The liberation of Lillard: At All-Star Break, Damian Lillard got his body, and mind, right

The liberation of Lillard: At All-Star Break, Damian Lillard got his body, and mind, right

When Damian Lillard retreated to his Lake Oswego home during the All-Star Break last month, he did more than just rest his aching body.

He healed a troubled mind, and worried heart.

As much as the Trail Blazers’ 23-33 record at the time was bothering him, so too was a family matter that touched him to his core.

“If it’s really in my heart, it’s going to weigh on me, consume me,’’ Lillard said while touching his chest.

Lillard asked that the issue remain private, but he admitted it had seeped so deeply into him that it affected his sleep, his focus, his persona, and ultimately, his play.

“It wasn’t like I was going through something off the court, then it was working out on the court,’’ Lillard remembered. “It was like – we’re losing games, we’re not performing like we need to, I’m not playing my best basketball, and I’ve got things stressing me off the floor. It was kind of a tough spot.’’

So during the mid-February break, he holed up in his Lake Oswego home and did something he hasn’t done in some time:

He opened himself up and let those close to him inside.

From his home, he phoned his grandmother. His uncle. And three times he spoke with his former college assistant coach, whom he calls one of the most important people in his life.

“That was the first time in a long time that I allowed people to pour into me, to give something to me,’’ Lillard said.

By the time the break was over, Lillard said more than his ankle had healed. He had become liberated from a burden he had carried for much of the season.

“A weight,’’ Lillard said, “was lifted off my back.’’

That weight has freed him to assume a more familiar load – the Trail Blazers – and since the All-Star Break Lillard has been one of the NBA’s most dominant players, carrying the Blazers from the precipice of a disappointing season to the cusp of perhaps a memorable late-season run.

Lillard is averaging 31.2 points since the break, a mark eclipsed only by Russell Westbrook, while leading the Blazers to a 9-4 record and to within one game of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Never was his newfound liberation more on display than the last week, when the Blazers went 4-1 on a crucial five-game trip. Lillard averaged 36 points while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 54.8 percent from three point range, which was capped by a 49-point performance Sunday at Miami.

On Monday, Lillard was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for the third time in his career. 

“Dame,’’ coach Terry Stotts said, “is leading the charge.’’

**

Lillard, of course, is not unique in encountering personal struggles during the course of a season.

Teammate Maurice Harkless said he has dealt with personal issues both last season and this season. And Meyers Leonard recently revealed his beloved Siberian Husky, Bella, was diagnosed with lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy.

“We all go through things; we are human,’’ Harkless said. “I’m not going to go too deep into detail, but there’s been times in my career where you have family stuff, stuff with your friends, or something happens to you, and when you wake up, if affects your mood the whole day.’’

Leonard two weeks ago was on the road when he learned of Bella’s sickness, and was so devastated that he had trouble sleeping, let alone focusing on the game. When the team celebrated a victory in the locker room at Oklahoma City, Leonard was by himself, crying.

“Almost every NBA player deals with more than people think,’’ Leonard said. “Yes, we are treated so well, but a lot of times people see us almost as robots. It’s almost like we don’t have feelings.’’

Harkless said so much goes into being a professional athlete, both mentally and physically, that it starts the minute you wake up.

“The game is not just two hours on the court,’’ Harkless said. “It’s the whole day. Preparation starts when you wake up. So when you are going through something else, it affects your mood, affects the way you prepare, affects the way you play. It’s as simple as that.’’

There were signs something was amiss with Lillard. His bottle-rocket start to the season, which put him in the early MVP conversation, tailed off amid shaky shooting and rashes of turnovers. Radio talk shows wondered if he had become content playing in the first season of his $125 million contract, or disengaged with the team’s poor start.

More tangible signs could be seen in his body language. His smile and playfulness were not as easily displayed, instead replaced by a quietness and steely stare. And his interactions with the media, where he is always one of the most cooperative and insightful interviews in the league, started becoming shorter, and more terse.

After the Blazers’ last game before the All-Star Break, in Utah, Lillard stayed in the arena long after the team had departed. With his head down, Lillard sat in the shadows underneath the bleachers with assistant David Vanterpool, engaged in a long conversation.

 “I was trying to do what I need to do on the court, but I also had some personal things with my family, and I was trying to manage all this stuff,’’ Lillard said. “It was wearing me out. It was just hard.’’

Around the All-Star Break, Lillard talked with his mentor, Phil Beckner – the former assistant coach of Lillard at Weber State who is now with Boise State. Beckner, who has travelled to China with Lillard and trains with him during the summer, said he could sense something was wrong.

“He looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders,’’ Beckner recalled.

Over the course of the week-long break, Beckner said the two had three one-hour phone conversations.

Those conversations, Lillard said, opened the door to his liberation.

**

For as long as Lillard can remember, this is how he would handle a conversation within his circle:

“Hey Dame, you good?”

“Yeah, I’m good. How are you?’’

From there, Lillard would absorb the life, and sometimes problems, of those people.

“Automatically, I would always flip it to ‘what’s up with you?’’’ Lillard said. “For me, I’ve always tried to be there for people.’’

But somewhere in all those conversations, somewhere in all the goodwill Lillard was  bestowing upon family, friends and co-workers, he forgot about himself.

Beckner could sense Lillard was becoming bottled up with emotion and that it was starting to overwhelm.

“I thought where he was with how the team was doing, and with the other stuff he was going through, he was trying to get it all done in a hurry, and on his own,’’ Beckner said.

So the former coach offered some advice.

“He told me I have to allow people to pour into you,’’ Lillard said. “He said I can’t always be the one to pour into other people, because I would drain myself. So he told me to open myself up and allow people to pour into me so I can have something to give.’’

So during the All-Star Break, save for nightly workouts at the practice facility, Lillard said he didn’t leave his home. Inside, he picked up the phone and took Beckner’s advice. He opened himself, and his problems, to his family.

“Had a long conversation with grandma. We talked about it,’’ Lillard said. “Called my uncle. We talked about it. It was real helpful. When people genuinely love you, and they care about you and they know who you are as a person,  they can come forward, and that’s what my family did. Just hearing those voices and having that support, it allowed me to relax.’’

**

When Lillard and the Blazers reconvened in Orlando after the All-Star Break, it was clear the team’s star had returned to his old self.

After a sterling fourth quarter performance in a win over Orlando, Lillard remarked how his body felt refreshed. It wasn’t until nearly a month later, during a practice in Atlanta, that Lillard revealed his mind was healed, too.

“Once I was able to get to the break, I was able to check in on things, step away, and speak to my people,’’ Lillard said. “Then, I was able to move on from it.’’

Since then, he has been moving the Blazers closer and closer to the playoffs. With a series of stirring games, Lillard has carried the Blazers to wins in eight of their last 10 games.

On the recent 4-1 trip, he ignited each game with inspiring first quarters, averaging more than 12 points in the opening stanza.

“I think it’s just important to come out and establish the mindset ‘We comin’,’’ Lillard said. “As a leader, it’s important for me to spark that up, and I guess put that urgency in our minds that this is the way it’s going to be.’’

He can help establish that mindset because now, his own mind is clear and free.

Up next: Milwaukee at Blazers, 7 p.m. Tuesday (CSN)

Even if Melo waives his no-trade clause, making the deal will be a challenge

Even if Melo waives his no-trade clause, making the deal will be a challenge

While the basketball fans of New York wait for either the Knicks or Carmelo Anthony to blink, the Portland Trail Blazers are still holding out hope.

Will Anthony, at some point, waive that no-trade to include more teams? Would the Trail Blazers be one of those teams?

At this point, nobody knows. But I will tell you this, if that door ever opens, I expect Portland to make every effort to charge through it.

But it won’t be easy. In fact, it’s going to be a very big job, considering the finances involved.

The Blazers will have to come up with a trade with the Knicks that is better than anyone else’s and yet doesn't’t completely decimate the Portland roster.

And that will be a huge challenge. The Trail Blazers are going to need to stack a lot of salaries on top of each other to come up to the dollar amount needed to make the deal permissible under league rules.

And the trick is to not give up so much that Anthony’s presence can’t make up for the loss of the departed players..

Portland's side of the trade must come within 125 percent of $34 million to make the thing work. That dollar figure is based on Anthony’s 2017-18 salary of roughly $26.2 million PLUS his trade kicker, which will amount to another $8 million, given that the final year of his contract is a player option.

And you need to match that amount without ending up with your cupboard bare.

Here are the Portland contracts for next season –- feel free to play the home version of “Let’s Make A Deal” to add them up to a workable total while not giving away so much that the team is mortally wounded.

As you see, it’s going to get very tricky. But I expect the Trail Blazers to come up with a viable offer and by sheer volume it may be better than any other team is willing to give for a player who will probably play just one season for it.

I would figure the refreshed New York front office to play this thing out, hoping Anthony will loosen his no-trade a bit as training camp nears. And I expect Anthony to hold tight for as long as he can to a Houston-only demand.

But at some point, one side will budge.

And so we wait.

Trail Blazers better be ready to take advantage of early season schedule

Trail Blazers better be ready to take advantage of early season schedule

The Trail Blazer schedule is out and I would say it's certainly not the most favorable the team has received over the years.

Normally, the custom is that if you open the season on the road it's for only one game -- two at the most. Usually, that was to protect teams' home openers. If a team had a tough start on the road -- say it came home 0-4 or 0-5 from a trip that opened the season -- it would certainly take some luster off opening night at home.

The Trail Blazers open with three straight road games, two of them outside the Western Conference. And while I would expect the games at Phoenix and Indiana are immanently winnable. the one at Milwaukee is going to be difficult.

But then, of course, Portland comes home to play 10 of its next 11 games in Moda Center -- with many of those games against teams not figured as playoff teams. The caliber of opposition in the first month and a half of the season, in fact, is for the most part, not strong. The Trail Blazers should be off to an impressive record at the opening of the season and with a young team, that's always important. If Portland comes out of the exhibition season healthy and ready, there's a real chance of impressive early season success.

There is no doubt that playing well early is mandatory because the schedule gets tougher from there. At some point, you have to start playing the powers of the Western Conference.

And then there's the end of the season. I don't think there was any doubt that the Trail Blazers profited from their season-ending schedule last year, when 10 of the final 12 games were at home, including seven of the final eight. Well, if that was the case, you then have to say that the end of this season is going to be much more difficult.

Portland has seven of its last 10 and four of its final five on the road. Against the likes of Houston, San Antonio and Denver. I think it would be better if some of those early home games were saved for the end of the season.

Now while there is always the possibility that some of the league's best teams will have playoff seeding already wrapped up and will be resting players, I don't think ending a season primarily on the road is a good thing. Obviously.

In fact, I don't consider this schedule very favorable. But so what?

You play the schedule they give you and if you're good enough, it really doesn't matter. And this season, that means opening the season ready to go at a high level.

 

Trail Blazers announce 2017-18 schedule

Trail Blazers announce 2017-18 schedule

It’s almost time for the basketball season to tipoff, and on Monday the NBA and the Trail Blazers released their full schedule.

Portland will start the season on the road, beginning a three game trip on October 18 in Phoenix.

The Blazers home opener is October 24th against the New Orleans Pelicans, and begins a stretch of games where the Blazers play 11 of 13 games at home.

Here are just a few of the highlights from the schedule:

-The Blazers have four home stands of four or more games: A four-game stand from October 24th-30, a six-game stand from November 2nd-15th, a four-game stand from November 30 – December 9th, and a five-game stand from March 6th-17th.

-The Blazers have just two five-game roads trips:  November 20th-27th, and December 11th-18th.

- The Blazers will play 15 back-to-backs, eight of them with both games being played on the road.

- Eleven games will be nationally televised, eight of which are home games.

CSN will carry a full slate of non-nationally televised game.

The full schedule is as follows (all times listed are local tipoff times, NOT Pacific Time)

Trail Blazers sign guard CJ Wilcox to a two-way contract

Trail Blazers sign guard CJ Wilcox to a two-way contract

PORTLAND, Ore. (Aug. 9, 2017)The Portland Trail Blazers have signed guard CJ Wilcox to a two-way contract, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.  

Wilcox (6-5, 200) holds career NBA averages of 2.0 points (37.0% FG, 33.3% 3-PT, 81.3% FT), 0.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists and 5.7 minutes in 66 games over three seasons with the LA Clippers and Orlando Magic.

With the introduction of two-way contracts, NBA rosters have grown from 15 spots to 17, adding a pair of two-way players that can spend up to 45 days on an NBA roster and the remaining time on an NBA G League roster. Wilcox’s G League assignment has yet to be determined.

Originally drafted with the 28th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Clippers,

Wilcox, 26, has spent parts of each season on an NBA G League roster, posting averages of 16.9 points (47.3% FG, 42.2% 3-PT, 79.2% FT), 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 30 games (19 starts) with Fort Wayne, Bakersfield, Canton and Erie.

Trail Blazers sign guard CJ Wilcox to a two-way deal

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Trail Blazers sign guard CJ Wilcox to a two-way deal

Some late summer news for the Trail Blazers who have signed 6'5'' guard CJ Wilcox to a two-way deal according to Adrian Wojnarowski:

The 2017-2018 season is the first year of the two-way contract for the NBA. Players can spend up to 45 days in the NBA and the rest on a G League team. 

During a players' G League stint they will earn $75,000 and while in the NBA they make a prorated daily amount at the rookie minimum (which is in the ball park of $816,000 for a season). 

You can read more on the two-way contracts in this SB Nation story. 

Trail Blazers announce 2017 NBA preseason schedule

Trail Blazers announce 2017 NBA preseason schedule

PORTLAND, Ore. (August 1, 2017) – The Portland Trail Blazers have announced their NBA preseason schedule today, featuring three contests at the Moda Center. The six-game slate includes a visit by Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Basketball Super League on Friday, October 13 (7 p.m.)

Portland will open the preseason schedule with two home games, hosting the Phoenix Suns at the Moda Center on Tuesday, October 3 (7 p.m.) and the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, October 5 (7 p.m.). The Trail Blazers will then play three road games, beginning with back-to-back contests against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, October 8 (12:30 p.m.) and the Sacramento Kings on Monday, October 9 (7 p.m.). Portland will conclude the road portion of the preseason schedule against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, October 11 (7 p.m.).

The Trail Blazers will close the preseason on Friday, October 13 at the Moda Center with an international matchup against Maccabi Haifa. Maccabi Haifa returns to Portland for the second time, having previously played the Trail Blazers in the 2014 preseason. Also referred to as the “Greens”, Maccabi Haifa is one of the original eight teams in the Israeli Basketball Super League and finished the 2016-17 season as the runners-up for the league championship.

All six Trail Blazers preseason contests will be aired on the Trail Blazers Radio Network - 620 AM Rip City Radio.

 

Blazers: Crabbe deal is a gain... but is another trade on the way?

Blazers: Crabbe deal is a gain... but is another trade on the way?

According to ESPN, the Trail Blazers have traded Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn for forward Andrew Nicholson, then plan to waive Nicholson and will stretch Nicholson's contract.

The move lowers Portland's luxury tax bill by about $44 million, according to sources, and creates a $12.9 million trade exception that will be available for one year.

But the money side of this is only half the story. Portland parts ways with Crabbe and I can't say that's a bad move.

To me, Crabbe was the epitome of a good shooter but not a good player. For the most part, he disappeared in key times, had trouble defensively and was not a good passer. His contract was too large and it's ironic Portland traded him to the team that gave him that deal in the first place.

I believe this trade is a precursor to some other move or moves. The Blazers now have more flexibility. As I said earlier today, I still do not see any three-way deal with Houston on the horizon. Whatever is going on doesn't have anything to do with that proposed trade.

 

Blazers trade Allen Crabbe to the Nets

Blazers trade Allen Crabbe to the Nets

The Portland Trail Blazers have agreed to a trade with the Brooklyn Nets, swapping Allen Crabbe for Andrew Nicholson, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. 

According to Wojnarowski, the Blazers intend to waive Nicholson and stretch his salary to help create some cap relief.

In waiving Nicholson and stretching his contract, the Blazers will take just a $2.8 million cap hit over the next seven seasons.

For Brooklyn, they finally got their man. The Nets offered Crabbe a 4-year, $75-million offer last off-season, only to see the Blazers match the deal. 

Crabbe had been speculated in many trade scenarios, but a trade kicker in his contract made him hard to offload. However, Crabbe intends to waive his kicker, worth an extra $5.7 million, for the Nets. 

For the Blazers, they finally get to shed one of their bloated contracts and move closer to creating some cap flexibility. According to Bobby Marks, the Blazers luxury tax bill drops from $48.3 million to just $4.4 million with Crabbe off the books.

The Blazers need to create as much cap space as possible if they hope to retain 2018 free agent Jusuf Nurkic, and this move helps them do just that. The trade also creates a $12.9 million trade exception for the Blazers that expires next summer.

---

OFFICIAL RELEASE FROM TEAM: 

The Portland Trail Blazers have acquired forward Andrew Nicholson from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for guard Allen Crabbe, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.  

“Allen has been a model teammate on the court and ambassador for the organization off the court,” said Olshey.  “He will be missed by all of us who shared the last four seasons with him. We wish him the best of luck as he continues his career in Brooklyn.”

Nicholson, 27, has averages of 6.0 points (46.7% FG, 32.1% 3-PT, 77.3% FT), 3.0 rebounds and 0.4 rebounds in 285 games (36 starts) over five seasons with Orlando, Washington and Brooklyn.

Selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft out of St. Bonaventure, Nicholson (6-9, 250) split the 2016-17 season with Washington and Brooklyn, posting averages of 2.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.3 assists and 9.0 minutes in 38 games.

Crabbe holds career averages of 8.3 points (45.6% FG, 41.1% 3-PT, 84.8% FT), 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 226 games (24 starts) over four seasons with the Trail Blazers. Acquired in a 2013 NBA Draft day trade with Cleveland, Crabbe ranks third among all-time franchise leaders with a career 41.1% mark from three-point range (minimum 100 3-pointers).

Follow us on Twitter and stay tuned to CSNNW for all the latest information. 

 

Can we please just forget all about that Melo/Ryan Anderson deal? It's dead

Can we please just forget all about that Melo/Ryan Anderson deal? It's dead

OK, enough is enough. Social media not only breaks stories but it perpetuates them. Ad nauseam.

Such is the case with that three-team-trade rumor that would have sent Carmelo Anthony to Houston and Ryan Anderson to Portland, among other things. It's still a topic of conversation on Twitter and elsewhere even though it's very clear that the whole thing is dead.

I've said this from the beginning -- I don't think Portland was interested in adding Anderson to its roster and I'm real certain the Trail Blazers didn't want any part of his nasty contract. And then when it became known that Portland wanted Anthony and wasn't interested in helping Houston get better, that should have ended the discussion.

Read this one more time -- the Trail Blazers are NOT interested in helping the Rockets get better. It would make sense that Neil Olshey has no interest in being the guy who helped the Rockets get to the Western Conference finals. And I don't think that's something he's going to change his mind about.

I still think Portland will make some sort of deal prior to training camp. Seems to me that moving the decision date on Pat Connaughton's contract option was a signal that there is still an opportunity for something to happen. The Trail Blazers still have a chance to use Connaughton in a deal, perhaps, or pick up his option and keep him after roster space is cleared by some other trade.

But until something else happens, can we just put the whole Houston/Ryan Anderson thing to rest?

It's over.