Damian Lillard

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.”

NBA Super-Max Candidates To Watch In 2018/19

The Designated Veteran Extension, as we explain our glossary entry on the subject, is a relatively new addition to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. It allows players with 7-9 years of experience, who would normally qualify for a maximum starting salary of 30% of the cap, to qualify for a “super-max” contract that starts at 35% of the cap, a level normally reserved players with 10+ years of experience.

A player who has seven or eight years of NBA service with one or two years left on his contract becomes eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension if he meets the required performance criteria and hasn’t been traded since his first four years in the league. A Designated Veteran contract can also be signed by a player who is technically a free agent if he has eight or nine years of service and meets the required criteria.

The performance criteria is as follows (only one of the following must be true):

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

With those criteria in mind, it’s worth keeping an eye on several players who could qualify for a super-max veteran contract with their play this season. Let’s dive in and examine a few of those guys…

Players who already qualify for a super-max contract:

Davis can’t yet sign a Designated Veteran Extension, but his All-NBA appearances over the last two seasons have ensured that he’ll qualify, even if he somehow doesn’t earn another All-NBA nod in 2018/19.

As of next July, the Pelicans will be able to offer Davis a contract extension that tacks an additional five years onto his $27.09MM salary for 2019/20. Based on the NBA’s latest cap projection for 2020/21 ($118MM), that five-year extension would be worth a staggering $239.54MM.

Players who could qualify for a super-max contract by meeting the criteria in 2018/19:

Technically, any player who earns an All-NBA spot in 2018/19 and meets the contract criteria can qualify for a super-max, but the players listed above are probably the only legitimately viable candidates. And even in this group, guys like Beal and Drummond are a real stretch — if they were to improbably make an All-NBA team, their clubs still probably wouldn’t put Designated Veteran Extension offers on the table, since they’re not bona fide superstars.

Thompson and Walker will both be unrestricted free agents in 2019, so if they meet the DVE criteria, they’d be eligible for five-year contracts with their respective teams worth up to a projected $221.27MM. Lillard and Green are still under contract for at least one more year beyond this season, but they’d qualify for super-max extensions if they meet the criteria — Lillard could get an extra four years, while Green could get five.

A team can only give Designated Veteran Extensions to two players, so the Warriors wouldn’t be able to offer both Thompson and Green super-max contracts, since Stephen Curry already has one. On the plus side, Kevin Durant won’t figure into this equation for Golden State, since he has 10+ years of experience. A deal starting at 35% of the cap for Durant wouldn’t count toward the Dubs’ super-max limit.

Finally, while Antetokounmpo can qualify for a super-max by earning All-NBA honors this season, he wouldn’t actually be able to sign such a deal until 2020, since he’ll only have six years of experience at the end of the 2018/19 campaign. Essentially, he’d be in the same spot that Anthony Davis is in now.

Players who can no longer qualify for a super-max contract because they were traded:

Butler, Irving, and Leonard are probably more worthy of a super-max investment than most of the players in the above group, but they no longer qualify because they were traded while on their second contracts — Butler from the Bulls, Irving from the Cavaliers, and Leonard from the Spurs. They’ll need to reach 10 years of NBA experience before qualifying for a starting salary worth up to 35% of the cap.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.