The Portland Trail Blazers reached their first Western Conference final in 19 seasons thanks in large part to the play of guard Damian Lillard. Although the Blazers were swept out of that series last night, the franchise is apparently set to reward Lillard this summer.
Lillard and Portland are expected to come to terms on a supermax deal this summer, which would be for four years and $191 million, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Lillard will qualify for that supermax deal if he is voted to one of this season’s three All-NBA teams — an honor he attained for the first time in his career last season.
Yahoo Sources: In building off an incredible run, Damian Lillard and Portland Trail Blazers expected to come to terms on a supermax deal in the offseason: https://t.co/UmzF9Mh5vc
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) May 21, 2019
Currently, Lillard is under contract for two more seasons and is owed $62 million. The reported supermax deal, should Lillard sign it, would keep him with the Blazers until he’s 34 years old. Per Haynes, the new deal for Lillard is expected to include a player option, which is something he bypassed on his previous contract.
“Look at what we did this year,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “We played without our starting center [Jusuf Nurkic]. We played without CJ [McCollum] toward the end of the season. So, looking at that, we were still able to get here. We were one step away [from The Finals]. And not only here, we had double-digit leads in three of the four games. I think getting here is reassuring that we can get the job done.”
This season, Lillard ranked ninth in the NBA in scoring (25.8 ppg), sixth in total minutes (2,838) and 12th in assists (6.9 apg). To date in the playoffs, he ranks fifth in scoring (26.9 ppg), ninth in assists (6.6 apg) and leads in total minutes played (650). Known for his clutch scoring ability, Lillard scored 94 points in the fourth quarter in the playoffs, which currently ranks 3rd overall. He ranked 18th in fourth-quarter scoring during the 2018-19 season, the first time he finished outside the top 10 in that statistic in his NBA career.
Lillard separated his ribs in Game 2 of the West finals but was playing through the pain. He averaged 33 points in the first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City but struggled against Golden State’s defensive focus on him. Overall, though, this has been a successful playoff run for Portland and Lillard told Yahoo Sports he sees reason for optimism surrounding the team in the future.
“We’re one step away from the Finals, and I see it’s the maturity and understanding how steady you have to be,” Lillard said, per Haynes. “We played great in spurts. We had four great first halves. But those moments where we kind of let up and relaxed and we stopped doing the things that gave us that lead and they pounced on us because they don’t change the way they play. They just keep going, keep doing the same stuff. They overtook every game that way.
“I think one of things we needed was experience and knowing what it’s like to play this far into the season. We’ve never been this far in the playoffs, so I think the experience is something you need. And obviously as players, we’ve got to improve. We have to improve as players. We were in some positions where we weren’t able to capitalize. All of us. From top to bottom. We’ve got to improve. And once those situations present itself again, we’ll be able to hold on.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Hachimura’s selection ushers in new era for hoops in Japan
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese basketball officials, fans and media hailed the selection of Rui Hachimura in the 2019 NBA Draft, saying the move will usher in a new era for the sport in Japan.
Hachimura became the first player from Japan to get chosen in the first round of the NBA draft, taken with the No. 9 overall pick by the rebuilding Washington Wizards on Thursday.
“The Birth of the NBA’s Hachimura, a huge step for Japan,” read the headline in the Nikkansports newspaper’s online edition.
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound (2.03 meters, 106 kilogram) forward averaged a team-leading 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season as a junior at U.S. college Gonzaga, where he was the West Coast Conference player of the year.
The only other Japanese player drafted in NBA history was Yasutaka Okayama, who went 171st overall in 1981. He never appeared in a regular-season game, something just two players from the country have done: Yuta Tabuse for the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05, and Yuta Watanabe for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19.
“The fact that Hachimura, a product of the Japanese basketball system, has been selected in the NBA draft makes us very proud,” said the Japan Basketball Federation’s Yuko Mitsuya.
While it has grown in popularity with the introduction of a pro league in 2005, basketball still lags far behind baseball and soccer in Japan.
Hachimura’s NBA career is sure to help the sport grow in leaps and bounds.
The son of a Japanese mother and father from the Republic of Benin, Hachimura is the latest Japanese of mixed race to make a splash in the sporting world following the likes of Naomi Osaka and Yu Darvish.
“This is a huge step forward for Japan,” said Keisuke Tsutsumi, an office worker who follows the NBA. “It will take the sport to a new level here.”
Hachimura’s junior high school coach Joji Sakamoto welcomed the news of his draft selection.
Sakamoto coached Hachimura in his native Toyama Prefecture and said he saw potential in his student from a young age.
“I told him to visualize his dream, and now it will be a reality,” the 59-year-old Sakamoto said.
Japan’s education minister Masahiko Shibayama said Hachimura had given hope to a generation of young players in his home country.
“It’s really wonderful,” Shibayama said. “By taking a prominent role in a league that is difficult for Japanese players to enter, he will give hope to many Japanese people.”
Hachimura’s rise couldn’t come at a better time with Tokyo building to host the 2020 Olympics. Japan’s national men’s team has qualified as host country and Hachimura could play a leading role at both the Olympics and the World Cup in China later this year.
Wizards interim general manager Tommy Sheppard mentioned the 21-year-old’s play for Japan’s national team.
“For Japan to qualify for the world championships, he’s the focal point. And when the (Tokyo) Olympics come in 2020, he’s going to be the focal point of that country on that basketball team,” Sheppard said. “To be able to shoulder that load at his age – the maturity he has – I think that’s going to bode well for him in the NBA.”
Six Canadians set NBA Draft international record
NEW YORK (AP) — Canada’s basketball celebration keeps on going.
Six Canadians were drafted Thursday night, setting the record for a country other than the U.S.
A week after the Toronto Raptors won the nation’s first NBA championship, Canadians RJ Barrett, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Brandon Clarke, Mfiondu Kabengele, Ignas Brazdeikis and Marial Shayok were drafted.
“It’s amazing to be Canadian,” said Barrett, who went third overall to the New York Knicks. “We take a lot of pride. That’s why I’ve got my Canadian flags on this side of my jacket. To put it on for our country, that means a lot.”
France had five players selected in 2016.
“To see players come out of (Canada) and be very good is something that’s awesome,” said Clarke, who went 21st to the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I’m somebody who grew up watching (Steve) Nash play and I always thought it was really cool he was from Canada.”
The players selected – four in the first round – join the 13 active Canadian players in the NBA. Among them include former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, NBA champion Tristan Thompson, Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyler Ennis.
“I know guys like Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis gave me hope,” said Alexander-Walker, the 17th pick by the New Orleans Pelicans. “Now as RJ got selected. I got selected. Hopefully more Canadians who get selected can kind of give those kids and other generations hope.”
Clarke, who played at Gonzaga, said the Raptors’ championship will help the growth of basketball in Canada.
“Basketball is getting bigger and bigger and it’s gotten much bigger, too, in Canada,” Clarke said. “It’s just been really fun to watch the evolution of basketball in the country.”
Former Canadian players include 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Nash – who is Barrett’s godfather – former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and three-time NBA champion Rick Fox.
The previous record for the most Canadians chosen in a single draft was in 2014, when four were picked. From 1983-2009, a total of just nine were selected.
“It feels great,” Barrett said. “Canadian basketball is really on the rise.”
Report: Whiteside opts in for $27 million with Heat
MIAMI (AP) — Hassan Whiteside is not leaving the final year of his Miami Heat deal on the table.
A person with knowledge of the situation said Friday that Whiteside is exercising his $27.1 million option for next season in Miami. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the Heat nor Whiteside announced the decision publicly.
The move was not a surprise. It’ll be the final year of Whiteside’s four-year, $98 million contract with the Miami, and the salary he’ll command next season will keep him as the highest-paid player on the Heat roster.
Whiteside averaged 12.3 points and a team-best 11.3 rebounds last season, appearing in 72 games and starting 53 of those. He also averaged only 23 minutes per game, and at times expressed his displeasure about not having a larger role.
“He’s going to come to training camp like everybody else this year and earn it,” Heat President Pat Riley said Friday, several hours before the option was exercised.
For his career, Whiteside has averaged 13.4 points and 11.4 rebounds over parts of seven seasons with Miami and Sacramento. He led the NBA in blocks per game in the 2015-16 season, then led the league in rebounds per game the following season.
He’s third on Miami’s all-time blocks list behind Alonzo Mourning and Dwyane Wade, and fifth on the team’s all-time rebound list behind Udonis Haslem, Mourning, Rony Seikaly and Wade.
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