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Kawhi Leonard having fun with offense being run through him in Toronto

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In his final full, healthy season in San Antonio, Kawhi Lenard was the fulcrum of Gregg Popovich’s offense. While he was getting up 17.7 shots per game, this was still the Spurs with their egalitarian ways — touches were spread around — and guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol had to get theirs.

In Toronto, it’s different — Leonard is the sun the rest of the planets revolve around. Leonard has averaged 20.9 shot attempts per game this postseason.

This is fun for him.

“Obviously, it’s a lot more fun when you’re getting plays called for you and you’re able to live your childhood dream in being able to shoot the ball 20 times a game,” Leonard said the day before Game 2 of the NBA Finals. “The offense is coming toward you rather than just being out there doing one job.”

Leonard is asked to do a lot for the Raptors — initiate the offense, and defend the other team’s best player. It’s what he wants, but Leonard is quick to not let the spotlight rest on him, he wants to share that with his teammates, too.

In Game 1 the Warriors made it a point not to let Leonard beat them singlehandedly, trapping him, bringing double teams, and generally trying to get the ball out of his hands. Leonard handled that with his dispassionate calmness like he does everything else.

“I’m trying to make the right play out there, and obviously, if there are two people on me, somebody is open,” Leonard said. “I could create a collapse situation. It’s really not about me. If they play defense like that, guys are going to step up and make shots. All I could do is keep making the right play. When I do get a free look, make my shots, and go back on other end and play defense. It’s just not about me scoring or trying to get my offense off. It’s a whole collective group out there playing basketball.”

Other guys did step up and make shots — Pascal Siakam had 32 points, Marc Gasol 20 — and that has the Raptors up 1-0 on the two-time defending champions.

This is fun for Leonard — this run, the way the Raptors are playing basketball right now (whether it is enough to keep him in Toronto after this season is not a hand he is tipping). It may not show on his face, but Leonard is enjoying himself.

“I feel like I made some big shots in my career before. I mean, obviously not like the ones now, but it’s been fun,” Leonard said. “I can’t complain about my career. I had a great time each step of the way. I had fun with my whole journey.”

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

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.

Kemba Walker gets super-max eligibility with All-NBA voting; Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson miss out

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Super-max contracts have made All-NBA teams incredibly important.

This year’s selections (first-team votes, second-team votes, third-team votes and voting points in parentheses):

First team

G: James Harden, HOU (100-0-0-500)

G: Stephen Curry, GSW (91-9-0-482)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (100-0-0-500)

F: Paul George, OKC (71-25-3-433)

C: Nikola Jokic, DEN (59-38-2-411)

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, POR (8-87-5-306)

G: Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-52-39-195)

F: Kevin Durant, GSW (29-71-0-358)

F: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (0-73-23-242)

C: Joel Embiid, PHI (40-57-4-375)

Third team

G: Russell Westbrook, OKC (1-43-44-178)

G: Kemba Walker, CHA (0-4-39-51)

F: Blake Griffin, DET (0-13-76-115)

F: LeBron James, LAL (0-13-72-111)

C: Rudy Gobert, UTA (1-5-69-89)

Also receiving votes: Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-31-34); Klay Thompson, GSW (0-3-18-27); Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN (0-0-20-20); LaMarcus Aldridge, SAS (0-2-11-17); Danilo Gallinari, LAC (0-1-4-7); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-0-7-7); Mike Conley, MEM (0-0-4-4); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-0-4-4); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-0-4-4); Nikola Vucevic, ORL (0-0-4-4); Dwyane Wade, MIA (0-1-0-3); Luka Doncic, DAL (0-1-0-3); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-0-3); DeMar DeRozan, SAS (0-0-3-3); D’Angelo Russell, BRK (0-0-3-3); Tobias Harris, PHI (0-0-2-2); Devin Booker, PHO (0-0-1-1); Eric Gordon, HOU (0-0-1-1); Jrue Holiday, NOP (0-0-1-1); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-0-1-1); Lou Williams, LAC (0-0-1-1); Marvin Bagley III, SAC (0-0-1-1); Domantas Sabonis, IND (0-0-1-1); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-0-1-1); Myles Turner, IND (0-0-1-1)

The fallout:

  • Kemba Walker is now eligible for a five-year super-max contract projected to be worth $221 million over five years. Will the Hornets offer it? Would he accept it? Difficult decisions for both sides as he enters free agency this summer.
  • The Wizards dodged a bullet with Bradley Beal placing a fairly distant seventh among guards for three All-NBA spots. A super-max extension for him would have been too large a commitment right now, and not offering it threatened to alienate him. Forces would have been pushing toward a trade. Now, Washington’s options with Beal – who has two years left on his contract – are wide open. If he continues to play well and earns All-NBA in a future season, the Wizards could justify giving him the super-max then.
  • Likewise, the Warriors avoid their payroll skyrocketing as far into the stratosphere. Klay Thompson didn’t make All-NBA and therefore his max contract is capped at five years, projected $190 million. Considering he seems so happy in Golden State, the extra spending power of the super-max likely would have only cost the Warriors money without actually making Thompson more likely to stay.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns missed his last chance to trigger the super-max in his rookie scale extension, which will pay him a projected $158 million over the next five seasons. He would have earned about $32 million more with an All-NBA selection. The Timberwolves now have Towns secured at the lower amount. They surely hope the sense of urgency he showed late this season persists.
  • Damian Lillard has clinched eligibility to sign a super-max extension this offseason (four years, projected $193 million) or the 2020 offseason (five years, projected $250 million). He’ll reportedly ink the deal this summer with the Trail Blazers.
  • Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible in the 2020 offseason for a super-max extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years. He’ll probably sign it. But until he does, all eyes will be on him.
  • Anthony Davis can this offseason sign a five-year, super-max extension projected to be worth $235 million with the Pelicans. He doesn’t want to. David Griffin has made noise about keeping Davis into 2020 free agency. But because he missed All-NBA this season, Davis isn’t guaranteed to be super-max-eligible then. He’d have to make All-NBA next season. So, New Orleans would have less of an upper hand in re-signing him – which makes a risky strategy even riskier.
  • The actual All-NBA teams look good to me. I would have picked Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday over Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker, but it was close. I have no significant complaints about the players chosen.
  • On the other hand, some of the stray votes: Dwyane Wade (second team!),  Eric Gordon, Domantas Sabonis, Marvin Bagley III. Wow.

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.