Portland Trail Blazers

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Blazers, Wolves

Nuggets rookie center Nikola Jokic is emerging as one of the biggest surprises of Denver’s season, Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post writes. “I did not expect Nikola Jokic to be our starting center 14 games into the season. But he has earned it. … He’s a guy who was wearing a pink uniform and playing in the Adriatic League last year. Now he is in the NBA, starting and doing great things,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. Jokic, who is averaging 7.8 points per game and five rebounds per game, signed a four-year deal worth $5.5MM in July after sitting out last season as a  draft-and-stash prospect

Here’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Malone believes it is important to keep Wilson Chandler, who is out for the season, around the team as the small forward begins his rehab, Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post relays. “That was one thing that I felt very strongly about,” Malone said. “Make sure he feels a part of it, still. So once he starts traveling, we’ll have him travel with us the whole time. I might even give him a clipboard so he can be one of our coaches.”
  • Karl-Anthony Towns‘ lack of playing time recently in the fourth quarter for the Wolves is the result of reserve Gorgui Dieng being a more experienced defensive player, Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune details.
  • Noah Vonleh, with whom the Blazers exercised their rookie scale team option for the 2016/17 season, is experiencing foul trouble while making five starts at power forward as Meyers Leonard recovers from a dislocated left shoulder, Jason Quick of CSNNW.com writes. Vonleh has struggled to make an impact because fouls have forced him back to the bench, Quick adds.

Texas Notes: Dekker, Matthews, Spurs

Rockets combo forward Sam Dekker is glad to have undergone the surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, even if it will cost him at least the first three months of his rookie campaign, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes. “I’m a little more comfortable,” Dekker said. “I feel good, happy we got everything out of the way. Now, we heal. I met with a lot of people, got a lot of different opinions. We decided this was the best decision. Catching this early will now be good for me for the rest of my career.”

Dekker noted that the issue with his back flared up during summer league play, and that he initially hoped that he would be able to play through the pain this year, Feigen adds. “It effected everything I did on and off the court,” Dekker said. “That was probably the biggest part, being able to get up, walk and get out of bed in the morning. You don’t want to [be unable] to do that, especially at my age, 21. If I want to play a long time in this league, better get that fixed. With how I like to do things, hopefully we can get back as soon as possible. I already began the rehab process.

Here’s more from the Lone Star state:

  • Mavs swingman Wesley Matthews admitted lamenting the missed opportunities of his 2014/15 Blazers squad, where injuries derailed any chance that the team had to advance in the playoffs, Chris Mannix of SI.com relays. Matthews also noted that his future with Portland was directly tied to whether or not the team re-signed LaMarcus Aldridge, the SI scribe adds. When asked if he ever thought about what might have been in Portland, Matthews told Mannix, “A little bit, but not so much anymore. When it first happened, when the season ended the way it did, yeah, I thought about it. We were good. We were a top four team in the league. That wasn’t a fluke, either. You couldn’t help but think about it. I wasn’t sure [after the season] if I’d be back. It was kind of 50-50, really. I came to find out that my fate was tied to LMA [Aldridge]. That’s the decision [Blazers GM] Neil [Olshey] wanted to make with the organization.
  • With the offseason signing of Aldridge and the continued emergence of small forward Kawhi Leonard, the roles of the other members of the Spurs have changed this season, something that the team is still adjusting to despite its 12-3 record, Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com writes. “People are still trying to figure out when and where their shots are and what’s right and wrong in the offense. So that leads to a little bit of hesitation,Tim Duncan said. “We’re gonna make mistakes, and we’re gonna use as we always do, use the 82 [regular season games] to figure those mistakes out and try to minimize them as much as possible. It’s very different for us, but it’s been wonderful because [the new players have] been great, willing to learn.

And-Ones: Mudiay, Mickey, Henderson

Blazers swingman Gerald Henderson has struggled as he makes his way back from hip surgery in July, and he says that he still needs time to round into form, Jason Quick of CSNNW.com writes. “You know, it’s tough. I’m coming back from surgery, trying to implement myself into what we are doing … and I just haven’t found my rhythm yet,” Henderson admitted. “It will take me a while to get into the type of shape I’m used to being in. You missed pretty much the whole summer, the preseason, and the start of the year … like I said, I’ve got some catching up to do. It’s nothing more than that.’’ Henderson was acquired by Portland from the Hornets over the summer as a part of the Nicolas Batum trade, and he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • The Thunder have recalled Josh Huestis from the Oklahoma City Blue, their D-League affiliate, the team announced. Huestis has appeared in four games during his three D-League assignments this season, averaging 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 31.3 minutes per game.
  • The Celtics recalled power forward Jordan Mickey from the D-League, the team announced (via Twitter). This was Mickey’s fourth assignment to the Red Claws this season.
  • Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay has played the second most minutes out of any rookie thus far this season, and it will be an interesting case study to see how the increased minutes impact his development, observes Brett Koremenos of Real GM in his look at the young point guard. The 19-year-old is averaging 12.5 points and 6.3 assists in 30.0 minutes per contest through 15 games.

And-Ones: Stokes, Ingram, Huestis

Duke swingman Brandon Ingram has struggled early in his freshman campaign, and despite the lofty expectations that preceded his arrival on campus, it will take the young player some time to reach his potential, writes Josh Newman of SNY.tv. “In a couple of years, if he can do what he did in high school, which remains to be seen, preseason picks and ratings are not worth the paper they are printed on,” an NBA scout told Newman. “He is on the biggest stage in college ball, so if he performs at the highest level consistently, he will move up the draft charts. Right now, he is just learning the college game. He has to adjust to playing with big, strong boys before he looks at the men’s league. Remember, NBA stands for ‘No Babies Allowed.’” Ingram is currently the No. 3 ranked prospect by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, while ESPN’s Chad Ford slots him fourth overall.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Heat have assigned power forward Jarnell Stokes to their D-League affiliate, the team announced. This is the first trek to the D-League of the season for Stokes, and the 21-year-old also becomes the first player assigned to Sioux Falls this season.
  • The Thunder assigned Josh Huestis to their D-League affiliate, the team announced (via Twitter). This will be Huestis’ third trip to the D-League of the season.
  • Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard has missed the last seven games after suffering a dislocated shoulder during a contest against the Spurs on November 11th, but the 23-year-old is close to returning to action, Joe Freeman of The Oregonian relays. “It’s hard to put a timeline on it,” Leonard said. “But I’m hoping in the next few games that I’ll have a chance to get back.

Offseason In Review: Portland Trail Blazers

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.




Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Craig Mitchelldyer/USA Today Sports Images

Craig Mitchelldyer/USA Today Sports Images

The Trail Blazers as a franchise have been snakebitten by injuries and bad luck over the years, and 2014/15 was no different. The team had begun 41-19 and was playing some of its best basketball when swingman Wesley Matthews went down with a devastating Achilles injury with just six weeks remaining in the regular season. Portland limped into the playoffs after going 10-12 the rest of the way. A first-round ouster at the hands of the Grizzlies sent the franchise into the offseason with far more questions than answers. Gone are all but one starter from a season ago, and the franchise has transformed from a possible contender to a lottery-bound team in the span of but a few months.

Unfortunately for Blazers fans, the offseason was defined more by whom they lost than by any positive strides they might have made. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge departed as an unrestricted free agent for the Spurs, who offered him an opportunity to play in his home state as well as to contend for a title immediately. It doesn’t appear that the Blazers had a legitimate chance to retain Aldridge, whose top two choices were San Antonio and Phoenix, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported. Players of Aldridge’s caliber are especially difficult to come by, so his departure truly stings. The franchise reportedly explored potential sign-and-trade deals for both Aldridge and Matthews, but found no takers, according to GM Neil Olshey.

Forty percent of the starting lineup Portland put on the floor for the final game of its series against Memphis headed east to New York. Shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who replaced the injured Matthews, signed with the Knicks for two years and $16MM. Robin Lopez is set to terrorize local mascots for the next four years to the tune of $54MM. Portland will certainly feel the departure of Afflalo and Lopez in the short term. But neither player figured to be a part of the team’s rebuild anyway, and maintaining cap flexibility as well as clearing slots for younger players to develop is far more important for the Blazers in the long run than trying to eke out a few more victories this season.

The same thinking applies to allowing Matthews to depart to Dallas for a maximum salary deal. Matthews’ production will be missed, but his Achilles injury puts his future reliability in doubt, and at 29 years of age, he doesn’t fit with Portland’s rebuilding motif. The subtraction of Matthews opens the door for third-year shooting guard C.J. McCollum, whose fourth year option was picked up by Portland, to slide into a starting role. McCollum has been fantastic thus far in 2015/16, averaging 20.1 points per game as of this writing. It certainly appears as though the Blazers have found a second star to pair alongside franchise player Damian Lillard.

Speaking of Lillard, there were reports that Aldridge was jealous of the attention he received, and while both players have publicly denied any rift, the Blazers gave the impression that Lillard was the face of the franchise, a move that couldn’t have sat well with Aldridge. Lillard is a fantastic player who has ice water running through his veins at crunch time, and he’s talented enough to anchor the franchise for years to come. That’s an assessment the team almost certainly agrees with judging by the five-year maximum salary extension the team signed him to this offseason.

Portland was quite active on the trade front this summer, swinging three deals of significance. The first shipped swingman Nicolas Batum to the Hornets in exchange for 2014 lottery pick Noah Vonleh and shooting guard Gerald Henderson. Batum’s versatility will be missed, but I love the team nabbing Vonleh, whom Charlotte surprisingly gave up on after he missed all but 25 games of his rookie campaign due to injury. The 20-year-old is still extremely raw, but Vonleh is certainly talented and could evolve into a solid replacement for Aldridge down the line.

While Vonleh represents the future for the team, acquiring Mason Plumlee from the Nets in exchange for the rights to No. 23 overall pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a move for the present. Plumlee seemingly never earned the trust of Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins and had regressed slightly during the 2014/15 season. Plumlee has the potential to be a breakout player for Portland, though his ceiling isn’t close to what Vonleh’s could be. While I like the addition of Plumlee, as well uber-athletic swingman Pat Connaughton, acquired in the same deal, Hollis-Jefferson would have been the perfect replacement for Matthews’ athleticism and defense. Portland picked up Vonleh’s third-year option and Plumlee’s fourth-year option, ensuring both will remain in the fold for at least one more season.

The franchise also swung a deal with Orlando that brought over 22-year-old small forward Maurice Harkless in exchange for a heavily protected 2020 second-rounder. Harkless has been a disappointment thus far in the league since being nabbed with the No. 15 overall pick back in 2012. A change of scenery could be just what the (shot) doctor ordered for Harkless, and if he doesn’t produce in Portland, the team could simply allow him to depart as a restricted free agent next summer without having given up much for taking a chance on him.

The Trail Blazers dipped their toes into the free agent pool and came away with Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis for their efforts. Both players should help the team and contribute immediately, though four years for Aminu seems a bit risky given his career 6.6 PPG scoring average. Still, Aminu’s contract is front-loaded, and with the 6’9″ forward set to earn just $6.957MM in the final year, it’s hardly crippling or untradeable if things don’t work out.

Portland’s offseason was a mixture of disappointment and potential, though the franchise has clearly taken a step or two back talent-wise. The departures of Aldridge, Matthews and Batum certainly hurt, and while GM Neil Olshey made a number of savvy moves to try to plug the holes, the Blazers are no longer a Western Conference playoff contender. But there is hope for the future, and with Lillard and McCollum on the roster, the cupboard certainly isn’t bare. The organization is likely to have in excess of $40MM in cap space to play with next offseason, so a relatively quick turnaround to prominence is certainly within the realm of possibility.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Nuggets, Blazers

Kenneth Faried, who had some issues with former Nuggets coach Brian Shaw, likes the direction the team seems to be headed in and is surprised by the decent record so far under new coach Michael Malone, Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post details.

“Coming out, I felt that we were going to struggle at first,” Faried said. “And we’ve had our struggles, but we’re 6-6. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season, ‘Oh, the Nuggets will be 6-6 and ahead of a lot of people in the West,’ I would have said ‘all right.’”

Here’s more from around the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder recalled small forward Josh Huestis from the D-League, the team announced in a press release. Huestis has appeared in three games in the D-League this season, averaging 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 29.3 minutes per game.
  • Noah Vonleh, on whom the Blazers exercised their rookie scale team option for the 2016/17 season in September, is one of the team’s younger players who has developed through putting in extra practice time, Jason Quick of CSNNW.com writes in a three-part series on how the team is improving. While the team’s younger players show up well before practice, the veterans have logged hours after practice and both groups are vital parts of the Blazers’ rebuilding process, Quick adds.

2015/16 Salary Cap: Portland Trail Blazers

The NBA’s salary cap for 2015/16 has been set at $70MM, which is an 11% increase from this past season, and the luxury tax line will be $84.74MM. The last cap projection from the league had been $67.1MM, and the projection for the tax line had been $81.6MM.

With the October 26th cutoff date to set regular season rosters now past, we at Hoops Rumors are in the process of running down the current salary cap commitments for each NBA franchise for the 2015/16 campaign. Here’s the cap breakdown for the Portland Trail Blazers, whose regular season roster can be viewed here:

  • 2015/16 Salary Cap= $70,000,000
  • 2015/16 Luxury Tax Line= $84,740,000
  • Fully Guaranteed Salary Commitments= $47,479,873*
  • Partially Guaranteed Salary Commitments= $200,000
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary Commitments= $1,695,245
  • Total Salary Cap Commitments= $49,375,118
  • Remaining Cap Room= $20,624,882
  • Amount Below Luxury Tax Line= $34,418,299

*Note: This figure includes the $3,083,181 due Mike Miller, who agreed to a buyout.

Cap Exceptions Available:

  • Room Exception= $2,814,000

Cash Available to Send Out In Trades= $3,325,000

Cash Available to Receive Via Trade= $3,400,000

Last update: 11/18/15 @ 8:30pm

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Gerald Henderson Switches Agents

Trail Blazers shooting guard Gerald Henderson has changed agents, going from Wasserman Media Group to agent Jim Tanner of Tandem Sports and Entertainment, Erik Gundrsen of The Columbian reports. Henderson’s parting of ways with Wasserman was first reported by international journalist David Pick. The 27-year-old, who is earning $6MM this season, will become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Henderson joins a growing list of talent who have left the agency in the wake of Arn Tellem departing to accept a position with the Pistons during the offseason. The list of names is quite prominent, including the likes of Jabari Parker, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford, Danilo Gallinari and Joe Johnson all taking their earning potential elsewhere.

Henderson has been dealing with hip-related issues that have limited him to just four appearances thus far this season. His career numbers through 395 regular season contests are 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists to accompany a slash line of .442/.308/.794.

Northwest Notes: Garnett, Kanter, Blazers

Top draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns says he learns something every day from his Timberwolves teammate and mentor Kevin Garnett, he revealed during a Q&A session with NBA.com’s David Aldridge published in Aldridge’s weekly column. Garnett has been teaching Towns how to protect his body so that he doesn’t wear down during his first season. The rookie power forward also told Aldridge that Garnett has instilled him with three tenets: “Work harder. Play defense. And continue to compete.” Garnett’s influence on his young teammates is far-reaching, even though he denies he’s a coach on the floor, according to Marino Eccher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Garnett was spotted during Monday’s practice showing power forward Nemanja Bjelica how to guard pick-and-rolls in a one-on-one session, Eccher continues. After practice, Garnett provided teammates and coaches with insights on everything from defensive techniques to trash-talking, Eccher adds.

In other news around the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder could overwhelm opponents in the first quarter if they started Enes Kanter at center, Matt Moore of CBSSports.com opines. While Steven Adams has earned the starting job, Kanter’s defensive shortcomings are more of a liability when he plays with the second unit, Moore argues. Oklahoma City’s firepower with Kanter playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant would mask those shortcomings and the club could still close games with Adams in the middle, when defensive stops become more essential, Moore concludes.
  • The task for the Blazers this season is to find out which of their players around Damian Lillard are keepers and which aren’t, and games like Sunday’s clunker against the Hornets, after which coach Terry Stotts questioned his team’s effort and focus, can play a role in that process, as Jason Quick of CSNNW.com examines.
  • The Timberwolves are continuing to engage in talks about finding a D-League affiliate for next season, though they aren’t close yet, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

(Chuck Myron contributed to this report.)

And-Ones: Batum, Mavs, Celtics

Although he was initially shocked by the June trade that sent him from the Blazers to the Hornets, Nicolas Batum said he has embraced his new role with his new team and doesn’t harbor any ill will toward Portland, Jason Quick of CSNNW.com details. Batum, who was with Portland for seven seasons, scored 33 points Sunday in the Hornets’ win against the Blazers. “Why should I be angry? It wasn’t an anger game,” Batum said. “I respect them so much. They gave me my chance, when I was a rookie, 19 years old. They trade me because they think it’s the right thing to do, and I understand that. So now, I move on.’’

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Dwight Powell and Raymond Felton were both “throw-ins” who helped the Mavs acquire Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler in respective deals, but it’s Powell and Felton who are still with Dallas and playing as if they were the cornerstones of the trades, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News opines. Felton has started several games this season and Powell is averaging 10.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, Sefko adds.
  • The Celtics have moved rookies Terry Rozier and Jordan Mickey along with 2014 first-rounder James Young back and forth from the D-League as a way to get the young players more experience, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe examines. The assignments should not be considered demotions, Washburn writes, because it is the team’s way of tutoring these players. While Boston’s young players are racking up minutes in the D-League, other rookies around the league are just riding the bench, Washburn adds.
  • Tara Greco resigned this week from her role as NBPA communications director, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports reports (via Twitter).

Get the hottest NBA news and rumors before anyone else! Follow us on Twitter to stay updated: