Nassir Little

Extension Rumors: Hunter, C. Johnson, Poole, G. Williams, More

Of the players eligible for rookie scale extensions this offseason, Spurs forward Keldon Johnson became the first to sign a new deal worth less than the maximum. According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (Twitter link), Johnson’s new four-year contract will have a base value of $74MM, with $1.5MM in annual unlikely incentives that could push the total value of the deal to $80MM.

Johnson’s contract will serve as a point of comparison for many of the other extension-eligible players who will be negotiating with their respective teams this summer and fall, Fischer writes in a full story for Bleacher Report.

For instance, representatives for De’Andre Hunter figure to seek a similar deal for their client, though the Hawks may be reluctant to invest heavily in a player who has appeared in just 76 games in the last two seasons due to injuries. One cap strategist who spoke to Bleacher Report said Hunter’s injury concerns “are very real,” and sources tell Fischer that the 24-year-old and Atlanta are approximately $20MM apart in their discussions about a four-year extension.

Johnson’s extension with San Antonio is worth roughly the same amount annually as deals signed by sharpshooters like Davis Bertans, Duncan Robinson, and Joe Harris, and all four of those deals will be reference points when Cameron Johnson and the Suns discuss a new deal, according to Fischer, who suggests an extension for Johnson could easily surpass $15MM per year.

Here are a few more notes from Fischer on rookie scale extension candidates from around the NBA:

  • There’s a sense that the Warriors may be best off waiting on an extension for Jordan Poole unless they can get a team-friendly rate this offseason, Fischer writes. “What’s the upside in locking him in now?” the team cap strategist said. “He’s not Luka Doncic or Donovan Mitchell, who’ve proven they can carry a team. He’s close. If he does it again, you pay him. But prior to this year he was a borderline rotation player.”
  • Cap experts who spoke to Fischer believes that the Celtics‘ four-year extension for Robert Williams (worth $48MM, plus $6MM in incentives) will be a benchmark for their extension talks with Grant Williams. However, rival executives don’t think the C’s will want to spend much more on Grant than they did on Robert.
  • The Trail Blazers and Nassir Little may both be motivated to work out a new deal this summer. As Fischer explains, Little could increase his value (and his price tag) in 2022/23 if he’s part of Portland’s new-look starting lineup, but his injury history might make him inclined to take a guaranteed payday sooner rather than later.
  • There has been no traction on extension talks between the Sixers and Matisse Thybulle, sources tell Bleacher Report. Fischer also classifies Bulls guard Coby White as a player who is unlikely to sign an extension before the season.

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.

Nassir Little Undergoes Abdominal Surgery

Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little has undergone a surgical procedure to repair a core muscle injury, the team announced in a press release.

The abdominal surgery was performed on Tuesday by Dr. William C. Meyers at the Vincera Institute in Philadelphia. Meyers completed a similar procedure on Blazers star Damian Lillard in January.

Little’s breakout season in Portland came to an early end when he underwent surgery on February 1 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. According to the Blazers, who announced at the time that the 22-year-old was expected to make a full recovery for training camp, this latest surgery shouldn’t affect his recovery timeline. In other words, Little should still be good to go this fall.

The 25th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Little didn’t have much of a role in his first two seasons with the Blazers, averaging 4.1 PPG and 2.5 RPG on .450/.302/.719 shooting in 96 games (12.6 MPG). However, he bumped those numbers to 9.8 PPG and 5.6 RPG on .460/.331/.734 shooting in 42 games (25.9 MPG) in 2021/22 and was playing especially well after entering the starting lineup in December.

Although the Blazers made some major roster changes at the trade deadline and will likely continue to make moves this summer, Little is viewed as part of the team’s plans going forward and seems unlikely to go anywhere. He’ll be eligible for a rookie scale extension starting in July.

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 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.”

Nassir Little Undergoes Shoulder Surgery, Done For Season

FEBRUARY 1: Little underwent surgery this morning in Florida, with Dr. James Andrews repairing the torn labrum in his left shoulder, the Blazers announced in a press release. According to the team, Little is expected to make a full recovery in time for training camp in the fall.

JANUARY 31: Little will undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair the torn labrum in his left shoulder and will miss the rest of the season, the Blazers confirmed today in a press release.

JANUARY 27: Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little has a labral tear in his left shoulder, the team announced in a press release. Little was hurt in the fourth quarter on Tuesday against Minnesota. An MRI taken Wednesday revealed the injury.

Portland said an update on Little’s status would be provided when available, which is standard among NBA teams. However, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) that the forward is likely to miss the remainder of the 2021/22 season.

Little, who turns 22 in a couple weeks, in his third year in the league after being selected by the Blazers with the 25th overall pick of the 2019 draft. He was having the best season of his career to date, averaging 9.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.9 blocks on .460/.331/.734 shooting through 42 games. Little had been particularly effective in January, putting up 13.1 points and 5.7 rebounds on .454/.403/.727 shooting this month.

An athletic, energetic defensive presence, Little has blossomed into a rotation regular this season after receiving limited playing time during his first two seasons. He reportedly had a terrible bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of last season, losing 20 pounds and suffering grinding headaches, which impacted his development. However, he got back into shape and made a strong impression in the offseason, earning a huge minutes increase — going from 13.3 per game last season to 25.9 this season.

As a third-year former first round pick, Little is eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer. The injury might hurt his leverage in contract negotiations, but Portland has likely seen enough to know that his improvement is legitimate. The Blazers picked up their fourth-year team option on Little in October, a few weeks before the season started. He’ll make $4,171,548 in 2022/23.

Northwest Notes: Nurkic, Little, Muscala, Wolves

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is enjoying the best season of his career and he doesn’t want to see it disrupted by a trade, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Along with averaging 14.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, Nurkic has provided a strong interior presence for a defense that was the league’s worst last season.’s RAPTOR rating has Nurkic as the eighth-best defender in the league.

Even so, Nurkic is considered to be a trade candidate because of his $12MM expiring contract. He said Joe Cronin talked to him after taking over as interim general manager and promised to keep him as part of the core in Portland.

“Nothing is 100 percent, but I feel like for the team, and who I think I am as a player, there is no way I’m leaving (in a trade),” Nurkic said. “I don’t see anything possible. Obviously, I want to be part of this organization as long as (Damian Lillard) is, and as long as we want to win. But if the team wants to go in a different direction, then I’m willing to do whatever they want to do.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The loss of Nassir Little, who may miss the rest of the season with a labral tear in his left shoulder, was a major disappointment for the Trail Blazers, notes Casey Holdahl of Little had established himself as a rotation player in his third NBA season and his first under head coach Chauncey Billups“He didn’t play very much before I was here, or at least have a consistent role, so one of the things for him was to try to earn the trust of the coaching staff, and he did that,” Billups said. “And to earn the trust of his players, he did that.”
  • Thunder forward Mike Muscala is considering right ankle surgery after the season ends, tweets Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Muscala has been dealing with pain in the ankle since suffering a stress fracture last season.
  • Timberwolves coach Chris Finch says the team has “clean-up things to do” regarding the new defensive approach he implemented this season, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Minnesota has been a top-10 defense for most of the year, but has surrendered at least 110 points in eight of its last 10 games.

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.”