Marcin Gortat says he’s unhappy with role, denies it

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Marcin Gortat is playing well for the Wizards, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy.

Gortat, via J. Michael of CSN Washington:

“I just don’t like the position I play. I’m constantly drifting more and more away from the basket. Quite honestly, that’s not my game. I’m capable of making or two plays like that but I feel more comfortable underneath the basket,” Gortat said. “I just got to talk to coach and clear things up. Just make sure we’re on the same page.” It’s something point guard John Wall has noticed. “He’s just not taking the same shots we’re used to him taking, especially in pick-and-roll situations. He’s turned a lot of those down the last couple of games,” Wall said. “He’s got to get his confidence back, especially in the fourth quarter when guys are going to trap me on pick-and-rolls. It’s up to him to make the play. We still believe in him to make those shots, to make those extra passes. He’s just got to get back into a rhythm.”

The numbers back up those assessments. Gortat is taking just 43 percent of his shots at the rim, by far his career low.

imageBut that doesn’t tell the whole story. When playing with Nene, a big man much more capable of stepping out of the paint, Gortat is actually getting shots at the rim in line with his time with the Suns.

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Nene recently injured his foot, and that has put Gortat in the somewhat uncomfortable position of being the big who spaces the floor.

So, Wizards coach Randy Wittman doesn’t have to completely re-work his offense to appease Gortat, merely just tinker with sets while Nene is out.

Or maybe Wittman needn’t do anything. Gortat (hat tip: Matt Moore of CBSSports.com):

There are degrees of frustration.

Players are often frustrated with their roles, but they’re usually not so frustrated that they say so publically. When stuff like this slips out, it often indicates that the player’s frustration outweighs his ability to filter himself.

The Wizards have lost four straight since Nene’s injury, so that makes it even more likely Gortat just reached another level on the frustration ladder. Issues that would get swept under the rug on winning teams come out on losing teams.

My best guess is Gortat fell somewhere in between rungs – frustrated enough to say he’s unhappy with role, but not so frustrated that he wanted to stick with his statement publically after a chance to take a deep breath and filter himself.

When Nene returns, this should take care of itself. The Wizards are more likely to win with him, and Gortat is more likely to get touches where he wants him.

But considering how frequently Nene suffers injuries, Wittman should prepare an offensive scheme that better utilizes Gortat when Nene is out.

Report: Lakers, Austin Reaves have mutual interest in new contract

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Austin Reaves is the latest in the impressive Lakers finds of role players. Undrafted out of Oklahoma, Reaves got a two-way contract from the Lakers, which was eventually turned into a regular minimum deal — he is making $1.6 million this season.

He had far outplayed that deal, averaging 12 points a game, becoming a key part of the Lakers’ rotation, and he dropped a career-high 35 on Sunday night. Reaves is up for a massive pay raise this summer, the Lakers want to give it to him and there is mutual interest, reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic.

He will be a restricted free agent this summer, and will undoubtedly have multiple suitors looking to pry him from the Lakers — especially after stat lines like Sunday’s. Both the Lakers and Reaves’ camp have interest in Reaves re-signing in Los Angeles, according to multiple league sources who were granted anonymity so that they coud speak freely. The max the Lakers can offer Reaves is a four-year, $50.8 million contract if they chose to use his Early Bird Rights, but they also have the power to match any contract he signs with another team.

While the Lakers can match any offer, it’s a little more complex than that because Reaves is an Arenas Rule free agent (named after The Hibachi himself). I’ll let our friend Keith Smith of Sportrac explain it.

When a player is an Arenas free agent, opposing teams can still offer whatever salary they are able to give, but the incumbent team is given an avenue to match the offer. What happens in these offers is that the first-year salary for an Arenas free agent is limited to either the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (NTMLE) or what a team can match using their Early Bird exception…. That results in what is often referred to as a “poison pill” structure for a contract.

In the case of Reaves, let’s say a team looking for a well-rounded guard — the Orlando Magic — offer something like four years, $60 million. On the Orlando books, that would look like $15 million a season. However, under the Arenas provision, on the Lakers’ books the first year of that deal can only be for the $11.4 million the Lakers can offer right now, and Reaves would make less than $12 million in the second year (still far more than he makes this season). However, in the final two years of this hypothetical offer Reaves would make $17.9 million and $18.8 million on the Lakers’ books, a considerable jump. (If this were an $80 million offer from the Magic, the first two years would be the same but the last two would hit the Lakers’ books hard for more than $27 million a season, hence the poison pill name.)

The Lakers might well match that offer anyway, they still feel the sting of losing another of their young finds, Alex Caruso, and don’t want to let Reaves leave and then thrive somewhere else. Reaves isn’t looking to leave, he has said he loves Los Angeles and playing for the Lakers. However, this is a business and Reaves is not in a position to leave money on the table.

While everyone’s intentions are good, the Lakers have a lot of free-agent decisions to make this summer: D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr. and more (plus Jarred Vanderbilt is extension eligible). There are going to be roster changes, and the Lakers can’t spend like the Warriors or Clippers who don’t appear to care about the tax — the Lakers are a family business and there is a budget.

Two things are for sure: It will be a wild offseason in Los Angeles, and Austin Reaves will get paid. By whom is the question.

Lillard sounds like a guy considering shutting it down for season

Boston Celtics v Portland Trail Blazers
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Portland Trail Blazers have lost six in a row, are 31-40 and sit 3.5 games out of the 10 seed and final play-in spot in the West (a few teams sit between them and that goal, too). It’s not impossible, but with just 11 games remaining there’s a reason fivethirtyeight.com gives them just a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs. It’s hard to be optimistic.

Even for the perpetually optimistic Damian Lillard.

Check out his quotes postgame, with the first being via Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report (Blazers fans should subscribe).

“I think everybody in here is not crazy,” Lillard said… “You look at what other teams are doing, they’re creating separation, and we’re on a losing streak. We’ve pretty much fallen out of the race for the 10th spot unless we win every game, if you really look at it truthfully.”

Lillard has played at an All-NBA level this season, averaging 32.2 points and 7.2 assists a game, shooting 37.3% from 3, an insane-for-a-guard 64.5 true shooting percentage, all while having the fifth highest usage rate in the league. Put simply, he has carried the Blazers.

Maybe it’s getting close to time to take that burden off his shoulders.

If/when Lillard decides to sit out the rest of the season, it will start another round of “should Lillard leave” speculation in the media and around the league (other teams are certainly watching). Just don’t bet on it happening. As Lillard said recently about staying to win in Portland, “I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Lillard has four years, $216.2 million remaining on his contract after this season, the deal he signed just last summer. However, more than the money, Lillard sees himself in the Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee mold — he wants to stay and win in his city.

Rather than selling, look for the Trail Blazers to try and be buyers around the Draft or into the summer, offering good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, plus plenty of draft picks. Portland wants to win around Lillard and is willing to be aggressive.

But that’s next season, this season has reached the point it may be time to pack it in for Lillard.

Morant reportedly could return to Grizzlies Wednesday vs. Rockets

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Despite his eight-game suspension being up, Ja Morant will not be on the court Monday night when the Grizzlies host the Mavericks (Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving are questionable for the Mavericks as of this writing, although Dončić has been hopeful he could play).

In good news for Grizzlies fans, Morant could return as soon as Wednesday against the Rockets, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Rockets and their porous defense are an excellent soft landing spot for Morant to return, put up some numbers, but not have to play heavy minutes. The Grizzlies play the Rockets both Wednesday and Friday and need wins as they are in a fight for the two seed with the red-hot Sacramento Kings.

Morant was suspended for flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.”The suspension was retroactive, including games he was “away from the team” following the incident. The suspension cost Morant $668,659 in pay, but it hit his bank account harder than that after one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness. Morant is also in the mix for an All-NBA spot — which, via the Rose rule could increase his contract extension that kicks in next season — and this incident and missed games will not help his cause.

Hopefully, Morant got a chance to step back and consider his path forward during the suspension. If the Grizzlies are going to make the postseason run this season — and be a contender for years to come — as they expect, they need peak Morant on the court.

Watch Antetokounmpo shoot 9-of-9, get triple-double in win against Raptors

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, Brook Lopez scored 17 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, and the Milwaukee Bucks rallied for a 118-111 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.

Khris Middleton added 20 points and Bobby Portis had 14 as the Bucks improved to an NBA-best 51-20. Antetokounmpo had his 33rd career triple-double, making all nine of his field goal attempts.

Lopez scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter on a pair of 3-point plays and a dunk to put Milwaukee in front 97-95. Middleton’s free throw capped the 15-2 run that put the Bucks up 104-97.

“We settled down, we got back in control,” said Lopez, who outscored Toronto 17-16 in the fourth quarter. “We talked about the third quarter-fourth quarter break. They just shot more times than us. We were shooting just as well, or better than them from two and three. We just had to take care of the ball and keep them off the offensive glass.”

A dunk by Jakob Poeltl brought Toronto within 110-107, but Lopez scored underneath and Jrue Holiday hit two free throws to make it 114-107 with 1:29 remaining.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Lopez’s outburst to start the fourth quarter was key.

“It changed the game,” Budenholzer said. “I think what he did offensively was important, and then the defense always stands out. It was a little bit muddy, not a pretty game there, and he stepped up and kind of just changed our feel and changed the momentum for us, particularly offensively, which we needed tonight.”

Fred VanVleet had 23 points and O.G. Anunoby added 22 for the Raptors, who had won their three previous games. Toronto missed a chance to move into eighth in the East Conference ahead of Atlanta, which lost to San Antonio 126-118.

“All these games are important to us, that’s for sure,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse, whose team plays their next four at home. “I like, kind of, how we’re playing. I think we’re very well for long stretches of games. Hopefully, we can just keep building on that.”

Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Raptors up 83-76 with just under 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. Toronto led 95-89 entering the final period.

“There was just two little probably bad stretches,” Nurse said. “In those stretches, they kind of got a couple of at the rim … a couple of and-ones. We just kind of lost our rim protection, and then kicked out and made a couple 3s after we kind of got that fixed. Give them credit, they made a couple big ones down the stretch when they needed them.”

The Bucks hit seven of their 16 3-pointers in the first period en route to a 33-29 lead.

Antetokounmpo, in his 10th season with the Bucks, played in his franchise-record 712th game, surpassing Junior Bridgeman. Antetokounmpo already was the franchise leader in points, assists, triple-doubles, free throws and minutes played. “It’s a great feeling. I wasn’t aware of it coming into the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s been a long, long journey. There’s more to be accomplished yet, I believe.”