Three things to know: Is it time for Lillard, Portland to hit reset button?

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Is it time for Lillard, Portland to hit reset button?

Jody Allen, you’re up.

The best NBA owners are active and involved — asking questions, challenging assumptions, setting up good processes — but in the end let the basketball people make the basketball decisions. Just because you are a tech genius and billionaire doesn’t mean you know basketball scouting/development/tactics.

However, there are times big picture decisions need to be made at the ownership level. Sometimes a franchise comes to a fork in the road, and those are ownership’s call.

Portland is at one of those moments.

Is it time for the Trail Blazers to trade players such as CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkicmaybe for Philly’s Ben Simmons, maybe to Indiana for their now-available stars — and try to retool a contender around Damian Lillard while the face of the franchise is still in his prime?

Or is it time to hit the reset button, move on from the Lillard era, and rebuild?

And which of those options does Lillard want?

In a “let’s throw a hand grenade in the middle of the chaotic room” story, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a piece Tuesday saying Lillard’s demands for a contract extension this summer — two years, $107 million, taking him into his age 36 season as the highest-paid player in the NBA — are complicating the search for a new GM because top executives would rather have a clean slate than a massive contract for an aging Lillard.

Lillard questioned the story’s sourcing.

Let’s put aside the questions about sources and how that story came to be, because it raises a valid question:

What is next for the Trail Blazers?

Lillard is a franchise icon who was playing at a top-10 in the NBA, bottom-of-the MVP ballot level until this recent injury and season. Do the Blazers retool around him and make another run at it?

Or, is it time to hit the reset button? Trade Lillard and rebuild.

Some potential GMs told Wojnarowski they prefer the rebuild path. Of course they did; rebuilding takes years and years, which means job security in an unstable business. But which fork in the road to take is not a GM’s call.

Who sits next in the President/GM chair, and what fork in the road the Trail Blazers take, fall to Allen (assuming she’s not going to sell the team, a persistent question since her brother Paul Allen died leaving her the team). The Trail Blazers were not her passion project like they were Paul’s — he was an active owner, asking questions, challenging assumptions. That is reportedly not Jody’s style.

But it needs to be for the next few months, at least.

2) Lakers impress with comfortable win over Celtics

When the Lakers are playing downhill and getting the rim, they are a dangerous team.

They did just that on Tuesday in a rivalry game against the Celtics, scoring 66 points in the paint and seemingly finishing at the rim at will. Westbrook was attacking (scroll down to the Highlight of the night below) and LeBron James shot 8-of-11 in the paint on his way to 30 points on the night.

This was the kind of win where you can see the Lakers maybe figuring it out, putting things together, finding lineups and rotations that work. Of course, it helps to figure things out against a Celtics team whose defense seems to be taking a step backward on this road trip, but the Lakers will take it.

More importantly, it was a Laker game where the defense was solid, holding the Celtics to a 103 offensive rating for the game. We can get into the things Boston did to help the Lakers out — starting with missing 3s and free throws — but again, the Lakers will take the victories on that end where they can get them. It’s a step forward.

Consistency has not been a Lakers strong suit this season, but you can see the Lakers’ path to contention on nights like this. It’s why nobody should be writing off a slow-starting LeBron James team, a lesson you would have thought everyone learned already.

3) Nets beat Mavericks, Durant plays 41 minutes but says not to worry about it

There is always drama around Kevin Durant and the Nets.

That drama is not about wins and losses. Despite Kyrie Irving thinking he’s making a stand or whatever he’s doing, the Nets are 17-7 and atop the East after beating the Mavericks 102-99 on Tuesday. Durant led the Nets with 24 points in that game, James Harden was right behind him with 23.

They also led the Nets in minutes — Durant played 41, Harden 42.

That’s where the controversy has been, that coach Steve Nash is overworking his two superstars — Durant has played at least 37 minutes in eight straight games. At age 33. And with a significant injury history.

After the game, Durant pushed back on the minutes narrative: “I know people might be concerned about my minutes and I got injured before and all this extra s***, but we’ll figure it out if I get there. Right now, I want to play basketball.”

It’s Steve Nash’s job to figure it out BEFORE Durant gets there, but he is stuck in a catch-22 and admitted it: “It’s not ideal to have [Durant] have such a burden, but I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more.”

It’s a long season and at some point Nash needs to get Durant some lighter nights and a few nights off. The Nets are playing for May and June, not wins in December. Nash has to think big picture and convince Durant and Harden to get on board at points.

Of course, what would help with all this is if one particular Net would get the jab and join his team, but that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

Highlight of the Night: Russell Westbrook dunks, gets dunked on

Russell Westbrook was attacking the rim and trying to defend it against Boston, and the result was highlights. Westbrook brought the ball up the court, decided Josh Richardson would not keep him out of the paint, and got to the rim for a monster slam.

Then there was Jayson Tatum, realizing Carmelo Anthony can’t begin to guard him, spinning around and attacking the basket, Westbrook rotating over to help, but at that point nobody was denying Tatum, and Westbrook ended up on the wrong end of the poster.

Last night’s scores:

Brooklyn 102, Dallas 99
New York 121, San Antonio 109
LA Lakers 117, Boston 102

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.

 

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

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.