- The Trail Blazers posted all their exit interviews on the team website after a surprising first-round sweep by New Orleans.
Isaiah Thomas‘ hip issue has severely damaged his value on the open market, some front office executives told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News. Fears that his hip is either pre-arthritic or already arthritic will likely force the Lakers point guard to accept a one-year “prove it” deal or a two-year deal with a team option, Deveney continues. That’s a dramatic fall for a player who was expected to be a max contract candidate just a year ago, Deveney notes. One GM that Deveney talked to predicted that Thomas would have to accept a “low-risk deal.”
In other news around the Pacific Division:
- It’s unclear why Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the Suns he was no longer interested in their head coaching job, Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic writes. He was either underwhelmed by what he heard from the Suns’ brass, didn’t get a sufficient financial offer or found a better opportunity somewhere else, Bordow adds. Ex-Grizzlies coach David Fizdale appears to be the favorite for the job but he’s also being pursued by the Knicks, Hornets and perhaps the Bucks, Bordow continues. Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov also appears to be a prime candidate but if the Trail Blazers fire Terry Stotts, he would likely become the frontrunner, Bordow adds.
- Quinn Cook‘s long odyssey from being undrafted in 2015 to rotation player with the Warriors in this year’s playoffs is chronicled by Sports Illustrated’s Jack Fischer. This season alone was a whirlwind, as Fischer explains, with Cook getting waived by the Hawks before training camp, then signing a two-way contract with Golden State. When Stephen Curry was sidelined by a left knee injury, the Warriors signed Cook to a standard contract. He’s averaging 6.8 PPG in 19.8 MPG against the Spurs in the opening round.
- The Kings have $5.4MM in cap room to use by the end of June, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. They increased it by $2MM through the set-off in the waived contracts of Anthony Tolliver and Arron Afflalo, Marks adds. The new cap year begins in July.
With the Pelicans thriving so far in the postseason without DeMarcus Cousins, ESPN’s Zach Lowe is the latest to look ahead to the big man’s upcoming free agency, exploring just how hard New Orleans will push to re-sign him. While there was once a consensus around the NBA that the small-market Pelicans, not wanting to let Cousins get away, would put a max deal on the table even after his Achilles injury, that’s far less certain now, Lowe writes.
Here are a few updates and notes from Lowe on what could be one of this offseason’s most interesting free agencies:
- The Pelicans have internally discussed the possibility of offering Cousins a two- or three-year contract worth less than the max, sources tell Lowe. The ESPN.com scribe doesn’t think that sort of offer would go over well with Cousins’ camp, but notes that New Orleans has a good amount of leverage, given the veteran center’s health — not to mention the lack of teams around the NBA with sizable cap room.
- Sources tell Lowe that most of the teams with max-level cap space aren’t expected to pursue Cousins. Some clubs are worried about his “baggage,” and he wouldn’t make much sense for a rebuilding team, since it will likely take him a full season to recover from his Achilles tear.
- Lowe identifies the Lakers and Mavericks as two wild cards for Cousins. However, he notes that the Lakers could use their cap room to land other stars or roll it over to 2019. As for the Mavs, if they go hard after a restricted free agent like Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon, they probably wouldn’t be in the mix for Cousins.
- The Wizards, Trail Blazers, Clippers, Raptors, Bucks, and Heat are a few of the teams Lowe mentions as possible landing spots if the Pelicans want to sign-and-trade Cousins, but he acknowledges that none would be a perfect match — and some are extreme long shots.
- With a four- or five-year max offer for Cousins seemingly unlikely, Lowe speculates that a third year could be the “inflection point” in the bidding for the All-Star big man. If one team is willing to do a fully or partially guaranteed third year, while another club wants to do a deal more like Paul Millsap‘s with the Nuggets (where the third year is a team option), that could be the difference, Lowe writes.
- Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has pushed back against the idea that “sweeping changes” are needed in Portland after the team was swept out of the playoffs. John Canzano of The Oregonian makes a case for why those sort of “sweeping changes” may be necessary.
Fresh off a series sweep at the hands of the Pelicans, the Blazers are looking ahead to an offseason of uncertainty. Many have already suggested that the backcourt pairing of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum need to be broken up since it represents the team’s best option to improve. However, Lillard doesn’t see it like that.
“I don’t agree with it,” Lillard said breaking up the Blazers’ backcourt (via Ashish Mathur of Pro Hoops Digest). “I think it’s that simple. I think it’s the easiest thing to say. I don’t agree with it, though. I’m not the guy making decisions.”
The point guard went on to call the Blazers “a great organization” while giving praise to his team and coach Terry Stotts, who reportedly may be on his way out of Portland. “I think everyone has done a great job. Coach Stotts has done a great job since Day 1. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight.”
The Blazers unexpectedly captured the third seed in a loaded Western Conference with a record of 49-33. Despite the success in the regular season, Lillard understands that adjustment
Portland has $110.5MM in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season and the team’s starting backcourt combines for approximately $53.7MM of that figure. O’Connor adds that the franchise is likely to go into the luxury tax with Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, and Pat Connaughton all set for free agency, so making impactful improvements will likely have to come via trade.
An improvement will be necessary if they are going to contend for a championship, as their series with the Pelicans indicated. O’Connor notes that the Blazers backcourt was particularly weak defensively and without the flexibility to upgrade elsewhere, swapping out one of the dynamic guards seems to be the only option for the organization.
Here’s more from Portland:
- The Blazers are in this salary cap position because of the signings of Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Moe Harkless, O’ Connor. All three are arguably signed to player-friendly deals.
- Nurkic, who will be a restricted free agent, wants to re-sign with the Blazers, as Sean Meagher of The Oregonian passes along (video link). “I want to be here, it’s no secret,” the big man said.
- Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post compares this offseason for the Blazers to the Raptors’ offseason two years ago where GM Masai Ujiri had to decide whether he was going to blow up the team or remain patient and allow internal development and chemistry to have its chance. Ujiri remained patient with Toronto, but Bontemps isn’t sure Portland should take the same path and it has to do with the organization being in the Western Conference. Toronto has fewer good teams to compete with for a playoff position, while the Blazers as currently constructed may face stiff competition to even make the playoffs next season.
After exceeding expectations during the regular season, the Trail Blazers went the other way in the playoffs. Coming in as the No. 3 seed in the West, Portland is the first team to exit the postseason after a shocking sweep by the Pelicans.
The focus now turns to next year and how to improve a team that won 49 games. The Blazers are already about $10MM over the salary cap for 2018/19, and that number could go significantly higher. Jusuf Nurkic, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton are all eligible for extensions this summer, with their qualifying offers combining for nearly $10MM.
Nurkic will be looking for a big-money deal after averaging 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds in 79 games. He established himself as Portland’s starting center immediately after being acquired from the Nuggets in a trade last season and won’t be easy to replace if the Blazers decide he’s not affordable.
Most of the team’s salary is tied up in the starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who are both signed to rich contracts through the 20/21 season. In addition, Evan Turner will make more than $36MM over the next two years, and Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard are each around $22MM for the same time frame, meaning no cap relief is coming until at least the summer of 2020.
President of basketball operations Neil Olshey has to decide this summer if the current approach will keep the Blazers competitive or if major changes are needed. Rumors are already circulating that head coach Terry Stotts may be fired after six years on the bench. But the only way to bring radical change is to break up the high-priced backcourt. Lillard is owed more than $89.4MM over the next three seasons, while McCollum will get more than $82.6MM. Either one would bring a healthy trade package in return, and a deal could help ease the financial logjam.
What would you do if you were running the Blazers? Would you break up one of the best backcourts in the NBA, or is there a better solution? Please give us your feedback in the comments section below.
There are “murmurs” that Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts may be fired after being swept by the Pelicans, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times.
Stotts has five straight postseason appearances and a 272-220 record in his six years in Portland. However, this is the second consecutive season that the Blazers have been swept out of the playoffs in the first round.
If Stotts is dismissed, Stein says the Magic would have “immediate interest” in hiring him. Orlando fired coach Frank Vogel after the end of the regular season, but hasn’t been in a rush to find a replacement, with Jerry Stackhouse as the only scheduled interview.
Stotts, 60, had head coaching jobs in Atlanta and Milwaukee before joining the Blazers. He was also a longtime assistant, working with the SuperSonics, Bucks, Warriors and Mavericks.
- Trail Blazers guard Evan Turner is questionable for Game 3 after suffering a bruised toe last night against the Pelicans, reports Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest. Turner was kicked in his big toe during a scramble for a loose ball and was limping after the game. Jusuf Nurkic, who left Tuesday’s game with a leg bruise, is expected to be OK.