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

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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.’’ 

 

Trail Blazers now have financial flexibility to make a big trade

Trail Blazers now have financial flexibility to make a big trade

I'm not going to sit here and debate whether Maurice Harkless is worth $40 million over four years. One important thing to be emphasized from the Trail Blazers' Summer of Spending:

The franchise now has a great ability to swing a blockbuster trade for a player earning a max contract without affecting a major part of the team's core. As you no doubt understand, when you're over the salary cap, salaries must match up in a deal. But you can aggregate salaries to match a major contract. Portland now has the ability to do that for the first time in quite a spell.

If you look down the list of salaries for the upcoming season, you can see the kind of flexibility Neil Olshey has built for himself. Depending on who you're chasing in a trade, there are all sorts of combinations that can be pulled together to match a huge contract -- making it possible to add another big-time player to this team without using the salaries of Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum,

And keep in mind, there aren't many untouchable players on this roster besides Lillard. You can now stitch together two or three salaries without killing your chances of still having a solid roster. That's why it's important that players on the current roster continue their improvement -- to make them more desirable in a trade.

And make no mistake, a major trade is the last and final avenue for making the Trail Blazers better. The cap room is going to be gone in the future and it's not likely that a good draft pick is going to fall into their laps without a big trade.

The next step in the development of this team is a major deal. And now that's quite possible.

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.

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.

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.

CJ McCollum, Blazers react to extension news

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USATI

CJ McCollum, Blazers react to extension news

The Trail Blazers locked up their backcourt for the next five years Monday with CJ McCollum reportedly set to sign a four-year, $106 million extension. 

And it didn't take long for McCollum and his teammates to weigh in following the news.

 

Trail Blazers sign Tim Quarterman to partially-guaranteed training camp contract

Trail Blazers sign Tim Quarterman to partially-guaranteed training camp contract

The Portland Trail Blazers have signed free agent guard Tim Quarterman to a partially-guaranteed training camp contract, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

Undrafted out of LSU, Quarterman (6-6, 187) posted averages of 11.2 points (41.5% FG, 34.3% 3PT, 63.2% FT), 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 0.97 steals in 33 games (27 starts) his junior 2015-16 season.

Quarterman, 21, played three seasons for the Tigers, averaging 8.4 points (39.7% FG, 31.0% 3PT, 66.0% FT), 3.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.04 steals in 98 games (43 starts).

 

CJ McCollum signs four-year, $106 million extension with Trail Blazers

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CJ McCollum signs four-year, $106 million extension with Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers offseason signings still aren't over as CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers have agreed to a four-year, $106 million extension, according to a report from The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowksi.


The deal includes no player option, and no trade kicker, according to Wojnarowksi.

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. 

Now, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has locked up the Trail Blazers backcourt for five years. 

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.

McCollum also shot 44.8% from the floor and 41.7% from three, both career highs.

There is no official news yet from the Trail Blazers. 

Damian Lillard takes his rapping talents to Las Vegas

Damian Lillard takes his rapping talents to Las Vegas

Damian Lillard a.k.a Dame D.O.L.L.A. performed in a special concert last night for fans at adidas Basketball’s #LVL3 presented by @adidasHoops experience at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas Friday night in a concert that included fellow adidas spokesman James Harden and with a performance from DJ Esco.

#LVL3 is an immersive experience that showcases a first look at adidas basketball innovations, while bringing fans of the game together with NBA stars to test their own skills and create unique on-court looks, according to a release.

Here's a couple videos from the event: 

In addition to Lillard’s concert last night, the experience is open July 21-23 to fans ages 14-18. James Harden played video games with fans, Derrick Rose showcased his ping-pong skills, Andrew Wiggins judged a dunk contest via a 360 dunk cam, Jeff Teague participated in a Q&A session with Avery Bradley and Brandon Ingram, Serge Ibaka and Nick Young surprised fans at #LVL3.

Lillard has been all over the world this summer to promote adidas, including a tour in China. He even filmed a commercial while he was there.

His birthday concert was a huge success, as well. 

What will Dame D.O.L.L.A. do next?!