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Trail Blazers spend to keep problems from compounding, but not enough to get better

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NBCSports.com’s 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.

The Trail Blazers didn’t extend Shabazz Napier his $3,452,308 qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. Portland replaced him with Seth Curry, who signed for $2,795,000 for one year. It appeared to be a cost-cutting swap.

But Napier signed with the Nets for just $1,942,422 next season (with an unguaranteed second year, to boot). Maybe the Trail Blazers were actually paying to upgrade their third guard.

Or maybe they just misread the market.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

Portland is still hamstrung from its summer of 2016, when the salary cap skyrocketed and the Trail Blazers splurged on several subpar players. They haven’t won a playoff series since, and the last two offseasons have included a slow bleed of talent from Portland.

At least the bleed is truly slow.

The Trail Blazers’ biggest loss was Ed Davis, who signed a one-year, $4,449,000 contract with Brooklyn. He was a solid backup who fortified the rotation. Portland will surely bank on second-year big Zach Collins to play a larger role, and maybe he’ll be up for the challenge. But it would have been reassuring if Davis were available as insurance in the event the younger Collins isn’t ready.

On the bright side, the Trail Blazers are fast-tracking Collins only into a larger reserve role – not into the starting lineup.

Portland re-signed starting center Jusuf Nurkic to an astonishingly reasonable four-year, $48 million contract. It seemed possible the Trail Blazers would be content to let Nurkic take his qualifying offer, play cheap next season then walk next summer as Collins ascends. But Nurkic agreed to this team-friendly number, and Portland wisely spent more than necessary this season to secure him for the following three years.

The Trail Blazers also paid cash as part of a trade for the No. 37 pick to get Gary Trent Jr., a superb shooter who should be more ready to contribute than No. 24 pick Anfernee Simons, a de facto high schooler.

Portland is still on track to pay the luxury tax this season. The cost-saving moves of the summer might just reduce the bill. Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen is far more willing to spend than most, and it’s to his team’s benefit.

The panic of Portland quickly agreeing to a minimum contract with Nik Stauskas in the opening moments of free agency was overwrought. Nearly all teams fill the end of their roster with minimum players. The Trail Blazers just aggressively targeted the minimum player they wanted before conducting other business or hoping a better player fell into the minimum tier. It’s a strategy more teams should take.

But Portland getting the clear-minimum player it wanted is not exactly inspiring. None of this offseason was.

The Trail Blazers seem to be just waiting out the contracts of Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard and hoping for the best. With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in their primes, that stagnancy is disappointing.

I’m just not sure there’s a better alternative short of a massive luxury-tax bill for a team that’d still land in the same success range Portland has been the last few years. That seems unfair to ask of Allen.

Offseason grade: C

Damian Lillard: ‘That would be an honor to be lifetime Blazer’

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Portland is essentially running it back this season with the core of the team that won 49 games and was the three seed last season, then got swept by the Pelicans in the first round. They retained Jusuf Nurkic and made some nice additions — picking up Seth Curry will help — but strapped by bad contracts there were no bold moves.

However, there were rumors of potential bold moves floating around the league — trading Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum and finding another star somewhere. It didn’t happen. Moving bad contracts this summer was particularly hard.

However, that was enough to get Michael Scotto of The Athletic to ask Lillard about it.

“That would be an honor to be a lifetime Blazer,” Lillard told The Athletic at the NBA 2K launch in New York. “Not a lot of guys get to play for one organization for their entire career. Obviously, I love playing for the Blazers. I love living in the city. I feel like I’ve established a connection with the people and the culture of the city just as much as I’ve done on the basketball court, so that’s important. But, as we know, it’s a business and a lot of times organizations have other plans, and sometimes players change their stance on that. But to be a lifetime Blazer, that would be great. I’m all on board for it.”

Portland fans (most of them, anyway) and the front office would love for that to happen. However, if there is a sense the team is in a real rut, all options will be considered.

The Blazers want to find a way to keep the backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum together while getting the team to take a step forward into elite status. It’s just not that easy to do. Although GM Neil Olshay added some shooting this season, and maybe Zach Collins/Nurkic can take steps forward along the front line, the Blazers are a team in the big middle of the West. They could finish with the three seed again, they could miss the playoffs if a couple of things don’t go their way, or they could finish anywhere in between — there are at least eight teams, maybe 10 (depending on what you think of the Clippers and Mavericks) vying for the six remaining playoff slots in the West. The margin for error is small.

If things don’t go well, or if the Blazers make the playoffs and again get swept out in the first round, trade rumors for Lillard — and moreso for McCollum — will be back with force next summer. No matter how much the Blazers front office or Lillard himself say, he will forever be in Portland.

Rumor: Dwyane Wade “inclined” to play one more year but no decision yet

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Manu Ginobili made his decision, he is walking away from the NBA after 16 seasons (and four rings). Ginobili wrote later in an Argentinian paper that he knew for a year he was retiring, he just didn’t talk about it to keep his options open.

Dwyane Wade has yet to make a decision, and his situation just feels different. As if he really is undecided. He could play one more season for the Heat — he’s not playing anywhere else — or hang it up now, stay home, and just keep an eye on the comments on his wife’s Instagram account.

The Heat are patiently waiting, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald published this rumor on Wade.

One person who has spoken to Dwyane Wade – as well as a Heat person – have the impression that Wade seems inclined to play this season, but neither believes it’s definite and nobody outside his inner circle definitively knows his intentions. The Heat opens camp a month from Tuesday.

Wade reportedly hosted an NBA training camp of sorts in San Clemente, Cal. this week, with Justise Winslow, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell and Jahlil Okafor among those in attendance.

It’s those workouts that usually tell a player its time to retire — the guys still love the games, they love the camaraderie of the locker room, but when they don’t want to put in the work to get themselves fully ready to compete every night that they know it’s time to walk away. As LeBron said on “The Shop,” when you start to cheat the game it’s time to step down.

Is Wade there? Only he knows. The rest of us will find out some time in the next month.

C.J. McCollum on his latest Warriors comments: ‘I’m happy stop making me look like a scorn man sheesh’

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Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum explained Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors with an analogy about getting jumped by a gang with your brothers then joining that gang and forgetting about your brothers. McCollum called stars passing through Golden State to win big before joining another team – a la DeMarcus Cousins – “disgusting.”

Those comments have predictably generated plenty of discussion. But McCollum dislikes how those discussions are being framed.

McCollum:

Not everything McCollum says is newsworthy. Nobody is ethically obligated to amplify every comment he makes in a lengthy interview. Everywhere I saw, McCollum’s quote was given clear context.

It’s not newsworthy McCollum called the Warriors great. We all know they’re great. That’s why their existence is controversial.

And McCollum didn’t say just that he would never join Golden State. He called it “disgusting” then elaborated many other players would have too much pride for that track. The rhetoric was sharp and wide-reaching.

I found McCollum’s comments interesting, and I’m happy he shared them. I didn’t necessarily agree, but I appreciate his perspective. The NBA is more fun when more players reveal their differing points of view.

So kudos to McCollum – and Andre Iguodala.

Iguodala:

McCollum:

McCollum totally forgot about Iguodala – but not incorrectly. Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson look like future Hall of Famers. Maybe Cousins gets there, too. But Iguodala doesn’t deserve it. He made only one All-Star game and mostly topped out at good-starter level. His Finals MVP – which should have gone to LeBron James or, if you insist on awarding a winning player, Curry – shouldn’t push Iguodala over the top.

The best part of McCollum’s Twitter defense today:

McCollum has won seven playoff games – including a series against the Clippers and a single game over the Warriors in 2016. He could have easily brought those up.

But “Im trying Jennifer” is a far more enjoyable response.

C.J. McCollum on stars joining Warriors: “I think that’s disgusting”

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It remains the best “I want to start a passionate and irrational debate” topic around the NBA: Stars jumping to a contending team. Mainly the Warriors. Kevin Durant got a lot of “he took the easy way” flack when he did it (and he could calm a lot of the debate around him by just saying “I’m winning, I’m happy, that’s all that matters” but that’s not KD’s nature, so he pushes back on the narrative).

This summer it was DeMarcus Cousins. It’s not like there was some great demand for his services coming off a torn Achilles, but his signing with the Warriors was the biggest surprise of the summer and led to a lot of “how do we stop them?” comments. (I don’t know, maybe offer Cousins more than an exception contract. Just a thought.)

C.J. McCollum — touring China to promote his shoes — was on China Central Television and said he would never do that.

“I would never do anything of that nature, I think that’s disgusting… I was not built like those guys, I was raised differently… I think some players will take that route, but most guys have too much pride, they want to do well or certain organizations that are not going to jump the bandwagon.”

Plenty of fans and other players agree with McCollum.

I don’t — I like the fact players such as Durant (and LeBron James, and others) are taking control of their own destinies more. They shouldn’t be just puppets of GMs. It’s okay that the Warriors drafted and developed Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the rest because that’s “natural” but the second a star player says “I like the culture and style they built there, I want to be part of that” it’s wrong? I don’t buy the “guys have to do it themselves” line of thinking because guys never won titles on their own — not Bill Russell, not Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan. They were all on stacked teams. The difference is the players are making more of those choices now rather than leaving it to the white guys in suits.

McCollum is on a 49-win, three-seed team with another elite player in Damian Lillard, a franchise that was looking all summer for a way to add another star or more talent to the roster. But I guess that’s different somehow.