Jusuf Nurkic

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Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

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The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.

Coach Terry Stotts signs multi-year extension to stay with Portland

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The buzz around the league had been that Terry Stotts was unhappy he had not gotten a contract extension last summer for GM Neil Olshey and the Portland Trail Blazers. Stotts still had two seasons on his contract at that time, but after this season — with a run to the conference finals that just ended — he was about to head into a lame duck year. Chris Haynes reported at Yahoo Sports that if Stotts didn’t get an extension this summer he might not be back.

The extension is done, Olshey announced on Tuesday.

This is well deserved.

The Trail Blazers won 53 games this season and for the second year in a row were the No. 3 seed in the West. This season they advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since Rasheed Wallace and Scottie Pippen were leading the team back in 2000. This year’s Blazers found a third option in Jusuf Nurkic (who was injured for the playoffs and the team made the run without him).

Stotts tied all that together with smart play designs that fit the personnel.

“It’s a disappointing loss, but for me it was an outstanding season,” Stotts said after his team was eliminated Monday. “The guys in the locker room are special. It’s been a special season. Always tough to lose the last game of the year, but I couldn’t be more proud of the group that we’ve had.”

It’s a season they can build upon, locking up the coach was part of that.

Blazers start hot, again. Warriors come back, again, win in OT to eliminate Portland

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Monday night saw the third installment in the Portland/Golden State movie franchise. We had seen this same plot in the last two films/games— Portland races out to an early lead thanks to unexpected hero, Golden State comes back and executes better down the stretch, then Golden State finds a way to win.

Monday night was just more dramatic.

It was almost the Meyers Leonard game — he had a career-best 25 points before the half and finished with 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting.

Adding to the drama, the Warriors delayed their comeback to the fourth quarter, but comeback they did.

Stephen Curry — who had a triple-double on the night and had 37 points to lead all scorers — sparked the comeback but was almost remembered for traveling with an exaggerated Harden step back rather than taking a potential game-winning two (and his brother Seth Curry was all over the travel call).

In the end, none of that mattered.

It was Draymond Green — who also had a triple-double with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists — that hit a dagger three in OT off a Curry assist, and that proved to be too much for the Trail Blazers to overcome.

Golden State won 119-117 in a game of little defense, and with that takes the series in a 4-0 sweep.

The Warriors will now have nine days off to get Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins healthy — all three sat out this game — before taking on either the Bucks or Toronto in the Finals (which will start in the East city).

Portland is done for the season, but they should look back with pride on the growth this team has shown. They found a third star in Jusuf Nurkic, and then without him still made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. This season was a step forward for Portland, something to build on.

Portland just did not have the matchups or answers for Golden State.

Steve Kerr, without three guys who started Game 1 of the playoffs against the Clippers, threw out the kind of rotations usually seen on the second night of a back-to-back in January, but the Warriors depth came through. Kevon Looney had a strong game with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Shaun Livingston had eight points, Jordan Bell started and had 7.

More than depth, what separated the teams in this series was Golden State could crank up the defense when it needed it. The Warriors played with more defensive intensity in the fourth, holding the Trail Blazers to 6-of-23 shooting. In overtime, Portland shot 3-of-10.

The Warriors shot just 3-of-12 in overtime, but had five offensive rebounds and Green’s dagger three, and that was enough. They won a tough game without their stars. It’s the kind of win you expect from champions.

It’s a movie we have seen before.

On scars, sutures, and healed wounds in Portland

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From Mount Tabor to Slabtown, Rip City has been waiting for this. After a 19-year hiatus, the Portland Trail Blazers are headed to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.

CJ McCollum was the hero at Pepsi Center on Sunday, scoring 37 points and grabbing nine rebounds, closing the game with an incredible fourth quarter effort as the Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets, 100-96. It’s a game that fans in Portland will be talking about long after this season concludes, whenever that may be.

Right now it’s a celebration. In Oregon, Instagram stories have filled with posts of people screaming, crying, and hugging their friends, sometimes back-to-back and often all at once. Twitter has been set ablaze, the caps lock button stuck for some, a form of Internet yelling omnipresent. Phone calls have been made between fathers and daughters, e-mails sent, and horns honked down Hawthorne, Burnside, Couch, and Flanders streets.

After a long winter, the sun is shining in Portland. But this story started long before May 12, 2019.

At a distance, it might not be obvious that Sunday meant more than just a redemption of what went wrong last season for this team. Their Game 7 win over the Nuggets was, for many fans, cosmic payback for so much of what has been “almost” for the Blazers; a salve to heal the wounds of nearly two decades.

For the sweep at the hands of the Pelicans last year.

For the LaMarcus Aldridge-led teams that saw their hopes dashed when Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles against the Dallas Mavericks in 2015.

For the injury-plagued teams who had to do without No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden.

For the shortened legacy of Brandon Roy, whose career finished having never made it past the first round, and who never played in a Game 7.

For the fourth quarter collapse to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, a Game 7 disaster that saw that team fail to make it out of the first round again.

Quietly, an underlying opinion in Portland is that the franchise is snakebitten. A culture of supporting their lovable losers — even if “losers” isn’t a fair description — was how Blazers supporters operated. Deprived of stars to injury, coming up short, failing projections… all of it wired the synapses in the collective brains of Portlanders to expect the worst. And with a hum-drum offseason in 2018, who could blame Rip City on their lack of belief that this spring would be any different?

That thinking started to shift as the 2018-19 season started to gather steam. Before, the Blazers were criticized for keeping its major core intact. But at a certain point, that consistency began to be additive for Portland. This year, outside of Lillard, this team’s chemistry slowly became its best asset.

The Blazers swelled forward, with Jusuf Nurkic coming forth as Portland’s second-most important player on both sides of the ball. Mid-season additions of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter bolstered Portland’s bench, and guys like Zach Collins, Seth Curry, Evan Turner, and Jake Layman all produced for Portland in a way they hadn’t before.

Still, heading into this postseason, gallows humor was the vernacular of choice in Multnomah County. Nurkic broke his leg with three weeks left in the regular season, and despite a strong coming on by Moe Harkless late in the year, it wasn’t a guarantee that the plucky Blazers would be able to get out of the first round.

Now Portland is heading to the Western Conference Finals to take on the Golden State Warriors. That in and of itself is medicine for the soul of Rip City.

Portland has been one of the best franchises in the NBA since 2000. That’s due to their dedicated fanbase and because of their former owner, the late Paul Allen. The Microsoft billionaire’s willingness to spend was only surpassed by his desire to win, and Portland has had just five losing seasons since the last time it was in the WCF.

Call it small market disease, underdog syndrome, or a chip on their shoulder, Blazers fans have craved the respect they’ve felt they deserved. They have wanted it for being good but not great; for loving this team without question; for being an outlier in success for a city its size. And yet, real or imagined, the answer has always come back: what have you done lately? In beating Denver, Portland now has something real — something material — to offer in support of how they’ve felt about this team all along.

So injuries, “almosts”, and alley-oops be damned. This one you can’t take away from the Blazers.