Damian Lillard

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Nurkic, Nuggets, Wolves

Damian Lillard has become the face of the Trail Blazers and one of the most dynamic point guards in the NBA. By the same token, the 27-year-old has taken on a mentorship role with Portland, specifically with young center Jusuf Nurkic. In a well-written piece by NBC Sports Northwest’s Jason Quick, Lillard’s relationship with Nurkic is highlighted in comparison to Lillard’s relationship with the departed LaMarcus Aldridge.

As a mentor for the 23-year-old Nurkic, Lillard said their relationship is “almost what I wish I had with LaMarcus.’’  Lillard and Aldridge were teammates in Portland during Dame’s first three NBA seasons. While the duo enjoyed some success, the team never managed a deep playoff run. In turn, Lillard wants to provide Nurkic with the help he never received while teammates with Aldridge.

“Me and LaMarcus had a good relationship. We never had a single argument. We really got along,’’ Lillard said. “I’m just saying the stuff I want to go out of my way to do for (Nurkic), is the stuff I wish I got from LaMarcus.’’

For his part, Nurkic said that Lillard “the best thing that has happened to me in my life.’’ Thus far, Nurkic’s career in Portland has been strong as he’s averaging 14.3 PPG and 7.2 RPG through the Trail Blazers’ first 17 games. In Lillard’s view, Nurkic has a high ceiling and he wants to do his part to help him reach it.

“With Nurk, I know how good he is, how good he could be, I know what he means to the team, so I don’t want to let that opportunity slip,’’ Lillard said. “I don’t want him to feel any less important. I don’t want to be like (sucks teeth) ‘he good enough he will figure it out.’”

Check out other notes across the Northwest Division:

  • After considering an overhaul to the Nuggets‘ frontcourt rotation, the team will have to rely heavily on the likes of Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee to produce in Paul Millsaps absence, Gina Mizell of the Denver Post writes. As we reported earlier, Millsap is set to miss 2-3 months after undergoing surgery on his left wrist.
  • In a lengthy feature, ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes that time has run out for the Timberwolves to wait for winning based on the team’s potential. With a 10-7 record, Minnesota occupies fifth place in the Western Conference. Head coach Tom Thibodeau said earlier this season that, “If you’re waiting on potential, you’re waiting on losing.” That edict will now follow the team until they prove they can win with a blend of budding superstars and established veterans.

Northwest Notes: Gibson, T. Jones, O’Neale, Lillard

Taj Gibson is justifying the Timberwolves‘ decision to give him a two-year, $28MM contract this summer, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Many questioned committing that much to Gibson when Minnesota had obvious needs at the wing and Gorgui Dieng already in place at power forward. Through the first month of the season, Gibson is logging a career high in minutes at 30.7 per game, while Dieng’s playing time has been cut to 15.4 per night from 32.4 a year ago.

“I talk to Gorgui every day. That’s my guy,” Gibson said. “He understands it too that you want to take care of yourself and be in this league a long time. It’s not about the minutes, it is about the production with the minutes you get. I tell him that you want that option where teams know you can start or come off the bench; that’s how you are a great teammate.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Tyus Jones is also finding minutes hard to come by off the Wolves‘ bench, but he is compensating by developing chemistry with center Karl-Anthony Towns, relays Kent Youngblood of The Star-Tribune. Jones, who recently had his fourth-year option picked up, has developed an effective two-man game with Towns. “We’ve known each other since high school,’’ Towns said. “We’ve had a great chemistry. And we play the same style of basketball.”
  • Injuries have presented Jazz small forward Royce O’Neale with an unexpected chance for playing time, notes Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. Undrafted out of Baylor in 2015, O’Neale spent one season in Germany and another in Spain before getting a shot with Utah’s summer league team. He played a career-high 21 minutes in Friday’s loss to the Nets. “It felt good to play real minutes,” he said. “You never know when your name is going to be called, so I have to take advantage of the playing time when I get the chance. It’s just about going out and executing the work I put into practice every day.”
  • Damian Lillard is coming to the defense of Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who is under fire for the team’s sluggish start, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. The heat was turned up after Friday’s loss to Sacramento, which prompted Lillard to respond to fans on Instagram. “Late game turnovers and not getting stops has nothing to do with a coach,” Lillard wrote. “Blame me then. This the NBA … we play 82 games and we’ve played 15 and won more than we’ve lost. Relax family.”

Damian Lillard Talks Carmelo, Blazers, Rivals

The Trail Blazers have had one of the NBA’s quietest summers, having not made a single free agent signing until officially inking Archie Goodwin to a camp deal today. On the trade front, Portland’s only major move involved dumping Allen Crabbe‘s exorbitant contract on the Nets — the Blazers acquired Andrew Nicholson in that trade, but subsequently waived him.

Of course, while the Blazers’ cap situation limited their ability to pursue impact free agents, the team’s star guards – Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum – made an effort to recruit a trade candidate. Carmelo Anthony has been unwilling to waive his no-trade clause to join the Blazers, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying from Lillard and McCollum.

Speaking to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, Lillard admitted that he doesn’t love “doing all the extra recruiting” adding that he didn’t want to press Anthony. Despite the fact that Carmelo “didn’t seem opposed” to the idea of playing in Portland, according to Lillard, there has been no indication that a trade between the Blazers and Knicks is a viable possibility.

Lillard expanded on that subject and addressed a few other topics in his conversation with Spears, which includes details on his community work and is worth checking out in full. Here are some of the highlights from the Blazers’ point guard:

On recruiting Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause for the Trail Blazers:

“I guess they call it tampering or whatever. It’s not against the rules for us to interact with each other. We all peers, we all play in the same league and everybody hints at playing with each other. ‘What you think about this?’ ‘What do you think about that?’ All that matters is whether it got done or did not get done. Or hasn’t got done, and it hasn’t got done. So, it is what it is …

“I’m not giving up on anything. I just think I’ve done what I can do. And camp is a few weeks away. And you have to focus on getting ready with who we are, plan on going in as we are. Whatever changes, the front office will be the ones making that change, with the Knicks and our front office or whatever. But I get my mind focused on what I can control at a certain point.”

On the offseason upgrades made by division and conference rivals:

“It’s tough. The West is tough as always. I think a lot of teams in the West got better on paper, and at the end of the day, things have to work out. A lot of things look good, but it still got to work out. You got to make it work. So, we’ll see how that go.”

On the Trail Blazers’ outlook for 2017/18:

“I got a lot of confidence with everybody on our team. We still got a young team. Obviously, we could improve in a lot of areas as a group. With all the struggles we had last year, we still found a way to get it done and to get into the playoffs, which is what every team goes into the season and tries to get done. So, we make the improvements that we need to make collectively on the defensive end, and just being able to do things at a high level consistently. We should be pretty good.”

Northwest Notes: Butler, Hernangomez, Lillard

A comprehensive feature on Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler has shed some light on how the 30th overall draft pick has changed over the course of his ascent to stardom. Michael Pina of Vice Sports spent a day with the swingman, who describes himself as a difficult person to be around.

This season Butler has been reunited with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, the man at the helm in Chicago when Butler evolved from a fringe roster player to a key rotation piece into a star. For the last two years, however, Butler played under a different coach.

I’m confrontational. I feed off of confrontation. It makes me go,” Butler said. “Not everybody’s like that. [Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg] is not that coach, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are different coaching styles and people are gonna say—which is what they did say—’It’s gonna be Jimmy’s team or it’s gonna be Fred’s team.’ Two total opposite ends of the spectrum.

Be sure to check out the long-read for fresh perspective on the Timberwolves guard’s backstory and mentality heading forward.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division tonight:

Northwest Notes: Anthony, Georges-Hunt, Christon

While the Rockets remain Carmelo Anthony‘s supposed primary destination, the Trail Blazers have done well to establish themselves as a suitable alternative, Cody Sharrett of the team’s official site writes.

Sharrett cites comments made by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski  in a recent radio interview (~25:00 mark), suggesting the Trail Blazers could, theoretically at least, be a good landing spot for the veteran.

The [Trail Blazers] are an interesting team in this because C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard have done a really good of recruiting Carmelo,” Wojnarowkski said. “They’ve been on him.

The scribe notes that Anthony’s feelings about McCollum, Lillard or the Trail Blazers are ultimately inconsequential if the club can’t put together a package of assets that appeals to the Knicks.

But if they could, then the [Trail Blazers] are a sleeper team in this to get Carmelo to waive his no-trade because I’m told they’ve piqued Carmelo’s interest at the very least,” Wojnarowski added.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder are said to have had talks with undrafted free agent Brad Wanamaker, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando reports. The 28-year-old guard is currently under contract with David Blatt‘s Turkish league club.
  • Recently signed Timberwolves guard Marcus Georges-Hunt has the same contract as if he were claimed off of waivers, Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News tweets. Georges-Hunt was waived by the Magic on July 31. It’s a possibility that he sticks on the roster through to the regular season.
  • Sportswriters that cover the Thunder are torn as to whether or not Semaj Christon will remain with the team come opening day. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who says ‘Nay’, thinks Christon will be the odd man out after the club re-committed to Nick Collison.

Rockets, Knicks Re-Engage On Melo Talks

The Knicks and Rockets have re-engaged on trade talks regarding Carmelo Anthony, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reports. The Rockets are yet again searching for a third team to facilitate the deal.

The Knicks and Rockets made significant progress on a deal when Phil Jackson was in charge, but New York’s new GM Scott Perry has been more particular about the package he’d want in return for Anthony. A deal directly between the two sides remains unlikely as New York does not have an interest in bringing back Ryan Anderson.

Anthony remains determined to go to Houston, as he refuses to expand the list of teams in which he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause for, according to Wojnarowski.

The Pelicans, Blazers, and Thunder are among the teams which have expressed interest in adding the 10-time All-Star. However, Anthony has reportedly been uninterested in joining any of those squads. Portland remains interested in acquiring Anthony should he change his mind. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum continue to recruit Anthony with the hopes that he will change his stance on coming to the Northwest, Wojnarowski adds.

Anthony had previously expressed willingness to waive his NTC to join LeBron James in Cleveland, though Kyrie Irving‘s situation and LBJ’s uncertain future have dulled his enthusiasm for the Cavs.

New York has no problem bringing Anthony to training camp and Woj hears that Anthony beginning the season in a Knicks’ uniform remains a real possibility.

Blazers’ Stars Recruiting Carmelo Anthony

The Blazers had interest in acquiring Carmelo Anthony, but the 10-time All-Star reportedly won’t consider waiving his no-trade clause to come to last season’s eighth seed in the Western Conference. Still, that hasn’t stopped Portland’s stars from attempting to change the small forward’s mind, as Jason Quick of Comcast Sportsnet relays.

“I spoke to him,’’  Damian Lillard said of Anthony. “Because obviously he makes us a better team. So obviously with that being out there and being a real possibility, I don’t see why I wouldn’t reach out to him and let him know the interest is mutual if he is interested in us.’’

Lillard added that he wasn’t going to share Anthony’s response, though he said the two needed to speak because bringing the 32-year-old to Portland was something that he and C.J. McCollum would welcome should the opportunity present itself.

McCollum said he spoke to Anthony through a trainer the two share. The shooting guard added that he’ll be in New York this week to train and he will “say hello to [Anthony] if he’s there.”

“If we get him … when we get him … I think we could be top three in the West, easy,’’ McCollum said. “I think he’s interested. Obviously, I feel he wants to play with his team – the Banana Boat friends. I know he wants to play with CP [Chris Paul] and LeBron, and those are good options, but I feel we are a good option.’’

Anthony is reportedly focused on getting to the Rockets and Houston believes they will end up adding him in an offseason where they’ve already Paul. The Knicks and Rockets were looking for other teams to help facilitate a trade and the Blazers were apparently one of those franchises. However, Portland doesn’t want to help Anthony get to a rival Western Conference team, as the organization believes Anthony could be the missing piece to elevate the team into the West’s upper echelon.

Lillard was hoping to convince Anthony of just that, along with assuring him that he’s wanted on the team.

“He’s Carmelo Anthony,’’ Lillard said. “You add another guy who can score 50. Over the last decade, he’s been one of best players in the league. Playing against him he’s a cerebral player. He’s smart. He played in the triangle. I can only imagine what it would be like to have him isolating on one side, and CJ in the corner, and me in opposite wing and Nurk on the opposite …  I could only imagine how tough it would be to guard us.

“I want to win a championship. It’s that simple. After my rookie year I’ve been in the playoffs every year and the playoffs are fun … but at this point we need a breakthrough. I’m tired of watching … each year it bothers me more.’’

And-Ones: World Peace, Lillard, Blatt, Calathes

Veteran NBA forward Metta World Peace, who said at season’s end that he doesn’t expect to be back with the Lakers in 2017/18, has an uncertain basketball future and intends to put off a decision on his next move until August. As Emiliano Carchia of Sportando details, World Peace told Italy’s La Gazzetta Dello Sport that he’s leaving the door open to the possibility of playing in China or Europe if no NBA opportunities arise for him.

The man formerly known as Ron Artest has maintained in recent months that he’d like to play 20 professional basketball seasons before he calls it a career. World Peace, who will turn 38 this fall, has spent 17 seasons in the NBA and also played in China and Italy in 2014/15, so he’ll need to play for two more years to meet that goal.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Damian Lillard created some speculation fodder during a Twitter Q&A with fans today when he answered a question about where he’d sign if he had to leave Portland. “If [the] Blazers said they didn’t want me… Utah Jazz or Lakers,” Lillard replied (via Twitter). Lillard is under contract through 2021, so Blazers fans should have nothing to worry about anytime soon.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer makes the case for why 2017’s NBA draft looks primed for more draft-pick trades than usual.
  • After coaching Darussafaka in Turkey this past season, David Blatt is meeting Darussafaka officials in Istanbul this week to resolve his release from the team and pave the way for his return to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, per international basketball reporter David Pick (Twitter link). Blatt coached the Israeli club for several seasons before joining the Cavaliers in 2014.
  • Nick Calathes, a former second-round pick who spent two seasons with the Grizzlies, is content to continue his playing career in Greece, as he tells EBasket (English link via Emiliano Carchia of Sportando). “The NBA is still on my mind. Obviously I want to play at the highest levels. But in this moment the Panathinaikos is my priority,” Calathes said. “I am not in a hurry to go to the NBA. I love Panathinaikos and I am doing well here. So I am not pushing for something else.”

Northwest Notes: Adams, Hill, Huestis

When Steven Adams next takes the court for the Thunder he’ll be paid $22.4MM, Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman writes. This year, in contrast, the big man made just $3.1MM. Don’t think that the dramatic change in salary will automatically correspond with a dramatic change in production, however, Dawson writes.

I think Steven’s effectiveness, so much of it is in the things he already does,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. That, of course, includes stellar rim protection, effective pick-and-roll defense and the occasional offensive support without demanding the ball every possession.

Dawson discusses Adams’ adjustment to being the main man on defense, something he didn’t have to deal with while Serge Ibaka was his teammate up until last summer.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Immediately after his elimination from the postseason, Damian Lillard coordinated a gesture where he and his Trail Blazers teammates would divvy up their $16K playoff bonuses across all of the team personnel that work for the franchise, Jason Quick of CSN Northwest writes.
  • An injury to point guard George Hill has limited any impact the Jazz could hope to have on the Warriors, Randy Hollis of the Deseret News writes. The veteran has missed Games 2 and 3 thus far and head coach Quin Snyder said his effectiveness would be limited even if he tried to return.
  • It’s no easier to determine forward Josh Huestis‘ future with the Thunder, Erik Horne of the Oklahoman writes, because the 2014 first-rounder didn’t play enough to make much of an impression.

Northwest Notes: Johnson, Lillard, Westbrook

Now 16 years into an admirable NBA career, Joe Johnson is happy to still be contributing significantly to a winning team. Marc Spears of ESPN recently wrote about the veteran’s career and the role he currently serves with the Jazz.

It’s been 16 seasons. I’m still able to play at a high level. It says a lot because a lot of the guys in my draft class have come and gone. To be one of the dinosaurs still around, I’m happy for that,” Johnson said.

In a transcribed interview with Johnson, Spears asks the swingman about his life as a veteran in the locker room and how he came to sign with the Jazz last summer.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • If Damian Lillard can’t win a title with the Trail Blazers, he’s okay not winning one. The guard tweeted that staying in Portland is more of a priority.
  • One of the looming questions the Trail Blazers will get an answer to eventually is whether or not Jusuf Nurkic can be their anchor in the middle for a full season, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post writes. If he can, that’s one less building block they’ll need to add in the future.
  • If Russell Westbrook doesn’t sign a five-year extension when it’s offered to him this summer, he’ll almost inevitably leave the Thunder in the summer of 2018, says Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post. If that is the case, expect Oklahoma City to trade him rather than watch him leave for nothing.
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