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Steadily good Trail Blazers can soon up the ante – in playoffs, with Damian Lillard super-max extension

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No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds had never gotten swept in a best-of-seven first-round series until the third-seeded Trail Blazers by the Pelicans last year. A day after his season ended, Damian Lillard met with the media for an exit interview.

“I’m doing good,” Lillard said. “Things could be worse.

“I don’t want to say I’m over it, but I was just disappointed last night. I got home, held my son, watched the boxing card that happened last night. It was an exciting card. But I think doing both of these things kind of calmed me down.”

Nearly a year later, Lillard sat in the locker room watching boxing on his phone before a game. Evan Turner marveled at how chill his superstar teammate appeared.

The next few months could determine Portland’s course for several years ahead. Or they could leave the franchise in stasis with increased pressure to prove itself next year.

The Trail Blazers can redeem themselves in the playoffs this year, show last year’s loss to the Pelicans was the result of a bad matchup rather than a flawed team getting exposed. But Portland’s postseason chances were undercut by recent injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and C.J. McCollum. This just might not be the Trail Blazers’ year to advance in the playoffs.

Will it be their year to secure Lillard? There was a lot at stake for him to have a big season. If he makes an All-NBA team this year, he’ll be eligible this offseason for a super-max extension that projects to be worth $199 million over four years.

“Honestly, I never, ever even knew that was the case,” Turner said. “I mean, I hang out with him a lot, and he never talked about it. And I don’t think he’s ever concerned.

“He’s well-grounded, I think spiritually, and comfortable with himself. He knows if he goes and works hard and day-in and day-out does what’s right, good things will happen.”

Lillard has set a tone for the Trail Blazers. His leadership is so respected throughout the league.

But while there’s definitely a sentiment within the team to look forward to the postseason, the only place Portland can truly overcome last year’s playoff setback, Lillard wants more appreciation for the Trail Blazers’ 50-28 regular season.

“After what we went through last year, it would have been easy for us just to come back this year and fold,” Lillard said. “The team we lost to last year, you see what they came back and did. And they had a great postseason.”

New Orleans crumbled under the weight of Anthony Davis‘ potential designated-veteran-player contract extension. Before the Pelicans could even officially offer the deal this summer, he requested a trade. Immediately, New Orleans’ season was shot.

Portland has avoided similar drama despite Lillard inching closer to his own super-max decision.

Lillard is a lock for an All-NBA team, likely second team behind James Harden and Stephen Curry at guard. If he qualifies, Lillard “absolutely” expects the Trail Blazers to offer the super-max extension. And if they do, will he accept?

“We’ll see,” Lillard said.

A complication: Because Lillard also made All-NBA last season, he’d already clinch eligibility for a five-year super-max extension to be signed in 2020. That deal would carry the same terms over the first four years as the extension this summer. It’d just add a fifth year that projects to be worth $59 million – bringing the projected overall value to $258 million over five years.

Lillard has repeatedly touted his loyalty to Portland, and he’s under contract two more seasons. But bypassing a super-max extension this summer, even with the intention of signing a longer extension the following summer, would spark numerous thorny questions: Is Lillard unhappy? Why didn’t he lock in when given the opportunity? Does he want to leave?

Even if he answers all those questions by saying he plans to sign the five-year extension in 2020, so much can change in a year. LaMarcus Aldridge once rejected an extension with the Trail Blazers, saying he did so only to re-sign on a larger deal in free agency. But by the time free agency hit, his relationship with Portland had gone south, and he left for the Spurs.

The Trail Blazers also ought to seriously consider a super-max extension from their side. Paying any player, even one as good as Lillard, $50 million per year in his 30s is risky. It can be difficult to build a strong supporting cast with so much money tied to a single player. However, not making Lillard the mega offer he expects could also damage the team’s relationship with its biggest star.

Unfortunately, Portland and Lillard might have lost a key opportunity to evaluate each other this postseason.

McCollum might return for the playoffs, but Nurkic – out for the year – has been so important for these Trail Blazers. He has improved as a playmaker, helping Portland counter the aggressive traps the Pelicans sent at the Trail Blazers talented guards. Nurkic was also rolling harder to finish stronger inside and, perhaps most importantly, anchoring Portland’s conservative defense with his paint presence. Enes Kanter and Zach Collins can replicate dimensions of Nurkic’s game, but Nurkic was the complete package.

For a team banking on stability, that’s suddenly gone.

All six Trail Blazers to start against New Orleans last year – Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic, Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless – returned. So did Terry Stotts, who became the first coach in the shot-clock era to get swept in his opening playoff series consecutive years and keep his job.

Stotts has guided Portland to the playoffs six straight seasons, and he knows what’s at stake this year.

“When you’ve made the playoffs six years in a row, the playoffs end up defining your season,” Stotts said.

Maybe that’s unfair. The Trail Blazers were good last year. They’re good this year. A bad matchup or poorly timed injuries can derail everything.

But Portland isn’t giving up on this season.

Led by Lillard, the Trail Blazers are still fighting.

Kevin Garnett on Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor: ‘I don’t do business with snakes’

Kevin Garnett and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor
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Kevin Garnett despises Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

DESPISES.

Garnett, after retiring, planned to join Flip Saunders in the Timberwolves organization. But when Saunders died, that plan fell apart. Garnett blames Taylor.

So, Garnett keeps taking shots at the Timberwolves. Most visibly, Garnett – who’ll have his number retired by the Celtics – refuses to participate in having his number retired in Minnesota, where it’d make even more sense.

Garnett, via Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Glen knows where I’m at, I’m not entertaining it. First of all, it’s not genuine. Two, he’s getting pressure from a lot of fans and, I guess, the community there. Glen and I had an understanding before Flip died, and when Flip died, that understanding went with Flip. For that, I won’t forgive Glen. I won’t forgive him for that. I thought he was a straight up person, straight up business man, and when Flip died, everything went with him.

There’s no reason to complain. Just continue to move on. My years in Minnesota and in that community, I cherish. At this point, I don’t want any dealings with Glen Taylor or Taylor Corp. or anything that has to do with him. I love my Timberwolves, I’ll always love my guys, I’ll always love the people who [f—] with me there. I’ll always have a special place for the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota in my heart. But I don’t do business with snakes. I don’t do business with snake mu’[f—]as. I try not to do business with openly snakes or people who are snake-like.

I don’t know what Taylor promised Garnett. So, it’s impossible to evaluate whether Garnett is being fair in his grudge. Maybe Taylor lied and deserves all Garnett’s scorn. Maybe Garnett heard what he wanted to hear.

But time heals most wounds, and I suspect it’ll eventually heal this one. Garnett has too many fond memories of Minnesota to let Taylor undermine all of it. The Timberwolves will eventually retire Garnett’s number.

That said, there’s clearly still plenty to overcome first.

Fans to be refunded for Team USA-Australia games last summer

Team USA-Australia
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Russell Crowe disliked his view for the Team USA-Australia exhibition games in Melbourne last August.

He wasn’t the only one.

Many fans griped about the sightlines from their floor-level seats. Even Australia upsetting the U.S. in a pre-World Cup tune-up didn’t satiate the Boomer fans who wanted a better look at the action – and paid plenty for their seats.

But those fans will get compensated.

Jake Michaels of ESPN:

Around AU$5 million ($3.08 million U.S.) will be refunded to spectators of last year’s Boomers vs. Team USA two-game series at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium after the Australian consumer watchdog found that promoter TEG Live made false claims about its seating plan.

The 20,000 refunds will be paid out to those who purchased floor-level seating for the games. Despite a mock-up depicting tiered seating, the seats used were in flat rows, lower than the court and, in some cases, more than 30 metres from the action.

That comes to $154 per ticket – not cheap for an exhibition game.

Now, who do American fans see about restitution for their team not meeting expected standards?

2020 PBT Awards: Executive of the Year

Clippers executive Lawrence Frank with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

2. Sam Presti, Thunder

3. Danny Ainge, Celtics

Lawrence Frank gets his name called but the Clippers operate more like a team in the front office than a top-down dictatorship. Michael Winger, Mark Hughes, Jerry West, Trent Redden, Lee Jenkins, Dee Brown and the rest of the team pulled off the incredible Kawhi Leonard/Paul George double last July and around that have built the deepest, most dangerous roster in the NBA. Maybe Frank can write up a report for Jason Kidd on how he pulled all this off. Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti also deserves credit for pivoting and lining up a rebuild while keeping the Thunder a winning and competitive team on the court.

Dan Feldman

1. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

2. Sam Presti, Thunder

3. Pat Riley, Heat

Oklahoma City improved… while adding an incredible haul of future draft picks. Sam Presti had a special summer. But the game is winning championships, and the Clippers went from feisty upstart to title contender by completing an ambitious plan to add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Maybe the Clippers will never win a championship. Perhaps, the Thunder set themselves up to win multiple titles down the road. But the Clippers’ big strides took them far closer to the finish line, and I’ll reward the more-known quantity.

Pat Riley got third place primarily on two moves – improving from mediocre to quite good by landing Jimmy Butler and creating significant salary-cap flexibility in the Justise WinslowAndre Iguodala trade. That topped Nets general manager Sean Marks, who lured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but faced complications in overseeing his team’s new direction.

Keith Smith

1. Jon Horst, Bucks

2. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

3. Sam Presti, Thunder

For a second straight year, Jon Horst put together a dominant and deep team. Milwaukee lost Malcolm Brogdon, but got a first-round pick for a free agent. That’s solid work. He also re-signed Khris Middleton, George Hill and Brook Lopez to fair contracts. And around them Horst added Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Kyle Korver and Marvin Williams to fill out the roster. Milwaukee goes 13-deep in legitimate rotation players for the team with the league’s best record.

Lawrence Frank built the Clippers on the fly. When Kawhi Leonard said he’d sign if LA traded for Paul George, Frank didn’t hesitate and made it happen. Frank also re-signed Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green, while adding Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson in- season. The result is a team that is 10-deep in playoff players and one of the Western Conference favorites.

When the Thunder traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook, it was assumed that Sam Presti would eventually move Chris Paul too. Instead, Oklahoma City has been one of the league’s best surprises. All of the trade acquisitions have played a big part in that. Paul has had another great season Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari have turned in good years. And rookies Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort look like keepers too. Oh, and Presti has up to seven extra first-round picks and a couple of years of swap rights coming too.

Ben Wallace not sure Pistons would have won titles if they drafted Carmelo over Darko

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Carmelo Anthony said recently if the Detroit Pistons had drafted him No. 2 instead of Darko Miličić, he would have won two or three titles. Chauncy Billups agreed with him.

Ben Wallace isn’t buying it.

Wallace appeared on the on the 120 Watts podcast and said if the Pistons had taken Anthony the team would have developed differently and might have come together in a way that it did not win a title in 2004 or any others (hat tip to NBA Reddit):

“If we would’ve drafted Carmelo, I honestly don’t think we would have ever won a championship. Melo wanted to play right away. It would have had the potential to disrupt the team chemistry… By drafting Darko, he came in and said that he is not ready to play on this team. Who I am going to play in front of. I’m not ready, and by him doing that and accepting his role, it allowed us to build and grow and get stronger and eventually win a championship…

“If we drafted Carmelo, Tayshaun [Prince] wouldn’t blossom to be the type of a player that he way. We won that championship on the back of the best block I’ve ever seen in my life, and I blocked a lot of shots. That is the type of grit and grind that the team had.”

It’s an interesting point and Wallace is right about this: We never know how a team would have developed differently if ‘Melo had been a Piston. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked, perhaps it would have thrown off the team chemistry and softened up that elite defense.

Still, put me in “the more talent the better” camp. Anthony is a future Hall of Famer who came into the league knowing how to get buckets. That Pistons team had some of the greatest defenses the league has ever seen, but the question was always could they score enough. Anthony would have had to accept more of a role, but he fills that scoring need. And, on a team of players he respects, Anthony is willing to play his part.

Count me with the group that thinks the Pistons win more with ‘Melo than they did with Darko. Or, frankly, Chris Bosh (fourth in that draft). Or Dwyane Wade (fifth). But the Pistons made their bet and they still got a ring.