Chauncey Billups

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, Billups, Thunder, Hornets, Raptors, More

The Wizards now have five players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, according to head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who told reporters today that Anthony Gill and Thomas Bryant are the latest players to enter the protocols (Twitter link via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington).

Bryant is coming off an ACL tear and has yet to play this season, so being in the protocols won’t affect his availability. However, Gill will no longer be an option in the short term for the Wizards after appearing in eight of the team’s last 11 games.

Here are more COVID-19 updates from around the NBA:

  • Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups has entered the COVID-19 protocols, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links), who reports that assistant Scott Brooks is expected to become Portland’s acting head coach as long as Billups is unavailable.
  • Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl of the Thunder have entered the health and safety protocols, according to the team (Twitter link via Wojnarowski). Aaron Wiggins also briefly entered the protocols, but has since been listed as available, tweets Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City now has four players in the protocols.
  • The Hornets announced some good news and some bad news on Monday. While Cody Martin has exited the protocols and has been cleared to play on Monday vs. Houston, rookie Scottie Lewis is now in the protocols, according to the team (Twitter link).
  • Three Raptors players – Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch, and Gary Trent Jr. – have exited the protocols and are listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game vs. Philadelphia as they go through a reconditioning period, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. Toronto still has seven players in the protocols, but may finally be trending in the right direction.
  • Celtics forward Grant Williams boarded a flight to Minnesota earlier today and expects to play tonight vs. the Wolves, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link). Williams has been in the health and safety protocols since December 17.
  • Although Ziaire Williams remains on the shelf due to an ankle sprain, he’s no longer listed in the protocols in the Grizzlieslatest injury report, suggesting he has been cleared.

Blazers Notes: Billups, Cronin, Lillard, Struggles, Zeller

Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups and interim GM Joe Cronin have an interesting shared history, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. Billups and Cronin were high school opponents in 1994, when they competed for the Colorado Class 6A state championship.

Billups was the star of George Washington High and led his team to a 71-67 victory over Cronin’s Horizon High. Billups had 31 points and nine assists in the title game, while Cronin had 22 points and 15 rebounds in defeat.

After Cronin joined the Blazers as an intern in 2006, he was quickly promoted to scouting assistant, and later assistant director of scouting and salary cap analyst. While Billups was playing in the NBA, he noticed Cronin’s name in Portland’s front office department and was dying to know if it was the same person he’d competed against many years before, per Quick.

I was 10 years into my NBA career, and I was looking at the front offices around the league, and I see Joe Cronin’s name,” Billups remembered. “And I wondered to myself: Is that the Joe Cronin? So I started asking questions. And I wanted to see a picture. I wanted to see if this was actually Joe.”

However, Cronin was always on the road scouting, so Billups never got confirmation that it was the same person he knew from high school until he interviewed for the head coaching job over the summer.

When this opportunity came up, and I was talking to Neil [Olshey], I was like: ‘Where is Joe? I need to see Joe. I need to make sure this is the same dude,'” Billups said.

Billups finally saw Cronin on a Zoom interview and recognized him immediately, 27 years later, Quick relays.

Here’s more from Portland:

  • Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated takes a close look at the relationship between Billups and star point guard Damian Lillard. “We’re forming a bond more so than anything else, it’s just like we always sit and talk over everything. And that’s something that’s fun to have,” Billups said.
  • Lillard gave a speech to the Blazers last Monday imploring them not give up on the season, Quick writes for The Athletic. “This is the moment a lot of teams choose to just pack it in and say, you know, it’s tough, we are this many games under .500 and we haven’t been playing great … and they just fold and become one of those bottom teams,” Lillard said he told the team. “And I just said that’s not who we are … it’s not the situation we want to be in, but we dig. We dig out and find a way, and we are going to do that once again.”
  • In a separate article, Quick explores what has gone wrong for the Blazers this season and how they can try to climb out of the hole. They currently have a 12-18 record, 11th in the West.
  • Backup center Cody Zeller has suffered a small right patellar fracture (broken kneecap), the team announced on Dec. 11. In the release, the Blazers said he’ll be reevaluated in one week, but an update on his recovery timeline has yet to be posted. Zeller is having a solid season for Portland, averaging 5.1 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 24 games (13.3 MPG).

Joe Cronin Will Be Given Chance At Blazers’ GM Job

At a potentially crucial stage for the Trail Blazers, interim general manager Joe Cronin will be given the opportunity to earn his position on a permanent basis, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

At a press conference Thursday, new president of business operations Dewayne Hankins said the organization is in the “first quarter” of its GM search and there’s no timeline to fill the role. Hankins said franchise chair Jody Allen and vice chair Bert Kolde will give Cronin the freedom to handle all the typical GM duties, but his primary mission will be to reform the roster to contend for a title.

“Ownership has been very upfront with me and they’ve told me that they believe in me and obviously by giving me this role, they trust me to transition this organization,” Cronin said. “So they haven’t made many declarations other than, ‘This is a nice venue for you to be able to do good work, and you’ll be evaluated,’ and I do have a chance. They told me, ‘You’ll have an opportunity. This is going to be a fair opportunity to prove yourself.'”

Cronin, who took over as interim GM after Neil Olshey was fired last week, said he has been working with coach Chauncey Billups to identify players around the league who might be available before the February 10 trade deadline. The slumping Blazers may have to shake up their roster soon after dropping four straight games and sliding to 11th place in the Western Conference.

Cronin explained to reporters that he will talk to other GMs about potential deals, but won’t finalize anything without approval from Allen and Kolde.

“The way I’ve kind of approached this is, I’m going to get the deal to the one-yard line, and then I’m going to take it to Jody and Bert, and then they make the final call,” Cronin said. “They’ll have our recommendations as to what to do. So, it’s pretty standard that way in the regard of there is a clearinghouse you have to go through. But my understanding is yes, go out, do your job, find deals, participate as if you are the GM.”

Trade rumors have surrounded the franchise for months, particularly involving star guard Damian Lillard. However, Lillard made a statement this week that he remains committed to staying in Portland and isn’t looking for a deal. Backcourt partner CJ McCollum is also seen as a potential trade candidate, along with Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic, who both have expiring contracts.

Billups, who also spoke at the press conference, said he wants a team that plays smart and shows competitive fire. He has criticized his players on numerous occasions for their effort following losses.

“Our roster is our roster and we’ve got some really talented players,” Billups said. “And when we’re playing well, we’re playing together, we’re pretty damn good. We’ve proven that already this year. And then we can be pretty bad too.”

Blazers Notes: Cronin, Lillard, McCollum, Trade Targets, Luxury Tax

Blazers interim general manager Joe Cronin said the roster requires some changes and vows it will happen, Mark Medina of NBA.com tweets. “We know there’s something we need to do with the roster, and we will,” he said.

Cronin has “constant communications” with Damian Lillard about the roster. Cronin also indicated that Lillard and CJ McCollum are “happy” with head coach Chauncey Billups and his staff.

Cronin says he has the backing of the team’s ownership, Medina adds in another tweet. “They told me they believe in me,” he said. “They haven’t made many declarations other than this is a nice venue for you to do good work, you’ll be evaluated and you’ll have a chance.”

Cronin was the team’s director of player personnel before GM Neil Olshey was fired last week.

We have more on the Blazers:

  • HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan discuss trade scenarios involving McCollum — currently out with a collapsed lung — and the search for new GM in a podcast. Scotto believes the franchise should pursue trades for their backcourt stars and start a rebuild.
  • Gozlan explores potential trade targets for McCollum, including Ben Simmons, Pascal Siakam, Myles Turner and others, in a separate HoopsHype story.
  • Whether they make big or small moves, the Blazers have to find a way to get under the luxury tax threshold, The Athletic’s John Hollinger writes. They’re currently $3MM over the tax line and it’s not worth paying that price, given the team’s current issues.

Damian Lillard: “I’m Not Asking For A Trade”

Damian Lillard has tried again to quell speculation that he wants out of Portland, Ros Gold-Onwude of ESPN reports on “NBA Today” (video link). Addressing the media during today’s shootaround, Lillard stated emphatically that he plans to give the Trail Blazers more time to recover from their slow start.

“I’m not asking for a trade,” he told reporters. “… My intentions are to be in Portland and to figure this out.”

Lillard recognizes that injuries and unrest in the organization have contributed to the team’s 11-14 record, which ranks 10th in the Western Conference, just a half-game ahead of the Kings for the final play-in spot. Those injuries include Lillard, who will miss his fifth straight game tonight with an abdominal issue, and backcourt mate CJ McCollum, who is sidelined with a collapsed lung.

Lillard is likely responding to a report Monday that he’s growing frustrated with the Blazers and wants the organization to work out a trade with the Sixers for Ben Simmons. He stated that other people have been speaking for him and said he’s in the office every day with coach Chauncey Billups trying to figure out the team’s problems.

“Why would I be part of trying to find solutions if I’m planning an exit?” Lillard asked.

It has been a difficult season for Lillard, who is averaging just 21.5 points per game while shooting 39.7% from the field and 30.2% from three-point range, all down significantly from last season. In addition, there has been off-the-court strife, with the latest incident being the decision to fire general manager and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey last week following an investigation into his workplace conduct.

Gold-Onwude also talked to Billups, who describes his relationship with Lillard as “strong” and says they are working together to give the team a successful future.

Blazers Rumors: Lillard, Front Office, McCollum, Nurkic, Covington, More

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard will become eligible for a two-year, $106MM extension during the 2022 offseason. That extension – which Lillard wants to lock in, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski – would begin in 2025/26 and would cover his age-35 and age-36 seasons.

Lillard and his agent need Portland’s next permanent general manager to sell team ownership on offering that super-max extension, according to Wojnarowski, who hears that the guard’s camp had concerns about Neil Olshey‘s willingness to recommend such an offer to Jody Allen. Chris Mannix of SI.com also hears that Olshey wasn’t sold on tacking two more years (at $51MM and $55MM) onto Lillard’s deal.

Although Lillard and his camp will be motivated to help the Blazers find a GM who is receptive to offering that extension, most of the top-level candidates who figure to draw interest from Portland aren’t enthusiastic about making that offer, says Wojnarowski. In fact, some of those potential candidates told Woj that they’d be more interested in the Blazers’ job if they could trade Lillard and rebuild, rather than extending the six-time All-Star.

According to Wojnarowski, Lillard’s camp is “privately selling the idea” of the Blazers trading some of their current players and continuing to build around Dame (on a new extension). However, candidates for the permanent general manager job in Portland believe they’ll need to sell themselves to team ownership, not to Lillard and his camp.

While it remains possible Lillard’s group will have some input in the GM choice, Wojnarowski suggests they’ve been “thwarted on several leverage plays” this year, including their preference for Jason Kidd as Terry Stotts‘ replacement and their desire to trade for Ben Simmons.

Here are several more rumors out of Portland:

  • The Blazers haven’t begun reaching out to potential candidates for the permanent GM job, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, who hears that there’s no concrete list of contenders yet beyond interim GM Joe Cronin. The organization is still deciding whether to hire a firm to research and recommend candidates, per Wojnarowski.
  • The Pelicans offered Jrue Holiday to Portland in 2020 in exchange for CJ McCollum and three first-round picks, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. A deal involving McCollum remains possible, but the Blazers are considered more likely to move Jusuf Nurkic and/or Robert Covington, says Fischer, adding that the team is “presently known to be down on both players.”
  • Lillard has expressed interest since the 2020 offseason in a handful of defensively-minded wings, per Fischer. Besides Simmons, Lillard has also shown interest in playing with Jaylen Brown and Aaron Gordon, sources tell Bleacher Report.
  • According to Fischer, Lillard’s lower abdominal tendinopathy is an injury that has bothered him off and on for years. The All-NBA guard even considered surgery this past offseason to address the issue, Fischer adds.
  • There are several teams with interest in trading for Lillard, but three teams in that group told Wojnarowski they’d want to wait for the 31-year-old to request a trade before calling Portland, since the Blazers’ leverage would be reduced in that scenario. The Sixers have made an offer, but the Knicks haven’t, Wojnarowski adds. For his part, Lillard would have limited leverage to push for a specific landing spot if he asks out, since he still has three more years left on his current contract after 2021/22.
  • Multiple league sources with knowledge of the situation tell Fischer that some Blazers players this season have been frustrated with Chauncey Billups‘ “coaching demeanor,” as well as his offensive system. In the latest Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Ohm Youngmisuk, and Ramona Shelburne discussed the fact that Billups’ tendency to call out players publicly may rub the current generation the wrong way.
  • There have been whispers that Blazers owner Jody Allen might decide to sell her stake in the Blazers following the NBA’s next television agreement, says Fischer. If that’s the plan, there will be even more pressure on the team to make sure its next front office hire and big roster moves are the right ones.

CJ McCollum Talks Lillard, Olshey, Trade Rumors, More

The dismissal of Trail Blazers head of basketball operations Neil Olshey could have a real impact on the future of guard CJ McCollum, whom Olshey valued especially highly.

Under Olshey’s leadership, the Blazers were extremely resistant to moving McCollum, even though he looked like the most obvious trade candidate if the team sought to make a splash and acquire another star to complement Damian Lillard.

In the wake of Olshey’s firing, McCollum’s top advocate within the organization is gone. And a report on Monday suggested that Lillard would like to see the club acquire Ben Simmons to improve its defense — such a deal would likely require McCollum’s inclusion.

Asked by Jason Quick of The Athletic about whether Lillard’s push for roster upgrades – possibly at McCollum’s expense – has put a strain on their relationship at all, McCollum said he remains close with his longtime backcourt partner.

“Me and Dame have a good relationship,” McCollum said. “I think when Dame speaks, you hear him. When you hear ‘sources’ and ‘anonymous,’ I don’t necessarily know if that is Dame or not, because it’s not Dame putting his name on it. He generally puts his name on things. I know where he stands with me, and he knows where I stand with him. The organization, they need to do what is best for themselves.

“… If he wanted me to leave, I think he would say that. He’s not speaking on me behind closed doors because that’s not in his DNA. He’s not built like that. He’s solid, and I know his word is his bond.”

McCollum admitted that it has been a tough season so far. The 11-14 Blazers are off to a slow start, and the 30-year-old guard’s numbers are down — his 20.6 PPG is his lowest mark since 2014/15 and his .424 FG% would be the second-worst shooting rate of his career. McCollum said that he and his wife are expecting their first child in a matter of weeks, which has diverted his focus away from the court at times.

McCollum stressed that it’s not in his character to “run from” adversity, but acknowledged that he isn’t oblivious to rumors about the Blazers potentially making changes to their roster after having overhauled their coaching staff and front office this year. He spoke to Quick about a handful of topics in a discussion that’s worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber. Here are some of the highlights:

On his first impressions of head coach Chauncey Billups, including Billups’ willingness to call out the Blazers’ players if he’s not happy with their effort:

“I like Chauncey. I like his approach. I think he’s approaching things the right way. He’s not a guy who thinks he knows it all. I think he’s approaching things the right way — asking for feedback, asking questions, and he’s holding himself accountable, which is important. It’s on us to be better, and he has stated that.”

On Olshey’s exit from the franchise:

“It was tough, unfortunate. Neil is a good friend of mine, obviously. He was someone who had faith in me, trust and belief in me, and I was in a solid position. I mean, a GM of a franchise, having been in the NBA a long time … it was just unfortunate that the situation occurred, and what happened in the investigation. I mean, obviously, they found something that was worthy of letting him go, which is not ideal. But it was tough.”

On the general upheaval within the organization:

“This is different than anything I’ve ever experienced because of the circumstances. This is the first year of my career where we lost our whole coaching staff, brought in a new coach, a new staff, the GM gets fired in the middle of the season … all of that affects you on the court. But there is no excuses. I didn’t come here to tell you ‘There’s a lot of s–t going on’ … but yeah, there is. There’s s–t going on — every day. And I’m a f—ing human being. But look, at the end of the day, my job is to play basketball. So I go play basketball.”

On whether he feels less certain about his future in Portland with Olshey gone:

“That’s a question for somebody else. I just do my job: show up for work and do my job.”

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.