Twitter

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

1 Comment

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.”

Report: NBA could resume with group stage

Leave a comment

A fundamental conflict for the NBA:

  • The more traditional of a season – all 30 teams playing 82 games, four rounds of best-of-seven series – the league completes, the more more money it will make.
  • The more teams involved in a resumed season, the higher risk of coronavirus spreading throughout the league.

That’s why the NBA is considering a middle ground – resuming without teams far outside playoff position.

But how would the league structure a format for 20 teams?

Maybe a group stage to replace the first round of the playoffs.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The 16 current playoff teams would qualify for the group stage, plus the four teams with the next-best records (Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs). The remaining 10 teams would be done for the season. The survey sent to each general manager noted that “tiers” would first be created using the regular-season standings to ensure competitive balance between the groups.

Groups could then be randomly drawn, with one team from each tier going into each group. The NBA is working on approaches to fairly balance the groupings, such as limiting each group to only three Western Conference teams, according to multiple front office sources. Drawings for the group stage could be televised, league sources say.

As an alternative to having groups randomly selected, multiple league sources say the league has considered allowing Tier 1 teams—the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers—to draft their own groups.

Teams would play opponents within their own groups twice, meaning every team would play eight games. The two teams in each group with the best record would move on.

Based on the current standings, the tiers would be:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

As far as ways to resume with 20 teams, this isn’t bad. The draw – whether random or top-team choice – alone would be a revenue-drawing TV event.

The ninth-place (Wizards) and 10th-place (Hornets) teams in the Eastern Conference might argue they should be included over the 11th-place (Kings) and 12th-place (Spurs) teams in the Western Conference. But Sacramento and San Antonio have better records than Washington and Charlotte. If there were ever a time not to stress conference affiliations, it’s now with the league preparing to resume in a single location.

There would be increased risk for top teams getting knocked out early if their group is challenging. They’ve already lost home-court advantage. But there’s also chance of upset in a regular playoff series. Besides, downside could be mitigated by allowing the top teams to draft their groups* and using regular-season record as a tiebreaker.

*This could even be done in reverse – i.e., the top teams selecting which lower-tier teams not to put in their own group.

The Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Clippers could rotate selecting lower-tier teams to avoid. Once three top-tier teams have nixed a team, that lower-tier team would be placed in the fourth top-tier team’s group. Each group would still be required to have one team from each tier.

Or maybe the top-tier teams could even rotate sticking lower-tier teams into a specific top-tier team’s group. The Bucks could use their first selection on placing the 76ers into the Lakers’ group, for example.

There are many possibilities how to structure a group draft.

If the NBA locks into resuming with 20 teams, the other 10 teams would be incentivized to vote for whatever system generates the most revenue. Those 10 votes could boost any proposal that would otherwise be doomed by teams trying to clear their own path deep into the playoffs.

This system would satisfy players on marginal teams – like Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard – who want to play only if the games are meaningful. It’d also allow the worst teams just to be done.

The draft order and lottery odds would have to be re-considered with a 20-team group phase. Though that’s a minor issue, it’d involve every team. Again, self-interest would creep in.

This idea has some rough precedent. In 1954, the playoffs began with three-team round robins in each the East and West.

The bigger question is how many NBA teams should resume? But if the best answer is 20, this is the best format I’ve seen.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss talks steps that led to brother Jim’s removal

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Late Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss set up a very detailed trust and succession plan for his beloved franchise. His daughter Jeanie Buss would be the team’s governor, and his son Jim Buss would run basketball operations. If there was an issue, Jeanie had the ultimate power.

In 2017, after the Lakers missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year and were floundering as an organization, Jeanie used that power to oust Jim and bring in a new front office (Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, of which only Pelinka remains). Recently, Jeanie appeared on the “Daddy Issues with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson” podcast and laid out the philosophy behind removing her brother. (Hat tip Lakers Nation)

“When my brother wasn’t going with the way my dad did things, it was a little distressing for me…

“You’re down and losing, and then my brother was changing coaches every 18 months. Sometimes you have to make coaching changes, I get that. But when you go from a coach like Mike Brown, whose emphasis was defense, to a coach like Mike D’Antoni, who really doesn’t worry so much about defense, that’s two different rosters that you need. Then the outside world thinks, ‘They don’t know what direction they’re going in.’

“You should be able to see a pathway as you hire a coach, you give him the players for his style of basketball and you make decisions that follow ones before it. You follow the path and what the person is thinking. But I couldn’t see what was going on, where he was trying to go and what our identity was going to be as a team.”

The path was clearer with Magic and Pelinka because they quickly landed LeBron James as a free agent (how much they had to do with LeBron’s decision is up for debate). The Lakers instantly became a win-now team and, a year later, traded a lot of the young players and picks to put Anthony Davis next to LeBron. The result has been the team with the best record in the West heading into the playoffs (whatever they look like).

Jim Buss swung and missed plenty, but he had a few hits as well. From the outside looking in, the biggest challenge seemed to be he operated with a mindset of “Laker exceptionalism” — that the very best players would always flock to the Lakers because they are the Lakers. The NBA doesn’t work that way anymore. No doubt, the Lakers have advantages few franchises can match. But from Jerry Buss to Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, all through the Lakers’ successful runs, they didn’t approach things with a mindset of exceptionalism. The Lakers’ front office was bold, but it was grounded and smart — they identified and developed talent, they always had a strong core, and they had strong relationships with players. It wasn’t exceptionalism, it was hard work.

On top of that, Jim had become the scapegoat of Lakers’ fans, the focus of their blame for the years not in the playoffs. Fair or not, it became a public relations issue, not just a management issue.

Jeanie made the right move. And it may even lead to another ring soon.

Damian Lillard: I won’t play if Trail Blazers have no shot at playoffs

Leave a comment

Most players on lottery-bound teams reportedly prefer to be finished rather than return as the NBA attempts to finish its season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Someone finally put his name behind that sentiment.

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday morning via phone.

I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. It’s going to be hard to get going with no fans, you’ve been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘[Expletive] it, I haven’t played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?’ It’s going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to sneak some [expletive]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, ‘Oh, they’re in the Western Conference finals.’ It’s room for that with this situation. So the fact that it’s possible and we wouldn’t get an opportunity at that, that’s weak to me. I ain’t getting no younger.”

In ninth place, Portland is 3.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies. The Trail Blazers might still have a chance to reach the playoffs. It depends on the NBA’s format for resumption.

There’s consideration to bringing back only teams with a postseason chance, anyway. But there’s also talk of all 30 teams playing in order to fulfill local TV contracts.

Lillard is a tremendous leader. If he doesn’t play, that would cast such a negative feeling onto his Portland teammates – and beyond. Lillard’s voice could affect how the entire league handles its return.

With a super-max extension already signed, Lillard has the luxury of being able to afford risking his paycheck by not playing. Not everyone can do that. There are major complications in determining how much money, if any, non-returning players should earn.

This also gets into an issue even in normal times: There are too many games late in the season involving at least one team incentivized to lose. The Trail Blazers have made the playoffs every season after Lillard’s rookie year. He has never had to worry about this since becoming a star. But players and teams annually grapple with games that, at best, don’t really matter. It creates a horrible product.

The concern is just magnified now because of the heightened risk of playing.

The NBA should listen to Lillard’s apprehension, realize he’s not alone and take it seriously. Then, whenever normal play resumes, the league should also realize this type of situation comes up – admittedly, with lower stakes – every year.

Gary Payton was ‘hot’ about Michael Jordan laughing at The Glove, cooled off

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan and Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michael Jordan bothered plenty of former Bulls teammates – including Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Craig Hodges – with “The Last Dance.”

Former Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton was more forgiving.

In the documentary, Payton described how his defense bothered Jordan during the 1996 NBA Finals – a clip played for Jordan to react. Jordan laughed and replied derisively: “The Glove. I had no problem with The Glove.”

Payton on “The Opinionated 7-Footers:”

You know I was hot. I was thinking about calling him at the time. I’d be like, “Yo, OK, now you want to hindsight and lie in front of everybody? Alright. It’s all good,” I’d say.

But you know what, that’s what I expect out of Mike. Because I would’ve said the same thing. I would’ve said the same thing. You know me, B. I’m not going to admit to nothing, man. I’m not going admit to somebody that D’d me up or did nothing. I’ll always tell you that any time in my career, nobody gave me problems but one person, and that’s John Stockton to me. So, that is just the way the game goes.

I’m not mad at Mike, because Mike didn’t have too many games that nobody D’d him up. He always was dominant.

I’m glad he said that, because I wouldn’t expect nothing else from him. I wouldn’t expect nothing else from Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan. That’s why we’re talking about it.

I love this answer!

Payton and Jordan were great trash talkers. Jordan isn’t required to provide an accurate assessment of Payton’s defense. Jordan was just trying to hype up Jordan and diss a rival. Payton understands the game. He doesn’t need to turn it into something bigger.

He’ll just dish it right back with a line about John Stockton being harder to guard than Jordan.