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NBA AM: Updates on Bledsoe, Monroe and Love

There are a few NBA story lines worth talking about – The Suns and Bledsoe, Monroe and the Pistons, the Wolves and Kevin and Expansion in the NBA?

Steve Kyler

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Five Things In Play?:  Today’s NBA AM will be more notebook-like as we hit on the five topics making noise in the NBA.

Bledsoe And The Suns: Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe grabbed some headlines last week when he told a local TV station in Alabama that he felt like the Phoenix Suns were using restricted free agency against him.

While the tone and connotation of the comment seemed negative, it’s hard to say that getting a $12 million per year contract offer is somehow unfair when the rules don’t require it.

The truth of the matter is that while Bledsoe and his camp were seeking a maximum contract from the Suns, the Suns didn’t feel like he was going to command that on the open market and were right. Most teams in the NBA knew that had they tendered an offer in the $13 to $14 million range, the Suns would likely match it anyway, so Bledsoe did not get an offer sheet.

Sources close to the Suns have said privately they expected Bledsoe back either on a new deal or after he signs the qualifying offer they issued worth just over $3.7 million (the caphold is $6.56 million).

If Bledsoe passes on the Suns’ current offer said to be in the neighborhood of $48 million and signs the qualifying offer, he would become eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer in 2015; he would also gain the right to veto any trade.

Sources say there continues to be ongoing dialogue toward a deal and there is some sense that the Suns might increase their offer slightly; there has also been talk that Bledsoe’s camp might agree to a short-term deal that gets Bledsoe into free agency again inside the next three seasons.

A few teams have inquired about a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe, mostly at the urging of his camp. However, the Suns seemed less than interested, according to one team that inquired.

While Bledsoe is arguably one of the top free agents left on the board, it does not look like Philadelphia, who is sitting on $23 million in cap space, is going to set the price for Bledsoe, meaning the best offer on the table is from Phoenix.

There has been some talk that Milwaukee, who could get to roughly $13 million in possible space, has interest in Bledsoe, but sources say they are only interested if they can obtain him in a sign-and-trade and offload some unwanted salary in the deal.

Monroe And The Pistons:  Much like Bledsoe, Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe finds himself without a market. Sources close to the process say there continues to be ongoing dialogue with the Pistons and that they do want to ink Monroe to a new deal.

The problem for the Pistons is that Monroe and his camp are not overly thrilled with the idea of signing a long-term deal at what they perceive to be less than market valuation.

Much like Bledsoe there is a sense that a deal is going to be reached eventually, the question becomes for how much and how long? The Pistons obviously want to lock Monroe in for as long as they can, especially if they can keep the number in the $10-$12 million per year range.

Monroe’s camp wants a short-term deal or a player option so he can hit the unrestricted market if he agrees to a lower dollar deal.

There is no urgency to get anything done on either Monroe or Bledsoe’s part, especially if it’s a “compromise” deal.

The Pistons have listened to sign-and-trade proposals, which have really gone nowhere, mainly because the Pistons do value Monroe immensely and would want a sizable return in exchange for a deal.

Also like Bledsoe, the Sixers do not seem willing to set a price for Monroe using their cap space, so the Pistons are clearly in the driver’s seat.

While having Monroe and Bledsoe sitting unsigned seems like a negative, both have offers they could accept at any time; however both gain nothing in agreeing to a deal now, except to close the door on their options.

There had been some reports that the PSuns had considered an offer sheet for Monroe, however what the Suns were said to be considering would have been a deal in the $11 million per year range, which would be matched by Detroit.

The only way for Phoenix to get substantially more space would be to rescind their qualifying offer to Bledsoe, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.

There are currently four teams with meaningful room under the salary cap – the 76ers ($23.076 million), the Suns ($11.49 million), the Orlando Magic ($7.45 million) and the Utah Jazz ($6.18 million).

Timberwolves and Love:  If you are looking for closure on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kevin Love you better pull up a chair, because it’s going to be awhile.

There is zero urgency on the part of the Minnesota Timberwolves to make a deal. That does not mean they won’t agree to something, but what’s coming out of the process is that while Wolves’ president Flip Saunders and company have their favorites in the various proposals being talked about, they are still playing the bidding game with prospective teams.

Sources close to Love have said they were urging people to dial back the “Cleveland or else” message and that while Love seems open to all three of the situations being seriously considered – Cleveland, Golden State and Chicago, he is not willing to commit long-term to any of them as a first action. The ideal action is to hit free agency in July and ink a new long-term deal. The team that trades for him can give him the biggest financial package since they will have his Bird rights.

The Wolves, for their part, are weighing two concepts: The future, which a Cleveland package that includes Andrew Wiggins would win that argument hands down and the present, which a Chicago or Golden State offer that includes Warriors guard Klay Thompson or Bulls forward Taj Gibson would likely win out.

It has been ten seasons since the Wolves made the postseason and there is a real desire on the part of ownership and management to compete for a playoff berth this year, hence why a deal with Cleveland hasn’t been consummated.

The question for the Wolves is would they genuinely be a postseason contender adding players like Gibson and Doug McDermott or David Lee and Thompson to the roster, and the answer is maybe.

However, if the Wolves bet on the future potential of Wiggins, they would surely be stepping backwards and conceding a rebuild, that is the crux of the debate for the Wolves.

The Bulls are reported to have put a deadline on their offer, as they do not want this discussions dragging into training camp, so at least on one front there is a sense of urgency. However, until all the teams involved put the Wolves on the clock, there doesn’t seem to be closure coming, at least not in the immediate future.

Expanding All-Star Weekend:  Last week the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman reported that the NBA was looking into the feasibility of a weeklong All-Star break.

Before we get crazy on this topic keep in mind the current All-Star break begins on Friday with players reporting back on Monday, so in essence four days, so what’s being considered is adding three days to that.

To achieve this, the NBA is looking at giving each team an additional back-to-back game to create the space in the schedule to accommodate the extra three days.

In 2011, the NBA scrambled to create a 66 game season that rolled substantially further into June than ever before, as a result the NBA discovered there was a lot more flexibility in their existing arena arrangements than expected and this has brought to the table all kinds of new discussion points, expanding the All-Star break being just one of them.

The NBA is said to be weighing proposals that would move the NBA Draft from the end of June into the first week of July, and move the start of free agency back potentially a full week. This would also move Summer Leagues back and have the NBA potentially having events or activity into August.

The current NBA schedule has a ton of marquee events jammed together from the NBA Draft Combine, to the NBA Finals, to the NBA Draft then to free agency – all happening right after each other.

The belief is the NBA wants to add some time between events to maximize them, and to create a yearlong calendar. The more the NBA is front and center, the better it is for business on every front, including ticket sales.

The expanded All-Star weekend schedule is not locked in yet, however it does appear the NBA is trying to see if it’s feasible for the upcoming season.

The other changes mentioned are still very much in the discussion phase, but clearly on the radar.

The New TV Deal:  Much has been made about the possibilities of massive economic expansion in the NBA tied to on-going TV rights negotiations. While all parties involved are keeping these talks close to the vest there are a few things that have come out as these discussions have taken place.

It seems ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports will renew with the NBA, although there are some things that look like they may change.

There is a sense that the NBA Finals will be split up among ESPN/ABC and Turner, giving Turner potential the mid-week games, while ESPN/ABC gets the weekend games.

The current rights package pays the NBA some $940 million per year, with Turner paying some $445 million per year with ESPN/ABC paying and estimated $485 million. Those figures are expected to almost double in a new deal with some estimates pegging the new deals to be worth $1.2 to $1.4 billion annually.

The wrinkle that may really drive the value up is a third partner. There has been considerable talk that Fox Sports 1 may be closing in on securing a rights deal for what insiders are calling NBA Saturday, which is a package of Saturday night games, which could add an additional $250 to $300 million to the total.

There has also been some talk that a new rights package may also include domestic expansion options, should the NBA decide to make that move.

It’s important to take all expansion talk with a grain of salt, but J Bruce Miller a Louisville attorney, who is leading the charge to land a NBA team in Louisville wrote a substantial post for a Facebook campaign geared around bringing the NBA to Louisville. In the letter, Miller immediately denounces the idea of expansion in the immediate future, citing the ongoing mess with the Clippers, however implies that after the Donlad Sterling mess is resolved, potential expansion into new markets could add new value to the TV deal and that Seattle and Louisville are on the radar.

Again, take all expansion talk with a grain of salt.

NBA sources have warned that expansion domestically is something of a pipe dream, mainly because what gets put in terms of an expansion fee is usually never greater than what a new member team takes out of the pie, and that given how long it takes a team to ramp up sales and revenue generation, expansion simply puts one more mouth at the table that usually does not carry its own weight.

Given what a new share of the TV deal could be worth, the existing 30 owners may not be willing to share the wealth to the expand the league, but it does seem like there could be some language in the new TV deal to allow for it and that’s a huge first step.

Up Close With Darington Hobson:  The Milwaukee Bucks selected Darington Hobson with the 37th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, while his NBA career never got going due to a nasty hip injury, Hobson is back on the NBA radar having just finished summer league with the Toronto Raptors and is hoping to find his way to a NBA training camp in September.


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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis

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Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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NBA

The Pressure Is On Anthony Davis

The Rockets’ and Clippers’ strong commitments to small-ball show that the Lakers’ opponents are zeroed in on stopping LeBron James. If the Lakers want their next title, Anthony Davis has to prove he can take over for a contender. Matt John writes.

Matt John

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LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of his generation and arguably of all-time. No matter how old he is or how many miles he has on those tires — 48,014 minutes total as of Feb. 20, good for eighth-most all-time among NBA players =- he is not to be underestimated. The Los Angeles Lakers know they have a window on their hands, but with LeBron on the wrong side of 30, they know that this window won’t be for too long. Unfortunately, so do their opponents.

This brings us to his partner-in-crime, Anthony Davis. Throughout LeBron’s era of dominance, he’s always had a Robin to his Batman. Dwyane Wade needed time to adjust to it. Kyrie Irving was so perfect for the role that he grew tired of it. Anthony Davis has embraced it since day one.

LeBron and AD have been as good as advertised. Together, the two of them possess a net rating of plus-10.3 when they share the court. They don’t actually run the pick and roll as often as we thought they would – LeBron only runs 26 percent of his plays as a handler while Davis has been the roll man for 13 percent of his plays – but when they do, it’s efficient.

LeBron’s effective field goal percentage as a pick-and-roll handler is 47.5 percent and draws and-1’s at 3.5 percent, which is pretty high for that sort of play. He ranks in the 67th percentile as a handler. Davis’ effective field goal percentage as a roll man is 61 percent and draws and-1’s at 4.9 percent. He ranks in the 72nd percentile as a roll man.

They may not run this in LA primarily because their old school play of playing big probably eats up the spacing. Since the Lakers have the fourth-highest offensive rating in the league, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, it’s not a problem at the moment. This might change in the playoffs, but we’ll get to that.

Something else to note is that Davis’ numbers have stayed relatively the same since going from New Orleans to LA. His scoring average has gone down just a tick, but that’s to be expected when you’re playing next to LeBron James. Davis’ rebounding numbers have taken a more noticeable dip, but having him play next to Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee probably has something to do with that.

He and LeBron have led the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. According to Tankathon, they have the 10th-easiest schedule for the rest of the season, so the odds are in their favor of finishing out on top. Of course, their elite production as a duo is about as shocking as Martin Scorsese’s movies getting nominated for Oscars.

The Lakers are expected to make their deepest run since the last time they won the title in 2010. Even if they are among the league’s biggest powerhouses, they’ll have plenty of competition along the way in the Western Conference. Without going into too much detail about who that is — because you probably already know who that is — let’s focus on the two competitors who have been making major shakeups since the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Both may have executed different trades, but both had the same goal in mind when they made them.

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela — their only traditional center that was playable — for Robert Covington, a two-way wing that they believed they could mold into a small-ball five, they traded their size for switchability and versatility. Not only that, they doubled down on their strategy by bringing in the likes of DeMarre Caroll and Jeff Green, two swingmen who have played some minutes at center in their career but very, very few.

When the Clippers traded Moe Harkless — who was doing just fine for them as their third wing — they opted to go for an upgrade at the wing spot instead of another big by trading him among others and a first-round pick for what’s likely to be a short rental of Marcus Morris. They could have used Harkless to get another big to combat the Lakers’ size, but instead opted to add more grit to the wing department. The deal also opened up a few more spots on the roster, but they too opted not for more size, but for another scorer in Reggie Jackson.

Acquiring those wings demonstrates that they have coined the exact same gameplan to taking down the Lakers should they face them in the playoff — slowing down LeBron James.

Slowing down LeBron is a strategy that just about everyone has been familiar with since 2003, but very few have been successful at executing it because, well, there doesn’t really need to be an explanation when it comes to the subject of LeBron James.

By doing everything in their power to make LeBron’s life miserable, they are in effect going to dare everyone else on the Lakers to beat them, and that starts with Anthony Davis.

We know how good Anthony Davis is, but we don’t really know how good he’s going to be when the stakes are higher. Davis’ numbers in the playoffs should hardly concern the Lakers’ faithful. He’s averaged 30.5 points and 12.7 points on nearly 53 percent shooting from the field. The one number that could be concerning is that those averages come from only 13 playoff games total.

Davis is hardly to blame for the lack of playoff success in his name. Injuries ravaged the Pelicans continuously, and the best players he’s played with in the postseason are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Rajon Rondo. The numbers suggest he carries his weight.

He should have less weight to carry when and if the Lakers enter the playoffs, but because their competitors are doubling down on their small ball to make sure LeBron’s covered as tightly as possible, the pressure will be on Davis to keep it going.

Posting up against small lineups shouldn’t be an issue for Davis because he’s been efficient on post-ups this season. On a frequency of 22.8 percent, Davis has a points per possession (PPP) of 0.95 when posting up. Davis is averaging five points while shooting 47.8 percent from the field in the post up throughout the entire season. His efficiency in the post up ranks him in the 63rd percentile. He’s not Joel Embiid or even LaMarcus Aldridge in that area, but he’s reliable.

Still, time will tell to see if it translates in the playoffs. In the Lakers’ most recent game against the Rockets, we got our first sample of how LA will fare against Houston’s new scheme. LeBron struggled with it, putting up just 18 points on 8-for-19 shooting while turning it over six times. The switchability and intelligence that their defenders possessed made life difficult for him.

It was a different story for Davis. He had an excellent game. 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks because he dominated the very undersized center Houston threw at him. Despite that, the Rockets prevailed 121-111.

They were more than happy to let Davis dominate them as long as they took LeBron out of his comfort zone, and it worked. Games like that should make you want to keep your eye on this. Teams know that LeBron James is a nuclear weapon during the NBA playoffs. They have yet to see if Anthony Davis can be the same. If he can’t pick up the slack when LeBron is off his game, then that changes the ballgame.

Davis is an elite player. He has done a lot in his NBA career. He hasn’t had the opportunity to show that he can take over for a contender when the stakes are dialed to 11. When the playoffs arrive, we’ll finally see what he can do.

There shouldn’t be much doubt as to if Davis can do this. There should be much pressure as to if he’ll be able to do enough.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Picking Up The Pieces In Portland

The Portland Trail Blazers continue to fight for their playoff lives. Damian Lillard’s recent injury is just another obstacle that this team must hurdle to survive. Chad Smith looks at one player that may be emerging off of their bench just when they need it most.

Chad Smith

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The home stretch has begun, and most teams around the league are pushing for a better playoff seed.

The postseason begins in less than two months and many teams are just hoping that they are able to be part of it. That is the case in Portland, where the Trail Blazers find themselves on the outside looking in as they trail the Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games for the final spot in the West. They also have four teams right behind them that are hungry for playoff basketball.

The story of the 2019-20 Blazers has been injuries. It began last season when they lost their starting center Jusuf Nurkic to a devastating leg injury that he has still not fully recovered from. Zach Collins was more than ready to fill in, but he suffered a shoulder injury in their third game of the season and has been out since having surgery on it. The organization made a Hail Mary trade for Hassan Whiteside, who has actually played very well for them this season.

Rodney Hood had been a staple for Portland since they acquired him, but he was lost to a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Desperation may have ultimately led them to sign Carmelo Anthony, but he has undoubtedly been a positive addition to the club. The trade Portland made with the Sacramento Kings was thought to have just been a cost-saving move, but Trevor Ariza has been an excellent fit with the first unit.

The latest setback came in their final game before the break when the face of the franchise suffered a groin injury. Damian Lillard has been having an MVP-worthy season, on the heels of what was one of the greatest playoff buzzer-beaters in league history. Fortunately, the injury was deemed mild, and he should only miss a few games. It may be cliché, but it has been the moniker for Portland all season: Next man up.

Early in the season, it appeared as though their 2018 first-round pick Anfernee Simons was going to have a breakout year. After putting up strong numbers in the first couple of months, he was seen as a highly sought after trade target. Simons has cooled off considerably since then, and it has been the play of their other second-year guard, Gary Trent Jr., that has turned some heads.

Appearing in just 15 games as a rookie last season, Trent Jr. has had more opportunities to show what he can do this year. Amid all of the injuries and movement in Portland, he has shown the ability to hit shots and defend. The sophomore swingman just turned 21 last month, but he has the maturity and understanding of a player with more experience.

A large part of that can be attributed to his father, Gary Trent, who was traded to the Blazers after being selected 11th overall in the 1995 draft. While he didn’t turn out to be an All-Star player, he did play for nine seasons and appeared in more than 500 games. His son may not end up being a star, but they both know this is an excellent opportunity for him to showcase his talents.

The former Duke product began his rise in the middle of January after putting up 30 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by another 20 points against the Dallas Mavericks. He didn’t slow down in the final handful of games before the All-Star break, either. He scored double-digits in four consecutive games against tough competition in Denver, San Antonio, Utah and Miami, where he shot 65 percent (20-for-31) from deep. Those final two games were against elite defenses, in which he put up 38 points while shooting 7-for-15 from downtown.

So far in the month of February, Trent Jr. has shot 48 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three-point range, and is averaging 12 points and 1.4 steals per game. Those are all solid numbers for a third-string guard, but now he will be relied upon more heavily in the absence of Lillard.

It will be interesting to see the adjustments that Terry Stotts makes without his superstar point guard on the floor. CJ McCollum will likely have a higher usage and handle the ball more than he has before. The Blazers struggle mightily with shot creation. While the veteran two-guard will be looked upon to provide play-making for this group, it will be up to guys like Trent Jr. to knock down open shots and make the correct reads and rotations on defense.

Stotts appears to be leaning on Trent Jr. more often — and for good reason. Both he and Simons played in all 15 games in January, with Simons averaging about one more minute per game. Trent shot 39 percent from deep compared to Simons’ 23 percent. What Stotts really likes is how Trent Jr takes care of the ball. In those 15 January games, he had just four total turnovers. He also played 36 minutes in one of those games and finished without a single turnover.

As good as Whiteside has been at protecting the rim, Portland remains one of the worst defensive teams in the league. It ranks 26th in opponent scoring and has the 27th-ranked defensive rating. Trent Jr. is much bigger than the aforementioned Simons. He is actually bigger than McCollum and Lillard. The size and length that he possesses allow him to guard multiple positions and really help create deflections.

In his role as an off-ball scorer, Trent Jr. just fits really well alongside the Blazer backcourt. Even when one of them is out, he has found a way to excel. Over his last 15 games, he is averaging 12.5 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting from three-point range. They may need Trent Jr. to steal some minutes from the McCollum and Lillard, as they both rank among the top 12 in minutes per game.

Easing all of these injured players back into the rotation is going to be tricky. There will be some bumps and some hiccups along the way, but time is simply not on their side. They have just 26 games remaining, and several teams are fighting for that same spot. The good news for Portland is that only four teams have an easier remaining schedule.

A healthy Portland team is a dangerous playoff team. Getting Lillard back is paramount, but getting Nurkic and Collins back into the rotation with Carmelo and Whiteside would be monumental for this group.

A potential first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers would be tantalizing, to say the least. It will take some work for this team to get back into the playoffs, but then again, they have never backed down from a challenge.

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