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NBA Daily: Are the Portland Trail Blazers Destined for Failure?

The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled to start the season. Tristan Tucker looks at what’s gone wrong so far and what Portland can do to turn their season around.

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The Portland Trail Blazers sit at 3-4 about two weeks into the NBA season, a disappointing mark for a team that many picked to rocket into the upper half of the playoff picture after adding Robert Covington, alongside several other seemingly great pieces, in the offseason.

However, after a few blowouts and blown leads to begin the year, it appears that that won’t be the case barring some drastic changes.

In order to see what has gone wrong with the Trail Blazers, one must first look to the top, where much of the blame has been assigned.

There have been a lot of calls to fire head coach Terry Stotts, as many feel that he is wasting a roster that’s loaded with potential. However, firing Stotts in the middle of a COVID-19-impacted season carries a huge risk as replacements are not so easy to come by, certainly not any replacement of Stotts’ caliber.

Consider this, Stotts has served as head coach since the 2012-13 season, which was the last time Portland missed the playoffs. Of course, with past-and-present players such as Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and CJ McCollum, making the postseason is but a simple task.

That said, once you get there, winning playoff games is a different beast.

Stotts and the Trail Blazers have seen a first round exit four times in his career with the team, but made the conference semifinals twice and the conference finals once, in the 2018-19 season. In his Blazers career, the team boasts a 55% win rate. So, sure, it’s possible the Trail Blazers could do better than Stotts. But it’s also entirely possible that they do much worse after a midseason search.

The fact of the matter is, rather than replace him, Portland needs Stotts to improve on his formula and adapt in a season where flexibility will be key.

Thus far, the Trail Blazers have managed one of the worst defensive performances in the league and there’s a lot that Stotts can do to alleviate that. First, the bench isn’t working at all and the minutes that Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter have shared have been laughably bad on that end.

The duo of Kanter and Anthony has a net rating of -17.6 in 99 minutes and six games played together. Opponents score at a rate of 123.8 points when the two share the floor. Kanter looks very good on offense and is averaging 11 points a night, but he’s been such a liability on defense, complete with a career-low -3.4 defensive box plus/minus, that it can be hard to justify his minutes.

Another thing that’s particularly strange is Stotts’ refusal to allot any minutes to Harry Giles III, who the Trail Blazers signed over the offseason after a strong year with the Sacramento Kings. Giles isn’t the end all be all to Portland’s problems, but to not be flexible with the rotation is curious to say the least

In fact, Stotts has been stubborn with the rotation for a while. It’s easy to see the starting lineup hasn’t been exceptional, so changes should probably be made in that regard; Lillard, McCollum, Derrick Jones Jr., Covington and Jusuf Nurkic have a -1.2 net rating and a putrid 114.3 defensive rating. By far their most-played lineup this season, it’s clear to see the starting forward combo of Jones and Covington isn’t working. In fact, the entire rotational timeline needs to be altered to best fit each player’s respective skillset.

As the second-worst defender on the roster, Anthony cannot continue to play the most minutes off the bench, certainly not next to the worst defender in Kanter, or ahead of Gary Trent Jr., who averaged 16.9 points during last season’s seeding games, in crunch time — it’s costing the Trail Blazers mightily.

Anthony has lost a lot of his luster over the years, but he can still be a tremendous asset to the team. Last season, he featured in the Portland’s top four most-used lineups and three of them were net positives by a good margin — it’s just a matter of Stotts putting him in the position to succeed on the floor.

Rolling out a lineup of Lillard, McCollum, Anthony, one of Jones or Covington and Nurkic would allow for a much better defensive forward in either Jones Jr. or Covington to move to the bench. That way, Stotts could stagger Anthony’s and Kanter’s time on the court, masking them with better defenders, which would then open him up to boost Trent’s minutes off the bench, replacing Anthony in the closing lineup and giving the offense a nice boost as they look to close out games.

After that, once Rodney Hood is back on his feet, Stotts should go deeper into his bench and consider giving some of Kanter’s minutes to Giles if bench play remains inconsistent.

Thankfully, Portland should be getting some reinforcements down the road. For starters, Nassir Little, the Trail Blazers first round pick in 2019, should return soon and will hopefully provide a spark from the bench. Nurkic and Covington, meanwhile, should both see some positive regression as the year goes on — both have disappointed on the offensive end thus far, with neither averaging more than 10 points per contest.

For the moment, the Trail Blazers aren’t doomed. There is a lot of time between now and the playoffs for Stotts to change his rotation and switch up the defensive schemes. But, if those changes aren’t made soon, serious conversations will need to be had about Portland as we know them at the end of the year.

My name is Tristan Tucker and I am a basketball writer currently enrolled at North Carolina State University. I am the school paper's assistant sports editor and have written for SB Nation and Fansided. I joined Basketball Insiders in December of 2020.

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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not have any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams.

After all, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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Russell Westbrook joins L.A. Lakers in One of the biggest trades in NBA History

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(Image courtesy of AP)

In one of the biggest NBA Draft trades ever, Los Angeles Lakers acquired the services of Washington Wizards’ former MVP, Russell Westbrook, last night!

As a result of the trade, the Lakers can now boast a holy trinity of attacking talent in Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and, of course, Lebron James, unlike anything seen in recent memory. Assuming this new contingent clicks into gear, it might just be the most frighteningly talented trio to play together in NBA history, rivaling the Bulls triple horn of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, or that great Lakers team of the late 80s with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In exchange for their star man, the Wizards received three players and what was the No 22 overall pick in last night’s NBA Draft. The former Lakers tasked with replacing Westbrook in Washington will be Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell.

Washington then spent the Lakers No.22 pick on Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, but immediately traded him on to the Indiana Pacers in a deal that saw the Wizards acquire pick No.31 and point guard Aaron Holiday. Wizards then used pick No.33 to draft Isaiah Todd to bolster their ranks at power forward.

 

(Image courtesy of AP)

The effervescent Westbrook had another great year in 2020-21, averaging 22.2 points, 11.7 assists, and 11.5 rebounds per game in his first season with the Wizards.

In joining the Lakers star cast, which already boasts the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook, a 9x NBA All-Star & 2016-17 MVP, will now be hoping to end his NBA championship drought.

Westbrook has since taken to social media to thank the WashingtonWizards franchise for a great year spent in the capital, tweeting:

“Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one,” he wrote. “Everyone from the front office, to the training staff, the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I’m grateful y’all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.”

“I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

With a legendary point guard now fixed among the ranks, 2020 NBA Championship winners the Lakers have all the talent required to wrestle back the title from the freshly-crowned Milwaukee Bucks.

So, get yourselves ready for an influx of NBA betting lines on Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton vs. LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook for next year’s championship games!

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