Tag:Wesley Matthews
Posted on: December 9, 2011 11:16 am
Edited on: December 9, 2011 9:15 pm

Blazers' Brandon Roy to pursue medical retirement

By Matt Moore and Ben Golliver

Brandon Roy (Getty)On Friday, Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan confirmed that guard Brandon Roy will pursue a medical retirement rather than play during the 2011-2012 season. As recently as Monday, the Blazers had said Roy would pencil in as a starter.

The Associated Press provides additional details.
Portland Trail Blazers All-Star guard Brandon Roy has told the team that he is retiring because of ongoing difficulty with his knees.

Portland players were informed of Roy's decision to seek medical retirement on Friday before the first practice of training camp.
Roy, a five-year veteran who helped the team shed its "Jail Blazers" reputation, has been dogged by knee injuries and surgeries. He has said he lacks cartilage between the bones in both knees.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Roy had not yet filed the retirement paperwork with the league.

Roy did not report to the Blazers' practice facility on Friday and his agent did not respond to a request for comment on any retirement plans, first reported by ESPN.com early Friday.

"I couldn't believe it," Blazers forward Nicolas Batum said. "I still can't believe it."

The reports contradicted statements made on Monday during a news conference with Blazers President Larry Miller, coach Nate McMillan and acting general manager Chad Buchanan. Roy had met with team officials earlier that day and said he felt good and was ready to help the team in any way he could.

But during a medical evaluation on Thursday it became apparent that Roy's knees were not going to be able to handle another season.

"It's a tough situation," said Blazers center Marcus Camby. "People will say `Hey, he'll get his money. But Brandon's a competitor."
Earlier Monday, Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported that Blazers guard Brandon Roy was considering medical retirement in the face of repeated severe knee injuries. The report will come as devastating news to Blazers fans, despite the long road leading to this point. 

Roy has had injury concerns since he was drafted, and earlier this year, a consulting surgeon for Roy said that he only had 1-2 more years left in him. Many questioned the legitimacy of doubts about Roy's health after he exploded in the playoffs in a comeback win over the Mavs, who went on to win their first-round series against the Blazers. Roy had said as recently as July, Roy said he was healthy and ready to play once the lockout endedOn December 5th, the Blazers confirmed they would not be using the amnesty clause on Roy. 

NBA rules stipulate that if doctors clear Roy for medical retirement, his salary would come off the Blazers' cap after one year, though he would still be paid the full amount of his contract. If he were to return for retirement for ten games or more, the full amount would return to the Blazers' cap situation. 

It's an unfortunate ending to what was once thought to be a long and brilliant career. But the Blazers knew of the condition when they signed him to a massive extension, knew of it when he was drafted. It's the sad consequence of being human, that sometimes the body simply cannot give what we want.

Wesley Matthews is expected to take over starting duties at shooting guard for the Blazers.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 8:29 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2011 9:58 pm

Frustrated players circle Wednesday on calendar

Posted by Ben Gollivernba-lockout

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Basketball games are supposed to provide both joy and despair, but usually there’s no difficulty in delineating: Just look at the final score and take a glance at both benches. The body language and facial expressions will tell a familiar story.

Things weren’t so cut-and-dry at the University of Portland on Sunday night, and not just because the college’s Chiles Center was playing host to a charity game in which tears wouldn’t be shed by the winners or losers because the result had no consequence.  Instead, every player present -- from 8-figure per year stars to unrestricted free agents, from rookie contract youngsters to a D-Leaguer who has never played a minute in the NBA -- carried both joy and despair.

That’s what happens when a for-the-fans charity game sells out, packing thousands of die-hards into a college arena, with an ongoing labor impasse lurking like a thundercloud over the entire proceedings, threatening to wipe out the entire 2011-2012 NBA season and make this charity game the first time, and the last time, that Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jamal Crawford and others take the court in a city obsessed with professional basketball.

Sunday’s game came just 24 hours after NBA commissioner David Stern delivered a nationally-televised ultimatum to the NBA's players: Take the league’s offer, which isn’t particularly favorable, by Wednesday or prepare to immediately absorb the shock of a significantly worse offer. This, after rumors swirled last week of infighting among the National Basketball Players Association’s executive staff and reports surfaced about agents agitating in hopes of decertifying the union. The game itself went off without a hitch, fans left overwhelmingly happy, but the players struck a somber, frustrated tone as they took the court for warm-ups.

“It’s sickening,” said Durant, who is coming off of his rookie deal and set to earn $13.6 million in 2011-2012. “It’s sickening. Us players have sacrificed, gave up money, doing what we have to do. Now it’s on the owners. At this point it’s starting to get bad. We’ve done our thing. They’re trying to pressure us, back us into a corner and take a deal that’s not fair to us.”

Durant, the league’s scoring champion with guaranteed money coming to him from the Oklahoma City Thunder through 2015-2016, had more license for candor than anyone else in attendance. You didn't have too read too far between the lines, though, to sense a shared frustration among his peers.

“It sucks,” said Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, who was signed to a 5-year, full-midlevel deal in the summer of 2010. “It sucks. We’re in a bad position, the owners are in a bad position, the fans are in a worse position. Everybody wants to play basketball.”

So does that mean he is ready to vote on the league’s offer?

“I want to play basketball,” Matthews repeated, before admitting that he was dodging the question. “[I know] that’s not an answer, that’s just what I want to do.”

He later apologized directly to NBA fans.

"We are really, really sorry that there’s not an NBA season going on right now," Matthews, who stripped off his jersey after the game and gave it to a fan, said. "We want to [play]. We want it more than you guys do. We know that the NBA wouldn’t be the NBA without its fans. Just stick with us because we want this just as bad as anybody." 

31-year-old free agent guard Jamal Crawford, who could be in line for the last major pay day of his career,  wouldn’t say whether he was ready to vote or not but did say he felt that rumors of an NBPA leadership rift between executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher were off-base.

“I don't believe that,” Crawford said. “I'm not in every meeting but I don't believe that from what I've seen. This is my third [charity] game and everybody I've talked to is on the same page. I think [Derek] is doing a great job. He goes in there trying to negotiate in good faith and trying to get us the best deal.”

Crawford also wouldn’t lean one way or the other on the latest hot topic, the decertification of the union which could threaten to blow up the entire 2011-2012 season and take the labor fight to the courts, but Blazers guard Raymond Felton, who is entering the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2012, said it's an option that should be considered.

“No question [decertification should be a topic of conversation],” Felton said. “If something doesn’t get done, that’s something we definitely need to sit down and talk about.”

Felton agreed with Crawford that the reported NBPA rifts were a product of the slow pace of negotiations.

“When things aren’t getting done, you’re going to hear a lot of stuff,” he said. “All the guys that I’ve talked to, everyone just wants us to get the best deal.”

Free agent big man Jeff Pendergraph, now fully recovered after missing all of 2010-2011 due to a season-ending knee injury, said the reported rifts might be explained by the looming possibility of further game cancellations.

“It’s getting to be crunch time, people are getting nervous,” Pendergraph said. ”Everything is going to start coming up. Whenever there’s head-butting [in negotiations] there will be friction like this.”

"I think everybody is anxious to play,” added second-year Blazers forward Chris Johnson, a former D-League call-up, set to earn the minimum in 2011-2012. “Everybody wants to play, it’s unfortunate what’s going on… Hopefully they get a deal done. I feel like Derek Fisher and Billy are doing things for more than themselves, they are doing something for the future. That’s why I appreciate what they are doing."

Somewhat ironically, the only player who had absolutely nothing to say on the lockout subject was Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Blake.  It was reported by multiple outlets on Monday that Blake is pushing hard for a vote on the NBA’s current deal.

“I have no comments on that,” Blake, who signed a 4-year, $16 million deal last summer, said when asked a lockout question on Sunday.

“Nothing?” the reporter replied.

“I have no comments on that,” Blake repeated flatly.

With tip off of the charity game approaching, Durant sighed deeply when asked whether he knew when the lockout might finally be resolved.

“I wish I could tell you,” he said glumly. “As a union, we gave [up] that money, we went down on the BRI. We have a few system issues we’re trying to work out but it’s like [the owners are] not helping us at all.”

Crawford, as cool a player you’ll ever find with the ball in his hands, made it clear that he is starting to feel Stern’s deadline pressure.

“They put it out there,” he said. “It's going to be Wednesday, or whatever goes after that.”

Posted on: November 7, 2011 4:36 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2011 4:59 pm

Jamal Crawford says Blazers' interest is mutual

Posted by Ben Golliverjamal-crawford-hawks

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been openly recruiting free agent guard Jamal Crawford for weeks. On Sunday, Aldridge capped off that recruitment by hosting Crawford's official visit to Portland during the Rip City Basketball Classic charity game, held at the University of Portland's Chiles Center. s

Aldridge's plan had been carefully laid. Two weeks ago, he urged Blazers fans on Twitter to make Crawford "feel at home so he will sign with us!" Shortly thereafter, Miami Heat forward LeBron James began his own recruitment of Crawford, prompting Aldridge to write to James: "How are you going to try and steal Jamal Crawford from us?! I already told Portland to make him feel at home on the 6th."

Later, he told The Oregonian that the recruitment wasn't just a social media stunt.

"I would love for him to come play in Portland," Aldridge told the paper. "I put it out there so he knows I'm serious. If he really wants to do that, I wanted him to know I'm behind it." 

Aldridge even went so far as to stack the rosters so that Crawford would line up alongside Aldridge and fellow Blazers Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews. All that work paid off.

During pre-game warm-ups on Sunday night, Crawford told CBSSports.com that the Blazers' interest in him is mutual.

"Yeah, definitely," Crawford said. "I've been watching the Blazers so long with Brandon [Roy] being one of my best friends. With LaMarcus here, Wes and Ray, it's almost close to a hometown team. I'm from Seattle. It's the closest thing we have to baketball right now." 

Crawford, 31, averaged 14.2 points and 3.2 assists for the Atlanta Hawks last season and was named the NBA's sixth man in 2010. The Hawks, after dishing out big dollar deals to guard Joe Johnson and big man Al Horford, and with forward Josh Smith on the books for big money already, opted not to offer Crawford an extension. 

"I think I would bring a little bit of everything to Portland," Crawford said. "Scoring, creating for other people. Trying to make the game easier for my teammates... I think they're a team on the rise."

That assessment was right in line with Aldridge's thought process. 

"He's a really good player," Aldridge told The Oregonian. "He doesn't mind coming off the bench. Or starting. He can bring a different dynamic to the team. He's great at pick and rolls; he's a really good shooter. When I get double teamed, it would leave him open in the corner."

Portland's backcourt currently includes Felton, who pencils in as the starting point guard, rookie Nolan Smith, who will likely be his backup and Patty Mills and Armon Johnson, who are expected to battle for third-string honors. At two guard, Matthews stepped into a starting role last year as Roy underwent dual knee surgeries but Roy promised to fight for his starting spot during exit interviews. It's possible, though, that the Blazers would use the Amnesty Clause to waive Roy. Sophomore Elliot Williams, who missed all of the 2010-2011 season after knee surgeries, is also on the roster.

"Starting, coming off the bench, it doesn't really matter to me," Crawford said.

With both Roy and Matthews locked into long-term deals, and with the Blazers stuck in the luxury tax last season, it's difficult to imagine they will have sufficient money to pay Crawford or minutes available to play him if Roy remains on the roster. Despite the roster jam and money drain, Crawford said that he felt that he and Roy could actually play in the same backcourt together, with Crawford defending point guards and Roy defending off guards.

"We've always talked about that," Crawford said. "We play together in the summer all the time, so we've always talked about that."
Aldridge's home team took home a 164-157 win in Sunday night's exhibition, with Crawford throwing down a put-back dunk in the final minute to secure the victory. Crawford finished with 18 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, a block and a steal. He drew plenty of cheers from the sold out crowd of 5,000 fans. Roy, who was scheduled to play, did not attend the game, and Aldridge said that Roy was absent because he was attending to a family matter.
Posted on: September 12, 2011 11:54 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 11:54 am

Wesley Matthews can feel his toes again

Posted by Ben Golliver


LAS VEGAS, NV -- The "Lockout League," more formally known as Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series, tipped off here Monday, just a mile or two from the world famous Strip. Aside from a few luxury automobiles in the parking lot, the glitz and glamour didn't creep up Sunset Boulevard. The gym on Day 1 was a crusty sportswriter's dream: no frills, no halftime shows, no musical soundtrack, no entourages, no groupies. It was so low-key there weren't even substitute players or stand-in coaches. Just five-on-five for four quarters, three referees, a scorekeeper taking notes by hand, and a ball. The only neon in the building belonged to a small shot clock. Four games a day like this, back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

Where else would you expect to find Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews during his summer vacation?

Matthews' basketball rags-to-riches story is well known by now. Undrafted out of Marquette, he caught on with the Utah Jazz, impressing legendary coach Jerry Sloan with this toughness and two-way play, and parlayed a strong rookie season into a five-year, front-loaded, full mid-level contract with the Portland Trail Blazers during the summer of 2010. On the day he was introduced to the media in Portland, Matthews promised that the contract wouldn't change him or impact his non-stop work ethic.

By all accounts he has lived up to that pledge, playing in all 82 games in his first season in Portland. He stepped into a starting role when Portland's All-Star guard Brandon Roy dealt with recurring knee issues, averaging 15.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. But one thing did get in the way: a painful ankle injury, caused by a few too many bad sprains, that he opted to play through rather than treat during the season. 

Once summer hit, Matthews' first stop was to a specialist, who recommended a regimen of Platelet Rich Plasma therapy and instructed that he wear a protective boot around the clock to ensure that both his ankle and foot would heal properly.

"I had the PRP injection maybe a few days after the season ended," Matthews said on Monday after scoring 19 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists on 7-for-13 shooting in his Impact debut. "I was in a boot for six weeks. Stayed in the boot at all times, only thing I didn't do was shower with it. After six weeks, I started slowly working on walking, just basic stuff. When you mess up your ankle, you want to get all the mobility right. Get the basics down, everything. It was a long process. it was close to two months trying to get back before I could really do anything."

For Matthews, whose game is predicated on non-stop defensive energy and hustle, two months without movement is akin to torture. But was the mandatory rest worth it?

"It's like night and day," Matthews said of how his ankle feels now compared to how it felt during Portland's first round playoff series loss to the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. "I can feel my toes now. I didn't have feeling in my toes during the last month and a half of the season."
With that he looked down at his feet and smiled. 

During his game Monday, Matthews moved smoothly and forcefully. He slid his feet laterally on defense, pushed the ball aggressively in transition and generally moved as if nothing was wrong. To the naked eye, he looked back to normal.

"The foot is feeling good," Matthews said. "Still healing, still getting better. It's getting stronger. I'm doing more and more and I'm in a lot less pain. I still feel it. I still know that it's not 100 percent there, but it's getting there."

it goes without saying that Portland will need Matthews at 100 percent next season. With a new starting point guard in place and the long-term health of both Roy and center Greg Oden in question, the Blazers need as much stability as they can get. Matthews represents stability and, for his part, isn't sweating the transition from Andre Miller to Raymond Felton at the one.

"Dre was a great point guard," Matthews said. "He really helped me out. He helped the team out a lot. Made me a better player, being able to read the game. With Ray, he's an uptempo guard. He's a tough guard, a hard-nosed defender, just a player. We're excited."

While critics and skeptics like to argue that Blazers coach Nate McMillan will never take his foot off the brake and allow the team's tempo to increase from dead last in the league, Matthews said Felton's arrival could allow the Blazers to push the ball a bit more, given the other pieces already in place.

"I think so," Matthews said when asked whether this could be the year the Blazers finally run more. "We have a lot of pieces. We have a lot of players that can do big things. LaMarcus [Aldridge], Ray, Nic [Batum], B. Roy still. Gerald Wallace. We've got people who can make plays. We drafted Nolan Smith, he's an up and down guy too."

Analysts generally see Matthews, along with Aldridge and Batum, as representing one of three potential core pieces for the Blazers moving forward. To get to the level where that trio can make deep playoff runs, Matthews will need to fill out his offensive game, improving his ability to create his own quality shot, finish in traffic, get to the free throw line and distribute the rock when necessary. He's spent some time this summer working on his offensive repertoire and decided to play at Impact to put that work to the test against live competition.

"I just want to showcase a little bit more," Matthews explained. "I think I did that today. It's one thing to be doing different moves and attacking the basket and doing more dribble moves or combination dribbles by yourself or with cones. But to do it and have success with it against other pros, it's a good feeling. An optimistic feeling."

While he might be a core piece, he has no interest in politicking for any particular upgrade to the roster: Matthews said the Blazers need to add "nothing" to become a contender and that they need to "just win." He also had no desire to comment on Portland's GM position, which remains open after two former GMs -- Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho -- were fired in an 11-month timespan.
"I'm not an executive," Matthews said, smiling again. "I'm not paid to be an executive. I'm going to leave that out. They're just doing what they feel is best for the organization. The only thing I can do is worry about me getting better."
Ever since the lockout went into effect on July 1, though, every NBA player has had to become the "CEO of Me." Dozens have explored the overseas route, with many players signing lucrative deals in the event that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association can't reach a deal. Matthews, who has a fully guaranteed contract that runs through 2014-2015, has expressed interest in playing overseas multiple times this summer. On Monday, he said that was still a possibility, but he made it sound like more of a last resort rather than an active pursuit.

"Yeah, it's in the cards but I hope I don't have to use it."

The threat of injury and the possibility that he could jeopardize his future earnings will not factor into his thought process.

"Can't think about stuff like that," Matthews said bluntly. "I risk myself every time I wake up. Get in the car and work out, it's a risk."

And, anyway, Matthews seemed to hint at some optimism that a new labor deal could be reached in the short term.

"It's getting closer to the season and it's more pressure on both sides to get a deal done," Matthews said. "No one [wants to lose] a season. Hopefully the sense of urgency continues to pick up, the talks keep getting better and we can get to camp."

Until camp, when or if it happens, Matthews will keep on keeping on, working to refine his game.

"I want to play basketball, that's why I'm out here right now," Matthews said finally. 'I'm a gym rat. If I hear the ball bouncing, I gotta go."

So here he came, to an industrial gymnasium in the shadow of the replica Eiffel Tower, near the splash zone of the Bellagio fountains. 

Posted on: May 17, 2011 5:49 pm
Edited on: May 17, 2011 5:53 pm

Coach McMillan: Blazers need backcourt shake up

Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan says his team has a lot of questions to address, starting with the backcourt. Posted by Ben Golliver. nate-mcmillan

The Portland Trail Blazers were bounced out of the NBA playoffs in the first round for the third year in a row, and coach Nate McMillan sounds like he is ready for something to change. Scratch that, a lot of things.

In an interview with Blazers Courtside on Monday night, McMillan said that his team has "a lot of questions that we have to answer" this offseason. His top priority? A backcourt shake-up.
"The first thing is to balance the roster. The combination of the twos that we have -- with Wesley [Matthews], Rudy [Fernandez] and Brandon [Roy] -- that combination is just... really... there's no way we can play the three of those guys.

"Our backup point guard, our guard position. I played Brandon at that spot most of the second half of the season. We've got to look at the point guard position."
McMillan also said that oft-injured center Greg Oden remains a question mark. "When will he be ready to go next season?" He wondered aloud.

His comment about the two guard spot is perhaps the most intriguing for two reasons. First, because Matthews was just signed to a five-year contract last summer and is the type of intense, two-way player that McMillan loves. He's also been mentioned as part of the team's core going forward. Second, because Roy is essentially untradeable because of the deteriorating condition of his knees.

Obviously, that leaves Fernandez as the odd man out. Fernandez is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal next season, set to make $2.2 million. While a fan favorite, Fernandez has been plagued by inconsistency and was virtually invisible in the playoffs, averaging just 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in the first round series against the Dallas Mavericks. Could Fernandez be headed out of Portland?

Whether it's Fernandez or someone else, McMillan noted that change could come as soon as draft night. "All of those things we will have to look at here before the draft and ... if it is possible to make some moves to improve the team, we've certainly got to do that."
Posted on: March 31, 2011 5:48 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 1:05 am

2011 NBA Most Improved Player: Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook should win the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. Posted by Ben Golliver.


The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award is as flawed and subjective as the rest of the league’s year-end awards, perhaps more so because it’s so widely open to interpretation. Is this given to the role player who breaks out once he's given starter’s minutes? The starter who makes the leap to stardom? The guy who puts up the biggest raw number increases? The player who takes a significant step forward in his efficiencies? All are possibilities, as a change of scenery, new offensive system or coach, an expanded role and raw skill development all can fall under the subjective umbrella of “Improvement.”

But all improvement in the NBA should not be created equal. The easiest trap to fall into with this award is to confuse opportunity with improvement. Last year’s MIP, Aaron Brooks, is the perfect example: He significantly ramped up his numbers given tons more minutes, but then came flying straight back to earth this season once the minutes evaporated.  Certainly Brooks got better last year. But what impact did it really have? The Rockets didn’t make the playoffs and they didn’t even bother to seriously consider offering him a contract extension before trading him after he turned into a Grade-A head case this season. We’re supposed to get excited and dedicate an entire award to that?

If we must have an award to recognize improvement, it should go to the player whose development has positively impacted his team’s identity and league-wide standing.  A player whose progress represents sustainable development that will prevent him from being a flash in the pan. A player who is likely to figure into the league’s future, not a role player whose impact will fluctuate if he changes teams or coaches.

NBA.com did an excellent job breaking down which players took the biggest statistical jumps this season, whether by points scored or overall efficiency. The lists are dominated by players on lottery teams: Dorell Wright, Nick Young, DeMar DeRozan, D.J. Augustin, Kevin Love and Daniel Gibson. With the possible exception of Love, it’s difficult to be certain that any of these candidates will be able to sustain their growth over the long haul. All were asked to play heavy minutes and take on a heavy scoring burden on incomplete teams. While all have shown personal growth, their steps forward owe too much to opportunity and, in Love's case, pace.

Two names on those lists, however, do stick out: Portland guard Wesley Matthews and Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook. Matthews, like many of the others, has taken on a new role that requires additional scoring from him, as he was signed by the Portland Trail Blazers and asked to start at shooting guard due to injuries to Brandon Roy, upping his scoring average from 9.4 to 15.9 and improving his rebounding, assist and steal numbers as well. Matthews flourished in that role, helping power the Blazers to the post-season, but he didn’t do it alone. Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge also broke out in Roy’s absence, upping his scoring from 17.9 to a career-high 21.9 and grabbing 8.6 rebounds per game, also a career-high, while playing nearly forty minutes a night.

Aldridge’s improvement was the bigger deal for Portland. His emergence as a number one scoring option engineered the Blazers offense and made life easier on Matthews and Portland’s other wings. His statistical run in advance of the All-Star break won’t soon be forgotten – as he set new career-highs multiple times – and became what LeBron James called the “biggest All-Star snub of all time.” Unfortunately, Aldridge’s development was not enough to take Portland to new heights. After winning 54 games two seasons ago and slipping to 50 wins last year, the Blazers are headed for the mid-40s in wins this season. Aldridge prevented the bottom from falling out but, through no real fault of his own, his play didn’t prove to be transformative on a league-wise scale this season.

Westbrook, however, hits all of the established criteria that Matthews and Aldridge did, and more.

NBA Awards

Oklahoma City’s third-year point guard raised his scoring more than all seven players in the NBA, from 16.9 to 22.7 points, a remarkable uptick. Unlike many players in that situation, including Matthews, Westbrook did it by becoming a significantly more efficient shooter. Westbrook has improved his at-rim shooting percentage by nearly eight percentage points and he’s improved his three-point effective field goal percentage by an astonishing 15.6%. He’s also getting to the line more than seven times a game, a game-changing increase over last year. Taken together, Westbrook has improved his shooting, his shot selection and his ability to get free points. What more do you want from a guy who, his critics said, couldn't be trusted to hit a shot early in his career? 

He’s also doing all of that while also improving his assist totals and serving as the number two offensive option on his team – behind the NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant, of course. His increase in personal production hasn't come at the expense of others, a critical factor when evaluating a point guard's impact on winning.

To truly appreciate the impact of Westbrook’s overall efficiency improvement, check his PER rankings. As a rookie, Westbrook was the 21st rated point guard in the league, below average. Last season, Westbrook was 11th, slightly above average for a starter. This season? Westbrook is the No. 2 rated point guard – trailing only Chris Paul – and the No. 9 player in the entire league. Overall, he jumped from No. 57 to No. 9. This is simply ridiculous. None of this year’s other top 10 players – LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Gasol – was rated lower than no. 22 last season. Westbrook cracked the insanely selective elite of the elite when it comes to efficiency, and he managed to do it in one offseason.

This giant leap forward not only made him an All-Star for the first time this year, it has defined Oklahoma City’s season and future.  His emergence as a superstar will push OKC from 50 wins last year to the mid-50s and a Northwest Division title this year, and it gave GM Sam Presti the confidence to take the plunge on a franchise-altering trade for center Kendrick Perkins at the deadline, as he could be confident that he had two franchise building blocks that seamlessly fit together from which to build around. Westbrook’s improvement makes the Thunder the most feared team in the West this season -- outside of the Lakers, of course – and it makes them, on paper, a sure-fire Western Conference contender for the next 5-10 years.

Taken together, Russell Westbrook has improved his skills, bumped his numbers, carried his team to new heights and he’s done it in a way that seems sustainable for years to come. That’s everything – and more – that I ask of my NBA MIP. Give the man his trophy.




Posted on: March 22, 2011 11:45 pm

Video: JaVale McGee with the block of the year

Posted by Royce Young

Bill Russell used to always talk about the art of blocking a shot but not sending it into the fifth row because that does absolutely no good. You want to block the shot to a teammate, ideally to set up a run out for fast break.

JaVale McGee, as you might imagine, has always struggled with this. But he one-upped Russell's idea Tuesday with his block of Wesley Matthews. Not only did McGee keep it in play, he just went ahead and grabbed it himself all in one motion to make things a little more streamlined.

McGee recently put up a triple-double that included 12 blocks. That's impressive. But not as impressive as his block of Matthews Tuesday night. That's how good it was. This one is better than those 12 combined. In fact, take every block from this NBA season and it's not as good as McGee's block of Matthews. LaPhonso Ellis has the best block ever in my mind with this stuff at the rim and not only is McGee's similar, it might actually be as good.
Posted on: February 17, 2011 8:33 am

Trade Deadline: Devin Harris to Blazers?

Report indicates Nets and Blazers discussing swap involving Andre Miller and Devin Harris among other pieces. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Devin Harris has been talked about in trade rumors which would ship him to Portland for months. He was part of one of the first Nets-Melo deals back in September. He was discussed in the second deal as well, with the idea being Denver would then ship him to Portland for Nicolas Batum. So the Blazers obviously have some level of interest in him, and the word's been out for a while that they would like to move Andre Miller. Which means that the latest report out of the Bergen Record has some immediate weight, as it suggests there have been talks already between Portland and New Jersey recently for just such a swap. From the Record:

The Nets and Blazers have exchanged trade proposals and still are discussing a deal. Harris and veteran point guard Andre Miller are the main pieces, but more players are involved, multiple NBA sources said. 
It’s doubtful the Nets will trade Harris, who turns 28 in two weeks, straight up for Miller, who turns 35 next month. 
The Nets want to expand the trade and are trying to include disappointing free-agent signing Travis Outlaw, who began his career in Portland. The Blazers are interested in shooting guard Anthony Morrow.
via Nets, Blazers talking about Devin Harris deal - NorthJersey.com.

The report goes on to suggest that the Nets have also brought up Rudy Fernandez and Joel Przybilla in the talks. Harris has struggled since his first season with New Jersey, which showed a lot of promise. Harris is still considered a "young" point guard despite turning 28 this month and has more athleticism than Miller (because he has any athleticism at all at this point).  Harris is the biggest value chip that the Nets have, and the Blazers have multiple assets they could be looking to move, so this one makes a lot of sense. The Nets could easily move Harris and pull in Przybilla to finish out his expring season, and then swap out Troy Murphy or buy him out to create even more space. 

And yet. 

Miller has been a huge part of LaMarcus Aldridge's explosion into stardom this season, lobbing to him several times a game. Miller's also been vital for their overall success and is a key component to their playoff run. Harris is likely the better player, but the old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" axiom is in play here. If the Blazers want that playoff money, keeping Miller is a safe bet. Similarly, Rudy Fernandez after complaining for months about wanting to leave the country all together, has played fairly brilliantly for the Blazers. Will the situation be the same if he goes to a losing squad? 

Adding Morrow would be a great get for the Blazers, as he would provide balance with Aldridge and perimeter scoring by the handful. This is the kind of move for the Blazers that could upgrade their talent and clear their books, without having to take a step backwards towards rebuilding, which the franchise is hesitant to do, still. 

But where does Morrow fit in with Wesley Matthews and Brandon Roy? And for the Nets, why take on Miller knowing you'll just be left trying to find another point guard next year (assuming they drop Miller's last year which is non-guaranteed)? There are questions in this deal to be sure. But it's clear that Portland's interested in Harris, and the Nets want to deal.  There may be some fire to this smoke. 

Or, you know, it's yet another trade rumor. It's that time of the year, really.
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