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Report: Blazers C Festus Ezeli likely candidate for season-ending surgery

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The Portland Trail Blazers might have just lost a little more hope to fix their ailing front line. On Saturday, it was reported by Yahoo! Sports that Blazers center Festus Ezeli will likely undergo season-ending knee surgery.

Ezeli, 27, was signed by Portland in the offseason to a 2-year, $15 million deal, the second year of which is a team option.

Declining Ezeli’s option for next year and filing for a disabled player exception would give the Blazers — a team $18 million over the salary cap — a little bit of financial leeway, but it still leaves a gaping hole on the floor for 2016-17.

Portland has struggled defensively, and while their rim protection numbers aren’t horrible, they have clearly had issues defending as a team thanks to the play of their forwards and centers.

The Blazers have run out Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh, and Maurice Harkless up front, and have sorely missed the defensive presence of Al-Farouq Aminu, who has played in 12 games due to injury.

Plumlee is a sore spot for Portland, a short-armed offensive center who is a delightful passer and fits well into Terry Stotts’ flow offense. However, his inability on the pick-and-roll has been a point of exploitation for opposing teams.

So, too, have the Blazers felt a sting as Davis’ advanced numbers have receded from last year. The 7-year veteran has not been as effective on the offensive glass, and his finishing around the rim has dipped significantly.

Meanwhile, Leonard has been recovering from a shoulder injury as he rounds into playing shape, and Vonleh is still developing.

Ezeli — who entered 2015-16 with the Golden State Warriors — was slated for a big payday, but injuries have hampered much of his career. He received a bone marrow injection in September, and folks in Portland seemed hopeful he would return. The Blazers seemed to think Ezeli’s signing was more akin to a mid-season acquisition, but they went suspiciously quiet on him as fall turned to winter.

Now we know that the Blazers will likely be without him entirely, and we may never see Ezeli in a Portland uniform if the team declines his option for next year.

Rumors have swirled for Portland about potential trades as a disappointing 13-15 start to the season has them at the No. 8 position in the Western Conference, below where many — including yours truly — slated them to end up.

Potential targets have ranged from Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut — also injured and an unlikely cultural fit in the Willamette Valley — to disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers youngster Nerlens Noel.

It’s unclear what or if Portland is willing to give something important up to bolster the front line. Although the Blazers have started off slow, they are still ahead of where they were at this point last season when they were 11-17. Their schedule is supposed to get easier after the All-Star break, and GM Neil Olshey has shown a propensity to play the slow hand, instead waiting out the season to see what comes of the market and his developing teams.

Still, it’s hard to see a season with so much hope for Portland start to fizzle. Realistically, even if they do end up being a playoff team with a low seed, there’s not a lot of fighting hope for them come elimination time if they can’t do a lot of things well defensively. Just this week the Denver Nuggets lit them up for 132 points thanks to 15 3-pointers, and indeed they are one of the worst teams in the NBA at defending the arc, both in terms of percentage and allowed shots.

It seems unwise that the Blazers will sit tight. Expectations are high this year and with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum playing at increasingly high levels, it’s going to be hard for the team to waste a year of their primes.

Several Blazers players — including Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe — will become trade-eligible on Jan. 15. Between those two, Aminu, Harkless, and the two first-round picks the team holds, it seems that Portland should have enough to get into serious trade talks in light of Ezeli’s potential surgery.

While Olshey may have wanted to do what he always does — wait, see, and prosper — it seems that Ezeli’s left knee may force the Trail Blazers’ hand sooner rather than later.

Rumor: Suns prefer drafting Ja Morant over drafting Zion Williamson

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Duke power forward Zion Williamson is overwhelmingly favored to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Murray State point guard Ja Morant is the leading candidate to be the No. 2 pick.

But what if Phoenix lands the top pick?

Suns general manager James Jones has his own ideas about the draft. The thoroughness of Phoenix’s scouting leaves a lot to be desired. The Suns badly need a point guard.

With all those factors, Phoenix might be the biggest wildcard with the No. 1 pick.

Sam Vecenie of The Athletic:

Sources around the NBA are buzzing that Morant is actually the player the Suns prefer to end up with. Particularly, Jones is thought to be a fan of the dynamic lead guard. It’s not a surprise, given their need at the point guard position. But color me skeptical that the team would actually take him at No. 1.

I see a few possibilities:

  • Phoenix rates Morant ahead of Williamson but would be afraid to pass on Williamson. Not only is Williamson the consensus top pick, he is the biggest star coming out of college basketball in years.
  • The Suns would rather have Morant plus whatever they could get for trading down than Williamson. That might even be reasonable, though we don’t know how potential trade packages would look.
  • People around the league are taking (easy) shots at Phoenix, even if these claims are untrue.

The Suns should draft whichever player they believe will have the brightest future. Period.

Passing on Williamson just because they have Deandre Ayton would be only compounding mistakes. There is not a single player in Phoenix good enough to justify passing on Williamson. Point guards will be available via free agency and trade.

If the Suns truly believe Morant will have a better career than Williamson, they should draft Morant. Making a pick for marketability or fear of backlash is misguided.

Of course, there’s only a 14% chance of Phoenix getting the No. 1 pick and facing this decision. But if it lands that way, it’d cause a ton of intrigue into the selection.

Jared Dudley, Jimmy Butler fined for fight

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When Jared Dudley pushed Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler pushed Dudley right back. After the 76ers’ Game 4 win over the Nets, Butler accompanied his star teammate to the postgame press conference.

“So he don’t do nothing stupid when he’s up here,” Butler said. “We all know he’s a trolling son of a gun. So, I’m just here to protect my big fella.

“If somebody runs up on him, I’m gonna push them again.”

A grateful Embiid said he’d pay Butler’s fine.

Then, later in the press conference, Embiid said: “It feels great to be up 3 to 1. We definitely don’t want to be in a situation like the Warriors.”

Butler got up and left, shouting, “I tried to save you,” on his way out.

Does Embiid’s fine-paying offer still stand? It’s definitely relevant.

NBA release:

Brooklyn Nets forward Jared Dudley and Philadelphia 76ers forward-guard Jimmy Butler have each been fined for their roles in an on-court altercation, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Dudley has been fined $25,000 for escalating an on-court incident which spilled into the spectator stands by shoving Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. Butler has been fined $15,000 for escalating it further by then shoving Dudley.

The incident, for which Dudley and Butler each received technical fouls and were ejected, occurred with 7:42 remaining in the third quarter of Philadelphia’s 112-108 victory over Brooklyn on Saturday, April 20

Dudley is doing all he can. The best part of the skirmish: Nets coach Kenny Atkinson trying to restrain and calm Dudley while yelling, “We need you.” Brooklyn was +12 with Dudley and -16 without him in Game 4.

But Dudley can do only so much against more-talented Philadelphia.

With Embiid, Butler and a 3-1 lead, the 76ers are clearly having more fun.

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro remaining in 2019 NBA draft

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington declared for the NBA draft.

A couple other Wildcats are following his lead.

Kentucky releases:

Kentucky men’s basketball freshman guard Keldon Johnson will remain in the 2019 NBA Draft pool and will not return to Kentucky, he announced

Kentucky men’s basketball freshman guard Tyler Herro has decided to remain in the 2019 NBA Draft, ending his career at UK.

Washington, Johnson and Herro all look like probable first-round picks. Washington and/or Johnson could sneak into the lottery, but there’s a good chance all three go later in the opening round.

Johnson is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan. He brings impressive effort and physicality. If his 3-pointer continues to fall, he’ll have a future in the league as a nice role player. But he hasn’t yet proven himself as a strong NBA-level spot-up shooter. He’s not there off the dribble, as a shooter or playmaker.

Herro can flat out shoot. He races around screens, finds ways to get open and sinks shots on the move and from odd angles. The 6-foot-5 guard might be a defensive liability, but at least he competes on that end. He’s also limited offensively, but the league needs shooters.

Michael Avenatti charged with stealing money Hassan Whiteside intended to pay ex-girlfriend

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Heat center Hassan Whiteside became the first player in NBA history to go from a minimum salary one season to a max salary the next.

Some of that money allegedly got embezzled by Michael Avenatti.

Avenatti – the infamous lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels, who claimed she was paid to keep quiet about having an affair with Donald Trump – has been charged with attempted extortion of Nike and stealing from other clients. One of those other clients: Whiteside’s former girlfriend, Alexis Gardner.

Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times:

An actress and barista, she’d hired him just a few weeks before to negotiate a settlement of a potential lawsuit against Whiteside. It’s unclear what she would have alleged. Avenatti quickly struck a $3-million deal, and the $2.75 million was Whiteside’s first payment.

Avenatti, prosecutors say, was entitled to take just over $1 million in legal fees, leaving the rest for Gardner.

Instead, they allege, Avenatti hid Whiteside’s payment from her and immediately took $2.5 million to buy a share of a private jet.