Why didn’t Neil Olshey, Blazers re-sign Ed Davis?

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Ed Davis is no longer a member of the Portland Trail Blazers after signing a $4.4 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets. Meanwhile, the Blazers are still $9 million over the salary cap, and with looming deals for Jusuf Nurkic and a sizable trade exception that expires at the end of July, the team is likely headed over the luxury tax line of $123.7 million before the summer is over.

So the question is, why would Portland get rid of Davis if they are already headed toward the luxury tax?

Damian Lillard made headlines this past season when he requested a meeting with Portland owner Paul Allen to talk about the direction of the team, and for good reason. Olshey’s tenure at the helm as been a mixed bag, and the Blazers haven’t yet solidified their position in the tier below Houston and Golden State in the West. There is also some doubt externally whether the Lillard-CJ McCollum pairing can work long-term, but the elephant in the room is that salary tax line — threatened each offseason by the contracts of Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and to a lesser extent, Moe Harkless.

All three were given massive new deals in the summer of 2016 — along with the departed Allen Crabbe — totaling nearly $35 million per season. None have played up to their potential (although Harkless has in spurts) and the culmination of that summer was a sweep by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs this year.

All of this is to say that Portland has pressure to succeed during Lillard’s prime, and not necessarily against the Golden States and Houstons of the world. The rest of the Western Conference keeps getting better — LeBron James is now with the Lakers — and free agent spending has apparently not been limited by the worry that battling the Warriors is all but hopeless.

Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has already spent himself into a hole, and the likes of Turner and Leonard are sunk costs. The only counteraction of which is to continue to make smart basketball decisions, with luxury tax payment concern coming secondary.

Spend money effectively in the future because you can’t change the past.

That brings us back to the question of Davis, whose contract was something at first glance that the Blazers could have easily swallowed. But if we consider the absence of a Davis contract as an indication of Olshey’s intentions, it might give us a better look at where Portland is going.

Some quick back-of-napkin math puts the Trail Blazers at around $121 million salary figure after an estimated $12 million Nurkic RFA match and Nik Stauskasminimum salary contract. That keeps Portland under the 2018-19 salary tax line of $123.7 million. Rotationally, this roster would be extremely soft up front, but it would avoid penalties.

But let’s say we assume a scenario where Olshey uses both the full $13 million trade exception from the Crabbe swap and his $5.3 million taxpayer mid-level exception. In that case, the cost of Davis’ contract becomes exorbitant. Portland’s salary figure jumps to around $139.2 million before factoring $4.4 million Davis earned from Brooklyn. Thanks to the graduated penalties of the luxury tax, Portland would incur about $30 million in tax.

After adding Davis into the mix — and crossing another graduated tax threshold — Portland would pay a whopping $46.25 million in tax.

Put it this way: after Nurkic, the taxpayer exception, and the Crabbe trade exception, you could account signing Davis for one season at a total cost of $20 million for one year. It doesn’t work that way, of course — salary is cumulative and luxury tax isn’t tied to one specific player — but the Blazers might have seen Davis’ contract this way.

Since the front office in Portland is notoriously tight-lipped (not to mention defensive) we can only speculate about the direction the Blazers are planning to take. Lillard and McCollum quickly voiced their displeasure with the decision. Portland has given up rotational stability as well as significant cultural favor by not re-signing Davis, a fan favorite. Zach Collins, Davis’ de facto replacement, struggled last year in long stretches without the veteran from North Carolina. So Olshey has perhaps tipped his hand, or created an expectation that he is going to use those exceptions and the matching of a Nurkic RFA contract to bolster the team while reducing or eliminating their luxury tax bill.

Of course, the gambit with this strategy is that Olshey must now act, and he can’t miss. Failing to find a suitor for that trade exception, or falling through on one of these other proposed ways to strengthen the roster would be a dramatic failure in the face of losing Davis so cheaply to the Nets. That is a big ask considering Olshey doesn’t have the best free agent track record outside of Al-Farouq Aminu, and just how important Davis was to the team.

The Blazers have famously struck out on big name free agents, and during Olshey’s time with the team some of the rumored targets — the Dwight Howards and your Pau Gasols of the world — have seemed like odd fits.

The Blazers are a good team who caught a bad break during the playoffs last year. They will still be competitive and fun to watch over the course of Lillard and McCollum’s careers, and contention for a championship during the era of the Warriors is going to be hard to obtain. But staying competitive while the rest of the West adds stars means Portland and Olshey can’t sit tight.

Passing on Davis perhaps signals that Neil Olshey is ready to take yet another big swing. Whether he makes contact or strikes out like he did in the summer of 2016 is yet to be seen.

David Griffin on possibility of keeping Anthony Davis: ‘We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George’

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New Pelicans lead executive David Griffin wants to sell Anthony Davis on staying in new Orleans.

Even with the Pelicans landing the No. 1 pick and ability to draft Zion Williamson, Davis reportedly still wants to be traded.

But New Orleans doesn’t have to acquiesce. No matter what Davis wants, he’s still under contract next season. The Pelicans can keep him and spend the season trying to convince him to re-sign in the summer of 2020.

Griffin, via Zach Lowe of ESPN:

“We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George,” he said. “We can hold onto [Davis] and let him see what we really are. [Winning the lottery] changes how quickly he can buy into it. It gets us closer. Every day, maybe he believes a little more. As much as elite talent likes to play with elite talent, I can’t imagine any elite player in his prime looking at our situation and saying to himself, ‘There’s a better grouping to play for’ than ours.”

George had his eyes on the Lakers when the Thunder traded for him in 2017. But he enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City and re-signed.

The big difference between George and Davis: Davis requested a trade from the team trying to keep him. George didn’t.

In fact, George didn’t even request a trade at all. George merely told the Pacers he wouldn’t re-sign the following year. Obviously, he knew that made them more likely to deal him. But he was content playing out the the final year of his contract in Indiana or anywhere else.

Davis told New Orleans he wanted out. He’s not coming to a new team, let alone with an open mind.

Still, the Pelicans have changed significantly since Davis’ trade request. Griffin and Williamson significantly improve the the franchise’s outlook. Depending what offers he receives for Davis, Griffin keeping the superstar and attempting to change his mind throughout the season could make sense. New Orleans can always deal Davis before the trade deadline if it’s not working, though trading him later likely lowers the return.

Of course, Griffin could have no intention of keeping an unhappy Davis. Saying he might only increases Griffin’s leverage in trade negotiations.

But if they truly want to keep Davis and pitch him throughout the season, the Pelicans are facing a much steeper hill than the Thunder had with George.

Report: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers expected to sign super-max extension

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Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers entered this postseason with an opportunity to prove themselves to each other. Portland had gotten swept in the first round the last two years, including a devastating sweep as the No. 3 seed last season. Lillard would be eligible this offseason for a super-max extension that projects to be worth $193 million over four years.

Everyone feels good now.

Lillard hit one of the biggest shots ever, and the Trail Blazers advanced to their first conference finals in 19 years. Both sides want to continue their partnership.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lillard is under contract two more seasons. So, his extension would take effect in 2021, when it’s exact value would be determined. I project it at $193 million over four years.

As an All-NBA lock this year, Lillard will be eligible to sign a super-max extension this offseason or next. If he waits until 2020, he could sign a five-year extension. That deal would carry the same terms as the four-year extension for the first four years but would add a fifth year worth a projected $57 million – bringing the total projected value to $250 million. But there’s no guarantee Portland will offer the megadeal next year.

Already, this is a real risk for the Trail Blazers.

It’s probably one they must take. Lillard is an excellent player who does so much to set the team’s culture.

But paying someone projected salaries of $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34? Nearly no player can assure he’ll warrant that. Build a winner around a single player earning so much is quite difficult. Portland’s ownership situation after the death of Paul Allen, who frequently paid the luxury tax, only adds to the uncertainty.

This could be a litmus test for the designated-veteran-player-extension rule altogether. If it doesn’t work with Damian Lillard – who exudes so many traits you want in a superstar – who will it work with?

Meyers Leonard delivers all-time out-of-nowhere playoff performance

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In 1967, Richie Guerin retired. The former Knicks star had been the St. Louis Hawks’ player-coach a few years, and he shifted fully into coaching. He even won Coach of the Year that season. As the Hawks moved to Atlanta the next year, he occasionally returned to the lineup, but played sparingly while focused on coaching. He played even less the following season, scoring just seven points in eight games.

But when the Hawks were facing injuries, inexperience and a 3-0 deficit to the Lakers 1970 Western Division finals, a 37-year-old Guerin stepped up on the court. He scored 31 points in Game 4, though Los Angeles completed the sweep.

Afterward, Hawks publicity director Tom McCollister called in the game’s stats to the league office:

”Guerin played 35 minutes,” reported McCollister, quietly, ”made 12 of 17 field goal attempts, 7 for 7 free throws, had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 personal fouls. Thirty-one points.” Pause. ”They are burying him tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.”

That was a rare time someone with a lower scoring average than Meyers Leonard scored 30 points in a playoff game.

Leonard – who averaged 5.9 points per game in the regular season – scored 30 points in the Trail Blazers’ Game 4 loss to the Warriors last night. He scored 25 in the first half!

This was the same Leonard who was in and out of the rotation all season, who had a DNP-CD in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, who had a previous career high of 24 points. That came in 2015, preceding a much-maligned four-year, $41 million contract.

But when Portland needed a more-mobile defender at center, Leonard started. He played well in Game 3, scoring 16 points and dishing four assists. That wad already an unexpectedly good night for him.

Yet, Leonard upped the ante yesterday. For a while, he was going shot-for-shot with Stephen Curry. Though he couldn’t keep up with Curry (37 points), Leonard went 12-of-16, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers.

Here are the players to score 30 points in a playoff game with the lowest regular-season scoring averages:

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The only other player besides Guerin to drop 30 in a playoff game after scoring so little in the regular season was Daniel Gibson. Boobie averaged 4.6 points per game his rookie year then scored 31 points on 5-of-5 3-point shooting in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons, helping send the Cavs to their first NBA Finals.

“If I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me up,” Gibson said. “This was perfect, to win it for Cleveland.”

The most recent player to crack the leaderboard was CJ McCollum, who averaged 6.8 points per game in 2014-15 then scored 33 in a season-ending Game 5 loss to the Grizzlies in the first round. McCollum won Most Improved Player the next year and has remained a near-star ever since.

Could Leonard make a similar jump for the Trail Blazers? Don’t count on it. McCollum was in only his second season. Leonard, who just finished his seventh season, has been in the league even longer than McCollum now.

But appreciate Leonard’s scoring binge for what it was – one heck of an outlier.

Giannis Antetokounmpo pays for basketball court in fire-ravaged Greece

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo has agreed to fund the construction of an indoor basketball court in a fire-ravaged area outside Athens where at least 100 people were killed last year.

The mayor of the Rafina area where the fire occurred last July said on Monday the local authority accepted the offer from the Milwaukee Bucks player to build the court at a new recycling park that is being planned. The mayor, Vangelis Bournous, gave no details of the construction cost but said the venue would ready at the end of this summer.

The blaze gutted the seaside resort of Mati, east of Athens, and other coastal areas, destroying more than a thousand homes.

Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are leading in the NBA Eastern Conference finals 2-1 over the Toronto Raptors.