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Pau Gasol has new team and new role, mentor to young Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Pau Gasol is already having an impact in Portland without even taking the court: The 7-foot Spaniard has become something of a mentor for the younger Trail Blazers.

What a mentor to have.

He’s a six-time All Star and one of just four players with over 20,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, 3,500 assists and 1,500 blocks in his career, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. He’s got a pair of NBA championship rings from a stint with the Lakers.

About to embark on his 19th NBA season, Gasol is hoping for a fresh start with the Blazers. He came to Portland as a free agent in the offseason but he’s been limited at the start of training camp as he makes his way back from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.

Gasol played just three games for the Milwaukee Bucks last season before the surgery. The Bucks signed him in March after he reached a buyout agreement with the San Antonio Spurs. In total, he played in just 30 games last season, averaging 3.8 points and 4.6 rebounds.

“I hope to add leadership on and off the court, experience and also quality of play. I’m excited after a difficult health year, frustrating. I’m excited to just work on my body and be healthy so I can do what I do on the floor and just have fun with the guys and compete, and play as hard as I can,” he said.

Zach Collins, a fellow 7-footer heading into his third season with the Blazers, texted Gasol the moment he learned Portland had signed him. Collins told Gasol he was going to be a “sponge” when it comes to the veteran’s knowledge.

“A guy like that, he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s a legend, someone that has gone against the best in the biggest moments and shown out,” Collins said. “He’s an extremely good player, and extremely good dude.”

Skal Labissiere said he’s never been on a team that has had a player as accomplished as Gasol at his position.

“I grew up watching him. I remember being in Haiti, in front of my little TV and just watching Pau Gasol,” said Labissiere, who is in his second season with the Blazers. “I told him already, I’m like, `Man, I want to work with you throughout the year and learn some things.'”

Gasol, who prides himself on his longevity and ability to change with the game, is embracing the new role.

“I’m excited to work with these guys, with Zach, with Skal, and kind of share the mindset and attitude that I’ve had throughout my career as far as getting better, as far as going out there and giving your best, knowing that some nights it’s gonna go better than others, putting in the work, taking it seriously, doing whatever it takes, handling the emotions the ups and downs of the season – which you know sometimes can be challenging,” he said. “So within all that I’m gonna be there.”

Gasol’s addition to the Blazers roster was widely seen as a smart move, based on the team’s recent history with its big men.

The Blazers were hurt last season when Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg in a game against Brooklyn on March 25. Fortunately, the team had signed Enes Kanter just before the All-Star break and he was able to help fill in for Nurkic as Portland played its way into the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years.

Kanter moved on to the Boston Celtics in the offseason, and Nurkic – now with a steel rod in his leg – is expected to be sidelined by his injury until the new year.

So, the Blazers shored up the position in the offseason, adding not just Gasol, but also Hassan Whiteside. Collins will likely see time at center, too.

Gasol is hopeful he’ll be ready to go on opening night. But he’s also aware it’s a long season, and the finish matters more than the start.

“My mindset and motivation is really to get back on the court and feel well and play well, and play the game that I love to play,” he said. “But, also, with really the goal in mind to help this team have the best possible chance at the end of the year. And that requires being ready from today on. Whatever it is that I need to do, and that I can do, I’m willing to do.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo: If Bucks underperform whether to re-sign ‘becomes a lot more difficult’

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Around the league, the consensus among team executives is Giannis Antetokounmpo is almost a lock to sign a super-max contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks next summer.

Almost.

Which is why other teams are keeping an eye on the situation, just in case.

The Bucks are a contending team and the only home Antetokounmpo has known in the United States — the only place he has ever been able to live comfortably and happily with his family — but he keeps leaving the door just a little open. He did that at the end of last season. He did it again over the summer speaking a Harvard University professor who was researching the Bucks turnaround and the challenges of a small market team in the NBA. Via the Journal Sentinel.

“I want the Bucks to build a winning culture,” Antetokounmpo is quoted as saying. “So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”

Define “underperforming.” Do the Bucks need to make the NBA Finals? What if they lose in a close seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to Philadelphia? Anything short of the conference finals — barring a major injury, of course — would be a disappointment. Is this Antetokounmpo just keeping pressure on the organization to spend and put together a winner?

Leaving Milwaukee would mean leaving a lot of money on the table — only the Bucks can re-sign Antetokounmpo to a five-year, $247 million supermax contract next summer. Bucks GM Jon Horst said Milwaukee will offer it (then got fined for saying they would offer it, even though it’s obvious). If Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign it, the Bucks will be forced to consider trading him (or lose him for nothing), or find a way to win him over before his contract ends in 2021.

Because of money, comfort level, and playing for a contender, most teams don’t think Antetokounmpo is going anywhere as a free agent next summer.

But they are watching. Just in case.

Jamal Crawford makes not-so-subtle pitch on Twitter for spot on Lakers roster

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The Lakers have made LeBron James their point guard this season, the shot creator with the ball in his hands.

That worked with limited success in a season-opening loss to the Clippers. LeBron tried to force-feed the ball to Anthony Davis much of the night (leading to five turnovers). The Clippers adjusted to defend LeBron/Davis actions as the game wore on — switching but having the big man stay back and daring LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender, neither of which he did well. When Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee was on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing, so the Clippers clogged the paint. In the end, LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night, including 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter.

Laker coach Frank Vogel was stuck because he didn’t have another good playmaking option (his next best guys for that, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma, are both out injured).

Free agent Jamal Crawford has an idea and voiced it on Twitter.

Crawford is one of the best veteran free agents available

And no, this is not going to happen.

The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts already and the one non-guaranteed they are carrying is Howard (teams can only carry 15 players). If the Lakers waived Howard they would need to replace him with another center. The Lakers could eat the contract of Troy Daniels or Jared Dudley to create a roster spot for a free agent, but they are nowhere near making that kind of move yet. Even if they were, Crawford might not be the guy, he creates shots more for himself than others.

Crawford could help the right team, the man can still get buckets off the bench. He averaged 7.9 points per game last season and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last year. There are downsides — Crawford is 39, has slowed in recent years, and his defense is not good — but in the right role he can help.

Just not the Lakers.

Good try, though.

Draymond Green opens up about, takes blame for last season’s rift with Kevin Durant

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At the time last November, some wondered if Draymond Green‘s on-court, over-the-top argument with Kevin Durant — which extended into the locker room, where Green reportedly called Durant a “b****” and questioned his commitment to the Warriors because of KD’s pending free agency — would doom the Warriors down the line in the playoffs.

Green was more worried about what it would do to his friendship with Durant.

That’s what Green said on The Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, a  joint interview with Green and Warriors GM Bob Myers. Green also said the team suspending him for a game ultimately forced him to step back and think about the incident.

“I started to tell myself in my mind, ‘Wow, [Myers is] flipping on me,’ and it just felt like, ‘Wow, OK, is this not the guy I’ve known for all these years? Is he turning on me?’ And I started to tell myself all of these things, and then everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God, the Warriors sided with Kevin Durant.’…

“I just had to accept the fact that I was wrong. And once I was able to get over my stubbornness and accept the fact that I was wrong, I was able to move on. I lost [Durant’s] trust. How do I get that back? Not so we can win a championship or we can win some games … but I actually loved this guy, like that’s really my brother. And so not knowing what’s next in our relationship bothered me more.”

Green said he eventually apologized to Durant and he thought the relationship was repaired. However, Green added that Durant’s comments to the Wall Street Journal this summer that he never felt he fit in with the guys in Golden State really bothered him.

The Green and Durant incident ultimately did not cost the Warriors a title, worn-down ligaments and tendons that snapped did that (as well as an outstanding Raptors team).

Did what Green said push Durant out the door, ultimately to Brooklyn? Only Durant knows the answer to that, but it felt like KD was eyeing the door before Green got in his face.

As for their relationship, if Shaq and Kobe can get along now there’s no reason to worry about Durant and Green.

 

Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet each go off for 34 points against Pelicans (VIDEO)

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Apparently lifting those insanely-large championship rings didn’t wear out Pascal Siakam‘s and Fred Van Vleet’s shooting arms.

Siakam looked like a guy ready to earn that new $130 million contract, and Van Vleet looked like the guy from the NBA Finals who just kept hitting shots and making plays. Each of them scored 34 points — Van Vleet did it on 12-of-18 shooting — helping left the Raptors to a 130-122 overtime win.

Check out the video of Siakam and Van Vleets buckets above.

We’ll see what the Raptors roster looks like after the trade deadline, but as assembled this is a pretty good team that’s going to win a lot of games in the East. Especially is Siakam can continue this level of play and take another step forward off of last season’s Most Improved Player campaign.