Damian Lillard

Contract Notes: Jokic, Gordon, Nurkic, Jazz

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic didn’t technically sign a maximum-salary contract when he re-upped with the club this summer, but he can increase his 2018/19 earnings to the maximum if he helps lead Denver to postseason success.

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks details (subscription required), Jokic is one of several NBA players with incentives in their contracts for the coming season. In Jokic’s case, he’s currently about $862K shy of his maximum salary, but he can earn $431K if the Nuggets advance to the playoffs, and another $431K if they win in the first round.

Here are a few more details from Marks on this season’s incentives and bonuses:

  • Aaron Gordon has a potential path to an All-Star nod in an Eastern Conference that lost more top talent this offseason. Gordon’s new contract with the Magic calls for a $500K bonus if he’s named an All-Star, per Marks. He could also further increase his earnings by being named to the All-NBA and All-Defense teams at season’s end.
  • Jusuf Nurkic can earn an extra $1.25MM this season if he appears in 70 games and the Trail Blazers crack the 50-win threshold, according to Marks. Nurkic played in 79 games last season, but because Portland only had 49 wins, this incentive is considered unlikely and doesn’t currently count against Nurkic’s cap hit.
  • Davis Bertans has to meet several criteria in order to earn a $250K bonus on his new contract with the Spurs — the veteran forward must play in 70 games, make 165 three-pointers, and average 6.5 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, as Marks details.
  • Dante Exum, Raul Neto, and Derrick Favors all have incentives on their new deals with the Jazz, with a focus on games played — they all must appear in at least 67 games to start earning their bonuses. Favors, in particular, has plenty riding on his performance, as he can earn $2.8MM in incentives. Of those incentives, $900K are considered likely and already count against his cap charge.
  • Marks also notes that several players will have a chance to become eligible for super-max contracts with their current clubs if they make All-NBA teams this season. That list includes Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Draymond Green (Warriors), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), and Kemba Walker (Hornets). Additionally, Devin Booker‘s new extension with the Suns would start at 27.5% of the cap if he’s named to the All-NBA Third Team, 28.5% if he’s named to the Second Team, and 30% for First Team.

And-Ones: Sophomores, Future Rankings, Christon

The 2017 NBA Draft class has thus far turned out to be one of the most impressive crops in recent memory. In addition Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, poised freshmen that played significant roles in the playoffs, there are also a handful of lottery picks with tremendous opportunity for future growth.

ESPN’s Mike Schmitz (Insider) recently profiled a few players from last year’s draft class who showed impressive glimpses during their first year in the pros. Schmitz writes that Lonzo Ball deviated from what made him great at UCLA. If he’s to thrive with the Lakers he’ll need to step up as a spot-up shooter. Last year, the guard spent too much time trying to create in pick-and-roll situations.

Schmitz also discusses Josh Jackson, Dennis Smith and De’Aaron Fox, opting to exclude Markelle Fultz due to the unique circumstances of his rookie year.

There’s more from around the league:

  • Sorry Hornets fans, the Charlotte franchise has been ranked as the team with the bleakest forecast over the next three seasons. Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider) writes that turnover in the front office, coupled with limited financial flexibility, won’t bode well for the team heading forward.
  • At a time when journalists scrap to be the first media personalities to tweet about player movement in the NBA, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has broken the news for two recent sportswriter job changes. He, alongside CJ McCollum form the most journalistic backcourt the NBA has ever seen.
  • After playing one season in China and Puerto Rico, former Thunder guard Semaj Christon is open to playing in Europe, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando tweets.

Lillard: It’d Be Great To Be ‘Lifetime Blazer’

While Damian Lillard has occasionally been the subject of trade speculation in recent years, the Trail Blazers haven’t exhibited any interest in moving him, and it sounds like Lillard doesn’t have much interest in leaving Portland either. Asked about his long-term future this week, the three-time All-NBA guard said it “would be an honor to be a lifetime Blazer,” as Michael Scotto of The Athletic relays.

“Not a lot of guys get to play for one organization for their entire career,” Lillard said. “Obviously, I love playing for the Blazers. I love living in the city. I feel like I’ve established a connection with the people and the culture of the city just as much as I’ve done on the basketball court, so that’s important. But, as we know, it’s a business and a lot of times organizations have other plans, and sometimes players change their stance on that. But to be a lifetime Blazer, that would be great. I’m all on board for it.”

With three years left on his contract, Lillard is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. The Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the 2018 postseason, but remain confident in the current core, led by Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. Portland re-signed Nurkic to a long-term deal this offseason, a move applauded by the team’s star point guard.

“I’m really excited to have Nurk back,” Lillard said. “I’ve got a really, really good relationship with Nurk. I’m excited for him signing his extension and coming into a big year for him.”

While the Trail Blazers will aim for better results in 2018/19 than they had last season, their roster looks similar to last year’s, with only a few minor tweaks. The front office has repeatedly dismissed the idea of breaking up the Lillard/McCollum backcourt, but another early playoff exit next spring could force the team to reconsider its options.

Currently, Lillard is Portland’s longest-tenured player, along with Meyers Leonard.

Suns Have Tried To Trade For Point Guard

With Brandon Knight headed to Houston in a four-player trade, the Suns‘ point guard depth chart looks thinner than ever. According to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link), Phoenix has made an effort to address the position by attempting to trade for a starting point guard, but hasn’t had any luck so far.

Gambadoro names Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, and Terry Rozier as a few of the point guards the Suns have been targeting, though he doesn’t provide much more details beyond that. Even if the Suns made inquiries on those players, I can’t imagine their conversation with the Trail Blazers for Lillard, for instance, went very far.

The Hornets and Celtics may have been a little more receptive to discussions involving their point guards, who are entering contract years, but it would certainly still take a substantial offer to pry Walker away from Charlotte or to get Rozier out of Boston.

While Gambadoro suggests that the Suns “will have to make a trade,” he notes that the Bucks’ first-round pick owed to Phoenix isn’t particularly valuable as a trade chip, given its protections. The Suns could put some combination of their own first-rounders or young prospects on the table in a trade offer, but it’s not clear how aggressive the team is willing to be in the short term — it’s possible the club will see what it can get out of its current point guards to start the season, perhaps revisiting the trade market closer to the deadline.

With Knight no longer in the mix, the Suns’ point guard group includes Shaquille Harrison and Isaiah Canaan, who are both on non-guaranteed contracts, and rookies De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo. Canaan has the most NBA experience of the bunch, but he’s coming off a major leg injury. Melton and Okobo, of course, have yet to make their respective NBA debuts, while Harrison has appeared in just 23 regular season contests.

Northwest Notes: McCollum, Diallo, Udoh, Thomas

Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey doesn’t seem inclined to break up his smallish backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports notes. Olshey recently said he plans to keep his core group together, despite the team’s first-round flameout in the Western Conference playoffs last season. It might be wise to deal one of them for an impact forward but either Olshey has great faith in his guards or he’s tested the market and couldn’t find a worthwhile deal, Feldman adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Hamidou Diallo feels a sense of relief after signing a contract with the Thunder but isn’t sure what kind of role he can carve out, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman reports. The second-round rookie shooting guard was acquired in a draft-night deal. “We haven’t even spoken about a role yet,” Diallo told Dawson. “We’re still playing pickup ball and stuff like that, still training. Guys are just coming in, veteran players, and trying to teach us as much as possible as early as possible.” Diallo, who received a three-year, $4MM contract, will compete with newcomers Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Abdel Nader for backup minutes.
  • The Jazz brought back big man Ekpe Udoh because of his defense and positive attitude, according to Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune. Udoh was signed by Utah last season because of his reputation as a strong defender and he lived up to that billing, posting an average of 1.2 blocks per game. He also showed a superior ability to guard on the perimeter during switches and pick-and-rolls, Jones continues. Udoh, who will serve as the team’s third center, never complained last season when his role diminished, Jones adds. Udoh had his $3.36MM salary guaranteed last month.
  • Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas had to settle for a one-year, $2MM contract in free agency but he’s determined to be a major bargain for his new team, as he told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports“This has been tough, but it was only a tough year because I wasn’t healthy. My job is to get as healthy as I possibly can and then show the world what I’m capable of doing,” he said.

Northwest Notes: Schroder, Lillard, Towns, Crowder

In an extended analytical piece, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer takes a look at how the Thunder‘s soon-to-be acquired point guard Dennis Schroder will fit with incumbent starter and All-Star Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City’s backcourt.

Consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in passing metrics, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has regularly spoke about how he wants better ball movement on offense. But, as Donovan admits, “There’s a balance between [giving the ball to your stars] and then trying to play faster with more ball and player movement.”

Enter Schroder, who can create against a defense with his quickness perhaps better than any other point guard the Thunder have had in recent years outside of Westbrook, including Reggie Jackson.

Only time will tell whether or not Westbrook and Schroder will be able to play together, but if they can, Donovan will be able to install more pace and ball-movement concepts featuring multiple ball handlers running the show, rather than relying on Westbrook alone, which should help the Thunder be less one-dimensional against the better Western Conference teams come playoff time.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • While the Trail Blazers may not have been able to bring in as much talent as they had hoped for during this summer’s free agency period in an effort to improve upon last season, Damian Lillard says that he’s ready and excited for the upcoming season and that he has a “deeper connection” with the city of Portland that goes beyond basketball, per Sean Meagher of The Oregonian.
  • As part of a Wolves’ mailbag, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic opines that although the relationship between Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves could obviously use some work right now, the opportunity for repair remains, as Towns likely would have cancelled his recent basketball camp in the Twin Cities had he already completely written off Minnesota as a long-term home.
  • After struggling on-court to adjust to a new role and new teammates at the beginning of last season and coping off-court with the death of his mother from cancer, Jae Crowder finally feels at home with the Jazz, writes Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult,” Crowder told The Tribune. “It was hard being thrown into the fire. But, from Day One, the locker room and my teammates [in Utah] were great. The coaching staff was great. … It helped build toughness.”

Latest On Kawhi Leonard

The Spurs‘ asking price for Kawhi Leonard remains high, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne. In an article packed with Leonard-related tidbits, the ESPN duo suggests that – based on conversations with opposing teams – San Antonio appears to be seeking an All-Star caliber player, high-potential young players, and draft picks in exchange for Kawhi.

It’s not clear if the Spurs will be able to land that sort of return, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne, who note that a three-way bidding war involving the Lakers, Celtics, and Sixers never really materialized. The Lakers are being patience and conveying confidence that Leonard will sign with them in 2019. As for the Celtics and Sixers, they’ve held their top players out of trade discussions and have offered pick-heavy packages, which haven’t enticed the Spurs.

Given the Spurs’ reported demands, a Raptors offer built around one of their All-Star guards (likely DeMar DeRozan), one or two of their young players, and draft picks could be the most logical package for San Antonio.

In an appearance on Zach Lowe’s ESPN podcast, Brian Windhorst said he thinks the Raptors are in the “driver’s seat” in the Leonard sweepstakes, since the Lakers and Sixers haven’t been aggressive in their pursuit of the star forward. Lowe didn’t go so far as to call the Raptors the favorites, but he cautioned not to underestimate the club or to view the rumors linking Leonard to Toronto as mere speculation.

Here are a few more notes and rumors on the NBA’s most noteworthy trade candidate:

  • In addition to the four teams noted above, the Clippers, Nuggets, Suns, Trail Blazers, and Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Leonard, league sources tell Wojnarowski and Shelburne. However, it’s unlikely that any of those teams has made a monster offer, given concerns that Kawhi would be a one-year rental. Portland hasn’t discussed Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum, for instance, per ESPN.
  • Leonard is “seriously considering” participating in Team USA’s mini-camp next week, league sources tell Wojnarowski and Shelburne. There’s a sense that the All-Star wants to show the Spurs‘ prospective trade partners that he’s healthy, but there may be a concern within Leonard’s camp that participating in the mini-camp would give San Antonio more leverage to push him to report to camp in the fall.
  • While there have been whispers that Leonard has no intention of showing up at the Spurs‘ facility if he’s not traded, rival teams generally view that as an “empty threat,” since they’re skeptical he’s willing to risk forfeiting his $20MM salary for 2018/19, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne,
  • The Spurs haven’t allowed potential trade partners to talk directly with Leonard or his camp, or to see his medical information, per ESPN’s report. It’s unlikely that stance would change unless the Spurs agree to a trade in principle with a team, Woj and Shelburne add.
  • Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders addressed the Leonard situation in his latest article, suggesting that the start of training camp could be a key deadline to keep an eye on. One source close to Leonard also tells Kyler that the forward would ideally like to be the “focal point” of a team going forward. It’s not clear how that alleged desire to be a team’s focal point will impact Leonard’s preference to join the Lakers now that LeBron James is in L.A., Kyler writes.

Damian Lillard: “I Love Where I Am”

In the wake of a few cryptic tweets sent from his Twitter account and another round of speculation that the Lakers may want to acquire him, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard set the record straight during a conversation with reporters on Sunday. As Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest writes, Lillard dismissed the idea that he’s dissatisfied in Portland or that he wants to play elsewhere.

“I’m straight up. I’m straight up with coach, I’m straight up with (president of basketball operations) Neil (Olshey), straight up with you all,” Lillard said. “I’m not unhappy. I love where I live. I love the organization. I love our coaching staff. I love where I am.”

The Lillard tweets that fueled speculation about his possible unhappiness were published after word broke that Ed Davis would sign with the Nets on a fairly modest one-year, $4.4MM deal. While the standout point guard admitted that he and the Blazers will miss Davis, along with other free agents like Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton, he said he’s eager to see who will step up with those players gone.

“Obviously, I loved Ed,” Lillard said, per Quick. “He was one of my best friends in the league; one of favorite teammates I’ve played with. We lose him – that’s a loss for our team. ‘Bazz played big minutes for us, Pat played big minutes for us – so we lose three rotation players that gave us a lot and contributed to our season last year. But I guess now we look forward to who can come in and replace those minutes and give us that type of quality.”

The Trail Blazers signed Nik Stauskas and Seth Curry in free agency in the hopes of adding more shooting. The team will also lean on second-year big man Zach Collins for a larger role. Lillard said on Sunday that he expects Collins to “make a huge leap” in his sophomore year, and added that rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. are “both impressive,” as Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details.

Lillard, who has been a Blazers since entering the league in 2012, remains under contract with the franchise through the 2020/21 season, so he’s unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Grant, Huestis, Bjelica, Towns

Fresh off earning All-NBA honors this week, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has reportedly requested another meeting with team owner Paul Allen, according to John Canzano of The Oregonian. The reason for Lillard’s alleged requested meeting is not provided but this is not the first time that Lillard’s camp sought a face-to-face will Allen.

Lillard met with Allen in January to discuss the organization’s plan for the future. For what it’s worth, Lillard responded to this latest report on Twitter and dismissed the report and the source of it.  After being swept by the Pelicans in the postseason, Lillard addressed the possibility of Portland breaking up with the backcourt of himself and C.J. McCollum.

“I don’t agree with it,” Lillard said breaking up the Blazers’ backcourt (via Ashish Mathur of Pro Hoops Digest). “I think it’s that simple. I think it’s the easiest thing to say. I don’t agree with it, though. I’m not the guy making decisions.”

Lillard earned the All-NBA nod after enjoying another productive season in Portland, averaging 26.9 PPG and 6.6 APG.

Check out more Northwest Division notes below:

  • Jerami Grants improvement since he joined the Thunder has been a point a pride for both himself and the organization. As he heads for free agency this summer, Grant — who has admitted he wants to return to the Oklahoma City — may have priced himself out of the team, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes.
  • Josh Huestis proved himself this season but his next NBA chapter may be with an organization other than the Thunder, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes. Huestis’ pending unrestricted free agency — just like Grant’s  — is complicated by the financial complications Paul George‘s free agency presents and how he fits on the roster long-term.
  • Timberwolves big man Nemanja Bjelica cannot wait for the opportunity to suit up for the Serbian national team. “I love to play at home,” he said, “and I can’t wait to do it again, soon. Being supported by thousands of fans is the best, and this unity around the national team gives us a lot of extra energy.”
  • During an appearance on The Lowe Post podcast with colleague’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst, Adrian Wojnarowski said he feels that Minnesota would move on from Tom Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns (via UPROXX). “I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns,” Wojnarowski said. “I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision.”

NBA Announces 2017/18 All-NBA Teams

The NBA has formally announced the All-NBA First, Second, and Third Teams for the 2017/18 season, with James Harden and LeBron James leading the way as the two unanimous selections for the First Team.

The voting results will have major financial implications for the three All-NBA centers, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns. As Bobby Marks of ESPN notes (via Twitter), Davis is now eligible for a supermax extension from the Pelicans next summer. Davis will be eligible to sign that deal, which projects to be worth $230MM, as of July 1, 2019.

As for Embiid, missing out on a First Team nod means his maximum-salary contract will remain at 25% of the cap rather than being bumped up to 30%. That means he’ll miss out on approximately $29MM over the next five years, as Dan Feldman of NBC Sports details.

Towns, meanwhile, will be eligible for an extension worth 30% of the cap this summer, Marks tweets. An extension of that sort, which would make the cap outlook in Minnesota very interesting, would go into effect for the 2019/20 season.

The full All-NBA teams are listed below, with their vote totals in parentheses. Players received five points for a First Team vote, three points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote, so Harden and James scored a perfect 500 — First Team nods from all 100 voters.

First Team

  • Guard: James Harden, Rockets (500)
  • Guard: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers (432)
  • Forward: LeBron James, Cavaliers (500)
  • Forward: Kevin Durant, Warriors (426)
  • Center: Anthony Davis, Pelicans (492)

Second Team

Third Team

Among those results, the tightest race saw DeRozan edge Curry by a single point for a spot on the All-NBA Second Team. Both players received two First Team votes and 39 Second Team votes, with DeRozan grabbing one extra Third Team vote (38 to 37) to bump him up to the Second Team ahead of Curry.

As for the players who didn’t quite make the cut, Rockets point guard Chris Paul (54 points), Jazz center Rudy Gobert (51), Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (42), and Sixers guard/forward Ben Simmons (36) received the most support.

Al Horford (Celtics), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Andre Drummond (Pistons), Clint Capela (Rockets), Draymond Green (Warriors), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Steven Adams (Thunder), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Trevor Ariza (Rockets), DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans), Dwight Howard (Hornets), Kevin Love (Cavaliers), and Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks) also each received at least one All-NBA vote.