Portland Trail Blazers

Northwest Notes: Alexander, Henderson, Nuggets

Cliff Alexander will miss two weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee, Joe Freeman of The Oregonian writes. “We’re going to kind of shut him down for a couple weeks and then work him back in,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said on Saturday. “So he’s going to be back for a little bit.” Alexander was projected to develop into a lottery pick coming out of high school, but he battled injuries and struggled at Kansas before being declared ineligible by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits.

Here’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • When asked if Alexander can make the team despite missing two weeks of training camp, Stotts answered in the affirmative, according to Freeman (Twitter link).
  • Gerald Henderson remains sidelined after undergoing offseason hip surgery, but he is eager to join his new team on the court, Freeman writes in a separate piece.  “I try to pay attention as much as I can,” he said. “I feel like if I can know what we’re doing on both sides of the floor, I’ll have an easier transition. But, of course, getting out there and playing, that’s what I love to do, regardless of the situation. And on a new team, it’s even more important.” The Blazers acquired Henderson in the trade that sent starter Nicolas Batum to Charlotte.
  • Readers of Hoops Rumors ranked the Nuggets as the third worst team in our power rankings and the consensus in NBA circles is that the team won’t sniff the playoffs. Despite the projections, Denver won’t adopt a tanking strategy this season, Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post writes. “Everybody can do it their own way. We’re not here to criticize 29 other teams and their approach,” said coach Michael Malone. “We’re just worried about us. But I think anytime you allow losing to creep into your culture, and your franchise, and the fact that you accept losing for betterment down the road, I think that’s awfully hard to get that out of your organization. Losing should not be accepted.”

Northwest Notes: Faried, Kaman, Snyder

Kenneth Faried acknowledged that the Nuggets trade of Ty Lawson to the Rockets is just part of the business of basketball, but he was still stung by it due to his close friendship with the point guard, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post relays. When asked about the trade, Faried said, “Basketball. Nature of the beast. I’m not part of the business side I’m part of the playing side. I just want to get up-and-down and play the game. It hurt me because that was my best friend but it’s the nature of the beast. You’ve got to live with it.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Mason Plumlee says he has learned a lot from veteran big man Chris Kaman in the short time that they have been teammates with the Trail Blazers, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. “The guys who are here 10-plus years in the NBA are here because they help the young guys,” Plumlee said of Kaman. “Here’s very good, he’s helpful, he knows what coach [Terry] Stotts wants so he’s been great.” Plumlee was acquired by Portland back in June.
  • Jazz coach Quin Snyder enters his second season with the team a bit more relaxed than his he was during his rookie campaign, and he aims to try and be less intense with his players this season, Jody Genessy of The Deseret News writes. “The course of the season and our team and how we play will dictate that as much as anything,” Snyder said, obviously making no hard promises regarding his future demeanor.
  • One of the problems facing the Timberwolves as they enter the preseason is that most of their big men are power forwards who will be tasked with manning the center position, Marcus R. Fuller of The Pioneer Press writes. Kevin Garnett, a power forward by trade, won’t be thrilled if he has to spend prolonged time in the pivot, Fuller adds. I still hate the center position,” Garnett said. “I’m 235, 240 [pounds]. Guys who play the center … DeAndre Jordan is 275, 280. That’s outweighing me by 40 pounds. But what I don’t make up in weight, I make up in heart and [expletive].”As for interim coach Sam Mitchell‘s plan for the rotation at the five spot, he said, “I’ve got an idea in my mind. But until we get out on the floor and actually watch them play a little bit, then we’ll start to formulate those opinions.

Northwest Notes: Miller, Kanter, Harkless

Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey won’t back down from the notion of making the playoffs as a goal this season, saying the same is true for all 30 teams, as The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman relays via Twitter. Still, player development is also a priority, Olshey said, as Freeman notes in a full piece.

“Same way we always do,” Olshey said of the way the team will measure its success this season. “Are our players getting better? Are we building a culture? Are we better at the end of the year than we were at the beginning? And does this roster have the potential to sustain excellence?”

Much has changed for the Blazers, who didn’t re-sign any of their seven free agents from last year. See more from Portland amid the latest from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone is pumped about adding Mike Miller, whom he calls a “deadly shooter” with championship experience who can serve as a mentor to the younger players on the roster, as Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post chronicles. Miller seemingly had other options, with the Grizzlies, Thunder and Mavericks reportedly interested in him this summer before this week’s buyout from the Blazers, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Nuggets“I’m excited,” Miller said Thursday about joining Denver, according to Dempsey. “I’ve always had a great relationship with this organization. I think they do a great job. The fans in Denver are fantastic, which makes it exciting. We’ve got this young team, which they continue to build, and hopefully we’ll have a successful season.”
  • Miller relinquished $200K in his buyout, leaving Portland with an obligation of about $3.08MM to him on this season’s books, reports Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link). Miller signed a minimum-salary deal with the Nuggets, but teams often waive set-off rights when buyouts take place, so it’s unclear if the Blazers will recoup any additional money because of Miller’s Denver contract.
  • Both the Thunder and max salary signee Enes Kanter are focused on improving his woeful defense, and the team believes increased production for him on that end of the floor will have much to do with the rest of the team around him, as Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman details. “It was a different system for him coming in. He [was] playing in Utah, where we played a totally different defense than they played last season, so of course there’s gonna be some growing pains,” Kevin Durant said. “Now, he’s focused, he’s locked in a little bit more, and he’s learning just as quickly as we are.”
  • Blazers trade acquisition Maurice Harkless has looked strong during voluntary team workouts and the first days of camp, and he’s giving free agent signee Al-Farouq Aminu a run for the starting job at small forward, The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman observes. Harkless is eligible for a rookie scale extension through November 2nd, though no indication has emerged to date that the Blazers are thinking about giving him one. Harkless admits the lack of playing time with the Magic last season was a challenge, but the Blazers plan to give him plenty of opportunities this season, as fellow Oregonian scribe Mike Richman details.

Northwest Notes: Millsap, Alexander, Bjelica

Jazz coach Quin Snyder refuted a report by Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com that stated that the Jazz had lost faith in Elijah Millsap because of his poor shot selection and defensive shortcomings, Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders relays in a series of tweets. Snyder said that he checked in with Millsap each week over the summer, and that he was pleased with the progress the 27-year-old guard was making, Dowsett adds. The coach stopped short of saying that Millsap, whose contract is non-guaranteed, would make the regular season roster, but it does appear that the franchise is still invested in his development, Dowsett notes.

Here’s what else is happening in the Northwest Division:

  • Blazers rookie forward Cliff Alexander is hoping to put his difficult freshman season at Kansas behind him and to try and parlay his athleticism and rebounding skills into a regular season roster spot with the team, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. Alexander went undrafted this year after entering his freshman campaign as a projected lottery pick.
  • Nemanja Bjelica has already impressed interim Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell with his wide range of skills, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. “[He’s] very smart, moves the ball, can shoot the ball, just wants to play, unselfish to a fault,” Mitchell said of the 27-year-old rookie. “I like the way he plays. I’ve seen him on tape, but I like him a lot more in person.
  • Thunder coach Billy Donovan is entering his first season as an NBA head man, but the players are excited about the possibilities that he brings with him to the team, Susan Bible of Basketball Insiders writes. But there is still a level of uncertainty for the players with any rookie coach, which is something that forward Nick Collison admitted, Bible adds. “I really won’t know until we get in the season,” Collison said when asked about Donovan. “I think he’s a real high-energy guy, and he’s also very experienced. I feel like our organization does a real good job with providing everything we need. I think they do a lot of work in everything they do, so I assume a coaching change, they put a lot of work into that and feel good about him, so I’m going to put a lot of faith in that. I’ve had quite a few meetings with him already, and I like what he’s talking about. [We’ll] see how it goes. I’ve had a lot of coaches before, so the one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t really know until you get into it, so we’ll see how it goes.

Northwest Notes: Jones, Gallinari, Donovan

The Timberwolves will consider sending Tyus Jones to the NBA D-League this season in order to get the rookie more playing time, Marcus R. Fuller of The Pioneer Press writes. The decision will come down to whether or not the team believes it can get Jones enough playing time to properly develop, Fuller adds. “We haven’t really used [the D-League] in the past, and that’s something we’re trying to rectify,” GM Milt Newton said. “If there’s an opportunity for us to use the D-League, we will do that, with Tyus especially. But it can be a position where you send him to the D-League and he plays only 14, 15, 20 minutes a game, which was the situation last year. For us, we wanted to utilize the D-League. But the team we were associated with, they couldn’t guarantee that our guys would get the minutes that we felt they needed to develop, and so we felt it was better to keep our players here and let [them] practice and get developed from our coaching staff. If we can fix that situation, while we’re in the situation without a D-League team, that’s a decision we’ll have to make.” Jones was the No. 24 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

Here’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Danilo Gallinari, who agreed to a renegotiation and extension of his contract this offseason, wants to remain with the Nuggets for his entire NBA career, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post relays. “I was just glad to stay in Denver,” Gallinari said. “That was my goal. If you see my history with contracts, it’s never been about money because if it was about money I would have made other choices. But I love Denver and I want to stay here as long as I can. I would like to finish my career here. I was glad we were able to sign this contract.
  • New Thunder head coach Billy Donovan says he has been humbled by the reception he has received from the community and fans of the team since being hired back in April, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes. “The community has been really remarkable in terms of helping myself, helping my kids, my wife adjust. Very very grateful for all the help that so many lended, reached out, to make this a smooth transition,” said Donovan.
  • This season will likely be the final one for Jazz point guard Trey Burke to establish himself as a starter in the league, writes Brad Rock of The Deseret News. With projected starter Dante Exum undergoing surgery on the ACL in his left knee that may cause him to miss the entire season, Utah will need Burke to step up his game if the team is to have a shot at the playoffs this season.
  • The Trail Blazers elected to exercise their team option for Chris Kaman for the 2015/16 season, a move that pleased the veteran big man despite the franchise entering a rebuilding phase, Casey Holdahl of NBA.com writes. “First of all, I was happy to have the opportunity to come back here again because obviously that was something in question,” said Kaman. “I’m grateful to be back here. Even if it’s a rebuilding season and we’re able to make the playoffs or skirt at the edge there and be somewhere at the end of the season where we’re having a great opportunity, I’m happy to be here.

Blazers Opt In With McCollum, Plumlee, Vonleh

The Trail Blazers have exercised their rookie scale team options for the 2016/17 season with C.J. McCollum, Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh, the team announced (Twitter link). The moves keep all three under contract for that season at a combined cost of nearly $8.3MM.

McCollum, 24, is enthusiastic about the expanded role he’s poised to take on this season after playing mostly on the fringe of Portland’s rotation his first two NBA seasons. The former 10th overall pick showed plenty of potential during the playoffs, when he averaged 17.0 points in 33.2 minutes per game for the injury-riddled Blazers. He’ll be eligible for an extension next summer, since 2016/17 is the last on his rookie scale contract. The exercised option means the Blazers will pay him $3,219,579 for that 2016/17 season.

The 25-year-old Plumlee arrived via trade this summer from Brooklyn, where he went in an out of favor with the Nets, who reportedly resisted trading him in a deal that would have sent Deron Williams to the Kings last winter before burying him on the bench for the playoffs and ultimately dealing him to Portland. The 22nd overall pick in 2013 had a breakout performance for Team USA in the 2014 offseason, and he figures to have the opportunity to shine on a largely depleted Blazers roster. Like McCollum, he’ll be extension-eligible next summer in advance of the final year on his deal, one in which he’ll make $2,328,530.

Vonleh is another offseason trade acquisition for the Blazers, who brought the 20-year-old in after his quiet rookie season for the Hornets. He saw action in only 25 games last year, notching 10.4 minutes per night, after becoming the ninth overall pick in 2014. He’ll compete with Plumlee and others for playing time in the frontcourt. The Blazers, who are now in line to pay him $2,751,360 in 2016/17, will again have a decision to make on a rookie scale option for him next summer, and he won’t be eligible for an extension until 2017.

Today’s moves give Portland nearly $44.5MM against a projected $89MM cap for next summer. That’s only slightly less than the almost $47.9MM the team has in guaranteed salary for this season, so the Blazers continue to have a wealth of flexibility.

Which of McCollum, Plumlee and Vonleh do you see having the best career? Leave a comment to tell us.

Northwest Notes: Aldridge, Faried, Durant

Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen said that the team has moved on from the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs this summer, and that he is excited for what the future holds for the franchise, Joe Freeman of The Oregonian relays. When asked if he felt betrayed by Aldridge, Allen said, “No. I think LaMarcus had a lot of options. We went down to Dallas, [GM] Neil [Olshey] and I pitched him and he chose to go a different direction. We made it to his last few choices and he was good enough to call me up and explain his decision and all that. It’s tough for a franchise, because we were all thinking that we had a real shot at getting him back. But in the end, he chose to go a different direction and now it’s a new day. We’ve moved on and I think you can feel the excitement and the energy in the gym now.

Allen said he enjoys the process of developing younger players, which makes the team’s current transitional period easier on him, Freeman adds. “It’s always a transition. I’m always trying to figure out how many times we’ve done a rebuild here. I think three. But you guys will probably correct me on that, I’m sure. I probably, more than a lot of owners, enjoy seeing young players develop. Always have. Always will. And that’s also been a hallmark of other teams like the Seahawks that I’ve been involved with. So seeing young players develop and I think if you watch some of the players that Neil has brought in here, we’ve been very lucky to be able to bring those in and be able to pivot from being a playoff team to being a team that’s going through a transition to hopefully being back in the playoffs before too long. So we’ll see.

Here’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The deals that Talib Zanna, Dez Wells, and Julyan Stone signed with the Thunder are all one-year, minimum salary arrangements that include no guaranteed salary, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets.
  • Omari Johnson‘s pact with the Blazers is a one year deal for the league minimum and includes no guaranteed salary, Pincus relays (via Twitter).
  • Difficulties between Kenneth Faried and former coach Brian Shaw negatively impacted the forward’s performance for the Nuggets last season, Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post writes. If you don’t have a coach that believes in you, then what’s the point of going out there and playing?” Faried said. “If your coach doesn’t have faith in you and puts you out in the fire against all these great players, you’re going to get torched.
  • Kevin Durant is a fan of new Thunder coach Billy Donovan, Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman tweets. Of Donovan, Durant said, “Great basketball mind, but more importantly, a better person. We’ve hit it off.” With Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, any added incentive for him to remain in Oklahoma City is certainly a boon for the franchise.
  • After a breakout season in 2014/15 for the Jazz, Gordon Hayward needs to become a better closer at the end of games in order to take his next step forward as a star player, Aaron Falk, Tony Jones and Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune write.

Northwest Notes: Kanter, Arthur, Miller, Pekovic

Enes Kanter hoped to stay with the Thunder even as he signed an max offer sheet with the Trail Blazers this summer, creating a tense three days before the Thunder matched, notes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman.

“The three days was definitely tough, because I really wanted to be here,” Kanter said. “That three days was really tough, really difficult. I never experienced anything like that before. In the end, it worked out. [I’m] really happy to be here. It’s really nice [to have] your team’s trust in you. It means a lot.”

See more from the Northwest Division:

  • Darrell Arthur nearly left for the Clippers this summer before ultimately deciding to re-sign with the Nuggets, observes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post (Twitter links). “I was pretty close. It was a tough decision to make,” Arthur said. “But with this [Nuggets] team I felt that I could possibly make a difference in trying to help this team make it to the playoffs.” The money couldn’t have hurt, either, as Arthur received a two-year deal worth almost $5.755MM from Denver, about $3.08MM more than the two-year minimum salary offer that the Clippers were limited to.
  • Andre Miller visited the Bulls in free agency before signing with the Timberwolves this summer, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities (on Twitter).
  • Nikola Pekovic said he’ll miss roughly the first month of the season, but the Timberwolves expect Ricky Rubio will be healthy enough to play on opening night, even though he’s not quite 100% yet, observes Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press.
  • Timberwolves GM Milt Newton expressed a desire to use the D-League more often this season, pointing to No. 24 pick Tyus Jones, but the GM said he’d want the point guard to go to a D-League team that would give him some playing time, as Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune relays (on Twitter). The Timberwolves, who don’t have a D-League affiliate and would have to send Jones on assignment with another team’s D-League club, haven’t made progress toward their own D-League partner, Zgoda notes.
  • Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey expressed optimism about his point guards on Monday, jibing with earlier reports that the team is content for now even without the injured Dante Exum, but he wouldn’t rule out spending to acquire another point guard if the performance at that position is lacking, notes Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter links).

Blazers Waive Mike Miller In Buyout Deal

MONDAY, 4:07pm: Portland has officially waived Miller, the team announced (on Twitter). The Nuggets are reportedly interested and have offered him a one-year deal should he clear waivers, as expected.

SUNDAY, 3:30pm: The Blazers and Mike Miller have reached an agreement on a contract buyout, which would make the small forward a free agent, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports reports (on Twitter). Miller is expected to become an option for several contenders once he clears waivers, Charania writes in a full story, though it is not clear which teams will make a play toward him.

Miller, was owed $2.8MM in the final year of his contract. The move was expected when Miller was acquired by the Blazers. Miller was traded to Portland from the Cavs in July in a deal that helped Cleveland save money, add two exceptions and expand their trade options.

The Grizzlies, Thunder and Mavs were thought to be interested in Miller when he was acquired by the Blazers and was reportedly seeking the buyout. Miller is coming off his worst season and only played 13.5 minutes per game in 52 appearances.

Western Notes: Wolves, Lakers, Blazers

Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell told Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune in a wide-ranging Q&A that the team did not stop believing in Anthony Bennett and instead reached a buyout deal with the young player because the team had enough depth.

“I wouldn’€™t say we gave up on him,” Mitchell said. “Look at the sheer numbers at that position and even take K.G. out of the equation and we have three, four guys who can play power forward. We just felt we had an overabundance of people at that position. It wasn’€™t us giving up on A.B. I think A.B. came to us. His representative felt like they’€™d have a better chance somewhere else with a fresh start. We never approached A.B. with that [a contract buyout].”

The entire interview is worth a read because it is as entertaining as it is informative.

Here’s more on the Western Conference:

  • Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak dismissed the idea that the franchise is concerned about Nick Young‘s personality and instead, Kupchak pointed out that Young suffered through injuries and a career-worst shooting season, Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News writes. The Lakers tried trading Young this offseason, only to keep him after failing to find any suitors.
  • After signing the richest contract in Blazers history — a five year, $120MM extension — and now without LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews on the team, Damian Lillard is ready to take on a leadership role with Portland, Jason Quick of The Oregonian writes in a lengthy profile that is definitely worth a read. Lillard, as Quick points out, got off to a good start with a big team-building event during the summer.
  • Maurice Harkless, who was acquired by the Blazers from the Magic in July, is only 22 and has plenty of room to grow in Portland’s system, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. Harkless will make $2,894,059 in the final year of his rookie deal, as Richman points out.

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