Pau Gasol

Getty Images

Pau Gasol has new team and new role, mentor to young Blazers

1 Comment

PORTLAND, Ore. — Pau Gasol is already having an impact in Portland without even taking the court: The 7-foot Spaniard has become something of a mentor for the younger Trail Blazers.

What a mentor to have.

He’s a six-time All Star and one of just four players with over 20,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, 3,500 assists and 1,500 blocks in his career, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. He’s got a pair of NBA championship rings from a stint with the Lakers.

About to embark on his 19th NBA season, Gasol is hoping for a fresh start with the Blazers. He came to Portland as a free agent in the offseason but he’s been limited at the start of training camp as he makes his way back from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.

Gasol played just three games for the Milwaukee Bucks last season before the surgery. The Bucks signed him in March after he reached a buyout agreement with the San Antonio Spurs. In total, he played in just 30 games last season, averaging 3.8 points and 4.6 rebounds.

“I hope to add leadership on and off the court, experience and also quality of play. I’m excited after a difficult health year, frustrating. I’m excited to just work on my body and be healthy so I can do what I do on the floor and just have fun with the guys and compete, and play as hard as I can,” he said.

Zach Collins, a fellow 7-footer heading into his third season with the Blazers, texted Gasol the moment he learned Portland had signed him. Collins told Gasol he was going to be a “sponge” when it comes to the veteran’s knowledge.

“A guy like that, he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s a legend, someone that has gone against the best in the biggest moments and shown out,” Collins said. “He’s an extremely good player, and extremely good dude.”

Skal Labissiere said he’s never been on a team that has had a player as accomplished as Gasol at his position.

“I grew up watching him. I remember being in Haiti, in front of my little TV and just watching Pau Gasol,” said Labissiere, who is in his second season with the Blazers. “I told him already, I’m like, `Man, I want to work with you throughout the year and learn some things.'”

Gasol, who prides himself on his longevity and ability to change with the game, is embracing the new role.

“I’m excited to work with these guys, with Zach, with Skal, and kind of share the mindset and attitude that I’ve had throughout my career as far as getting better, as far as going out there and giving your best, knowing that some nights it’s gonna go better than others, putting in the work, taking it seriously, doing whatever it takes, handling the emotions the ups and downs of the season – which you know sometimes can be challenging,” he said. “So within all that I’m gonna be there.”

Gasol’s addition to the Blazers roster was widely seen as a smart move, based on the team’s recent history with its big men.

The Blazers were hurt last season when Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg in a game against Brooklyn on March 25. Fortunately, the team had signed Enes Kanter just before the All-Star break and he was able to help fill in for Nurkic as Portland played its way into the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years.

Kanter moved on to the Boston Celtics in the offseason, and Nurkic – now with a steel rod in his leg – is expected to be sidelined by his injury until the new year.

So, the Blazers shored up the position in the offseason, adding not just Gasol, but also Hassan Whiteside. Collins will likely see time at center, too.

Gasol is hopeful he’ll be ready to go on opening night. But he’s also aware it’s a long season, and the finish matters more than the start.

“My mindset and motivation is really to get back on the court and feel well and play well, and play the game that I love to play,” he said. “But, also, with really the goal in mind to help this team have the best possible chance at the end of the year. And that requires being ready from today on. Whatever it is that I need to do, and that I can do, I’m willing to do.”

Pau Gasol reportedly agrees to one-year deal with Trail Blazers

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
1 Comment

Portland has tried to lure Pau Gasol to the Northwest before. In the summer of 2016, the Blazers reportedly put two-years, $40 million on the table, but Gasol chose the Spurs.

In a summer where the Trail Blazers have flirted with some old dalliances again, they are bringing Gasol into the mix. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news of an agreement.

Gasol, at age 39, is a shell of the All-NBA big man who joined forces with Kobe Bryant to win the Lakers a couple of titles. Injuries limited him to 30 games last season, he doesn’t move like he once did, and he averaged a career-low 3.9 points per game last season.

However, for a Portland team dreaming big heading into the season, Gasol is the kind of veteran big that is a solid pickup at the veteran minimum. With Jusuf Nurkic out to start the season, Gasol will join Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins in trying to soak up the minutes at the five and give the team some production. Plus, Gasol gives them a good locker room presence that will blend in on a veteran team.

It’s not a pickup that moves the needle for Portland, but it is a solid one.

LeBron, Anthony Davis and…Kemba? What are Lakers’ next steps to contention?

Getty Images
14 Comments

We have seen this before, the Lakers add a superstar player — Pau Gasol via trade, Shaquille O’Neal via free agency— and instantly vault up to being a title contender.

Of course, we have seen the Lakers add superstars in the offseason — say Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — and watch the whole thing blow up due to injuries and chemistry issues.

Neither of these scenarios is completely off the table with the LeBron James and Anthony Davis Lakers, which is going to be a reality now after the Lakers have agreed to a trade for Davis that sends Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and three first round picks (including the No. 4 pick in the 2019 Draft) to New Orleans.

The Lakers look like contenders on paper right now, but they have to round out the roster in a smart way.

Two key things will differentiate success and failure with these Lakers.

First is injuries. It’s obvious to state, but Davis has an injury history, and LeBron missed 18 games with a groin injury last season, the most time he has ever missed with an injury, but that’s what comes with age. If either or both miss significant time, this all comes apart.

Second is how the Lakers round out the roster. That is something the core of this Lakers’ front office did very poorly last season, we will see if lessons were learned.

After the trade, the Lakers will have on the roster LeBron, Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga… and that’s it. They need to add 10 players.

Los Angeles going to try and add a third star.

The Lakers will have $27.7 million available in cap space on July 1 — that is not enough to sign Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker to max deals. Both of them have been linked to the Lakers on various levels.

Sources have told me that after qualifying for a “supermax” contract extension (five years, $221 million), Walker is leaning heavily toward staying in Charlotte, a city he has grown to love (and his family enjoys). He could even give the Hornets a little hometown discount on the back end of that deal and make more than the max the Lakers or any other team could offer him. The question is, does this trade and the chance to chase a ring alter Walker’s thinking?

Butler, also, reportedly is leaning toward re-signing with the Sixers if they offer him a full five-year, $191 million max deal as expected (with Butler’s injury history, that fifth year only Philly can offer will matter to him). The same question about this deal changing his mindset applies to Butler as well.

The Lakers also could go after Kyrie Irving, although a number of people around the league view that as a longshot.

What the Lakers could do to max out Walker/Butler/Irving, as suggested by cap guru and consultant to NBA teams and agents Larry Coon, is to draft whoever the Pelicans want at No. 4, sign that player July 1, then trade him 30 days later (the first chance he is eligible) as part of the Davis deal where the salaries match up. It would delay the actual Davis trade but the  Lakers would have the $32.5 needed for a max slot for a player with 7-9 years experience.

The Lakers also could go after guys who are not stars but are high level role players and may just be a better fit, such as J.J. Redick. The Lakers could use that $27 million to land three or more quality, solid NBA rotation players. That’s an internal discussion Los Angeles need to have.

Beyond that, the Lakers will have the room exception at $4.8 million and no other space.

Just like last year, the Lakers will need to bring in veterans on minimum contracts — and this time they may want to get some shooting in the mix. The challenge there is guys are taking minimum contracts for a reason, if they could secure longer and more lucrative deals they would. There are far fewer vets willing to take a lot less to chase a ring than fans realize.

These are first world problems for the Lakers, they have so enough elite stars its hard to round out the roster. The art is in doing it right because there are other contenders out there who have done just that.

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.”

Kyrie Irving, Al Horford lead Celtics past Bucks 112-90 in opener

4 Comments

MILWAUKEE (AP) Kyrie Irving had 26 points and 11 assists, Al Horford added 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics cruised past the Milwaukee Bucks 112-90 on Sunday in the opener of their second-round playoff series.

Jaylen Brown chipped in with 19 points and Gordon Hayward had 13 off the bench for the Celtics. Boston controlled the game for long stretches and played stingy defense against MVP candidate Giannis Antetokoumpo, who scored 22 points but shot just 7 for 21. Antetokounmpo didn’t make his first field goal until the first minute of the second quarter.

Game 2 is Tuesday in Milwaukee.

Khris Middleton had 16 for Milwaukee, which completed a four-game sweep of the Detroit Pistons on Monday and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The Celtics came off a sweep of their own against Indiana.

The Celtics knocked Milwaukee out of the playoffs in seven games last year, winning the final game at home. This year, Milwaukee is the top seed in the East and has home-court advantage throughout the postseason after posting the NBA’s best record, but Boston didn’t play like an underdog in any way.

The Celtics jumped out early, leading by as many as 11 in the opening quarter. Boston shot 52% while the Bucks shot only 5 of 19.

The shooting woes continued for the Bucks until midway through the second quarter, when Milwaukee used a 15-0 run to pull even at 40. The teams then traded baskets with the Celtics grabbing a 52-50 lead at the half.

Boston used a 9-0 run in the third quarter to again build a double-digit lead, which grew to as much as 21 as Milwaukee again failed to make shots.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Boston players wore a black stripe with the No. 17 on their jerseys to honor Hall of Famer John Havlicek, who died Thursday at the age of 79. The team won eight championships during Havlicek’s 16 seasons with the Celtics. Havlicek was the MVP of the 1974 NBA Finals when the Celtics defeated the Bucks in Game 7 at the MECCA in Milwaukee. A moment of silence was held before tipoff. . G Marcus Smart traveled to Milwaukee but wasn’t in uniform. Smart has been out since suffering a left oblique tear on April 7. Smart has been practicing with the team but isn’t expected play in Game 2 either. “I don’t see any way that he’s available until what we thought initially, four to six (weeks) and I said at the start that four seems awfully aggressive,” coach Brad Stevens said. ….F/C Aron Baynes left the game in the third quarter after rolling his left ankle.

Bucks: Starting guard Malcolm Brogdon, who is recovering from a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot, remained out but took part in shooting drills before the game. He’s also expected to miss Game 2 before being re-evaluated. The 2017 Rookie of the Year has been out since March 15. . Center Pau Gasol (left foot soreness) was inactive. He missed the final 15 regular-season games and didn’t play in the opening round. There’s no timetable for his return.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

This story has been corrected to show the final score was 112-90 in the first paragraph.