Damian Lillard discusses the launch of his first signature shoe from adidas, the D Lillard 1

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard launched his first signature shoe from adidas, unveiling the D Lillard 1 at an event which was held at the company’s headquarters in Portland earlier this week.

Fans were invited to attend through Lillard’s social media channels, and they packed the place for a fun afternoon event that celebrated the player who has risen to quickly become the best on a very good Trail Blazers team.

Music was a theme throughout the sneaker launch, and with good reason. Lillard is the rarest of NBA creatures who is actually a skilled rapper, and his #4BarFriday weekly Instagram contest has become a fan favorite on a global scale.

As media arrived in Portland, they were given an iPod shuffle with 10 tracks preloaded that were chosen by Lillard himself. Once the event got going, Lillard gave us a live rendition of his latest 4bar creation, and there was a surprise performance from hip hop artist Future Hendrix, during which Lillard and members of his family weren’t afraid to put some of their dance moves on display.

After things wrapped up, the media spent the evening at a nearby recording studio, where plenty of silliness ensued as we were invited to lay down 4Bar tracks of our own in a professional setting.

[I did not do this. But those who did were surprisingly creative, hilarious and impressive with both their words and their respective styles — shout out to Abe Schwadron of SLAM, Lance Fresh of Bleacher Report, and Ian Stonebrook of Nice Kicks.]

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As for the sneakers themselves, Lillard was heavily involved from the very beginning of the process — one  that started 18 months before the shoes were ready to launch.

“I was all over it,” Lillard said. “I probably got on their nerves, because I would just pop up and show up to the office like, what you got? Let me see.”

“They were good about it,” he said. “I would send in pictures of some of my favorite shoes as a kid, or stuff that I like if I just see it on the Internet. I would screen shot and send a picture to them. … They listened to everything I had to say.”

Coming up with the details wasn’t easy for Lillard at the start, however — mainly because of the fact that while he of course had likes and dislikes from an aesthetic standpoint, he had paid little attention to the performance aspects when playing in the past.

“Basically, I’ve never really had a preference,” he said. “I’ve never loved a light shoe, or cared if it was kind of heavy, or [whether] it had a strap, or not a strap. I never really had a preference. So that’s what I had to get around. I had to figure out what I really wanted my shoe to look like, and it was kind of hard because I didn’t want to make their jobs hard by saying I don’t like that, or this is not how I want it, or I like this better than this. I had to fight that because I wanted it to look how I wanted it to look, so that’s probably why they brought me so many shoes, because we went back and forth about stuff. Because they were willing to work with me the way they did, it turned out just fine.”

How many shoes did they bring?

“Probably at least 20 different versions,” said Robbie Fuller, who designed the shoe for adidas. “But we had a really good starting point, because he gave us some real specific must-haves, which was to have this tech fit sleeve right next to the foot. He gave us the direction of how he really wanted to lace hard. And then finally, the SprintFrame construction, which we started with the adizero Crazy Light. It’s an efficient way to build a shoe that makes sense. You reduce the amount of softer, heavier material, and you replace it with something that’s lighter and stronger.”

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Keeping the price of the shoe down was near the top of the priority list for Lillard, who didn’t want his fans to have to break the bank just to be able own his first signature shoe. That meant keeping costs down from a manufacturing standpoint, which affected the choices he had to make when helping to create the shoe’s construction.

“We talked about the Boost, which would obviously have made the shoe probably 35, 40 dollars more expensive,” Lillard said. “But that’s why I wore [the D Lillard 1] a lot. In the summer I was wearing it, and then after that I had a few pairs that I just would always wear, because I wanted it to be a quality shoe. I didn’t want it to be just a shoe they put together so it could be cheap, you know what I mean? I wanted it to be quality. And it still ended up being a quality shoe without having the ‘greatest’ technology. I think you can still have a really good shoe without it being made out of the most expensive stuff you can use.”

The shoes feel great. They’re comfortable when you first slip them on, with zero break-in required. The cushioning that was used is more than ample — especially in the heel, but there’s enough in the forefoot to provide a smooth enough ride. We got a brief chance to play in them, and the above-average level of traction that was present was impossible not to notice.

Events like these can be awkward for the athlete, who is at the center of attention while hundreds in attendance focus on him and sing his praises for an extended length of time. Lillard managed to remain humble throughout it all, which, along with the wealth of on-court talent he possesses, is a quality that helps endear him to so many fans.

“People have been asking me all day, are you excited, are you going to cry, are you this, are you that,” Lillard said. “And I’m like … I’m trying to make myself, I guess, appreciate it more, because I know that I overlook a lot of things that I should probably be proud of, because I’m so quick to want to move on to the next thing.

“But I’m actually proud of it, because it’s something that’s mine, and I know how much I played a part in developing the shoe. It’s something that represents me.”

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The D Lillard 1 will be available at Foot Locker and adidas.com on February 6 at a retail price of $105.

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.