Damian Lillard

Ben Simmons Takes Physical, Meets With Sixers’ Brass

After returning to Philadelphia on Monday, Sixers star Ben Simmons took his required physical and met with the team’s brass on Tuesday, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. That meeting included president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, who says sources described it only as “brief.”

Both Pompey and Shelburne indicate that Simmons won’t be cleared to participate in any team-related activities until at least Friday, due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. As Brian Windhorst observed during an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up (video link) on Wednesday, that timeline suggests Simmons may not yet be fully vaccinated, since the league requires fully vaccinated players to register just one negative PCR test in order to interact with other players. Players who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated require at least four negative tests upon reporting to the team, according to ESPN.

We don’t know yet whether Simmons actually intends to return to the court and play for the 76ers following his holdout, but for what it’s worth, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report says the 25-year-old’s physical showed no signs that he isn’t healthy. Simmons will be able to begin conducting individual workouts with the assistance of Sixers coaches on Wednesday, Fischer notes.

As we wait to see what the next steps are for the Sixers and Simmons, there’s no indication that the team is anywhere close to making a trade. Both Fischer and Sam Amick of The Athletic have heard that Philadelphia continues to hold out hope that a star like Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal will become dissatisfied with his situation and ask for a trade, but that remains a long shot unless the Trail Blazers or Wizards get off to a really disastrous start this season.

According to Amick, Simmons’ camp hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a trade to the Nets, but sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Athletic that the Sixers have exhibited zero interest in pursuing a deal involving Kyrie Irving.

Fischer names the Cavaliers, Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Timberwolves, Blazers, Kings, Spurs, and Raptors as the nine teams that have remained at least somewhat engaged with Philadelphia, and adds that a “mystery” 10th club has also had “substantive” discussions with the Sixers as of late. Not even Klutch Sports is certain of the identity of that 10th team, per Fischer, who cautions that the mystery suitor still hasn’t come close to meeting Morey’s asking price.

Here’s more on Simmons:

  • Sources tell Fischer that the Sixers have informed potential trade partners whose offers would be heavy on draft picks that their best bet would be a three-team structure in which Philadelphia lands at least one impact player, since Morey and his front office are interested in win-now pieces rather than future assets.
  • Although the Timberwolves still have interest in Simmons following their front office shake-up, new head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta isn’t believed to be pursuing the three-time All-Star as aggressively as Gersson Rosas did, according to Fischer.
  • The Kings remain unwilling to discuss either De’Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton in a potential Simmons deal, while the Sixers appear unmoved by the idea of acquiring Dejounte Murray and/or Lonnie Walker from the Spurs, sources tell Bleacher Report. Fischer adds that there’s a belief the Pistons would entertain trading Jerami Grant in a deal for Simmons.
  • Improving the relationship between Simmons and head coach Doc Rivers is believed to be a priority for the Sixers if Simmons is going to stick around for a little while, according to Fischer, who says the two men never seemed to build a strong rapport last season. Sources tell Bleacher Report that during an offseason meeting at agent Rich Paul‘s home, when the Sixers confirmed they intended to fine Simmons for not complying with the terms of his deal, Rivers shouted, “It’s in your f–king contract” to report to training camp and play for the team.

Northwest Notes: Billups, Lillard, Thunder, Jazz

Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups recently sat down for an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio (Twitter link), and he says he’s not going to be preaching “stay here” to star point guard Damian Lillard.

Billups adds that he won’t be constantly discussing whether or not Lillard wants to stay with the team with his star player, saying he has a responsibility to coach the rest of the players. However, he definitely wants him to stay, and believes Lillard when he says he’s “all in” for the upcoming season with the Trail Blazers.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Former first-round pick D.J. Wilson knows he might be a long-shot to make the Thunder‘s 15-man regular season roster, but that’s not going to stop him from trying, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Mussatto notes that the Thunder had their eyes on Wilson in the 2017 draft, but the Bucks selected him (17th) before Oklahoma City was able to (21st). Wilson is on a non-guaranteed training camp contract.
  • In a tweet, Mussatto says the Thunder are being cautious with Vit Krejci, who’s a year removed from an ACL tear. Coach Mark Daigneault said Krejci has been cleared to play, but he’s still not a full participant in practices. This could be a result of the “slight setback” Krejci had last week. Mussatto adds that the bigger issue for Krejci is his visa status, which has no timeline for a resolution.
  • One reason the Jazz appealed to Rudy Gay in free agency is they had the best regular season record in the NBA last season, so he doesn’t feel any pressure to rush his recovery process following heel surgery, tweets Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Latest On Ben Simmons

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon are two players widely viewed as potential fits for the Sixers in a Ben Simmons deal, but no trade scenarios involving either player have gained real traction with Philadelphia so far, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (video link).

According to Charania, the Sixers asked the Trail Blazers for a package that included three first-round picks and three pick swaps, which Portland rejected. While Charania’s wording isn’t entirely clear, it sounds like Philadelphia requested all those draft assets in addition to McCollum, so it’s not surprising that the Blazers weren’t interested.

As has been reported repeatedly throughout the offseason, the Sixers’ dream scenario would be to trade Simmons to the Blazers in a deal involving Damian Lillard, but the Oakland native never asked to be dealt and Portland has zero interest in moving him unless that happens. “You’re waiting on a prayer,” one source said to Sam Amick of The Athletic, referring to Philadelphia’s desire to land Lillard.

According to Amick, there has been some chatter around the league about the possibility of the Sixers and Blazers working out a Simmons deal for a package that includes McCollum and Robert Covington, plus draft assets, but the two sides don’t appear anywhere close.

Here’s more on Simmons:

  • The Sixers’ front office, head coach Doc Rivers, and agent Rich Paul have continued to discuss the idea of Simmons ending his holdout and reporting to the team, but the three-time All-Star remains “resistant” to that idea, according to Charania.
  • Charania says Simmons has clearly “mentally checked out” from the Sixers and even if he were to report to the team, it would be with “short-term intentions.” A source who spoke to Amick said essentially the same thing: “Even if (Simmons) shows up, I think there’s no chance of him ever mentally being back in Philly.” Simmons has packed up his belongings from his Philadelphia home, per Charania.
  • David Aldridge of The Athletic believes the Kings make sense as a trade partner for Simmons and has heard the 25-year-old would have no problem going to Sacramento. However, sources have told Amick that the Kings want to see what their current group looks like in the regular season and haven’t seriously revisited the possibility of a Simmons trade since speaking to the 76ers months ago.

Six Teams Still Inquiring About Simmons’ Availability

The Timberwolves, Pacers, Cavaliers, Pistons, Raptors and Spurs continue to inquire about Ben Simmons’ availability, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports via a league source.

The Simmons saga is one of the major storylines of this preseason and it took another twist on Friday when reports surfaced that the Sixers were withholding an $8.25MM advance payment from their disgruntled playmaker.

However, as Pompey points out, this standoff could drag on until after December 15, when many free agents signed this summer can be included in trades.

The Sixers have put an exorbitant price tag on Simmons, in part while waiting to see if the Trail Blazers made Damian Lillard available or if the Wizards were willing to part with Bradley Beal. Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul, tried to assist the Sixers in receiving a five-player package for Simmons in a three-team trade but Philadelphia’s asking price was too rich, according to Pompey.

The withheld salary has been placed in an escrow account. Simmons is likely to receive all the money in his contract once he’s traded, Pompey notes, since it’s expected the team that acquires him will waive the fines the Sixers have instituted for his refusal to show up for training camp.

The Inquirer’s beat writer explored the standoff in great detail. Here are some highlights:

  • Simmons’ desire to be traded was communicated to the front office just days after the team was eliminated from the playoffs. Paul told GM Elton Brand his client wanted out three days after the Hawks bounced the team out of the playoff chase. Brand then told president of basketball operations Daryl Morey.
  • When the Sixers asked why Simmons wanted out, Paul told them his client was “mentally exhausted,” says Pompey.
  • When Morey was hired last November, Simmons suspected he wouldn’t be with the franchise long-term. He was the centerpiece in trade talks with Morey’s former team, Houston, in the Sixers’ failed attempt to acquire James Harden. Simmons even went house shopping in Houston in anticipation of being dealt.
  • Simmons doesn’t have any ill will toward his All-Star teammate Joel Embiid, but believes their partnership on the court has “run its course.” Even if he does return to Philadelphia to rejoin the team, Simmons has no intentions of playing another game for the Sixers.

Blazers Notes: Lillard, Nance, Nurkic, Billups

Despite plenty of speculation this offseason that Damian Lillard may request a trade from the Trail Blazers, the star point guard is still in Portland and indicated at the team’s Media Day on Monday that he remains committed to the franchise.

Lillard wanted to see signs from the front office that it was serious about competing for a title, and while the Blazers didn’t make a huge splash in free agency or on the trade market, the 31-year-old expressed enthusiasm about the team’s roster updates, as Jason Quick of The Athletic details.

“Obviously, at the end of last season I wanted to see our roster improve, I wanted us to have a better chance at winning,” Lillard said. “And we had our conversations throughout the summer about what that looked like and how we could take steps in that direction.

“… We’ve done some things that I like,” Lillard added, singling out the athleticism and versatility of newly-added big man Larry Nance Jr.. “I didn’t expect us to go out there and get Kevin Durant all the sudden. But I think the conversations we’ve had … I feel like it’s genuine that we are trying to move in the right direction and give our team a chance to actually go get another (title). That’s why I have faith — the fact that we’ve had real conversations and that’s what everyone’s intentions were.”

There was a sense that the Blazers might need to take a bigger swing – perhaps a trade involving CJ McCollum – in order to satisfy Lillard. However, as Quick writes, Lillard stressed that he didn’t want to see the team make a major move just for the sake of change and that he’s satisfied with the club taking smaller steps, as long as those steps are in the right direction.

“I think he knows we exhausted every opportunity to improve the roster through trade and free agency,” president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said. “And he knows we will continue to work on that throughout this early part of the season and up to the trade deadline like we always do.”

As for that persistent trade speculation surrounding Lillard, Olshey told reporters that the Blazers “will never be receptive of moving Dame,” according to Quick (Twitter link). The club may be willing to accommodate Lillard if he ever wants out of Portland, but that’s certainly not the case right now, per Olshey, who said the veteran guard is “fired up to be here.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • In a conversation with Alex Kennedy of BasketballNews.com, Nance spoke about making the “really difficult” decision to ask the Cavaliers if they could accommodate a trade to a win-now team, as well as the role he believes he can play on a club like the Blazers. “I didn’t come out here (to lose),” Nance said. “I had a comfortable, cushy situation in Cleveland; I lived close to my family, I was happy and it was all good. I did not come out here to half-ass this thing. I’m all in, and that means going for it all. Last year, we saw a few teams come out of nowhere; the Hawks came out of nowhere, the Suns came out of nowhere. There were teams that surprised some people, and that’s fully what I’m planning on doing here.”
  • At the end of the 2020/21 season, Jusuf Nurkic expressed frustration with his role and the situation in Portland, but he sounded far more optimistic on Monday about the future, as Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian relays. Echoing comments he made earlier in the month, Nurkic said he’s pleased that head coach Chauncey Billups envisions him taking on an expanded role. “I’m glad somebody wants me to be a bigger part of the organization,” Nurkic said. “… I’m looking for a big year personally for me and the team.”
  • Billups spoke on Monday about how he intends to prioritize accountability in Portland this season and will call out players who aren’t performing at the level they should be. “I think it does two things,” the Blazers’ new head coach explained, per Casey Holdahl of TrailBlazers.com. “One, it let’s that guy understand and know that he has to be better. And two, it puts everybody else on notice. Nobody wants that, nobody wants to be the star of the tape the next day because you’ve blown five coverages. But it’s a respectful way to do everything and at the end of the day, it’s just coaching.”

Russell Westbrook Helped Engineer His Trade To Lakers

Russell Westbrook “took control of his situation” when he saw a chance to join the Lakers, according to Bill Oram, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic in a thorough look at how the team remade its roster over the offseason.

A Southern California native, Westbrook had dreamed of returning home to play and thought he might be headed to the Clippers along with Kawhi Leonard two years ago. When a second chance emerged with the Lakers in August, Westbrook was determined to make it happen.

He was among several potential additions discussed in a “war room” setting of players that was led by LeBron James and included Anthony Davis and Jared Dudley. They saw Westbrook as an asset because he’s a perennial All-Star who can share playmaking duties with LeBron. However, he still had two years remaining on his contract and the Wizards weren’t looking to move him.

Although The Athletic’s sources say Westbrook would have been willing to stay in Washington if a trade didn’t happen, he decided to act on the morning of the draft when he heard that the Lakers were near a deal with the Kings to acquire Buddy Hield. Westbrook approached Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and asked him to work out a trade with L.A.

Leonsis agreed and Washington general manager Tommy Sheppard called Lakers GM Rob Pelinka to start trade talks. Within a few hours, a deal was in place to give up Westbrook and a pair of second-round picks in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 selection in this year’s draft.

There’s much more information packed in The Athletic report, which is worth checking out in full. Here are a few highlights:

  • Another player who received serious consideration from the Lakers was DeMar DeRozan, who also hails from Southern California and eventually signed with the Bulls. He met twice with James and had several other phone calls. DeRozan’s representatives had concerns over whether the Lakers’ front office was on board with the players’ plans, but sources tell The Athletic that Pelinka “strongly considered” a sign-and-trade offer that would have sent Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope to the Spurs. L.A. couldn’t come to an agreement with San Antonio or on a new contract for DeRozan, and the proposed sign-and-trade never advanced to the stage where it was presented to owner Jeanie Buss.
  • The Kings’ front office was left “steaming” over the Lakers’ decision to pull out of the Hield deal. It would have come at a lower cost — only Kuzma and Harrell were needed to match salaries — so the Lakers could have kept Caldwell-Pope and their first-round pick. As an elite three-point shooter, Hield might seem like a more natural fit alongside James and Davis, but the Lakers believe Westbrook will make them a better team in the playoffs.
  • With limited resources to fill out their roster after the trade, both James and Westbrook contacted Carmelo Anthony before the official start of free agency. Anthony was still hoping to hear from the Trail Blazers and ultimately received interest from the Knicks and Sixers, but he opted to join James, who was a longtime friend. The chance to win a title attracted other low-cost veterans such as Trevor ArizaWayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore to what became the league’s oldest team with an average age of 30.9 years.
  • James has always enjoyed close relationships with the veterans on his team and was particularly upset when Dudley wasn’t re-signed. Dudley was 36 and coming off an MCL tear, and the Lakers felt it was important to maximize every roster spot. He was offered other positions with the organization, but opted to become an assistant to Jason Kidd in Dallas.
  • James, Davis and Dudley also talked about Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal, but the Lakers didn’t have the assets to land either of them. Sources tell The Athletic that Westbrook tried to convince Beal that they should both ask to be traded out of Washington. Although Beal didn’t agree, he supported Westbrook’s desire to get to L.A. The Lakers’ group also targeted free agent guard Kyle Lowry, who eventually signed with the Heat.
  • The Lakers announced an extension this summer with Frank Vogel to avoid having him enter the season as a lame-duck coach. However, multiple sources told The Athletic that the extension only covers one year, which takes Vogel through the end of the 2022/23 season.
  • Many people in the Lakers’ organization were frustrated by the decision not to compete with the four-year, $37MM offer that Alex Caruso received from the Bulls, per The Athletic. He has become of the NBA’s best role players after starting in the G League, and many believed he was worth what it would have cost to keep him.

Poll: Will Damian Lillard Finish 2021/22 Season With Blazers?

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard recently pledged his commitment to Portland — at least to start the season — in a post shared to his Instagram account. “Back for more… #RipCity is my city”, Lillard posted, including a photo of him high-fiving Blazers fans.

A six-time All-Star, Lillard has seen his name surface in trade rumors throughout the offseason. His production increased once the playoffs came around last season, averaging 34.3 points, 10.2 assists and 41.3 minutes per game in six total contests.

The Sixers are among the teams that have expressed interest in Lillard, with team president Daryl Morey reportedly hoping that he would request a trade from Portland before the season. Philadelphia has been exploring the trade market for disgruntled star Ben Simmons (owed $33MM in 2020/21).

With Lillard re-affirming his commitment to Portland, any trade request remains highly unlikely for the time being. Should things change before the trade deadline, however, a large number of rival teams are expected to circle back and express interest in his services.

What do you think? Will Damian Lillard remain with the Blazers for the 2021/22 season, or will he request a trade? Will the team succeed enough to keep him in town? Vote in our poll, then head to the comments below to share your thoughts!

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Nets, Sixers, Simmons

After signing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk to a two-year contract earlier this week, the Raptors find themselves right up against their $143MM hard cap for the 2021/22 season, notes ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link).

[RELATED: NBA Teams With Hard Caps For 2021/22]

Although the Raptors only have about $133.5MM in guaranteed money on their books, the team is just $155K below the hard cap due to all the non-guaranteed money on its books, along with Gary Trent Jr.‘s incentives and Nando De Colo‘s qualifying offer, according to Marks.

While Toronto’s financial situation is worth noting, it shouldn’t hamstring the team’s flexibility this fall. The Raptors could still add a 20th man to their training camp roster by signing a player to an Exhibit 10 contract, since those deals don’t count toward the hard cap. And once the team starts making cuts to get down to the 15-man regular season limit, it will create some additional breathing room below the hard cap.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Zach Harper of The Athletic assigns the Raptors a grade of B-minus for their offseason, praising the team’s additions of Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa, but acknowledging that Kyle Lowry‘s departure will be a major loss to overcome.
  • In a pair of articles for The Athletic, Alex Schiffer examines the Netsfrontcourt situation, exploring what Paul Millsap will bring to the team, and weighs whether David Vanterpool‘s new job with Brooklyn will be his last role as an assistant coach before he gets a shot at a head coaching position.
  • Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer enlisted Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian to discuss whether there’s a Ben Simmons trade between the Sixers and Trail Blazers that makes sense for both sides. Fentress doesn’t expect Damian Lillard to be available anytime soon, but thinks a Simmons/CJ McCollum swap would work if Philadelphia is willing to lower its asking price. However, Fentress does note that some people within the Blazers organization aren’t sure how well Lillard and Simmons would fit together.

Charania’s Latest: Simmons, Markkanen, Blazers, Brooks

Although the Sixers have told teams they’re comfortable bringing back Ben Simmons for the 2021/22 season, rival executives are skeptical, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who says those execs think it’s just a matter of time before Simmons is moved. All signs continue to point to Simmons’ career in Philadelphia coming to an end, Charania writes.

Still, while the Sixers have held “expansive” discussions with multiple teams, they haven’t gotten close to completing a deal yet. The Timberwolves and Raptors are two teams in the mix for the three-time All-Star, per Charania. However, sources tell The Athletic that the Wolves’ assets may not appeal to Philadelphia and they might need to find a third team to get something done, while Toronto’s proposals haven’t piqued the 76ers’ interest yet.

As has been reported previously, the Sixers’ dilemma is complicated by the fact that they’d love to use Simmons as the centerpiece in a Damian Lillard offer, but the Trail Blazers‘ point guard appears set to open the season in Portland as he continues to evaluate the team’s present and future, writes Charania.

Here are a few more highlights from Charania’s latest article for The Athletic:

  • Although the Bulls never seemed focused on signing Lauri Markkanen to a long-term deal, the high asking price they set in sign-and-trade negotiations sent a message to executives around the league that they valued him and weren’t willing to lose him for nothing, writes Charania. According to Charania, the second-round pick the Bulls received from the Cavaliers in the Markkanen trade had been a sticking point in negotiations.
  • Markkanen “fully expected” to be signed-and-traded to the Spurs in the Bulls‘ acquisition of DeMar DeRozan, but Chicago is believed to have pulled him from that package, sources tell Charania.
  • Before getting involved in the Markkanen deal to acquire Larry Nance from Cleveland, the Trail Blazers had interest in Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks, sources tell Charania. One report suggested that Memphis was willing to listen on inquiries about Brooks.

And-Ones: Lingering Questions, Ref Vaccinations, Noel, Jenkins, Mathias

The NBA’s summer of player movement may be winding down, but there are still some questions looming over teams. An ESPN panel of insiders looked at some of them on Thursday (before the Lauri MarkkanenLarry NanceDerrick Jones Jr. three team deal broke).

Among the predictions that were made: Nick Friedell believes Damian Lillard will eventually end up with the Knicks, just not in the immediate future; Kirk Goldsberry thinks that J.J. Redick will end up with the Nets; Andrew Lopez predicts Paul Millsap will start the season not on a roster, but will be picked up mid-season.

The crew also looks at which new coaches have the hardest road ahead: Chauncey Billups with the Blazers and Willie Green with the Pelicans each received two votes, while Jason Kidd with the Mavericks received one.

And, of course, the much-discussed Ben SimmonsSixers impasse was the first topic of debate.

We have more news from around the world of hoops:

  • The NBA will require its referees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, barring medical or religious exemptions, the league announced today. A report from ESPN laid out the scope of the policy, including that referees will receive booster shots once those become recommended, and that refs without an approved exemption who aren’t vaccinated will not be eligible to work games.
  • Knicks center Nerlens Noel‘s lawsuit has the potential to change the NBA-agent landscape, writes Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Fischer writes that as opposed to the league’s tampering rules between teams and players, there are no such prohibitions on agents trying to poach clients, and that this unprecedented peek behind the curtain could give the league incentive to put some protections in place.
  • John Jenkins has signed with BCM Gravelines-Dunkerque in France, reports Hoops Rumors’ JD Shaw (via Twitter). Jenkins played eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 5.0 PPG while shooting 36.7% from three on 319 career attempts. Jenkins recently participated with the Team USA select team as Team USA prepared for their eventual gold medal run.
  • Dakota Mathias has signed with the G League Ignite, reports Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. The 26-year-old played eight games for the Sixers as one of their two-way contracts last season, and Scotto reports that several teams have interest in him as a two-way player again this year. Mathias averaged six PPG and 1.6 APG in 15.4 minutes a night for Philadelphia.