Stotts early favorite for Coach of the Year? His players think so and they could be right

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Stotts early favorite for Coach of the Year? His players think so and they could be right

Tualatin, Ore. – Most didn't expect the Portland Trail Blazers to be a team in contention this soon. It was suppose to be a retooling period, but so far, it's been anything but that.

You can credit LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, JJ Hickson or the top rookie thus far in Damian Lillard for the recent success the Trail Blazers are experiencing at the moment.

And rightfully so. Each player has played an integral role in why the Trail Blazers are four games above .500 and why they are currently sitting in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings.

But let us not forget who has made these pieces fit...Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts. And according to his players, he should be a serious early Coach of the Year candidate.

“I definitely think he is [an early Coach of the Year candidate] because of the way he handles our team,” Lillard said. “What everybody expected from us, it wasn't this. I can remember when people were saying 'We don't expect much' and 'It's going to be a rough year,' and in my head, I believed in our team and he did, too. As long as we continue on the same road as we are now, I think it's definitely a possibility he could win the award.”

It's been well documented what the Golden State Warriors have been able to accomplish under second-year Head Coach Mark Jackson. Last season the Warriors were 23-43 (lockout year). This season they are one win away (22-11) from surpassing that win total and are holding down the fifth spot in the Western Conference.
While not trying to take any credit away from Coach Jackson, Batum just wants everybody to keep in mind the differences between the Warriors and the Trail Blazers.

“Mark Jackson has the same team as last year. Our team is a totally different team,” Batum said. “We got a lot of young guys and people didn't expect us to be 19-15 in January and to be in the seventh and eighth spot after 34 games. You got to give credit to the coaching staff and Coach Stotts because he's doing a great job with us.”

The Trail Blazers have won 11 of their last 14 games and haven taken eight straight at the Rose Garden. They are 5-0 in overtime periods and in games decided by six or fewer points this season, they are an amazing 10-2. That speaks to the late in-game adjustments Stotts has made when the game calls for touch, quick, accurate decisions.

The Jan. 1 win over the New York Knicks was a prime example: Hickson was working on securing his 19th double-double of the season and was well on his way with 18 points (9-for-11 from the field) and nine rebounds. Stotts subbed him out the game to insert Jared Jeffries with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Luke Babbitt started the fourth and played the entire quarter at the four, moving Aldridge to the five to allow Babbitt's three-point presence to keep the court spread. Babbitt only went 1-for-3 from distance in that span, but Lillard, Aldridge, and Batum were able to maneuver in space because of No. 8.

Making the call to sit your starting center and best rebounder the last 17 minutes of a tight game is a bold move, and it's a move not too many coaches are willing to make in the NBA.

That's why this team is where they are now.

“A lot of it is feel, trust and sometimes it's just searching,” Stotts said. “That New York game in particular, JJ had a great first half. We built the lead with Luke in the game. I didn't want to screw it up. If you can find something that's working, you want to stick with it, but at the same time, you don't want to overplay your hand. It's a tough call, but those are some of the decisions you have to make as Head Coach.”

Not to mention that the Trail Blazers have a bench that is producing an NBA low 17.4 points per game. Yet still, Stotts is finding ways to make it work and win ball games.

“I would definitely say he should be Coach of the Year right now,” Aldridge said. “I think he has taken a bunch of pieces and he's meshed them together to put us in position to win every night and to put us in position to be in the playoffs right now. So he definitely deserves to be recognized for what he's done.”

Stotts says he was well aware what people were saying about this Trail Blazer squad when the roster was shaped and that didn't change his goal at all: The goal pf making the playoffs.

“Every situation that I've been in as a Head Coach or an assistant, you just try and do the best job that you can,” he said. “There's a lot of noise out there and one of the thing that you find out, that you have to coach your team and coach your players. Communication is important. You can't get caught up in all that [media talk}, good or bad. We want to make the playoffs. We can be a playoff team. We're not right now, but we can be.”

Despite the Trail Blazers impressive start, Stotts isn't content with where they are at the moment. He says their defense still needs to improve, the trust on offense could be better, and bringing it consistently on the road is a must.

However, he's happy with the progress his team has made from the beginning of the year.

“I'm pleased,” Stotts said. “I'm pleased with how we've comeback from a couple of four-game losing streaks. We had a bad road-trip and then we took advantage of our homestand. I'm pleased with the way we compete most nights and I'm pleased with our improvement. From day one, what I wanted from this team was to compete and to get better and build championship habits. I think we are doing that, we're not there yet, but I think we are doing that and that's the part that's most pleasing.”

As for the Coach of the Year talk, Stotts says that's no concern of his. His main focus is the improvement of this team and letting everything else play out.

“The record at the end of the season will be whatever it is, but as long as those big picture items are accomplished, that's all I'm concerned about,” Stotts said.

Practice Update:

LaMarcus Aldridge did not attend practice today. He was visiting the doctor about his right wrist that has been bothering him off and on this season.

Right now, Stotts doesn't know the severity.

"I don't know. Obviously it's bothering him so there's always concern. He's been playing with it. So hopefully it doesn't get worse and it gets better."

Update: X-rays came back negative and a MRI confirms right wrist sprain. Aldridge is probable for Thursday's game vs. Miami.

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?!

Recapping an amazing evening at the Dame Dolla (Damian Lillard) birthday concert

Recapping an amazing evening at the Dame Dolla (Damian Lillard) birthday concert

Written by Garrett Thornton 

Damian Lillard has been a household name in Portland for the past four years as he has quickly risen to super-stardom on the NBA.

On Friday night, Lillard, aka Dame D.O.L.L.A., became an absolute legend.

The night of his 26th birthday, Lillard performed his first hip-hop concert in front of a sold out crowd of 1,500 people at Portland’s McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom. Those 1,500 people left at the end of the night feeling like part of the family, like they just celebrated the birthday of a close friend.

When tickets for the show went on sale the evening of Wednesday, July 6th, they sold out in less than two hours. The man that draws 20,000+ to the Moda Center 41 times a year had no issue filling the Crystal Ballroom. From that evening on, the excitement crescendoed leading up to the show on his birthday, July 15th.

Doors opened at 7pm and the line started forming well over an hour before they would ever open. The line was full of a diverse crowd, just as you would expect from any crowd in Portland. There were folks dressed in all sorts of Blazer gear, Lillard jerseys, Lillard shoes, and of course, a lot of adidas gear.

As the doors opened and the crowd flooded the upper level of the historical building where the Crystal Ballroom is located, there was a ton of excitement for what was sure to be an event that would be talked about for years to come.

The show started with Blazer in-house DJ, DJ OG One, spinning a few tracks from past and present. The crowd was really starting to get into it.

Local Portland emcee Rose Ciddy was the first act to hop on stage as he performed a freestyle and one of his tracks. Danny from Sobrante, another Oakland native, was next on stage and started to bring a bit of the Bay Flavor.

The show really started when Lillard’s cousin, Brookfield Duece, performed. He brought so much energy and excitement to the building. Definitely a very talented rapper, Brookfield Duece was the perfect act to precede the main attraction.

There was a bit of a lull in the show when Brookfield Duece finished but that lull was soon replaced by a few classic tracks that DJ OG One played. Then the music cut off.

DJ OG One said, “I have some good news and some bad news … The bad news is Damian Lillard stepped out of the building … The good news is, Dame D.O.L.L.A. is here!”

As the crowd went wild, Lillard appeared from the car side of the stage.

What really set this show apart from any other hip hop show I have ever been to was the family atmosphere. Lillard has surrounded himself with good people and they were all there to celebrate his birthday with him. There were 20+ people on the stage the whole time. His brother, Houston, danced the entire show. His mom, sister, cousins, and friends were all a part of the show on the stage.

Lillard’s raps are very conscious and timely. His song “Bigger Than Us” speaks to the need that we each need to get better in a world that is so divided. His commentary between songs was even more intimate and important. He is truly a leader and role model on and off the court.

The crowd was loud, like Lillard just got a game-winner loud. There were 4 separate times when the crowd chanted M-V-P, there were Rip City chants, Dame Time chants. It was incredible. Not very often is there such a connection at a concert of this size.

At one point Lillard said, “What y’all are doing tonight is so Rip City … And that’s why I’m always gonna be here.”

It is so refreshing seeing a superstar step out of his own comfort zone and share something with his fans. Portland has had a run of distant stars (ala LaMarcus Aldridge) that what Lillard did Friday night was in stark contrast to what we are used to.

The night ended with cameos from Tim Frazier, CJ McCollum, and a Lillard family dance party on the stage.

Lillard vowed that there would be more shows to come but that this one was special. That it was. Rip City will remember this one for a long time.

Trail Blazers, Maurice Harkless 'not any closer' to getting free agent deal done

Trail Blazers, Maurice Harkless 'not any closer' to getting free agent deal done

The waiting game continues for restricted free agent Maurice Harkless and the Trail Blazers, as the two sides are "not any closer" to reaching a deal according to his agent, Happy Walters. 

Walters says several teams have shown interest in Harkless, but the small forward wants to re-sign with Portland. However, talks with the Blazers have shown "no movement" in recent days.

If Harkless receives an offer from another team, the Blazers will have three days to decide whether to match the offer. 

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,  was given a $4 million qualifying offer in June, which is a 125% raise from last season. Walters said there is a chance Harkless will accept the one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-2017 season. 

"He's in no rush,'' to make a decision, Walters said. 

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. He 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 was used to guard point guards like Chris Paul as well as top scorers like Klay Thompson – was an important facet to the Blazers advancing to the Western Conference semifinals.

The Blazers have 14 players under contract, one less than the maximum allowed by the NBA. Two of the Blazers' top offseason signings  -- Allen Crabbe (four years, $75 million) and Evan Turner (four years, $70 million) -- are wings like Harkless. The Blazers also have Al-Farouq Aminu, who last season started at both small forward and power forward. 

Trail Blazers failed to gain tournament recognition

Trail Blazers failed to gain tournament recognition

The Trail Blazers summer league season came and went without making too much noise. Failing to win in their first two games, it took a sudden death game winner from Pat Connaughton in double overtime for Portland to secure its first win. In the end, they'd finish 2-3 in Las Vegas Summer League. 

After a pair of poor shooting performances from Pat Connaughton to open the tournament, he was able to increase his scoring average to 14.4 points over five games. Noah Vonleh, though indicating he thinks he could have played better in Las Vegas, was a double-double machine through his first three games, though finished the tournament averaging 12 points and 8.8 rebounds. He did not play in the Trail Blazers final game. Point guard Pierre Jackson led the Trail Blazers in scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game.

Minnesota's Tyus Jones was selected the MVP of the tournament, averaging 19.4 points on 45.7 percent shooting, plus 6.3 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. He won the award, voted on by select media members.

The list of former Summer League MVPs includes Blake GriffinJohn Wall, and Damian Lillard

Alas, the Trail Blazers early exit in the tournament wasn't enough to sway votes for All-NBA Summer League recognition.

All-NBA Summer League First Team
Tyus Jones (Minnesota)
Jordan McRae (Cleveland)
Bobby Portis (Chicago)
Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)
Alan Williams (Phoenix)

All-NBA Summer League Second Team
Jaylen Brown (Boston)
Thon Maker (Milwaukee)
Kelly Oubre Jr. (Washington)
Norman Powell (Toronto)
Tyler Ulis (Phoenix)

The Bulls and the Timberwolves will square off in Monday's championship game on Monday.

Blazer summer-league performances were sub-par

Blazer summer-league performances were sub-par

Time to put a big bag over the Trail Blazers' summer league and place it on a shelf someplace where it can be forgotten.

Summing it all up as kindly as I can, I'd say performances by Portland's regular-season roster players did not live up to expectations.

Exhibit A is forward Noah Vonleh. Yes, you're going to hear that he's still only 20 years old. True, but the fact is there are teenagers in summer league these days, players 18 and 19 years old. And Vonleh was actually playing in his third summer league, and as one NBA executive told me, "It's a bit of a red flag when you're here for the third time and still can't dominate."

Vonleh started four games, averaged 31 and a half minutes, 12 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.75 turnovers and 3.25 fouls per game. He shot 46.3 percent from the floor, 23.1 percent from three and 70 percent from the foul line. Interestingly, he got more attempts from three than the foul line.

Pat Connaughton had all kinds of problems with his shooting. The 6-5 guard averaged 32.2 minutes in five starts, shot only 34.8 percent from the field, 27 percent from three, 3.4 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists and two turnovers per game. He made a couple of big shots along the way and still continues to look like an NBA-level athlete. But shooting guards need to be good shooters.

Luis Montero still looks like a player who needs at least a year in the D-League -- promising, but still not savvy or experienced enough to play meaningful NBA minutes. He played five games, started only two, averaged 27.2 minutes, shot 36.4 percent from the field, 25 percent from three, had 1.8 assists and 2.4 turnovers per game.

Rookie forward Jake Layman was surprising. He seemed to get more comfortable on the floor with each game and showed enough athleticism to belong in the league. Still, as with his teammates, shooting was a problem. He hit 35 percent of his field goals, 18.2 percent of his threes and just 57.1 percent of his free throws. He averaged 8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

All in all, not pretty numbers and not a very promising summer for those young players.

 

Damian Lillard's concert garners rave reviews from Blazer fans

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Damian Lillard's concert garners rave reviews from Blazer fans

Damian Lillard has made it no secret since he got into the NBA that rap is passion of his along with playing basketball. With the advent of #4BarFriday, Lillard's influence on the rap world was just beginning. As song after song got released, it became apparent that this wasn't just another NBA player trying to fake his way in the music business. Lillard has skills. Friday night in Portland, also Lillard's birthday, he held a concert at the Cyrstal Ballroom. Of course, social media was buzzing during and after the event. 

Former CSN Intern Grant Ocampo was in attendence and had this video that gives you a good feel for the night:

There are plenty of other videos floating around social media, here are some others:

Blazers complete summer league with win over Boston

Blazers complete summer league with win over Boston

LAS VEGAS -- The summer version of the Portland Trail Blazers completed its season Friday with a 80-75 win Boston Celtics in Cox Pavilion.

Pat Connaughton scored 23 and Pierre Jackson 20 to lead Portland, which finished the Las Vegas Summer League with a 2-3 record. The only other game the team won was a sudden-death, double-overtime contest vs. Utah, won by a Connaugton three-point field goal.

The Trail Blazers led by as many as 13 in the second quarter and held a 44-35 halftime lead. They then watched Boston storm back to lead by 2 in the third quarter. But Portland took a 60-58 edge into the fourth quarter and fought off several Boston rallies down the stretch of the game.

Friday was a real bounce-back game for Connaughton, who has not shot the ball well consistently during the summer. He hit 8 of 18 against the Celtics and made some big plays down the stretch.

Second-round draft pick Jake Layman had one of the biggest plays of the game, blocking a potential dunk by Boston's Jaylen Brown with inside a minute to play. Layman finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Jackson hit seven of his 10 shots, had five rebounds and eight assists. There is little doubt he will end up in somebody's training camp this fall, be it Portland's or another team.

Noah Vonleh, who is suffering from a hip contusion, did not play.

 

Summer league: Welcome to the tournament nobody wants to win

Summer league: Welcome to the tournament nobody wants to win

LAS VEGAS -- A few years ago somebody came up with the bright idea of ending the Las Vegas Summer League with a tournament. The idea, I suppose, was to make the summer games more competitive for the teams and to provide more spectator interest by building to a "championship" game.

But after watching the tournament's first round Wednesday and the first round last summer, I've come to the conclusion that pretty much none of these teams has any interest in winning this thing. In fact, most of them in yesterday's first round seemed dedicated to losing and getting out of town as soon as possible.

The idea here is about developing players and not about winning. You can see that by the way lineups are used -- who plays and who doesn't. If you have a first- or second-round pick here, he's going to play as many minutes as possible -- no matter how poorly. If you have an older guy who can help you win a summer-league game but probably doesn't figure in your plans for fall training camp, guess what? He's probably not going to play.

A good many of the high draft picks have been sitting out games in the past few days and it's their appearances, rather than trophies, that generate the big crowds.

I think organizers of this summer basketball festival would have been pressured into dropping the idea of a tournament if not for extenuating circumstances. No. 1, the league is run by Warren LeGarie, who happens to be the agent for a good many of the league's general managers, coaches and assistant coaches. Those guys aren't going to put heat on their agent. And, too, nobody in the league is likely to do anything that would cause the demise of these games being played in Las Vegas.

The NBA, like a good many other companies, loves to gather in Sin City for its conventions. And this, as much as anything, is a convention that brings together most of the league.

So if you're planning on visiting this summer league in the future, I'd encourage it. There is wall-to-wall basketball that's mostly a lot of fun. Just show up before the tournament starts. It's not pretty.

Trail Blazers fall to Jazz -- just one summer game left

Trail Blazers fall to Jazz -- just one summer game left

The Trail Blazers trailed throughout most of the final three quarters Wednesday evening and fell 86-71 to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the tournament portion of the Las Vegas Summer League.

The Trail Blazers (1-3) are thus eliminated from the tournament's championship round and will play just once more -- a consolation game at 3 p.m. Friday in Cox Pavilion.

Non-roster point guard Pierre Jackson led Portland with 18 points. Shabazz Napier, who had been starting at the point since being acquired in a deal with Orlando, is suffering from a sprained shoulder. He did not play and is out for the Friday game, too. Jake Layman and Noah Vonleh added 10 points apiece for Portland.

The Trail Blazers looked fatigued in this game and in the second half couldn't muster much of an effort. At this point in summer league, many of the teams run out of gas.  Just as many of them run out of motivation. Very few of these teams really care about winning a summer-league tournament. This is an opportunity for personal development and to allow players to showcase their skills.

For a player such as Jackson, who has bounced around the D-League, played in Turkey and been the property of New Orleans and Philadelphia in the NBA, this is a pressure cooker -- with every minute of every game a chance to prove he belongs in the NBA, or not.

At 5-10, he's a point guard, but one who can score. He set the D-League single-game scoring record with 58 points in 2014 and has terrific quickness to the basket.

He admitted after Wednesday's game that he feels a lot of pressure in these games because his future is on the line, but that it is mitigated to a degree by the fact that Las Vegas is his home and he has the support of his family.

He was just about the only Trail Blazer with any energy against the Jazz. The Blazers were pounded 47-32 on the boards and Vonleh, who had been a consistent rebounder during the summer, managed just 2 boards in 27 minutes.

All in all, the best news appears to be that this group has just one more game left. And I'd anticipate that playing time will be spread among the entire roster in that contest.

Get signed up for the Rip City 3 on 3 tournament, July 30 &31

Get signed up for the Rip City 3 on 3 tournament, July 30 &31

Gather up your two or three best friends (or at least the best basketball players) and get signed up for this summer's Rip City 3 on 3 tournament!

If you haven't been to the event yet, it's certainly a good time. There are a variety of booths and activities throughout the Rose Quarter and of course lots and lots of basketball for all ages and all skill levels. 

Plus, be sure to stop by the Media Bracket games as Team CSN will be defending its 2015 3 on 3 Title!

You can register and get more details on the event at the tournament website.