Portland Trail Blazers

And-Ones: Predictions, Discipline, Prospects

In a debut installment of a new feature, Marc Stein of the New York Times made a number of predictions for the upcoming year in basketball. The scribe ventures a guess that this is the year the Trail Blazers blow up their backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Stein writes that dealing one of the star guards would be the easiest way for the Blazers to balance their roster, something that could come in handy if the organization seeks to go in a new direction. Bear in mind, however, that Stein’s prediction applies to this year and not necessarily to this season.

Stein also makes a series of arguments that a pair of big names stay with their current teams, despite ongoing speculation to the contrary. The Times journalist says that LeBron James to the Lakers is no guarantee and that Cleveland stands a legitimate chance of retaining the King.

On a similar note, Stein reasons that DeMarcus Cousins isn’t likely to find the market teeming with attractive salary offers this season and that he’ll end up staying put with the Pelicans.

There’s more from around the league:

  • One possible solution to curb the growing tension between NBA players and referees is to ramp up the discipline assigned to players who act hostile to officials. “The hammer has to drop from above,” one Western Conference team official told Ken Berger of Bleacher Report. “When you had David Stern and Rod Thorn there, none of this stuff was going on because they weren’t going to put up with it. I think we’ve gotten away from that. There’s something every night.
  • Four active front offices have made a dozen or more trade deadline deals over the course of their tenures, Bobby Marks of ESPN weighed in on them and the rest of the league’s executives in his latest for ESPN Insiders.
  • There has been plenty of movement among the DraftExpress team’s list of the top 100 NBA prospects. Jonathan Givony of ESPN recently broke down a number of NCAA players who’ve recently seen their values rise dramatically.

Should Portland Pursue Julius Randle?

Pistons, Blazers Also Interested In Mirotic

Earlier today, we noted the Jazz were talking to the Bulls about a possible trade involving Nikola Mirotic, but it appears Utah will have some competition. The Pistons have also expressed interest in Mirotic, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times, and the Trail Blazers could get involved as well, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link).

Chicago is hoping to get a first-round pick in exchange for Mirotic, Johnson adds. Utah, Detroit and Portland all have first-rounders to offer this year, with our latest Reverse Standings showing the Jazz at No. 11 and the Pistons and Blazers involved in a three-way tie for No. 18.

The Bulls are motivated to move Mirotic because he’ll be seeking a big payday when his current contract ends, Johnson explains (Twitter link). Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn will be free agents in 2018 and 2020 respectively, and the organization doesn’t want to give big deals to all three. The performance of rookie forward Lauri Markkanen also makes Mirotic expendable.

Mirotic is off to a career best start this season, averaging 17.4 points through 17 games and shooting 47% from 3-point range. He is making $12.5MM this year and has a team option for the same amount in 2018/19.

Mirotic, who doesn’t become eligible for a trade until Monday, has a no-trade clause, but has expressed a willingness to waive it to join a contender. The Bulls could eliminate that clause by picking up his option for next season before trading him.

Two Cavaliers Trade Exceptions Expire

Two traded player exceptions created by the Cavaliers in last January’s acquisition of Kyle Korver expired this week, as expected. One of those two trade exceptions was already utilized by the Cavs in the offseason, and the amount left on it made it virtually impossible to use again. However, the other one, worth about $4.84MM, wasn’t used at all.

[RELATED: Outstanding NBA Trade Exceptions]

Despite letting those two trade exceptions expire, the Cavs remain well-stocked with TPEs in the event that they need one to make a deal at next month’s deadline. Most notably, they hold one worth approximately $5.81MM, which will be available until late August.

The following trade exceptions around the NBA will also expire if they’re not used by the February 8 trade deadline:

  • Milwaukee Bucks: $5,000,000
  • New Orleans Pelicans: $3,517,200
  • Chicago Bulls: $1,589,480
  • Dallas Mavericks: $1,514,160
  • Milwaukee Bucks: $1,151,241 (expires on February 2)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: $980,431
  • Dallas Mavericks: $621,362
  • Washington Wizards: $425,973
  • Portland Trail Blazers: $407,210
  • Toronto Raptors: $328,000

While they won’t expire until sometime in the offseason, the Trail Blazers ($12.97MM), Raptors ($11.8MM), and Clippers ($7.27MM) also have sizable trade exceptions worth keeping an eye on. Still, all three of those clubs have potential luxury tax concerns, so they’re unlikely to take on big salaries at the deadline without sending out any money.

For more information on how trade exceptions work, be sure to check out our glossary entry on the subject.

Woj’s Latest: Pistons, Fournier, Lakers, Hawks

Shooting guards and small forwards are in high demand as the trade deadline approaches, and there simply aren’t that many quality wings expected to be available, Adrian Wojnarowski writes in his latest report for ESPN.com. As Wojnarowski details, the Pistons, Knicks, Pelicans, and Trail Blazers are just a few of the many teams looking for upgrades on the wing.

DeMarre Carroll (Nets), Alec Burks (Jazz), Kent Bazemore (Hawks), and Evan Fournier (Magic) are among the veterans attracting some interest on the trade market, according to Wojnarowski, who notes that the Pistons pursued a deal for Fournier. Such a trade would be hard to pull off without including Reggie Jackson‘s contract, so nothing’s imminent at this point, but the Pistons continue to be aggressive on the trade market, a reflection of Stan Van Gundy‘s desire to win now, says Wojnarowski.

As for the Pelicans, they also remain active in trade talks despite their limited assets, according to Wojnarowski, who notes that Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca have negative value and won’t be movable without New Orleans attaching a draft pick or two. If the Pelicans can’t trade for a wing, they’ll have to count on getting Solomon Hill back healthy for the home stretch of the season.

Here’s more from Woj:

  • The Lakers have “made it clear” that Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr. are available in trades, reports Wojnarowski. The club had been planning on waiting until after the season to try to move Clarkson, but there may be a mutual desire to get something done on that front sooner rather than later.
  • Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli are expendable in Atlanta, where the Hawks are focused on unloading veterans and stockpiling more young players and draft picks, per Wojnarowski.
  • The Bulls still plan to trade Nikola Mirotic after January 15, assuming he OK’s a deal. According to Wojnarowski, Mirotic is somewhat intrigued by the Jazz and their head coach Quin Snyder, who has a reputation for maximizing offensive talent.
  • It’s possible their outlooks could change by the trade deadline, but the Thunder and Pelicans currently have no plans to trade Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins, respectively. Both players can become unrestricted free agents this July.
  • We passed along more rumors from Woj in full stories earlier today, providing the latest on DeAndre Jordan and examining the Grizzliesasking price for Tyreke Evans.

Trail Blazers Notes: Stotts, Lillard, Collins

Players are standing behind Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts through the team’s inconsistent performance, according to Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest. Stotts has become a target of fan anger during a 20-18 start that has included losses to lower-level teams such as the Hawks, Nets and Kings. With 13 returning players, Portland was counting on continuity to improve on last year’s .500 performance, but the Blazers have often struggled to score and enter tonight last in the league in assists and 25th in total offense.

“We all know what’s going on,’’ Ed Davis said. “The guys on the team, we read about it, and I know Coach does … that ‘Hot Seat’ stuff and things like that. Everybody sees it, and I know while I’m here, [along with] a bunch of the rest of the guys in the locker room, we are going to fight for Coach. Every night. There is no quit in us. He’s our leader.’’

Stotts is in his sixth year as Portland’s coach, compiling a 243-205 record with four straight playoff appearances. He has one more season left on the contract extension he signed after the 2015/16 season.

There’s more today out of Portland:

  • Damian Lillard said his admiration for Stotts factored into his decision to accept an extension with the Blazers in 2015, Quick adds in the same piece. Lillard has been a strong defender of the coach, including a publicized interaction with a fan on Instagram in November. The star point guard said owner Paul Allen hasn’t asked him about Stotts, but he knows what he would say if Allen or GM Neil Olshey approached him about a coaching change. “I would want to know why,’’ Lillard said. “Because I honestly don’t feel like he is the issue. As players we have to do things a lot better. I honestly feel like he is one of the better coaches in the league as far as being an offensive coach, but also in giving players an opportunity, and connecting with the players, too. And then we have a great coaching staff. That is not the issue.’’
  • Lillard was surprised to end up in Portland in the 2012 draft, relays Noel Harris of The Sacramento Bee. In response to a fan’s question on Twitter, Lillard said he expected be taken by the Kings, who held the fifth pick, one ahead of the Blazers. Sacramento opted for Thomas Robinson, who played for six teams in five years and is currently in Russia.
  • Rookie center Zach Collins has brought some toughness to the Blazers, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Collins has earned a spot in the rotation over the past month after seeing little playing time to start the season. “The biggest thing is his character has come through in that he’s aggressive, he’s determined,” Stotts said. “After a tough summer, he came in and wanted to improve. I think it just shows his determination.”

Northwest Notes: Aminu, Thunder, Timberwolves

Before he signed with the Trail Blazers as a free agent in 2015, veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu had converted just 28.6% of his career three-point attempts. However, he knew he’d be counted on to improve his outside shot after signing a lucrative four-year deal with Portland, and he has delivered so far. Aminu has made 36.1% of his threes during his time with the Blazers, including a career-best 42.1% this season.

“I’ve always been a slasher, so knowing the instincts and what you’re supposed to be doing as a shooter and how they need you for a team, it’s different,” Aminu said, per Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com. “But you learn, for sure, because you want to stick around.”

Aminu remains under contract in Portland for one more season beyond this year, but if he continues to knock down outside shots at an improve rate, he should be a very appealing three-and-D target in free agency in 2019.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Thunder forward Patrick Patterson was fined $10K this week for publicly criticizing the NBA’s officiating, per an Associated Press report. After a blown call cost OKC a game on Friday, Patterson published a tweet on Saturday suggesting that there “needs to be some kind of consequence for [referees’] downright awfulness rather than pointless apologies from their bosses.”
  • Second-year guard Alex Abrines continues to make more than 38% of his three-point attempts, but his inconsistency on the defensive end has cost him minutes with the Thunder, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Given his $5.725MM salary, Abrines could become a nice mid-sized trade chip for the Thunder at the deadline if he’s not a regular part of the club’s rotation.
  • The positive energy surrounding the Timberwolves as of late has been noticeable, as the new-look roster is hitting its stride. “I feel like everyone’s comfortable,” Andrew Wiggins said, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “Everyone’s together. Everyone’s playing together. Everyone likes each other. We’re in a good flow right now.”

Damian Lillard To Return On Tuesday

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who hasn’t played since December 20 due to a hamstring injury, will make his return to the court on Tuesday night, confirms ESPN’s Chris Haynes (Twitter link). Lillard had initially said on Monday that he planned to play in tonight’s game against the Cavaliers in Cleveland (Twitter link via Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest).

A two-time All-Star, Lillard is enjoying another strong season in Portland so far in 2017/18. Although his FG% (.418) and 3PT% (.348) are career lows, he has still managed to average an impressive 25.2 PPG, 6.4 APG, and 5.0 RPG.

The Blazers, who went 3-2 in Lillard’s absence, are currently tied for sixth in the Western Conference with a 19-17 overall mark. They’ll resume their push for a playoff spot with their standout point guard back in the lineup tonight.

Owner Allen Needs To Stop Meddling

  • Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen is the biggest reason why the franchise is wallowing in mediocrity, John Canzano of The Oregonian opines. Allen’s hands-on approach has been a failure, which has led to numerous GM and coaching changes, Canzano continues. The best way for the franchise to move forward is for Allen to let his basketball staff and coaches do their jobs without his constant meddling, Canzano adds.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 12/26/17

Here are the notable G-League transactions around the NBA today:

  • The Hornets recalled rookie Dwayne Bacon from the organization’s G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, the team announced in a press release. In 28 games for Charlotte, Bacon has averaged 3.6 PPG and 3.1 RPG. He was acquired along with cash considerations from the Pelicans for draft rights to Frank Jackson during the 2017 NBA Draft.
  • In a separate move, the Hornets assigned guard Julyan Stone to the Greensboro Swarm on Tuesday, according to a press release. Stone has appeared in four contests for the Hornets, posting totals of  1.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG and 1.8 APG. This marks Stone’s third assignment to the G League.
  • The Spurs announced in a press release that guard Derrick White has been recalled from the team’s G League affiliate, the Austin Spurs. White has appeared in seven games for San Antonio, averaging 1.3 PPG and 1.3 RPG.
  • The Trail Blazers assigned guard C.J. Wilcox to the Santa Cruz Warriors, per a press release. After appearing in 20+ games in each of the past three seasons for the Magic and Clippers, Wilcox has yet to see NBA action in 2017/18 due to arthroscopic knee surgery. Wilcox signed a two-way deal with Portland in August.
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