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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.

How do you feel about Trae Young, Jeremy Lin backcourt?

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Trae Young is the future of the Atlanta Hawks. General manager Travis Schlenk bet big on draft night, trading away the rights to No. 3 pick Luka Doncic — the EuroLeague MVP a lot of scouts were very high on — to get Young as the point guard of the future and the face of the Hawks.

That’s part of why Schlenk went and got Jeremy Lin, to mentor Young.

However, they also will be playing together some, Lin told the media at a his charity game press conference in China (translation and interview with Young via Michael Scotto of The Athletic).

“I think I can help (Young) a lot and share my experience playing in the NBA with him. I know the Hawks plan to use us on the court together. I had played for the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets that put two point guards on the court simultaneously, so I know Trae and I could play very fast. Coach Lloyd Pierce, one of the (former) coaches for the Warriors, was also my coach, so I have talked to him already. I’m really excited, about the upcoming season, it’s going to be fun.”

Said Young: “I think we’ll work really well together. This is a rebuilding team, and we’re going to try some things. Some are going to work, some aren’t, so we’re just going to work together and do whatever we can to turn this franchise around.”

I want to see this. It may be a disaster defensively, but it could be fun to watch.

Coach Lloyd Pierce and the Hawks should be experimental this season, he told NBC Sports at Summer League this was going to be a season of learning for everyone. With an athletic big like John Collins on the court, the Hawks could play Lin and Young in the backcourt, slide Kent Bazemore to the three and Taurean Prince to the four, and just get up and down the court, using athleticism and shooting. Try everything. The Hawks are not going to win a lot, so make this a learning experience for everyone.

Kemba Walker: ‘As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it’

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Kemba Walker is an All-Star level point guard who is heading into a contract season — he is a free agent in 2019. Walker is also a New York native, born in the Bronx he attended Rice High School in Harlem.

Combine all that with the fact both the Knicks and Nets will have enough cap space for a max (or more than one max) contract next summer, and you’ve got yourself a rumor.

One Walker shot down talking to Michael Scotto of The Athletic.

“As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it,” Walker replied. “I’m a Hornet, and I’m planning on being a Hornet for a long time, so, yeah, I’m not sure about that (New York).”

Walker has said many times he wants to stay in Charlotte (providing they pay the market rate and are trying to compete).

That said, this is the NBA, so never say never.

A lot of NBA teams have been poised, waiting to see if new Hornets’ GM Mitch Kupchak — with the approval of Michael Jordan — decided to go full rebuild and trade Walker this summer. He has not, talking only about keeping this squad together. The Hornets are a solid team with Walker and Nicolas Batum leading the way, one that could make the playoffs in the East if things break right for new coach James Borrego. However, they will not be anywhere near contenders and if things don’t fall their way they may well miss the playoffs next season. Again. The Hornets also are not a bad team, meaning they are not going to get a high pick (without some lottery luck). They are stuck in the NBA’s middle ground, a place most GMs want to avoid.

Trading Walker could jump-start the rebuild in Charlotte, but the Hornets don’t seem to be going that direction. Yet. This summer they signed Tony Parker, Malik Monk looked good in Summer League, and they got Dwight Howard out of the locker room. They say they are a team poised to make a playoff push.

If that push falls apart early in Charlotte, watch and see if their plans change. And what that could mean for Walker. And the Knicks.

However, as of now, Walker wants to remain a Hornet, and they want to keep him. Which crowds New York out of the picture.

 

Nets reportedly not talking contract extension with D’Angelo Russell

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The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Karl-Anthony Towns, is in talks to get a max contract extension with the Timberwolves. The No. 4 pick in that draft, Kristaps Porzingis, will get a max one as well. Devin Booker, who was taking 13th, just got one from the Suns.

And then there’s the No. 2 pick, D'Angelo Russell. Drafted by the Lakers but shipped to Brooklyn as the sweetener in the Timofey Mozgov salary dump (the Lakers had drafted Lonzo Ball and were moving on), he is coming off some nice-but-not-thrilling NBA seasons and a knee surgery. That’s not going to get him an extension in the range he wants.

The two sides are not even talking, according to Michael Scotto at The Athletic.

Brooklyn and Russell’s camp have not discussed an extension yet a league source told The Athletic. The 22-year-old guard is owed $7.02 million this upcoming season and is eligible for a $9.16 million qualifying offer and restricted free agency next summer if he doesn’t agree to a rookie scale extension before the start of the regular season in October.

Russell, who attended the Nets’ NBA Summer League games, burst out of the gate on a tear last season averaging 20.9 points on 46 percent shooting, 5.7 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game in his first 12 games played before undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery.

The Nets like Russell, but this is the correct play — make him earn a big contract next season. Brooklyn will have him as a restricted free agent, let the market set the price.

Russell is playing for his contract next season — whether he does that within the system or breaks out of it to rack up numbers will be something to watch.

Report: Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns talking max extension

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Karl-Anthony Towns was the Third Team All-NBA center last season, averaging 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds a game, shooting 54.5 percent from the floor.

That in just his third NBA season.

He is the definition of a no-brainer max contract extension, and the two sides are talking about it according to Michael Scotto and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

The only negotiation is about what kind of contract Towns wants. He likely will sign the “designated” rookie-scale extension — what Andrew Wiggins signed with the Timberwolves last season — and that means five years and $158 million (25 percent of the salary cap). However, if he makes All-NBA again next year he can get 30 percent of the cap, or $190 million over five.

Offensively, Towns is going to earn that contract. However, if he really wants to lift Minnesota to contender level is defense has to get better and more consistent. He still does not read that end of the floor well, and the effort is not there nightly.

This deal is going to get done, but it leaves a lot of questions about the future of the Timberwolves. Towns is an elite-level player who Minnesota has to bring back, unquestionably, but Jimmy Butler is not a fan of Towns and his work ethic. There appear to be factions within the Timberwolves locker room, with the hard-driving Tom Thibodeau and his backers like Butler on one side, Towns and the younger players on another, and Wiggins off in his own world (everyone seems frustrated with him, especially after his lackluster effort and focus after signing his big deal a year ago). One way or another changes are coming to that team in the next year, the chemistry is rough, and signing Towns to a max extension may signal where the franchise is going to plant its flag.