- The Trail Blazers have become the latest NBA team to secure a jersey patch sponsorship deal, announcing today that they’ve partnered with Performance Health. As a result, a Biofreeze logo will be featured on Portland’s uniform starting in the 2018/19 season. The Blazers are the 24th NBA club to add an advertisement patch to their jerseys since the start of last season.
- Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu and center Jusuf Nurkic have returned to Portland after competing in regional FIBA World Cup qualifiers last week, according to Casey Holdahl of the team’s website. Aminu helped Nigeria go 3-0 during the tournament but Bosnia and Herzegovina went winless in two games despite the efforts of Nurkic.
The 2017 NBA Draft class has thus far turned out to be one of the most impressive crops in recent memory. In addition Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, poised freshmen that played significant roles in the playoffs, there are also a handful of lottery picks with tremendous opportunity for future growth.
ESPN’s Mike Schmitz (Insider) recently profiled a few players from last year’s draft class who showed impressive glimpses during their first year in the pros. Schmitz writes that Lonzo Ball deviated from what made him great at UCLA. If he’s to thrive with the Lakers he’ll need to step up as a spot-up shooter. Last year, the guard spent too much time trying to create in pick-and-roll situations.
There’s more from around the league:
- Sorry Hornets fans, the Charlotte franchise has been ranked as the team with the bleakest forecast over the next three seasons. Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider) writes that turnover in the front office, coupled with limited financial flexibility, won’t bode well for the team heading forward.
- At a time when journalists scrap to be the first media personalities to tweet about player movement in the NBA, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has broken the news for two recent sportswriter job changes. He, alongside CJ McCollum form the most journalistic backcourt the NBA has ever seen.
- After playing one season in China and Puerto Rico, former Thunder guard Semaj Christon is open to playing in Europe, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando tweets.
While Damian Lillard has occasionally been the subject of trade speculation in recent years, the Trail Blazers haven’t exhibited any interest in moving him, and it sounds like Lillard doesn’t have much interest in leaving Portland either. Asked about his long-term future this week, the three-time All-NBA guard said it “would be an honor to be a lifetime Blazer,” as Michael Scotto of The Athletic relays.
“Not a lot of guys get to play for one organization for their entire career,” Lillard said. “Obviously, I love playing for the Blazers. I love living in the city. I feel like I’ve established a connection with the people and the culture of the city just as much as I’ve done on the basketball court, so that’s important. But, as we know, it’s a business and a lot of times organizations have other plans, and sometimes players change their stance on that. But to be a lifetime Blazer, that would be great. I’m all on board for it.”
With three years left on his contract, Lillard is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. The Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the 2018 postseason, but remain confident in the current core, led by Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. Portland re-signed Nurkic to a long-term deal this offseason, a move applauded by the team’s star point guard.
“I’m really excited to have Nurk back,” Lillard said. “I’ve got a really, really good relationship with Nurk. I’m excited for him signing his extension and coming into a big year for him.”
While the Trail Blazers will aim for better results in 2018/19 than they had last season, their roster looks similar to last year’s, with only a few minor tweaks. The front office has repeatedly dismissed the idea of breaking up the Lillard/McCollum backcourt, but another early playoff exit next spring could force the team to reconsider its options.
SEPTEMBER 4: The Trail Blazers have officially announced their deals with Onuaku, Oliver, and Payton, confirming the signings in a press release.
SEPTEMBER 3: Three free agents are set to join the Trail Blazers on training camp deals, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link), who reports that Chinanu Onuaku, Cameron Oliver, and Gary Payton II have all reached agreements with Portland.
Onuaku, a 2016 second-round pick, appeared in just six NBA regular season games in two seasons with the Rockets. The former Louisville center has spent most of his two professional seasons in the G League, playing in 83 total games for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and averaging 12.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG to go along with 2.5 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG, and a .617 FG%. The 21-year-old was traded from Houston to Dallas earlier this offseason, with the Mavericks subsequently waiving him.
Oliver, a former Nevada standout, signed a training camp contract with the Rockets after going undrafted in 2017, but was waived by Houston just before the regular season began. The 6’8″ forward spent his rookie season in the G League with Delaware and Wisconsin, averaging 10.8 PPG and 7.1 RPG in 39 total games.
Payton, meanwhile, is the son of NBA Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton. The 25-year-old point guard has seen a little NBA action over the last two seasons, appearing in 29 total contests for the Lakers and Bucks. Like Onuaku and Oliver, he also had a stint with the Rockets earlier in his career and has extensive G League experience.
The Trail Blazers already have 15 players on guaranteed contracts, meaning there might not be any opportunities for their camp invitees to earn regular season roster spots. Portland also doesn’t have its own G League squad, so Onuaku, Oliver, and Payton won’t become affiliate players for the Blazers.
Still, the Blazers haven’t filled either of their two-way contract slots, and Onuaku, Oliver, and Payton would all qualify for a two-way deal. It’s possible that one or two of them could have their camp contracts converted to two-way pacts if they look good in the preseason.
- The Trail Blazers don’t seem to mind being among three NBA teams without direct G League affiliates, writes Marc Stein of The New York Times in his latest email notebook. Portland once had an affiliate in Idaho and isn’t convinced that it was a valuable investment, Stein adds. However, he notes that G League President Malcolm Turner said this year that he expects all 30 teams to have affiliates within 12 to 18 months, so the Blazers appear ready to give it another shot.
With Brandon Knight headed to Houston in a four-player trade, the Suns‘ point guard depth chart looks thinner than ever. According to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link), Phoenix has made an effort to address the position by attempting to trade for a starting point guard, but hasn’t had any luck so far.
Gambadoro names Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, and Terry Rozier as a few of the point guards the Suns have been targeting, though he doesn’t provide much more details beyond that. Even if the Suns made inquiries on those players, I can’t imagine their conversation with the Trail Blazers for Lillard, for instance, went very far.
The Hornets and Celtics may have been a little more receptive to discussions involving their point guards, who are entering contract years, but it would certainly still take a substantial offer to pry Walker away from Charlotte or to get Rozier out of Boston.
While Gambadoro suggests that the Suns “will have to make a trade,” he notes that the Bucks’ first-round pick owed to Phoenix isn’t particularly valuable as a trade chip, given its protections. The Suns could put some combination of their own first-rounders or young prospects on the table in a trade offer, but it’s not clear how aggressive the team is willing to be in the short term — it’s possible the club will see what it can get out of its current point guards to start the season, perhaps revisiting the trade market closer to the deadline.
With Knight no longer in the mix, the Suns’ point guard group includes Shaquille Harrison and Isaiah Canaan, who are both on non-guaranteed contracts, and rookies De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo. Canaan has the most NBA experience of the bunch, but he’s coming off a major leg injury. Melton and Okobo, of course, have yet to make their respective NBA debuts, while Harrison has appeared in just 23 regular season contests.
NBA teams have now completed the brunt of their offseason work, with the draft and free agency practically distant memories. Still, with training camps more than a month away, most clubs around the league have at least one or two outstanding issues they’ve yet to address.
We’re in the midst of looking at all 30 NBA teams, separating them by division and checking in on the key outstanding question that each club still needs to answer before the 2018/19 regular season begins.
After focusing on the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast last week, we’ve moved to the Western Conference this week, starting with the Southwest and Pacific. Today, we’re finishing things off by focusing on the Northwest…
Will the Nuggets sign Trey Lyles to a rookie scale extension?
The trade that sent Lyles to Denver won’t exactly go down as one of the great moves in Nuggets history, considering it cost the team the lottery pick that became Donovan Mitchell in last year’s draft. Still, don’t hold that against Lyles, who enjoyed a breakout year in 2017/18, establishing new career bests in PPG (9.9), RPG (4.8), FG% (.491), and 3PT% (.381) as one of the first players off Denver’s bench.
Lyles is eligible for a rookie scale extension up until October 15 this year, and while role players generally aren’t strong candidates for early deals of that nature, it’s a possibility worth considering for the Nuggets. Lyles is still just 22 years old, and if the club views him as one of its long-term building blocks, it could make sense to lock him up now before his role and his numbers increase further.
Unless they plan to exercise Paul Millsap‘s $30MM team option next summer, the Nuggets should have cap flexibility going forward, meaning a Lyles extension wouldn’t hamstring them. With Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Will Barton already secured to long-term deals, the Nuggets will have to decide whether they want Lyles to join that group now, or if they’ll take their chances with him in restricted free agency in 2019.
When will the Timberwolves sign Karl-Anthony Towns to a rookie scale extension, and what will it look like?
In the case of the Timberwolves and Towns, the questions isn’t whether or not an extension is coming — it’s a matter of when it will happen, and what it will look like.
Fourth-year players who get offered maximum-salary rookie scale extensions don’t turn them down, and it sounds like an offer of that caliber is on the table for Towns. There’s no rush to finalize it. Last year, Andrew Wiggins didn’t sign his max deal with the Timberwolves until October 11, just days before the regular season got underway.
There may be a little more room for back-and-forth negotiations with Towns than there was with Wiggins, however. While Wiggins signed a standard 25% maximum-salary extension, Towns would be eligible for a starting salary worth up to 30% of the cap if he earns All-NBA honors again next season. His camp and the Wolves may have to spend some time figuring out whether he’ll receive that full 30% if he qualifies, or if there’s a compromise to be reached between 25-30%.
As our early maximum salary projections for 2019/20 show, the total difference between a five-year, 25% max contract and a five-year, 30% max contract figures to exceed $30MM, so the starting point of Towns’ next deal is an important detail for the two sides to work out.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Will the Thunder release Kyle Singler or attempt to trim additional salary?
The Thunder were able to reduce their team salary and their projected luxury tax bill significantly in the three-way trade that (briefly) sent Carmelo Anthony to Atlanta. Still, Oklahoma City’s total team salary remains just shy of $150MM, creating a potential tax bill of $93MM+. In total, the roster projects to cost nearly $243MM.
Team ownership probably wouldn’t mind cutting costs a little more, and Singler is the most logical release candidate. His $4,996,000 expiring salary can be stretched across three seasons if he’s waived by next Friday. In that scenario, assuming the Thunder leave their 15th roster spot open, stretching Singler would reduce the overall cost of the 2018/19 squad by $20MM, taking into account the reduction in team salary and tax.
Although waiving Singler is the most obvious path to trimming salary, it’s possible the Thunder have another move or two up their sleeves. It’s also possible that they’re satisfied with the cost-cutting moves they’ve already made, and are committed to the current roster. Time will tell.
Portland Trail Blazers
Who will the Trail Blazers sign to their two-way contract slots? Will it matter?
Many teams around the NBA used their new two-way contract slots to great effect last season, relying on those two-way players for significant roles and eventually promoting them to a spot on the 15-man roster. That wasn’t really the case in Portland.
C.J. Wilcox and Wade Baldwin signed two-way deals with the Trail Blazers before the season and barely saw any action all season for the NBA club. Wilcox didn’t play a single minute for the Blazers, while Baldwin appeared in just seven games. All but one of Baldwin’s seven appearances came late in the season after he had been signed to a standard NBA contract.
The Blazers are one of just three NBA teams without a G League affiliate of their own, which is one obstacle in the way of maximizing their two-way contracts. If they need an extra body on a given night, it’s not easy to simply transfer a two-way player from their nearby NBAGL squad to the NBA roster. Last year, for example, Baldwin spent most of his time in the G League with the Texas Legends, whose arena is over 2,000 miles away from the Moda Center in Portland.
Despite the impracticality of shuttling their two-way players back and forth between the NBA and the G League, the Blazers still figure to fill those slots at some point. When they do, it will be interesting to see if they once again favor players with some NBA experience, like Wilcox and Baldwin, rather than developmental prospects that they won’t actually have the opportunity to develop due to their lack of NBAGL affiliate.
Do the Jazz need to do… anything before the regular season begins?
It’s fitting that the last of the 30 teams we’ve examined in this series is the one that seemingly has no burning questions to answer before the regular season begins.
The Jazz have their 15-man roster for the regular season virtually set, with Royce O’Neale joining 14 players on guaranteed contracts. They’ve filled their two-way contract slots. They don’t have any extension candidates. They’re not in any trouble from a cap perspective. Their coaching staff and front office is stable. Even their forthcoming rookie scale option decisions for 2019/20 look like simple ones. The Jazz do have one spot on their 20-man offseason roster they could fill, but that’s not exactly a pressing issue.
While there may be some rotation battles to watch during training camp, Utah’s primary focus this fall will be staying healthy — after all, it was Rudy Gobert‘s injury issues that played a significant part in the team’s slow start (19-28) last season. Having finished the regular season on a 29-6 run and won a playoff series, the Jazz will be looking to carry that momentum into the 2018/19 season as they push for a top-three seed in a tough Western Conference.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Only a small handful of two-way players from 2017/18 had their contracts carried over to the 2018/19 season, while a few more signed new two-way deals. For the most part though, NBA teams have filled their two-way contract slots for the coming season with new faces, including several rookies who went undrafted in 2018.
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At the moment, 44 of 60 league-wide two-way contract slots are occupied, with a 45th set to be filled once the Wizards finalize their reported agreement with Jordan McRae. That leaves just 15 two-way deals available across the NBA as training camps approach.
Some clubs may not fill these slots before camps get underway, preferring to sign players to non-guaranteed NBA contracts and then convert those deals to two-way pacts later, depending on how players perform in camp and in the preseason. By the time the 2018/19 regular season begins though, I don’t expect many two-way slots to still be open.
With the help of our two-way contract tracker, which lists all the players currently on two-way deals, here are the teams who can still offer two-way contracts without waiving anyone:
Two open slots:
- Brooklyn Nets
- Houston Rockets
- Portland Trail Blazers
- San Antonio Spurs
One open slot:
- Charlotte Hornets
- Chicago Bulls
- Golden State Warriors
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Phoenix Suns
- Sacramento Kings
- Toronto Raptors