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Portland working with Damian Lillard on rebuild, team GM says

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Damian Lillard will have input on Portland’s offseason decisions.

Damian Lillard will have input on Portland’s offseason decisions.
Image: Getty Images

“You’re really going to do this?” is a question one canceled ABC drama character asks another right before they pack up their sedan and move across the country by themselves. It’s something my family not-so-subtly asked me when I told them I was moving to Chicago after more than a decade in the mountains. And now, the leading question is ringing through my head as the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard are at least acting like they’re actually going to try to compete next year following a “quick step backward.”

Interim GM Joe Cronin gave his exit interview on a year that could only be graded as Incomplete, and said he was uncomfortable with the egregiously blatant tanking during the second half of the season, and that it won’t become the norm (per OregonLive):

I still feel uncomfortable about it. We have a really competitive group. We didn’t want to lose ballgames. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes you have to go with your youth movement … This, theoretically is a really quick step backward. We’re not looking at two, three, four years of this. So, that makes it easier. But as far as the discomfort, the willingness to accept losing, that was really hard for us and continues to be.

The team has been taking nothing but quick steps backward since making the 2019 Western Conference Finals, leading up to this year when they opted to trade away CJ McCollum and a bunch of capable players at the midway point of an injury-plagued season. Lillard sat out the majority of the year after having surgery to repair an abdominal injury. He could have, forgive me, gutted through it, but it was smart for a 31-year-old point guard who has never played less than 35 minutes per game in any of his 10 seasons and was coming off an Olympics where he got injured to shut it down and heal up.

While Cronin was joking when he told reporters that Lillard “knows more about trade exceptions than anyone in this room,” I don’t think he was kidding when he said, “We’ve pivoted to Damian helping up build this roster.” (He might’ve been right about the trade exceptions, though, because they’re the towing hitches of the NBA. “Yes, Brett, I heard you the first time you said your Jeep has a hitch, but I’ve never seen you tow shit. You don’t even own a boat.”)

From a convenient lost season standpoint — and if you view it through Rose-Garden-tinted shades — the Blazers’ 2021-22 season is like the Golden State year that led to them landing James Wiseman with the second pick in the draft. Even though the GM is pitching a turnaround like he’s flipping a house on Flip or Flop, the only real similarities are a tired ass face of the franchise and a lost season.

McCollum isn’t coming back, Jusuf Nurkić was never Draymond Green, and the Blazers need considerable luck on lottery night to land the No. 2 pick. And even if they do, who’s to say Chet Holmgren doesn’t go the way of Wiseman. I’m a wildly glass-half-full Trail Blazers fan, and I can’t even envision an offseason that puts this team in contention in the West next year.

In my McCollum trade article/obit, I wrote “The optimistic part of my galaxy brain says maybe Lillard recruited a player during his time on the set of Space Jam 2 or at the Olympics over the summer.”

I’m still at that point because some under-the-table, out-of-nowhere deal for a superstar is the only path back to the top of the standings in an offseason bereft of quality free agents and disgruntled, under-contract All-Stars. Also, you can’t make a trade when you got rid of all of your trade assets (minus Lillard).

The sixth pick in the draft and the items they got in return for the deadline trades aren’t that alluring, and why would a team like Washington part with Bradley Beal for some loose change? Nurkić and Anfernee Simons are both up for new deals, so you can’t trade them.

A big reason Portland was willing to part with McCollum is because they wanted to free up cap space and playing time for Simons. To the Blazers credit, Simons was taking a leap until the team went full Process and concocted an injury for him to sit out the rest of the season. There was even a stretch when it looked like Portland was good enough to make the play-in without Lillard, McCollum, Norm Powell, and Robert Covington.

However, there’s a large gap between pushing the 34-48 Spurs for a 10 seed and vying with Phoenix, Memphis, and Golden State for Western Conference supremacy. Also, ask the Cavs and Lakers how well it went when they let their best player influence roster moves. That said, Lillard can’t be any worse than Neil Olshey or LeBron James, so maybe it’ll work out?

NBA fans have been clamoring for Lillard to get an opportunity to go Dame Time on the way to the Finals, and it’s fair to say that Lillard feels the same way. It would be awesome to see him exchange lightning bolts with the gods. We know he’s capable of mythical feats. That’s why I’m asking, “You’re really going to do this?”

You’re really going to try an impromptu restructure using hope, a couple lottery picks, and salary cap space? And you’re not going to get halfway through next year and suddenly realize that this isn’t for you and ask out? Chris Haynes is ready and willing to leak a trade request. The team tore down the roster to its foundation. If you let go, the organization can, as well, and it’s probably what’s best for both parties long term.

Short term, though? Fuck everybody. Dame is running it back. He’s not yelling “Anything’s possible!” in another team’s colors, so stop the photo shops and thirsty pleas on social media. Find a new angle.

Rip City till I die.



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Pep Guardiola jokes he’s ‘sorry’ that he stopped Mikel Arteta from becoming Manchester City manager

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Arsenal will face City at the Etihad Stadium tonight, with Guardiola’s former assistant back on his old North West stomping ground in the FA Cup fourth round.

The Gunners head north leading rivals City by five points with a game in hand atop the Premier League, but acutely aware of the challenging taking on the frustrated Guardiola and company.

Arteta left Guardiola’s City setup in December 2019 to take the Arsenal helm, transforming the Gunners in remarkable fashion since.

“I am pretty sure if I would have left here before, he would be here [at City] and he would be the best, absolutely,” said Guardiola, of Arteta.

“But I extended my contract, I am sorry, and he didn’t wait, so it could not happen. But definitely it could have.”

Arteta joined Manchester City’s coaching ranks on retiring as a player in 2016, learning his craft under master tactician and serial winner Guardiola.

City’s former Barcelona boss revealed how Arteta would never celebrate goals against the Gunners, the team he represented more than 100 times between 2011 and 2016.

“He loves the club; I remember when we were together here and we scored goals, he jumped a lot and celebrated – except with one team,” said Guardiola.

“One team, every time we score a goal, I jump, look back and he was sitting there. It was Arsenal.”



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R Madrid 3 – 1 A Madrid

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Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior scored in extra-time as Real Madrid fought back to beat local rivals Atletico 3-1 on Thursday and reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

On a freezing night at a sold-out Santiago Bernabeu hosting its first game for 77 days due to the World Cup break, Real started slowly and Atletico had many dangerous counter-attacks.

Atletico Madrid's Alvaro Morata, right, celebrates with teammate Antoine Griezmann after scoring the opening goal during the Spanish Copa del Rey quarter final soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Image:
Atletico Madrid took the lead against their rivals

Atletico captain Koke delivered a brilliant through ball to Nahuel Molina who ghosting in behind Reals defence and the full back set up Alvaro Morata, a former Real academy player, to tap the ball into an empty net in the 19th minute.

Eder Militao wasted a golden chance to equalise in the 32nd minute after Toni Kroos had delivered a perfect cross.

Atletico Madrid's Alvaro Morata celebrates scoring
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Alvaro Morata celebrates scoring the opener

It was not only until Dani Ceballos came off the bench to replace the injured Ferland Mendy late in the first half that Real started to play better.

The 26-year-old midfielder injected a new dynamic into the team who were far more aggressive after the break.

Benzema wasted two good opportunities and Federico Valverde also sent a shot wide from just outside the box.

Real Madrid's Rodrygo celebrates with team-mates
Image:
Real Madrid’s Rodrygo celebrates with team-mates

Substitute Rodrygo equalised in the 79th with a delightful goal, dribbling past three defenders before finishing well.

With Real Madrid in full control, Atletico played most of extra time with 10 men after defender Stefan Savic was shown his second yellow card for chopping down Eduardo Camavinga in the 99th minute.

Five minutes later, Real substitute Marco Asensio sent a low cross into the box and Vinicius’s deflected shot reached Benzema who unleashed an unstoppable strike into the net.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal during the Spanish Copa del Rey quarter final soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Image:
Karim Benzema’s goal made it 2-1 in extra time

Vinicius secured Real’s win in the dying seconds with a brilliant individual goal, running half the length of the pitch before scoring with a low shot.

“We got behind very early and after Mendy’s injury the whole team had to be rebuilt. But we woke up and played really well after the break,” Ceballos told TVE.

“They played better in the first half, but the coach corrected things in the second; we took control of the ball and found the goal. Then, after the red card, everything was easier.”

Real Madrid joined Barcelona, Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao in the semi-finals.



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Everything we know about Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes’ ankle

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Patrick Mahomes examines his ankle last Sunday against the Jaguars.

Patrick Mahomes examines his ankle last Sunday against the Jaguars.
Image: Getty Images

It’s conference championship week. With only four teams on the NFL schedule this week — the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and Cincinnati Bengals — one interesting storyline can dominate the entire conversation leading up to the games. This time, it’s QB Patrick Mahomes’ ankle.

The fact that this storyline is the dominant one heading into the weekend makes sense. He’s the best player in the league, and his team is hosting the AFC Championship Game against the Bengals who are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Also, the game is taking place one week after he suffered a high-ankle sprain and was still able to hobble the Chiefs to victory — aided of course by a timely 98-yard touchdown drive that was led by backup quarterback Chad Henne.

How mobile does Mahomes look right now?

Since his right ankle got rolled against the Jacksonville Jaguars, no leg in America has had as much attention on it as his. Not even Brent Maher’s as he overcame his kicking yips during the Dallas Cowboys’ loss on Sunday to the Eagles. Mahomes’ ankle has so much attention on it that Fox 4 KC’s Harold R. Kuntz has been filming him walking down from the press conference podium the last two days. And by filming Mahomes, I mean only his legs.

Thursday update: Mahomes didn’t even need to use the stairs.

Knox’s assessment: Don’t be a hero… until Sunday.

Kuntz isn’t the only reporter on the scene sharing video footage of Mahomes’ mobility. During the portion of practice that was open to the media, many videos were sent out of Mahomes moving around. As the Chiefs were warming up, Mahomes actually jogged and spun as he headed toward his next station. He is certainly running better than he was on Sunday.

In their comments to the media, Andy Reid said that Mahomes “did a nice job and was “comfortable with what we did.” Mahomes said that he believed his Wednesday practice went, “better than I expected.”

For Chiefs fans — and those of us who want to see a well-played AFC Championship Game — this news out of Kansas City is the best we could’ve received. On the Chiefs’ most active days of practice, Mahomes was seen moving very well. Also, he and the head coach both gave positive updates about the health of the most important leg in sports this weekend.

Will the ankle affect Mahomes’ play on Sunday?

There is no possible way that Mahomes will be 100 percent against the Bengals. They are going to test that ankle by trying to apply the same type of pressure that disrupted the Buffalo Bills during the Bengals’ Divisional Round win on Sunday. However, if he can move around all game as well as he has been in practice, he will be able to play well enough for the Chiefs to have a chance at victory.

We’ve received the closeup and overhead views of Mahomes’ health. All that is left is the view at Arrowhead Stadium from the CBS cameras at 6:30 p.m. EST on Jan. 29, 2023.





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