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Trail Blazers announce re-signing of Maurice Harkless

Trail Blazers announce re-signing of Maurice Harkless

The Portland Trail Blazers have re-signed forward Maurice Harkless, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

“Moe is an impact player with a bright future and a high upside,” said Olshey. “We look forward to his continued growth and are pleased he chose to make a long term commitment to the Trail Blazers.”

Harkless, 23, averaged 6.4 points (47.4% FG, 27.9% 3-PT, 62.2% FT), 3.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.62 steals and 18.7 minutes in 78 games (14 starts) with the Trail Blazers last season. 

“I'm excited to be back with the Blazers, ready to continue to grow as a team with this group of incredible guys and coaches, and build on what we accomplished last season,” said Harkless. “Portland has become a city I've grown to love and I'm happy to say that I'll be here for the next four years. I’m grateful to Mr. Allen and the organization for the belief they've shown in me and this opportunity they have provided for me.”

In 2015-16, his first season with the Trail Blazers, Harkless scored in double figures 23 times, eight of which came in the final 10 games of the season. He averaged 11.9 points on 50.0% shooting, and hauled in 6.6 rebounds in his 14 starts.

In four NBA seasons with Orlando and Portland, Harkless holds career averages of 6.7 points (45.9% FG, 30.0% 3-PT, 58.9% FT), 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.95 steals and 21.7 minutes in 279 games (118 starts). 

Originally selected by Orlando with the 15th overall pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft out of St. John’s, Portland acquired Harkless on July 14, 2015 in exchange for a 2020 second round pick.

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Oregon doesn't start fall camp on Aug. 8, so we're trying to kill time with a little prognostication here and there. Today, Bri Amaranthus and Aaron Fentress count down their top three Ducks who must improve if Oregon is going to contend for the Pac-12 title in 2016.

NO. 3

Fentress' pick - Senior linebacker Johnny Ragin III: - Ragin provides some experience within a group loaded with inexperienced returning players. To help Oregon's move to the 4-3, Ragin must provide consistency and leadership.  

Quote: "He was taken to media day. He needs to play like a guy taken to media day. Last year, just 20 tackles. He going to need 60 or 70 to have an impact on that defense." '

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby: - The three-year starter is on the quiet side vocally, but certainly creates noise on the field when he plows into defenders. Oregon could need him to provide leadership after losing seniors Tyler Johnstone and Matt Hegarty.

Quote: "He's got the physical abilities. We saw it last year. He started all 12 games. But he needs to become that emotional leader for the Ducks on the offensive line."

 

NO. 2

Fentress' pick - Redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson: - Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood praised Hanson's development during spring drills. Problem is, Hanson has never before played center. 

Quote: His youth could be a red flag, but "the last redshirt freshman to start for Oregon at center was Hroniss Grasu, who went on to win a couple of Rose Bowls, etc."

Amaranthus' Pick - Senior defensive end Torrodney Prevot: - The former four-star linebacker recruit has had a spotty career to date, now he moves to defensive end, where he could excel as a pass rusher in Oregon's new 4-3 scheme. 

Quote: "He moved from linebacker to defensive line during spring ball... He's going to have to put on a lot of weight. He wants to get to 255 pounds."

 

NO. 1

Fentress' pick - Sophomore defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule: - The former four-star recruit has the talent to become a dominant force but has been limited by injures, including a major concucssion suffered last season. 

Quote: "He has been compared to Buckner and Armstead, who are gone. He needs to play like one or both of those guys in order for that front seven to elevate itself after losing six of seven starters." 

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior cornerback Arrion Springs: - Springs is ultra talented. Just ask him. But mental lapses and inconsistent play have prevented him from reaching his potential. That must change this season. 

Quote: "Definitely talks the talk. We have to see him walk the walk a little bit more."

One Duck makes Top 20 'Freaks' in college football for 2016

One Duck makes Top 20 'Freaks' in college football for 2016

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman has ranked his top 20 'Freaks' in college football for 2016.  The criteria for the list? "Top workout warriors in the sport or the guys who possess some rare physical abilities that wow folks inside their programs," says Feldman. 

One Duck graces the list at No.2 and it may not be who you think. In other words, it's not Royce Freeman. Can't figure out who it is? 

Devon Allen! 

From the article: In 2014, as a redshirt freshman, Allen — a legit world-class sprinter — was one of the Ducks’ most consistent wideouts as they made it to the national title game. He led Oregon in touchdown catches with seven and was third in receiving yards. Allen didn’t get to play in that title game after tearing up his knee and was limited last season, but he showed this summer that all of his speed is back. In fact, Allen qualified for the Summer Olympics in Rio with a 110-meter hurdles time of 13.03 seconds — the second-fastest time in the world this year. Allen also became the first man to win the 110 hurdles at both the NCAA Outdoor Championships and U.S. Olympic Trials in 60 years. After the Olympics, Allen plans to return to the Ducks football team, hoping to be ready for Oregon’s second game of the season.

Read more

 

Trail Blazers announce contract extension with CJ McCollum

Trail Blazers announce contract extension with CJ McCollum

The Portland Trail Blazers have signed guard CJ McCollum to a contract extension to bring him under contract through the 2020-21 season, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

The reigning winner of the Kia NBA Most Improved Player Award, McCollum averaged 20.8 points (44.8% FG, 41.7% 3PT, 82.7% FT), 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.21 steals and 34.8 minutes in 80 games (all starts) last season. 

“I’m ecstatic to be able to extend my career in Portland and grateful for the trust and the opportunity the organization has provided for me,” said McCollum. “Since I arrived in Oregon I've considered it home and look forward to building something special, not only on the court, but in the community as well.”

Portland selected McCollum, 24, with the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft out of Lehigh University.

“CJ is a foundational player and an essential member of the core of this team,” said Olshey. “We are excited about his long term commitment to our organization”

In three seasons with the Trail Blazers, McCollum holds averages of 12.7 points (44.3% FG, 40.8% 3PT, 78.4% FT), 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.86 steals and 23.5 minutes in 180 career games (83 starts).

McCollum increased his scoring average by 14.0 points from the 2014-15 season last year and finished ninth in the NBA with 197 3-pointers, the fourth-most by a Trail Blazer in a single season and the most by a Trail Blazer while shooting at least 40% from the three-point line.

WHY MICHAEL BENNETT IS A TOP-20 NFL PLAYER RIGHT NOW

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WHY MICHAEL BENNETT IS A TOP-20 NFL PLAYER RIGHT NOW

With Olivier Vernon and Von Miller signing huge deals this offseason, the deal Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett signed back in 2014 looks even better for the Seahawks. The four year, $28.5 million deal looked good for the Seahawks at the time, but given the current market value, it’s even more of a bargain. Bennett noted something to that effect this week, stating his desire to be paid more in line with his peers at the position.

At 90.2, Bennett had the fifth-best player grade among edge defenders in the NFL last year. Only Kansas City’s Justin Houston, the Giants’ Olivier Vernon and Denver’s Von Miller, all of whom have signed huge deals recently, and Oakland’s Khalil Mack, who will surely be signing his own big-money deal within a couple of years, graded higher.

Bennett has consistently been among the very best players in the league over the past five years, grading well both as a pass-rusher and against the run. Last season he produced 11 sacks, 17 hits and 63 hurries on 572 snaps as a pass-rusher, including the playoffs. Our pass-rush productivity stat looks at how many pressures a pass-rusher produces on a per-snap basis, with weighting towards sacks and hits. Bennett posted the third-best mark among 4-3 defensive ends last year, the fourth year in a row he has ranked in the top 10.

He’s not just a top pass-rusher, though, as has graded very well against the run, too. Our run-stop percentage stat takes into account the percentage of plays in run defense where a player records a tackle resulting in a defensive stop, giving a better indication of production against the run than tackle stats alone. Bennett’s run-stop percentage was the sixth-best of any 4-3 defensive end in the NFL last year, with Bennett ranking in the top 10 here in each of the past three seasons.

CONTINUE READING

2016 SEASON PREVIEW: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

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2016 SEASON PREVIEW: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seattle Seahawks have been perennial contenders in the NFL over the past four seasons, making it as least as far as the divisional round every season, including hoisting the Lombardi trophy once, and coming within one pass of repeating as Super Bowl champions the following year. They’ll be expected to contend once again this season, even with the Arizona Cardinals proving to be the best team in the NFC West in 2015. With a roster loaded with talent on offense and defense, the Seahawks will be confident that they can push the Cardinals harder in 2016 and reclaim their throne at the top of the division.

Russell Wilson a top-five NFL QB entering 2016

Quarterbacks: Fourth in PFF’s season preview rankings

Russell Wilson earned the sixth-highest passing grade among NFL QBs in 2015, at85.5. He struggled somewhat in that regard in the playoffs, but over the full regular season and postseason, he threw 38 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. He was incredibly dangerous when opposing defenses blitzed him, completing 111 of the 181 passes he attempted for 1,633 yards, 21 touchdowns, and three interceptions on such snaps. He did a lot of damage with his legs, too, racking up 644 yards on the ground (including the playoffs), second-most on the team. 445 of those yards came on 63 quarterback scrambles, but he was tough to handle of designed runs, too, averaging 8.1 yards per carry on 19 runs off right end.

Young, unproven talent fills Seattle’s backfield

Running backs: 13th

It’s a statement of the overall strength of the roster, but this is the Seahawks’ second-weakest unit heading into the 2016 season. Potential future Hall-of-Famer Marshawn Lynch has retired, leaving the talented—but relatively untested—Thomas Rawls as the team’s top running back heading. Rawls’ 81.1 overall grade was 12th among running backs in the NFL last season, as he forced 26 missed tackles on 147 carries (including the playoffs). Despite this impressive rookie production, it’s important to consider that he’s still inexperienced, with less than 150 NFL carries under his belt. The Seahawks added three rookie in the draft in Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise, Arkansas’ Alex Collins, and Clemson running back Zac Brooks, so they obviously believed they needed to bolster the position following Lynch’s retirement.

Seahawks’ receiving corps continuing to rise

Receiving corps: Fifth

Once referred to as “pedestrian,” Seattle’s group of wide receivers and tight ends are now among the best in the NFL. Tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t produce his best season in 2015, but still earned the seventh-best receiving grade among tight ends. The Seahawks will be hoping to utilize him better in the red zone in 2016, though, with his two touchdowns in 2016 the lowest output of his career. At 91.1, Doug Baldwin earned the seventh-best overall grade among wide receivers, and has really grown as a player the last few seasons. In 2015, he forced 18 missed tackles on 78 receptions, and scored 14 touchdowns in the regular season. Tyler Lockett was one of the best rookies in the league last year, and is poised to be one of the top big-play threats in the NFL next year, both on offense and as a returner, after forcing eight missed tackles on 51 receptions as a rookie.

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CJ McCollum inks contract extension

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CJ McCollum inks contract extension

Well, it's official. The ink has dried on CJ McCollum's four-year, $106 million contract extension.


 

His deal reportedly does not include a player option or a trade kicker. McCollum still has one year remaining on his current rookie contract where he is set to make $3.2 million and would have entered next offseason as a restricted free agent. 

McCollum, the 2015-16 NBA Most Improved Player, posted career-highs in points at 20.7, assists at 4.3, rebounds at 3.2, and steals at 1.2 per game and shot 44.8% from the floor and 41.7% from three, both career highs.

In one summer, Trail Blazers move into season of high expectations

In one summer, Trail Blazers move into season of high expectations

In one summer, the Portland Trail Blazers have gone from the team with the lowest payroll in the NBA to a team with one of the highest. When the smoke clears this fall, it's expected Portland's payroll will rank at least in the top five of the league.

And make no mistake, heavy expectations always accommpany high payrolls.

Last year's plucky over-achievers are a thing of the past. Forty-four wins? Better do a lot better than that. Player development will still be a part of the team's overall plan but no longer the central focus. It's going to be all about winning games and advancing in the playoffs -- just like the big boys.

No slack will be cut.

I understand this team isn't going to be playing in the NBA Finals. A championship is still a faint dream. But there will be expectations this team will advance to a high level -- the top half of the Western Conference and, depending on seeding, getting to the conference finals.

These are young players, granted. But they are also veteran players who are, for the most part, well compensated. And while it would be unfair to expect this team to gel from Day 1 of the season, there certainly will be an expectation that even at its worst, this team will play .500 basketball until it finds steady roles and responsibilities for everyone.

Will these players be ready for this? They better be. And it may not be easy for some of them. We've all seen players get a big contract and then struggle with it for a time. Sometimes that dream contract can be a nightmare burden. Trying to prove you're worth several million bucks isn't easy, no matter what business you're in. In sports, it can be oppressive.

Being a highly paid player on a team expected to be among the NBA's elite is going to be an entirely new experience for many of these players.

But the Portland Trail Blazers have two max-contract players, good role players, versatile overall talent, depth and even playoff experience in a Western Conference that may be skidding a bit below its top team. The Blazers should be good. Very good.

Can they handle that responsibility?

 

 

Trail Blazers bring back Maurice Harkless for 4-years, $40 million

Trail Blazers bring back Maurice Harkless for 4-years, $40 million

Maurice Harkless is returning to the Trail Blazers after agreeing to a four-year, $40 million deal on Tuesday, according to his agent, Happy Walters.

Walters said there is language in the contract that could raise the value to $42 million. 

Harkless, who last season became a late-season starter at small forward and was a catalyst to the Blazers’ playoff run into the second round, receives a huge pay raise after making $2.9 million last season.  

Harkless averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds last season, but his real impact was made late in the season. He started the final 11 games at small forward, when the Blazers went 8-3, then became a central figure in the playoffs, when he averaged 11.0 points and 5.1 rebounds.

His versatility on defense in the playoffs – during which he guarded point guards such as Chris Paul, shooting guards such as Klay Thompson, and power forwards such as Blake Griffin and Draymond Green – was an important facet to the Blazers advancing to the Western Conference semifinals.

His signing gives the Blazers 14 guaranteed contracts, one less than the maximum allowed by the NBA, while guards Luis Montero and Tim Quarterman will be in training camp with partially guaranteed contracts. Harkless will join a stable of talented wings that include Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu.

Oregon's continuing QB competition could be good or bad for the Ducks

Oregon's continuing QB competition could be good or bad for the Ducks

If we are to believe Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, and there's evidence to go either way on that, the Ducks' quarterback competition remains wide open between senior transfer Dakota Prukop, redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and true freshmann Terry Wilson.

To be fair, there's zero reason for Helfrich to tip his hand either way at this point. It's not as if a Marcus Mariota or Darron Thomas is returning as an unchallenged starter. 

Sources say that it's anywhere from a 75 percent to a 90 percent chance Prukop opens the season as the starter Sept. 3 against U.C. Davis at Autzen Stadium. 

Helfrich's words at Pac-12 Media Days, however, indicate otherwise.   

"I think it's a three-man race coming out of spring," Helfrich said. "And I think all three of those guys will be drastically different when they show up in the fall."

Helfrich said he expects a summer of throwing with receivers and further absorbing the playbook to result in a dramatic leap in consistency for all three quarterback contenders. But is there really a true competiton in play, or is that understandable coach-speak? Probably a bit of both. Let's look at the pros and cons involved in the possible scenarios surrounding this position heading into fall camp, which begins Aug. 8:

1. Dakota Prukop is the unchallenged starter. 

Pro: If Prukup demonstrated during spring that he can deliver a Pac-12 title then internally naming him the unchallenged starter is all good, even if the formal public statements are to the contrary. 

It is unlikely, however, that Prukop made such an impression during the spring. At least, no such word has leaked out that Prukop lit it up during closed practices, and he certainly didn't put forth a dominant effort during the spring game.

We've heard positives about his progress, but he has not yet seized the job like Vernon Adams Jr. did within a few days of showing up to fall camp last year. Then again, Adams faced less competitoin. 

Con: If Prukop becomes the guy by default, Oregon would have a problem. The last thing the Ducks want to see is Jonsen and Wilson not demonstrate at least the ability to produce as a starter. In this scenario, Prukop being the unchallenged starter because nobody is capable of challenging him and not because he is playing great football would certainly lead to trouble on the field with no Plan B in place. 

2. Jonsen truly pushes Prukop. 

Pro: The positve here would be that the Ducks could see the end to recruiting Big Sky quarterbacks to rescue the program. If Prokop appears to be a strong candidate to start but is facing a tough battle from the former No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation, the Ducks are in business behind center for years to come. 

Plus, Oregon would know that if Prukop went down the team wouldn't skip a beat with Jonsen in the lineup. A Pac-12 title would be within reach. 

Con: If Jonsen is pushing Prukop because the latter is proving to be less than expected, the Ducks are headed toward a 7-5 record.

Should Jonsen win the job it must be because he is amazing in the same way Marcus Mariota took the job as a redshirt freshman away from redshirt sophomore Bryan Bennett prior to the 2012 season. Bennett, who ended up in an NFL camp after transferring and starting at Southeastern Louisiana, certainly had the goods to be a successful starter at Oregon. He simply lost out to a future Heisman Trophy winner. If Prukop loses out to a struggling redshirt freshman simply because he doesn't offer more than Jonsen does, the Ducks are in trouble. Remember, Oregon went after Prukop because the coaching staff wasn't confident Jonsen, who missed most of the available practice reps during his redshirt season because of a toe injury, would be ready to carry the load this season. If neither is capable, the Las Vegas Bowl awaits. 

3. Wilson truly has a shot to become the starter.  

Pro: He would have to be phenomenal. As in, the next Robert Griffin III (check the dreads). This scenario would require a special player to have arrived for spring as a three-star recruit and steal the job away from Prukop and Jonsen. For that to happen, the coaching staff would have to believe that Wilson is a future Heisman candidate that must get on the field right now. 

Con: If the above isn't the case, then that means Jonsen and Prukop lost out to a promising freshman who clearly is too inexperienced to win it. This would likely mean Prukop is a disgruntled backup second-guessing his decision to transfer to Oregon while Jonsen would be plotting a transfer in the winter while the coaching staff begins searching for another transfer. 

All bad. 

---

The best-cased scenario for Oregon is as follows: Prukop wins the job over a very competent Jonsen whom coaches believe the Ducks could win with if needed.  Jonsen receives meaningful time in blowout victories, and maybe a spot start due to injury (never ideal to have the starter go down but at least it would mean more game time for Jonsen). Jonsen continues to grow as a player and enters next season as an impact first-year starter with Wilson, who redshirts this season, as the backup. 

If the quarterback competition plays out in this fashion the Ducks will have a strong chance to prove doubters wrong by claiming the Pac-12 North Division and maybe the conference championship.

If not, the Ducks will fall short of achieving a 10-win season for the second consecutive year.