Are the Portland Trail Blazers destined for mediocrity?

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The Portland Trail Blazers stood pat during Thursday’s trade deadline. Well, mostly. The team decided to send project big man Noah Vonleh to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for … hold on, let me look it up. Milovan Rakovic. Or that is to say the team traded for the rights to the Serbian pro, although Blazers GM Neil Olshey says Rakovich won’t ever suit up for the team.

The move allowed the Trail Blazers to move under the luxury tax for this season and avoid their first strike toward the luxury repeater tax which looms large over NBA front offices. Important, but not exciting or the stuff that inspires passion from NBA fanbases.

Despite the hopes of many Blazers fans, Olshey’s role at the deadline was less deal-maker and more comptroller. Portland didn’t add any kind of talent to their roster, even after franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard spoke with team owner Paul Allen to get an assurance the team was looking to contend soon.

So the question is whether the Blazers have a plan to hoist themselves above their competition, or if they’ll simply remain in the middle of the pack out West before their wick burns to the tab?

Olshey himself tried to explain his strategy to NBC Sports Northwest as the team headed into the trade deadline this year. The Blazers GM outlined three main paths they wanted to follow: grab a temporary rental, add a big-time contributor, or cut below the luxury tax line. They weren’t able to do the first two, so they did the next best thing and saved Allen a significant chunk of change by offloading Vonleh.

Olshey lobbied hard for Portland’s decision to tread water, rightfully downplaying the idea that the team needed to make a change to the Lillard – CJ McCollum backcourt. That’s fine, but where Olshey sold the hardest was in the need for patience, telling NBCSNW, “This is Year 3 of what’s supposed to be a three to five year rebuild”.

That last part is a little harder to swallow, mostly because it rewrites the post-LaMarcus Aldridge history of the Blazers. In truth, Portland made the playoffs in spite of a slow start to the 2015-16 season, beat a decimated LA Clippers team in the first round, and greatly exceeded expectations. That shortened Olshey’s teardown around Lillard and McCollum.

The team then signed Evan Turner and inked Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard to new deals. The addition of Jusuf Nurkic at the deadline last year was supposed to be the last major piece to fall into place as the Blazers took around a season-and-a-half on a short rebuild. Even if they planned on spending all of 2018 shoring up their chemistry, Olshey’s supposed five-year plan was tossed out the window after they beat LA in 2016 and was further accelerated by nabbing Nurkic.

But things soured as 2017-18 began. Harkless wasn’t playing much, although he’s improved recently. Leonard is a bench fixture. Nurkic has been wildly uneven, and Turner’s fit with the team is tenuous at best. All that and a heavy cap burden hasn’t left room for improvements as Blazers fans wring their hands and Olshey plays the role of zen master publicly.

Olshey told NBCSNW that you can’t force trades that aren’t there, and that’s true. It’s also harder to get anyone to pick up the phone when the pieces you have aren’t of any interest to your contemporaries, a position Olshey finds himself in now.

So where does Portland go from here, at the bottom of the playoff seedings and with a palpable-if-deniable urgency surrounding the team? Lillard and those around the Blazers downplayed his talk with Allen, but it was a reminder that the clock is ticking for him (Lillard is 27 and turns 28 in July) and this rebuild. Portland needs to get better under a salary crunch and that’s without even considering Nurkic’s contract situation this summer, or the fact that they’re also slated to lose one of their most productive big men in Ed Davis because they just can’t afford him.

Turner’s contract is an albatross and escalates to a whopping $18.6 million during the 2019-20 season. It’s near impossible for Olshey to move him as Turner doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer well, he drives but doesn’t draw that many fouls, and when he does drive it’s often in a weaving, horizontal fashion that allows help defenders to dig down and then recover on Portland’s shooters, hurting the Blazers’ chances to fire away from deep.

The answer is for Olshey to find the kind of trade he’s yet to pull off in Portland: a big one.

The Trail Blazers GM has been efficient, his transaction roster filled with guys like Robin Lopez, Aminu, and Davis. But Portland could very well be headed for long-term mediocrity if Olshey isn’t able to find his way out of Turner’s contract, or come up with a big trade that moves multiple pieces. That could mean biting the bullet and offering up useful players — Aminu or Nurkic come to mind — or parting with more draft picks than they like.

Lillard has remained steadfast in his dedication to the team, but the summer of 2021 is a long way off and when his contract expires who is to say he won’t want to head somewhere else if the Blazers are unable to slip out of their current salary troubles? Remember, you could pose the same question about McCollum, and both guards have mega deals that will only continue to squeeze Portland’s salary space as the years go on.

Right now the Blazers are winning, and their record in 2018 is a far sight better than their 2017 showing. No matter how the season ends, or how much they talk up four straight years of playoff appearances, if the Blazers want to move to the next level it will be up to Olshey to finally pull the trigger and find a deal come June that clarifies the future in Portland.

Kawhi Leonard has 27 as Raptors clinch series over Magic

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TORONTO (AP) Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, Pascal Siakam added 24 and the Toronto Raptors used another stifling defensive effort to beat the Orlando Magic 115-96 on Tuesday night, winning their first-round playoff series in five games.

Kyle Lowry scored 14 points as the Raptors finished off the Magic with ease, bouncing back from a Game 1 defeat to win by double-digits in three of the next four. Toronto led by as many as 37 in the clincher, their biggest-ever margin in a playoff game.

It’s the fourth straight year the Raptors have reached the second round.

Leonard made 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range, as the Raptors jumped on Orlando early and never trailed. Leonard also made all six of his free throws. He checked out to cheers of “MVP, MVP” with 8:05 to play and Toronto up 105-75.

D.J. Augustin scored 15 points, Terrence Ross had 12 and Aaron Gordon 11 for the Magic, who won 104-101 on Augustin’s late 3-pointer in Game 1 but never again topped 96 points against Toronto’s dominant defense, and twice finished with 85 or fewer.

Orlando made 32 of 83 shots, including 9 of 34 from 3-point range.

The Magic hadn’t reached the postseason since 2012. That year, Orlando won its opener on the road against Indiana, then lost four straight. The Magic haven’t advanced past the opening round since 2010, when they lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Lowry scored Toronto’s first nine points and had 12 in the opening quarter. Orlando missed 10 of its first 11 shots and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first. Toronto was up 35-19 after one.

The Magic missed 11 straight from long range before Fournier connected at 7:55 of the second. Toronto answered with a 6-0 spurt, opening a 50-29 lead with 6:48 to go until halftime. Leonard and Siakam each had seven points in the second and the Raptors held a 67-47 lead at the intermission.2

Lowry left at 2:41 of the second and headed to the locker room after appearing to jam a finger on his right hand. He returned to start the second half.

Toronto took a commanding 99-70 lead into the fourth.

TIP-INS

Magic: Vucevic missed his first four shots and had three fouls in a scoreless first quarter, playing only five minutes. Vucevic scored his first basket at 9:54 of the third, when Orlando trailed by 26. He shot 3 for 10 and scored six points. … Khem Birch led Orlando with 11 rebounds.

Raptors: Toronto had 10 assists on 13 made baskets in the first quarter, and 19 on 23 baskets in the first half. The 19 assists set a Raptors record for a single half of a postseason game. … G Fred VanVleet led Toronto with 10 assists while Lowry had nine. … Five games is the quickest Toronto has ever won a seven-game series. … F Chris Boucher (back) was not available.

UP NEXT

Toronto will host Philadelphia or Brooklyn in Game 1 of the second round.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Donovan Mitchell pulled over to assist at the scene of a car wreck (PHOTO)

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A car wreck can be a terrible thing. People get injured, property gets damaged, and it ruins your day. But perhaps folks were a little bit happier when they got out of their car and saw Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell coming over to help.

Mitchell witnessed a car wreck over the weekend and decided to get out of his vehicle and assist those on the scene.

According to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune, Mitchell saw a woman who needed help and pulled over to lend a hand.

Via Salt Lake Tribune:

“I was driving by, a lady was falling out of her car, the airbags went off, she was grabbing her chest and I was like, ‘Oh shoot.’ Like a natural instinct to found out what happened,” Mitchell explained. Mitchell ended up calling 911 to report the accident.

Apparently everybody in the car accident was okay, but imagine getting in a wreck and then an NBA star shows up. That might be a little odd.

Meanwhile Mitchell and the Jazz might be headed for a short postseason. They are struggling against the Houston Rockets, just as many predicted.

Mitchell has not played a great in the series against the Rockets. His per game numbers are similar to what he posted last season, but his advanced metrics tell a different story. The young Jazz point guard is playing near replacement-level, and some of his decision-making has been questionable.

Game 5 is on Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST and the Rockets lead, 3-1.

Blake Griffin shook the hands of every media member after exit interviews (VIDEO)

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The season is over for the Detroit Pistons. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks took care of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond in quick fashion, sweeping them out of the playoffs on Monday.

Griffin had an incredible regular season in Detroit after being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers back in January of 2018. He notched numbers of 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. Griffin also shot 36 percent from 3-point land.

The former member of Lob City is apparently embracing his new role as the face of the Pistons, and that included shaking hands with every media member after his exit interview on Tuesday.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this isn’t something that every NBA superstar would do.

Via Twitter:

On Tuesday Griffin also thanked all of the Pistons fans via Instagram for sticking with him and the rest of the squad through the postseason.

People have lambasted Griffin’s contract up until this point, but if he can stay relatively healthy and play similar to how he did this year, the power forward is at least be a building block for Detroit to improve upon moving forward.

Prepare yourself for ‘Beanie ‘Melo’ because Carmelo Anthony is back (VIDEO)

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Carmelo Anthony is not playing in these playoffs. The former superstar was last seen celebrating with his friends at Dwyane Wade‘s last game.

But now video has surfaced of Anthony working out. However, there’s one thing that’s different.

Anthony was previously seen wearing a hoodie during offseason workouts, enough so that he was dubbed “Hoodie Melo” by Twitter. Now it appears that Anthony has traded in his hoodie for a different kind of chapeau.

Via Twitter:

I’m not sure if Anthony is exactly “ready to go”. The video of him working out shows him shooting 15-foot turnarounds, which is the exact thing that caused NBA teams to wholly pass on him this season.

I’m excited for the bevy of workout videos to start. This one has come early, it’s not even May yet.