The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the best backcourt trios in the NBA with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, but the group was almost broken up this past summer.
The Brooklyn Nets made a four-year, $75 million offer sheet to Crabbe as a restricted free agent, which Portland ultimately matched.
Crabbe recently visited Barclays Center, which would’ve been his home arena had Portland declined to match his offer sheet.
“It’s human nature [to wonder] what if?” Crabbe told Basketball Insiders inside the visitor’s locker room in the arena. “I’m happy with where I’m at. Walking in here, it felt kind of weird like, ‘Oh, I could’ve played here.’ But I’m where I’m at and I’m happy here so just continue to do what I got to do to be a great asset to this team.”
Portland had Lillard and McCollum as the backcourt of the future and a young, talented roster with upside and cap space when Crabbe entered restricted free agency. Brooklyn had more cap space, but little talent on the roster other than Brook Lopez and many holes to fill with few draft picks to select homegrown talent for the future.
With that in mind, what made Crabbe want to sign the offer sheet with Brooklyn?
“The culture, straightforward coaches and they told me everything, all the things they were doing with their organization and they were straightforward with it and I respected that a lot,” Crabbe replied. “I looked at how they were going, how they said they wanted to use me and things like that. As a basketball player, of course, you don’t want to turn a situation like that down. So I felt like, ‘Sign that offer sheet.’ And then again, it also shows that it’s good to be wanted by other teams. I mean, not just by your team, obviously. I’m glad that Portland did match it because it showed that they wanted me still on this team and they still value me. I feel like it’s a good thing. It shows that the organization is doing a good job developing their players and you’re getting attention from other teams. So I felt like with me, it was just a blessing and a good opportunity for me. It was really like my first year really getting to play significant minutes and having a significant role on the team. It was fun, but like I said, just to know that you have interest from teams and the way Brooklyn wanted to use me, it’s a good feeling. I know that I’m going in the right direction as a player and I just want to continue to build on that.”
Lillard, the face of the franchise, spoke highly of Crabbe’s value to the team on both sides of the court.
“He’s a really good perimeter defender,” Lillard said. “In our offense, we use a lot of flare screens and pin downs and he’s great with that action, coming off of them and shooting, coming off and catching, hitting the guy in the pocket, one dribble pull-up jumper; he’s great at those things. In this league, that’s in high demand right now. Guys that can make threes and play defense, especially at his size with his length, and kind of guy he is, he was that important to our team. I’m glad Brooklyn didn’t get him and we did.”
While Crabbe would be a starter on many other teams, he’s accepted his role with the Trail Blazers coming off the bench as part of the league’s most explosive backcourt trio.
“I think everybody as a competitor, everybody wants to bring something to the table,” Crabbe said of the trio. “Just watching them day in and day out, how hard they go and just looking at the hard work and seeing how it’s paying off. Everybody wants to be on the same level, but we also know that everybody’s role is different. One of the biggest things our coaching staff always told us is, ‘Be an All-Star in your role. Whatever we ask you to do, what you do best, do that to the best of your ability each and every night and that’s what’s going to help the team.’
“Everybody knows you’re not going to have the same opportunities as other players on the team. But our biggest thing, like I said, playing our role to the best of our ability. I feel that’s why we’ve had such great success. We don’t have selfish guys on the team. Nobody cares who gets the most shots one night or who gets the most points. It’s all about winning. That’s the culture we created over here and everybody’s just chipping in what they can to get wins.”
While Crabbe has proven to be a capable scorer off the bench (and shown upside when given more playing time), the headlines will always focus on the star backcourt tandem of Lillard and McCollum.
With that in mind, I asked Lillard where the team’s starting backcourt ranks among the league and he answered confidently.
“I think we’re right at the top,” Lillard said. “We can match up with anybody when it comes to our backcourt. I think we play well off each other because I’m constantly seeing where he is, I’m constantly seeing how involved he’s been in the game, I’m trying to get him going and vice versa, same for him. If it’s a game where maybe he’s hit a few shots and I haven’t got going, he’s like, ‘Dame, let’s look at this, let’s look at that, kind of get you in position to at least make a play.’ Or at least get a shot, because we care about each other, we care about how he can go out there and dominate the game and I can still be effective. We’re playing off of each other, but that and just the firepower, we’re able to score points in bunches. That’s a problem [for other teams].”
McCollum, who broke out last season in his first opportunity as a full-time starter by averaging 21 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent beyond the arc, agreed with Lillard’s assessment.
“I think we play extremely well off of each other and I think he hit it right on the head, I think we’re one of the top backcourts in the NBA,” McCollum told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve just got to continue to build on that.”
With that in mind, what are the expectations for the Trail Blazers after losing in the Western Conference Semifinals last season?
“Just being a better team,” Lillard replied. “I think we came in and we had issues on the road, we had issues being consistent. We want to be better about those things and come out every night regardless of who’s the team we’re playing against, regardless of if it’s at home or on the road, regardless of it being a back to back, regardless of the record, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to be a better team. That’s what we expected of ourselves, to play a more complete game. When you expect so much of yourself and you’re not living up to what you expected of yourself, it’s more, I guess, disappointing from within our team than with everybody else. But we also feel like we’re going to work towards that. I said it in our first couple games: it was much better to learn and win games than to lose and have to learn from that. So I’m grateful for where we are, but we got a lot of work to do. I think it just shows how far we have to go.”
For Portland to challenge the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers among others in the West, Lillard must take his game to an MVP level.
“I think I’m playing pretty well,” Lillard said. “Obviously, being probably my own biggest critic, I feel like there are a lot of things I could do much better. I feel like I can defend much better, just to help the team with our perimeter defense. A lot of times we’re giving up penetration or trailing in pick-and-roll situations and causing problems for our bigs to contest shots and the rim and then their man is getting offensive rebounds. Being a better playmaker, coming back and helping rebound more, things like that. But I think I’m having a pretty good season so far, it’s still early.
“As far as the MVP, I mentioned it because that’s really a goal of mine. I don’t go in to every game saying, ‘I want to me MVP.’ I’ve got to do what’s best for the team and we’ve got to win games if that’s going to be anywhere close to being a possibility. I try to focus on anything I can do to give us our best chance to win.”
While Lillard and McCollum get the headlines as the dynamic duo, there’s no doubt the collective trio with Crabbe is one of the league’s most explosive backcourts and will be the backbone of any success Portland has going forward.
NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.
Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers
Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.
The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.
The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.
With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.
Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:
“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.
“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”
There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.
Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.
Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.
Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.
LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.
“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”
The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.
NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.