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.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN