A pledge to Portland: Damian Lillard states his intentions to a city and organization

lillard_street_clothes.jpg

A pledge to Portland: Damian Lillard states his intentions to a city and organization

In the wake of Friday’s thorough defeat to the Golden State Warriors, Trail Blazers captain Damian Lillard said something that should be noted.

He was asked about a rather non-descript accomplishment during the blowout loss – becoming the first Blazers player to amass 40 points and 10 assists in the 20-year-old Moda Center.

Tucked ever so nicely in his answer was a significant notion: He wants to spend his entire career in Portland.

First, some perspective.

This is a Trail Blazers franchise haunted by defection.

LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel he was important enough. Rasheed Wallace was never comfortable here. Clyde Drexler wanted to go home. Bill Walton didn’t like the medical care. And Maurice Lucas wanted more money.

So they all forced their way out.

The franchise has made bad decisions, like trading Jermaine O’Neal right before he blossomed into a star. And nobody has to be reminded about this organization’s bad luck, from Sam Bowie’s legs to Brandon Roy’s knees.

They were all gone too soon.

So when Lillard was asked that question Friday night, about becoming the first Blazer to have 40 and 10 in the Moda Center, his answer should catch your ear.

“It’s always good to be the first one to do something,’’ Lillard said. “Especially being part of an organization I plan on being a part of for my entire career. It’s an honor, but I would have liked for it to be in a winning effort.’’

“…part of an organization I plan on being part of for my entire career … “

 To this city, this fan base, and this organization, his sentiment should mean something. And so should the timing.

As the chill of this winter begins to settle on Portland, so too has the notion this Blazers team will be anything more than a lottery team. The losses have become more frequent. So too have the blowouts. Shoot, these days the team can’t even get its active list in order.

For Lillard, the slippage has been accompanied by a balky case of plantar fasciitis in his left heel, an injury whose long-term prognosis can scare even the most hardened athlete.

In other words, these are not the best of times for the Blazers. Typically, times like these are when you find out about people.

Do they quit? Do they place blame? Do they make excuses? Do they look for a way out?

Lillard on Friday stood and looked at the maelstrom with his familiar look-in-your-eye stare of seriousness, and calmly reminded he was going nowhere.

“Things get tough. It’s a tough league,’’ Lillard said. “You have ups and downs. We flipped our roster, man.  We completely flipped and got a brand new team. And I signed up to be a part of it. To be a part of the growth. I have to grow just as much as our team has to grow, and I’m excited about that, that’s why it’s not hard for me to say that’s what I want.’’

The cynics out there will say it is easy for Lillard to say he wants to be here. The franchise over the summer awarded him a $120 million contract extension.

But for Lillard, it goes much deeper than money.

He says the organization has embraced him as a person. Also, the city and fan base appeal to his core values.

“When I really like what a place is about, that’s what I want to stick to. I want to stick to things that click with who I am as a person,’’ Lillard said.

He lives year round in Portland, where he has championed causes like Special Olympics, inner city youth programs, anti-bullying campaigns and helping sick children.

And inside the Blazers’ walls, he feels the team has made the effort to know him, and his causes, and taken the initiative to show they understand him.

He likes that he comes to work in the morning and Coach Terry Stotts will playfully call him by his rap name “Dame DOLLA.” He likes that when he launched his adidas shoe line, players and coaches came to the release. He likes that the organization plays his rap songs in the arena. He likes that employees who sit behind desks at the practice facility take part in his 4-Bar Friday concept that challenges the public to rap on Instagram.

“It’s been like a hand-and-glove fit,’’ Lillard said. “The fact that they have embraced who I am, the person along with the basketball player … I don’t think there is anything more comfortable than that. That’s why I have no problem committing to something like that.’’

 The Blazers (15-24) have lost three in a row to fall to a season-low nine games below .500, with Oklahoma City up next on Sunday (6 p.m., CSN). The Thunder embarrassed the Blazers in the first meeting, which at the time was one of the rare blowouts Portland has suffered. Now, as the competition has improved, the Blazers’ have suffered blowout losses in four of the past five games.

Until his 40 and 10 night against the Warriors, Lillard had looked shaky in the two games after his two-week stint on the sideline. His season-long shooting slump continued, and his turnovers were unsightly and frequent.

That cozy embrace from the Blazers faithful was starting to feel a draft. Was CJ McCollum better equipped to anchor the Blazers? Had Lillard regressed after such a meteoric rise early in his career?

I asked Lillard if he would feel as comfortable in his commitment to Portland if the fans turned on him?

“If the fans turn ... I will say this: I think the real fans of this organization, the real fans of this city, I don’t think they ever will,’’ Lillard said. “I understand fans have emotions, just like we do as players, and they have a right to be like ‘Man, Dame … whatever’ … But I just don’t see that happening here.

“They are loyal to who is loyal to them, and I don’t plan on giving them a reason to turn.’’

He knows he can shoot better this season. And he knows he can take better care of the ball. But he also doesn’t hold himself above admitting he too needs to grow, just like Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard and the rest of the young Blazers. Part of that growth includes shouldering a more prominent leadership role, an area that Stotts says Lillard is exceeding.

“When he was injured,’’ Stotts said, “he was the best leader in street clothes I’ve ever been around.’’

So Lillard marches on, oblivious to the noise around him, unconcerned with the chill left by a season heading south. The franchise pillars before him all found a reason to leave Portland when the going got tough, but Lillard figures now is the time to dig his heels in, even if they are sore.

“(Wanting to leave) is the easy thing to do. It is. That’s the easy thing to do,’’ Lillard said. “I have always been the type of person, when things are hard, to not think about how hard it is now. I think about what it will be like when we get through this, and how it turns into what I want it to turn into. Then, that will be the ultimate satisfaction.’’ 

 

JT The Brick: Damian Lillard will never win a title in Portland

usatsi_10027037_147386290_lowres.jpg

JT The Brick: Damian Lillard will never win a title in Portland

Fox Sports Radio host, JT "The Brick" had a very strong and loud take on Damian Lillard's chance of winning a title in Portland. Have a listen below...

From his bio on the Fox Sports Radio page:
"You won't find a more fast-paced, high energy show at night than J .T. The Brick. A former stock broker, J.T. parlayed his dream of becoming a Sports Talk host into a full-time radio job after winning Jim Rome's inaugural "Smack-Off" championship title in 1995. Using his outspoken, big, booming voice, J.T. hosts radio's most interactive show as he fields calls from listeners across the country. Joined each day by co-host Tomm Looney, their outspoken dialogue is second to none, as they bring a new attitude to nighttime sports talk radio."

Neil Olshey says Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum won't be traded

Neil Olshey says Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum won't be traded

If the Trail Blazers are going to get better in a trade this summer, it won’t involve Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ top executive said on Tuesday.

Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, said the Blazers will look to improve the roster this offseason, but said that process will not include using one of their star guards for trade bait.

“The odds of anything ever coming up of commensurate value is so hard to even fathom,’’ Olshey said when asked whether Lillard or McCollum were off limits in a trade. “I could give you the trite answer that ‘Nobody is untradeable,’ but clearly they are.’’

Both Lillard and McCollum are under contract through the 2020-2021 season and both are coming off career seasons.

Lillard, who signed a five-year, $120 million extension in July of 2015, this season averaged 27 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range.

McCollum, who last summer signed a four-year, $106 million extension, this season averaged 23 points, 3.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds while leading the NBA in free-throw percentage (91.2). He also shot 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range.

The Blazers have $132 million committed to contracts for next season, and many of those contracts figure to be difficult to move, or unlikely to garner a significant player in return, leaving some to wonder if the only way for the Blazers to make a jump is to trade one of their stars.

Also, Lillard and McCollum – both of whom are generously listed at 6-foot-3 -- are considered below average defenders, both because of their size and technique, creating an obstacle for the team’s long term success.

However, Olshey on Tuesday said it is his job to surround the guards with support.

“It presents a challenge,’’ Olshey said, noting that the size isn’t a problem when either plays the point guard position. “It’s my job to fortify the other positions to the point where they are not as vulnerable when they are out there together.’’

Olshey said the late-season addition of center Jusuf Nurkic helped cover some of the Blazers’ size deficiencies in the backcourt because the team’s overall size and length improved, and he noted the team’s defense jumped into the top 10 after the All-Star Break.

“I look at it like we are really blessed and lucky to have Dame and CJ, understanding it does present some challenges on the defensive end,’’ Olshey said. “So it’s my job, and the job of guys on my staff, that we support them and make them less vulnerable when they share the floor together.’’

Olshey: Festus Ezeli won't return to Trail Blazers next season

Olshey: Festus Ezeli won't return to Trail Blazers next season

Center Festus Ezeli will not be on the Trail Blazers next season, the team’s top executive said on Tuesday.

Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations, said the Blazers will not pick up the one-year option on Ezeli, who did not play this season because of a left knee injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. Ezeli, who made about $7 million this season, has $1 million guaranteed for next season whether the Blazers keep him or not.

“We stay in contact with Festus, giving him full organizational support in his rehab, but we can’t have that kind of risk again,’’ Olshey said. “To have a roster spot in a critical position for someone we are not … we don’t have a body of work with him.’’

The Blazers can still trade Ezeli’s contract leading up to June 30, when they have to declare their intentions of picking up his option.

Ezeli was a free agent signing last season after four seasons with Golden State, where he battled knee injuries. He missed the entire 2013-2014 season and part of the 2015-2016 season because of knee issues.

He participated in one October practice in Portland, then experienced pain and swelling and never returned, opting for cadaver donation surgery in April. 

This is going to be a very critical summer for the Portland Trail Blazers

This is going to be a very critical summer for the Portland Trail Blazers

Now that the Trail Blazers have finished their season, it's a good time to step back and assess what we have learned about the team and where it's headed. A few thoughts on the morning after it all came to a crashing halt:

  • The biggest takeaway from this season was the impact of Jusuf Nurkic and what it means to the franchise's future. Before his injury, he had the look of a franchise center -- a player with the ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor. This, as you know, was no small development. It's the most difficult position to fill in today's game.
  • It must also be pointed out how poorly this team played prior to his arrival. Before that blockbuster deal with Denver, the Trail Blazers were on their way to one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history. And they certainly were not going to be a playoff team. Nurkic carried them into the postseason. But those early struggles -- and the duplication of them after his injury -- should not be forgotten. Lessons were learned about this team and its players during that time and they should be used to help shape the future.
  • This franchise has three valuable building blocks -- guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Nurkic. I believe that every other player on the roster is a possible trade piece.
  • Those three first-round draft choices could also be used in trades. In fact, I'd be surprised if Portland keeps all three.
  • That said, aside from the Trail Blazers' Big Three there isn't an awful lot to trade that would bring a talented veteran player in return. There are some high salaries for players who didn't have banner seasons and who may not be desirable to many other teams. The draft picks aren't exactly premium ones, either. Putting those pieces together and acquiring anything of value is not going to be easy.
  • What do the Trail Blazers need? Without a doubt, a forward -- either a power forward or small forward -- who can shoot and defend. Some deep playoff experience would be a big plus. There is not enough outside shooting on this team and it's time to deal with that problem. The frontcourt provided very little firepower. A proven scorer is a must and I doubt that player is available in the draft.
  • This team needs to add a veteran presence to the locker room and on the floor. And I'm not talking about a guy who isn't going to play much. Not someone just stealing another season in the league for the money, who isn't going to play much. Leadership on the court is going to be as critical as off the court. He wouldn't have to be a starter but I think it would be important that he contributes as a rotation player.
  • I would not expect an important player to come via the draft unless Portland finds a way to move up. This team's window of opportunity is growing near and waiting two or three seasons for a youngster to develop might not work. Ideally, a way would be found to add a savvy veteran. But again, that won't be easy.
  • This is a very important off-season for the franchise. Neil Olshey is going to have his hands full. It's time for this team to fill out its starting lineup with at least one more core player who can grow up with the Big Three. I would expect some major changes involving the roster. I'm not certain which of the other players has value to other teams but I wouldn't be surprised to see several of them move on to other teams. It's time for that.
  • For fans, this is no time to panic.  I believe this is potentially a very exciting time to be a fan of the Portland Trail Blazers. With three outstanding players as the foundation, this team can move forward with confidence to add a couple of new pieces that should clarify the squad's personality and eventual future.
  • It shapes up to be a very interesting off-season.

 

Golden State puts finishing touches on sweep of Trail Blazers with dominating first quarter

Golden State puts finishing touches on sweep of Trail Blazers with dominating first quarter

The Trail Blazers’ season is over, their final attempt at redemption buried amid an avalanche of greatness from Golden State on Monday.

In a devastating start to Game 4, Golden State bolted to leads of 14-0 and 41-13 before eventually sealing a sweep in the best-of-seven series with a 128-103 win at the Moda Center.

Golden State tied an NBA-playoff record with 45 first quarter points and handed the Blazers their first playoff sweep since the Lakers in 2002 won a best-of-five series in three games.

Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 34 points and Al-Farouq Aminu had 25 points, but CJ McCollum missed his first nine shots and finished with six points and one assist on 2-of-12 shooting and the Blazers were held to 38.8 percent shooting.

Golden State, which welcomed the return of Kevin Durant after the star missed Games 2 and 3 with a calf injury, was led by Stephen Curry (37 points), Klay Thompson (18 points) and Draymond Green (21 points, six rebounds, four assists). Durant had 10 points in 20 minutes.

Golden State entered the playoffs with the NBA’s best record, and never did they play more like it than in Game 4, and in particular the first quarter.

In a whirlwind of three-pointers, blocks and dunks, the Warriors instantly sucked the air out of the sold out Moda Center. Portland didn’t score until 3:38 into the game with an Evan Turner three-pointer, but the Blazers never could put together a run against the NBA’s second best defense.

The Blazers started the third different starting lineup of the series in Game 4, inserting Meyers Leonard at center, but the move turned out to be moot after the Warriors’ hot start. Leonard played the opening five minutes, during which he grabbed one rebound, and did not play again until the final five minutes, as coach Terry Stotts started Aminu in the second half.

Any hopes for a Blazers’ comeback from a 72-48 halftime deficit were quickly dashed when the Warriors scored the first six points of the second half as the lead eventually swelled to as many as 33.

Shabazz Napier finished with 14 points and Noah Vonleh 14 rebounds for the Blazers. 

Podcast:

Warriors put up golden first half

Warriors put up golden first half

The Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors tipped off at 7:30pm for Game 4 of their first round series on Monday night as the Trail Blazers look to avoid the series sweep.

Kevin Durant (left calf strain) returned to the starting lineup for the Warriors, but Golden State is still without Shaun Livingston (right index finger sprain and hand contusion) and Matt Barnes (right ankle/foot sprain) for Game 4.  

Despite Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) making his return in Game 3, Nurkic is out for Game 4.  Meyers Leoanrd started at center for Portland; making his first ever playoff start. 

The Warriors got out to a quick 12-point lead after Golden State hit its first three three-pointers.

Midway through the first quarter, the Warriors took a 25-5 lead.

Portland shot just 29.6% from the field in the first quarter.  Golden State on the other hand, shot 62.5% for the quarter.

To end the first quarter, the Warriors went up 45-22.

According to Warriors PR, Golden State set a new franchise playoff record for points in a first quarter.  The Warriors previous record was 42 points on May 4th vs. Phoenix in 1994.

Damian Lillard took over the second quarter.  After scoring five points in the first quarter, Lillard finished the second quarter with 21 points.  Lillard scored the Blazers first 10 points of the second quarter.

At the end of the half, Portland is shooting 38.3% as a team.  Golden State is shooting 58.1% for the half.

Tthe Warriors hold a 72-48 halftime lead. 

 


Top performers of the first half:

Trail Blazers

Points:
  Damian Lillard, 21

Rebounds:  Noah Vonleh, 6

Assist:  Damian Lillard, 4

 


Warriors

Points:  Steph Curry, 21

Rebounds:  Steph Curry, 4

Assist:  Steph Curry, 6


Following tonight’s game, you can check out an all-new Talkin’ Ball live on CSN.  And if you can’t get to a TV, you can catch The Scoop Postgame show presented by Toyota of Portland on Broadway streaming live at Facebook.com/CSNNW on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Trail Blazers look to force a Game 5 vs. Warriors

Trail Blazers look to force a Game 5 vs. Warriors

The Portland Trail Blazers look to avoid getting swept by the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. Game 4 tips off at 7:30pm from the Moda Center.

It was on Saturday night, when the Warriors came from being down by as many as 17 points to take a 3-0 lead in the series with a 119-113 win over Portland.  The Trail Blazers were unable to close out the game despite shooting 43.3% as a team and with CJ McCollum scoring 32 points and Damian Lillard adding 31 points.

Allen Crabbe (left foot) and McCollum (right ankle sprain) are both listed as probable for Game 4 on the Trail Blazers injury report.   However, after making his return in Game 3 on Saturday night, Jusuf Nurkic  (right leg) is now listed as out for Monday’s game.

Nurkic played just 17 minutes while being reinserted into the starting lineup.  It was clear that his leg that he had fractured back on March 28th was still giving him some problems.  Nurkic went 1-of-3 from the field and pulled down 11 rebounds while dishing out four assists in his limited time on the floor.

Warriors’ Kevin Durant (left calf strain) is still questionable for Game 4. 

Golden State will also, once again, be without its head coach, Steve Kerr, who missed Game 3 on Saturday night.  The Warriors announced on Sunday that Mike Brown will again serve as acting head coach replacing Kerr.  Kerr is dealing with excruciating pain after his back surgery.

Check out CSN for a special hour-long playoff edition of Rip City Live starting at 6:00pm.   

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/CSNNW.




Quick Links:

Warriors overhaul Trail Blazers in fourth quarter, take 3-0 series lead

It wasn’t a Trail Blazer win, but it was a chance to see the Nurkic effect

Stotts: Nurkic’s presence “spoke a lot to who he is and what kind of teammate he is”


 

Video:    Turner: Mentality heading into Game 4 doesn’t change

Video:    Nurkic: We’re going to see who’s got pride

Video:    Dwight Jaynes: Blazers coming face to face with reality

Video:    Lillard: We weren’t disciplined enough to close out the game

 

 

Game Details:

Where:  Moda Center, Portland OR

Television: KGW, 7:30pm

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (6:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/CSNNW. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/CSNNW

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Stotts: Nurkic's presence "spoke a lot to who he is and what kind of teammate he is"

Stotts: Nurkic's presence "spoke a lot to who he is and what kind of teammate he is"

Terry Stotts did not hesitate Sunday afternoon to rule Jusuf Nurkic out of Monday night's Game 4 of the Portland-Golden State series in Moda Center.

"No," he said when asked whether Nurkic would play. "He's out."

Why?

"Just, more than anything, he didn’t do any further damage but there was soreness, tenderness and it just wouldn’t be wise to have him play through that," said the Portland coach.

Stotts had plenty of good things to say about Nurkic and the decision to play Saturday night against the Warriors.

"I was really pleased that he (played)" Stotts said. "He had a really positive impact on the game with his passing and his presence and his rebounding. He takes up some space and I thought he gave his teammates a lot of confidence.

"It was a really good effort. He’s a big part of our team. Not only a good effort for these playoffs and this team but, I think, moving forward.  It spoke a lot to who he is and what kind of teammate he is."

 

It wasn't a Trail Blazer win, but it was a chance to see the Nurkic Effect

It wasn't a Trail Blazer win, but it was a chance to see the Nurkic Effect

For quite a while Saturday night during the interminable telethon that NBA playoff games have become, it appeared that the Trail Blazers had found the right formula to beat the Golden State Warriors.

Jusuf Nurkic was back, if but a shell of his usual self. The Trail Blazers seem to take inspiration from his return to the lineup, even though he was dragging a broken leg up and down the court. But it wasn't just the inspiration. Nurkic got his team off to a great start with just his presence. The Portland pick-and-roll offense was suddenly potent again, with Nurkic planting a brickwall of a pick and then rolling down the lane toward the basket. There was either an open three or a pass to Nurkic -- and he'd find the open man with his usual knack for such things.

It was nice while it lasted -- he had 11 rebounds and four assists -- and the Nurkic Effect lasted much longer than the 16 and a half minutes he spent on the court. There was an obvious lift. The Blazers played gallantly until the inevitable Warrior surge, about midway through the third quarter. At that point, the Blazers were hanging on for dear life -- trying to get an open shot for Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum against a defense that was willing to allow open shots for anyone but them.

Moda Center was loud and proud most of the night but the tale of this playoff series was never a mystery. The Blazers lost for the third time and there's a fourth one headed their way Monday night. This Golden State team is too much for them and probably too much for anyone else in the league.

But for just under 17 Nurkic minutes Saturday night there was a glimpse of the future, a snapshot of things to come.

Nurkic makes this team better. Much better, even in the condition he was Saturday.

He confessed to a lot of pain after the game and I think it would be unwise to put him through all of that again Monday. I don't think it was a mistake to play him in this game because I trust Portland's medical staff to know what's best for him and the franchise. He got a taste of the playoffs and his teammates found a rallying point. He was pretty much the last card the Blazers had left to play in the series.

Throughout the last few weeks none of us knew exactly what kind of shape he was in. There was hope that when he came back he would be near 100 percent. As it turned out, he was nowhere close ("I'm not the same guy," he said). And for just 15 or 16 minutes a game, I don't think it's worth doing it again. He tried it and it was what it was -- a fun time for us if not for him. He showed the kind of impact he can have when he's right and tried his best to help his squad win one game.

The mission of getting him on the floor was accomplished, if not the part about winning a game. But at this point, it's all about being healthy for next season.

And all about the dreams of what a franchise center can do for this team.