Posts Tagged ‘CJ McCollum’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

CJ McCollum feels blessed | GM feels Blazers on right track | Colangelo anxious for Team USA

No. 1: CJ McCollum feels blessed — The Portland Trail Blazers are feeling great about themselves after a very uplifting season and CJ McCollum shares that sentiment. Not only is McCollum rapidly rising among the ranks of young guards, he just signed a four-year, $106 million extension this summer, so life is good. Not only is McCollum just touching his prime, he has a great relationship with backcourt mate Damian Lillard and the franchise. Here’s Joe Freeman of the Oregonian getting the goods from McCollum and his new fortune:

“I’m just thankful to be in this position, first and foremost. I want to thank Neil for having that patience and that trust in me. I want to thank Mr. (Paul) Allen for taking a chance on a 6-foot-3 skinny kid from Lehigh University and being patient as I was hurt early on. I was breaking fingers and not consistent with my performance. But I was consistent with my work ethic throughout. But thank you guys.

“I told (my agent) before, I said, ‘Do whatever you have to do to get me to stay here.’ I want to be here. I’ve been looking at houses since my rookie year, kind of picturing myself here for the long-term, so I’m thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to building something special with this young core group of guys we have. I think we’re going to be very good. We have a lot of work ethic, a lot of guys who were unproven, had one year of success and are looking forward to continuing to have success and continuing to kind of building a lasting legacy in the NBA. I think that’s the type of attitude all our players have, starting with Dame, a guy who’s come from a small school, who’s earned everything he’s received and looks forward to continue to build and to continue to win.

After a breakout season and signing this big contract, what will motivate and drive you moving forward?

“The biggest thing is just continuing to strive for greatness. I think that’s kind of my mindset. I want to continue to get better. I know there’s a lot of areas I can improve on, having only played, what, 80 regular season games. This was my first full season of understanding scouting reports, understanding that I’m actually on the scouting report now instead of being the guy, ‘Huh, he’s the backup and he can shoot.’ That’s kind of how the scouting report went for a lot of teams. So understanding now that the role is going to increase, the pressure is going to increase and I look forward to the challenge of continuing to represent my last name to the best of my ability, represent coming from a small school, continuing to try to keep that pipeline open for the next guy that plays like CJ McCollum and might have been undersized or not had a position in college.”

How do you keep underdog attitude now that you’ve signed a $106 million contract?

“That’s a good question. I think it’s how you’re wired. I think the money is circumstantial, it doesn’t change you. A lot of times it changes the people around you, it puts them in better position to succeed. It allows you to buy things you need and want. It allows you to kind of uplift people who need help. But for me, I already have money. I’m already in a good situation. Obviously I don’t have generational wealth. But I’m already in the top 2 percent. Now I move up to the 1 percent. But from the standpoint of basketball, this is what we love to do. We play for free all our lives. And a lot of guys would play for free at this point, just because of what the game means to them. You look at rec centers, you look at old man leagues, they’re playing, barely getting up and down the court. But they love the game. And that’s the kind of passion I have for the game. I told the story about the little kid coming to the game and being able to say he played for the first time and you want to impact his life and you want him to leave the gym saying, ‘Wow, CJ goes hard. He cares about the game. He loves basketball.'”

Can you elaborate on what you like about the team heading into next season?

“I think we have a little bit of everything. You look at the roster, the way we put different pieces together, bringing in Festus (Ezeli), a guy who has championship-level experience defensively, impacts the game right way. Can hedge ball screens. Can do a lot of things we’re not accustomed to. Then you look at (Mason) Plumlee, a big who can handle the ball, can initiate the offense, can kind of serve as our defacto point guard a lot of times in situations where Dame and I were getting trapped. Bringing back (Allen Crabbe) was big, a guy who can knock down shots, defend high-level wings. Bringing in Evan Turner, a versatile wing, who can pass, play-make, play on the ball, and I think he’ll be an improved three-point shooter. So we brought back Moe (Harkless), we brought back Meyers (Leonard), we brought back a lot of young guys who are thirsty, thirsty to get better, thirsty to prove that the success wasn’t a fluke, thirsty to prove they’re worth what they are getting. A lot of guys are looking forward to the challenge of, like Neil said before, exceeding expectations again and continuing to win and build. Because we care about the city, we care about where we come from, we care about what we represent. And I think that’s what you get, guys who are team-first.”

he day you actually signed your contract, did you have flashbacks to growing up and all the work you put into getting here?

“Yeah. My girlfriend kept asking me: ‘Are you happy?’ I was like, ‘I won’t be happy until I sign.’ Laughs. Because you’re programmed to continue to try to get better, to get more, don’t get content. And I just kind of blocked it out. And then when you start reading about it, then you get a little more excited. I did a little dance. Besides that, I just like to work out, I like to get better, I don’t like to get content. So I just try not to think about the money and try to think about the pressure, just because it’s a game I played since I was a kid and I tried to not talk the fun away from it. When you take the fun away from it, it becomes a job. When it’s a job, it feels like you’re forced to go. I’m not forced to go. I enjoy going. I love it. So I was happy about it, we celebrated, we had a nice meal, a little bit of pinot.”

Oregon pinot?

“Yeah. How do you say it: Willamette? Willamette. (Laughs) I’ll get it right eventually. She paid, too.”

Now that you have a contract and longevity here, does that increase your need to be a leader?

“I think from a leadership standpoint, you don’t just, ‘Oh, he got paid, he’s a leader now.’ I think you just have to continue to be who you are. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be myself. When I see something and I think something should be said, I’m going to say it. Not because I just signed for $100 million, but because I think that’s the right thing to say. I think leaders are born. You develop as a leader; you don’t just appoint somebody. So for me, I just have to continue to build off what I’ve done to this point. When it’s time to lead, I’ll lead. When it’s time to follow, I’ll follow. But there’s not a rule or a saying to where he signed for $75 million, so he’s the third leader. I just go hoop and I’m not afraid to take advice from, say, Luis (Montero), who, no offense, is at the bottom of the depth chart right now. I’ll listen to anyone if it can help me.”

How would you compare your state of mind now to when you were injured and rehabbing your broken foot?

“You just stay paranoid. That’s the biggest thing. because there’s so much can happen. You look at the window of us trading for Arron Afflalo to me going to the bench, to Wes (Matthews) tearing his Achilles. I just try to be thankful and understand that anything can happen at any given time. So just stay paranoid and put your work in, knowing that there’s a guy on our bench, on somebody else’s bench coming up, that’s looking at you as a target, (thinking), ‘I want what he has.’ So I just continue to work and understand that I’ve got to put that same work in as when I was getting DNPs. Now that I’m a starter and established in the league after one year, I have to put that same work in and have that same work ethic. … I have to continue to remember what it felt like when I didn’t play. What it felt like when you show up the arena knowing you’re not going to play. Now that I know I’m going to play, when I get there, I have to have that same mindset and continue to take my game to the next level.”

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No. 2: GM feels Blazers are on right track — These are good times in Portland. The two main players are now locked in long-term contracts after McCollum inked his extension this week. The Blazers had a rousing and unexpected run in the playoffs this summer and have a solid and relatively young core with a decent salary cap situation. Much of this is due to general manager Neil Olshey, who helped the team overcome the loss of four starters two summers ago. He recently spoke to Joe Freeman of the Oregonian on the state of the club:

From signing free agents Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli, to retaining restricted free agents Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless, to rewarding CJ McCollum with a contract extension, Olshey has carefully made the moves necessary to keep Portland among the Western Conference’s most competitive teams.

“Player retention was big this summer,” Olshey explained during a press conference Friday. “We did what we could in terms of free agency, bringing in skill sets more than players – skill sets from the outside. But at the end of the day when you’re the youngest team in the playoffs last year, you made the second round, we had a much better second half of the year than we did the first half, we felt like we were tracking up … it was imperative we keep this group together because we think it has tremendous upside and potential and it’s going to continue to grow.”

What was the advantage of doing this now?

(Laughs) “The advantage is that we now have a five-year commitment from CJ. More than anything, he earned it. One of the things we’re trying to establish here is that we take care of our players. Sometimes being in a market that is somewhat removed geographically from the core of other areas of the league, I think we end up in situation where it’s really important that players know when they come here, they’re treated well. And that’s not just with the resources we’re lucky enough to have because of an owner like Paul Allen and practice facility and travel and coaches and the expertise we have in the training room. But it’s also contractually. We want guys to know that when they come here, when they perform, that when they buy into our culture, that they are valued. And we want to make sure that we keep the guys that want to be here. We’ve talked about that all summer. CJ wanted to be here. When Dame (signed an extension), Dame wanted to be here. That’s why you see the chemistry on the floor. We don’t have mercenaries here. We have guys that choose to be here, buy into Terry’s system, buy into our culture and how we do things. It’s why we’re very selective with the kind of guys we bring in, whether it’s via trade, draft or free agency. Because we do have a culture that we really think is imperative to success. We have one of the youngest teams in the league still. We were the youngest team in the playoffs last summer. We didn’t get any older this year. We need guys that, when they come in, they know that if they do the right things, we’re going to do right by them.

“Also, look, strategically, you want to know you have consistency. We don’t want guys playing in contract years if they don’t have to. I don’t want that hanging over anybody’s head. I want it to be pure and about winning basketball games and competing at the highest level and for the good of the team. We talk about this all the time; we’re a players-first organization. As evidence by things we do for our players. But in turn, the quid pro quo is, they become team-first guys. And I think if you ask Dame and you ask CJ, who are the leaders of this team, we don’t have any non team-first guys in the organization. If we did, they’d be gone. Because that’s the culture we’re building, it’s why we overachieved last year and it’s why we’ll probably overachieve relative to expectations this year.”

Thoughts on what impact signing such a lucrative contract will have on McCollum:

“Just to piggyback on your question about the money with CJ. Just as an organization, we wouldn’t have given this kind of money to anybody we thought was about the money. I think when you look at the guys we have, there wasn’t one ounce of reticence about the amount of money we spent this summer. We’re blessed to have Paul as an owner that wanted to be aggressive, wanted to retain all of our players, wanted to maximize all of our cap room. But they were all guys that we know are going to walk into the gym no different than they did Day 1 as rookies, based on their approach to the game, the substance of their character, the way that they treat the game, the way they treat their teammates, the respect that they have for themselves and the organization. Any player that would be about the money, we wouldn’t be about. So I don’t think CJ is any different — or AC or Meyers or anybody else — other than I think the parking lot in front of building, I don’t know how good my 2012 (Toyota) Highlander is going to look our there this summer. But I have a feeling that the bar might be a little raised. But other than that, I know that our here, with Terry and the coaches, the same level of effort and commitment and respect for the game, is going to continue to exist absent any new contract information.”

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No. 3: Colangelo anxious for Team USA — When he began working with Team USA, Jerry Colangelo had a hunch that it would add a satisfying chapter to a basketball career that was mainly rooted in Phoenix with the Suns. He had no idea. And now, with the Olympics ready to begin, Colangelo was feeling fortunate that he found something just as fulfilling as, if not more than, his time as a team executive and franchise part-owner. Colangelo recently spoke with collaborator Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic on the team as it prepares for Rio:

Never mind the NBA championship ring that has eluded him for nearly 50 years. Basketball has been very good to Jerry Colangelo.

The Valley icon has made sure to return the favor.

He helped launch the Bulls and buy the Suns. His name is on the court at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And on the eve of his third Olympic tour as chairman of USA Basketball, Colangelo has restored the glory to Team USA.

With one unintended consequence.

“When we put this whole thing together back in 2006, we had no idea that players were going to connect with each other the way they have,” Colangelo said.

ranslation: The current trend sweeping the NBA, where star free agents are teaming up with other star players, choosing friendships and working conditions over everything else, much to the chagrin of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver?

It all began with Colangelo’s early work with Team USA, when he recruited marquee names to an idea gone stale. He convinced the NBA’s best players to give back to Olympic basketball, to play for zero compensation and forgo their summers.

Most of them had no idea how fun it would be.

I witnessed this phenomenon from behind the scenes in Beijing, where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony talked openly about collaborating in the near future, joining forces with some lucky NBA franchise. They often joked and laughed about the possibilities.

Shortly thereafter, James, Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up to play together in Miami, officially ushering in the age of empowerment in the NBA, where free agents no longer play by the same rules. They don’t feel wedded to the city that drafted them. They don’t feel overwhelming loyalty to a fan base or a cause. They don’t need to climb the highest mountain, carrying a team on their shoulders. They value the collective experience, the path of least resistance.

“The camaraderie was really neat to see, by the way,” Colangelo said. “Don’t assume all the players know each other intimately. They don’t. But when you’re together for a month, you get to really know a person and relationships are formed. And that’s what took place.

“When you look at the economics of pro basketball, the money is so great in terms of salary. The contracts being paid out today are over the top, but that’s what the system allows, and that’s a reflection of how well the league is doing financially. But the reality is, players are not going to be leaving for the money in most cases. Players are looking for what they want in terms of location, where they fit in and where they have the best chance to win.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jimmy Butler believes his former coach Tom Thibodeau will do just fine in Minnesota  … New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had some interesting things to say about the NBA’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Charlotte … The debate about the Sixers and their abundance of bigs continues on, and the Philly media just can’t get enough.

Lillard, McCollum still need help from others in Game 2 vs. Clippers


VIDEO: Previewing Game 2 of Blazers-Clippers

LOS ANGELES — They’re used to it by now, the basketball world shedding pity on them for losing four starters from last season and giving them a nice pat on the head and a wish for good luck. The Portland Trail Blazers had fallen from the A-list to the B-list — that’s the treatment that greeted them in training camp. But the basketball then took a funny bounce and now here they are, playing in the postseason instead of preparing for the Draft lottery.

Plenty had to go right for Portland in order for it to defy the odds and get this far, namely, the coaching of Terry Stotts and the blurry backcourt play of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Those three played a huge role in leveraging the Blazers to 44 wins and getting the fawning respect of opponents for overachieving.

But is that enough to stop Blake Griffin, a power forward determined to embark on a redemption tour? And Chris Paul, the best current player never to escape the second round? And coach Doc Rivers, who’ll have lots of ‘splaining to do if the Clippers fold prematurely once again?

Maybe not. If anything, the Blazers find themselves back at training camp, in a sense, trying to dispel a notion that they don’t belong in the Big Boy’s Club after falling behind 1-0 in this series and getting punched in the gut in that game, to boot.

“There’s no question we have to play better,” said Lillard, in an understatement.

But is that really possible?

When LaMarcus Aldridge took his talents to the Alamo last summer, and Nicolas Batum was shipped to Charlotte, and gimpy Wesley Matthews signed in Dallas without much resistance from Portland, the Blazers lost the guts of their team. Yes, Lillard is a vastly under appreciated point guard — just ask him — and McCollum is soaring toward stardom one day. Together they’re capable of generating 60-plus points through scoring and assists. But small-ball, Blazers-style, might only take this team so far. And if Lillard and/or McCollum struggle, as they did in Game 1, this series will be quick.

So much depends on Portland’s starting backcourt to haul the load, perhaps more than any backcourt in the NBA. Together they had 30 points and 11 assists in Game 1; Paul had 28 and 11 himself. The Clippers are rotating well and making it hard on them and Rivers assigned Luc Mbah a Moute, an agile small forward, to check McCollum.

When the backcourt doesn’t play to near-maximum, it puts pressure on everyone else to produce, which is a problem because “everyone else” isn’t as playoff-tested. When the Blazers lost Aldridge and Batum, it weakened their front line. As much praise as GM Neil Olshey gets for re-tooling the Blazers, none of the players he acquired last summer has made a major impact. This is still a Lillard-McCollum production, and if anything, Stotts, more than Olshey, has been the front-office difference.

Al-Farouq Aminu is a poor shooter, Mason Plumlee is a banger at best, Gerald Henderson is a backup, Ed Davis is inconsistent and second-year forward Noah Vonleh doesn’t get much playing time. Those are the replacements for Aldridge (who was again an All-Star) and Batum (who has been key in Charlotte). Again, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts, and by saving their money the Blazers can be in play for free agents. But odds of the stripped-down Blazers duplicating their regular-season surprise here in the playoffs appears slim.

So the Clippers will continue to tighten up on McCollum and Lillard and dare the supporting cast to be a hero.

You’ve got to love how the Blazers regrouped after a hectic summer, won the hearts of Portland fans with their hustle, and created a winner out of nowhere. They might be the biggest surprise of the season. But unless Lillard, McCollum and Stotts can recreate magic for Game 2 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and also when this series shifts to Portland, this uplifting story is about to end.

Warriors Trio Headlines ‘Big’ All-Star Saturday Night

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew gives analysis.

NEW YORK CITY — All-Star Saturday night is going to be big. Literally.

Tonight’s announcement of the participants for All-Star Saturday night revealed a lot of familiar names and faces, but also a couple of intriguing players taking part in contests they haven’t been involved with in previous years. And while the Golden State Warriors have been nearly unstoppable on the court this season, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Warriors’ big three will attempt to bring home several different kinds of hardware.

NBA All-Star 2016The evening will open with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which will be radically different this season. Last year, the event was populated entirely by point guards, with Houston’s Patrick Beverley winning over Brandon Knight. This season, Beverley is slated to return and compete against several guards, such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers.

But the twist here is that they will be in a field that includes several big men, including Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. It will also be interesting to see what kind of performance we get from New Orleans’ multi-talented center Anthony Davis, who played guard throughout high school before a growth spurt moved him to the post. And the leading contender among the big men participating must be Golden State’s Draymond Green, who currently leads the League in triple-doubles with 10.

VIDEO: Wolves’ Zach LaVine will defend his title.

We can also safely assume that the evening will close with a bang. Last year’s Verizon Slam Dunk was one of the most electrifying contests in years, as then-Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine completed a series of athletic jams. LaVine will return this season, and be challenged by a field that includes Denver guard Will Barton, who has had something of a breakout campaign in this his fourth NBA season.

LaVine and Barton will be joined by two big men, in a contest where big men have traditionally struggled to score highly. Second year Orlando forward Aaron Gordon has had plenty of athletic dunks in his short NBA career, and Detroit center Andre Drummond has also shown plenty of bounce and skill around the basket, as the NBA’s leading rebounder this season.

In between these events will be the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which in a league increasingly reliant on the three-point shot, is rapidly becoming the evening’s signature event. While last year’s three-point contest was recognized as having one of the sweetest-shooting fields in the history of the event, this year’s event appears to be equally star-studded:

VIDEO: Steph Curry will bring his sharp shooting to Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

Stephen Curry – Curry won last year’s event, then went on to win the NBA’s MVP award and an NBA title. Leads the NBA this season in three pointers made (232) by a wide margin (77 more than his Golden State teammate Klay Thompson).

James Harden – The Houston guard finished just behind Curry in last season’s MVP voting, and the Rockets have gotten off to a slow start this season. Still, Harden is third this season in total three-pointers made (140).

Klay Thompson – The other Splash Brother has a chance to outshine Curry. Thompson is making 43-percent of his three-point attempts this season.

Khris Middleton – The Bucks swingman is averaging a career-best two made three-pointers per game, and knocking them in at 41-percent clip.

Kyle Lowry – The Raptors guard will surely enjoy a home court advantage. Lowry is averaging a career-high 2.8 threes per game, and making them at a career-best 39 percent success rate.

JJ Redick – Clippers guard Reddick has always been known as a sharp-shooter, but this season has been his masterpiece. In 45 games for Los Angeles, Redick has made 120 threes, converting at a league-best 48-percent clip.

Chris Bosh – Why just have big men in the other two Saturday night contests? To be fair, the power forward Bosh has made himself into a good three-point shooter, and he’s relied on his long-range shot more than ever this season. Consider this: During Bosh’s first nine NBA seasons, he attempted a combined 228 threes; This season he’s attempted 213 threes in Miami’s first 50 games.

Devin Booker – Booker is the youngest contestant (he’s 19 years old) in the three-point shootout, but he’s already proven he’s one of the NBA’s best shooters, connecting on threes for the Phoenix Suns at a 42-percent rate this season.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 13, from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Should the Blazers break up their backcourt?| Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix, but Suns haven’t | Are the Wolves in the right hands? | Kobe cancels out Rio, speaks on other topics

No. 1:  Should Blazers trade CJ McCollum? — Just when it appears the Blazers have a solid young backcourt for the future, along comes a thought: Are they better off trading CJ McCollum? The thinking is both McCollum and Damian Lillard are smallish guards who collectively run into defensive matchup problems, and since both are scorers, the Blazers could trade one to shore up the front court. Here’s what John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote recently:

The Blazers remain $13 million below the salary floor, and are sitting just four games in the loss column out of the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Feb. 18 NBA Trade deadline is looming and for those holding out hope that Portland may try to alter its future by obtaining a front-line player at the deadline, there’s a move that could be made.

CJ McCollum (20.9 points per game) is putting together a nice bounce-back season. At $2.5 million annually he’s currently a terrific value. But anyone who has watched McCollum play when paired with Damian Lillard knows that you can’t play them successfully together on a team that will compete at the top of the Western Conference.

That’s the goal, right?

They can score together, but they’re a defensive disaster when paired. They’re both chuckers, too. And there’s no way that Olshey is trading Lillard, his prized draft pick. Further, the Blazers don’t want to get into a position beyond the 2016-17 season where they have to pay both Lillard and McCollum.

They’re not the “Splash Brothers.” We know that. But we don’t want them to become the “Cash Brothers.”

Even as Olshey has a man-crush on McCollum, and has privately said he wouldn’t dream of trading him, the general manager should be looking and listening when it comes to offers for the guard between now and Feb. 18.

Portland also has a potential first-round lottery pick as trade bait (but theoretically would have to wait until the draft to make that deal). And even as Olshey feels stuck on a refusal to part with any of his future draft picks, the Blazers general manager should be quietly shopping McCollum, gauging his trade value. If the return resulted in a front-line player who would start for multiple seasons and better complement Lillard, you’d have to consider making it.

To be clear, I’m not saying “McCollum must go,” here. I like his game. Just not as much as Olshey does. I’m saying, McCollum’s value isn’t going to be greater than it is in the next two seasons. It’s just not sustainable. Also, I’m saying that this season shouldn’t just be viewed as a throw away in which the Blazers roll out a the lowest-paid roster in the league and pretend that’s all there is to see.

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No. 2: Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix; Suns haven’t —  It was a strange marriage and a strange breakup. The Suns signed Isaiah Thomas to a very team-friendly free agent contract over a year ago, which angered Goran Dragic, who felt threatened by another point guard on a team that already had Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Both Bledsoe and Thomas got paid while Dragic at the time was awaiting free agency. Well, Thomas was traded to the Celtics and Dragic to Miami and of the two, Thomas is clearly having the better transition. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic on Thomas and the team he left:

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is keeping the book open on the trade history now that he has become the starting point guard that he wanted to be. Thomas is being called an All-Star candidate, averaging career highs in points per game (21.6) and assists per game (6.7) although his 3-point percentage (33.5) is at a career low.

Isaiah runs the show for a 21-19, eighth-place team in Boston. When he was traded from Phoenix, the Suns were a three-point-guard show for a 29-25, eighth-place team.

“When we recruited him, we pitched the sixth-man role to him and to be one of the top scorers in the league,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said. “That was with (Eric) Bledsoe and (Goran) Dragic on the roster. We signed Isaiah before we ended up getting Bledsoe’s contract resolved. It’s one of those things that seemed better to him in July than it did maybe during the season.”

The Suns pursued LeBron James first in 2014 free agency. Once that door closed after a meeting with James’ agent, the Suns targeted Thomas as the best available free agent after Sacramento did not pursue re-signing him. Thomas’ four-year, $27 million contract (via a sign-and-trade for Oriakhi) was – and is – considered a strong value, especially with how rapidly the NBA salary cap will rise over the next two years.

Thomas averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 assists for the Suns in 25.7 minutes per game, nine fewer minutes than he played in Sacramento. Thomas said he was competing for a starting job from the start of 2014 Suns training camp and commented during the season that the Suns situation was not what he expected. After the trade, he said playing time was his only issue in Phoenix, where he made 39 percent of his 3-pointers.

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No. 3: Are the Wolves in the right hands? — The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team built for the future; everyone knows this. But the present-day Wolves aren’t doing very well; we can all see that, too. The question then becomes: is the team being brought along properly? And is Sam Mitchell the right coach in their development? Mitchell is the interim coach this season and the Wolves haven’t made any guarantees about his future, which means the organization is taking a wait and see approach. Meanwhile, Mitchell spoke with Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, who offered up this report:

And so, despite a nine-game losing streak, Mitchell loves the team he has. And, after practice Saturday, Mitchell defended his work developing that Wolves young roster.

“Our three leading scorers are our young guys,” Mitchell said of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. That will be a blessing a year or two from now. It’s tough when they’re developing. But everything they’re going through is going to make them better.”

It’s clear Mitchell would like to still be the coach when the benefits of that development are reaped. He also knows that, as the Wolves losing streak has gotten longer — it reached nine Friday — the criticism has grown louder. But Mitchell — who went through a similar situation in Toronto — is confident he is the right man for the job of developing this young team.

“Explain to me how we’re blocking the young guys?” Mitchell said. “When Andrew Wiggins is a 20-point scorer, and there are only 20 of those in the league? Karl-Anthony Towns is doing something that no rookie has done in 20 years. Zach LaVine is in the process of learning a new position and is our third-leading scorer. And Shabazz Muhammad has made tremendous strides. Gorgui Dieng has made strides …

“Now tell me, how are we hurting them?”

Mitchell is a self-described old school coach. Again Friday he left many of his young players in the game in the fourth-quarter of a one-sided loss, hoping they’d learn from the experience. He has admitted being hard on LaVine, even allowing as his style hasn’t always been fair.

“Yes, I tell him that all the time,” Mitchell said. “I tell him, ‘It’s hard, Zach, and sometimes it’s unfair.’ But that’s the way young players learn.”

As an example Mitchell offered Muhammad. The coaches were trying to get him to look for his teammates more, make the extra pass, play better defense. When he didn’t do that, his minutes took a tumble late in December. But, once Mitchell saw Muhammad making the effort, the minutes increased.

“I didn’t give him those minutes,” Mitchell said. “He earned them.”

But, as the losses mount, so does the pressure. Mitchell admitted Saturday that his team very much needed to experience a win, and soon, just to see some return on his players’ investment.

But he’s not going to change his approach. He said his experience in Toronto — where he won 33 and 27 games in his first two seasons before jumping to 47 wins and a division title in his third — gives him the confidence he’s doing the right thing.

“Two years from now, if we don’t do what we’re doing now, we’re never going to win, or compete, for playoff spots, or for the Western Conference or an NBA championship,” he said. “So my job is this. Even though it’s painful to do the right thing. And the right thing is to teach the young players — with the help of the veterans — how to play. And if I had not been through it before, maybe I’d panic. Maybe I’d be worried.”

***

No. 4: Kobe cancels himself out for Rio — Yes, Kobe Bryant does have a realistic grip on his basketball abilities at this point. Previously, Kobe openly wished he could be considered for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team, but with his struggles this season, he finally conceded that maybe taking a spot from a more deserving player wouldn’t be the best idea, even if he could pull it off. Remember, Olympics chief Jerry Colangelo didn’t promise Kobe a spot – only Paul George is virtually guaranteed one — but would consider it out of respect for what Kobe has done for international basketball. Anyway, Kobe some about this and other topics before playing in Utah. Here’s some of the Q and A:

 

Q: Lot of memories with the Jazz team. Do you have any memories with this Jazz crowd here in this arena?

Kobe: [Laughing] Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. They were really, really tough on me, man. More so than the other crowds. They were tough. Signs when I’m shooting a free throw to literally just yelling it in my ear. Taking the ball out. They pissed me off so much. It was like ’08 in the playoffs where I just kind of erupted after a play, talking back to the crowd because they just kept driving me. With that said, it’s fond memories truly because it was like that’s what sports should be. That kind of bantering and that kind of competition or whatever. I’ve always loved playing here because of that.

Q: A man that is so driven like yourself, if you can, as you think about life after basketball, have you thought about ownership, coaching, broadcasting? Have you had a chance to just let it soak in and say what about life – because you’re still a young man – but after basketball that will keep you motivated and focused?

Kobe: Yeah, those are tough questions for athletes, I think. I’ve been kind of searching for what that was going to be for years now – 15 or 16 years – kind have been searching for that next passion and I’ve been very fortunate enough to find it to the point where it keeps me up at night. Constantly working, studying, and trying to get better at it, and I’m really looking forward to moving into that next phase. Ownership is in terms of being there day-to-day or coaching and things of that sort don’t interest me. I just don’t have a passion for it. Or broadcasting for that matter, I just don’t have a passion for it.

Q: Speaking of the future, the other day you said it was Draymond’s and Steph’s time to pursue championships and gold medals. That you’ve had your turn. Have you closed the door on pursuing the Olympics this summer or is that something you’re still considering?

Kobe: I think it’s their time. I think it’s their time. It’s funny; during a game in Golden State, it was a break in a play or whatever. Leandro Barbosa, who I’ve known for a very long time, comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey, I’ll see you in Rio.’ I just turned around and go, ‘Nah.’ [Laughs] He said, ‘Come on, man, it’s Rio.’ I said, ‘Nah, I think it’s the young guy’s turn to go play and perform.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to win two gold medals. I’ve had my moment. I think it’s important for them to go ahead and play. I’ll watch from afar, support from afar. If they want me to come down and speak to the guys, I will. That’s about it. I think as beautiful as it would be to play for our country, when I say my last game is going to be my last game I’m going to retire, then that’s it. It’s not like I’m going to walk off the stage and then but… I’m going to come right back for a minute. [Laughs] ‘Hold on one second.’

I think it’s pretty sweet to have the final game in a Laker uniform and to support the players from afar.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Suppose the moves made by Sam Hinkie eventually help rebuild the Sixers? How will he be viewed? … After a show start, Amir Johnson is starting to finally fit in with the CelticsLeBron James, whose company dropped Johnny Manziel, says the QB needs to turn things aroundCody Zeller at center? It might work. He has played better with the Hornets missing Al JeffersonJared Dudley says the Bucks were smart to trade him.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: James Harden and the Houston Rockets are ready to roar after a banner 2014-15 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard ready to take control in Portland | Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott | Melo ready for end to long summer in New York | Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind

No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …

One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.

For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.

“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”

The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.

It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.

Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.

A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.

Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.

It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.

***

No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …

For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.

Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.

“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”

That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.

That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.

“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”

***

No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News

Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.

Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.

“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”

The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.

The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.

But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.

Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …

Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.

The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting.

NBA.com recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”

That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.

There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:

1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.

The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.

.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectationsMarcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix SunsKlay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultantThe Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant

ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season:


VIDEO: 2014-15 Top alley-oops