Lillard watches as 'best friend' coaches in PIL
This and that about the Trail Blazers ...
• If you're a Portland Interscholastic League basketball fan, you may have done a double-take when you saw someone who looked like Damian Lillard at a game this season.
Well, that was 'Dame,' suddenly a Cleveland High Warriors fan, there to support first-year head coach Dondrale Campbell. Lillard and Campbell were classmates and teammates at Oakland High in the Bay Area.
"He's my best friend," Lillard says. "We grew up together. He lived with me when he first moved (to Portland). I've been to several games. He's my boy. He's off to a great start with that program. He's a hard worker. You know he's going to do right by the kids."
Lillard said Campbell was a late bloomer as a player, but developed in high school and was a starter with Lillard their junior and seniors seasons.
"He was a real good player, and he is a great person," Lillard says. "Out of my circle of friends, he is probably the nicest and the most polite. He's an educated, sharp guy.
"He was always an honor-roll student. After I transferred to Oakland High, he challenged me to get my grades up and to get right in the classroom. That's the kind of person he is."
• You may have heard "Screamin' Stephen" Smith going off about Lillard on ESPN First Take. To wit:
"I got news for Damian Lillard, who continuously gets robbed for All-Star selection and recognition. It is time for (him) to go to the organization and demand to be traded. ... He will never receive the applause and accolades he so richly deserves so long as he's in the Pacific Northwest in a city other than Seattle. ... I'm calling the city of Portland out, like the 22nd largest market as opposed to Los Angeles, which is No. 2. Lonzo Ball got 30,000 more votes than Damian Lillard ... ask a myriad of teams how big-time this brother is when it's clutch, when the money's on the line. It's Dame time, Dame time (tapping his wrist). ... We don't give this man the respect, the love, the adulation, the appreciation he deserves. When money is on the line, this is a guard you should want. ... So Damian Lillard, demand to Paul Allen and the Trail Blazers that you be traded, preferably to a big-time market so we can recognize you so that you can be big-time, like you deserve."
The kernel of truth in Smith's proclamation is that Lillard IS affected in the fan vote for starters by playing in a smaller market. I wrote last week what a travesty it is that Ball is higher in the fan vote than Lillard (and, it turns out, Chris Paul). So in terms of Lillard ever being voted a starter — fans currently get 50 percent of the vote — it's unlikely.
The real issue, however, is the effect the market has on the coaches' vote for the reserves, which is minimal, if at all. Coaches generally choose the most deserving players regardless of where they play.
Lillard's biggest problem in All-Star selection, as has been the case the past two years, is competition in the Western Conference at the guard position. The West has Golden State's Stephen Curry and Houston's James Harden as starters. Reserves will be chosen from Paul, Lillard, the Warriors' Klay Thompson, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, Minnesota's Jimmy Butler and perhaps the L.A. Clippers' Lou Williams.
Conference coaches will pick seven reserves — two guards, three front-court players and two wild cards — for each side. (This season, captains Curry and LeBron James will then draft the 22 remaining players to fill out the two teams.) So a maximum of six guards will be chosen for each team.
In the West, who do you leave out?
I think Lillard is going to make the All-Star Game this year — not only because he is deserving from his production, but also because some coaches believe he has been the odd man out a time or two, and they'll want to reward him this time.
Lillard, by the way, is in the second year of a five-year, $153-million contract. He is making $26 million this season, so besides being comfortable living in Portland, he is well-compensated for not playing in Los Angeles or New York.
As for Smith, it's amazing how much money a blowhard can make pontificating on the air.
• Brian Wheeler has been back in the saddle this week in the Blazers' broadcasting booth after missing the recent four-game road trip with a recurring bout of scrotal lymphedema.
Wheeler missed four games in 2013 due to the same condition.
"I'm feeling a little better," says Wheeler, who celebrated his 56th birthday on Tuesday. "I'd have regressed if I'd gone out on the road. On the two long trips we took almost back-to-back, I underestimated how far along I was. I hadn't made enough progress. I didn't go backward to where I was when I had to take time off the first time, but it was at least enough where it was noticeable."
Wheeler says he is seeing a massage therapist, beginning a new meals program and has made arrangements for aqua fitness workouts.
"All those things should help," he says.
Wheeler is hoping he won't have to miss any more games this season.
"The one-game (road) trips won't be a problem," he says. "The only one in doubt is the three-game trip (at Toronto, Boston and Detroit) the first week of February. I think if I can get through the next few weeks OK, I should be fine."
• It has been old-home week at Moda Center. On Tuesday, there was former Blazer assistant coach Jay Triano bringing his Phoenix Suns to town. On Thursday, there was Nate McMillan, the ex-Blazers head coach, leading the Indiana Pacers against his old team. On Saturday, ex-Blazers assistant Rick Carlisle was on the scene as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks.
• Triano, lead assistant for Terry Stotts for four seasons (2012-16), took over as interim head coach at Phoenix after ex-Blazer guard Earl Watson was fired four games into this season.
Triano had previously been an NBA head coach for three seasons in Toronto (2008-11).
"I've had a lot more fun than the first time, that's for sure," Triano said before the Blazers' 118-111 victory over the Suns. "A lot of that comes from my experience here and working with Terry and the staff here. It was a great experience in every facet, as far as the work effort, the camaraderie and everything we had here.
"I'm trying to build the same thing with my staff in Phoenix. They're fun to work with, they're competitive, they want to play. Our guys want to be coached. Right now, I'm having a lot of fun."
• Triano was asked if he felt Lillard should be an All-Star.
"Yes," he said quickly. "I'm a little biased because of the time I spent here, but (he would get Triano's vote) because of the way he approaches the game, his attitude toward the game, how serious he is about his craft. He always seems to rise to the occasion."
Triano was asked if he thinks Lillard will make it.
"I don't know," he said. "Didn't he get 50 (in the next game) the last time he didn't make it?"
Lillard scored 51 points against Golden State in the game after the 2016 All-Star Game.
"If he gets snubbed," Triano said with a grin, "I'm glad we're not next in line."
• McMillan was back in his old stomping grounds in his second season as head coach of the Indiana Pacers. McMillan, who coached the Blazers for 6 1/2 seasons (2005-12), had three days in Portland before Thursday night's 100-86 loss to his old team.
"It still feels a little weird, coming back here and playing," McMillan said before the Blazers' 100-86 win over the Pacers. "Seeing the people and the fan base — they've been really supportive and respectful. I still have a lot of friends here.
"I had dinner out a couple of nights and saw a lot of people. Coming back to the arena, I saw some familiar faces. It broke the ice last year when I came back, but it still feels a little strange coming back and playing."
The Pacers have a decided Portland feel to both their front office and coaching staff. Former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard is president of basketball operations and ex-Portland director of player personnel Chad Buchanan is general manager. Former Blazers video coordinator Dan Burke and ex-Blazers assistant coach Bill Bayno are on McMillan's coaching staff.
• Carlisle, who coached in Portland from 1994-97 under P.J. Carlesimo, brought a couple of familiar faces with him.
There was assistant coach Kaleb Canales, who took over as Portland's interim head coach for the final month after the 2011-12 season after McMillan's firing, showing off photos of his first child, an eight-month-old boy.
Then there was Wesley Matthews, the popular shooting guard who graced the courts for the Blazers for five seasons (2010-15).
"The fans here were always tremendous to me," Matthews said before Saturday's game. "That's the biggest thing I remember about my time here. I have some great memories of the support we got."
Matthews, 31, is having another solid season, averaging 12.2 points while shooting .406 from the field, .382 from 3-point range and .831 from the foul line. He hasn't sat out a game this season and has missed only 13 contests in his three seasons with the Mavericks.
"I'm not sure if I've hit my peak yet," he said. "There are ways for me to get better. I've continued to get better as I've gotten older.
"You can ask these guys — you seen me dunking any better than I have the last week?" he said, beckoning to teammate Josh McRoberts, who played eight games with Portland during the 2007-08 campaign.
"You're dunking good lately," McRoberts responded.
"My body seems to get better with age," Matthews said with a nod and a smile.
• Stotts is doing what he can to have Lillard, CJ McCollum and Shabazz Napier on the court at the same time as a three-guard lineup. It has been an effective unit, especially at the offensive end.
"The challenge to getting to it is, the way I rotate Dame and CJ, usually one was out (of the game) and one was in," Stotts says. "For Shabazz to be in there with those other two usually happens midway through the second quarter. Sometimes I can swing a couple of minutes in the first quarter."
As much pressure as it puts on the opponents' perimeter defenders, it also creates probems at the defensive end at times for the Blazers.
"The issue becomes, what is the net effect?" Stotts says. "Defensively, offensively, is the net benefit worth it? So far, it has been."