Al-Farouq Aminu

Northwest Notes: Stephenson, Turner, Blazers

Newly acquired Timberwolves guard Lance Stephenson squared off against his former team Friday and Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had nothing but positive things to say about the 26-year-old journeyman, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

We had no problem whatsoever with him,” Gentry said regarding New Orleans’ decision to waive the then-15th man on their roster after a groin injury in November. “As a matter of fact, he probably raised our energy level as much as anyone. I think he’ll be fine. He’s playing for a great [Timberwolves] coach who loves energy and toughness and stuff like that.”

The Pelicans faced criticism at the time for parting ways with Stephenson as he recovered from the long-term injury but did so to free up space on their roster for Archie Goodwin (who has since been waived). Now Stephenson is back at full strength and on a 10-day contract looking to stick in Minnesota with a Timberwolves roster led by head coach Tom Thibodeau.

In two games with the Timberwolves so far, Stephenson has posted 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game. He’ll make $72K with Minnesota over the duration of his 10-day contract, in addition to the $1.2MM he’s owed by the Pelicans.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • The news that Trail Blazers swingman Evan Turner will miss 5-6 weeks comes just as the offseason acquisition was starting to find a rhythm in Portland, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Turner’s absence could thrust Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless into a bigger role defensively where Turner had been checking the opposing team’s most potent perimeter threat. In the same column, Richman also discusses the progress that Al-Farouq Aminu has made on the offensive end since being relegated to the bench.
  • With a 23-31 record, the Trail Blazers remain very much in the hunt for the final Western Conference playoff berth (Denver sits in the eight-seed at 24-29) but TNT analyst Kenny Smith is skeptical that they have enough resources. “I don’t think they have a lot of talent, honestly. I think that’s the problem,” Smith said. Molly Blue of The Oregonian relayed both Smith’s and Charles Barkley‘s reservations about the guard-heavy roster.
  • When budding Nuggets star Nikola Jokic dropped 40 points on the Knicks Friday, he became just the second Denver player to do so in Madison Square Garden, writes Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. The last? David Thompson in 1978,

Western Rumors: Bogut, Blazers, Lawson

Mavs center Andrew Bogut is willing to come off the bench, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports. That would allow coach Rick Carlisle to start Dirk Nowitzki at center. “He offered to come off the bench, if that’s a better situation for us,” Carlisle told Sefko. “You don’t often get a player of his stature offering to come off the bench for the betterment of the team. But because of his suggestion and this situation, we have that as an option.” Nowitzki faces difficult defense challenges playing power forward against more mobile players and is not used to coming off the bench. The downside is that Bogut is generally considered one of the league’s premier defensive big men.

In other news around the Western Conference:

  • The Trail Blazers need to find improvement from within rather than seeking a solution on the open market, Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com argues. Portland’s defensive issues stem from its conservative approach, which forces the second fewest turnovers in the league, Pelton continues. He also points out that the Blazers have to cut down on their penchant for fouling and improve their defensive rebounding. Injuries to forward Al-Farouq Aminu have also contributed to their defensive decline, Pelton adds.
  • There will be no suspensions or fines regarding the altercation on Tuesday between Rockets forward Trevor Ariza and Mavs center Salah Mejri, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26. Ariza was ejected after taking exception to something that Mejri said. After the game, Ariza and some of his teammates tried unsuccessfully to confront Mejri outside the Dallas locker room. The game was also marred by eight technical fouls and two flagrant fouls.
  • Backup point guard Ty Lawson is reviving his career with the Kings, as Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee examines in a column. Lawson has tenuous job security because of his non-guaranteed contract, Voisin notes, but he has become a big part of the Kings’ rotation. He averaged 15.5 points and 4.3 assists during a four-game winning streak that ended on Wednesday night. “He makes the game really easy for people and gets up and down the floor, and gets in the paint,” coach Dave Joerger told Voisin. “He’s playing really well. It’s been a successful week because of Ty Lawson.” Lawson’s $1,315,448 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster beyond January 10.

Injury Updates: Bogut, Parker, J.R. Smith

After leaving Monday night’s game against the Hornets with an apparent leg injury, Mavericks center Andrew Bogut has initially been diagnosed with a hyperextended knee, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. MacMahon reports that Bogut will undergo an MRI on Tuesday, which the team is hoping will confirm that initial diagnosis.

As head coach Rick Carlisle said, the Mavericks believe they “dodged a bullet” on Bogut’s injury, which could have been much more serious, but the veteran center will still likely be sidelined for multiple weeks, per MacMahon. Bogut should return to the court well in advance of February’s trade deadline, and by the time he gets back in the lineup, the Mavs’ hopes of making a run at a playoff spot may have further dwindled, increasing the likelihood that the former No. 1 pick gets dealt. MacMahon reported on Monday that Dallas isn’t shopping Bogut at the moment, but could consider a move in the new year if the chance to make the postseason slips away.

Here are a few more injury notes and updates from around the NBA:

  • Having missed two games with a thigh contusion, Tony Parker returned to the Spurs‘ lineup on Monday, but was sidelined again with an apparent knee injury. There’s no official word on Parker’s situation yet, but head coach Gregg Popovich said the point guard’s latest injury could keep him out for an extended period (link via ESPN.com).
  • J.R. Smith didn’t return to the Cavaliers‘ game on Monday against Toronto after suffering a left knee injury in the first quarter. As Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com details, initial X-rays were negative, but Smith will be further evaluated to determine the extent of the injury.
  • While the aforementioned players were being knocked out of action, one injured player returned to his team’s lineup on Monday, as Al-Farouq Aminu was active for the Trail Blazers after being sidelined for nearly a month due to a calf injury (Associated Press link via ESPN.com). Aminu saw 17 minutes of action in his return for Portland.

Al-Farouq Aminu Out Indefinitely

Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu will be sidelined for at least a “couple of weeks” due to a calf injury, Casey Holdahl of NBA.com reports. Coach Terry Stotts told members of the media that Aminu would be “reevaluated in a couple weeks,” which means that the 6’9″ forward will be in street clothes for the rest of the month, if not longer.

The 26-year-old suffered a left calf strain during Portland’s victory versus the Suns on November 8th. Aminu did not play in the Blazers’ loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, with Noah Vonleh getting the start in his place. The loss of Aminu certainly places additional strain on the team’s frontcourt depth, with Festus Ezeli already out until December with knee woes.

Aminu, who is earning $7,680,965 this season, has appeared in eight games thus far, averaging 6.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals in 26.1 minutes per outing. His shooting line is .279/.250/.533.

Blazers Notes: Whiteside, Aminu, Turner, Offseason

As we detailed on Tuesday, the Trail Blazers blew away their Northwest rivals when it came to offseason spending, committing more than $242MM ($234MM+ guaranteed) to free agent contracts. By comparison, the other four Northwest clubs combined to commit about $85MM to free agents. And the Blazers’ total doesn’t even include the $106MM extension that the club handed out to C.J. McCollum last week.

Considering so many of the Blazers’ big signings were players who were already on the team’s roster, it remains to be seen whether the franchise will take another step forward in the Western Conference picture this season. Zach Lowe of ESPN.com examined the situation in Portland in his latest column, and passed along a few interesting tidbits, so let’s round them up…

  • According to Lowe, the Blazers would have liked to make a run at Hassan Whiteside in free agency, but were “spurned” by the young center, who didn’t waste much time in agreeing to a new deal with the Heat. With Whiteside no longer in play, the Blazers could have pursued another center like Dwight Howard, Bismack Biyombo, or Ian Mahinmi, but ultimately went in another direction.
  • The Blazers’ decision to sign McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Meyers Leonard to pricey long-term contracts means that the team won’t have any cap room to work with for the foreseeable future. “Good players on favorable contracts are more valuable to us than cap room,” Blazers GM Neil Olshey said. “Especially in an era where all 30 teams have cap room — or the ability to get it. … With our interest in extending C.J., we weren’t going to be a cap room team next year, anyway.”
  • As Lowe observes, the Blazers are currently projected to be in luxury-tax territory in 2017/18 and perhaps 2018/19 as well. However, he notes that if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a new amnesty clause for each team, as the last CBA did, Portland could have an opportunity to avoid that fate.
  • Stotts tells Lowe that the Blazers intend to play Al-Farouq Aminu almost exclusively at power forward rather than small forward. As Lowe points out, that could be bad news for Noah Vonleh.
  • Damian Lillard‘s work ethic helps dictate the culture of selflessness in Portland, which will help ensure that all the players with huge new contracts will continue to work hard. Sources tell Lowe that when one recent draft pick entered the NBA “carrying a whiff of entitlement,” the Portland coaching staff pointed to Lillard and essentially said: “He’s way better than you, and he’s working harder.”
  • Olshey on the Blazers paying $70MM+ to both Crabbe and Turner: “The way the game is being played, plus the dearth of available wings, made us willing to pay a premium for two impact players that fit our model.” The GM is also confident that Turner will improve his outside shooting in Portland.

Northwest Notes: Stotts, Faried, Adams

The Trail Blazers successfully transformed their identity after the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs in free agency last summer, with the franchise focusing on adding players who would complement Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Ian Thomsen of NBA.com writes. “Free agency was like the draft for us — we were looking for the best players available, high talent, character, chemistry,” GM Neil Olshey said. “We were going to acquire players that were going to be with us long-term that we can grow and develop in our system, no different than if we had drafted them. It speaks to the confidence we have in [coach] Terry [Stotts] and our staff, that we can take guys that were not finished products and know that if we got the evaluation right, that this coaching staff would help them attain and reach that ceiling.

Here’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Stotts squeezed every bit of production he could out of his roster this season and has built Portland into a solid offensive team, Thomsen writes in the same piece. “Terry is really good,” Olshey said. “This is our fourth year, and there are very few team players who have been through here who haven’t maximized their abilities, especially on the offensive end. He has found a way to make it work.” Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu credits Stotts’ confidence in him with the improvement in his outside shooting, Thomsen notes. “I’ve been in places where they told me from Day One not to shoot one jump shot. They said, ‘We don’t want you to shoot,”’ Aminu said. “That definitely wasn’t the coaching here. It allowed me to grow.
  • Given his poor fit in the Nuggets offense and the team’s ample frontcourt depth, Denver would be wise to explore the trade market for power forward Kenneth Faried, Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders writes. Though Faried’s $12,078,652 salary for 2016/17 is likely to end up below market value after the salary cap increases this summer, the situation could become problematic if Faried is forced into a reserve role, Dowsett notes.
  • Thunder center Steven Adams‘ improved defense and ability to assist in guarding players on the perimeter have made a huge difference in how the team has performed this postseason, Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman observes. Adams becomes extension-eligible this summer heading into the final season of his rookie scale contract.

Southwest Notes: Alexander, Gentry, Aldridge

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander plans to be more active in the team’s offseason moves, according to Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com. Alexander gave GM Daryl Morey a vote of confidence this week but said he will take a more hands-on role in overhauling a roster that produced a disappointing 41-41 record and the eighth seed in the West. “I think I will change a little bit,” Alexander said. “More scrutiny and what they’re doing. I was thinking about doing it anyway but after this season, definitely.” Among Houston’s decisions will be whether to retain interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who posted a 37-34 record after taking over for Kevin McHale in November. Alexander didn’t commit to keeping Bickerstaff, but did toss a compliment his way. “He’s got a winning record,” Alexander said, “which is good from where he started.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is hoping for a fresh start next season after a disastrous first year in New Orleans, writes Justin Verrier of ESPN.com. Gentry was hired to take the next step with the Pelicans after they claimed the final playoff spot in 2014/15, but the team was slowed by a long string of misfortune. New Orleans players ended the season with 351 games missed due to injuries and illness, the second-highest total in the past decade. Looking ahead, Gentry has a vision for the type of player he wants to acquire in the offseason. “I think we need that 6’7″ athletic guy that can also be somewhat of a facilitator,” he said. “As to names, I have no idea who that is, but I know that he’s out there. And so that would be obviously a priority for us.”
  • The Spurs became a better defensive team after trading Tiago Splitter and signing LaMarcus Aldridge, according to Matthew Tynan of RealGM. Splitter is considered the better defender, but Aldridge has more range and mobility, Tynan notes, which gives Tim Duncan the more natural role of rim protector.
  • Jae Crowder, who has emerged as a star in Boston, couldn’t wait to get out of Dallas, writes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Before being included in the 2014 trade that brought Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks, Crowder was frustrated by a lack of playing time, two trips to the D-League and Dallas’ signings of Al-Farouq Aminu, Chandler Parsons and Richard Jefferson.

Western Notes: Matthews, Aminu, Thunder

Wesley Matthews, who signed a four-year, max deal with the Mavs in July, is able to do more on his surgically-repaired left leg and there is a distinct possibility he will play without a minutes restriction by the end of November, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News writes. Sefko cites a couple of key plays, including a dive the shooting guard made, in Saturday’s game as steps forward for Matthews, who is limited to around 30 minutes per game.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Al-Farouq Aminu is blossoming into a consistent scorer after inking a four-year deal with the Blazers during the summer because he is being utilized in a variety of ways offensively, Mike Richman of The Oregonian details. While Aminu’s best skill remains his versatility on defense, as Richman adds, Aminu is pushing the ball in fast-breaks and is more involved in pick-and-rolls. “I always thought that he was a solid piece to every team that he had been on. But he never had the opportunity to be the offensive player that he is for us,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard said. “And I don’t think it was ever needed from him to be what he is for us.”  
  • Not much has changed so far statistically for the Thunder under new coach Billy Donovan as the team still isn’t strong defensively, a scout explained to Sam Amick of USA Today Sports. Before Sunday’s game, the Thunder were allowing 108 points per game so far this season, which was 27th in the league.
  • Jason Thompson, formerly of the Kings, clarified the comment he made last month when he said the comparison between his old team and the Warriors (his current team) is night and day, telling Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee he just meant Golden State is “established.” “I just meant that there wasn’t uncertainty of positions, there wasn’t uncertainty of the front office, and everyone got along,” Thompson said of the Warriors.

Western Rumors: World Peace, Clippers, McGee

Metta World Peace not only made the Lakers‘ opening-day roster, but the club also plans to make him an assistant coach after his playing career, league sources told Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania. The veteran small forward, who beat out Jabari Brown for the final roster spot, has been mentoring several young Lakers players, including 2014 lottery pick and power forward Julius Randle, Charania adds. World Peace is excited about the possibility of being a coach, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes tweets. “It would be fun,” World Peace said. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a coach? It’s a great life.”

In other news around the Western Conference:

  • Luc Mbah a Moute secured the Clippers’ final roster spot over veteran forward Chuck Hayes because of his defensive prowess, Dan Woike of the Orange County Register reports. Clippers coach Doc Rivers told Woike that he views Mbah a Moute as a defensive specialist. “He’s one of those guys that can be a great team defender,” Rivers said. The small forward wound up with the Clippers after the Kings voided Mbah a Moute’s free agent deal with the team this summer, claiming he failed his physical because of a shoulder injury, Woike adds.
  • Center JaVale McGee is still “weeks away” from being cleared to play but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is encouraged by his progress, Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com tweets. McGee is rehabbing from a left tibial stress fracture. Salah Mejri appears to be the main backup to Zaza Pachulia until McGee returns.
  • Al-Farouq Aminu has made a strong impression on his Trail Blazers teammates with his defensive versatility, according to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. Aminu was signed as a free agent to a four-year, $30MM deal to be their defensive stopper, Freeman continues. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades, a guy who can do everything,” shooting guard C.J. McCollum said to Freeman. “I think he’s really, really talented defensively. He’s a guy who can guard multiple positions, can guard a point guard, he can get switched on the four or five and hold his own, rebound, block shots, run the floor.” However, he may miss the season opener because of a left hamstring strain, Casey Holdahl of Trailblazers.com reports.
  • Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley is ready for the season opener after a hand injury that required surgery prevented him from playing during the team’s postseason run, Jenny Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes. Beverley missed one preseason game with groin soreness, but averaged 7.7 points and 3.7 assists in seven other preseason outings.

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.

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