Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard winning Magic Johnson Award only half the story

Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard winning Magic Johnson Award only half the story

Since entering the NBA five years ago, Damian Lillard has maintained two streaks of which he is proud:

He has never declined to sign autographs before games, and he has never skipped out on speaking with the media after games.

“Never,’’ Lillard said. “Not once.’’

On Tuesday, the Professional Basketball Writers Association announced Lillard as the 2016-2017 Magic Johnson Award winner, which is awarded by writers who cover the league to the player who best combines excellence on the court with cooperation with the public and the media.

 “It comes with the job,’’ Lillard said. “There will come a day when people won’t want my autograph … and there will come a day when the media doesn’t care what I have to say. So I think you have to appreciate it, and that’s what I try to do. I don’t take either for granted.’’

Lillard was a finalist for an unprecedented third consecutive year. This year, he beat out Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Indiana’s Paul George, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap and Golden State’s Draymond Green. Last season, Stephen Curry of Golden State won, and the year before Pau Gasol, then of the Chicago Bulls.

Lillard becomes the second Trail Blazers player to win the award, joining Brandon Roy, who won in 2008-2009.

The award is not just a reflection of how accessible Lillard is with the media, it’s also a recognition for what he has to say. He has become one of the more thoughtful and transparent players in the NBA, both unafraid to tell it like it is while also maintaining a grounded and reasoned tone.

He could be blunt, like in November after a blowout loss in Houston, when he said “We kind of suck right now. It’s that simple.

He could be inspiring, like in February, after his late turnover contributed to a home loss against Atlanta: “Sometimes I just tell myself that you have to go through a struggle. Sometimes it has to be hard on you … and sometimes you have to grind it out and stay with it, and it will come back to your favor as long as you stay true to what you’ve been doing.’’

And he could be prophetic, like in Salt Lake City, when he succinctly captured the Blazers entering the break: "You've got two options: You can either run from it or ... man up. I know, personally, I'm going to … man up. Period. That's what has to happen."

He is, as writers like to say, locker room “gold” … a player whose candid remarks can carry your story … a can’t miss interview.

Keep in mind, this is a league where some players decline to be interviewed after a poor performance or a painful loss. And more in more in all pro sports, players are increasingly viewing the media as the enemy.

In Portland, the players treat the media with respect, and only rarely – Maurice Harkless in playoff frustration and CJ McCollum escaping out the door while everyone interviews Lillard -- does a player skip out without talking. Lillard, meanwhile, answers every question after every game, regardless of his performance or the outcome.

“It’s my opportunity to share what is going on, or what I think about something,’’ Lillard said. “That way, I can limit people having to assume things, or make things up. I can explain myself, or share my thoughts. It’s my opportunity to take the stage, so to speak, to say my part.’’

For the Blazers’ organization, the award likely doesn’t come as a surprise. Lillard has been serving as the team’s unofficial spokesman since his rookie season. But to those around the franchise, how Lillard handles the public and represents the organization through the media is only half of the story.

Lillard over the years has established what can best be described as a culture inside the Blazers. It is a culture rooted in hard work. In accountability. In relationships. And in caring.

You have heard his interviews, and read his quotes which have earned him the Magic Johnson Award.

Here is a deeper look at what you don’t see or hear when the microphones and cameras have gone away. They are little moments that stand for big concepts, and it is where Lillard separates himself.

**

The day after the Blazers were eliminated from the playoffs with a disappointing sweep at the hands of Golden State, Lillard still had one task to perform: Getting the rest of the team to sign off on donating their playoff checks.

When a team makes the playoffs, they are awarded a bonus check. This season, any team participating in the first round of the playoffs was given $223,864 to be divided among players. For the Blazers, that is roughly $16,000 per player.

As captain for the past two seasons, Lillard has made it clear to his teammates that their playoff checks should be donated to the Blazers’ support staff, which consists of everybody from massage therapists to the trainers at the practice facility.

With some Blazers teams, the locker room leadership was not always as generous. Three seasons ago, when veteran Chris Kaman joined the team, he became appalled that the Blazers were keeping their playoff checks. Kaman, who became close with Lillard, told him if he ever led a team he should insist on getting the guys to donate to underscore the importance of unity and having one’s back.

Once again this season, with Lillard going from player to player to assure they followed through, the team voted to give up their full shares. The money was divided among 25 support staff, with some getting more than others depending on their role.

“We divide our playoff shares to give to the people who we work so closely with because they spend as much time away from their families as we do, and they are just about as invested as we are,’’ Lillard said after the season. “They also do as much as possible to make our lives easier, even if it makes theirs more difficult – all while making far less. So it’s a further way of showing appreciation beyond a thank your or a handshake.’’

**

In October, both Lillard and CJ McCollum paid a surprise visit to the home of a Portland cancer patient. At the time, the Blazers requested the visit be kept private because it wasn’t made for publicity.

But the day after, the patient posted a picture on social media of himself with Lillard and McCollum, and the two players were peppered with questions. Both seemed taken aback at why it was such a big deal.

“I mean, I do stuff like that all the time,’’ Lillard said in October. “But I do it because I want to, not because the team says I should, or because I think it looks good. I understand in this position I can help people, and I try to do that as much as I can.’’

He has stopped at a young boys’ birthday party in West Linn, he has visited people in the hospital and he has donated everything from backpacks to tickets to shoes.

“We have to realize we are in position to make an impact on people’s lives,’’ Lillard said.

One of the bigger impacts has been made with Portland teenager Matty Vachter, who has cerebral palsy.

A partial season ticket holder, Vachter has formed a special bond with the Blazers players, coaches and front office. When he attends games, the team allows him backstage access. Positioned in the tunnel that leads from the locker room to the Moda Center court, Vachter slaps high fives with each player as they head and from the court, with each player knowing his name and some stopping to chat. The coaches went as far as charting how often they won with Matty in attendance after they noticed a spiked in wins when he attended.

Lillard, who is a global ambassador for Special Olympics, spends the most time with Vachter.

“I care to make him feel part of our team,’’ Lillard said. “Every guy shakes his hand on the way to and from the court, and he’s as big a Blazers fans as anyone. He was even at a road playoff game this year.’’

**

When Evan Turner arrived for his first tour of the Blazers’ practice facility after signing a free agent deal this summer, he got a first-hand view of what it meant to play for the Blazers.

It was just past 9 a.m., and in the gym, covered in sweat on a July morning was Lillard. And his workout still had another hour left.

Later, as the team struggled and teetered on falling out of the playoff picture, it was Lillard setting a different example.

In interview after interview, often times with his teammates pausing at their lockers to hear what he had to say, Lillard persisted in keeping a positive outlook. He kept reminding that the struggle would make the reward more meaningful, and he kept urging for personal accountability.

In a day and age when stars want to leave teams for the comfort of success, Lillard continues to relish playing in Portland, embracing the challenges and the fight it takes to build a winner.

Lillard can’t say how close the Blazers are to becoming a championship team. He figures it will take some development from some players, probably some key moves, and likely some time. But he knows the first step of the foundation – the team’s culture – is secure.

“Our culture is great and beyond solid,’’ Lillard said. “From the relationships, to the work ethic, and that is not one bit fabricated.’’

Magic Johnson Award winners
2000-01 Ray Allen, Milwaukee Bucks
2001-02 Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers
2002-03 Jalen Rose, Chicago Bulls
2003-04 Jermaine O’Neal, Indiana Pacers
2004-05 Antawn Jamison, Washington Wizards
2005-06 Grant Hill, Orlando Magic
2006-07 Shane Battier, Houston Rockets
2007-08 Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Lakers
2008-09 Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers
2009-10 Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors
2010-11 Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
2011-12 Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
2012-13 Shane Battier, Miami Heat
2013-14 Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
2014-15 Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
2015-16 Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

 

 

Portland is Las Vegas bound again

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Portland is Las Vegas bound again

The NBA Summer League is returning to Las Vegas for the fifth consecutive year from July 7-17. This 11-day, 67-game tournament allows teams to showcase the NBA future stars in a bracket-style format ending in a championship game on Monday, July 17. Each team participating in the tournament is guarenteed five games. 

One of the teams returning to Las Vegas is the Portland Trail Blazers who have attended from 2005-2010, 2012-2016 and have a 28-30 record.

Let's take a trip down memory lane to showcase one of Portland's own small forward Jake Layman at the 2016 NBA Summer League:

Be sure to follow along as CSNNW will have full coverage of the 2017 NBA Summer League from Jason Quick, Dwight Jaynes, and Jamie Hudson at CSNNW.com and across all our social media platforms.

For a full list of teams participating in the 2017 NBA Summer League and how to purchase admission tickets, check out this site here.

Dame D.O.L.L.A. is back in the booth

Dame D.O.L.L.A. is back in the booth

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is already putting in work this NBA offseason. But this time in the recording booth.

Lillard, or should we say Dame D.O.L.L.A., dropped another song today ft. P HU$TLE and Bozzle but sounds oddly familiar. That is beacuse Dame D.O.L.L.A. raps over Drake's "Free Smoke" beat.

Take a listen for yourself in the video above. 

According to his tweet, Lillard "jumped on that #FreeSmoke for #MusicMonday" relating to rapper Drake's song "Free Smoke" off the album "More Life".  

You can find more of Dame D.O.L.L.A. on his soundcloud profile here.

Calling all dancers! The Blazers Dancers have something for you!

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Calling all dancers! The Blazers Dancers have something for you!

Calling all dancers! Are you 18 years of age, can attend practices on Thursday and Sunday evenings, and can attend all games, training camps, and other mandatory Portland Trail Blazers events? Looking to join an elite dance team in Portland? Well, look no further.

The Portland Trail Blazers dance team, the BlazerDancers, will be holding auditions on Saturday, July 15th at Parkrose High School in Portland, Oregon to join the prestigious dance team for the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team. 

Further details for this tryout can be found on the BlazerDancers website here.

But here is a quick glimpse at what dates to keep in your back pocket:

Audition Dates & Times:

  • Pre-Audition Workshop (optional) – Friday, June 9, 2017
  • Preliminary Rounds – Saturday, July 15, 2017 at Parkrose High School, Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., auditions to immediately follow registration.
  • Finalist Interviews – July 18-20 at the Moda Center, time: TBD
  • Final Round – weekend of July 21st, 2017, time: approx. noon

*There will be a mandatory practice for all Finalists prior to Finals.  Date and time TBD.  We’ll update this information as soon as it is confirmed.

Good luck!

Evan Turner Showcase: Giving back to his Chicago roots

Evan Turner Showcase: Giving back to his Chicago roots

Evan Turner has not forgot where he came from.

The annual Evan Turner Showcase in Chicago brings in hundreds of high school and junior college basketball players for a viewing event with college coaches. It gives kids exposure that wouldn't otherwise get it and many of the players walk away from the event with scholarship offers.

In the video above, Turner, as well as his mother, the program director, and Chicago Bulls' guard Michael Carter-Williams all speak about the importance of the event how they hope it will spread across the country.

 

Gonzaga's Zach Collins has 'funny' encounter with Trail Blazers at NBA Combine

Gonzaga's Zach Collins has 'funny' encounter with Trail Blazers at NBA Combine

CHICAGO – Gonzaga center Zach Collins met with 13 teams at the NBA Combine, but it was his first meeting – with the Trail Blazers – that left an impression.

“It was kind of funny because Portland actually just sent out their team psychologist, and no one else from the staff was there,’’ Collins said. “The lady gave me a computer and I took a personality test, kind of, and she just analyzed who I was as a person, and that was it.’’

The Blazers since 2007 have employed Dana Sinclair as their performance psychologist, and her biggest role usually comes at the Combine, where she adds another layer to the team’s research on prospects.

What would Sinclair find with the 7-foot Collins, who became Gonzaga’s first one-and-done player to enter the draft?

“I’m just a regular guy who has an absolute obsession with the game of basketball, and a passion to play,’’ Collins said. “I’m not going to be satisfied once I get to the league. I want to be an All-Star. I want to win championships.’’

Collins averaged 10 points and 5.9 rebounds in 17 minutes while helping Gonzaga reach the NCAA final. He is projected in the 10-to-15 range of the first round. Portland owns the 15th, 20th and 26th picks in the June 22 draft.

Collins says he believes his versatility – both offensively and defensively – set him apart from a field of centers that include Texas freshman Jarrett Allen and Creighton freshman Justin Patton.

“The fact that my skillset involves me playing on both ends of the floor – shooting, guarding the perimeter, things like that,’’ Collins said.

He said he has always been an inside-out player, meaning he first likes to play inside, but can contribute on the perimeter, but he said one of his draws should be his ability to play in any system.

“I like to run. But I like to play in half court as well,’’ Collins said. “Running plays, running pick and rolls, I love fast breaks too. That’s why I think I’m unique in this draft because I can play multiple types of styles.’’

Neil Olshey on Blazers' draft: Team has 'luxury' of going young or trading for experience

Neil Olshey on Blazers' draft: Team has 'luxury' of going young or trading for experience

CHICAGO – Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey on Thursday was a guest on NBA TV, during which he answered questions about the Blazers’ approach at the NBA Combine and the franchise’s strategy heading into the June 22 draft.

A transcript of Olshey’s interview with Scott Howard-Cooper:

Q: What are looking for when here?

Olshey: Here it is more about confirmation than evaluation. Look, a lot of the top 20 guys aren’t here but there are still guys we have to evaluate in terms of things we can’t see when they are with their college programs. We are getting the metrics, the metrics testing, the interviews are critical in terms of getting to know these guys. We haven’t really spoken to them in person. It’s nice we are getting more guys participating in the 5-on-5; it allows us to see them later in the year, what they have done with their body, maybe they played a different position on their college team than they are playing out here … it gives us a chance to see them play more our style of basketball. Anytime you can get in the gym with guys, or get to be around them, it makes our process easier because we have a bigger sample size.

Q: Does your gut tell you you won’t have three rookies in camp come October?

Olshey: (laughs) No, it doesn’t, really. Look, we’ve been rebuilding the organization based on Damian Lillard’s timeline and we’ve been lucky enough to be a playoff team in both of those years.  So, look, it’s whatever the best decision long term for the franchise is: If that’s three rookies, it’s three rookies. If that’s an aggregation of picks to go get an impact player, then that’s what it will be. We have a very aggressive owner, we are very lucky to have one that doesn’t shy away from a high payroll; he loves young talent and in a market like Portland, where we have been most successful, has been drafts and player development.

Q: What are your thoughts on using picks to get veteran player who can help now opposed to rookies who might take time?

Olshey: I think we have the luxury of doing either. We had the youngest team in the league last year. We had the youngest team in the playoffs for the second year in a row. We are all on a timeline with young stars like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who haven’t even entered their prime yet. So we can be more patient. I think we have a longer runway, so it’s not a matter of the urgency. All of our players are under long-term contracts, or we control their rights. So we are building long term. The end game is to hopefully win a championship in Portland. If we can accelerate that process because we’ve got the three picks in a very deep draft, where these picks are coveted and we can get a player on a timeline from a team that is maybe going in another direction, we will absolutely push our chips in and do that. But if it’s about finding more stars to join our young guys with Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic, and they are out here (at the Combine), then that’s what we will do. 

Cal forward Ivan Rabb has unique connection to Trail Blazers' star Damian Lillard

Cal forward Ivan Rabb has unique connection to Trail Blazers' star Damian Lillard

CHICAGO – When Ivan Rabb was in his youth, his family moved to a new neighborhood in Oakland. As it turns out, living in the house directly across the street was a kid named Damian Lillard.

“I’ve been knowing him for a time,’’ Rabb said of the Trail Blazers’ star. “And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten to know him a little more.’’

Rabb hopes that connection deepens next month by becoming Lillard’s teammate. Rabb, a 6-foot-10 power forward from Cal, could be on the radar of a Blazers’ team that is looking for depth at power forward and has three first round picks (15, 20, 26) in the June 22 NBA draft.

The Blazers, who are tentatively scheduled to start draft workouts around June 7, have yet to book Rabb for a trip to Portland according to agent Aaron Goodwin. But according to one source, it is likely Rabb will be on the Blazers’ workout schedule after agents finalize their clients’ travel agendas following Tuesday’s draft lottery.

One thing is certain: whichever teams Rabb works out for, they will likely see a hard worker.

Rabb said he is being trained by Chris Farr and Anthony Eggleton, the same coaches who put Lillard through his grueling predraft workouts before he was drafted sixth overall in 2012. Those workouts spawned the four-part YouTube mini-series “License to Lillard.”

“The main thing is his work ethic,’’ Rabb said of Lillard. “Coach Farr always talks about how hard he worked and (Coach Eggleton) talked about how he was focused and dedicated to everything they told him to do. So that’s something I’m trying to emulate. Why not? He’s doing great things and I want to be on his level one day.’’

Rabb feels his own level has elevated in the past year, when he elected to forego what many projected to be a lottery selection and instead stay at Cal for his sophomore season.

“I thought I needed it,’’ Rabb said. “I thought it was very mature for me to go back. The plan is to stick in the league for a long time, not get there as soon as possible, so I feel like I made the best decision for me. I feel like I got better.’’

After averaging 12.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a freshman, Rabb this season averaged 14 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while shooting 48 percent from the field.

While Rabb might have questions about the transition to the NBA regarding his experience or his his outside shot, he said he has no reservations about his top skill: Rebounding.

“I know at this point right now, what can translate is rebounding the ball,’’ Rabb said. “I know I can hit offensive glass really well … everybody has to have their niche coming into the league and rebounding is something I can hang my hat on. Coaches know if I’m coming into the game, I’m going for rebounds.’’

He said some of his offensive game was thwarted at Cal because he was often double-teamed in the post, and the right play was to pass to the open teammate. Sometimes, that meant the only way he could score was to attack rebounds.

“I just know I want the ball. Sometimes I wasn’t getting the ball inside so I was like, ‘Let me go find a way to score the ball’ … and I would go grab it,’’ Rabb said.

Since the season has ended, Rabb said he has been encouraged by his offensive growth. He says the range on his shot is expanding.

“I feel like I own everything inside the 3-point line and I’m shooting corner 3s really well,’’ said Rabb, who went 8-for-20 from the college three-point line last season.

Rabb said he doesn’t want to project himself as a three-point shooter yet, but it’s something he is working on.

“I feel like I’m on right track, but I’m not in a rush to get out there (and shoot threes) if it’s not my game,’’ he said. “I’m trying to master what I have first, and then build off that.’’

While Rabb says his game is becoming more polished by the day, one thing hasn’t changed: his confidence, which he says is rooted in his Oakland upbringing.

“I’m confident when I’m on the floor,’’ he said. “I feel like I carry myself differently. I don’t get rattled. I play with a chip on my shoulder and don’t let anybody punk me.’’

He says he molds himself after four players – Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett – but he knows if he comes to Portland, there will be another guy who will go a long ways in shaping him.

It’s the same kid who lived across the street when he was in middle school: Lillard.

“I feel like him being there, he will push me to make sure I succeed,’’ Rabb said. “He would be a great mentor to have.’’

Allen Crabbe undergoes successful foot surgery

Allen Crabbe undergoes successful foot surgery

PORTLAND, Ore. (May 11, 2017) – Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe underwent successful surgery to repair a stress reaction of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

Crabbe is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in September.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

In 79 games (7 starts) this season, Crabbe averaged 10.7 points (48.8% FG, 44.4% 3-PT, 84.7% FT), 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. The NBA’s second most accurate 3-point shooter at 44.4%, Crabbe posted the highest percentage from beyond the arc in franchise history by a player with 100-plus 3-pointers.

Portland's champions make historic return in Grand Floral Parade

Portland's champions make historic return in Grand Floral Parade

PORTLAND, Ore. (May 8, 2017) – In honor of the 40th anniversary of the moment that Blazermania captured the entire State of Oregon, The Portland Rose Festival named the 1977 World Champion Portland Trail Blazers Grand Marshal for the 2017 Spirit Mountain Casino Grand Floral Parade, Saturday, June 10, at 10 a.m.

“We are honored that the Rose Festival selected our 1977 Championship team with this distinction,” said Trail Blazers President & CEO Chris McGowan. “Much like the Grand Floral Parade, our organization takes tremendous pride in its history and our relationship with the people in this community. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 40th Anniversary than with Trail Blazers players parading the streets of Portland once again.”

Founded in 1970, the young Trail Blazers became only the second team in NBA history to go all the way in their first trip to the playoffs. Down two games to start the seven game series the Trail Blazers roared back to win it all and took the fans along on one of history's greatest playoff rides.  

“Many of us here at the time remember exactly where we were that day,” said Brett Baker President of the Portland Rose Festival Foundation. “For Oregonians, it was bigger than the moon landing and when that final buzzer sounded the entire state jumped for joy. I am thrilled to relive that moment a little and honor the team as Grand Marshal on their 40th Anniversary.”

Team members Bobby Gross, Lloyd Neal and Larry Steele are scheduled to represent the team in the parade. Tickets are on sale now at www.ticketmaster.com, the Rose Quarter Box Office (M-F, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.), or by calling 800.745.3000.