June 22, 2018, 3:03 pm
Asked Thursday night what he liked about the Portland Trail Blazers’ controversial first-round pick, Neil Olshey sighed, looked away and quickly collected his thoughts.
“Talent,” he said of Anfernee Simons, the largely-anonymous teenage guard who enters the NBA having faced lesser competition than any other player in the league. “At that point in the draft, we’re looking for the guy with the highest ceiling we can possibly find.”
Olshey had struck a much different chord leading up to draft night. He’s been adamant since the Blazers were swept by the New Orleans Pelicans that they would focus on adding players this summer who can be on the floor next spring. That’s an increasingly tall order in an era legitimate two-way chops and overall basketball IQ have never been more important, especially for a team limited to re-signing incumbents, using salary-cap exceptions and scraping the bargain bin in free agency. The late first round isn’t a surefire means of finding a plug-and-play rookie, obviously, but the depth of this year’s draft class combined with realities of Portland’s financial handcuffs meant it might represent the best chance of bringing an impact player into the fold.
There’s recent precedent for that unlikely development, too. O.G. Anunoby, easily his team’s most effective defender on LeBron James and a 44.8 percent 3-point shooter in the playoffs, was selected 23rd overall last year by the Toronto Raptors. Even a much more finite 3-and-D type, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Josh Hart, lasted until the first round’s final pick. University of Oregon product Dillon Brooks went 45th in the 2017 draft, but fared well enough stretching his wings for the tanking Memphis Grizzlies as a rookie to imagine him cracking the Blazers’ postseason rotation. Just like it’s undeniable that schematic fit and team culture were vital to Jordan Bell and Semi Ojeleye getting minutes deep into the playoffs for the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, so are the raw abilities that will keep them in the league for the next decade.
As Olshey continually stressed in his post-draft press conference, though, how the draft unfolds when it finally comes can alter a team’s preferred plan of attack. Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison, older, more seasoned prospects who might have been earmarked for minutes on the wing next season, were each snatched up shortly before Portland selected. It was also a notably quiet draft in terms of trades. Not a single veteran was moved on Thursday night, a likely byproduct of the alarming lack of cap space throughout the NBA that’s sure to infect free agency.
If Portland didn’t think Melvin Frazier or Khyri Thomas, other supposed “win-now” targets during the pre-draft process who were available at No. 24, were worth a first-round pick, the last thing Olshey and company should have done is reach higher than they felt comfortable to fill a roster need. Indeed, those guys were still waiting for their names to be called several picks into the second round. Not to be overlooked, the Blazers traded two previously-acquired future second-round picks, both of potentially low-value, to the Sacramento Kings for the rights to Gary Trent Jr., another player some no doubt thought would have been a better pick than Simons 13 spots earlier than where he was ultimately drafted.
Olshey didn’t mince words while assessing the chances of Simons and Trent Jr. to see the court for Portland in 2018-19. While that’s a determination ultimately left to Terry Stotts, it’s hardly surprising to learn the Blazers’ hopes of getting some help immediately lie more with the latter, a broad-shouldered marksman who’s been on the NBA radar for years, than the former, a classic late-bloomer physically whose inexperience and relative anonymity led him to go through more pre-draft workouts than any other prospect.
“I don’t think we’re gonna need to feel as patient with Gary, based on the body of work he brings to the table, as we will be with Anfernee,” Olshey said. “He’s been on track for this his whole life.”
Portland raised eyebrows last June by trading up for Zach Collins, a lithe big man with rare feet and nascent perimeter skills whose best days were clearly ahead of him. One year later, in the wake of a disastrous playoff appearance that surely shakes Lillard’s confidence in his team one year closer to his own free agency, the Blazers again used their shiniest asset to upgrade the roster on a teenager liable to spend time in the G-League.
Despite Olshey suggesting otherwise, that’s where Simons’ comparison to Collins, something close to a revelation last season, begins and ends. Basketball is trending wider and faster on an annual basis, and Portland desperately needed a frontcourt player this time last year who could account for that evolution. New Orleans sorely exposed Jusuf Nurkic‘s inherent limitations on both ends of the floor in the first round, and 3-point shooting ability, unfortunately for the Blazers and Meyers Leonard, signed through the next two seasons on an eight-figure salary, is no longer the trump card that makes one-dimensional big men worthy of meaningful playing time.
Getting a player with the all-court versatility of Collins was something close to a necessity for Portland, basically, divergent timelines of player and team be damned. Simons, on the other hand? Not only is he redundant given the presence of Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but Simons lacks the one standout attribute – spot-up shooting, pick-and-roll playmaking or the size to defend multiple positions at a high level – that will make him an impactful player if he fails to reach his ceiling. As the game continues evolving, live-wire athleticism only matters so much if it isn’t supplemented with another fully-ingrained, high-level skill.
Thankfully, Olshey understands that drafting a guy like Simons is as much about asset acquisition as the likelihood he will ultimately help the Blazers win games. In 2011, early in his tenure as general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers, Olshey used a blockbuster trade package headlined by young Eric Gordon to get Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets. More superstars will be made available on the trade market under similar circumstances going forward, and before Thursday night, Portland lacked the necessary trove of young talent and future draft compensation for their teams to even pick up the phone. While Portland certainly isn’t overflowing with trade capital like the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers, it at least has intriguing enough pieces now to get a conversation started.
“The draft is about acquiring talent – long-term talent,” Olshey said. “Eventually, when that talent blossoms, you hope that those players become assets and then you make a decision.”
The Blazers’ summer has only just begun. As a proven playoff team that clearly needs a dose of shooting and defense on the wing, they’ll be attractive suitors to mid-and-lower tier free agents yearning for opportunity. Will that caliber of player prove the difference between Portland being run off the floor in the playoffs and competing with the Western Conference elite? No way, but the more ready-made rookie who could have been chosen in place of Simons wouldn’t be, either, and Trent should get every opportunity to play next season.
“When the physical growth catches up to his natural god-given ability,” Olshey said of Simons, “he’s gonna be a really good player.”
For the sake of the Blazers’ long-term success and Olshey’s job security, let’s hope that development comes sooner than later – assuming it does at all.
May 27, 2020, 9:06 pmAndre IguodalaSF, Miami Heat
Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.
Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.
Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:52 pmZach LaVineSG, Chicago Bulls
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.
The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.
Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:08 pmLuka DoncicPG-SF, Dallas Mavericks
Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.
This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter
May 26, 2020, 10:07 pmKawhi LeonardSF, Los Angeles Clippers
On Tuesday afternoon, AmicoHoops reported (via Twitter) that an unidentified NBA GM told them the league has seriously discussed resuming the current NBA season on Wednesday, July 22.
Nothing has been officially announced, by any means, and this is the first we've heard of specific target date(s) from anyone. It's looking like the continuation of the season will occur in Orlando at Walt Disney World at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, which has accommodations for at least some of what the NBA has planned for a resuming activity. As we have relayed numerous times recently, the next week or two seem to be a likely window for some decisions from Adam Silver and Co. at the NBA league office to start to come down. Stay tuned, hoops fans.
Source: AmicoHoops on Twitter
May 26, 2020, 8:47 pmDamian LillardPG, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard announced on Tuesday evening that, in the event of a continuation of the NBA season, he would not be participating if the Blazers are scheduled to play 'meaningless games' with no shot at making the playoffs.
"If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating," Lillard told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday morning. It's hard to blame him, as it is quite easy to see the potential situation from his point of view. There have been countless scenarios tossed around by the league office during the pandemic period, but nothing is set in stone so far. Lillard, for his part, is only interested in returning to action if there exists a legitimate shot for his Blazers to reach the NBA Finals. Fair enough.
Source: Yahoo! Sports
May 26, 2020, 8:34 pmJoel EmbiidC, Philadelphia Sixers
The Sixers, who have their practice facility located in nearby Camden, NJ, will allow voluntary player workouts at the facility beginning on Wednesday, raising the number of NBA teams who have been able to do so to 22.
The Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Pistons, Wizards, Mavericks, Spurs and Warriors are the final teams remaining who are unable to return to their practice facilities. The NBA seems to be inching ever so close to, at the very least, announcing a plan for a continuation of the current season. This next week or two should be very eventful on that front.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter
May 26, 2020, 8:26 pmClint CapelaC, Atlanta Hawks
Hawks GM Travis Schlenk indicated on Tuesday that Clint Capela (right heel, plantar fasciitis) could very well play in the event of an NBA restart.
"Clint [Capela] says he's feeling better, and there's a possibility that we can get him back on the court," Schlenk said in a phone interview with ESPN. "Practicing and playing five games would be valuable to us." Capela has yet to see the floor for the Hawks since he was acquired at the deadline from the Rockets, and one would have to surmise that he would be under a heavy minutes restriction if the league resumes and if the Hawks deem him healthy enough to give it a go. Still two big "ifs," but this is obviously positive news for the Hawks and potentially for fantasy owners who have managed to stash Capela in an injury slot this long.
May 26, 2020, 8:17 pmMohamed BambaC, Orlando Magic
Magic center Mo Bamba said on Tuesday that he's spent the quarantine period bulking up, self-proclaiming that he's put on close to 30 pounds of muscle.
Bamba said of his time off, ""I’ve worked my tail off during this quarantine. This is going to sound weird, but I put on probably about 28 pounds since quarantine (started)." He laughed and added that only about 2.5 percent of the weight he's put on is body fat. Bamba, along with many other NBA players, "can’t wait to get back out there and work" which is a great sign for the Magic and their fans. Jonathan Isaac is becoming more and more of a potential option for the team when/if the season is resumed as the days pass, so his presence would limit Bamba's chances on the offensive end of the floor. The team has yet to decide whether or not they want to play Isaac at all the rest of the season, regardless of the rumblings about a restart from the league office. However, this bulk-up on Bamba's part is nonetheless pretty impressive and is certainly noteworthy.
May 25, 2020, 3:16 pmTerry RozierPG, Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are the latest team to re-open their facilities, with the Novant Health Training Center set to open up on Tuesday.
With this, there are only eight teams left to open their practice courts back up, though nobody has been able to engage in any sort of team work yet. Individual workouts are better than no workouts, however, and the league appears to be getting its ducks in a row in terms of returning to play. There's still no firm timelines but things do appear to be heading in the right direction.
Source: Charlotte Hornets
May 25, 2020, 3:13 pmJon LeuerPF, Milwaukee Bucks
Jon Leuer has announced his retirement from basketball.
Injuries completely destroyed Leuer's career, as he played in a combined 49 games over the previous two seasons with zero appearances in the 2019-20 campaign. Leuer's high point came with the Suns, where he averaged 8.5 points to go with 5.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and a 38.2 mark from deep. His eight-year career comes to an end, with Leuer saying that his body simply won't let him play at a high level anymore.
Source: Jon Leuer on Instagram