Damian Lillard

Extensions Imminent For Jokic, Booker, Towns, Morant, More

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Suns guard Devin Booker, Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, and Grizzlies guard Ja Morant are all expected to reach verbal agreements with their respective teams on new long-term contract extensions soon after the NBA’s new league year begins tonight, according to Marc Stein (Twitter link).

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson and Cavaliers guard Darius Garland are also “widely expected” to receive extensions this offseason, Stein notes (via Twitter).

Morant, Williamson, and Garland will be eligible for rookie scale extensions, with the exact figures yet to be determined. Rookie scale extensions are available for former first-round picks entering their fourth seasons. The three players’ offers will likely include Rose Rule language that allows them to earn a starting salary of up to 30% of the 2023/24 salary cap (instead of 25%) if they meets certain performance criteria.

Even though Morant, for example, earned an All-NBA spot this year, he would have to make an All-NBA team again next season to qualify for the higher max — the Rose Rule criteria require a player to make All-NBA in either the season before his new contract goes into effect or in two of the three prior seasons.

Williamson’s extension could take a little longer to figure out, given that he’s appeared in just 85 career games and missed all of last season after setbacks following foot surgery last summer. Still, Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin said he was “confident” that an agreement would be reached, the only question is how much money will be guaranteed up front.

Jokic, Booker, and Towns will all be eligible for super-max extensions, also known as Designated Veteran Extensions, worth up to 35% of the salary cap. At least one of the following must be a true for a player to be eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension:

  • He was named to an All-NBA team in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.
  • He was named NBA MVP in any of the three most recent seasons.
  • He was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.

Booker and Towns both made All-NBA teams this past season, and Jokic was named the back-to-back MVP in addition to making All-NBA teams the past four seasons.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is also likely to receive a two-year extension worth in excess of $100MM once the new league year begins, as relayed by Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report and Stein (Twitter links).

Trail Blazers Rumors: Lillard, Nurkic, Simons, Ingles

Damian Lillard only appeared in 29 games for the Trail Blazers during the 2021/22 and posted career-worst shooting percentages of 40.2% from the floor and 32.4% on threes before undergoing abdominal surgery. However, it doesn’t appear as if Lillard’s down year will stand in the way of an opportunity to secure another substantial payday this offseason.

According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, there’s an expectation that the Blazers will offer the six-time All-Star a two-year contract extension worth north of $100MM.

If Lillard agrees to sign that extension, he would likely exercise his $48.8MM player option for 2024/25 as part of the deal and tack two new years onto the three he still has left on his current contract. It would put him in line to earn upwards of $240MM over the next five seasons, depending on the exact value of the extension.

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • There’s a belief among league personnel that Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic will sign a four-year deal with an average annual value around $17MM to remain in Portland, Fischer reports. Nurkic’s previous four-year contract, signed in 2018, was worth $12MM per year.
  • Like Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Fischer has heard that a new contract for restricted free agent guard Anfernee Simons will be in the range of $80MM over four years, plus incentives. Simons is expected to stick with the Blazers.
  • Free agent forward Joe Ingles, who is recovering from a torn ACL, has been doing some of his rehab work in Portland and there’s a belief he could re-sign with the Trail Blazers despite having been acquired after he was injured, sources tell Bleacher Report. However, Fischer cautions that Ingles seems to have “plenty of interest” from other teams as well.

Trail Blazers Notes: Sharpe, Lillard, Durant, Free Agency

Shaedon Sharpe required more in-depth scouting than the other top prospects in Thursday’s draft, but the Trail Blazers are comfortable that they made the right decision, according to Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. Because Sharpe never played after enrolling at Kentucky, general manager Joe Cronin sought game film of him in international competitions and anything else he could find. Cronin was sold on Sharpe after bringing him to Portland for a 3-on-3 workout.

“Shaedon is an incredible talent,” Cronin said. “We’re really excited about his future. It was a unique situation with Shaedon where he didn’t play college basketball. So he wasn’t seen or evaluated nearly as much as a lot of these other guys. But we were lucky enough to have we had a pretty good foundation built on Shaedon through our past viewings, specifically some of the new people we hired who had seen him a little bit.”

Cronin was referring to new assistant GM Mike Schmitz, who was very familiar with Sharpe from his former role as an ESPN draft analyst. Sharpe fills a need for the Blazers, who were in the market for an athletic wing that can score, and the 19-year-old offered Portland fans a preview of what they can expect.

“I’m a dude that likes to attack the rim, draw some fouls, finish above the rim, also get my teammates involved and really just shooting the 3,” he said. “Just impacting the game.”

There’s more from Portland:

  • The Blazers were torn between Sharpe and G League guard Dyson Daniels with the No. 7 pick, and Damian Lillard appears to have influenced the final decision, writes Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated. Lillard was impressed by Sharpe during his two visits to Portland, and the front office made numerous calls to Kentucky staffers to check on his background.
  • Lillard caused a stir on social media today when he posted a photoshopped image on Instagram of himself and Kevin Durant both wearing Trail Blazers uniforms. Rumors that Durant may be on the move have been flying since reports of a contract impasse between the Nets and Kyrie Irving.
  • While the Blazers appear to be improved following the draft and this week’s trade for Jerami Grant, Cronin understands that more needs to be done to become a contender again, per Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Portland figures to have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, along with a bi-annual exception worth about $4MM, two small trade exceptions and tradeable salaries in Eric Bledsoe, Josh Hart and Justise Winslow. “What’s next is keep on the path,” Cronin said. “We’re trying to be really aggressive. We know we’re not good enough. We want to keep trying to get better. So, it’s continuing to address these needs. The draft is a big trade day, but it’s not the end-all as far as trades go.”

Draft Rumors: Pistons, Duren, Dieng, Mavericks, Raptors, Anunoby

The Pistons, who already made news this week with their impending trade of Jerami Grant to Portland, could make another significant move this evening. They are holding ongoing conversations to acquire another lottery pick, with Memphis center Jalen Duren believed to be the target, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report tweets.

Detroit already holds the No. 5 selection in the draft. A report earlier today indicated Pistons GM Troy Weaver is a big fan of Duren.

  • Ousmane Dieng seems destined to be chosen higher than any other international prospect. The French big man, who played for the New Zealand Breakers, has been surging up draft boards and could go as high as No. 8, where the Pelicans are picking, Marc Stein tweets.
  • The Mavericks are covering all their bases, even though their first-round pick is headed to Houston and their second-rounder is headed to Washington, Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News tweets. GM Nico Harrison says they’re are not actively calling teams to trade into the draft, but have done the prep work needed in case they end up with a draft pick in either round.
  • The Raptors are unlikely to move into the lottery and trade forward OG Anunoby, Michael Grange of Sportsnet tweets. Most of the chatter surrounding Anunoby has come from the Trail Blazers, who are trying to add veterans around Damian Lillard, Grange adds, while Toronto remains in a ‘be patient and grow’ mode.

Pistons Expected To Pursue Deandre Ayton

After agreeing to send Jerami Grant to the Trail Blazers, the Pistons will target Suns center Deandre Ayton in free agency, sources tell James L. Edwards III of The Athletic.

Ayton will be a restricted free agent, so Phoenix can match any offer he receives, but there’s speculation that he might be on the move because of his desire for a max contract and a reported confrontation with coach Monty Williams in the playoffs.

Detroit will head into the free agent market with roughly $43MM in cap space once the Grant trade is finalized. Edwards says the Pistons may use it to explore trade opportunities if Ayton either re-signs with the Suns or is traded elsewhere. He adds that general manager Troy Weaver won’t feel pressured to go through it all during the offseason. The organization may save some room to take on unwanted contracts and acquire draft assets.

With their obligations to Blake Griffin finally over, the Pistons have significant cap flexibility for the first time in several years, Edwards notes. They want to build an exciting, competitive team around Cade Cunningham and they hope Ayton will be part of that group.

There’s more on the Grant trade:

  • The deal with Portland is the best offer the Pistons received for Grant, according to Edwards’ sources. He adds that potential trades were discussed with other teams, dating back to the deadline in February, but no formal offers provided a better return than the package of draft picks from the Blazers.
  • Trading their starting power forward may indicate that the Pistons are focused on Keegan Murray with the fifth pick in Thursday’s draft, but Edwards cautions that it’s not a foregone conclusion. Jaden Ivey will also be considered if he’s available, along with Bennedict Mathurin. Edwards also points out that Isaiah Stewart or Saddiq Bey could replace Grant, allowing the team to concentrate on other positions in the draft. Edwards suggests that, with the help of their newfound cap space, the Pistons might try to acquire a pick late in the lottery if a big man like Jalen Duren is still available.
  • Damian Lillard‘s agent, Aaron Goodwin, endorsed the trade, tweets Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. He said it shows “the Blazers are competing.”
  • Zach Harper of The Athletic gives the Trail Blazers a B and the Pistons a C-plus in his grades for the deal. He notes that Grant was extremely productive during his two seasons in Detroit and provides Portland with a path toward quickly returning to contender status. Harper adds that the trade makes sense for the Pistons’ rebuilding effort, although it’s a long time to wait for Milwaukee’s first-round pick in 2025.

Givony’s Latest: Sharpe, Magic, Kings, Duarte, Suns, Knicks, More

Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe, perhaps the biggest enigma of the 2022 NBA draft, is the subject of several rumors in Jonathan Givony’s latest mock draft at ESPN.com (Insider link).

Givony has Sharpe coming off the board at No. 7 to Portland, writing that Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is believed to be a fan of the young guard, despite the fact that Sharpe is 12 years younger than Lillard and is on a “completely different timetable.”

A pair of teams picking later in the lottery may also have their sights set on Sharpe. The Thunder, who hold the No. 12 pick, continue to pursue trade-up opportunities, according to Givony, who says Sharpe and Jaden Ivey are among the players Oklahoma City appears to be targeting.

Meanwhile, Sharpe is also said to intrigue the Hornets if they trade up from No. 13, Givony writes, noting that the Kentucky guard surprised other teams when he opted to work out for Charlotte.

Here are a few more of the most interesting tidbits from Givony’s newest mock:

  • Virtually every NBA team expects the Magic to select Jabari Smith first overall and would be surprised if they go in a different direction.
  • The Kings are considered more likely to stand pat than to trade the No. 4 pick, but they’ve had discussions with almost every team behind them in the lottery and even some outside of the lottery, per Givony. Pacers wing Chris Duarte is among the possible trade targets the Kings have done their homework on, Givony adds.
  • Surprisingly, Givony has heard the Suns are among the clubs exploring trade scenarios involving the Pelicans‘ No. 8 pick. Givony suggests Phoenix could potentially include a player like Cameron Johnson in its offer to help create more long-term cap flexibility to retain Deandre Ayton.
  • There’s a widespread belief that the Knicks won’t end up picking at No. 11, Givony reports. they’re “aggressively” exploring scenarios in which they trade back or trade out of the first round.
  • Rival teams believe the Cavaliers are high on Ousmane Dieng, though he could be off the board by No. 14, says Givony.
  • Echoing multiple recent reports, Givony identifies Hawks big man John Collins as a major draft-day trade candidate. Givony goes a step further, suggesting that Collins could even be packaged with Kevin Huerter in a deal involving the Kings‘ No. 4 overall pick.
  • The Bucks (No. 24) are eyeing older prospects who could help them win right away, such as Andrew Nembhard, Jake LaRavia, Christian Braun and Ismael Kamagate, according to Givony, who has heard from rival teams that Milwaukee has also conveyed some interest in trading up into the teens, possibly for a big man like Mark Williams and Walker Kessler.

Atlantic Notes: Boucher, Lillard, Knicks, Ainge, Celtics, Bassey

Raptors big man Chris Boucher is set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer, but he hasn’t thought much about it to this point. Boucher ended his season with a 25-point, 10-rebound effort off the bench in Game 6, telling reporters how much he h as valued the Raptors and Toronto.

“I love Toronto and Toronto did a lot for me …. from the player I was to where I am now, I owe it all to Toronto,” he said, per Michael Grange of Sportsnet (Twitter link).

As Grange notes, it’s clear where Boucher’s heart lies. However, he’ll likely receive interest from multiple teams on the open market, as he averaged 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 21.1 minutes per game this season. He also shot 46% from the floor and played 80 games.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, long considered a potential Knicks trade target, is no longer intrigued by New York’s plan, Marc Berman of the New York Post reports. The Knicks finished with the 11th-best record in the East at 37-45 this season after finishing fourth in the East at 41-31 last season. Instead of targeting Lillard, New York could shift its focus to Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, whose team was recently eliminated in the first round.
  • Despite taking a job with the Jazz, Danny Ainge still keeps tabs on the Celtics, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe writes. Ainge left the Celtics last June and joined the Jazz as CEO last December. He worked in the Celtics’ front office for 18 years.
  • Sixers rookie Charles Bassey practiced in full with the team on Saturday, Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com tweets. Bassey has been dealing with a shoulder sprain. The 21-year-old big man could be available for the club’s series against Miami, which could be important with Joel Embiid out indefinitely. Bassey averaged 18.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks for the team’s G League affiliate this season, playing 28.6 minutes per contest.

Blazers Rumors: Draft Picks, Grant, Cronin, Ownership

The Pelicans’ play-in victories last week were bad news for the Trail Blazers, who would’ve received New Orleans’ 2022 first-round pick if it had fallen between No. 5 and No. 14. Having missed out on that pick, which ended up at No. 15, Portland will instead receive Milwaukee’s 2025 first-rounder (top-four protected). That future pick won’t be as valuable in trade talks for a team looking to accelerate its rebuild this offseason.

According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, it’s clear based on conversation with league personnel that the Blazers were operating under the assumption they’d have two lottery picks available, and there was a sense they’d try to use one of them to acquire an impact veteran like Pistons forward Jerami Grant.

“That was a big deal to them,” a Western Conference official told Fischer. “The expectation was certainly, ‘Once we get this pick, we’ll turn it into someone. We’ll overpay to get someone.'”

As Fischer and others reported at the trade deadline in February, the Pistons were seeking either two first-round picks or a first-round pick and a promising young player (such as Bulls forward Patrick Williams) in exchange for Grant. Detroit’s asking price will likely be similar this offseason, though there’s some skepticism it will be met, Fischer writes.

The Blazers’ willingness to overpay for a player like Grant will be diminished by the fact that they missed out on New Orleans’ lottery pick, according to Fischer, who says Portland hasn’t shown any desire to trade its own lottery pick, which will almost certainly land in the top eight.

Here’s more from Fischer on the Blazers:

  • Damian Lillard has indicated to the Blazers’ front office that he’d like to play alongside a “two-way, rangy” wing, sources tell Bleacher Report. In addition to Grant, Fischer names Aaron Gordon, Ben Simmons, and Jaylen Brown as players who would appeal to Lillard, though it’s unclear whether any of them will be available this offseason — Brown, certainly, appears to be off the table.
  • According to Fischer, interim general manager Joe Cronin appears likely to keep the Blazers’ GM job on a full-time basis. However, it’s possible the team will ultimately hire someone above him in the basketball operations hierarchy, like Philadelphia did by bringing in Daryl Morey to run a front office previously led by GM Elton Brand. Fischer’s sources are split on whether such a move is likely.
  • Since the regular season ended, multiple sources have suggested to Fischer that the Blazers could begin exploring the market for new ownership as early as this summer. Some league insiders believe a sale of the franchise could be completed before the end of 2023, Fischer adds. Jody Allen – the sister of longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen, who passed away in 2018 – currently controls the team.

Northwest Notes: Simons, Lillard, Jokic, Finch

Anfernee Simons says he’s “pretty sure” he’ll be back with the Trail Blazers next season, Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report tweets“We both have a mutual interest in coming back,” Simons said of being a restricted free agent this summer. “I’m pretty sure it will get done.” Simons expressed back in February he “100 percent” wanted to re-sign with Portland — it seems nothing has changed since then.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Damian Lillard expects the Trail Blazers to return to prominence in the Western Conference next season and will have a say in the team’s roster building, according to Highkin (Twitter links). “A tough season, a lot of adversity this year,” Lillard said. “A lot of things came up that we didn’t expect. But I want you to know one thing: this will not continue. Next year, we’re going to be back better than before.”
  • Nikola Jokic gained a $534,484 bonus when the Nuggets made the playoffs again. The incentive was considered likely before the season and has no cap implications, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Jokic is a prime contender for the Most Valuable Player award once again but he knows there’s plenty of worthy candidates, Mike Singer of the Denver Post tweets“To be honest, I think there is a lot of guys that are playing at an extremely high level,” he said. “I’m just trying to be humble, to stay on the ground. … I don’t think about that to be honest, am I one of the best? I’m just trying to win the game.”
  • Timberwolves coach Chris Finch signed a multi-year extension on Monday and the team’s top executive was glad to lock him up long-term, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. “He’s just a joy to work with,” executive VP of basketball operations Sachin Gupta said. “I think the results on the floor are clear, just the drastic improvement from last year to this year, with really little change to the roster. I think he and his whole staff deserve a ton of credit for that.” Finch said, “I feel like there’s a pathway we can see to keep getting better and better. I’m just really excited to be able to say that these guys believe in what I’m doing.”

Damian Lillard Talks Offseason, Health, Future Goals

The Trail Blazers have lost 11 of 13 games since the All-Star break and rank dead-last in both offensive rating (102.1) and defensive rating (124.3) during that time. After a solid early start to the season, Portland is on track to finish with one of the six or seven worst records in the NBA.

However, star point guard Damian Lillard tells Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that there’s “no way” next year’s team will be in the same position as the current version. While Lillard acknowledges that the Blazers have “taken some steps back as an organization” by trading away veterans like CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington last month, he believes the club is well-positioned to add talent this offseason.

“We’ve opened up money, we got (draft) picks, we got a $22 million trade exception, we got a $6 million trade exception, we got the full mid-level, we got the bi-annual,” Lillard said to Haynes. “We have an opportunity, and we got flexibility. There are guys we can bring in that can make us a team that can compete for a championship, but we have to execute that.”

Lillard went on to say that he doesn’t view next season as a championship-or-bust year for Portland, but he’s hopeful that the team will take a major step forward after a disappointing 2021/22 season. He views this summer as “critical” one for the Blazers’ goal of moving back toward title contention.

Here are a few more of the notable comments the All-Star guard made during his conversation with Haynes, which is worth checking out in full:

On whether he’s still dealing with any abdominal pain after undergoing surgery to address a long-standing issue:

“No. It’s the first time that I can say I was pain-free since maybe 2016, 2017. I think that’s when I first started having issues. That was the last time I was probably moving freely, easily and just flowing the way I am right now. It’s a good feeling working out the other day and the coaching staff kept asking what I was thinking about because I had a smile on my face. I was just like, ‘Damn, I got so used to playing with that pain that I didn’t realize how limited I was and how much I was just catering to playing around it.’ So, I’m definitely excited to be playing at 100 percent right now and playing free.”

On why, at age 31, he believes his best is yet to come:

“This is my first time being able to take a step back and just fully address my development. Over the course of my career, there have always been things that I’ve wanted to correct or get better at, but maybe I had a long season and went into the playoffs and then we had a quick turnaround.

“Whatever the case may be, I never had this much time to fully break down my game and really challenge myself development-wise. Working on things that I’m not comfortable with all the time, things that other guys at my position do really well. I’ve had a window of time and opportunity to add to my game and to watch film with my coaches and trainers to really address those things that a lot of times might be uncomfortable.”

On whether he’s still solely focused on winning a title in Portland:

“That’s the only thing I care about, honestly. It seems like after I announced that I was having surgery, people were like, ‘Oh, he’s 31 and having this done.’ Man, 31 is not old. … I’m a sniper. I shoot. I got a good step. I can think the game. I can manipulate the game, and I know how to play. My game will age well, and I don’t have a history of injuries. And the one that I just had is not a bad injury to have. I’m going to come back and be fine.

“Like I said, my best is yet to come. And the only things that I play for at this point is I want to be the MVP of the league and I want to win the championship. And once I do those things, I feel great about the investment that I made to this game over my whole life. If I accomplish those two things, I’m walking away feeling like I literally got the most out of myself as an athlete.”