Blazers fans put up billboard asking LeBron James to be Damian Lillard’s ‘third option’

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LeBron James is an MVP candidate this season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Next year, he may be elsewhere. Perhaps with the Los Angeles Lakers or the Houston Rockets. But what if he played behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for the Portland Trail Blazers instead?

That’s what one set of Portland Trail Blazers fans have jokingly said they want when free agency begins this summer, going so far as to put up a billboard asking James to join the star guards when he inevitably opts out at the end of the season.

We wrote about the Go Fund Me for the billboard last month, the details of which are pretty straightforward. Ira LaFontaine, Keith Kunis, Nick Nanpei, and Spencer Groshong are the foursome that make up a local Portland culture brand Trillblazin. Their idea was to turn the recent spate of LeBron billboards on its head by putting up their own tongue-in-cheek ad. While folks from Los Angeles and Philadelphia took shots at each other, the Trillblazin crew wanted to do something uniquely Portland.

And here we are.

With an original goal of $2,000, the Go Fund Me campaign finished with $6,820. The campaign started off slowly, but LaFontaine told NBC Sports that they were confident it was going to gain traction. As they approached their $2,000 goal, Kunis began asking a local billboard company for prime spots around the Blazers’ home arena, Moda Center.

For $2,750 they were offered locations directly around the NE Portland neighborhood where the Blazers play. LaFontaine and Kunis leaned into that, opening up donations to major sponsors who would also get mention on the billboard. Eventually, Portland brands like Poler, Sizzle Pie, and Stumptown bought in.

“We had a ton of small donations, but once we brought on the larger sponsors we just kind of crushed that goal,” says LaFontaine. “We thought let’s just keep it going. We told everybody, ‘If you’re putting into this, all this money is going back into the billboard or things surrounding the billboard.’”

Now the billboard is up at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and NE Broadway, some six blocks from Moda Center. In what LaFontaine called a happy accident, the billboard is conveniently positioned above a Kia dealer (Kia is one of James’ sponsors). Broadway is one of the main thoroughfares for people driving from east Portland neighborhoods get to the arena, so it’s in a choice location for Blazers fans.

But with a single billboard only costing so much and their pockets deepened, LaFontaine and Kunis needed to figure out what else to do with the money. On social media, the Trillblazin crew joked about putting up a second billboard in Cleveland. The big issue with advertising halfway across the country was how far out billboards are typically booked.

“Dollar-wise, it’s kind of tough because of the funds and the lead time,” says LaFontaine. “The other option we looked at was having a mobile billboard to drive around Quicken Loans Arena, but it was really, really expensive.”

With the fundraising period over, the Trillblazin guys settled on a larger campaign back in Oregon that will expand beyond the billboard at MLK and Broadway. LaFontaine says the leftover money will go toward bus shelter ads and wheatpaste posters, the kind you’d typically see glued en masse to plywood outside of a construction site.

And while folks on social media might still not get that the entire billboard — including the copy — is one big joke, LaFontaine says the campaign says something special about the online Blazers community.

[The billboard] is not necessarily a Trillblazin thing, we were just the catalyst to get it going,” says LaFontaine. “All those sponsor donations, those are all people from Blazers Twitter too. When you see Poler or Stumptown or Portugal the Man, everybody is doing it because they’re a Blazers fan.”

LaFontaine thinks the idea of fans banding together for a gag billboard could only happen through NBA Twitter given its propensity to be jocular and focused on having a good time.

“NBA Twitter in general looks at things differently. They’re more apt to humor and things that have a little bit of a different approach,” says LaFontaine. “I think this concept set up perfectly for the fanbase that we live in, our niche.”

As far as the billboard’s impact, the Trillblazin crew isn’t anticipating an earth-shaking announcement from James after he sees the effort they and the donators have made. Like most Portland fans, LaFontaine and Kunis are aware of the Blazers’ cap situation and the complete roster overhaul it would take to actually get LeBron to the Willamette Valley.

Mostly, they just want LeBron to be in on the joke.

“I don’t think anyone has any unrealistic expectations about the billboard bringing LeBron here,” laughs LaFontaine. “It’s pretty absurd that anyone would realistically think he would be a third option anywhere. I think he would see it right away and kind of just chuckle.”

Meanwhile, the billboard is slated to be up until at least April 29, long enough to get through Game 7 of the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs if need be. The wheatpaste posters and bus shelter ads should be up shortly, and as Blazers fans get geared up for the postseason no doubt it will be a fun reminder that the town is and will always be Rip City.

And if those who don’t “get” the billboard campaign still aren’t happy after everything? That won’t bother LaFontaine at all.

For the Trillblazin guys, the best kind of acknowledgement from LeBron would be about the city of Portland itself.

“I hope [LeBron] will be left with the idea of Portland as being something a little bit different than the other cities,” says LaFontaine. “All the other billboards are all very straightforward — ‘Come here! Please come here!’ — and ours is at least something different.”

Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson highlight player pool for Rising Stars during All-Star weekend

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
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The big winner in last year’s All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game was the new format (and Cade Cunningham). The new setup saw players onto four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score — something that actually had the young stars defending and playing hard. Things too often lacking All-Star weekend.

That format is back, and an impressive crop of players is involved: Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, last year’s ROY Scottie Barnes, and expected No.2 pick in the upcoming draft Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite. Here is a complete list of the players competing (the rookies and sophomores will be drafted into three teams of seven players each, and the G-League players will make up their own team).

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)
AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks)
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz)
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers)
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs)
Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans)
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors)
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets)
Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)
Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets)
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite)
Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)
Mojave King (G League Ignite)
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle)
Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats)
Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)
Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

There are former NBA stars to coach each of the teams: Former All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will coach the three Rising Stars teams, while former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

There will be three games Friday night during the Rising Stars challenge, with each game played to a target score of 40. If it’s anything like last year, it’s worth tuning in.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”