Report: Damian Lillard to sign supermax deal worth $195 million

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Damian Lillard is well on his way to being the best Portland Trail Blazer of all time. He might be there already. Now, Lillard is about to be the highest paid Blazer of all time.

According to multiple reports, Lillard is set to sign a super max contract extension with the Trail Blazers when free agency opens on Sunday worth $196 million over five years. The contract will start in 2021-22 when Lillard’s current deal runs out. Portland’s franchise guard last signed an extension worth $120 million in 2015.

This is a monumental signing for the Blazers, whose leader took them to the Western Conference Finals last year. Lillard adapted well to a new rotation under Terry Stotts, who decided to handcuff him to CJ McCollum in the starting lineup instead of alternating them after the first substitution the way he had the past few seasons.

Lillard’s season was significant, not only from a team perspective. He’s continued to get better, adding crafty moves around the hoop and stealing some of Chris Paul’s foul-seeking techniques.

The postseason showed a marked increase in his defensive ability as well. Lillard made a huge jump in his relative ranking defending the pick-and-roll between the regular season and the playoffs. He also jumped from the 29th percentile guarding spot-up shooters to the 81st percentile, according to Synergy. Lillard appears to be rounding into form as a player, and his supermax deal was never in doubt.

This contract is another chance for the NBA to see if their vaunted 2017 CBA addition was worth it. The supermax has not played out exactly how teams intended. John Wall’s contract looks like a disaster at this point, and Kawhi Leonard simply walked away from his potential supermax with the San Antonio Spurs. And while James Harden and Stephen Curry are certainly worthy of their mega deals, it’s not clear that’ll be the case for Russell Westbrook or Wall by the time their contracts draw to a close.

Much has been made about the supermax eating into too big a chunk of team’s salary cap. The Blazers are already crunched in that regard, but as their contracts start to fall off and as Lillard’s deal kicks in, it’ll further hamper their ability to make free agent additions.

As an aside, it’s been suggested that the NBA make a rule where supermax deals only take up a set cap figure — say, $30 million — and any money above that doesn’t count toward the cap. It might give a better incentive for teams to offer it to players, which the players association would love. It would also allow teams more flexibility to add winning players, which franchises should support.

That would certainly help Portland if it existed here. Lillard’s deal will command him in excess of $50 million during his age 34 season, which is a serious concern. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 but really stands something like 6-foot-1.5, and we know how smaller guards tend to do as they age.

But Portland is at a point where they don’t have any other choice, and Lillard is the face of the franchise. He’s quickly surpassing Brandon Roy as the modern totem of the team in that regard. As a resident of the Rose City and a journalist covering the Blazers, I can tell you that there’s very little reticence to give Lillard that money, no matter the risk.

Now what’s left is for the Blazers to try and put a team around him that can match his current output before Lillard’s salary squeezes Portland’s ability to make additional moves in the years to come.

This was the no-brainer for GM Neil Olshey. Here is where the real work in Rip City begins.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.