Anfernee Simons

Northwest Notes: Simons, Favors, Beasley, Timberwolves

Anfernee Simons‘ recent play has justified former Blazers executive Neil Olshey’s faith in him, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. Olshey maintained that Simons was the most talented player he had ever drafted, even though he had also selected Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin and CJ McCollum during his career. A late first-rounder in 2018, Simons has averaged 28.3 PPG and 8.2 APG in his last six games. Simons will be a restricted free agent this summer.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Thunder big man Derrick Favors shrugs off the trade rumors surrounding him, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets. “I think every year I’ve been in the league, my name’s been in trade rumors … I’m pretty much used to it,” he said. “I don’t really pay attention to it. I try to control what I can control. I try to, like coach says, keep my feet grounded where I’m at.” Favors, who has appeared in 31 games with Oklahoma City this season, holds a $10.18MM player option on his contract for next season.
  • Malik Beasley‘s subpar perimeter shooting is hampering the Timberwolves offense and making him more difficult to trade before next month’s deadline, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic opines. Beasley is averaging 12.3 PPG while shooting a career-low 37.3% from the field. Beasley is signed through the 2023/24 season, though the final year is a team option.
  • On that same topic, the Timberwolves are in a tricky spot regarding the trade deadline, Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. They are in the playoff hunt, hovering around the .500 mark, and could be buyers if they want to enhance their chances of a postseason berth. They could just as well trade veterans such as Patrick Beverley for assets or simply stand pat and see if the current group can develop more chemistry.

Trail Blazers Notes: Billups, Lillard, Simons, Powell, Elleby

Chauncey Billups‘ first season as an NBA head coach hasn’t been anything like he anticipated, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Portland is reeling with a 16-25 record amid a series of injuries and players in the health and safety protocols that has left Billups with a constantly changing lineup.

Six rotation players were missing from Thursday’s loss at Denver, although the situation should begin to improve with the expected return of CJ McCollum on Monday. The Blazers also had to deal with 0ffcourt turmoil as Chris McGown resigned as president and CEO and Neil Olshey was fired as president of basketball operations following an investigation into workplace conditions.

“This year has been unbelievable,” Billups said before Thursday’s game. “We’re 40 games in and we’ve been really in flux a lot, from internally to the team to the COVID to the injured. I mean, it’s just been crazy. So, it’s making me a better coach. I don’t know who I’m going to have every game I come out and play. So, I got to kind of rearrange things. It really is making me a ton better.”

There’s more from Portland:

  • Damian Lillard put off surgery for as long as he could, but it became too difficult to keep playing through the pain caused by abdominal tendinopathy, per Casey Holdahl of NBA.com. Lillard rested for a month after the Olympics with the hope that it would help his condition, but he said the discomfort returned early in training camp. He underwent surgery this week and will be re-evaluated in five to six weeks. “I know (surgery) is ultimately going to be what’s best for the team, too,” Lillard said. “I’d rather be selfish for the team, what I see for our organization and where I want it to go. It makes no sense to keep doing it the way we was doing it. It’s like, all right, take a step back to take how many steps forward. It’s just what had to happen.”
  • While he’s out of action, Lillard is working with the team’s younger players, including Anfernee Simons, who has excelled since taking over Lillard’s starting spot, Holdahl adds. “Ant is like my protege, he’s been under my wing,” Lillard said. “We train together in the summer, I’m always talking to him, I’m always in his ear, we’re always texting and stuff like that because I’ve always believed in him to the highest power.”
  • Norman Powell has formed a similar relationship with CJ Elleby, notes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Elleby has used what he learned from Powell to become a reliable rotation player while the Blazers are short-handed.

COVID-19 Updates: Magic, Trail Blazers, Rockets, Pacers

Here are the latest updates on players and coaches entering and exiting the NBA’s coronavirus health and safety protocols:

  • Four Magic players have cleared the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and will suit up for Orlando against the Celtics. The team has announced (Twitter link) that center Mohamed Bamba, shooting guard Mychal Mulder, swingman Terrence Ross and point guard Hassani Gravett are all now available.
  • Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups, who has been unavailable since December 27, has exited the NBA’s coronavirus protocols, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Portland lead assistant Scott Brooks, who had been serving in Billups’s stead as acting head coach, has entered COVID-19 protocols, per Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Hardship signee Cameron McGriff has entered the protocols, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (via Twitter). Combo guard Anfernee Simons has left protocols after just three days, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The 13-22 Trail Blazers could certainly use all the help they can get, and the return of the 6’3″ guard will help shore up a team still missing seven players to health and safety protocols, with McGriff now replacing Simons in coronavirus protocols.
  • Rockets wing Garrison Mathews has cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Houston rewarded Mathews for a solid performance early in the 2021/22 season by converting his two-way contract into a fresh four-year, $8MM deal last month.
  • Pacers small forwards Caris LeVert and T.J. Warren, plus center Goga Bitadze, have entered the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). Warren has been dealing with a major foot injury since the start of 2020/21, and has only played in four games over the past two seasons. Today’s news brings Indiana’s total count for players in protocols to eight.
  • After exiting the protocols on Friday, Pistons guard Cory Joseph has re-entered them, tweets Rod Beard of The Detroit News.

COVID-19 Updates: Wizards, Trail Blazers, Heat, Rockets, Sixers, I. Thomas, More

The league continues to be battered by players entering and exiting the health and safety protocols. If any of the players entering the protocols registered a confirmed positive COVID-19 test, they’ll remain sidelined for at least six days or until they can return two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

Here are the latest updates from around the NBA:

Damian Lillard Losing Patience In Portland, Wants Blazers To Trade For Ben Simmons

Damian Lillard is becoming frustrated with the Trail Blazers’ performance, and tensions appear to be increasing between the players and new coach Chauncey Billups, sources tell Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Portland’s front office didn’t make the significant roster changes that Lillard requested during the offseason, and the team has fallen to 11-13 after a pair of lopsided losses. Charania and Amick say that Lillard would like to see the Blazers acquire Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons to help improve a defense that ranks last in the league.

Sources tell the authors that the front office, under recently fired general manager and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, set a framework of a deal that would have sent CJ McCollum, a first-round pick, and either Nassir Little or Anfernee Simons to Philadelphia in exchange for Simmons. The Sixers reportedly countered by asking for McCollum along with multiple draft picks and future draft swaps, which Portland turned down.

It’s not clear if that offer is still on the table or if any major deal will be made before Olshey’s permanent replacement is hired, according to Charania and Amick.

Olshey never lost confidence in the roster that he built, which is why he didn’t overhaul it after Lillard’s offseason request. He also ignored Lillard’s desire to consider Jason Kidd as head coach after firing Terry Stotts, making a controversial move with Billups instead. Lillard wanted an experienced coach instead of a first-timer like Billups and was willing to accept Mike D’Antoni as well, according to the authors.

Although Billups has vowed to improve the team’s defense from the time he was hired, Portland’s performance on that end of the court hasn’t changed. Billups has also alienated players by publicly criticizing their effort after losses, with the latest instance coming Saturday.

“Competitive fire and pride, that’s something you either have or don’t have,” Billups said after his team gave up 145 points to the Celtics. “That’s something you can’t turn off and turn on. … I’ve never seen a team that needs its bench to inspire our starters. (That’s) crazy to me. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”

Lillard’s decline in production is also contributing to his frustration. He’s dealing with an abdominal injury that will keep him out of action at least through the end of the week. His scoring average has fallen from 28.8 PPG last season to 21.5 PPG so far this year. He’s getting fewer shots in Billups’ offense and is connecting at a career-worst 39.7% from the field and 30.2% on three-pointers. He’s also being used in pick-and-rolls less frequently than under Stotts and is seeing fewer free throw attempts.

Lillard still hasn’t asked for a trade and plans to give the organization time to find a new leader before deciding on his next move, Charania and Amick add. However, his desire for a roster upgrade hasn’t changed.

There are two important dates to watch in determining Lillard’s future with Portland, the authors note. The trade deadline is February 10, roughly two months away, so if Lillard wants to leave the Blazers this season, he will have to request a deal by then. The other is July 6, when Lillard will become eligible for a super-max extension that would be worth $106.6MM over two seasons and would push his contract through the 2026/27 season. Lillard’s ultimate decisions will likely be determined by what the team does with its roster by then.

Billups Expresses Frustration With Blazers’ Compete Level

The up-and-down Trail Blazers had perhaps their worst game of the season on Sunday in Denver, losing by 29 points to the Nuggets and falling to 6-8. While Portland was playing without star point guard Damian Lillard, Denver was missing Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Will Barton.

Following the loss, Blazers coach Chauncey Billups expressed displeasure with his club’s compete level, as detailed in stories from Jason Quick of The Athletic and Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

“I’m confused,” Billups said. “I don’t think we came to compete in this game. I mean, this is a team that beat us in the playoffs last year. And we come out and don’t even compete in the first quarter. Kind of … a little disappointed in that. The effort. Just no fight. No fight.”

Asked about the possibility of making lineup or rotation adjustments to shake things up for the Blazers, Billups suggested that changes could be around the corner.

“It’s coming. That point is coming soon,” Billups said. “If we continue to play like that … because if you think about it, you keep playing that way, at some point I have to look at it and say something isn’t quite working. And then maybe think about shifting some things around.”

In Quick’s view, changes seem most likely to come at power forward and/or center, since Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic have been inconsistent so far this season, while bench players like Nassir Little, Larry Nance Jr., and Cody Zeller have provided more stability. Billups, who said earlier this month that Covington “could be better defensively,” stated on Sunday that he’s been happy with the effort he’s seeing from his reserves, including Anfernee Simons, Dennis Smith Jr., Little, and Nance.

“All of the second unit played as hard as we need them to play,” Billups said. “The first unit, they didn’t have it.”

The first-year head coach acknowledged that Portland had a busy schedule during the last week, playing four road games in six days. However, Billups didn’t view fatigue as a viable excuse for the team’s lack of effort.

“I just think there is no real reason to not have effort,” Billups said. “We’ve had a lot of games, so I can see being tired. … I can see if we come out and play our behinds off, but we just run out of gas. I can live with that. I don’t like losing like this. That game was over.”

Northwest Notes: Simons, Conley, Azubuike, Z. Wade

Trail Blazers forward Anfernee Simons has really started to blossom during his fourth year, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic.

A lot of Simons’ improvement appears to be a credit to his commitment to offseason workouts with longtime trainer Phil Beckner. One of Portland’s many undersized guards, Simons is averaging career highs of 12.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.4 APG and 22.8 MPG through his first five games during the 2021/22 season.

“Usually, he would train with me here and there,” Beckner said. “And at the start of the summer he wanted to know where I was going to be. I told him either Phoenix or Portland. So I asked him where he was going to be. His answer: ‘Wherever you are at.”’

“Everybody kept telling me, ‘My time is coming. My time is coming …’ and I wanted to be prepared,” Simons said. “New coach, new opportunity, and I wanted to be prepared as much as possible to show I’m ready for it. So that was my whole thing this summer: follow Phil around and get better each day.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • 34-year-old veteran Jazz point guard Mike Conley sat out his first game of the season yesterday, a 107-99 loss to the Bulls in which the Jazz desperately could have used Conley’s leadership, in a conscientious load management decision from head coach Quin SnyderEric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune details Utah’s thinking. “It’s more of a holistic decision, and one that we think is the best for our team and for Mike,” Snyder said. “I think, given the choice, he’d try to play every back-to-back. But I’m not gonna let him do that.” Conley is set to return tonight against the Bucks, per Jazz.com.
  • Newly-installed Jazz general manager Justin Zanik addressed the decision to pick up the team’s 2022/23 option on intriguing second-year center Udoka Azubuike, writes Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune. “I was very happy with him in the summer and the work that he’s done,” Zanik said. “It’s just really hard to be in game-type shape when you’re not playing games.” Azubuike appeared in just 15 contests as a rookie.
  • 19-year-old rookie guard Zaire Wade, selected with the tenth pick in the NBA G League draft by the Salt Lake City Stars, G League affiliate to the Jazz, acknowledged grappling with detractors in his entrance to the pro ranks, writes Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune. His father, future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade, is a part-owner of the Jazz. “I think a lot of people think that I’m not a hard-working kid and things get handed to me,” Zaire said. “Nothing’s handed to me. Coach said he noticed after the first day I stepped here, I’m just working hard trying to earn everything myself. I’m trying to make a name for myself.”

Trail Blazers Notes: Simons, Billups, Little, Powell, Snell

One way for the Trail Blazers to realize internal improvement would be for fourth-year guard Anfernee Simons to blossom. Simons wants Chauncey Billups to provide tough love in their relationship, Casey Holdahl of the team’s website writes.

“It’s been good, good feedback,” Simons said about the first-year head coach. “Tell me anything no matter what. Have no filter for me. And that’s the only way we’re going to get a better relationship and how we get better.”

Simons is off to a promising start, averaging 14.5 PPG and 2.5 APG.

“I just think he’s so good, he’s so gifted,” Billups said. “The way that he can handle the ball, he can get to anywhere he wants on the floor, he’s a big time shooter. So I’m always just trying to pump confidence into him.”

Simons will be a restricted free agent next season if he receives a qualifying offer from the club.

We have more on the Trail Blazers:

  • Nassir Little has also found Billups’ coaching style to be productive, as he told Mike Richman in his daily podcast (video link). “He’s calm but he’s straightforward,” Little said. “He’s not going to sugarcoat it or beat around the bush. He holds everybody accountable equally, including himself.”
  • Norman Powell has been diagnosed with left patellar tendinopathy, Jay Allen of RipCityRadio 620 tweets. Powell departed early in Saturday’s game after injuring his knee. He’s listed as out for tonight’s game against the Clippers.
  • Tony Snell is also listed as out, Allen adds. Snell continues to work his way back from a right foot sprain that sidelined him during the preseason. Snell suffered a minor setback in his recovery last week.

Northwest Notes: Simons, Gupta, Towns, Krejci

No rookie scale extension is expected for Anfernee Simons before today’s deadline, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic (Twitter link), who says the Trail Blazers want to see more from the fourth-year guard before committing to him beyond the 2021/22 season. The club believes Simons can be more consistent and productive under new head coach Chauncey Billups, Quick adds.

Simons hit 42.6% of his three-pointers last season for the Trail Blazers, but played a fairly modest role off the bench, with 7.8 PPG and 2.2 RPG in 64 games (17.3 MPG). He’ll be eligible for restricted free agency in 2022.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Chris Hine of The Star Tribune takes an in-depth look at the philosophy new Timberwolves head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta is bringing to the role. Despite not having any assurances that he’ll keep the job long-term, Gupta insists he doesn’t feel pressure to impress ownership by making a major move. “I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “I don’t view it as like, ‘Oh I’ve got this for a time. I’ve got to try and prove myself and I’ve got to make a splash quickly and try to save the job.'”
  • Speaking to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns compared staying in Minnesota to sticking with the Dominican Republic national team rather than reclassifying to play for Team USA. “I like taking the hard route. I like going the more rewarding route,” Towns said. “I love being with the Dominican Republic national team. There’s a lot of things they haven’t done, and I’m able to possibly change that. The challenge is what I’ve always strived for.”
  • Thunder guard Vit Krejci, who had been dealing with visa issues, has been cleared to practice and play with the team, head coach Mark Daigneault said this weekend (Twitter link via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman). Krejci is expected to spend a good chunk of time this season with the Oklahoma City Blue in the G League.

Extension Rumors: Bridges, Huerter, Shamet, A. Holiday

The Hornets have engaged in discussions about a possible rookie scale contract extension for forward Miles Bridges, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Bridges is one of 18 players who remains eligible for a rookie extension up until the October 18 deadline.

Scotto says that some people around the NBA believe $20MM per year would be the floor for Bridges on a new deal. That’s the same price that has been frequently projected for another Bridges with a similar skill set: Mikal Bridges of the Suns.

Here are a few updates from Scotto on possible rookie scale extensions:

  • The Suns and sharpshooter Landry Shamet have been having ongoing conversations about a possible extension, with one source suggesting that the odds of the two sides reaching a deal are about 50-50, says Scotto. Shamet has yet to appear in a regular season game for his new team, but Phoenix had reportedly coveted him for a while.
  • Scotto suggests that Hawks wing Kevin Huerter could get “Joe Harris type of money,” adding that some people around the league think Huerter’s value is in the neighborhood of $18MM annually. Harris signed a four-year, $72MM contract with Brooklyn during the 2020 offseason.
  • The Wizards and Aaron Holiday aren’t discussing an extension, but Washington likes the 25-year-old and will likely evaluate him over the course of the 2021/22 season, according to Scotto.
  • Extensions for Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons and Bulls swingman Troy Brown appear unlikely, per Scotto.