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Trail Blazers had to lock in premier backcourt, right?


NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Calls for the Trail Blazers to break up their Damian LillardC.J. McCollum backcourt reached a fever pitch last summer. Portland had gotten swept in the previous two first rounds. The latest loss came as the No. 3 seed – the highest seed ever to get swept in a four-game first-round series.

But Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey held firm on keeping Lillard and McCollum together.

Those guards rewarded Olshey’s faith. Lillard hit an incredible series-winning 3-pointer against the Thunder in the first round. McCollum made several big shots against the Nuggets in the second round. Portland reached its first Western Conference finals in nearly two decades.

If keeping Lillard and McCollum, why other than for a season like that?

So, the Trail Blazers are doubling down. They extended Lillard (four years, projected $196 million) and McCollum (three years, $100 million) this summer.

Lillard’s super-max extension offer was nearly fait accompli once he qualified. It would’ve just been untenable to tell the franchise player he’s not worth that investment. Lillard is everything Portland could ask for – an elite player who works tirelessly to lift everyone around him. When designated-veteran-player extensions were designed, players like Lillard came to mind.

But I can’t shake the feeling not even he will live up to this deal. The salaries are so high and run from his age 31-34 seasons. And they don’t even kick for another two years. It’s so difficult to predict how Lillard will be playing in 2021, let alone 2025. If this doesn’t work with Lillard, it’d be a referendum on the whole super-max system. But maybe the system is that flawed.

Extending McCollum, who also had two years left on his deal, was less of an imperative. He just couldn’t feel as entitled to an extension offer. Maybe the price will be fair, though. It certainly isn’t outrageous. But like with Lillard, I don’t feel great about guaranteeing McCollum so much for his age 30-32 seasons.

This what happens when teams succeed, though. The Trail Blazers feel good about what they accomplished last season (as they should). They want to keep it going. Olshey and coach Terry Stotts also received contract extensions.

But the principals will have plenty of change around them.

Portland lost its entire postseason starting frontcourt. Al-Farouq Aminu (Magic) and Enes Kanter (Celtics) left via free agency. The Trail Blazers also traded Maurice Harkless to upgrade from Meyers Leonard to Hassan Whiteside.

Whiteside should help at center with Jusuf Nurkic still injured. But small forwards are generally more valuable than centers, which is why I disliked that trade for Portland – even with a couple surprisingly good moves to replace Harkless at small forward.

The Trail Blazers somehow got to trade Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore and re-sign Rodney Hood with the taxpayer mid-level exception(1+1, $11,721,900). But Bazemore and Hood skew more toward shooting guard on the positional spectrum.

Portland also drafted forward Nassir Little No. 25. I was lower than most on him, but even I thought getting him there presented good value. Still, he’s a project.

Another forward, Mario Hezonja (1+1 minimum), brings some raw skill. But he was available at the minimum for a reason.

I’m not sure how much Anthony Tolliver and Pau Gasol have left in the tank, but at one-year minimum deals, it’s worth finding out. Still, this is not a reliable big-man rotation.

Nurkic should help once he gets healthy. He was playing so well before getting hurt last season, which make Lillard’s and McCollum’s playoff accomplishments even more impressive. Those two led Portland with their top teammate sidelined.

Yet, context can also go the other way. The Trail Blazers advanced through the easier side of the Western Conference playoffs then got swept by the Warriors in the conference finals. With a different draw, Portland could have gotten eliminated early once again.

Of course, that didn’t happen. We know only what did happen.

The Trail Blazers flourished last postseason then, in the aftermath, had the sensible-looking, expensive offseason that typically follows a deep playoff run. I’m just not sure they’ll be better long-term for it.

Offseason grade: C

Sacramento Kings turning former arena into coronavirus surge hospital

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If you’re old enough, you might remember Arco Arena as the home of the Sacramento Kings when they were a playoff team. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, and company pushed the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to seven games in 2002 and won huge playoff games in the arena. Arco was where Jason Williams was dropping dimes without looking, and arena which later became known as the Sleep Train Arena, Power Balance Pavilion, and eventually the current Natomas Arena.

Now, it’s about to be a coronavirus surge hospital.

The Kings are making the arena available and it will house about 360 beds, the team announced on Friday. The team also is donating $250,000 to support area community organizations providing services to families in need in the area, plus donating 100,000 medical masks to state and local health agencies.

“On behalf of the entire Kings family, our hearts are with all who have been affected by this pandemic,” said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “California always leads the nation and the world, and we applaud Governor [Gavin] Newsom’s strong and decisive leadership to keep Californians healthy and safe during this crisis…

“Our community has always come first, and that is more important now than ever,” Ranadivé continued. “The Kings are proud to help by providing additional space to accommodate a predicted surge in patients. We are also donating masks to help keep people healthy, and critical resources to area organizations that are addressing food insecurity and other issues as a result of the coronavirus. I have always been in awe of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people and firmly believe that together, we will defeat this invisible enemy.”

The Kings moved to the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in 2015 and since then their former home and practice arena has mostly sat vacant. The Kings’ G-League team practices there at times, but like the rest of basketball they find their season suspended.

Hopefully, this arena helps save some lives in the California capital. That would be the most important thing ever to happen in the building.

WNBA postpones season

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed off his belief that the NBA could resume in May.

It’s just already clear, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be unsafe to hold professional basketball games that soon.

WNBA release:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15.  While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.

Many top female players – including Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese, who tested positive for coronavirus – play overseas during the WNBA offseason. That frequency of travel makes it even riskier for WNBA teams to gather any time soon.

The WNBA will still hold its draft April 17, conducting proceedings virtually. That could provide lessons to the NBA as it determines how to handle its draft.

Joel Embiid, 76ers owners pledging $1.3M for fighting coronavirus

76ers owner Josh Harris and Joel Embiid
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Joel Embiid just showed up 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer by pledging to pay team employees who were set to have their pay cut. Amid widespread backlash, the 76ers backtracked on their salary-reduction plan.

Now – with a portion of Embiid’s coronavirus-related donation unallocated and Harris and Blitzer looking to change the narrative around them – those three are working together.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are contributing a combined $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of frontline healthcare workers.

According to a Penn Medicine press release, “The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.”

This is great.

Some Utah Jazz employees laid off as part of cutback across owner’s businesses

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The Philadephia 76ers came in early, trying to force 20 percent cutbacks in salaries across the franchise’s staff. That lasted less than 24 hours before the backlash hit, the net worth of the team’s primary owner, Joshua Harris, was trending on Twitter, and the decision was reversed.

That stopped other owners from making a similar move or laying employees off for a while, but not long after the top 100 earners at the NBA League office — including Commissioner Adam Silver — were given a 20 percent pay reduction. The worsening economic crisis caused by the coronavirus shutdown of the United States is pushing NBA owners to act.

On Friday, the Utah Jazz — owned by the Larry H. Miller Group, which in total has more 80 different companies under its umbrella — sent this message to Adrian Wojnarowski ESPN:

“Due to the impact on our customer-facing businesses from this unprecedented pandemic, the (Miller Group) …. unfortunately had to make difficult decisions to reduce a small percentage of our workforce. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to manage and reduce costs, including executive compensation, and have reached a point where we have had to say farewell to a limited number of our valued employees.

“We have connected with our associates with outplacement services and aligned them with employers who have immediate hiring needs. We remain focused on helping our communities stay healthy.”

Reports out of Utah say these are layoffs that hit a lot of people and could be permanent.

It’s not fair, but little is fair right now. As noted, this is not just a layoff of some Jazz employees but also people at other businesses across the Larry H. Miller company.

Expect other NBA owners to follow suit soon, too. Not all, but some. Like owners of businesses of all sizes, they have been both hit hard in the short term and see a looming recession beyond the coronavirus. They will be looking to save money.