Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Robinson’

Blazers’ would-be depth all in Vegas


VIDEO: The Trail Blazers’ young guns rout the Hawks in Las Vegas Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Two seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers’ bench was remarkably young and perilously inadequate. Last season, the addition of veteran Mo Williams plus incredibly good health among the starting five limited opportunity for the Blazers’ babies.

As Summer League heats up, that banging sound you hear is opportunity knocking. Which young Blazers finally walk through that door will be an intriguing story line to monitor. The choices are all right here in Vegas. In fact, if the Blazers don’t boast the most players from their big-league team on their Summer League squad then they’re right there near the top.

Six of Portland’s 15 roster players are on its Summer League squad: Guards Will Barton, Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum, as well as frontline teammates Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson. All six players have either one or two years of league service, and all six are seeking to make a first-time impact in the Blazers’ rotation.

McCollum, Robinson and Leonard are all top 11 draft picks.

“It’s an important summer for our young bigs and and our young perimeter guys,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said as he watched Portland’s summer team beat down Atlanta, 91-76. “CJ, Will and Allen, there’s an opportunity. I can’t say how many minutes, but there’s an opportunity. Joel, Meyers and T-rob, after signing Chris [Kaman], there’s some competition.”

Kaman was granted a two-year, $9.8 million contract coming off two subpar seasons with Dallas and then the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet Portland felt compelled to sign him up as backup to starter Robin Lopez because they’ve haven’t been able to count on Leonard or Freeland.

The young guards won’t have to contend with Williams, who remains on the market as an unrestricted free agent, however the Blazers signed steady veteran in Steve Blake.

“In my rookie year everyone talked about the bench,” said Leonard, who took a step back last season, partly due to injury. “Last year was a much better year for us, young guys stepped up. Now we need to have even more of a deep bench, confidence from coach to put us in there and know the score isn’t  going to down, we’re going to keep it there or we’re going to increase the lead. It’s confidence in the starters and coaches that when we come in we’re going to do a good job and they can know we’re going to be all right.”

Self-confidence is a big pat of it, too. The leader in that category could be Thomas Robinson, the fifth overall pick two years ago by Sacramento, who was traded by the Kings and then the Rockets. He played in 70 games for Portland last season, averaging 4.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg in 12.5 mpg. He provided some high energy moments off the bench during the playoffs and now the 23-year-old says he’s discovered what it takes to be a productive NBA player.

“I am where I was supposed to be after my rookie year, making that leap to knowing what type of player you are in this league and knowing what you’re going to do for your team,” Robinson said. “That’s where I am now, where I should have been last year.”

Few expected the Blazers to end up where they did last season, winning 54 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the last 14 years. They have a dynamic starting five with All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, streak-shooter Wes Matthews, stat-stuffer small forward Nicolas Batum and Lopez, their lunchpail center.

Bench parts at every position are on the roster. Now, with another year under the belts, the question is which ones walk through that door.

Lillard becomes one for the ages

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Damian Lillard joins Arena Link to discuss the big shot

PORTLAND, Ore. — Teammate Thomas Robinson says you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This was just a start for the kid.

If that’s the case, Damian Lillard‘s next trick will likely be a re-creation of that old McDonald’s commercial with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan: “Over the freeway, through the window, off the scoreboard…”

It wasn’t just a dagger through the heart of the Rockets. It was the kind of shot that defines a career, creates a legend and trails you like a permanent ray of sunshine long after the sneakers and jersey come off and the hair has turned gray.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a “25-foot, 3-point jump shot.”

And Moby Dick was just another whale.

“I’ve seen him do that kind stuff, make shots like that for the past two years,” said Wes Matthews. “From the first day you saw him out on the practice court, you could tell from the way he carried himself. He’s just, well, different.”

It’s the difference that allows a neurosurgeon to poke around inside somebody’s brain with with the sheer confidence, maybe the utter arrogance, that he just won’t slip with the scalpel.

It’s the difference that diamond cutter has when he knows that he won’t turn that big, expensive bauble into cheap rock with a bad tap on the chisel.

“I mean, I got a pretty good look,” said the 23 year old who might as well be an ageless Yoda doing tricks with a light saber. “Once I saw it on line, I said that’s got a chance. It went in, but it did feel good when it left my hands.”

It came after Chandler Parson‘s out-of-the-blue put-back had given the Rockets a 98-96 lead with 0.9 seconds left.

“The first thing I did when I saw Parson’s shot go in was look at the clock,” Lillard said. “I saw there was time. I knew we would have a shot. I just didn’t know what kind.”

It was the kind of shot that will replayed on the giant video screen at the Moda Center or whatever new-fangled arena comes next for as long as they play basketball in Portland. The biggest last-second shot in Blazers’ history.

It came fittingly on a night when the franchise honored the legendary coach Jack Ramsay, who led the Blazers to their only NBA championship in 1977 and died on Monday.

Rip City — R.I.P. City — indeed.

Up on the screen, there was grainy old color film of Dr. Jack in his wild ’70s disco era plaid pants and wide collars jumping for joy as his share-the-ball Blazers clinched the title.

Down there on the court, just an hour or so later, there were the linear descendants of those Blazers — who move without the ball, do all the little things and play unselfishly — leaping into each other’s arm.

“When he made the shot, I didn’t let him go for the next three minutes,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, the workhorse who carried the Blazers, averaging 29.8 points in the series.

It was not just a Portland moment, but an NBA moment, the kind that should be frozen in Jurassic amber.

Lillard’s was the first buzzer-beating shot to clinch a playoff series since John Stockton did it to the Rockets’ ancestors in the 1997 Western Conference finals.

Put it a gold frame and hang it behind a velvet rope with:

Ralph Sampson‘s rim-rattling prayer that beat the Lakers and sent the Rockets to the 1986 Western Conference Finals.

Garfield Heard‘s heave for the Suns that forced triple overtime at Boston Garden In the 1976 Finals.

Derek Fisher‘s running miracle with 0.4 seconds in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference finals that beat the Spurs.

– And yes, even Michael Jordan‘s hanging, leaning, drifting to the side jumper over a helpless Craig Ehlo in the Bulls’ Game 5 clincher of the first round in 1989.

That last one started a legend. To hear the Blazers tell it, their second-year guard is already writing the first few chapters of his own.

“Oh, he’s doing things all the time in practice and all season long in games that you just don’t expect and maybe don’t think are possible,” said center Robin Lopez.

“I’ve been around the NBA for 10 years and played a lot of games with a lot of players and seen a lot of things,” said guard Mo Williams. “I’ve seen shots, yeah. Have I seen a shot like that? Noooooo.”

It ended a series that had three overtime games, only one margin of victory that was by more than single figures. The only double digit lead of the night lasted just 16 seconds. The biggest lead of the second half by either team was four. The cumulative score of the entire series had the Rockets ahead by two points.

Just like they led by two with 0.9 seconds left and when Lillard zipped away from the defender Parson and came zooming wide open right toward the inbounding Nicolas Batum.

“I clapped my hands at Nico,” Lillard said. “He threw it to me and I turned. The rim was right there.”

And Lillard let it fly.

If we ain’t seen nothing yet, that next chapter will be a doozy.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Sixers, Granger mulling options | Ainge, Rondo chat delayed | Turner impresses in Indy debut | Blazers’ Robinson hurts knee in Denver | Report: Butler, Bucks working on buyout

No. 1: Report: Granger, Sixers still talking over future — Another day, another day closer to a buyout for Danny Granger with the Philadelphia 76ers? Team officials and the small forward continue to talk over what the next move will be: a buyout in the coming days or, perhaps, Granger sticking with the Sixers for the rest of the season. ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne and Marc Stein have more on what may come next for Granger:

Newly acquired Danny Granger and the Philadelphia 76ers continue to discuss a possible buyout, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that a buyout consummated before Saturday’s midnight deadline for Granger to be waived and remain eligible to appear in this season’s playoffs with any team he subsequently signs for remains the most likely outcome.

But sources also said Granger continues to weigh other options, including staying with the 76ers for the rest of the season, as the deadline draws near.

Sources said Tuesday the San Antonio Spurs and Granger share a mutual interest if the former All-Star comes to a buyout agreement with the Sixers by the weekend.

It’s believed the Los Angeles Clippers will be another leading suitor for Granger’s services should he become an unrestricted free agent next week.

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No. 2: Ainge says Rondo chat likely won’t happen soon — As we reported in this space yesterday, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is expected to be called into team president Danny Ainge‘s office to explain why he didn’t travel with the team to a game in Sacramento. Apparently that conversation is still going to happen … it just won’t happen for a few more days. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald has more on the issue:

Though Danny Ainge plans to talk to Rajon Rondo about the guard’s decision to celebrate his 28th birthday in Los Angeles last Saturday while the team flew to Sacramento for a game against the Kings, the meeting might not take place for a week.

Ainge departed on a college scouting trip before the team’s return to Boston. Though the president of basketball operations still plans to discuss the issue with Rondo, he won’t return until next week.

A team source stressed that “it’s not that big a deal around here,” though Ainge hasn’t ruled out fining Rondo for not receiving official permission. The guard, who still is not playing on the second night of back-to-back games as he returns from ACL surgery, was not scheduled to play Saturday night in Sacramento. He chose to remain in Los Angeles for a birthday celebration that was attended by his wife, children and mother.

Rondo, who rejoined the team Monday in Utah, told the Herald he had talked with management about staying behind in Los Angeles, and that there was nothing further to discuss. Ainge, however, said he planned to discuss the matter with Rondo once the team returned yesterday.

***

No. 3: Turner fares nicely in Indy debut — Before last night’s Pacers-Los Angeles Lakers game from Indianapolis, coach Frank Vogel said newly acquired swingman Evan Turner would come off the bench and play roughly 20-25 minutes in his Indiana debut. For the record, Turner played 26 minutes and 11 seconds and finished with 13 points and six rebounds in the Pacers’ 118-98 romp over the Lakers. The feeling after the game, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, was that Turner’s debut went about as well as it could:

Turner had the green light to be himself in the Pacers’ 118-98 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. During an offensive torrent when the Pacers (43-13) created season highs in field goal makes and attempts as well as bench points, Turner finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

“He’s just a good basketball player,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He has good savvy, good IQ. He understands his teammates. He picks things up quickly and like I said, he looked comfortable.”

Turner, whom the Pacers received in a last-minute trade deadline deal last week for Danny Granger, took as many shots as starter Lance Stephenson. He played 26 minutes of mostly offensive-oriented basketball while still working through the details of the Pacers’ league-best defense. However, as seven Indiana players finished in double digits – led by Paul George’s 20 points – Turner fit right in with a bench unit that produced 50 points.

Turner was admittedly nervous before the game, and even when he heard the applause from many of the 18,165 fans – in spite of their team’s woeful record, many Lakers (19-38) fans still showed up. And he started out looking like a new kid in class. In his first action, Turner set a solid screen that aided in the Pacers’ score off the inbounds play. Then on his first run through a half-court set, Turner stretched the floor and raced back on defense even before a shot went up from the inside. A West moving screen foiled his first touch, then Turner grew confident.

Of all people, Turner understands Indiana’s offensive principle – the man with ball creates the score and when help comes, he shares it – because with the 76ers, his role was to be that man with the ball.

“In Philly,” Turner said. “I could (pass) the ball at the rim.”

So, yes, Turner knows how to shoot. He took those opportunities whenever he caught smaller defenders like Jodie Meeks or MarShon Brooks and backed them down for turnaround midrange shots on the baseline.

“He’s still got to adjust,” David West said. “He’s got to figure out how to play with us. He’s going to have to figure out on the fly here. He’s smart, heady, composed.

“He’s got to get used to the level of talent we have. Guys he can defer to as opposed to feeling he has to do too much.”


VIDEO: Evan Turner discusses his first game as a member of the Pacers

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No. 4: Blazers’ Robinson suffers minor knee injury — Portland’s frontcourt depth has already been thinned by a recent minor injury to All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and ones to Joel Freeland (MCL, out several more weeks) and Meyers Leonard (ankle, out 2 more weeks). It wasn’t a great sign last night, then, when one of the last few healthy big men, Thomas Robinson, suffered a knee injury in Denver. Luckily for the Blazers, reports Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Robinson merely has a left patella strain:

Thomas Robinson suffered a knee injury in the first half of Tuesday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.The team is listing it as a left patella strain and says he is day-to-day.

Robinson, 22, sustained the injury when he went up for a dunk attempt. Something occurred on his way down. He was only able to play three second half minutes due to severity of the pain.

“I tried to go back in there but I couldn’t,” he told CSNNW.com. “It was something I’ve never experienced before on this knee.”

His diagnosis is good news, considering how defeated Robinson looked in his locker room stall after the Trail Blazers won 100-95.

Robinson scored 2 points and pulled down 5 rebounds in 14 minutes of action against the Nuggets.

“I’m worried, he said before finding out the results. “I’m just going to rest and put some ice on it and get some rest and hopefully I’ll be able to go tomorrow.”


VIDEO: The Blazers hold off the Nuggets in Denver

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No. 5: Report: Bucks on verge of buying out Butler — Wisconsin native Caron Butler was plenty excited in the offseason to return to his home state and play for Milwaukee’s squad (as this great video documents), but things haven’t worked out how Butler or the Bucks have hoped. With the team in the midst of a clear rebuilding season, Butler is expected to be bought out of his deal so that he can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more: 

Milwaukee Bucks swingman Caron Butler is scheduled to complete a contract buyout Wednesday that sets him up to become an unrestricted free agent by the end of the week, according to sources close to the talks.

Sources told ESPN.com that Wisconsin native Butler, who is earning $8 million this season on an expiring contract with his home-state Bucks, is on course to be released by Milwaukee on Wednesday and thus clear waivers Friday, well in advance of the Saturday midnight deadline by which time he must be set free to be eligible to play in the playoffs with another team.

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat, sources said, will be at the front of the line to sign Butler, who spent his first two seasons in the league with the Heat and is expected to verbally commit to a team before clearing waivers.

Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times also confirms that the Bucks and Butler are working on a buyout:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jason Collins’ No. 98 jersey was reportedly a top seller at both the NBA Store and its website … The Knicks are set to sign ex-Cavs forward Earl Clark and ex-Lakers and Suns guard Shannon Brown to 10-day deals … According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, ex-Bucks star Junior Bridgeman has shown interest in investing in a part of the team … Speaking of Mr. Bridgeman, Pistons guard Chauncey Billups explains how Bridgeman’s off-the-court business savy has influenced him

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough looked like one of the poor guys trying to stick with “Uncle Drew” (aka Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving) during one of his forays to the court for a game of pickup hoops …


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving crosses up Tyler Hansbrough en route to a layup

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets still await Williams’ return | Young calls Clips’ banner move ‘disrespectful’ | Magic may abandon a.m. shootarounds| Blazers’ Robinson learns from many trades

No. 1: D-Will’s return date still unknownSince spraining his right ankle during an offseason workout in his Utah home, Nets All-Star guard Deron Williams hasn’t played in a preseason game and has minimally increased his participation in practice as well. He has missed all of the Nets’ preseason games and his status remains day-to-day, which has some concerned about his status for the season opener next week, writes Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:

One month after the Nets first announced Deron Williams had suffered a sprained right ankle, it still remains unclear when the star point guard will return to the floor.

Williams has increased his workload during practice each of the past two days, according to coach Jason Kidd, and Paul Pierce went as far as to say the team “had a chance to see [Williams] get his feet wet a little” during the two practices, which could be taken as a positive sign in his recovery.

That has been the basic stance the Nets have taken on this injury since it was first announced the day before Williams hosted his charity dodgeball tournament on Sept. 19, which he attended wearing a walking boot. Williams said that was a preventative measure after an MRI exam showed “a little inflammation” after he sprained the ankle and suffered a bone bruise during a workout in Utah early last month.

“They have me in [the boot] now so I don’t have to worry about it when the season starts,” Williams said that day. But he also said then that “I’ll be ready” when the season starts, and that his plan was to be able to fully participate in training camp.

Instead, Williams has been limited, at best, in practice since training camp began Oct. 1, and the Nets only have said he is “day-to-day,” and his status for opening night is up in the air.

“That we’re taking it day by day,” Kidd said when asked if anything had changed to keep Williams out this long.”

Kidd did say Williams looks like he’s getting better.

He worked out [Saturday and] he looked good, so I think he’s going in the right direction,” Kidd said. “He’s doing everything that the doctors and the trainers have asked him. … It’s a process, and he got better [Saturday].”

***

No. 2:  Young calls Clips’ move to cover up Lakers’ banners ‘disrespectful’Maybe you missed it over the weekend and maybe you didn’t, but for brevity’s sake, here’s the quick version: Clippers coach Doc Rivers is having all of the Lakers’ banners — championships, retired players, etc. — covered up during Clipper home games so that the Staples Center has more of a Clipper feel to it. New Lakers swingman Nick Young, who is an L.A. native, took exception to the move and called it out as ‘disrespectful’, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“He can do that?” Young said after Lakers practice Sunday, the team’s first since returning from China. “For real? That’s disrespectful. We got to talk to Doc. He can’t have that. We got to do something about that.”

The Clippers revealed their Staples Center redecoration during a preseason game Friday, as they plastered giant posters of players Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick over the Lakers’ 16 championship banners and 10 retired uniforms.

“That’s a lot of pull y’all are giving Doc,” Young said, somewhat facetiously. “I think he shouldn’t come in and have so much pull like that. He’s got to earn his keep.”

When a reporter argued that Rivers’ championship resume from his time with the Boston Celtics should give the coach the credence to do so, Young retorted, “But he didn’t win no title in L.A. That’s where it’s at. Look at all these banners in here, you can’t shadow those up.”

The Lakers and Clippers have shared the Staples Center since it opened for the 1999-2000 season, making them the only teams in the league to have such an arrangement.

“I guess if you were in the Clippers’ organization you probably want to do that, too,” Lakers point guard Steve Nash said. “It’s their arena on their night, so I would try to make it feel like home.”

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No. 3: Magic likely to ditch a.m. shootarounds — The Orlando Magic have one of the younger teams in the league as only Jameer Nelson, Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price will be 30 or older come opening night. That means coach Jacque Vaughn has a lot of teaching to do and, as such, may be trying to make things easier on his youthful crew by eliminating morning shootarounds, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

This preseason the Magic have done away with morning shootarounds, choosing instead to hold afternoon shootarounds on their Amway Center practice court before home exhibitions and afternoon walkthroughs in hotel ballrooms when they’ve been on the road.

It appears that coach Jacque Vaughn made the switch to improve players’ retention of specific gameplans and to keep his players fresh.

Vaughn wouldn’t discuss his specific reasoning prior to Sunday night’s exhibition against the Detroit Pistons, but some other teams — typically teams loaded with experienced players — in recent years have shifted away from morning shootarounds.

“Have I made a conscious effort to not have some shootarounds? Yes,” Vaughn said. “And will that continue throughout the course of the year? Probably yes. I took a scope of all the things that we did last year — what I liked, what I didn’t like, what I thought was efficient. And that’s what I’m about. I’m about being efficient.

“I don’t have to stroke my own ego and check boxes off [a practice plan]. I just don’t. I don’t have to do what other coaches do. I’m fine with doing what I think is best for my team.”

NBA teams almost never hold morning shootarounds on the second day of a back-to-back, and the Magic didn’t hold morning shootarounds on those days last season, either.

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No. 4: Blazers’ Robinson learns from many trades — Big man Thomas Robinson was the No. 5 pick of the 2012 Draft by the Sacramento Kings, but by the end of this summer, he had been shipped from the Kings to the Houston Rockets at last season’s trade deadline and, in the offseason, traded from Houston to Portland in a cap-saving move by the Rockets. All those dealings have had their effect on Robinson, who told CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes that he’s learned from many of his first year mistakes:

Yes it was only a preseason game against the Sacramento Kings, a team going through a rebuild and transformation process. But for Thomas Robinson, it meant so much more.

Sacramento is the team that drafted him, and they are the team that traded him to Houston a few months later. Not often is the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft presented with such a short leash.

The Rockets didn’t waist time shipping away the athletic forward, either. However it’s the trade from Sacramento that stung the most and he’s still not over it.

Tonight, it was redemption time.

“It got to a point where I had to calm myself down before the game and remind myself that it’s just a game,” Thomas told CSNNW.com. “I just needed to relax and tell myself that it’s just business. It’s not personal. But at the end of the day, if I get the chance to go up against them, I’m not going to hesitate to give it to them.”

Trading Robinson might have been a business decision for Sacramento, but Robinson isn’t going to let them off the hook for that.

“I use that trade and the negative articles that I got saved from last year where people were writing me off. I use that as motivation,” he said. “It’s all good, though. It’s not how fast you do your business, it’s how long.  And as long as I’m still here 10 years from now, I couldn’t care less what anybody thinks about my first year.”

It was a total team effort. For Robinson, it was extreme joy.

The NBA season is long and a preseason performance is not going to erase a year that wasn’t worthy of a top-5 pick. Robinson knows that. That’s why he going about things differently this time around.

His mindset is to not worry about touches, he’s just staying on the attack and being the aggressor. All the time.

As a top draft pick, he admitted to feeling entitled to a certain amount of touches and playing time while being a member of the Kings. That thinking is out of his system now. Three teams in two years tend to do that to a player.

He says that doesn’t change the fact that Sacramento gave up on him too soon, though.

When times on the court get rough, the power forward says he thinks back to when he played in Northern California and that motivates him more than enough to get out of that rut, knowing he’s not trying to go back to that feeling.

“It was great to just play a good game today,” Robinson said. “I know that the mistakes that I made when I was in Sacramento, the mindset that I had there, is completely different now. The mindset that I have now is where it will remain. When my mind is messed up, then it just looks like I’m playing bad like what happened in Sacramento. I’m not going back there.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Days after locking up young big man Derrick Favors with an extension, the Jazz are in discussions to do likewise with Gordon Hayward … Spurs reserve big man Jeff Ayers says the Heat were trying to take out his knees … Rookie Steven Adams continues to impress with his rebound work for OKC

ICYMI Of The Night: Who isn’t excited to watch Ricky Rubio make these kinds of passes on a nightly basis? …

Reports: Blazers Pick Up Guard Williams

From NBA.com staff reports

One of the last remaining marquee names on the free-agent market, ex-Jazz guard Mo Williams, has found a new home in the same division.

As first reported by CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, Williams will sign a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. The move keeps the versatile combo guard in the Northwest Division and adds another guard to a Portland roster that also features reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, rookie C.J. McCollum and veterans Earl Watson, Wes Matthews and Dorell Wright.

Portland had its fair share of trouble scoring off the bench last season and has attempted to address that issue by bolstering its bench with more guards and by adding big men Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez in offseason trades as well.

Aldridge, Trail Blazers Set For A Split?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Making a graceful exit, whenever and however it happens, is probably out of the question for LaMarcus Aldridge. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

Aldridge might not have said the words himself, but a public demand for a trade isn’t necessary when his “camp” spends time in Las Vegas suggesting possible trade scenarios to Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, according to my main man Chris Haynes of CSNW.com.

This marriage seems headed for divorce at some point over the next year and a half. And it’s hard to fault Aldridge for seeking a fresh start at this stage of his career. When your contemporaries around the league are joining forces left and right and lining up for championship runs, being in the midst of continuous rebuilding situations in Portland does nothing for an All-Star’s title hopes.

There was a time, as recently as three years ago (before all of the injuries, tumult and roster and front office upheaval), when it looked like Aldridge might realize those dreams in Portland. But he’s the last man standing from that pre-Olshey era. Now he’s looking for a fresh start somewhere he can be a key piece on a playoff team, a contender even, albeit with two years and some $30 million remaining on his current deal.

But if Aldridge and the Trail Blazers are set for a split, amicable or not, snagging equal value for a 7-foot, 240-pound power forward that can play center in this small-ball phase the league is going through will be tough. At 27, Aldridge is still young enough to be slotted as one of a team’s frontcourt anchors for the next six or seven seasons.

Still, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding these reported trade suggestions. The names being thrown around, by one side or the other, will raise plenty of eyebrows:

Trading Aldridge for a collection of draft picks will not be an option.

Prospective teams holding the rights to Joakim Noah, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Al Horford and Anthony Davis, as of now, have declined to involve their franchise players in any potential deals for Aldridge, a league source told CSNNW.com.

Unless something changes after Summer League, the likely development is Aldridge returning to Portland next season and having a strong year to increase the likelihood of Olshey pulling the trigger on a deal.

When Aldridge is a year removed from becoming a free agent, his camp will have more leverage than at the current time.

Aldridge could return for another season and pair up with Rookie of the Year-winning guard Damian Lillard and find himself in a situation that might be to his liking. Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson have been added to the mix, guys Olshey expects to do the “grit-and-grind” work to while preserving Aldridge from shouldering as much of the load as he’s had to the past three seasons. A run at a playoff spot could change Aldridge’s outlook on this team, which is why Olshey would be wise to hold off on serious trade talks for as long as he can.

But in a day and age when star players bolt from their incumbent franchises for all sorts of reasons, the Trail Blazers would have to listen if one of those aforementioned players were actually to become available.

Love grew up in suburban Portland and Griffin has connections to Olshey from their shared time with the Clippers. Both Noah and Horford are the kind of no-nonsense, hard-working players that could fit in anywhere. And Davis is a young talent with perhaps the highest ceiling of all.

With a huge free-agent summer of 2014 on the horizon already and a potentially monster 2014 Draft class in play as well, teams with proven commodities in the fold have to keep all of their options open these days.

And again, if these are the sorts of talents that could come into play at some point, Olshey would be obligated to at least explore the possibilities.

It’s only right, considering Aldridge’s camp is doing the same thing … exploring the possibilities.


Las Vegas Summer League: Day 6 Recap

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LAS VEGAS – Playing to impress strangers isn’t the same thing as playing to impress one’s coaches, and it’s easy for young guys to veer recklessly toward the former.

summer-league-logoSticking to a few strengths, by contrast, and filling a niche can go a long way toward opening eyes not just on a player’s summer team but with all the scouts from rival clubs or even global leagues.

Bob Thornton, the Memphis assistant coach working the Grizzlies’ game against Washington Wednesday, was thrilled for Jack Cooley, the undrafted rookie from Notre Dame who did the things he’s good at and mostly avoided the things he’s not. In the case of a wide-body like Cooley, Thornton said, that means “rebound, set screens, play defense and hit the shot when it’s there.”

That’s what Cooley did, with an efficient 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting and 12 rebounds (six offensive) in just over 30 minutes in Memphis’ 90-83 victory. Left open on the elbow on a couple of times, he boldly stuck the shots. Cooley even drained a 3-pointer when it was there, while forcing nothing. Following his lead, the Grizzlies grabbed 20 offensive boards in the 40-minute game.

Afterward, Thornton said: “He’s out here creating opportunities for himself.” Through four games, Cooley is averaging 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 52 percent — earning him a spot on our Rookie Ladder.

Non-rookie of the day: Travis Leslie, Heat. In a little more than 23 minutes off Miami’s bench in its 113-66 blowout of New York, Leslie scored 23 points on just 13 shots. The 6-foot-4 guard from Georgia gets around -– he was a first-round pick of the Santa Cruz Warriors of the D-League before last season and averaged better than 15 points. He participated in the Orlando Summer League with Philadelphia.

Other notables: Jordan Hamilton, Nuggets. A 6-foot-7 guard from Texas, he scored 23 points in Denver’s 87-82 victory over New Orleans, hitting four of his seven 3-pointers. Thomas Robinson, Trail Blazers. He was at it again, good for 13 points and 17 rebounds in Portland’s 70-69 victory over Atlanta one day after getting 12 points and 18 boards vs. Chicago. Josh Akognon, Mavericks. The 5-foot-11 guard from Cal State-Fullerton was a sparkplug off the Dallas bench, scoring 24 points in 24:50 in a 95-89 victory over the L.A. Clippers.

Rookie of the day (after Cooley): Dennis Schroder, Hawks. He has been valued more for his defense than anything else, but the Atlanta point guard got to the line, sank 7-for-8 and wound up with 16 points despite 4-for-11 shooting from the floor (1-for-5 from the arc). He had five assists and three steals with (oops) six turnovers.

Other notables: Shabazz Muhammad. The former UCLA forward, whose selection by Minnesota at No. 14 drew some criticism, had his best day as a pro. He scored 17 points and sank three of his four 3-pointers in the Timberwolves’ 92-54 laugher over Sacramento. Muhammad had been sputtering along at 7.3 ppg on 34.6 percent shooting. (Ben McLemore, the Kings’ touted shooting guard, was back in struggle mode, missing all eight of his field-goal attempts.) C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers. The combo guard continues to put up solid numbers for Portland, his 19 points just shy of his average (21.3 ppg) coming into the victory over Atlanta.

Coming up: The byes are over, the goodbyes start soon. In the new tournament format, the 10 top-seeded teams all were idle Wednesday but will take on the day’s winners Thursday (and in a couple cases, each other), with action starting at 1 p.m. ET with No. 7 Cleveland vs. No. 10 San Antonio. Once everyone has five games completed, the single-elimination feature kicks in. Starting Friday, losers head home and winners keep going, with the championship game set for Monday

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 5 Recap

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LAS VEGAS With five days in the books, all 22 teams have now played three games each and it’s clear that players are starting to feel more comfortable with the action. Wednesday begins tournament play, with the top 10 teams receiving byes and the bottom 12 teams in action at Thomas & Mack and Cox Pavilion. Complete bracket information can be found here.

summer-league-logoNon-rookie of the day: Thomas Robinson, Trail Blazers. Portland’s offseason acquisition was a beast on the boards, finishing with 18 to go along with 12 points in the Blazers’ 80-78 overtime loss to the Bulls. Robinson was active and looked more like the lottery pick than the player that’s been dealt twice since being drafted by Sacramento at No. 5 in 2012.

Other notables: Marquis Teague, Bulls. Derrick Rose’s backup had his best scoring game yet, finishing with 25 points on 7-for-14 shooting, hitting all three 3-point attempts. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors. For the third straight game, the Lithuanian big man was dominant inside, scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds in Toronto’s 81-70 win over Sacramento. He did commit seven turnovers and had nine fouls (something that plagued him in his rookie season), but still looked like the best big man on the floor.

Rookie of the day: Ben McLemore, Kings. After two dismal shooting performances, the No. 7 pick’s shots were falling Tuesday as he finished with 26 points on a more respectable 8-for-14 shooting, which included him going 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. McLemore’s shot has looked good all week, but Tuesday he was more under control and it showed.

Other notables: Phoenix guard Archie Goodwin scored 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting in the Suns’ 100-88 win over the Grizzlies. The No. 29 overall pick hit all three of his 3-pointers in his best game yet in Las Vegas. C.J. McCollum started slow, but came on late to score 27 points, including a game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, where the Blazers would eventually lose to the Bulls 80-78.

Coming up: Tuesday was the final day of preliminary play. Now, teams will be seeded and placed in brackets for the tournament format leading to the championship game on July 22. Six games will be played Wednesday, beginning at 6 p.m. ET, which is a departure from the typical 4 p.m. ET start of the day in Las Vegas. Check NBA.com/summerleague for complete seeding and bracket information for the rest of the tournament.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 3 Recap

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LAS VEGAS – It’s not really the road back, because Thomas Robinson never exited the street in the first place.

summer-league-logoHe is trying to re-establish himself as a top prospect, though, or maybe just as part of the Trail Blazers’ future.

Robinson was here a year ago with the Kings as the No. 5 pick and their power forward of the future. When the future turned out to be a few months long, Sacramento dumped him in a trade with the Rockets. Houston then dealt him to Portland as part of shedding salaries to sign Dwight Howard.

In the 2013 incarnation, Robinson is taking advantage of the starting role before training camp and the part of the Trail Blazers that includes LaMarcus Aldridge. Robinson had eight rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes Saturday against the Suns and followed that up Sunday with 10 rebounds in 28 minutes of the 81-63 loss to the Lakers in the same Thomas & Mack Center.

Non-rookie of the day: Dion Waiters, Cavaliers. Playing on a team with several NBA players or candidates to make the league, the part-time starter last season scored 23 points in 30 minutes as Cleveland beat Memphis 69-58.

Other notables: Jonas Valanciunas continued to put up big numbers for the Raptors, this time getting 19 points and 13 rebounds in the 82-76 win over the Spurs. Brian Roberts had nearly one-third of the New Orleans points – 20 – in the 69-61 loss to the Bucks. And, Robinson, with 10 rebounds for the Trail Blazers.

Rookie of the day: Cody Zeller, Bobcats. The fourth pick in the Draft, showing the offense that Charlotte thinks will make the power forward a good fit to stretch the defense next to post presence Al Jefferson or next to the non-offense of Bismack Biyombo, had 21 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks in the 86-80 win over the Mavericks. Using athleticism and touch, Zeller made 6-of-12 field goals and 9-of-9 free throws.

Other notables: Elijah Millsap, younger brother of Hawks forward Paul Millsap, made 15 free throws and scored 21 points to lead the D-League Select squad to an 81-77 victory over the Clippers. Jack Cooley had 20 points and nine rebounds, and made two of four from behind the arc to show a touch to go with the physical play as a power forward-center, for the Grizzlies. Bonus points for seven fouls.

Coming up: Not satisfied with taking over Los Angeles, the Clippers try to own Las Vegas too when they play the Lakers at Cox Pavilion. Imagine the extra motivation.
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With Rockets, Howard’s Future Is Now

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HANG TIME, Texas
— The potential of youth and talk of a bright future were definitely served in the dinnertime pitch to Dwight Howard upon the opening of free agency.

But the Rockets are also delivering the message that they can be immediate championship contenders if the seven-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year makes the move to Texas.

While the Houston contingent included Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and a long-distance Skype call from Yao Ming as links to the franchise’s past, the emphasis was placed on how quickly Howard could return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2009 (when he led the Magic in a five-game series loss to the Lakers).

That’s where all of the horse-trading and maneuvering done by general manager Daryl Morey over the past several years could pay off with the biggest dividend. Even after the Rockets dealt second-year forward Thomas Robinson to Portland to clear the necessary salary cap space to make Howard a four-year, $87 million maximum contract offer, Morey has positioned the Rockets to add more than just Howard to next season’s roster.

Through salary cap exceptions and future Draft picks they hold, the Rockets can build around the core of a young lineup of Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik with the kind of experienced, veteran talent that could solidify the team in the playoffs.

Chances are, none of the other contenders in the Fight for Dwight could look Howard in the eye and tell him that he’d have a real shot at squaring off against LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat next June.

The Hawks do not possess the second elite-level player the Rockets have in Harden. The Warriors would have to work a sign-and-trade agreement with the Lakers to offer Howard a max contract and, in doing so, would probably have to shed the kind of teammates that would attract Howard.

Even in Dallas, owner Mark Cuban is admitting that his plan to get back into championship contention would likely take two years. With the aging Lakers, well, the clock just keeps ticking and they have virtually no cap room to boost the roster significantly immediately.

The Rockets are coming off a 45-win season and a first-round playoff series when they pushed No. 1 seed Oklahoma City to six games.

“They’re building something great in Houston,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said after that series.

The key is the bricks are in place to do it right now with Howard.