Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard Has Separated Ribs

An injury may help explain Damian Lillard‘s shooting woes in the Western Conference Finals, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The Trail Blazers star has been playing through the pain of separated ribs.

The injury appeared to happen in Thursday’s Game 2 when Warriors center Kevon Looney landed on Lillard during a battle for a loose ball.

Although Lillard is averaging 20.3 points and 7.3 assists in the series, has shot just 32.6%, including a 5 for 18 performance Saturday. He is also committing 4.7 turnovers per night in the three games against Golden State.

A source confirmed Lillard’s injury to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter link), but stopped short of blaming it for his sub-par performance, saying, “Not a story, he always plays through injuries.”

Lillard’s condition is one more concern for the Trail Blazers as they face the near-impossible task of trying to overcome a 3-0 deficit against the defending champions.

Super-Max Extension In Play For Lillard This Offseason

As a lock for one of the six All-NBA guard spots this spring, Damian Lillard will become eligible for a super-max extension with the Trail Blazers this summer. And according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, unlike Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Anthony Davis, Lillard has “sent signals” that he’ll be interested in signing a super-max deal to stick with his current team.

As Windhorst observes, the ownership situation in Portland is a little unstable following the death of longtime owner Paul Allen, and Lillard met with Allen last season before his passing to discuss the direction of the franchise, which raised some eyebrows. However, Portland’s star point guard doesn’t have any concerns about ownership and he’s “very comfortable with his commitment” to the franchise, Windhorst writes.

Lillard will still have two years and $61MM+ left on his current contract after this season, so gaining super-max eligibility would allow him to tack on four new years to that deal. Assuming the Blazers put the offer on the table, the extension would start at 35% of the cap in 2021/22. The exact figures aren’t yet known, since they’ll depend on where the cap ends up that year, but Windhorst estimates a four-year super-max would be worth approximately $194MM.

Because Lillard will have earned All-NBA honors in two consecutive years, he’d also remain eligible for a super-max extension in 2020 if he were to pass on one this year. While doing so would put him in line for an even larger payday, Windhorst suggests that there’s no indication the 28-year-old wants to put it off.

With Lillard apparently on board, an offseason extension seems likely, but Portland will still have to actually put the offer on the table. The Blazers remain fully committed to their franchise player, so I’d be surprised if they don’t make that super-max offer, but it’s worth noting that the four-year extension would start in Lillard’s age-31 season, which is still two years away.

Locking up a player a couple years in advance for his early-30s seasons is a risky play — just ask the Wizards, whose super-max for John Wall was completed in 2017 and won’t actually go into effect until this July. Still, the Blazers are a good bet to take that risk.

How All-NBA Choices Could Impact Contract Situations

Last month, we outlined how the Anthony Davis saga in New Orleans could significantly impact what Karl-Anthony Towns next contract looks like.

Towns’ new extension, signed last fall, will start at 30% of the cap if he earns All-NBA honors in 2019, as opposed to 25% of the cap if he misses out on an All-NBA slot. With Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid expected to claim two All-NBA center spots, Towns is in position to grab the third, in part due to Davis’ trade request — not only will AD’s role in the Pelicans’ dysfunction be considered, but he’s playing limited minutes down the stretch while Towns puts up some of the best numbers of his career.

Assuming Towns does earn an All-NBA nod, it’ll be a $30MM+ decision by award voters, bumping the projected value of his five-year deal from about $158MM to nearly $190MM. However, KAT isn’t the only player who could have his contract situation significantly impacted by this year’s All-NBA selections.

As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com and Andrew Sharp of SI.com have detailed this week, there’s a lot at stake for a handful of players who are candidates for this year’s All-NBA teams. Let’s break it down, taking a closer look at some players who could become eligible for a super-max contract this year…

The All-NBA locks:

While there’s some debate over which six guards will get All-NBA nods, Lillard looks like a slam dunk for a spot on the first or second team — Lillard, Stephen Curry and James Harden appear to be the strongest candidates for the two guard spots on that first team.

Assuming he does, in fact, earn All-NBA honors, Lillard will become eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension. His current contract runs through 2020/21, with no options, so he’d be eligible to tack on four extra years to that deal, starting in 2021/22.

For now, i’s impossible to say exactly what the NBA’s salary cap will be in 2021/22, but based on projections for ’19/20 ($109MM) and ’20/21 ($118MM), we can safely assume a max deal for Lillard starting in ’21/22 will be worth a lot more than it would be now. Conservatively, estimating a $120MM cap, Lillard’s super-max extension would start at $42MM and would be worth $188MM+ over four years.

With Lillard in position to gain eligibility for a super-max extension, the big question in Portland this summer could be whether the Trail Blazers will actually put that offer on the table. There have been no indications that either Lillard or the Blazers wants to end their union, but the club might be wary of offering such a massive deal to a player who will be 31 years old when the four-year deal begins — that decision hasn’t worked out well for the Wizards with John Wall.

As for Antetokounmpo, he’s on track to become eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension too, and that decision figures to be a much easier one for the Bucks. However, Milwaukee won’t be able to actually put that super-max offer on the table until the 2020 offseason, once Giannis has seven years of NBA experience under his belt.

The All-NBA guard contenders:

Read more

Lillard Preparing As If McCollum Will Miss Rest Of Regular Season

After suffering a left knee injury over the weekend, C.J. McCollum is expected to be re-evaluated this Saturday. However, Damian Lillard told reporters last night that he’s not necessarily counting on his backcourt mate to be back anytime soon.

As Jason Quick of The Athletic relays (via Twitter), Lillard wants McCollum to get back to 100% before he returns and is mentally preparing for him to miss the rest of the regular season.

“I don’t want him to have to rush it. And when he does come back, I want him to be himself and be healthy,” Lillard said, per Joe Freeman of The Oregonian (Twitter link). “So, in my mind, we’re going to finish the regular season without him.”

The Trail Blazers remain in a tight race for home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason. Currently, the team holds the No. 4 seed, with a 1.5-game cushion over the Spurs and Thunder and a two-game lead over Utah.

While Portland would certainly like to have McCollum back in its lineup as soon as possible to secure a top-four spot in the conference, it makes more sense to hold him out until he’s fully healthy — especially since the team’s schedule isn’t particularly brutal down the stretch. Outside of two games vs. Denver and two vs. Detroit, the Blazers don’t face any opponents above .500 the rest of the way.

Perhaps the ideal outcome for the Blazers would be to get McCollum back a few games before the end of the regular season. That could allow him to shake off the rust before the playoffs begin while potentially returning in time for what could be a crucial home-and-home set against the Nuggets on April 5 and April 7. We’ll have to wait to see how McCollum’s recovery progresses, however.

LaMarcus Aldridge Considers Eventual Return To Portland

A thawing in the once-frosty relationship between Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge could lead to Aldridge eventually returning to the Trail Blazers, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic.

Aldridge, who spent his first nine seasons in Portland, remains second on the team’s career scoring list, with Lillard likely to pass him soon. They had a strained relationship during their three years as teammates that was caused by a sense of awkwardness rather than any specific incident. With Aldridge as an established veteran and Lillard as a high lottery pick who was billed as the team’s future star, they never figured out how to relate to one another. The resulting tension played a role in Aldridge’s decision to leave in free agency in 2015.

Jamal Crawford eventually took on the role as peacemaker, encouraging Lillard and Aldridge to reach out to one another. Their relationship has improved to the point that Aldridge is considering a reunion.

“You never know,” he said. “But of course, if we had a better relationship, it changes the whole outlook of how it went. It’s sad that not talking like we do now could have changed history. But everything happens for a reason. He has flourished in that role, and I keep telling him I’m going to come back and finish there. That’s something him and I have talked about — playing together again.”

Aldridge returning to Portland is unlikely to happen soon. He is signed through the 2020/21 season, making $50MM over the next two years. He has put together back-to-back All-Star appearances and is the second-leading scorer on a Spurs team that has risen to sixth in the West, so there’s no reason for San Antonio to put him on the trading block.

Aldridge will be nearly 36 when he hits free agency in the summer of 2021, so he may decide that’s when he wants to to end his career in Portland. He admits he handled the situation with Lillard poorly and wouldn’t mind returning to the Blazers to make amends.

“I didn’t want to make him think I was stifling his growth, or have a mindset that I was hating on him, so I didn’t say anything to him,” Aldridge said. “That was the wrong approach, because he told me he would have liked guidance and a big brother.”

Northwest Notes: Kanter, Morris, Exum, Lillard

Enes Kanter‘s decision in free agency came down to two teams: the Trail Blazers and Lakers. Kanter, of course, chose to join the Blazers less than two weeks after being waived by the Knicks, labeling one major reason why he made his choice.

“I think it’s just the culture,” Kanter said, according to Casey Holdahl of NBA.com. “After I got released from the Knicks I got a lot of offers but I just wanted to wait. After (Blazers president of basketball operations) Neil (Olshey) talked to me, I was like ‘You know what, I think Portland is the team that I want to go to because I already know their good culture from four years ago when they offered be the contract.’ I think it’s the best decision for me. Then Dame (Lillard) texted me and I was like, ‘You know what, this is the best place that I can (be).’ Be with the team and go far.”

Kanter, a bruising center who holds career-averages of 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, is expected to provide depth off Portland’s bench as the postseason nears. He has an opportunity to prove his worth on a competitive team ahead of free agency, joining the Blazers as a locker room leader and veteran presence.

“It’s amazing, like a first year of school,” Kanter said. “I was actually nervous but I think they help me a lot. Amazing locker (room). From the first moment that I stepped in everybody was trying to help, talking to me about lots of stuff. It’s become very easy, I feel like I’ve been a part of this team for a long time from the first day.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division tonight:

  • New Thunder forward Markieff Morris was cleared two weeks ago and is “feeling great,” Royce Young of ESPN tweets. Morris officially signed with Oklahoma City this week, having being diagnosed with transient cervical neuropraxia in his neck early last month.
  • Dante Exum participated in his first practice with the Jazz on Thursday since suffering a left ankle sprain in January, Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News writes. “It was great,” teammate Rudy Gobert said about seeing Exum in practice, according to Woodyard. “I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot.” Exum was re-evaluated by the team and ruled out for Friday’s game against Oklahoma City, though his return date doesn’t appear to be far off. He’s missed 17 straight games with the injury.
  • Blazers star Damian Lillard explained why he’s stayed with the team throughout his career, appearing on the Posted Up podcast with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes this week. “I’m not willing to sell myself out for championships,” Lillard said. Lillard, drafted by Portland in 2012 with the No. 6 overall pick, is currently in his seventh season with the franchise.

LeBron, Giannis Draft 2019 All-Star Teams

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted their teams for the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, officially finalizing the rosters for this year’s contest. James and Antetokounmpo were chosen as captains because they were the All-Star starter from each conference with the most fan votes.

Both James and Antetokounmpo first had to select from a pool of starters, then from a list of reserve players. The starters, which consisted of eight other players, were voted on by the fans, players and media this season. The reserve players were voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches.

James drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden as starters, choosing Durant as his first selection. His reserves were Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Dwyane Wade.

Antetokounmpo drafted Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Kemba Walker as his starters, selecting Curry with his first pick. He drafted Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and Dirk Nowitzki as his reserves.

James later traded Westbrook to Team Giannis in exchange for Simmons, making an effort to repair the relationship of Westbrook and Embiid.

The 68th NBA All-Star Game is set to commence on February 17 at Spectrum Center, featuring 26 of the best basketball players in the world.

Blazers Players Discuss Team’s Deadline Outlook

The Trail Blazers figure to be among the teams looking for some extra help at the trade deadline this season, but Damian Lillard hopes that the club will only make a move if it’s clear upgrade — otherwise, he may not want to risk upsetting Portland’s chemistry, as Jason Quick of The Athletic details.

“When you look around the league, you just see the talent. Teams are stacking up on talent,” Lillard said. “You see a lot of guys teaming up and guys wanting to be on the same team. When you want to compete with that — like on a championship level — you gotta try to fight that with firepower. For us, I think our chemistry, our style of play, and the coaching we have — that’s a big thing for us. So like, we lean on that. We’ve been successful with it. But when you talk about a championship level, it’s tough to compete with those ultra-talented teams — Golden State, Oklahoma City, teams that just have player after player after player.

“If we go away from (team chemistry and continuity), it has to be for certain that we are able to match (the West’s top teams) talent-wise,” Lillard added. “I’m not saying ‘Do it’ if we can get that, I’m just saying if we are ever going to sacrifice (chemistry), it would have to come with us being able to match a team with talent.”

As Quick relays, Lillard repeatedly cautioned that he wasn’t telling team president of basketball operations Neil Olshey what he should or shouldn’t do with the roster at the deadline. “It’s a hard job,” the star point guard said of Olshey’s position. “And that’s why I’m glad it’s not mine.”

Still, Lillard’s stance is an interesting one. Many players around the league would encourage their general managers to make whatever moves they believe will get their respective teams closer to a championship. Lillard, on the other hand, told Quick that he doesn’t want to be so focused on winning a title that he sacrifices teammates to get there.

“At the end of the day, I know in my heart I want to win. I want to win a championship for this city, but I’m not willing to put somebody under the bus to do it,” Lillard said. “That means more to me than saying ‘I won a championship, but now this guy has been traded to a bad situation, and now his team don’t like him as much and he might be out of the league in a year.’ I’m not going to have that. I’m not going to have that on me.”

Here’s more from Blazers players on the team’s trade deadline outlook, via Quick:

  • Lillard explained further why he doesn’t want to get too involved in telling Olshey and the front office what they should do at the deadline: “I’ve never been somebody to go out there and be like, ‘We need to do this, or we need to do that,’ because people’s lives are involved, and I don’t deal with that.”
  • When discussing the West’s top teams, Lillard also observed that it’s “hard to get that much talent to come to Portland,” acknowledging that the Blazers will be at a disadvantage against bigger-market teams when competing for top free agents.
  • Like Lillard, Evan Turner doesn’t envy the position Olshey is in: “It seems like we are up and down of where we want to go. You look at one half of the roster and it looks like a rebuild, and the other half is try-to-win, and see how far we can push it. So whatever (Olshey) does, I’m sure he will do what’s best for the organization. Hopefully, if he does deal, it’s a deal you can’t say no to, as opposed to a flip of a coin whether it’s going to work or not.”
  • While the Blazers are very unlikely to move C.J. McCollum, the standout guard acknowledged that he’s become accustomed to seeing his name pop up in trade rumors and speculation: “What’s his name … Bill Simmons has been trying to get me traded for like five years. There’s a proposed trade for me three times a year by him. I admire the fact that he thinks I’m worthy of being traded to … 12 teams.”

Northwest Notes: Grant, Westbrook, Mitchell

A nice surprise for the Thunder during their recent stretch of strong play has been the development from Jerami Grant, especially as he entered a new role in the starting lineup. As Maddie Lee writes for NewsOK, Grant is thriving as a starter and the team has benefited from his presence in the lineup.

Lee points out that Grant is shooting 52.7% as a starter, as opposed to 26.1% coming off the bench this season, which makes sense considering the offensive talent he is surrounded with in the starting lineup. Grant is having a career year across the board, posting career-highs in scoring (11.6 PPG), rebounding (5.2 RPG) and 3-point shooting (36.8% on three attempts per game).

It will be interesting to see if Grant can keep shooting at this level, especially when Andre Roberson returns, which would further cramp the floor-spacing in the starting lineup.

There’s more from the Northwest division:

Trail Blazers Rumors: Stotts, Lillard, Collins

After their 2017/18 season ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Pelicans in the first round of the postseason, the Trail Blazers came close to firing head coach Terry Stotts, sources tell ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Portland was close enough to making a move that teams like the Suns begin reaching out to intermediaries to gauge Stotts’ potential interest in their own coaching openings.

However, while ownership seriously considered a change, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey and star point guard Damian Lillard fought for Stotts, according to Lowe.

“I was asked what I thought, and I just said I love him as a coach,” Lillard said of Stotts. “We all love him.”

Lowe’s piece takes a deep dive into the Trail Blazers’ culture, as he notes that Lillard and C.J. McCollum “tolerate no squabbling, or blame games.” That attitude permeates the organization from top to bottom, according to Lowe, who points to the relationship between Olshey and Stotts as another example.

Although the two team leaders haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on everything, they’ve developed an understanding that Olshey will avoid players who don’t fit Stotts’ style and Stotts will coach the players he gets. As a result of their relationship, Lowe explains, players will never see Olshey and Stotts at odds in any serious way, as the organization emphasizes a drama-free and resentment-free culture.

Here’s more from Lowe on the Blazers:

  • The Blazers’ late owner Paul Allen, who passed away last month, addressed the team in the wake of its first-round exit, calling the four-game sweep “unacceptable,” sources tell Lowe. Based on the language and the tone, people within the organization were nervous that a major shakeup was coming during the offseason.
  • Allen was ultimately convinced to give everyone – including Stotts and the Blazers’ core – one more season, while team management and coaches vowed to make changes heading into 2018/19. Namely, as Lowe details, Portland wanted to surround Evan Turner with more shooting on the second unit, re-shuffle the rotation to get Lillard and McCollum more playing time together, and get off to a faster start this season. So far, that plan is going well.
  • The Blazers still want to find a way to supplement their Lillard/McCollum duo with a third impact player, sources around the NBA tell Lowe. Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic have emerged as perhaps Portland’s most valuable trade chips, but the club doesn’t want to trade Collins and “almost certainly won’t” anytime soon, Lowe reports.
  • Lowe identifies Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris as the type of player who would appeal to the Blazers, though acquiring either of those guys in a trade or as a free agent would be an extreme long shot. Forwards like Otto Porter of the Wizards and Taurean Prince of the Hawks may be more realistic trade targets, Lowe notes.
  • Lillard still believes the Blazers are capable of reaching greater heights during his tenure with the team. “Good things come to good people, even if you get swept somewhere along the way,” he tells Lowe. “This is what goes through my mind: I’m gonna be in my 11th year or something here, I’m gonna stick with it, and we’re gonna make the Finals.”