Tina Thompson

Blazers Notes: Lillard, Offseason, Thybulle, Front Office

At 31-35, the Trail Blazers currently hold the 13th seed in the Western Conference, but star guard Damian Lillard remains bullish about the team’s chances of securing a playoff or play-in berth. Speaking to Chris Mannix of SI.com, Lillard pointed out that nine Western teams – including eight ahead of Portland the standings – have between 33 and 35 losses.

“So it looks like, ‘Oh, you know, trying to get a play-in spot,'” Lillard said. “But everybody’s playing each other and everybody’s in the same thing. We could end up fifth. In a perfect world, it’s possible. Right now, we just have to keep fighting and try to be one of those teams that comes out on the other side.”

While Lillard hasn’t given up hope on making some noise this spring, he recognizes that the coming offseason will be an important one for a Portland club that badly wants to take another step toward legitimate title contention.

If they miss the playoffs and the Knicks make it, the Blazers will control two first-round picks, including one in the lottery. Based on his comments to Mannix, it sounds like Lillard would like the front office to explore dangling those draft assets in a package for an impact player.

“That means we go into the offseason and we don’t come out the way we have in the past,” Lillard said of what he’d like to see this summer. “Where it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going to try to do something,’ and then we watch other people capitalize on things that are out there, and we pass, pass, pass, pass and can’t get anything done and then it’s done. It’s like, ‘All right, well this is what we got going into the season with.’ And I think as far as execution, that means we go out there, we be aggressive and we try to actually get something done. Stepping out there and giving ourselves a chance to be one of those teams in the end.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • While Matisse Thybulle remains fond of Philadelphia, he admitted ahead of his return on Friday that he fell victim to some “more fear-based play” when he was a member of the Sixers and has felt rejuvenated since joining the Trail Blazers a month ago. “It’s been such a warm, welcoming reception from top to bottom, front office to coaching staff to players, a genuine one at that,” Thybulle said, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscription required). “Like they are really happy to have me; teammates are excited to have my skill set on the floor with them. Coaches are excited to coach me. It’s been really nice to feel wanted in that capacity.”
  • In a separate story for The Inquirer, Pompey says that the Trail Blazers are considered likely to re-sign Thybulle when he becomes eligible for free agency this summer. “That’s the thought behind it,” Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said of trading for Thybulle at February’s deadline. “He’s the type of guy that we like, that’s going to compete on the defensive end and is going to play a selfless game on the offensive end. And he’s just a winning spirit.”
  • Kevin Pelton of ESPN takes a look at the current and former WNBA stars who have roles in the Trail Blazers’ front office, including Tina Thompson, Asjha Jones, Sheri Sam, and Evina Westbrook. As Pelton writes, general manager Joe Cronin liked the idea of hiring WNBA players because many of them have diverse résumés as players, including time spent in overseas leagues during the WNBA offseasons.

Western Notes: Zion, Blazers, Okpala, Thunder

Zion Williamson‘s strength and conditioning coach, Jasper Bibbs, tells William Guillory of The Athletic that the Pelicans forward is “in fantastic shape” with the 2022/23 season around the corner.

“He’s been committed to putting in the work day in and day out,” Bibbs said. “I’m really proud of what he’s been able to accomplish. He’s a better athlete now than he’s ever been.”

Williamson missed the entire ’21/22 season due to a broken foot, so ensuring that he’s healthy and fully recovered from that injury is a crucial first step. The former No. 1 overall pick has also been plagued by questions about his weight throughout his NBA career, and while Bibbs declined to say how much Zion weighs, he expressed optimism about the forward’s physical condition.

“… (His body composition) has improved at an extremely high level,” Bibbs told Guillory. “That’s all I’ll say.”

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • The Trail Blazers have officially announced a series of additions to their basketball operations staff, including Jonah Herscu as an assistant coach, David Adkins as director of player development, and former WNBA star Tina Thompson as a scout. Herscu previously worked for Sacramento, Adkins was with the Clippers, and Thompson was the head coach of Virginia’s women’s basketball team.
  • The two-year, minimum-salary contract KZ Okpala signed with the Kings is virtually identical to the one Chima Moneke received earlier this offseason, as our JD Shaw reports (Twitter links). Okpala has a $250K partial guarantee in 2022/23 that would increase to $500K if he makes the opening night roster. He’d receive a partial guarantee of $250K for 2023/24 if he plays at least 1,000 minutes this season and Sacramento wins 41 or more games. His full ’23/24 salary would become guaranteed if he’s under contract through June 30, 2023.
  • If the NBA and NBPA agree to remove the one-and-done rule for prospects, as has been rumored, there will be one super-sized draft class during the year in which players become draft-eligible out of high school. Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman explores what it might mean for the Thunder, who have loaded up on future picks, if that happens in 2024. Oklahoma City holds its own pick, the Clippers’ pick (unprotected), the Rockets’ pick (top-four protected), and the Jazz’s pick (top-10 protected) in the first round of the ’24 draft.