Festus Ezeli

Trail Blazers Waive Festus Ezeli

The Festus Ezeli era in Portland is over. In a move that was long expected, the Trail Blazers have officially waived Ezeli, the team announced today (via Twitter).

Ezeli, 27, signed a two-year deal worth about $15MM with the Blazers last summer, with Portland envisioning him as a rotation player who could provide rebounding and rim protection. However, Ezeli’s troublesome left knee kept him out of action in the preseason and then the regular season as well — the veteran center ultimately underwent a season-ending procedure in March.

Although Ezeli’s contract was for two years, most of his $7.73MM salary for 2017/18 was non-guaranteed, and would have become guaranteed if he remained on Portland’s roster beyond June 30. The Blazers will now be on the hook for just $1MM of next season’s salary.

Ezeli will become an unrestricted free agent once he clears waivers, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll be back on the court to start the 2017/18 season. His knee surgery, which reportedly involved a cadaver donor, didn’t exactly sound like a routine procedure, but hopefully he’s able to resume his playing career.

Northwest Notes: Murray, Napier, Snyder

After an excellent debut season with the Nuggets, 20-year-old guard Jamal Murray has undergone successful surgery to repair “core muscle-related” injuries, the team has stated in a press release.

When the procedure was announced by Nuggets personnel yesterday, we relayed that the rookie had been plagued by a sports hernia for much of the season.

The Kentucky product averaged 9.9 points per game for the Nuggets and played in all 82 contests, once taking Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors.

Murray is expected to return to basketball activities this summer and will be at full strength when the Nuggets open training camp.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • If we learned anything from the Rockets/Thunder series in the first-round of this postseason, it’s that a franchise need not choose between investing in either a system or a superstar. Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni did both. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN writes about how Oklahoma City may be wise to embrace a similar attitude heading forward as opposed to so heavily relying on Russell Westbrook.
  • While it’s already been announced that the Trail Blazers won’t be bringing Festus Ezeli back next season, the big man officially said farewell to Portland over Twitter.
  • In a candid exit interview, backup Trail Blazers point guard Shabazz Napier said that while he understands coming off the bench and has bought into the team’s process he isn’t necessarily comfortable with it. Sean Meagher of the Oregonian broke down the guard’s comments about the organization.
  • The Jazz have wrested control of their first-round series with the Clippers in large part to the return of Rudy Gobert. The big man has resumed shutting down the paint, which teammate Rodney Hood discussed with the Associated Press. “Rudy erases a lot of mistakes,” Hood said. “And he cleans up a lot of bad offensive possessions by rebounding the ball. It’s great just to have him back.
  • Although it’s his first time serving as a head coach in the NBA playoffs, Jazz bench boss Quin Snyder has no shortage of experience. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News discussed the coach’s leadership with club point guard George Hill. “He’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve been around. His mind’s always going other places. He’s very technical with what we do,” Hill said. “We listen to him. I think he’s got a great coaching staff around him that give us one heck of a game plan. It’s our job to follow him.

 

Olshey: Trail Blazers Won’t Bring Back Festus Ezeli

Festus Ezeli‘s Trail Blazers career will end without him appearing in a single game for the team, according to general manager Neil Olshey, who confirmed today that Portland won’t be bringing back Ezeli for the 2017/18 season (link via Tim Brown of The Oregonian).

Ezeli, 27, signed a two-year deal worth about $15MM with the Blazers last summer, with Portland envisioning him as a rotation player who could provide rebounding and rim protection. However, Ezeli’s troublesome left knee kept him out of action in the preseason and then the regular season as well — the veteran center ultimately underwent a season-ending procedure in March.

As we outlined earlier today in our breakdown of this summer’s salary guarantee dates, Ezeli’s full $7.73MM salary for 2017/18 would become guaranteed if he remains on Portland’s roster beyond June 30. The Trail Blazers figure to waive him at some point before that date, which will leave the team on the hook for just $1MM of next season’s salary.

Although Ezeli will become a free agent when the Blazers officially waive him, he may not catch on with another team anytime soon. His knee surgery, which reportedly involved a cadaver donor, didn’t exactly sound like a routine procedure, but hopefully he’s able to eventually make it back onto the court and resume his playing career.

“Not A Chance” Blazers Bring Back Festus Ezeli

Jason Quick, CSN’s Trail Blazers Insider, rejected the possibility of Portland picking up Festus Ezeli‘s team option for 2017/18, saying there’s “no chance” of it happening (Twitter link). Should Neil Oshey decline Ezeli’s options, he’ll join the 2017 free agent class as a bounce-back candidate.

Ezeli didn’t play a game this year, suffering a left knee injury before undergoing season-ending surgery. The 27-year-old Ezeli made $7.4MM in 2016/17, and would be owed $7.733MM if Portland picked up his option for next season. Quick discussed other big men Portland could pursue over the offseason, suggesting the team look for a trade partner or hope for a return to form from Ed Davis, who will be entering the final season of his three-year deal (Twitter link).

Prior to his season-ending surgery, Ezeli spoke to reporters in December about the frustration of a lost season.

“I’m kind of past the point of frustration because at first it was — I’m not going to lie, it definitely was,” he said. “I’m at the point where I’m just trying to find a solution. The sooner I can, the sooner I can get on the court and help my team win games. I just can’t wait to get on the court, that’s my biggest thing. I miss basketball, I haven’t played basketball in a while, so that’s my biggest thing right now.”

Festus Ezeli Undergoes Knee Surgery

MARCH 8, 11:32am: Ezeli has undergone surgery on his left knee and has been officially ruled out for the remained of the 2016/17 season, the Trail Blazers announced today in a press release.

MARCH 4, 10:01pm: A cadaver donor will be used in Ezeli’s surgery, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.com. Ezeli had been awaiting a donor for months, but because he is 6’11” it wasn’t easy to find a match.

A doctor recently submitted the name of a potential donor, and the surgery has been set for an undetermined day next week. Ezeli is believed to be the first NBA player ever to rely on a cadaver donor for an operation.

Haynes notes that NFL quarterback Carson Palmer had a cadaver donor when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in the 2006 playoffs. Palmer was able to return to the field for the start of the following season.

Ezeli’s recovery time is projected to be much longer, with one source saying it could take up to a year.

6:05pm: Festus Ezeli will undergo surgery next week to fix his left knee, the Trail Blazers posted on their website.

President of basketball operations Neil Olshey made the announcement, saying Ezeli’s operation will be performed by Dr. Robert LaPrade at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.

Ezeli hasn’t played this season after signing a two-year, $15MM deal with Portland last summer. He had offseason surgery on the knee, but it started hurting again early in training camp. He announced in December that he was considering another operation because he believes his long-term health is at stake.

Ezeli’s contract creates the possibility that he will never play a game for the Blazers. He is owed $7.73MM for 2017/18, but only $1MM of that is guaranteed through the end of June. With the Blazers possibly looking at luxury tax payments next season, Ezeli’s deal seems like a good way to save money, either by waiving him or trading him. Portland reportedly tried hard to find a taker for Ezeli before last week’s trade deadline.

The 26-year-old center is in his fourth NBA season. He averaged 4.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game during three years in Golden State.

Northwest Notes: Stephenson, Hayward, Ezeli, Cole

After appearing in four games with Minnesota earlier this season, Lance Stephenson appears likely to rejoin the team on a second 10-day contract. According to Jon Krawczynski‏ of The Associated Press, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said Stephenson is “coming along” in his recovery from an ankle sprain and should sign a new contract soon (Twitter link). Injuries have sidelined Stephenson’s 2016/17 campaign; “Born Ready” has played in a combined 10 games with the Pelicans and Wolves. 

More from around the Northwest…

  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer writes that Gordon Hayward is “one of the most coveted upcoming free agents” that no one is noticing. Hayward, who is expected to decline his 2017/18 player option, has averaged a career-high 22.1 points per game, helping the Jazz maintain a comfortable hold on the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Hayward doesn’t register on casual fans’ radars, O’Connor writes, but the seventh-year wing “might be the key to unlocking Utah’s title chances.
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman answered some questions about the Thunder for his online chat. Tramel called Domantas Sabonis “one of the few bright spots” in a recent loss to the Suns, with the caveat that he will soon be moved to the bench. Similarly, Tramel forecasts a move to the bench for Alex Abrines once Victor Oladipo returns from injury. When it comes to the offseason, Tramel writes “OKC doesn’t have the flexibility to sign a big free agent. It would have to do some kind of sign-and-trade deal, and the Thunder doesn’t have the kind of assets (draft picks) to pull that off. Plus, you have to convince free agents to come. So the likelihood is not strong that the Thunder can change the roster via big-name free agent.”
  • Festus Ezeli‘s season-ending surgery will involve tissue from a cadaver donor, Tim Brown of The Oregonian writes. Per Brown, Ezeli received bone marrow injections in his left knee in August, with the intention of helping him play in 2016/17. It would be pretty surprising to see the Trail Blazers exercise Ezeli’s $7.733MM option for 2017/18.
  • Norris Cole, who has scored 13 points over three games with the Thunder, is “learning on the job,” Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes. “I think for him, being pressured and coming into a new system and a new style and having to be a point guard and run the team, it was a difficult task for him,” Billy Donovan said of Cole. “These are the moments I think that will probably help him get better. He’s a veteran guy. He’s smart, he’s bright and he’ll be able to get better from this.”

Trade Rumors: KCP, OKC, Afflalo, Knight, Ezeli

While the Pistons have been open to listening to inquiries on anyone, few – if any – players on their roster have received as much interest as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Speaking to reporters, including Rod Beard of The Detroit News, Stan Van Gundy confirmed that KCP’s future has been one of the main topics discussed as of late by the Pistons, who will have to make a big long-term commitment to the shooting guard this summer if they keep him.

“That’s something you have to make decisions about and deal with. I’m not getting into specifics at this point, but that has been a significant part of what we’ve talked about,” Van Gundy said of the RFA-to-be. “He was probably the most urgent decision because of that and the money coming and what it means in terms of the cap and the (luxury) tax. We’ve talked about it internally and we’ve talked about it with (team owner) Tom (Gores). We know exactly what’s coming and we’re making informed decisions.”

Here are several more trade rumors and notes from around the NBA:

  • The Thunder are being aggressive as the trade deadline nears, according to Royce Young of ESPN.com (Twitter links), who adds Doug McDermott to the list of players on Oklahoma City’s radar. OKC was linked to another Bulls forward – Taj Gibson – earlier today.
  • League executives believe the Kings will move Arron Afflalo today, says Chris Haynes of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee adds (via Twitter) that Afflalo is more likely to be dealt than Ben McLemore, who has impressed some people within the organization lately. Afflalo has been linked to Indiana and Oklahoma City this week.
  • Brandon Knight wouldn’t mind a change of scenery, but the Suns have set their asking price too high in the past in talks with the Magic, Kings, Sixers, and Bulls, tweets Sam Amick of USA Today. As Amick observes, it remains to be seen whether that will change today.
  • The Trail Blazers continue to try to find a taker for Festus Ezeli‘s contract, per ESPN’s Marc Stein (Twitter link).
  • Although Bucks general manager John Hammond likes to make trades, league executives say Milwaukee has been “low key” in trade talks this week, according to Jeff Zilgitt of USA Today (Twitter link).
  • The Cavaliers continue to work on deals that could fortify their roster, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team ultimately rely on the buyout market instead, tweets Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.

Blazers Looking To Trade Festus Ezeli

The Blazers are “determined” to move Festus Ezeli before the trade deadline, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports. Portland is talking to teams that are below the salary floor and it may be willing to send draft picks to a team willing to take on the big man’s contract.

Ezeli signed a two-year, $15MM deal with the team during the offseason, but he hasn’t been able to play because of a knee injury. Portland is currently slightly under the luxury tax, but the team will be well over the luxury tax line next season once C.J. McCollum‘s extension kicks in.

The center will make $7.4MM this season, but only $1MM of his salary for next season is guaranteed. Stein notes that the Nuggets, Sixers, and Nets are the three teams that sit the farthest under the salary floor with all three being at least $6MM under.

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Nuggets, Turner, Murray

The Trail Blazers will probably wait until the offseason to start making trades to decrease salary, writes Bobby Marks of The Vertical. Portland is looking at the highest payroll in the league next season and has gotten limited production in return, a half game out of the West’s final playoff spot entering tonight’s action. The Blazers have their own draft pick as well as Cleveland’s to offer, but Marks believes those will be more valuable in a possible June deal than they are now. Portland can also deal the contract of Festus Ezeli, who hasn’t played this season and has a $7.733MM salary for next year with just a $1MM guarantee through June 30. However, Marks warns that luxury tax concerns should make the team think twice about taking back any long-term deals.

There’s more news out of the Northwest Division:

  • History suggests that Nuggets GM Tim Connelly will be active at the trade deadline, Marks writes in the same piece. Since taking over in 2013, Connelly has been involved in five deadline deals, along with the trade of Timofey Mozgov to the Cavaliers in January of 2015. Marks also notes that Denver is $7.6MM below the cap floor and could be active on the waiver wire to try to reach that figure.
  • Former Blazer Nicolas Batum believes the team needs to be patient with Evan Turner, relays Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. Turner has been going through a rocky transition since signing a four-year, $70MM deal over the summer. Batum, who was traded to the Hornets in 2015, says Turner gives Portland many of the same attributes that he used to. “He’s one of the best playmakers in this league,” Batum said. “I really appreciate his game. He showed that in Boston the last two years. He just needs time. This is a new team for him.”
  • Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson is teaching the position to Nuggets rookie Jamal Murray, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. “I don’t like to talk about too much of what’s going on in the locker room, but I just encourage him,” Nelson said. “I don’t know what it is to be his age [19] in the NBA. But I can just tell him or help him out with plays or certain situations. And he’s real receptive of it. He’s a great kid. That’s why I’m able to get through to him, because he’s such a great kid.”

Northwest Notes: Ezeli, Hayward, Hood, Sabonis

The Trail Blazers may be considering a Disabled Player Exception for Festus Ezeli, according to Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders. Today is the deadline to apply to the league for a DPE, and NBA officials would have to agree that Ezeli’s injury will keep him out for the rest of the season. The 27-year-old center hasn’t played since signing a two-year, $15MM deal with Portland over the summer. He had offseason surgery on his left knee, but wasn’t able to do more than a couple of practices before it started hurting again. Ezeli said last month that another operation, which would sideline him for the rest of the season, might be necessary to save his career. If the DPE is approved, the Blazers would be granted half of Ezeli’s cap hit to sign a free agent or to use in a trade.

There’s more this morning from the Northwest Division:

  • Jazz star Gordon Hayward might be tempted to reunite with former college coach Brad Stevens in Boston, but Utah will be able to make a substantially better offer when he becomes a free agent this summer, writes Randy Hollis of The Deseret News. The Jazz can offer Hayward a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $180MM, while other teams will be limited to $132MM over four seasons. Another option for Hayward is to sign with Utah for one year and hope to make the All-NBA team, which would make him eligible for the new Designated Veteran Player status and a $235MM deal over six seasons. Hollis thinks the Jazz can improve their chances with Hayward by re-signing George Hill, who has become an effective complement to Hayward.
  • Rodney Hood will be re-evaluated today after suffering a hyperextended right knee late in Saturday’s game, the Jazz tweeted. He had to be helped off the court after the knee buckled on a drive to the basket. “Hopefully it’s not serious,” coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s serious enough that he had to leave the game, but we don’t know when he’ll be back.”
  • The Thunder are urging rookie forward Domantas Sabonis to shoot fewer 3-pointers, relays Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. That was the plan even before a recent shooting slump in which he has missed 18 of his last 19 shots from long distance. “What I don’t want to see him just become is just a stretch four, a guy that’s just shooting 3s,” said coach Billy Donovan. “We’ve got to be able to utilize his ability to handle the ball and pass, his ability to play with his back to the basket. And certainly face up and shoot the basketball when it’s there.”