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Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.

Damian Lillard: Players bypass super-max contracts due to media pressure

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Damian Lillard has explained why he signed a super-max extension with the Trail Blazers.

But why have so many other players – Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers) and Paul George (Pacers) – requested trades away from the only teams that had a chance to offer so much money?

Lillard on The Joe Budden Podcast:

I think people walk away from it because of the media and s— like that. The outside influence, people talking about their legacy. “He needs to do this. He needs to do that.” People kind of fall into it. So they say, “It’s not about the money. I want to win the championship. And I want to do this.”

Seriously, people make decisions based off of that.

The pressure of other people saying, “He needs to win. He should do this. He should do that and not be about the money.” But I don’t think just because you decide to stay and not pass up on that money, that don’t mean you ain’t trying to win it. When you’re 42 years old and your career over, and you ain’t won it, anyway, and you walked away from 60 million dollars more than what you got, they ain’t even going to be talking about you then. The joke is going to be on you.

I think Lillard mistakenly pins this on just the media. Sure, the media plays a part. But many fans also make the same argument, and while the average fan doesn’t have a huge platform, they collectively have a loud voice.

Still, Lillard’s larger point stands. Players know what many people want to see and hear. Rings are glorified. Emphasizing money is uncouth.

Of course, not every player who has left a potential super-max on the table has succumbed to that pressure. Everyone has their own reasons. I doubt Leonard left San Antonio because he wanted to win a championship. Ditto Irving in Cleveland. Both players had already won titles then joined teams held in lower esteem. This assessment seems more accurate for Davis and George, but they also surely had additional reasons, too.

I wonder whether the tide will turn. Kevin Durant was vilified for taking the easy route to a championship with the Warriors. Suddenly, it was no longer about just counting the rings. Now, to satisfy these critics, players must find a team that’s good enough, but not too good. Maybe more players will rather just take the money than attempt to walk that tricky line.

One thing not changing any time soon: The money is huge, either way. Lillard projects to earn $196 million on his four-year super-max extension. But if he had left Portland for another team in 2021 free agency, his max would’ve projected to be $161 million over four years. That’s still life-changing money. At that point, it makes more sense to pick the most desirable team, even if it’s not the incumbent.

I hope players choose what’s best for them, which can be difficult to gauge, even from the inside. If a player wants the praise of turning down money to win a title, isn’t that what he wants? It’s impossible to completely separate outside norms from internal desires.

The assessment is not difficult with Lillard, though. He is definitely doing what he wants, and that’s great.

Damian Lillard says Carmelo Anthony isn’t coming to Trail Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers found themselves in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors last season. They weren’t able to advance to the final playoff series of the year, but it was a stellar run for a team that desperately needed some playoff success in order to prove that their roster construction theory is tenable.

A lot of faces have already changed this offseason in the Willamette Valley, but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are still on hand, and that means Portland will be playoff contenders yet again.

The team has added some veteran players, including Pau Gasol, and it’s been speculated that the Blazers might be a landing spot for former NBA scoring champion Carmelo Anthony. Anthony had been rumored as a potential Trail Blazer in seasons past, with Lillard apparently lobbying for his services.

But in a recent interview, Lillard said that Anthony is not a potential candidate to come to Portland as a veteran presence this season.

Via Twitter:

Despite his understanding that the Blazers will not add Anthony, Lillard also said that Carmelo deserves to be in the NBA. That’s a pretty common refrain from current players, although you could debate whether that’s an accurate assessment of the vet’s skill set at this juncture.

Whether as irony or miscalculated enthusiasm, many fans in Portland have wanted to add Anthony to their team as a scoring boost in recent years. That’s unlikely to work, particularly for a team that needs 3-point shooting and defense on the wing — two things that Anthony does not provide.

Who knows whether Carmelo will end up in the NBA this season? He is making a strong push to return to the league, but until he signs on the dotted line and we see him in a jersey, I wouldn’t count on watching Anthony in 2019.

Nikola Vucevic donates to Magic fan’s cancer GoFundMe

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The NBA is one of the most accessible leagues in American sports, with players very active on social media and interactive with their fans.

Social media is also a great way to get people involved in charitable functions, including things like GoFundMe campaigns for medical expenses. One Orlando Magic fan saw those two functions of Twitter get put together this week when Magic big man Nikola Vucevic donated to a campaign close to his heart.

Phil Harlow posted a GoFundMe campaign on Twitter this week for his girlfriend’s father, who is currently dealing with cancer. The campaign was spread throughout the Orlando Magic community on Twitter, and that apparently reached Vucevic.

On Thursday, it was reported that the Magic center had donated £2,500 to the campaign.

This is a pretty incredible gesture by Vucevic, who is reaching out across the Atlantic to help out someone in need. Athletes have people coming at them all the time with requests, and for Vucevic to decide to contribute to someone he doesn’t have an intimate connection with is pretty incredible.

Vucevic donation is the second of this kind of thing that’s come in as many weeks. Oddly enough, last week I posted my cousin’s GoFundMe campaign for her medical expenses following a critical car accident. Former Portland Trail Blazers and current Miami Heat big man Meyers Leonard saw that campaign and decided to donate $1,000 out of his pocket.

The fact that NBA players are willing to be directly generous in this way is a testament to the closeness the league has done well to foster between the players, organizations, and fans.

Blazers unveil throwback 1977 championship uniforms (PHOTOS)

Bruce Ely of Portland Trail Blazers
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It was pretty obvious what the Portland Trail Blazers were going to do with their jerseys this season. The team announced a throwback floor for their 50th anniversary recently, and soon after added a bike ride with none other than Bill Walton to the calendar of events this summer.

With many teams deciding to go retro this year, it was obvious that Portland was going to harken back to their 1977 look with a jersey this year after Walton was included in the festivities.

On Sunday, fans got to ride the parade route from the Blazers only championship, going from Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the east side of the Willamette River to a park downtown on the west side. Walton led the way via a bike, and when he got there the team unveiled what they had in store for us.

Via Twitter:

If you are into the vertical, retro swag, now the Blazers have something for you. I have no doubt that they are going to sell these things by the truckload this year.

The team will wear these “Classic” edition jerseys on Oct. 8 for a preseason matchup at Memorial Coliseum, and for five specific decade nights during the regular season.

What do you think? Does the retro look tickle your nostalgia bone?