Josh Hart

Blazers Notes: Lillard, Small Forward, Little, GPII, Simons

The Trail Blazers signed Damian Lillard to a two-year extension this offseason despite the fact that there were still three years remaining on the point guard’s current deal. Speaking today to reporters, including Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Twitter link), general manager Joe Cronin explained why the team was comfortable moving forward with a new deal for Lillard.

“If Dame only has one or two years left, that turns up the urgency,” Cronin said. “Now we have a little more time to get the perfect mix rather than pushing all the chips in on one big piece. We’re going to figure this out the right way.”

Lillard, meanwhile, was asked if he felt as if Portland has made the roster changes necessary to be a contending team going forward, and offered a positive assessment of the team’s summer, as Highkin relays (via Twitter).

“I believe in Joe, I believe in (head coach) Chauncey (Billups),” Lillard said. “I think what we did with our roster gave us a much better chance than what we’ve had prior to that. The way it looks and feels, we’re much closer.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic are virtually locked in as starters for the Blazers, but the small forward spot will likely be up for grabs in training camp and the preseason, Billups acknowledged today. “The way I see it, it’s gonna play out in camp,” Billups said (Twitter link via Highkin). “There’s three guys — Josh Hart, (Nassir Little) and Justise (Winslow). It’s not about the best player, it’s who plays best with that unit.”
  • The Blazers have had “brief” conversations with Little’s camp about a potential rookie scale extension, but haven’t gotten deep into the numbers yet, Cronin said today, adding that there’s mutual interest in reaching a long-term agreement (Twitter link via Highkin).
  • Gary Payton II, who is recovering from a core muscle surgery, is the only Blazer who isn’t a “full go” for training camp, according to Cronin, who reiterated that the newly-signed guard is expected to be ready for opening night (Twitter link via Highkin).
  • Billups is hopeful he can reduce Lillard’s workload during the 2022/23 season, telling reporters today that he’d to keep the point guard between 32 and 34 minutes per game. “He wants to play 42 minutes,” Billups said, per Highkin (Twitter link). “If we have it where we want it, I’m hoping around 34. But we’ll see.”
  • After signing a new four-year, $100MM contract this summer, Simons said today that one of his next personal goals is to become an All-Star, according to Highkin (Twitter link).

Trade Rumors: Bulls, Collins, Gobert, Lakers, Hield, More

The Bulls are among the teams that have shown interest in Hawks big man John Collins, sources tell Matt Moore of Action Network. Moore also confirms that Boston and Sacramento are two of the other clubs that have registered some level of interest in Collins, as Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report said earlier today.

Chicago has been linked to a handful of frontcourt players so far this offseason, most notably Rudy Gobert. Moore writes that the Bulls remain in the mix for Gobert, but cautions that the Jazz‘s asking price will be “steep” and says any trade discussions involving the three-time Defensive Player of the Year could drag out, given Danny Ainge‘s reputation as a tough negotiator.

According to Moore, if Gobert is traded, the Bulls are probably the most likely landing spot, with the Timberwolves looming as a dark horse, but there’s no guarantee a deal will be made.

Here are a few more trade notes and rumors from Moore:

  • Moore reports that the Lakers have “circled back” to Pacers sharpshooter Buddy Hield after not trading for him a year ago. The Lakers have a clearer path to making an offer for Hield that doesn’t include Russell Westbrook‘s unwanted contract this summer than they did at the trade deadline, given that his salary declines from $23MM in 2021/22 to $21.2MM in ’22/23.
  • The Sixers are probably unlikely to find a taker for Tobias Harris, given the size of his contract, but Moore suggests the Kings are one team to watch on that front.
  • The Cavaliers aren’t looking to trade former lottery pick Isaac Okoro after drafting Ochai Agbaji, says Moore.
  • Moore suggests that the Raptors‘ asking price for OG Anunoby when the Trail Blazers pursued him around the time of the draft was believed to be the No. 7 pick, Josh Hart or Nassir Little, and a future first-round pick. Now that the draft has passed, Moore is skeptical that Anunoby will be on the move this summer.

Northwest Notes: Green, Hart, Timberwolves Draft, Jazz Targets

JaMychal Green was officially traded to the Thunder by the Nuggets on Thursday, but it’s unlikely the forward will ever suit up for Oklahoma City. General manager Sam Presti says they’ll look to trade Green, Brandon Rahbar of the Daily Thunder tweets. Green, 32, is at the stage of his career where he provides greater value to a contender than a rebuilding team. He’s on an $8.2MM expiring contract for 2022/23.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Josh Hart had his $12.96MM contract guaranteed by the Trail Blazers over the weekend. However, it shouldn’t have major implications on Portland’s offseason moves, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. The Blazers now have $105MM in guaranteed contracts but they’re over the cap because of the free agent holds on Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic. They still could have the flexibility to re-sign those two free agents and use the full $10.5MM mid-level exception to pursue outside targets.
  • The Timberwolves prioritized rebounding in the draft and addressed that by making moves to select Auburn’s Walker Kessler, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune writes. Kessler was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year. They also wound up with Duke wing Wendell Moore late in the first round and Memphis wing Josh Minott and Italian guard Matteo Spagnolo in the second round. President of basketball operations Tim Connelly isn’t expecting too much out of those rookies. “We don’t want to put too much expectations on their ability to contribute right away,” he told The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. “When you have a team that had as much success as we did, it’s hard to put that on your shoulders.”
  • What might the Jazz do with their taxpayer mid-level exception in free agency? Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune lists 25 potential free agent targets — breaking them down into wings, guards and bigs.

Blazers Guarantee Josh Hart’s 2022/23 Salary

As expected, the Trail Blazers have decided to fully guarantee Josh Hart‘s salary for the 2022/23 season, according to Aaron J. Fentress of OregonLive.com (Twitter link). Hart will now make $12.9MM next year.

The deadline to guarantee his salary was today. Portland could still dangle Hart in a trade, as the team reportedly pursued Raptors forward OG Anunoby in trade talks leading up to the draft.

Hart appeared in 13 games last season after being traded from the Pelicans to Blazers, averaging 19.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per contest on 50% shooting. While those stellar numbers are above the norm for him, the 26-year-old still put up a solid 14.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 4.1 APG in 41 games with New Orleans before getting traded.

Hart is a prime candidate to start at small forward unless the Blazers make a move. Portland agreed to trade for Jerami Grant this week, adding him to a core that already includes Damian Lillard and restricted free agent Anfernee Simons. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic will enter unrestricted free agency next week.

Blazers Rumors: Beal, LaVine, Bridges, Grant, Collins

The Trail Blazers are exploring the trade market in search of veterans who can help Damian Lillard get the team back into the playoffs, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, who observes that Portland has a handful of assets in hand to offer up in possible deals.

Besides the No. 7 overall pick in this year’s draft, the Blazers also have a trade exception worth nearly $21MM, Josh Hart and his team-friendly contract, Eric Bledsoe‘s expiring deal (Bledsoe’s partial guarantee could be increased as needed for salary-matching purposes), future draft picks, and possibly Jusuf Nurkic as a sign-and-trade candidate.

Here’s more from O’Connor on the players Portland could go after this summer:

  • Sources tell The Ringer that free-agents-to-be Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine are potential Blazers targets, though it’s unclear if they’ll be willing to leave the Wizards and Bulls, respectively, for Portland. Lillard and Beal are friends who played together for Team USA, O’Connor notes.
  • Hornets restricted free agent forward Miles Bridges is a player worth keeping an eye on for the Blazers, sources tell O’Connor. The team is in the market for a big wing who can help on defense and be a secondary offensive play-maker, and Bridges fits the bill. Again though, it remains to be seen if Portland will be able to pry away Bridges from his current team, especially since Charlotte will be able to match any offer sheet.
  • Pistons forward Jerami Grant is another two-way wing frequently mentioned as a target for Portland, as O’Connor observes. In his latest Substack article, Marc Stein writes that the Hawks continue to register interest in Grant, but the Blazers would likely be able to outbid Atlanta and other Grant suitors if they’re willing to include the No. 7 pick in their offer.
  • Hawks big man John Collins is also frequently cited as a player on the Blazers’ radar, according to O’Connor, who suggests Collins would be more of a lob threat – and more versatile defensively – than Nurkic.

Raptors May Make OG Anunoby Available In Trade Talks

Raptors swingman OG Anunoby may be a name to watch as offseason trade talks begin to heat up, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

Anunoby reportedly grew frustrated at times this season as much of his ball-handling responsibility in Toronto’s offense was taken over by Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.

However, two sources told Fischer that Anunoby hasn’t informed the front office that he wants out and there is speculation that any rumors are coming from teams hoping to acquire him. Even so, the addition of Barnes could make Anunoby expendable if the Raptors are hoping to make an impactful move this summer.

According to Fischer’s sources, Toronto told teams at the trade deadline that it wasn’t willing to move any of its top six players: Anunoby, Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleetGary Trent Jr. and Precious Achiuwa. But the organization’s desire to land a top center could change that stance. After pursuing Jarrett Allen last offseason, the Raptors talked to the Pacers about Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis ahead of this year’s trade deadline and reached out to the Spurs about Jakob Poeltl, Fischer adds.

The Jazz and Trail Blazers would reportedly be among the most interested teams if Toronto decides to part with Anunoby, who has two more guaranteed seasons left on his contract, plus a $19.9MM player option for 2024/25.

Sources tell Fischer that Rudy Gobert is one of the Raptors’ prime targets for upgrading at center. Utah’s management is divided on whether to part with Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and an elite rim protector, but it could become necessary as the Jazz look to improve on the wing. Fischer notes that Toronto might have to offer Trent along with Anunoby to match Gobert’s salary, which would mean parting with one of the team’s only reliable outside shooters.

The Blazers are expected to offer the No. 7 pick to try to revamp its roster and Fischer states that Anunoby is one of their main targets, along with Pistons forward Jerami Grant. He notes that the Blazers have a decision to make next month on whether to guarantee Josh Hart‘s $12.9MM contract for 2022/23, but states that Hart and the lottery pick wouldn’t be enough for Toronto to move Anunoby. Fischer adds that Anunoby is seen as more valuable than Grant, for whom Detroit is seeking two first-round picks or a first-rounder and a promising player on a rookie-scale contract.

Blazers Notes: Offseason, Nurkic, Simons, Billups

While they finished the season with only the NBA’s sixth-worst record, no team tanked harder down the stretch than the Trail Blazers, who were playing without most of their veteran starters. After shutting down center Jusuf Nurkic at the All-Star break, Portland went 2-21 the rest of the way, with a net rating of -21.3, by far the league’s worst mark during that stretch.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, general manager Joe Cronin said he felt “uncomfortable” about how the Blazers’ season ended, according to Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com. Cronin said the team “didn’t want to lose ball games,” but was more focused on developing its young players than competing for a playoff spot.

“We had to take a step backwards in order to move forward,” Cronin said. “We’ve positioned ourselves to where I think we’ve got some great opportunities. We have a really intriguing core: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Justise Winslow. Potentially two lottery picks, numerous cap exceptions, a bunch of cap flexibility. We are determined to get better, to be competitive as quickly as possible and we’re super confident in our ability to do that.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • Although Cronin listed them as part of Portland’s core, Jusuf Nurkic (unrestricted) and Anfernee Simons (restricted) will both be free agents this summer. Cronin’s comments on Monday strongly suggest the Blazers want to re-sign both players. The general manager called Nurkic a player “we would definitely want to build around” and said the team plans to be “proactive” with Simons’ free agency, per Holdahl.
  • The Blazers will have at least one pick in this year’s draft lottery and could have a second if the Pelicans miss the playoffs and don’t move into the top four. As Holdahl relays, Cronin’s goal with Portland’s first-rounder is to “maximize the pick,” which could mean either drafting a player or using it in a trade. “I’m going to spend the next two, three, four weeks diving into the game film and really evaluating this draft and particularly assessing value to what that pick is,” Cronin said. “So then you compare that to what’s available in the (trade) marketplace and then you make a decision. If we decide the player at that pick is much more valuable than what we can get in the marketplace, we do that direction. If it’s the opposite, we go the other direction.”
  • The Blazers are confident that head coach Chauncey Billups will be an asset when it comes to recruiting free agents, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. “He’s just so inspiring, even in a 30-minute meeting. It’s just easy to buy in with him,” Cronin said.
  • Josh Hart has only been a Blazer for a couple months, but he said this week that if a player calls him to ask about Billups this summer, he’ll have nothing but praise for Portland’s head coach. “I would say he’s great,” Hart said, according to Quick. “He’s a players’ coach, someone who does a great job of building you up, coaching you up, but a good balance in holding you accountable. And off the court, he cares about you as a person. That’s a big thing, something that gets overlooked sometimes.”

Northwest Notes: Reed, Blazers, Grant, Mann, Jazz

Nuggets guard Davon Reed earned praise from star center Nikola Jokic and head coach Michael Malone after he scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting in the team’s win over the Lakers on Sunday. As Mike Singer of The Denver Post writes, Jokic lauded Reed’s defense, while Malone said the 26-year-old had an “unsung hero type-of-a-game.”

However, as Singer observes, because Reed is still on a two-way contract, he remains ineligible to participate in the playoffs for the Nuggets. The team would have to waive someone from its 15-man roster and promote Reed to a standard contract to make him available for the postseason. Asked about that possibility, Malone raved more about Reed and said it’s an issue the team will discuss.

“Every time Davon Reed has gotten a chance to play this year, he’s found a way to help this team,” Malone said, per Singer. “I mean look at his line tonight — here’s a guy that’s a two-way player, 23 minutes, 10 points, couple of assists, rebounds, steals and he had an impact on the game. He’s in the game in the fourth quarter in a must-win game. I think that, in and of itself, speaks to my level of confidence with him. … That’s something that (head of basketball operations) Tim (Connelly) and I can talk about as we move forward.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Following up on reports from February that stated the Trail Blazers attempted to acquire Jerami Grant from the Pistons at the trade deadline, Marc Stein says in his latest Substack article that Portland’s offer was believed to include Josh Hart and draft compensation. Stein confirms the Blazers are expected to revisit the possibility of acquiring Grant in the offseason, as has been previously reported.
  • Tre Mann could be next to join the Thunder‘s growing list of players who have been ruled out for the season. Mann has been sidelined for the last four games due to a right hamstring strain and head coach Mark Daigneault doesn’t sound confident that the rookie guard will return this week, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. “We’re working through it,” Daigneault said before Sunday’s game.
  • The reeling Jazz can’t be saved by anyone but their players at this point, according to Tony Jones of The Athletic, who says the front office and head coach Quin Snyder have done all they can with the current group. Utah has dropped six of its last seven games and has blown double-digit fourth quarter leads in its last two losses.

Blazers Rule Out Nurkic, Simons, Bledsoe For Season

The Trail Blazers confirmed today in a press release that center Jusuf Nurkic and guards Anfernee Simons and Eric Bledsoe won’t return for the team this season.

According to today’s announcement, Nurkic (left foot plantar fasciitis) and Simons (patellar tendinopathy in his left knee) have responded well to treatment and rehabilitation, with Nurkic’s rehab program reducing his symptoms and increasing the “overall function” of his left foot and ankle.

Nurkic will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, while Simons will be a restricted free agent. However, both players – especially Simons – are considered good bets to re-sign with Portland.

Bledsoe, who hasn’t played in a game for the Blazers since being acquired from the Clippers prior to February’s trade deadline, received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection last Wednesday to address the tendinopathy in his left Achilles tendon, per the team. Bledsoe technically has one more year left on his contract, but only $3.9MM of his $19.4MM salary for 2022/23 is guaranteed, so he appears likely to be waived in the offseason.

The Blazers issued injury updates on two more players, announcing that swingman Josh Hart, who has missed the club’s last four games due to patellar tendinopathy in his left knee, will be reevaluated in a week. There will only be one week left in the season at that point, so it won’t be a major surprise if Hart doesn’t play again in 2021/22.

Meanwhile, Didi Louzada – acquired from New Orleans last month in the CJ McCollum trade – is in the final stages of his return-to-play protocol after undergoing surgery on a torn mensicus on February 4. The Blazers expect him to play before the end of the season.

Damian Lillard (abdominal surgery), Nassir Little (shoulder surgery), and Joe Ingles (ACL surgery) have previously been ruled out for the season by the Blazers, while Trendon Watford (hyperextended left knee and bone bruise) is also questionable to return within the next two weeks.

Pelicans Notes: Zion, Alvarado, Nance, Hart

As William Guillory of The Athletic observes, it’s no coincidence that Zion Williamson – typically not very active on social media – posted a video of him throwing down a between-the-legs windmill dunk just days after Shams Charania reported that he likely won’t return this season. It also doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Pelicans cleared him for increased activity shortly after that video was posted, Guillory writes.

There’s “an air of silent cold war brewing” between the Pelicans and Williamson, according to Scott Kushner of NOLA.com, who writes that the star forward clearly wants to play this season, while the team – wary of risking his long-term health – is reluctant to let him.

It’s a difficult spot for the Pelicans, who reportedly frustrated Williamson during his rookie year by playing it safe with his knee injury and holding him out longer than he felt was necessary. The two sides are about to enter a crucial offseason, with the former No. 1 overall pick eligible for a rookie scale extension.

Before that offseason begins, Williamson, his camp, and the Pelicans’ top decision-makers need to come together to agree on a decision about his status for this season, Guillory opines. If all the involved parties can get on the same page on that issue, it should create a more comfortable starting point when they approach extension talks in the summer.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • Christian Clark of NOLA.com examines some of the similarities and differences between Williamson’s lengthy injury rehab process this season and Kawhi Leonard‘s injury recovery process during his final year in San Antonio.
  • Within his weekly “10 Things” column for ESPN, Zach Lowe highlights the impact that Jose Alvarado has had in New Orleans and says he’d be shocked if the team doesn’t convert Alvarado’s two-way contract to a standard deal soon. Doing so would ensure that the rookie guard is eligible for the play-in tournament and playoffs.
  • William Guillory and John Hollinger of The Athletic discuss several topics related to the Pelicans’ future, weighing the possibility of a Williamson extension, considering whether or not Alvarado’s emergence changes the backcourt plans going forward, and evaluating the team’s chances of earning a playoff spot next month.
  • Following up on last month’s revelation that good friends Larry Nance Jr. and Josh Hart temporarily swapped houses when they were traded for one another, Andrew Lopez of ESPN takes an entertaining, in-depth look at what that arrangement has looked like.