Portland Trail Blazers

Northwest Notes: Chalmers, Jazz, Montero, Withey

Trading for Mario Chalmers makes sense for the Jazz, Kincade Upstill of the Deseret News opines. The Heat would prefer to offload salary, as they are about $5.66MM above the $84.74MM luxury tax threshold. Miami hasn’t ruled out trading Chalmers, who will make $4.3MM this season in the final season of his contract. The Jazz are nearly $7MM under the salary cap, so the team could acquire the point guard without sending any salary back. Upstill speculates that a second round pick from Utah would get a deal done due to Miami’s financial situation and its lack of future draft picks.

Dante Exum’s injury creates an opening in the team’s rotation. Trey Burke will slide into the staring lineup and Raul Neto, whose rights were acquired from Atlanta on draft night, will presumably be given the opportunity to run the second unit. The Jazz also have Bryce Cotton under contract, but his deal is non-guaranteed and he’s no lock to make the opening night roster. The team could also use Alec Burks as a de facto second unit point guard. That’s an intriguing option. It would also likely involve inserting Joe Ingles, whose a nifty passer who doesn’t need the ball in his hands, into the starting lineup next to Gordon Hayward and Burke, who can both be ball-dominant at times.

The options currently at the Utah’s disposal are all unproven. The team expects to compete for a playoff spot this season and if the cost of acquiring Chamlers, who has demonstrated he can contribute in the postseason, is as low as Upstill insinuates, then the Jazz might be smart to call Pat Riley and attempt to reach a deal.

Here’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Luis Montero’s deal with the Blazers only contains $100K in guaranteed salary this season, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets. Montero signed a three-year contract worth $2.4MM in early July. Portland currently has 17 contracts on the books, as our 2015/16 Roster Count page shows. Of those 17 deals, only 12 contain fully guaranteed salary and two, including Montero’s deal, contain partially guaranteed salary, so the 22-year-old has a decent shot at making the opening night roster.
  • Jeff Withey’s deal with the Jazz, which is a minimum arrangement over two seasons, contains $200K in guaranteed salary, Pincus adds in a seperate tweet. The pact includes a team option on year two. Utah has 20 contracts on the books, with 15 of them, including Withey’s deal, containing at least some guaranteed salary.

Neil Olshey On Aldridge, Batum, Aminu, Kanter

Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey was coy when Grantland’s Zach Lowe asked him why he signed Enes Kanter to a max offer sheet but hasn’t done so with Tristan Thompson, but Olshey expressed contentment and optimism about the roster he’s built even amid the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge. Olshey, speaking on The Lowe Post podcast, believes the revamped Blazers have the potential to grow like the group he had with the Clippers in 2010/11 that featured Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu, all of whom were 22 or younger.

Aminu, who turns 25 next month, is one of the new Blazers, and Olshey talked about the forward’s four-year, $30MM deal, Aldridge’s exit, and a host of other offseason topics. His entire conversation with Lowe is worth a listen, especially for Portland faithful, and we’ll round up a few highlights here:

On the fluctuation of the team’s chances to re-sign Aldridge:

“I think, honestly, because of how unhappy LaMarcus was when we all joined the Trail Blazers, myself, [coach] Terry [Stotts], our regime, it wasn’t like we were put on notice, Zach, but I think we were all aware that it was going to be an uphill battle, and I think it was an uphill battle that we had fought and won right up until [Wesley Matthews] was injured. … We were 100% confident in LaMarcus right up through the trade deadline, and then when Wes got hurt, and we weren’t playing as well, and we realized our margin for error with that group was more narrow than we would have liked to have believed, I think we felt like, you know what? We’re going to have more of a battle on our hands than we had anticipated in terms of keeping LaMarcus.”

On the Nicolas Batum trade, which Olshey said was made independent of Aldridge’s decision to walk:

“There was a three-fold approach there. One, we felt like if we brought in another starter, then Gerald Henderson would have strengthened the bench. We got a bright, young prospect in Noah Vonleh who we were really high on in the draft, and we created a positive variance in our favor in terms of our cap position to go and be more aggressive in free agency to continue to build with the group that was there. So, that deal was done absent anything with LaMarcus other than the fact that he was aware of the deal prior to us making the decision to move forward with Noah and Gerald in lieu of Nicolas.”

On those who would laugh at the team’s financial outlay in the the Al-Farouq Aminu deal:

“If they’re laughing, they haven’t seen him play, and they haven’t realized that in two years, the cap’s going to be $108MM, so you’re basically talking about a deal that’ll be less than what the mid-level was on previous caps. So, this is a guy that I know well. I drafted him. I had him for a year with the Clippers. He’s tracking up. I think his growth was accelerated by playing for Rick Carlisle in Dallas. I think that was like a three-year tutorial crammed into nine months. He’s a better player today than he was then. Look, we had moved Nic Batum. We wanted to get younger at that position and we wanted to get an athletic guy if we chose to push the floor. We felt like, at that point, he could play in multiple roles with LaMarcus or without, depending on what his decision was, and I really believe, look, when you look at a way a contract is structured, we had a lot of cap room this year [and] it’s a descending deal.”

On whether he truly wanted Kanter on the team:

“We did. We absolutely did. We pursued him. Look, it’s not the first time we went down the road of restricted free agency for a starting center and maybe won the recruiting battle but lost the war in terms of adding him to our roster, and that situation played out. You know, look, we’re really happy with the guys we have right now.”

What do you think of the way Olshey has positioned the Blazers for the post-Aldridge era? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Column: How Far Will Blazers Fall — If At All?

Sam Amico, the founder and editor of AmicoHoops.net and a broadcast journalist for Fox Sports Ohio, will write a weekly feature for Hoops Rumors with news, rumors and insight from around the NBA. If you missed last week’s edition, click here.

A lot of people think the Trail Blazers are headed straight down the Western Conference tubes.

That kind of makes sense. After all, star forward LaMarcus Aldridge split for San Antonio and the Blazers received nothing in return.

On top of that, Nicolas Batum was traded to Charlotte, Wesley Matthews signed with Dallas and Robin Lopez bolted for New York.

So scratch four starters off last season’s 51-31 team. That record was good enough for the West’s No. 4 playoff spot — and many considered the Blazers to be a younger, up-and-coming bunch that only needed a few more years to do something special.

Now, only Damian Lillard remains as a real hope.

Of course, Lillard is a pretty good place to start. The 6’3″ point guard is still only 25 years old, and coming off a season in which he averaged 21.0 points and 6.2 assists. He is a brilliant point guard, a winner, a guy who knows how to take over a game and keep his teammates happy.

This year, Lillard may get an idea of what Kyrie Irving must have felt like in Cleveland prior to LeBron James‘ return.

Lillard will have to direct an entirely new unit — a unit that looks significantly less talented than the one that gave the Blazers so many reasons to believe.

Free agent signees Ed Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu, and offseason trade acquisition Mason Plumlee, will likely form the starting frontcourt. Gerald Henderson, obtained in the Batum deal, is likely Lillard’s running mate in the backcourt.

Meanwhile, the bench is a mish-mash of youth, new faces and untapped potential – with the likes of everyone from big men Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh, to swingmen Allen Crabbe and Maurice Harkless, to guards C.J. McCollum and Phil Pressey, playing fairly large roles.

None are bad players. None are Aldridge or Batum or even Matthews or Lopez. At least not yet.

On the bright side, Terry Stotts is entering his fourth full season as Blazers coach, and he has proven he knows how to get the players’ attention. That can count for a lot when you’re looked at as fairly undermanned.

Also, Lillard hasn’t hung his head publicly over all the departures. Far from it.

“I’m looking forward to having a bigger role, to being the leader of the team, and I think it’s going to be fun,” he said in a press conference after signing a contract extension in July, as Joe Freeman of The Oregonian relayed. “I’m going to continue to be the same person. I’m going to continue to attack things with confidence like I always have. And, hopefully, it’ll all work out like I plan for it to work out.”

Of course, this is the West we’re talking about — a loaded conference with the Spurs, Rockets, Clippers and NBA champion Warriors all expected to finish near the top.

Memphis is another rugged playoff returnee, as is New Orleans. And Oklahoma City is expected back with the return of a healthy Kevin Durant.

So even with the old group, the Blazers would have had to really fight to hold their ground. Now? It may take a basketball miracle.

Then again, sometimes being counted out can really motivate a team. It happened in Denver not long after they traded Carmelo Anthony to New York in 2011 — when the Nuggets banded together without a true star and surprised their way to the postseason.

These Blazers will have to try to do something similar, and if they have anything going for them, it’s the fact no one expects them to do much. Most expect them to be forgotten.

That could indeed be the case. But at least the team’s clear-cut leader is promising to try to do his part.

“We’re a young team,” Lillard told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports last month. “There are going to be ups and downs. But I’m not giving up on anything. I don’t doubt that we can still compete. We got a lot of young athletes. I don’t feel like it’s going to be [solely] me up there. I feel like we got guys capable of stepping up and doing more than they’ve done in the past.”

If he’s right, maybe the Blazers can pull together. Maybe they can find some resolve, maybe they can overachieve. And maybe, their travel down the chutes won’t be as dramatic as some are predicting.

Northwest Notes: Henderson, Wolves, Claver

No player has been with a Northwest Division team longer than Nick Collison, who carved out a long-term stay with the SuperSonics/Thunder franchise even though he’s never played a starring role. He’ll make $3.75MM this season and next on the extension he signed in February. We listed the longest-tenured member of every team earlier today, and we’re sharing more from the Northwest Division here:

  • Trail Blazers trade acquisition Gerald Henderson wasn’t surprised the Hornets dealt him away, though the timing of the move caught him off guard, since it came the week after he opted in, as he tells Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. He maintains ties to the Charlotte area, but he’s enthusiastic about his new team. “It was not so much about being traded as where I was going. This is a contract year,” said Henderson, who’s set for free agency next summer. “I wanted to be at a place with opportunity, a good organization and potentially a chance to win. I got all those things in Portland.”
  • The Timberwolves allowed the $6,308,194 trade exception they picked up in the Kevin Love trade to expire unused Sunday, though that wasn’t a surprise, as I suggested earlier this month. They still have five other trade exceptions, the largest of which is worth $5MM and doesn’t expire until next July.
  • Victor Claver officially joined Valencia of Spain after the team matched the offer sheet he signed with Baskonia, the Spanish ACB league announced (Twitter link; translation via Austin Green of LosCrossovers). Valencia had held his Spanish rights from the time he spent with the team before his jump to the Trail Blazers in 2012. He finished up this past season playing in Russia after the Nuggets waived him following his inclusion in the Arron Afflalo trade.

And-Ones: Euroleague, Aldridge, Huertas

For the first time on North American soil, two Euroleague powerhouses will go head to head when Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and three-time European champs EA7 Emporio Armani Milan meet this fall. As Maccabi announced recently, the two squads will play at Chicago’s United Center on October 1st before heading to Madison Square Garden on October 4th.

Adding some intrigue to the games, Hoops Rumors has learned that it is very likely that Dragan Bender, whom Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress projects as a top-five pick in the 2016 draft, will be making the trip to the U.S. The Croatian star, who is signed to Adidas, did not take center stage at the Nike-run U19 World Championship games in June, but he’ll now get his chance to shine in NBA territory. Bender, who doesn’t turn 18 until November, has been wowing scouts for a long time with his play for Maccabi’s junior squad.

Euroleague teams have played exhibition games against NBA clubs in the past, but American fans will now be treated to one of Europe’s premier basketball rivalries. In 2014, Maccabi downed Milan in a playoff series to advance to the Final Four and eventually win the Euroleague title. In 1987 and 1988, Milan beat Maccabi in back-to-back championship games that featured legends such as Bob McAdoo and Mike D’Antoni, among others.

Here’s more NBA-related news:

  • The key to perhaps the most significant free agent coup of the summer was Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka, who “got the deal done” between LaMarcus Aldridge and the team, Aldridge tells USA Today’s Sam Amick. Udoka, a long-ago teammate of Aldridge’s with the Trail Blazers, took a flight with the power forward after San Antonio’s pitch meeting and cleared some of the doubts in his mind as he weighed the Spurs against signing with the Suns. “Everybody was making this big fuss about how I’m not going to be able to take shots anymore, or be the scorer that I am, and he was just telling me, ‘We need a guy to score down there. Tim [Duncan] is older, and we need a guy to command a double team down there,’” Aldridge said in part. “So I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not a Spur, because I’ve been averaging 23 [points per game] for the last three to four years, and maybe I don’t fit into y’all’s system of let’s all average 17 [points per game].’ And he was like, ‘No, we’re not trying to change who you are and make you average 16 or 17. We want you to be you, because you’re going to help us be better and vice versa.’ He kind of reaffirmed that they didn’t want to change me, and that who I am is OK.”
  • Point guard Marcelo Huertas, who had planned a jump to the NBA this season and had been expected to draw significant interest, has instead agreed to sign with Galatasaray of Turkey, according to the team (Twitter link; hat tip to Sportando’s Orazio Cauchi). Agent Gerard Darnes late last month denied reports that Huertas had a deal with the team at that point, though it appears that’s now the case.

Chuck Myron contributed to this post.

Western Notes: Thunder, Mavs, Blazers

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding Oklahoma City and what new Thunder coach Billy Donovan will bring to the team. He has already received rave reviews from the community. In a lengthy profile, Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman discusses how Donovan’s up-tempo, fan-friendly style of play transformed Florida into a national power in college basketball.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • With Al-Farouq Aminu now with the Blazers, the Mavs find themselves needing to replace Aminu’s spark off the bench, with the hopes that one of their new additions can fill the void, Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com writes. Aminu signed a four-year, $30MM deal with Portland. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson believes coach Rick Carlisle‘s track record of developing players will help the growth of some of Dallas’ young players like rookie Justin Anderson, Sneed adds.
  • Maurice Harkless was listed by Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders as a player who is in a better situation after changing teams this summer. Portland acquired Harkless in a trade with the Magic. Harkless is better off now, Brigham writes, because he has a solid opportunity to leap from a relative unknown in the league to a significant contributor for a respected team since the Blazers are rebuilding.

Northwest Notes: Bennett, Wolves, Jazz

The Wolves would move Anthony Bennett for the right price, but there are no active discussions, Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press tweets. The Wolves acquired Bennett in the Kevin Love trade that also brought Andrew Wiggins and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota. Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors re-examined the deal, which occurred one year ago today, and analyzed the status of each piece of the trade, including the draft pick that was sent to Philadelphia.

Here’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Wolves have not spoken to the Blazers about any deals in over a month, Krawczynski adds in a separate tweet. The two teams reportedly had talks regarding “a major deal,” though discussions ended without any deal being struck.
  • Jesse Blancarte of Basketball Insiders believes the Dante Exum injury will give Trey Burke an opportunity to show he is ready and capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA. Blancarte admits that Burke is a downgrade from Exum defensively, but he argues the drop off won’t be as significant as many expect. The scribe believes Utah’s improvement in the second half of last season had more to do with Enes Kanter‘s exit, which allowed Rudy Gobert to take on a bigger role, than Exum’s insertion into the starting lineup.
  • Burke should get the first crack at leading the Jazz this season, but the point guard is just focusing on improving his game, Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune writes. “My mindset is just keep working, getting better,” Burke said. “Obviously with Dante going down a lot of people think I’m going to start, but I’m not really worried about that, to be honest with you. This is a time for me to really focus on how I can improve this last stretch of the summer. That’s really my biggest focus right now.”

Wolves, Blazers Explored ‘Major’ Trade

Sources have informed Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter links) that the Blazers and Wolves had talks regarding what Bonnell termed, “a major deal,” though the discussions ended without any deal being struck. Bonnell also noted that the discussions were salary cap room driven, though he didn’t specify which players may have been involved, nor which team initiated the talks. The Trail Blazers currently have just $48,304,966 in guaranteed salary on the books for 2015/16, while the Timberwolves are over the $70MM salary cap with a total of $73,620,533 in guaranteed salary committed for next season, so it stands to reason that Minnesota was the franchise looking to shed some payroll, though that is merely my speculation.

The Wolves currently have a roster count of 17, including 16 players possessing fully guaranteed pacts, while Portland currently has 17 players on its roster, 12 of whom have fully guaranteed contracts. One aspect that could have made facilitating a trade easier is that almost all of Minnesota’s roster is eligible to be traded immediately since the franchise wasn’t especially active on the free agent market this offseason. Players who sign in the summer can’t be traded until December 15th at the earliest, or for 30 days after signing if they’re a draft pick.

There have been reports relaying that the Wolves were entertaining the idea of trading Ricky Rubio, who is scheduled to earn $12.7MM this coming season. Portland wouldn’t appear to be a match for the point guard, seeing as Damian Lillard is already firmly entrenched as the starter and franchise centerpiece at the point. Lillard certainly has the ability, if not the size, to play shooting guard full time, but it’s highly doubtful that the team would look to acquire Rubio, unless a third team were to potentially get involved.

Spurs Remain Interested In Rasual Butler

The Spurs continue to show interest in signing unrestricted free agent forward Rasual Butler, Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops reports (via Twitter). San Antonio’s interest in the veteran was first noted by Jason Quick of The Oregonian back in early July. Butler has also reportedly garnered attention this Summer from the Warriors and the Trail Blazers, and Portland was even said to have made a contract offer to the 36-year-old, though Butler was in no hurry to sign at the time.

San Antonio has in excess of $85MM in guaranteed salary already committed for the 2015/16 campaign, which includes 13 players inked to guaranteed contracts, as our roster count for the team illustrates. The Spurs, who are over both the salary cap and luxury tax line, can offer Butler no more than the veteran’s minimum salary. Whether or not that sum would be enough to entice Butler to play in Texas remains to be seen, but certainly the lure of joining a solid organization like the Spurs should hold some level of appeal. San Antonio already has starter Kawhi Leonard to man the three spot, as well as Kyle Anderson and Reggie Williams on the depth chart as reserves.

Butler, a 13-year NBA veteran, averaged 7.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in 75 appearances with the Wizards last season. His career numbers are 7.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.8 assists to go along with a slash line of .402/.363/.749.

Western Notes: Claver, Lucas, Jazz

Forward Victor Claver, who spent the last three seasons as a member of the Trail Blazers, officially has an offer on the table from the Spanish club Baskonia, the team announced (translation courtesy of Emiliano Carchia of Sportando). Valencia currently owns Claver’s rights in Spain and the team has five days to match the contract offer made by Baskonia to Claver, Carchia notes. Claver has appeared in 80 NBA contests and has averages of 3.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.7 assists, and he owns a slash line of .398/.293/.585.

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Kalin Lucas, who appeared in one game for the Grizzlies last season, auditioned for the Qingdao Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, but was not offered a contract by the team, international journalist David Pick relays (via Twitter).
  • The Jazz announced today that the team promoted Mark McKown to director of sports science/assistant coach and Isaiah Wright to head strength and conditioning coach.
  • The Blazers aren’t quite starting over as a franchise, but the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency to the Spurs has forced executive Neil Olshey to invest in intriguing but unproven talent this offseason, Michael Lee of The Washington Post writes. “That’s one of things I’m looking forward to, is what this team is going to become,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “The way Neil has constructed the roster, it’s a strong plan with a lot of young players that have a lot of room to grow. I think it’s a plan that is going to be challenging, fun and very rewarding.

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