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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But at some point, one side will budge.

And so we wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Trail Blazers announce 2017-18 schedule

Trail Blazers announce 2017-18 schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trail Blazers announce 2017 NBA preseason schedule

Trail Blazers announce 2017 NBA preseason schedule

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blazers trade Allen Crabbe to the Nets

Blazers trade Allen Crabbe to the Nets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

OFFICIAL RELEASE FROM TEAM: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's over.