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Detroit Pistons 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Pistons.

Basketball Insiders

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The Detroit Pistons ran roughshod over the Eastern Conference in the early to mid 2000s, but have been largely irrelevant in recent years. Detroit’s drama has ranged from poor free agency signings to constant head coach shuffling, which essentially throttled any forward momentum the franchise could occasionally muster.

But for the first time in nearly a decade, the Pistons will head into training camp under the pressure of heightened expectations. Detroit is coming off their lone winning season since the 2007-08 campaign, posting a 44-38 record and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009. While the team was ultimately swept in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit’s brass is hoping the taste of success is enough to inspire the team’s young core to push even harder.

Rather than rest on their laurels, president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy was extremely aggressive in free agency by bringing in intriguing veterans Ish Smith, Boban Marjanovic and Jon Leuer. The Pistons also locked up All-Star center Andre Drummond to a five-year max deal, following guard Reggie Jackson’s lucrative deal last summer.

Pistons owner Tom Gores has continued to publicly speak about returning the franchise back to prominence. If the old adage “put your money where your mouth is” proves to be true, then he has been passing with flying colors as of late. This unit has the potential to flirt with 50 victories and there’s no question that Van Gundy’s squad is making progress in Motown.

Basketball Insiders previews the Detroit Pistons’ 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

It’s hard not to love where the Detroit Pistons are after another successful offseason that brought in even more talent to a team that was already one of the better young groups in the league. Boban Marjanovic and Ish Smith were two of the more underrated acquisitions of the summer, but what really matters is another year of watching Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson grow together and having Tobias Harris for a full offseason and training camp to find his way with this core. The Pistons are deep, well-coached and primed for a breakout campaign. I have them ranked fourth in the Central here, but they shouldn’t end the season too far behind Chicago and Indiana, if at all. Those three teams could easily be separated by a small handful of games, though Detroit admittedly has a much higher ceiling than at least Chicago – both this season and beyond.

4th Place – Central Division

– Joel Brigham

I’m a huge Stan Van Gundy fan and believe he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA. I’ve felt this way for quite some time and my stance isn’t changing anytime soon. He’s terrific with Xs and Os and in-game adjustments. He knows how to motivate his players and instill a winning culture (which is why it’s relatively common to hear Van Gundy’s former players reminisce about the good old days when they suited up for him). Also, he has a ridiculous wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game’s history (down to even the most random, obscure things). All of this is to say that Detroit’s future is in extremely good hands with their president of basketball operations and head coach. Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Henry Ellenson is an amazing young core, and Van Gundy is just the guy to maximize their potential. Last year, we saw this group get their first taste of the playoffs. If all goes as expected, it’ll be the first of many appearances for this squad.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Alex Kennedy

The Pistons returned to the playoffs last season after a six-year drought, driven by president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy’s aggressive roster reshuffling since taking control. The Pistons will be an intriguing club this season because it’s always entertaining to watch how young teams deal with any sort of success. Will Detroit sit back and admire their work from last season and struggle out of the gate? Or will the Pistons ride their momentum from this past season and use it to catapult themselves higher into the Eastern Conference’s hierarchy? The team was extremely active this summer, locking in All-Star center Andre Drummond to a long-term deal and reinforcing their overall depth in free agency. Let’s see how this young core handles success.

2nd Place – Central Division

– Lang Greene

It’s not every day that you see a team opt to pay a fringe All-Star talent to walk away. Stan Van Gundy did that and, since then, the results have been impossible to argue with. Since taking over in Detroit in May 2014, Van Gundy has outdone most of what Joe Dumars did in term of roster assembly. Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe were among those who were shown the door, and now, the team appears to be on the right path led by Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a player I have fallen in love with as well, so I really like the pieces that the franchise is building around. My only concern is that sometimes, when we see a glimpse of potential, we begin to expect too much, too quickly. Look no further than the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards. In other words, just because the Pistons won 44 games last year doesn’t mean they’re going to win 50 this year. The conference around them has gotten tougher and I expect the Pacers to rise up as the second-best team in the Central. After the Cavaliers and Pacers, though, I think the Pistons will be right there. They’re a rising, middle-of-the-pack team in the East, and I am happy for Van Gundy and for the fans of the proud franchise.

3rd Place – Central Division

— Moke Hamilton

Stan Van Gundy has rebuilt the Pistons over the last few years, with an emphasis on young talent headed by Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. How the Pistons do this upcoming season will largely depend on internal development since none of their offseason additions are necessarily game-changers. Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic, Ray McCallum and Ish Smith are all capable of filling a role and contributing, but this team’s success will be determined by players like Jackson, Drummond, Harris, Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson and Marcus Morris. Van Gundy is a top-notch head coach, so I expect this team to be more comfortable playing his system as the season goes along. Assuming that happens, I think the Pistons take a significant step forward.

2nd Place – Central Division

–  Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Reggie Jackson

When Jackson was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, most balked at the notion that the former Boston College standout could be the primary offensive option on a playoff team. But Jackson had a strong belief in his skill set and became rather vocal in his desire to be a full-time starter. That wasn’t happening in Oklahoma City with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook in the mix, which is understandable, but he hasn’t disappointed since arriving to Detroit. Last season, the guard averaged 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 79 appearances. Jackson has now improved his scoring every season he’s been in the league and the 2016-17 campaign may see him break the 20-points-per-game barrier for the first time.

Top Defensive Player: Andre Drummond

Drummond isn’t the strongest one-on-one defender and his shot blocking production isn’t elite, but the first-time All-Star led the Pistons in defensive rating and defensive box score plus-minus last season. Plus, Drummond led the league in rebounding (14.8 boards per game) this past season, which led to the Pistons allowing the least amount of offensive rebounds to opposing units in 2016.

Top Playmaker: Ish Smith

The natural instinct would be to deem starting point guard Reggie Jackson as the team’s top playmaker, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that  newcomer Ish Smith may be the better dime dropper in a very tight decision. Smith finished sixth in assist percentage (37) among players who appeared in at least 50 games last season, showing a knack for keeping teammates involved (Jackson finished 11th, LeBron James 14th). Smith will be entrusted to keep the offense flowing for the team’s second unit and it wouldn’t shock if Van Gundy plays him beside Jackson at times in order to allow the team’s leading scorer to go to work.

Top Clutch Player: Reggie Jackson

While Drummond is the team’s best overall player, there were times last season when Van Gundy kept the big fella on the bench during pivotal situations late in games. When the game gets tight or the team needs a quality offensive possession, the ball will undoubtedly be in the hands of Jackson and he will be entrusted to get the job done.

The Unheralded Player: Marcus Morris

Morris served as one of Van Gundy’s workhorses last season, averaging a whopping 36 minutes per game, finishing fifth in the league in minutes played. The former University of Kansas standout averaged career-highs in points (14.1), rebounds (5.1) and assists (2.5). Morris proved to be one of the better glue guys in the league last season, but his minutes may be in for a decline with second-year forward Stanley Johnson looking to take on a bigger role and the further integration of swingman Tobias Harris.

Top New Addition: Boban Marjanovic

The Pistons signed Marjanovic to a three-year, $21 million deal early in free agency and the San Antonio Spurs opted not to match the offer for the restricted free agent. During Marjanovic’s lone season with the Spurs, the 7’3 center averaged 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds on 60 percent shooting – quickly becoming a fan favorite in the process. Those numbers don’t immediately grab your attention, but his per-36-minute averages of 21 points and 13.7 rebounds should make everyone curious about what the big guy could potentially do with extended minutes.

– Lang Greene

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Stan Van Gundy

The arrival of Van Gundy signaled the dawn of a new era in Detroit and the executive/coach hasn’t disappointed, leading to the club back to the playoffs in year two of his reign. Van Gundy hired a strong staff of assistant coaches to implement his system and philosophy, and the talent he’s acquired during his short tenure has been impressive. The Pistons, at Van Gundy’s direction, are slowly building a team that will eventually compete for Eastern Conference supremacy. Key word: eventually.

  1. Tobias Harris

The Pistons acquired Harris at last season’s trade deadline from the Orlando Magic in exchange for veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. The Magic subsequently traded Ilyasova to Oklahoma City and allowed Jennings to walk in free agency to New York. But Harris will be a focal point of Detroit’s retooling project and he averaged 16.6 points on 48 percent shooting in 27 appearances with the Pistons last year. With a full training camp, Harris should be ready for an even larger role in Detroit’s talented rotation.

  1. Henry Ellenson

It remains to be seen if Ellenson can crack Detroit’s nightly rotation as a rookie, but the Pistons were able to get solid value with the No. 18 pick of the draft in the former Marquette University standout. During his lone collegiate season, Ellenson averaged 17 points and 9.7 rebounds on 45 percent shooting from the floor. At 6’11, Ellenson possesses the ability to put the ball on the floor and has range on his jumper out to the NBA three-point line, making him one of this year’s most intriguing rookies.

  1. Duo of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson

Drummond emerged as an All-Star last season and was named to the All-NBA Third Team after playing at a very high level. The team locked Drummond into a new five-year deal this summer and the center’s free agency process was devoid of any real drama. Jackson’s growth in his first full season as a starting floor general was promising. Now, the question is can Jackson follow Drummond’s footsteps and enter the All-Star discussion? Either way, the Pistons are anchored by their talented duo and with both guys just scratching the surface of their potential, good times are ahead in Detroit.

– Lang Greene

SALARY CAP 101

The Pistons went under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign players like Ish Smith, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic before re-signing Andre Drummond to a five-year, $127.2 million deal. While the team still has its $2.9 million Room Exception, Detroit is well over the cap with 14 guaranteed players. Lorenzo Brown, Ray McCallum and Trey Freeman (reportedly) will fight for the one remaining roster spot.

Looking ahead, the Pistons do not project to have spending power next summer, under a projected $102 million cap. That assumes the team takes Stanley Johnson’s rookie-scale option before November. The team also has until the end of October to extend Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and/or Reggie Bullock.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Led by Drummond, the Pistons ranked second in the league in rebounding last season, pulling down 46.3 boards per contest. The team features plenty of wing guys who are capable of pulling down five or more rebounds on any given night such as Harris, Johnson and Morris. The addition of Marjanovic and Leuer add even more guys cable of cleaning the glass next season.

– Lang Greene

WEAKNESSES

Three-point shooting and ball distribution are two areas of weakness for the Pistons heading into the season. Detroit shot just 34.5 percent from long range last year, which put them in the bottom third of the league. The Pistons also ranked near the bottom of the league in assists (27th). The addition of Smith will help the team’s playmaking ability, but long-range marksmanship is still an area that needs to improve.

– Lang Greene

THE BURNING QUESTION

How will the Detroit Pistons handle success?

The Pistons experienced some success last season by securing a playoff berth, which has heightened expectations and put pressure on this unit. The franchise won’t have the cloak of anonymity this season, as opposing teams around the league will take the club a bit more seriously. But success isn’t guaranteed moving forward. Plenty of teams over the years have seemingly experienced a breakthrough season only to crash back to earth with a resounding thud the following campaign.  Success has a way of corrupting and when teams start reading their own press clippings, disaster typically follows shortly thereafter. But the Pistons have assembled a mostly blue-collar bunch that takes pride in rolling up their sleeves to grind out victories. If the team is truly ready to take the next step in their development and avoid the trappings of success, there’s no reason why an Eastern Conference Semifinals trip shouldn’t be considered an achievable goal.

– Lang Greene

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Deep Bench Stays Ready for the Pelicans

Though out of the rotation, DeAndre Liggins and Jordan Crawford are staying ready to step up and contribute for New Orleans, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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As DeAndre Liggins is standing by his locker talking about what his next move might be in terms of free agency, he gets a ringing endorsement from the New Orleans Pelicans’ franchise guy, Anthony Davis.

“He ain’t going nowhere,” Davis shouts from across the locker room. “He ain’t going nowhere.”

Liggins pauses for a moment, lets out a laugh and then turns back.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to talk to Dell [Demps],” Liggins told Basketball Insiders with a grin.

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, there are always those guys on the fringe — players who may not always know when they’ll have a chance to get into a game. It can be tough sitting on the bench and watching the rest of the team partake in the postseason.

For players like Liggins, however, they’re just as much a part of the team as the guys in the rotation. They do bring value to the team. And they patiently await their turn, however long that may take. Even if he doesn’t get to play in an actual playoff game, Liggins believes he understands the atmosphere.

“It started off in Orlando, a playoff team. OKC was a playoff team. I’ve been in the playoffs twice,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I haven’t experienced playing minutes, but I know what the feeling is like, I know what the vibe is like. It’ll be great going into the playoffs, we’ll be ready.”

Liggins has never spent more than one season with any team. He’s spent the past seven years shuffling between the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami HEAT, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and now New Orleans.

He had a bit of a breakthrough with Cleveland where he emerged as one of the better perimeter defenders on the team. He started 19 games for the Cavaliers last season and shot 37.8 percent from the three-point line. It’s been that 3 and D calling card that’s allowed him to latch on from team to team despite never really playing major minutes.

“Just bringing that defensive energy. I do all the little things like take charges, all the intangibles,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I was the same way at Kentucky. You got to stick to what you know, what you do, and play a role. Especially when you’re in the league and being on this type of team.”

Liggins has a non-guaranteed contract for next season. It’s too early to know what the Pelicans front office will decide to do. He isn’t focused on that right now though. Right now, the focus is helping New Orleans make a deep playoff run even if he isn’t on the court that much.

He joined the Pelicans around mid-season after being cut by the Bucks. Although he hasn’t been on the team for very long, he’s already noticed the competitiveness and togetherness of this group. They rallied around each other following the season ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins.

“We just clicked and gelled when [Cousins] went down,” Liggins told Basketball Insiders. “I think we lost three or four in a row then after that we just started changing the way we play.”

Aside from Liggins, the Pelicans also feature Jordan Crawford who is in a similar situation right now. Their career beginnings may be a bit different, Crawford was a regular rotation player for playoff teams in the past, but as playoff rotations have tightened up, Crawford has also found himself on the outside looking in.

He was on the Pelicans roster to begin the season but was cut in favor of Jameer Nelson when an injury to Rajon Rondo precipitated the need for point guard help. He had been a key player in the rotation but upon his return near the end of the season, he found himself mostly glued to the bench.

Crawford initially was a bench scorer for the Pelicans, capable of getting hot quickly and putting up a flurry of points on the board. He was nicknamed ‘Instant Grits’ by Cousins due to his penchant for scoring. He’s a little bit unsure though of what he’s going to be asked to do this time around.

“I have no clue. I’m going to try to find out,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I’m going to work my way through, do what I got to do to make the coaches happy and stuff like that. But I don’t know my role yet.”

When Crawford signed with the Pelicans earlier this month, his contract was only for the duration of the regular season and playoffs. He too will be entering free agency this summer, and due to his lack of postseason playing time, he might have to rely on past performances to secure that next contract.

He also isn’t too concerned about that right now. While he is anticipating the summertime, he’s just thrilled to be back with a familiar team, even if the playing time is scarce right now.

“I’m looking forward to the summer, definitely looking forward to the offseason,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I’m happy I accomplished getting back on the team for the season. That’s good right now, I’m satisfied with that for right now.”

Although he was cut despite having initially carved out an important role on the team, Crawford always remained positive and believed things would eventually fall into place. He wasn’t sure if that place would be New Orleans, but he’s glad that it was them who came calling once again.

“I didn’t think I’d be back here. They did stay kind of connected with me, talked to me,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I did have a good time while I was here, so it wasn’t no bad attitude, hard feelings or nothing. It always could’ve worked and by not having a bad attitude it allowed it to work again. It’s been a blessing.”

They stayed in contact with him and made him feel like a part of the team again. And for players like Crawford and Liggins, players who may not know who their next contract is coming from or when their next minute on the court might be, sometimes that makes all the difference

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 4/24/18

The deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft has passed, so Basketball Insiders Publisher Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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The Deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft was April 22, however, the NBA hasn’t yet released the full list of eligible players. There appear to be more than 153 underclassmen that have declared to “test the waters” according to reports. By way of comparison, last year there were 137 players from college and an additional 45 from international basketball that declared early, with 73 of those players pulling out after going through the process.

The 2018 Draft class could be shaping up to be one of the biggest, especially when you consider the volume of highly draftable seniors.

There are still some dates to keep in mind:

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago on May 15. The annual NBA Draft Combine will get underway on May 16, also in Chicago. In any given draft year, roughly 70 percent of players invited to the Combine end up being drafted into the NBA, so a Combine invite is a significant draft milestone.

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college, however, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

Here is this week’s 2018 NBA Mock Draft, based on the final pre-draft lottery draft order:

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. Based on the final regular-season standings should convey to Philadelphia if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and would convey if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers

The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.

For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.

The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.

“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.

General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.

“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”

Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.

“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.

When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.

“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”

Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.

“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.

Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.

“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”

Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.

“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”

Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.

“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”

Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting

Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.

“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”

With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.

“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.

Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.

“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.

For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.

“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”

Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.

“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.

Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.

“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.

Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.

“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.

When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.

“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.

“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”

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