On scars, sutures, and healed wounds in Portland

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From Mount Tabor to Slabtown, Rip City has been waiting for this. After a 19-year hiatus, the Portland Trail Blazers are headed to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.

CJ McCollum was the hero at Pepsi Center on Sunday, scoring 37 points and grabbing nine rebounds, closing the game with an incredible fourth quarter effort as the Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets, 100-96. It’s a game that fans in Portland will be talking about long after this season concludes, whenever that may be.

Right now it’s a celebration. In Oregon, Instagram stories have filled with posts of people screaming, crying, and hugging their friends, sometimes back-to-back and often all at once. Twitter has been set ablaze, the caps lock button stuck for some, a form of Internet yelling omnipresent. Phone calls have been made between fathers and daughters, e-mails sent, and horns honked down Hawthorne, Burnside, Couch, and Flanders streets.

After a long winter, the sun is shining in Portland. But this story started long before May 12, 2019.

At a distance, it might not be obvious that Sunday meant more than just a redemption of what went wrong last season for this team. Their Game 7 win over the Nuggets was, for many fans, cosmic payback for so much of what has been “almost” for the Blazers; a salve to heal the wounds of nearly two decades.

For the sweep at the hands of the Pelicans last year.

For the LaMarcus Aldridge-led teams that saw their hopes dashed when Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles against the Dallas Mavericks in 2015.

For the injury-plagued teams who had to do without No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden.

For the shortened legacy of Brandon Roy, whose career finished having never made it past the first round, and who never played in a Game 7.

For the fourth quarter collapse to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, a Game 7 disaster that saw that team fail to make it out of the first round again.

Quietly, an underlying opinion in Portland is that the franchise is snakebitten. A culture of supporting their lovable losers — even if “losers” isn’t a fair description — was how Blazers supporters operated. Deprived of stars to injury, coming up short, failing projections… all of it wired the synapses in the collective brains of Portlanders to expect the worst. And with a hum-drum offseason in 2018, who could blame Rip City on their lack of belief that this spring would be any different?

That thinking started to shift as the 2018-19 season started to gather steam. Before, the Blazers were criticized for keeping its major core intact. But at a certain point, that consistency began to be additive for Portland. This year, outside of Lillard, this team’s chemistry slowly became its best asset.

The Blazers swelled forward, with Jusuf Nurkic coming forth as Portland’s second-most important player on both sides of the ball. Mid-season additions of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter bolstered Portland’s bench, and guys like Zach Collins, Seth Curry, Evan Turner, and Jake Layman all produced for Portland in a way they hadn’t before.

Still, heading into this postseason, gallows humor was the vernacular of choice in Multnomah County. Nurkic broke his leg with three weeks left in the regular season, and despite a strong coming on by Moe Harkless late in the year, it wasn’t a guarantee that the plucky Blazers would be able to get out of the first round.

Now Portland is heading to the Western Conference Finals to take on the Golden State Warriors. That in and of itself is medicine for the soul of Rip City.

Portland has been one of the best franchises in the NBA since 2000. That’s due to their dedicated fanbase and because of their former owner, the late Paul Allen. The Microsoft billionaire’s willingness to spend was only surpassed by his desire to win, and Portland has had just five losing seasons since the last time it was in the WCF.

Call it small market disease, underdog syndrome, or a chip on their shoulder, Blazers fans have craved the respect they’ve felt they deserved. They have wanted it for being good but not great; for loving this team without question; for being an outlier in success for a city its size. And yet, real or imagined, the answer has always come back: what have you done lately? In beating Denver, Portland now has something real — something material — to offer in support of how they’ve felt about this team all along.

So injuries, “almosts”, and alley-oops be damned. This one you can’t take away from the Blazers.

Minnesota signs undrafted rookie Naz Reid to multiyear deal

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves have signed rookie center Naz Reid to a multiyear contract, upgrading the two-way deal they initially gave him before a strong performance for the team’s entry in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

The new contract, completed Thursday, all but ensures that Reid will be on the regular-season roster, after going undrafted out of LSU.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic broke the story.

The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Reid averaged 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in 18.6 minutes over seven summer league games against other clubs largely composed of rookies and second-year players. The Timberwolves’ team reached the championship game.

Reid averaged 13.6 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds in his lone season at LSU, which reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Bulls bring back Shaquille Harrison on one-year contract

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Shaquille Harrison started last season as an afterthought at the end of the Chicago Bulls’ bench. Then, because Cameron Payne was not good and Kris Dunn got injured (and was really not that good, either), Harrison got his chance — and took it. He was a defender Fred Hoiberg and then Jim Boylen could trust, and he played in the final 72 Bulls games last season at almost 20 minutes a night.

He will be back with the Bulls next season, the team announced.

While not announced, this is a one-year minimum contract. The Bulls waived Harrison back on July 6 as they remade the roster, but Harrison played one game at Summer League for the Bulls and they decided to bring him back.

Harrison is a Boylen favorite — he plays hard and defends well — and while minutes will be harder to come by behind Tomas Satoransky and Coby White, Harrison is a guy Boylen wants on the bench.

Dunn is on the roster at point guard, too, but the Bulls are rumored to be looking to trade him and his $5.4 million salary. Chicago will likely have to throw in a sweetener, like a decent second-round pick, to make that happen.

Nike countersues Kawhi Leonard over ‘Klaw’ logo

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“My mind on my money and my money on my mind.”
—Snoop Dogg

Nike and Kawhi Leonard are going to court over control of his “Klaw” logo, and it’s all about money and brand.

Leonard left Nike last season, eventually signing with New Balance, and he wants to be able to market his Klaw logo as part of his line with his new company. Leonard and his representatives sued Nike for control of the logo, saying Leonard came up with it in his own drawings.

Nike has countersued and said Leonard did not design the logo. Tim Bontemps of ESPN had these quotes from the countersuit itself.

“In this action, Kawhi Leonard seeks to re-write history by asserting that he created the ‘Claw Design’ logo, but it was not Leonard who created that logo. The ‘Claw Design’ was created by a talented team of NIKE designers, as Leonard, himself, has previously admitted…

“In his Complaint, Leonard alleges he provided a design to NIKE. That is true. What is false is that the design he provided was the Claw Design. Not once in his Complaint does Leonard display or attach either the design that he provided or the Claw Design. Instead, he conflates the two, making it appear as though those discrete works are one and the same. They are not.”

TMZ posted the designs.

I’m not about to guess what a judge would decide in this case. Most likely, this gets settled one way or another.

Meanwhile, New Balance is trying to come up with a new slogan for Leonard and his gear. King of the North is now out after his move to the Los Angeles Clippers this summer.

J.R. Smith reportedly meets with Bucks to talk contract

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After five seasons in Cleveland, the Cavaliers waived J.R. Smith. The 34-year-old veteran wing is not part of the Cavaliers future, and by waiving him before the guarantee date they only had to pay him $4.4 million of this $15.7 million salary.

That makes Smith a free agent.

He sat down with the Bucks on Thursday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bucks can only offer minimum contracts at this point.

Smith will turn 34 before next season starts and his skills are in decline, he shot just 30.8 percent from three last season. The Bucks will likely start Khris Middleton and Wesley Matthews on the wing with Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, and Donte DiVincenzo behind them. They have the roster spot to make the addition. The questions are does Smith fit, does he want the small role that’s really available, and how often will he wear a shirt around the facility?