but not getting pummeled like they are. If you told me Elton Brand was going to average 17 and 8 ten games in, I’d tell you the Sixers were at least 5-5. No question. But they’re 2-8. And they continue to sit on Andre Iguodala, who has his nice comfy contract and recognition from his work with Team USA. He’d like to win, now, please. And yet they keep hoping this will work out, as Doug Collins storms out of practice and Jrue Holiday is not the savior. This team’s already been blown-up a few times. But they’re still looking for something they can depend on. And Ed Stefanski now has Rod Thorn over his shoulder, and Thorn will not show the same hesitation to press the button that Stefanski has. The Sixers have young assets with trade value. It may be time to use them.

The Pistons? Oh, the Pistons. Ben Gordon wants the ball more. Makes sense. He’s paid like someone who should get the ball more. But Rip Hamilton isn’t the problem. But Rip’s not the l0ng-term guy. So what do you do? How do you make sense of this? The answer is simple. You have Greg Monroe, you have Austin Daye. You have Jonas Jerebko when he gets back. It’s time to push the button. The Pistons waited too long, they could have been halfway down the road had Dumars pressed the button a year ago. Instead, they continue to hold on to Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, paying them money to wish they were somewhere else while they don’t help the Pistons go in the direction they need to. But finally, it may be time. Dumars has to be able to find a good deal out there, or get involved in some three-way deal. He can net the assets he knows he needs. That button has been there for six years. He pushed it with Billups, but only half-way. It’s time to slam the thing.

Three teams, three cores, three losing organizations. And the red button continues to sit on the desk.

Watch Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

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TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Moe Harkless says no buyout with Knicks: “I’ll be here the rest of the year”

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Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.

“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”

If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.

That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.

“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.

Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.

Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.

Lakers reportedly will waive DeMarcus Cousins to clear roster spot

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If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morrisas has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.

That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.

He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.

It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.