Trail Blazers Rumors

Bulls Notes: Vucevic, DeRozan, Caruso, Eversley 

Nikola Vucevic‘s 30-point outburst against the Hornets this week may be an indication that he’s settling into his new role with the Bulls, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports. After years of being the first option in Orlando, Vucevic had to adjust to playing with a prolific scorer in Zach LaVine after he was traded at the March deadline. The adjustments continued after Chicago added DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball in free agency.

Vucevic’s usage rate has hovered at about 22% since the season began. That’s down from 28.2% during his time with the Bulls last season and significantly lower than what it used to be with the Magic. He acknowledged that he’s still figuring out his new role on offense.

“I was the main guy in Orlando for years and the ball was always with me. I knew I was going to get my shots regardless of how the game was going. Now it’s a little different,” Vucevic said. “We have more talent and more guys on the ball. Just have to find my spots and make sure I don’t get in their way and also for them to get used to playing with a big man like me.”

There’s more from Chicago:

  • DeRozan has taken over the role of closing out games since joining the Bulls, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. He’s leading the NBA with an average of 7.5 points in the fourth quarter of games and scoring clutch baskets when the team needs them most. “It just makes everything so much easier,” LaVine said. “Not all the pressure is on you. I have a bailout anytime, and I think I can speak for him; vice versa. Just being able to give it to him in certain areas, or just the ultimate trust of sometimes just giving him the ball and getting out the way, and ‘I’ll be here if you need me.’” 
  • Alex Caruso‘s gritty style of play feels much more at home in Chicago than it did in Los Angeles, observes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Caruso has transformed the Bulls’ defense and leads the league in both steals and deflections per game. “The stuff that I do isn’t always glamorous,” he said. “It doesn’t always get highlighted. You might have seen a dunk or two over the years, like a pass to LeBron (James) or (Anthony Davis), but the stuff I do isn’t sexy. It’s stuff that wins basketball games.”
  • Bulls general manager Marc Eversley has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Neil Olshey with the Trail Blazers, but he remains focused on his current team and the talk is likely just speculation, Cowley tweets.

Blazers Notes: Billups, Olshey, Roster Moves, Lillard, Eversley, Perry, Prince

In a fascinating piece released mere minutes before former president and general manager Neil Olshey was fired by the Trail Blazers, Jason Quick of The Athletic details how he views head coach Chauncey Billups as a poor schematic fit with Portland’s flawed roster — constructed by Olshey.

Even before star Damian Lillard was announced as being injured, it was clear that Portland was not functioning as a cohesive unit. Quite the opposite, in fact. Quick writes that the team had grown accustomed to ex-coach Terry Stotts‘ freedom on both ends of the court, and Billups wants to instill more structure and accountability, with a more aggressive defense and more ball movement on offense.

However, Billups’ stern exchanges have seemingly demoralized the group, and Quick asked Billups how he thought it was going over with the players.

I think pretty good, but at the end of the day, it’s not easy,” Billups said. “It’s not easy all the time to hear when you are not doing what you are supposed to do, especially from the coach. All I care about is I believe we should play one way. I know what wins, I know what’s important. When we don’t do it, obviously I’m going to always bring it to the table, to those players, to those people. And I know it’s not always going to be well received.

But I know it’s the best thing for the team, it’s the best thing for the player and at the end of the day, if you are mad or upset, if you actually really want to win and be a good teammate, you go home and think about that, look yourself in the mirror, and you are going to realize what I was saying was right, you know? With no agenda at all other than for us to try and get better. So, I can ride with that. That’s just kind of who I was as a player, who I am as a person, and I will be consistent there.”

Quick believes that while it is a talented group of players, the roster that Olshey built doesn’t make sense under Billups. He mentions the fact that the Blazers have three 6’3″ guards (Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell) all starting, which leads to them being exploited defensively. Quick also says that Olshey’s infatuation with McCollum and refusal to trade him hurt the team. He thinks a roster shakeup is absolutely necessary in order to break the team out of its early season funk. The Blazers are currently 11-12.

It’s a great article from Quick and worth reading in full for subscribers of The Athletic.

Here’s more from Portland:

  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks thinks the Blazers should explore trading Lillard (video link). He believes Lillard may have peaked as a player, pointing to his age (31), huge contract, and the high number of minutes he’s played over the years. Marks thinks it could be worth it to try and extract maximum value for Lillard before it’s too late. However, he acknowledges that the situation will be very tricky for whomever takes over the front office, as Lillard is one of the best players in franchise history.
  • John Canzano of The Oregonian is happy the Blazers pulled the plug on the Olshey, and believes that it will galvanize the organization and fan base.
  • Bulls general manager Marc Eversley and Knicks general manager Scott Perry are both candidates to replace Olshey as GM, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter).
  • A source tells Quick of The Athletic that Grizzlies VP of basketball affairs Tayshaun Prince, who had previously been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Olshey, is not in the running for the role (Twitter link).

Olshey's Firing May Help A Sixers-Blazers Trade

  • The Trail Blazersfiring of general manager Neil Olshey may open the door for a trade with the Sixers, suggests Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice. Olshey drafted backcourt stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and has been reluctant to break them up. Both have been mentioned as possible returns for Philadelphia as the Sixers seek a resolution to the Ben Simmons standoff. Neubeck states that Portland may be more open to moving McCollum now that Olshey is no longer in charge, or Lillard may see Olshey’s firing as incentive to request a trade. While most Philadelphia fans prefer the second option, Neubeck believes a move with McCollum is more realistic.

Trail Blazers Fire Neil Olshey

The Trail Blazers have fired general manager and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, the team announced (via Twitter).

Olshey has been under a month-long investigation relating to his actions in the workplace, prompted by accusations of misconduct from at least one team employee. Workers have allegedly been subjected to “intimidation and profanity-laced tirades, among other bullying tactics” from Olshey.

The team addressed the investigation in a release announcing the move, stating that Olshey was terminated “due to violations of the Portland Trail Blazers’ Code of Conduct.”

“Out of respect for those who candidly participated in that privileged investigation, we will not release or discuss it,” the release states. “We are confident that these changes will help build a more positive and respectful working environment.”

Director of player personnel Joe Cronin will take over as interim general manager while the team searches for a permanent replacement, the release adds.

Two candidates who will likely receive consideration for the permanent job are Grizzlies VP of basketball affairs Tayshaun Prince and Spurs VP of basketball operations Brent Barry, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). Former Celtics executive Danny Ainge may also be in the mix, tweets Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

A source tells Jason Quick of The Athletic that Olshey learned of his firing this morning (Twitter link). Olshey got no indication of the move during discussions Thursday night with vice chair Bert Kolde or team owner Jody Allen, Quick adds.

Olshey, 56, had served as Portland’s general manager since 2012, but there have been rumors for some time that his job was in jeopardy. In addition to the workplace investigation, Olshey has been under fire for the team’s string of first-round playoff exits and received criticism for not being more responsive about the hiring of Chauncey Billups as head coach in light of sexual assault allegations against Billups from 1997.

Several pressing issues will face Olshey’s replacement, notes Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link). Damian Lillard has repeatedly expressed a desire to play for a contender, and the Blazers are currently in ninth place in the West at 11-12. The organization will also have to decide whether to hold on to Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic, who both have expiring contracts.

Northwest Notes: Billups, Thunder, SGA, Azubuike

Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups was unhappy with his team’s effort after Thursday’s 31-point loss to the Spurs, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. It may have been the most frustrating defeat of the season for an 11-12 Portland team that is trying to gain traction in the Western Conference playoff race. The Blazers were missing star guard Damian Lillard, who is sidelined with an abdominal injury, and Nassir Little, who is nursing a sore ankle, but Billups doesn’t see their absences as an excuse for the blowout.

“My biggest concern I think at the moment is, I want us to compete harder,” he said. “I want us to compete in every game. And I don’t feel like every game we do that. I really don’t. I don’t feel like we do that every night. And that concerns me.”

Billups was particularly upset that his team didn’t execute the game plan against San Antonio, allowing the league’s worst three-point shooting team to hit 14-of-36 from beyond the arc. He also hinted that he will experiment with rotation changes based on competitive spirit.

“I’m willing to lose games that way,” Billups said. “I’ve ended games with lineups that people probably scratched their head at. But if I find guys that’s gonna compete, and have this winning spirit about them, I love it.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder made some unwanted NBA history Thursday night with the most lopsided loss since the league was formed, notes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said the 152-79 defeat against Memphis isn’t an accurate way to judge his team, which was on the second night of a back-to-back and played without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and several other players. “This isn’t indicative of who our team is, how we’ve competed all season from training camp all the way through the games,” Daigneault said. “It’s important I think to keep that in mind internally for us.”
  • Gilgeous-Alexander was placed in concussion protocol after being fouled twice on layups in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game, Mussatto adds. He had a headache on the Thunder’s flight to Memphis Wednesday night, then felt worse after waking up from a nap Thursday afternoon. Daigneault said he would have kept Gilgeous-Alexander at home if he realized he had suffered a concussion.
  • Jazz center Udoka Azubuike won’t need surgery on the dislocated right ankle he suffered last week, according to Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Sources tell Todd that Azubuike will begin rehabbing the ankle, but the process may take most of the season.

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.

LeBron James, Robert Covington Both Fined $15K By NBA

Lakers star LeBron James has been fined $15K for making an obscene gesture on the court, the league announced (Twitter link).

The incident occurred at the end of the fourth quarter during the team’s overtime win against Indiana on Nov. 24. He was also warned for using profanity during his post-game availability in response to his one-game suspension.

In a separate tweet, the league also announced that Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington was fined $15K for throwing his face mask at a referee.

The incident took place in the second quarter of the team’s loss against Sacramento on Nov. 24. Covington received a technical and was ejected from the game.

Robert Covington Ejected From Wednesday's Game

  • Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington was ejected from Wednesday’s game in Sacramento for throwing his face guard and hitting an official’s foot with it. As Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian relays, head coach Chauncey Billups and star guard Damian Lillard said after the game that it was an accident. “Roco always takes his mask off and tosses it to the side,” Lillard said. “This time he just tossed it and it literally bounced into the referee.” It remains to be seen whether Covington will be fined by the NBA for the incident.

Quick: Blazers Evolving From Collection Of Players Into Team

  • The Trail Blazers, who are riding a three-game winning streak, are showing signs of evolving from a collection of players into a team, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. Quick points to a few moments that have shown that evolution, including Larry Nance Jr. making sure rookie Trendon Watford got the game ball when he scored his first NBA points in a blowout loss to Denver.

Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo Named Players Of The Week

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has been named the Player of the Week for the Western Conference and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has earned the honor for the Eastern Conference, the NBA announced today (via Twitter).

Lillard’s Blazers only played three games during the week of November 15-21, but won all three. The All-NBA guard averaged 28.3 PPG and 8.3 APG in victories over Toronto, Chicago, and Philadelphia, racking up 39 points in Friday’s game vs. the Sixers. He beat out fellow Western Conference nominees Deandre Ayton, Jordan Poole, and Karl-Anthony Towns (Twitter link).

Antetokounmpo and the Bucks also enjoyed a 3-0 week, with Giannis putting up eye-popping averages of 33.3 PPG, 16.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, and 2.7 BPG against the Lakers, Thunder, and Magic. His week included a 47-point outburst vs. Los Angeles and a 32-point, 20-rebound showing vs. Orlando.

The two-time MVP won the award over a crowded field of Eastern Conference nominees: LaMelo Ball, Jimmy Butler, Clint Capela, DeMar DeRozan, Darius Garland, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Jayson Tatum.