Jalen Rose On Portland Making The Playoffs And His Bet With Bill Simmons

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

On Tuesday, Kia NBA Countdown analysts Jalen Rose and Avery Johnson took questions from the media regarding various NBA topics, including the play of the Portland Trail Blazers and whether they will actually make the playoffs despite a ever-tightening race for the last four spots in the West (this was before the Blazers lost Tuesday night to the Magic in Orlando). The former players turned talking heads talk about the play of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Terry Stotts as Coach of the Year and Portland having a successful season regardless of whether they make the playoffs.

Rose was also specifically asked about the bet he made with his ESPN/Grantland cohort Bill Simmons in their video preview recorded before the beginning of the season and whether he thinks he’ll have to pay out on that bet.

———————————–

Jalen, you had made a bet with Bill Simmons at the beginning of the season about either the Trail Blazers or the Timberwolves making the playoffs. Obviously, it’s not looking like the Timberwolves are going to, but the Trail Blazers after getting off to a fast start, have really come back to the pack. I believe they’re only three games out of not being in the playoffs right now. So one, how do you feel about that bet right now? Two, just your thoughts on how the Trail Blazers have played since the All -Star break? And Avery, same to you as well, though not with the bet portion? 

Jalen Rose:  I appreciate you bringing that up, because that sounds like another $500 meal at Prime 112 between red wine and lobster tempura. I appreciate you bringing that up. I was hoping everybody forgot about that.

The Blazers have outplayed expectations regardless to what happens with the remainder of their season. Teams like Portland and Phoenix, we hate to acknowledge that there are more victories in sports where teams can’t have successful seasons that didn’t win it all. Well, those two teams have had successful seasons regardless of what happens in the playoffs because they’ve outplayed expectations. Damian Lillard has emerged and became an All-Star, so much so he did every event during All-Star Weekend.

And LaMarcus Aldridge has continued to develop. He’s got a better post-game. He’s able to rebound in traffic. So I really like what Portland has done with their team. I would not be surprised if they didn’t make the playoffs still because the West is that tight. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did make the playoffs and lost in the first round. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that I think they’re having a terrific season.

Avery Johnson:  I agree with Jalen, and specifically that Coach Terry Stotts, I think he’s done an outstanding job.  Right now, if I had to vote for Coach of the Year, it’s in my mind kind of a three-way tie between Stotts and Jeff Hornacek and also Tom Thibodeau.

But Stotts has really done a great job with establishing an identity with this team. Portland is an offensive team led by a terrific young point guard as Jalen alluded to in Lillard.  I think LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the top three or four power forwards in the game. We’ve featured him a lot on Countdown. Just with all of his different offensive skill sets. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and tougher. He’s established a nice post-up game on the left box with the right hook coming towards the middle, which he didn’t have when he first came into the league. Their starting five has played more games together than any starting five in the NBA.

I always liked the addition of Mo Williams and his experience and what he’s brought to the team. They’re just fun to watch.  A lot of times if they weren’t playing in Portland, if they were playing in New York City, people would respect this team even more. They’re just fun to watch. They play great offense. Obviously, I’ve always talked about how their defense needed to improve. But they rebound the basketball and they’re a pretty good passing team. So they’re fun to watch.
I think Portland is a team that whatever happens in the playoffs, I still have them making the playoffs. But whatever happens, whether they make it or not, they have had an outstanding year, and I would consider this a check for the Portland Trail Blazers and a year that their fans could be proud of their team.

Show Comments

Bill Simmons And Zach Lowe On Portland In The Finals, Feistiness, Aldridge As An MVP And Terry Stotts

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 years ago

On Friday’s BS Report Podcast, Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe, both of Grantland.com and ESPN, devoted a lengthy segment to the play of the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s a wide ranging discussion that hits on topics such as the sustainability of Portland’s early-season play, which players on the roster are “badass,” why Simmons now wouldn’t trade Robin Lopez for Omer Asik, LaMarcus Aldridge as an MVP candidate and the chance of seeing the Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals.  Simmons has been a big Blazers believer this season, and while Lowe has been more hesitant in his praise, even he is starting to second guess his opinion of the Trail Blazers as just an average NBA team.

You can listen to the podcast here, with the portion about the Trail Blazers starting around the 44 minute mark, but I’ve also transcribed it for those of you who prefer reading to listening.

Zach Lowe: All these teams that we were excited about, the Clippers are good, the Rockets are just good. We’ve talked about this before, when they lose, they lose ugly. The Grizzlies are in major trouble; the Warriors without Igoudala have been not good. It’s all these teams that we were excited for, Minnesota we just talked about, are just not quite at the stage we thought they would be.  It’s like Portland got all of their sort of optimistic outcomes and they’ve shot to the top of the conference and everyone else is just sort of straggling.

Bill Simmons: I was higher on Portland the last time we talked than you were. Have you become more optimistic?

Lowe: Portland is so weird because now they’re 19-4. You would think they would be like doing something that you would view as unsustainable and they’re not really. We thought they would be a very good offensive team and a mediocre to bad defensive team, and that’s what they are. They’re the number one offense in the league and they’re like 20th in defense, and they’re actually falling a little farther from average than they were last week the last time we talked. Their defense is okay with the starting lineup, as we’ve talked about. It’s not average, it’s not great but I guess what is unexpected is that we thought their offense would be good, we didn’t think it would be easily the best offense in the league. And when you watch them play it’s like, you know, it makes sense! They’ve got shooting everywhere, LaMarcus is having a monster year. Maybe it’s time to recalibrate by expectations for the Blazers. Maybe they aren’t going to fall back to the five, six, seven range.

Simmons: Yeah! Rip City! Rip City.

The shooting has been a big difference because I didn’t think Matthews and Batum played well last year. I’m a big Wesley Matthews fan, I just didn’t think either of those guys played well, and if anything, Batum looked like he was kind of edging toward maybe being not that great of a contract. If those guys are over 40 percent  three’s the whole year like they have been, it changes what they do. Lopez was a steal, we knew that this summer when they just hijacked him for nothing and then Aldridge is reengaged. A game like (Thursday night vs. Houston), obviously he had one of the best games of his career last night so you don’t want to overreact to that part of it, but they have somebody who can go toe to toe against Harden, Durant, whoever. Like, he has the confidence, he feels like he belongs in the same conversation with those guys. On top of it, a really, really great homecourt advantage. Like, that’s worth something. It’s tough to go there and win a game. I think they can get a two seed. I really do. I think they’re only going to get better and they also have a trade to make, they have some expiring contracts. This is a team that can go get one of those Brandon Bass type guys that we’ve been talking about. They can add one more piece to this team and go nine-deep and be really, really good. I’m a believer. I am. I think they could make the Finals. I can’t believe I’m saying it.

Lowe: Easy, easy! Come on now. Make the Finals?

Simmons: I think Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the three teams that I could see in the Finals right now.

Lowe: I could see two of those teams in the Finals. I can’t get there on Portland yet. Look, they’re playing great. I could be wrong, I don’t see them on the Thunder and the Spurs level over the long haul but it’s getting to the point where I don’t know why anymore except it’s just taking my brain time to catch up, I guess.

Simmons: Well the argument is they don’t have the reps. It  could be an Indiana situation from two years ago, and that’s probably the best comparison, right? They’re the Pacers from two years ago, in the best case scenario they’re the Pacers from last year, where it’s like, they’re ready before we thought they were going to be ready and stuff is happening and they’re just getting better and better. The big difference is Indiana is built on defense and Portland’s built on offense.

There’s a feistiness to the team that I really like, too. Like, Lillard is just a badass. That’s a dude like, you don’t mess with Lillard. He’s got an attitude to him, it’s a little like his Oakland cohort GP (Gary Payton). Batum is very anti-European. He does sneaky villain stuff sometimes. Remember he hit that guy in the nuts in the  Olympics?

Lowe: I was going to say, he punched Juan Carlos Navarro right in the balls with a look on his face that, if he had a weapon, he might have killed Juan Carlos Navarro.

Simmons: Yeah. I think he’s a badass, Wesley Matthews is a tough dude, Aldridge is a tough dude. I like the team. It’s interesting, we haven’t really seen if C.J. McCollum can have an impact for these guys yet or not. If they could get their bench to the point when he and Mo Williams come in together and just kind of become a double heat-check thing, that’s another wrinkle that I’m excited for.

Thomas Robinson hasn’t really done anything, which I think, maybe I was wrong on him. Should I give up on Thomas Robinson? Is it too late or too early?

Lowe: No. But you mention Bass, I think a third big would fantastic for them because Freeland and Robinson are giving them nice minutes off the bench but they’re very limited players and their minutes have gone up and down a little bit. Robinson has had a couple single-digit minute games in the last 10 games, so it’s clear that Terry Stotts’ trust of those guys sort of waivers. But Robinson, you know look, this is his second year. He’s had a really chaotic career. He clearly brings rebounding and energy and those are valuable things in a bench guy.

Simmons: They have a lot of tradable contracts. We talked last time about Lopez for Asik. I wouldn’t. I like the chemistry on this team. I wouldn’t trade any of their top seven. I wouldn’t mess with it. I think it’s too risky. If they make a trade it’s got to be something like Meyers Leonard and I don’t know, like some fringe parts, maybe use a future pick and try to get one more small salary asset or something.

I tweeted last night my quarter MVP ballot and I had Aldridge third. I had LeBron first because I just refuse to not put LeBron first unless he’s trapped under something.

Lowe: I agree with that rule and I’m happy you agree.

Simmons: It’s just a rule. There are no other candidates. He’s ridiculous and he’s at a certain level and everybody else is at another level. Paul George second, Aldridge third, Kevin Durant fourth and then I didn’t have a fifth one. I think it drops off after that. At gunpoint I’d say Curry, but that team is 13-10. How valuable is Stephen Curry? I don’t know. Who would be your top four?

Lowe: People want to be like ‘LaMarcus should be number two in MVP’ and it’s like, as long as LeBron, Durant and CP3 are in the league, it’s hard to crack the top three in MVP voting. And if you want to throw George in now that’s four. And it’s like, okay, there’s just a fifth spot that’s open? We haven’t talked about Kevin Love yet. Look, LeBron is the MVP, Durant, to me, is still number two – we’re overlooking what a fantastic season Durant is having because it’s just boring to see a guy go out and put up 30, 10 and five on 50 percent shooting every game

Simmons: Is that what he’s doing?

Lowe: LaMarcus is in that mix. The three, four, five to me. One and two are one and two and they’re set in stone.

Simmons: I had Paul George two just because I love the way Indiana has played. I would say they’re the team of the first quarter. Judging by that, I’m giving him the number two spot just because he made a leap, he’s the best two-way player other than LeBron. I would obviously rather have Durant if I had a franchise for the next ten years but I think he’s at least earned that 20 game spot.

I do think it’s important that Aldridge is in the conversation because he’s been fantastic. And last night, it sounds weird, but I think it’s important that he came through last night. That’s a nationally televised game against a team that has one of the best big guys in the league and he freaking showed up. He put up a 34/25. That matters to me. I think that was a big game for them. They keep taking care of business at home.

Lowe: He’s awesome. LaMarcus is awesome and what’s interesting about him is like, we say this last, we’re going to see this in the playoffs – we can assume they make it at this point, I think – no matter who they play, Houston had to fight with itself in that game with, do we want Terrance Jones on him or when do we pull the Dwight card? When do we make Dwight come off of Robin Lopez and guard LaMarcus and how does that change our defense. And they’re going to make every single team think about that question because people don’t have fours that can guard LaMarcus. They have fives that can do it. We’ve seen it with Oklahoma City, they put Perkins on him a lot instead of Ibaka. They’re going to make teams think about that choice and that’s uncomfortable for a lot of teams.

Simmons: Well, they are in the same division as Oklahoma City. Portland is 19-4 and Oklahoma City is 17-4. If both teams stay healthy, I think that’s going to be a really, really good race. I believe in Portland. I think they’re going to be in the mix. The big thing against them is the playoff reps. But Terry Stotts! Who knew? You were on this early, but man, he’s got to be in the Coach of the Year. I would say it’s him and Vogel. I think Popovich is there again. The Spurs are 17-4, nobody is having a great season for them right now.

So there you go. It’s been a little heavy on the Bill Simmons content here at Forward/Center over the past week, but hey, if anyone in the national media says the Trail Blazers could be in the Finals, I’m going to let you know about it.

Show Comments

Bill Simmons: Why Isn’t Portland A Serious Finals Contender?

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 years ago

Following Portland’s 106-102 victory over the Pacers Monday night, ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons tweeted the following …

So it’s no surprise Simmons started off his podcast yesterday with Grantland’s Zach Lowe asking the question: Why isn’t Portland a serious Finals contender. Lowe gives his reasons why he doesn’t put the Trail Blazers in that category, but Simmons goes on to say he thinks he’d rank the Trail Blazers behind only the Spurs and Oklahoma City right now in the West. Simmons has been bullish on the Trail Blazers this season, but that’s some high praise nonetheless.

Simmons and Lowe discuss the Trail Blazers playoff prospects and Simmons once again throws out the idea of a Robin Lopez for Omer Asik trade while also calling LaMarcus Aldridge “one of the few post-up players we have left” and Damian Lillard “fearless.” You can listen to the BS Report here, though I’ve also transcribed the segment in which they discuss the Trail Blazers, which you can read below …

Bill Simmons: I’m going to phrase the question this way: Why isn’t Portland a serious Finals contender?

Zach Lowe: Um, because their defense is like 22nd or 23rd in points allowed per possession and I think there’s just a general skepticism that they can build a good enough defense to really do that kind of serious damage in the playoffs. That’s the simple answer. They’re a great offensive team, they’re well coached, they’re not deep but they’re not shallow. They’re a fun team, I just don’t think, when the chips are down, they’re going to be able to defend.

Bill Simmons:Steve Kerr when he was on the podcast, I think last week we had him or two weeks ago, he was talking about he judges all the possible Finals teams by can they get multiple stops in a row in a game because that’s what needs to happen in the Finals. I know what the stats say but just watching (Blazers vs. Pacers), the eye test of it, it really seemed like (Portland) could go toe-to-toe. I’ve always liked the way this Portland team shaped out. I liked it before the season because they have some size, they have the point guard who can create shots and do some stuff and they have the two shooters. Both Batum, who has been overrated defensively, he’s playing a little better this year, and Wes Matthews, who has been really good this year, both can at least give the Paul George’s and LeBron’s, make them work for their shots. When you just look at that five, because really, it comes down to the starting five’s in crunch time, all that stuff, that five, what is the weak link to you?

Zach Lowe:Again, it’s going to be defense. That lineup can score. They can be an okay defensive lineup; the last time I checked their five-man data, which I’ll do again now, they were around league average, maybe a little bit worse, which isn’t a disaster. And they’re playing, as I wrote last week, they’re playing a new system, a refined system that sort of imitates what Indiana and Chicago do, and it’s working well. They don’t foul, they’re giving up the right kinds of shots, midrange jumpers mostly, they’re defending the three well. I just don’t think there’s enough, sort of top-level defensive talent there. I think Wes Matthews is probably the best defensive player of that group and everyone else is just like kind of okay. Can their system overcome just okay defensive talent?

Bill Simmons:I thought you were going to say the weak link was Robin Lopez, who, I like the way he’s playing. But if you’re talking about, okay, how can this team get better, there’s a pretty obvious trade sitting there and the pieces would involve Lopez and Omer Asik. I mean, we could figure out 40 variations of how that trade would work, but Portland has some assets. They have Lopez, who is an expiring contract, I think, or you can get out of it this year and next year he makes $6 million. Asik makes $8.3 (million), Portland has some other stuff they can throw in the trade, they have a first-round pick, which is something Houston wants to get back for Asik. Let’s say the trade was Lopez, Meyers Leonard and a No. 1 pick for Asik, I mean whatever. Now you put Asik in there instead of Lopez, does that change how you feel about this team?

Zach Lowe:Well, they owe their pick to Charlotte.

Bill Simmons:Oh, I forgot about that. So it could be a future pick.

Zach Lowe:Well, and the way the protections work, they can’t trade a future pick right now because it’s Top-12 protected, which means Charlotte will probably get it. But the way the protections work is that the sort of, the Stepien Rule works as if that trade, since it’s uncertain when that pick is going to be conveyed, it sort of conveyed every season in the future until it actually can be conveyed. So they don’t have a pick to trade. But I agree with you, that’s what makes them interesting. They’re better than they expected. Not even the most optimistic guy within that organization ever imaged they would be 15-3. This was like a gravy year for them. We want to make the playoffs, we think we’re going to be good, we think we can get 45, 46 wins while developing young talent, while having cap space set up for two years from now. If we make the playoffs, that’s awesome.

They never thought they’d be 15-3 and sometimes when teams get to that point they sort of re-think they’re approach. And I agree with you, they are one of the two or three most sort of intriguing Asik destinations because Asik is better than Robin Lopez, he’d be by far the best defender in their starting lineup, he gives them a rim-protector. All the weaknesses we’re talking about, he addresses. Will they think about taking that kind of step? Again, he makes $15 million next season, his cap hit is only $8.3 (million). That $15 million is, you know, nothing for Paul Allen. That’s like a fifth of a yacht or something. It’s going to dissuade some teams. But I agree with you, they might be the most interesting Asik destination.

Bill Simmons:Robin Lopez and C.J. McCollum for Asik is an interesting trade. I just thought of that one.

Zach Lowe:I think that’s the other thing. I think if you talked to Neil Olshey, my guess is he would say something like “This would be a different conversation if McCollum were playing, if the league could see what he’s capable of on the NBA level.” He’s the asset that swings that deal because, I don’t know, you saw this report, I’m sure, that Houston is asking for two first-round picks. I have no idea if that’s true; I haven’t talked to the Houston people in a while. Robin Lopez is not getting it done as a centerpiece of an Asik deal.

Bill Simmons:No, they’d have to throw in some sort of big ass asset.

What impressed me last night — and this is the reason that I thought Portland was going to make the playoffs, I didn’t think they’d be this good — they went toe-to-toe with Indiana in that game and, the bottom line is, when you get in a game like that and it’s the last five minutes and you’re going possession versus possession, they have two guys who can score, not only against anybody, but were scoring against Indiana, which is about as hard of a team to score against in the league right now. Aldridge is one of the few post-up players we have left in the league and he’s playing as well as he’s ever played. Lillard is fearless and it’s the best thing about him. It remains to be seen what he’s going to be like in multiple playoff series, but at the very least, for a second-year player, he’s got the kind of attitude and skills that you’d want. And the inside-out game, the two shooters spotting up, I just liked what I saw because I thought Indiana was playing really hard, Indiana is a very, very, very good team, they wanted to win the game, Paul George is playing excellent and Portland kind of held them off. They also have a great home court advantage. Just when people talk about the West, they keep throwing the Clippers in there. I don’t see the Clipper thing at all. They keep throwing Minnesota. Finally the Minnesota thing as died off a little bit. Houston, I’m not seeing. I think Portland has a good a chance of anybody not named San Antonio to get there.

(Ed. note: Simmons and Lowe discuss the Clippers here, which I didn’t bother transcribing)

Zach Lowe:I agree that there’s no difference between the Blazers and the Clippers now. And when you talk about the Blazers, and I think the Clippers will end up better, when you talk about the Blazers you also talk about the Clippers and Houston is probably better than we think they are because when they lose it’s so ugly. They’re solid. Memphis is in trouble, Minnesota is in trouble and sudden you look at the Blazers you’re like, they could ascend up a level in the West versus what we thought — and by the way I just checked, their starting lineup is just about league average defensively, so better than their overall team. That’s solid.

Bill Simmons:As you said earlier, C.J. McCollum is gonna help.

Oklahoma City is obviously in the mix. If I had to rank the West teams right now, I would do San Antonio 1A and Oklahoma City 1B and I think I’d have Portland three. I think I’d have Portland ahead of Houston.

So what do you think? Are you ready, as Simmons is, to consider the Trail Blazers a Finals contender, or are you more of a Zach Lowe, who still seems reluctant to put Portland in that upper-echelon?

One thing is for sure: If they’re able to beat the Thunder tonight, people other than Simmons are going to start wonder if the Trail Blazers should be penciled into the upper half of the Western Conference playoff table.

Show Comments

Bill Simmons: Why Isn't Portland A Serious Finals Contender?

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
3 years ago

Following Portland’s 106-102 victory over the Pacers Monday night, ESPN/Grantland’s Bill Simmons tweeted the following …

So it’s no surprise Simmons started off his podcast yesterday with Grantland’s Zach Lowe asking the question: Why isn’t Portland a serious Finals contender. Lowe gives his reasons why he doesn’t put the Trail Blazers in that category, but Simmons goes on to say he thinks he’d rank the Trail Blazers behind only the Spurs and Oklahoma City right now in the West. Simmons has been bullish on the Trail Blazers this season, but that’s some high praise nonetheless.

Simmons and Lowe discuss the Trail Blazers playoff prospects and Simmons once again throws out the idea of a Robin Lopez for Omer Asik trade while also calling LaMarcus Aldridge “one of the few post-up players we have left” and Damian Lillard “fearless.” You can listen to the BS Report here, though I’ve also transcribed the segment in which they discuss the Trail Blazers, which you can read below …

Bill Simmons: I’m going to phrase the question this way: Why isn’t Portland a serious Finals contender?

Zach Lowe: Um, because their defense is like 22nd or 23rd in points allowed per possession and I think there’s just a general skepticism that they can build a good enough defense to really do that kind of serious damage in the playoffs. That’s the simple answer. They’re a great offensive team, they’re well coached, they’re not deep but they’re not shallow. They’re a fun team, I just don’t think, when the chips are down, they’re going to be able to defend.

Bill Simmons:Steve Kerr when he was on the podcast, I think last week we had him or two weeks ago, he was talking about he judges all the possible Finals teams by can they get multiple stops in a row in a game because that’s what needs to happen in the Finals. I know what the stats say but just watching (Blazers vs. Pacers), the eye test of it, it really seemed like (Portland) could go toe-to-toe. I’ve always liked the way this Portland team shaped out. I liked it before the season because they have some size, they have the point guard who can create shots and do some stuff and they have the two shooters. Both Batum, who has been overrated defensively, he’s playing a little better this year, and Wes Matthews, who has been really good this year, both can at least give the Paul George’s and LeBron’s, make them work for their shots. When you just look at that five, because really, it comes down to the starting five’s in crunch time, all that stuff, that five, what is the weak link to you?

Zach Lowe:Again, it’s going to be defense. That lineup can score. They can be an okay defensive lineup; the last time I checked their five-man data, which I’ll do again now, they were around league average, maybe a little bit worse, which isn’t a disaster. And they’re playing, as I wrote last week, they’re playing a new system, a refined system that sort of imitates what Indiana and Chicago do, and it’s working well. They don’t foul, they’re giving up the right kinds of shots, midrange jumpers mostly, they’re defending the three well. I just don’t think there’s enough, sort of top-level defensive talent there. I think Wes Matthews is probably the best defensive player of that group and everyone else is just like kind of okay. Can their system overcome just okay defensive talent?

Bill Simmons:I thought you were going to say the weak link was Robin Lopez, who, I like the way he’s playing. But if you’re talking about, okay, how can this team get better, there’s a pretty obvious trade sitting there and the pieces would involve Lopez and Omer Asik. I mean, we could figure out 40 variations of how that trade would work, but Portland has some assets. They have Lopez, who is an expiring contract, I think, or you can get out of it this year and next year he makes $6 million. Asik makes $8.3 (million), Portland has some other stuff they can throw in the trade, they have a first-round pick, which is something Houston wants to get back for Asik. Let’s say the trade was Lopez, Meyers Leonard and a No. 1 pick for Asik, I mean whatever. Now you put Asik in there instead of Lopez, does that change how you feel about this team?

Zach Lowe:Well, they owe their pick to Charlotte.

Bill Simmons:Oh, I forgot about that. So it could be a future pick.

Zach Lowe:Well, and the way the protections work, they can’t trade a future pick right now because it’s Top-12 protected, which means Charlotte will probably get it. But the way the protections work is that the sort of, the Stepien Rule works as if that trade, since it’s uncertain when that pick is going to be conveyed, it sort of conveyed every season in the future until it actually can be conveyed. So they don’t have a pick to trade. But I agree with you, that’s what makes them interesting. They’re better than they expected. Not even the most optimistic guy within that organization ever imaged they would be 15-3. This was like a gravy year for them. We want to make the playoffs, we think we’re going to be good, we think we can get 45, 46 wins while developing young talent, while having cap space set up for two years from now. If we make the playoffs, that’s awesome.

They never thought they’d be 15-3 and sometimes when teams get to that point they sort of re-think they’re approach. And I agree with you, they are one of the two or three most sort of intriguing Asik destinations because Asik is better than Robin Lopez, he’d be by far the best defender in their starting lineup, he gives them a rim-protector. All the weaknesses we’re talking about, he addresses. Will they think about taking that kind of step? Again, he makes $15 million next season, his cap hit is only $8.3 (million). That $15 million is, you know, nothing for Paul Allen. That’s like a fifth of a yacht or something. It’s going to dissuade some teams. But I agree with you, they might be the most interesting Asik destination.

Bill Simmons:Robin Lopez and C.J. McCollum for Asik is an interesting trade. I just thought of that one.

Zach Lowe:I think that’s the other thing. I think if you talked to Neil Olshey, my guess is he would say something like “This would be a different conversation if McCollum were playing, if the league could see what he’s capable of on the NBA level.” He’s the asset that swings that deal because, I don’t know, you saw this report, I’m sure, that Houston is asking for two first-round picks. I have no idea if that’s true; I haven’t talked to the Houston people in a while. Robin Lopez is not getting it done as a centerpiece of an Asik deal.

Bill Simmons:No, they’d have to throw in some sort of big ass asset.

What impressed me last night — and this is the reason that I thought Portland was going to make the playoffs, I didn’t think they’d be this good — they went toe-to-toe with Indiana in that game and, the bottom line is, when you get in a game like that and it’s the last five minutes and you’re going possession versus possession, they have two guys who can score, not only against anybody, but were scoring against Indiana, which is about as hard of a team to score against in the league right now. Aldridge is one of the few post-up players we have left in the league and he’s playing as well as he’s ever played. Lillard is fearless and it’s the best thing about him. It remains to be seen what he’s going to be like in multiple playoff series, but at the very least, for a second-year player, he’s got the kind of attitude and skills that you’d want. And the inside-out game, the two shooters spotting up, I just liked what I saw because I thought Indiana was playing really hard, Indiana is a very, very, very good team, they wanted to win the game, Paul George is playing excellent and Portland kind of held them off. They also have a great home court advantage. Just when people talk about the West, they keep throwing the Clippers in there. I don’t see the Clipper thing at all. They keep throwing Minnesota. Finally the Minnesota thing as died off a little bit. Houston, I’m not seeing. I think Portland has a good a chance of anybody not named San Antonio to get there.

(Ed. note: Simmons and Lowe discuss the Clippers here, which I didn’t bother transcribing)

Zach Lowe:I agree that there’s no difference between the Blazers and the Clippers now. And when you talk about the Blazers, and I think the Clippers will end up better, when you talk about the Blazers you also talk about the Clippers and Houston is probably better than we think they are because when they lose it’s so ugly. They’re solid. Memphis is in trouble, Minnesota is in trouble and sudden you look at the Blazers you’re like, they could ascend up a level in the West versus what we thought — and by the way I just checked, their starting lineup is just about league average defensively, so better than their overall team. That’s solid.

Bill Simmons:As you said earlier, C.J. McCollum is gonna help.

Oklahoma City is obviously in the mix. If I had to rank the West teams right now, I would do San Antonio 1A and Oklahoma City 1B and I think I’d have Portland three. I think I’d have Portland ahead of Houston.

So what do you think? Are you ready, as Simmons is, to consider the Trail Blazers a Finals contender, or are you more of a Zach Lowe, who still seems reluctant to put Portland in that upper-echelon?

One thing is for sure: If they’re able to beat the Thunder tonight, people other than Simmons are going to start wonder if the Trail Blazers should be penciled into the upper half of the Western Conference playoff table.

Show Comments