Nassir Little

Damian Lillard Losing Patience In Portland, Wants Blazers To Trade For Ben Simmons

Damian Lillard is becoming frustrated with the Trail Blazers’ performance, and tensions appear to be increasing between the players and new coach Chauncey Billups, sources tell Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Portland’s front office didn’t make the significant roster changes that Lillard requested during the offseason, and the team has fallen to 11-13 after a pair of lopsided losses. Charania and Amick say that Lillard would like to see the Blazers acquire Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons to help improve a defense that ranks last in the league.

Sources tell the authors that the front office, under recently fired general manager and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, set a framework of a deal that would have sent CJ McCollum, a first-round pick, and either Nassir Little or Anfernee Simons to Philadelphia in exchange for Simmons. The Sixers reportedly countered by asking for McCollum along with multiple draft picks and future draft swaps, which Portland turned down.

It’s not clear if that offer is still on the table or if any major deal will be made before Olshey’s permanent replacement is hired, according to Charania and Amick.

Olshey never lost confidence in the roster that he built, which is why he didn’t overhaul it after Lillard’s offseason request. He also ignored Lillard’s desire to consider Jason Kidd as head coach after firing Terry Stotts, making a controversial move with Billups instead. Lillard wanted an experienced coach instead of a first-timer like Billups and was willing to accept Mike D’Antoni as well, according to the authors.

Although Billups has vowed to improve the team’s defense from the time he was hired, Portland’s performance on that end of the court hasn’t changed. Billups has also alienated players by publicly criticizing their effort after losses, with the latest instance coming Saturday.

“Competitive fire and pride, that’s something you either have or don’t have,” Billups said after his team gave up 145 points to the Celtics. “That’s something you can’t turn off and turn on. … I’ve never seen a team that needs its bench to inspire our starters. (That’s) crazy to me. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”

Lillard’s decline in production is also contributing to his frustration. He’s dealing with an abdominal injury that will keep him out of action at least through the end of the week. His scoring average has fallen from 28.8 PPG last season to 21.5 PPG so far this year. He’s getting fewer shots in Billups’ offense and is connecting at a career-worst 39.7% from the field and 30.2% on three-pointers. He’s also being used in pick-and-rolls less frequently than under Stotts and is seeing fewer free throw attempts.

Lillard still hasn’t asked for a trade and plans to give the organization time to find a new leader before deciding on his next move, Charania and Amick add. However, his desire for a roster upgrade hasn’t changed.

There are two important dates to watch in determining Lillard’s future with Portland, the authors note. The trade deadline is February 10, roughly two months away, so if Lillard wants to leave the Blazers this season, he will have to request a deal by then. The other is July 6, when Lillard will become eligible for a super-max extension that would be worth $106.6MM over two seasons and would push his contract through the 2026/27 season. Lillard’s ultimate decisions will likely be determined by what the team does with its roster by then.

Damian Lillard Out At Least 10 Days Due To Abdominal Injury

After undergoing an MRI, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has been diagnosed with lower abdominal tendinopathy, the team announced today in a press release.

Lillard, who was unavailable for Portland’s win over Detroit on Tuesday, will be reevaluated in 10 days, according to the Blazers. That means he’ll miss at least the team’s next four games, against the Spurs (Thursday), Celtics (Saturday), Clippers (next Monday), and Warriors (next Wednesday).

Lillard had gotten off to a bit of a slow start this season, averaging 21.5 PPG with a .397 FG% and a .302 3PT% through 20 games (35.7 MPG). That scoring average would be his lowest mark since 2014/15, while the shooting numbers are career worsts. The Blazers will be hoping he performs more consistently at his usual All-NBA level when he returns.

The Blazers announced some more injury news on Wednesday, stating in a press release that forward Nassir Little will be reevaluated in a week after spraining his left ankle on Monday.

Little, who also missed Tuesday’s game, has taken a step forward in his third NBA season. The 21-year-old is averaging 8.3 PPG and 5.3 RPG in 21 games (22.4 MPG) as one of Portland’s most-used reserves.

With Lillard and Little out and Norman Powell battling a quad issue, the Blazers’ depth will be tested in the short term. CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Anfernee Simons will have to handle more of the scoring load, while bench players like Tony Snell, Dennis Smith Jr. and Ben McLemore should see more consistent minutes.

Blazers Notes: Lineups, Nance, Little, Powell

Since head coach Chauncey Billups criticized the team’s compete level on Sunday and suggested that lineup changes could be coming, the Trail Blazers have reeled off wins against Toronto and Chicago this week, pushing their record back up to .500 (8-8).

The Blazers didn’t make any changes to their starting lineup in those two games, but the team is leaning a little more on reserves Larry Nance Jr. and Nassir Little, who played more total minutes in the last two games than starters Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington.

When Nance and Little played the entire fourth quarter vs. Toronto on Monday while Nurkic and Covington sat on the bench, Billups was asked about the decision. As Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian tweets, the first-year coach said it was more about matchups vs. Toronto than an indication of imminent lineup changes. Still, it seems clear Nance and Little have earned bigger roles with their play so far.

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • After averaging just 17.2 MPG and never playing more than 22 minutes in any of his first 11 games in Portland, Nance has averaged 22.9 MPG in his last five games. That’s a byproduct of the Blazers getting a better sense of how best to use him, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. “When he came here I wasn’t sure if he was a four that could play five, or a five that could play some four,” Billups said. “Right now, I’m pretty confident that he is a five who could play four, too. But we are better served with him at that small-ball five.”
  • For his part, Nance said he’s glad his role has evolved organically rather than having it become an issue the team needed to focus on and figure out. “I think it’s a great thing that we didn’t have to sit down and have a pow-wow about, ‘What’s going on? How do we get Larry involved?'” Nance said, per Quick. “(Billups) knows I’m a guy who you just put me on the floor and I will figure it out. And I pride myself in not being a squeaky wheel.”
  • The Blazers’ game vs. the Raptors on Monday was a reminder that last season’s Norman Powell/Gary Trent Jr. swap is working out pretty well for both teams, as Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes. Powell has remained a highly efficient scorer in Portland this season, averaging 16.8 PPG on .494/.438/.818 shooting, while Trent has been a ball hawk on defense in Toronto, leading the NBA in total deflections and steals.
  • Powell signed a new five-year, $90MM deal with the Blazers during the offseason, but he’s determined not to get complacent after securing a life-changing payday. “I never really looked at the money as, like, (an) indicator of how good I’ve been,” Powell said on Monday, per Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. “It’s always been the expectations and goals that I’ve set out for myself … and can I get better? There’s no doubt the money will come if I keep doing those things, and it has, and I’m still hungry for more goals.”

Billups Expresses Frustration With Blazers’ Compete Level

The up-and-down Trail Blazers had perhaps their worst game of the season on Sunday in Denver, losing by 29 points to the Nuggets and falling to 6-8. While Portland was playing without star point guard Damian Lillard, Denver was missing Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Will Barton.

Following the loss, Blazers coach Chauncey Billups expressed displeasure with his club’s compete level, as detailed in stories from Jason Quick of The Athletic and Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

“I’m confused,” Billups said. “I don’t think we came to compete in this game. I mean, this is a team that beat us in the playoffs last year. And we come out and don’t even compete in the first quarter. Kind of … a little disappointed in that. The effort. Just no fight. No fight.”

Asked about the possibility of making lineup or rotation adjustments to shake things up for the Blazers, Billups suggested that changes could be around the corner.

“It’s coming. That point is coming soon,” Billups said. “If we continue to play like that … because if you think about it, you keep playing that way, at some point I have to look at it and say something isn’t quite working. And then maybe think about shifting some things around.”

In Quick’s view, changes seem most likely to come at power forward and/or center, since Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic have been inconsistent so far this season, while bench players like Nassir Little, Larry Nance Jr., and Cody Zeller have provided more stability. Billups, who said earlier this month that Covington “could be better defensively,” stated on Sunday that he’s been happy with the effort he’s seeing from his reserves, including Anfernee Simons, Dennis Smith Jr., Little, and Nance.

“All of the second unit played as hard as we need them to play,” Billups said. “The first unit, they didn’t have it.”

The first-year head coach acknowledged that Portland had a busy schedule during the last week, playing four road games in six days. However, Billups didn’t view fatigue as a viable excuse for the team’s lack of effort.

“I just think there is no real reason to not have effort,” Billups said. “We’ve had a lot of games, so I can see being tired. … I can see if we come out and play our behinds off, but we just run out of gas. I can live with that. I don’t like losing like this. That game was over.”

Northwest Notes: Little, Thunder, Porter Jr., Nuggets

The Trail Blazers have received a much-needed boost from swingman Nassir Little, who helped the team secure a 105-90 victory over the Lakers on Saturday, Spencer Davies of writes.

Little finished with eight points, five rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes of action off the bench. His strong effort helped lift Portland back to a .500 record (5-5).

“Energy. I think that’s it,” teammate Larry Nance Jr. said of what comes to mind when he thinks of Little. “Nas comes in and plays with so much energy. Obviously, Ant (Anfernee Simons) plays with a lot of energy. Cody (Zeller) getting after every ball and myself, that’s a lot of what I’ve prided myself on for the past few years.

“I think playing with a certain level of intensity. I think we’ve got some rangy defenders as well. So that group is looking to provide a spark every time we check-in and so far, we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

Here are some other notes out of the Northwest Division tonight:

  • The Thunder have recalled Vit Krejci, Tre Mann and Isaiah Roby from their G League affiliate, the team announced in a release. Oklahoma City has upcoming games against the Spurs on Sunday, Pelicans on Wednesday and Kings on Friday.
  • Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. will undergo further testing on his lower back, Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports tweets. Porter exited the team’s game against Houston on Saturday with soreness and will miss Monday’s contest against Miami. Back issues sidelined Porter for his entire rookie season in 2018/19.
  • Speaking of Porter, Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post believes the Nuggets should remove him from the starting lineup and relegate him to a bench role. The 23-year-old is shooting just 36% through nine games, averaging 9.9 points per contest.

Trail Blazers Notes: Simons, Billups, Little, Powell, Snell

One way for the Trail Blazers to realize internal improvement would be for fourth-year guard Anfernee Simons to blossom. Simons wants Chauncey Billups to provide tough love in their relationship, Casey Holdahl of the team’s website writes.

“It’s been good, good feedback,” Simons said about the first-year head coach. “Tell me anything no matter what. Have no filter for me. And that’s the only way we’re going to get a better relationship and how we get better.”

Simons is off to a promising start, averaging 14.5 PPG and 2.5 APG.

“I just think he’s so good, he’s so gifted,” Billups said. “The way that he can handle the ball, he can get to anywhere he wants on the floor, he’s a big time shooter. So I’m always just trying to pump confidence into him.”

Simons will be a restricted free agent next season if he receives a qualifying offer from the club.

We have more on the Trail Blazers:

  • Nassir Little has also found Billups’ coaching style to be productive, as he told Mike Richman in his daily podcast (video link). “He’s calm but he’s straightforward,” Little said. “He’s not going to sugarcoat it or beat around the bush. He holds everybody accountable equally, including himself.”
  • Norman Powell has been diagnosed with left patellar tendinopathy, Jay Allen of RipCityRadio 620 tweets. Powell departed early in Saturday’s game after injuring his knee. He’s listed as out for tonight’s game against the Clippers.
  • Tony Snell is also listed as out, Allen adds. Snell continues to work his way back from a right foot sprain that sidelined him during the preseason. Snell suffered a minor setback in his recovery last week.

Northwest Notes: Little, Zeller, Nuggets, Bol

Nassir Little is working to shake off a rough preseason game with the Blazers last Monday, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes. Little finished with just three points in 24 minutes, shooting 1-of-9 from the floor with five turnovers. He also registered a team-worst minus-16 net rating.

“I was a little anxious,” Little admitted. “I was super excited to play.”

Portland next plays on Monday against Sacramento, giving Little and the team a full week to re-focus. The 21-year-old is one of the youngest players on the team’s preseason roster, having been drafted No. 25 overall by the club in 2019.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we’re all learning,” he said. “A lot of new stuff is being put in, so just being able to take advantage of this time to practice is going to be huge for me and the entire team.”

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division tonight:

  • Speaking of the Trail Blazers, center Cody Zeller underwent successful surgery on Friday to repair a broken nose, according to Fentress (Twitter link). The team has yet to offer a timeline for Zeller’s return.
  • Mike Singer of The Denver Post examines multiple Nuggets-related topics in his latest mailbag, including a possible extension for PJ Dozier. Dozier, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, is coming off the best season of his four-year career, having averaged 7.7 points per game in 50 contests.
  • In a separate article for the Denver Post, Singer also examined the development of Bol Bol, who was acquired by the Nuggets on the night of the 2019 NBA Draft. Singer notes that Bol appears to be more engaged with the team during the preseason. The big man has only appeared in 39 NBA games to date.

Blazers Exercise 2022/23 Option On Nassir Little

The Trail Blazers have picked up the fourth-year option on Nassir Little‘s rookie scale contract, a source tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). The move locks in Little’s $4,171,548 salary for the 2022/23 season.

The 25th pick in the 2019 draft, Little has appeared in 48 games in each of his first two NBA seasons, but has played a limited role. In those 96 total NBA regular-season contests (12.6 MPG), the 21-year-old forward has averaged a modest 4.1 PPG and 2.5 RPG on .450/.302/.719 shooting.

A report last week indicated that Little has been turning heads this offseason and that team officials are intrigued by his development and his potential to contribute to the Blazers. We’ll have to wait for the games to begin to see whether that positive chatter is warranted, but it sounds as if Little should be given the opportunity to play a bigger role in 2021/22.

NBA clubs must make decisions by the end of October on the 2022/23 team options for players on rookie scale contracts. So far, only a handful of those options have been picked up, as our tracker shows, but most of them will likely be exercised in the coming weeks.

Western Notes: Ennis, Lakers, Suns, Little, Jazz

Free agent forward James Ennis worked out for the Lakers this week, sources tell Jovan Buha of The Athletic (Twitter link). Ennis, who was linked to Los Angeles earlier in free agency, would make sense as a depth piece on the wing for the Lakers, who only have 13 players on guaranteed contracts.

As we relayed earlier today, the Lakers figure to keep their 15th roster spot open during the regular season to keep their projected tax bill in check, but the 14th spot remains up for grabs.

Here’s more from around the West:

  • The Suns issued a press release today announcing some additions to their coaching staff, including Michael Ruffin as an assistant. Ruffin has some experience working under Monty Williams in the past, having served as an assistant on the Pelicans’ staff from 2014-20. The 2014/15 season was Williams’ last as New Orleans’ head coach.
  • Nassir Little, the 25th pick in the 2019 draft, hasn’t made a major impact for the Trail Blazers during his first two years in the NBA, but he has turned heads this offseason, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. Quick says team officials are intrigued by Little and believe he can “contribute in a way that is unique.” While the 21-year-old figures to play mostly a three-and-D role, Little says new head coach Chauncey Billups also wants to see him improve his play-making skills.
  • Sarah Todd of The Deseret News examines nine questions the Jazz should answer by the end of training camp next week, including whether their star guards – Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley – are healthy and pain-free after dealing with injuries late last season.

Blazers Rumors: McCollum, Simmons, Lillard, Powell, More

Teams are calling the Trail Blazers to inquire on guard CJ McCollum and offering the opportunity for Portland to move into the “top part of the draft,” according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. However, Quick reports that the Blazers aren’t seriously considering those offers, since they’re in win-now mode and are seeking veteran help rather than rookies.

As Quick details, the Blazers are open to a trade that would allow them to acquire an upgrade on McCollum. However, there are no obvious opportunities out there. A swap revolving around McCollum and Ben Simmons has long been the subject of speculation, but Quick suggests the Sixers likely wouldn’t be enticed by such a deal, even if Portland adds a young player like Anfernee Simons or Nassir Little to its offer.

Here’s more on the Blazers from Quick:

  • Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has met twice with Damian Lillard since the season ended. They had a three-hour sitdown on June 19 at the team’s practice facility and then met in Las Vegas with new head coach Chauncey Billups last Friday, per Quick. During those meetings, Lillard conveyed his publicly-stated preference that the Blazers act with more urgency in upgrading their roster.
  • Despite Lillard’s call for urgency, it remains to be seen whether Portland will do anything drastic with its roster this summer. Quick says “there appears to be an inclination to run this group back again” in the hopes that Billups’ influence and a full season of Powell raise the Blazers’ ceiling. Quick acknowledges that exercising patience would be a risky approach, given Lillard’s unease, but points out there are some similarities to 2018, when the club made few roster changes after being swept in the first round and then reached the Western Finals in 2019.
  • Re-signing Norman Powell is the Blazers’ top priority in free agency. Billups recently met with Powell in Las Vegas and “communicated his vision” to the veteran swingman. The team hopes the hiring of Billups helps convince Powell to remain in Portland.
  • Olshey recognizes that building a bench led by Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter contributed to the team’s defensive shortcomings and will aim to add “long, rangy” players who can guard multiple positions and comfortably switch on defense, according to Quick.
  • The Blazers will likely try to buy a second-round pick in next Thursday’s draft, says Quick.