Sam Amico’s NBA notes: Blazers showing early punch
Two weeks into the season, LaMarcus Aldridge is the best power forward in the NBA. And the Portland Trail Blazers are perhaps the best team in the West.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
Now raise your hand if you’re not a Blazers fan and can name the coach. No, the answer isn’t Phil Jackson or Stan Van Gundy or any other big name that every other team just had to have.
Instead, the man in charge is Terry Stotts. And about the only thing Stotts and Jackson have in common is they were both involved in the old Continental Basketball Association. Jackson coached the Albany Patroons and Stotts played for something called the Montana Golden Nuggets.
Stotts has coached in the NBA before. Last season with the Blazers, of course.
Before that, he was a riveting 115-168 with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks. OK, maybe those numbers aren’t all that spectacular. Maybe Stotts isn’t the fascinating hire most teams are seeking.
But the man and his calm teacher-like approach sure is the right fit for the Blazers so far.
Anyway, back to Aldridge.
Most of the offseason centered on whether Aldridge wanted to return to Portland. He made it sound like he was OK with it … but you just couldn’t be sure.
Well, it looks like being a Blazer fits Aldridge just fine these days.
The Blazers have won 10 straight (entering Monday’s game against New York) and Aldridge is averaging career-highs in points (22.3 per game) and rebounds (9.6).
Spoiler alert: Aldridge is content in Portland.
But in case you missed it, the Blazers have been much more than just Aldridge.
Obviously, reigning rookie of the year Damian Lillard is always a threat, sort of the Kyrie Irving of the West Coast.
Shooting guard Wesley Mathews has been fantastic and is off to a career start.
Small forward Nicolas Batum is as good as ever. And perhaps most importantly, the Blazers are getting the bench help that had been lacking last season — via everyone from veteran guard Mo Williams to second-year forward Thomas Robinson to even Dorrell Wright and center Robin Lopez.
Suddenly, the Blazers are a deep team with a strong chemistry.
Oh, and as we saw in a tussle and win at Golden State over the weekend, the Blazers have a little punch. That’s newsworthy because some analysts previously considered them a little too soft.
Will the Blazers be able to keep this up in a rugged West that includes the likes of Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and the L.A. Clippers?
Who knows and who cares? All you need to know is, right now, it sure is fun watching the Blazers try.
• There is some relevance to a suggested potential trade involving the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers, league sources said. The Sixers are likely to shop small forward Evan Turner, a restricted free agent at season’s end. The Cavs are exploring the idea of landing a starting-caliber small forward. It could be a good match, depending on the Cavs’ desire to delve into the uncertainty of Turner’s contract. The possible trade discussion was first mentioned by the New York Daily News.
• Still, while GM Chris Grant likes to make trades and is always willing to listen, the Cavs are not actively trying to make a deal.
• The possibility also exists the Sixers will hold on to Turner and re-sign him in the summer. He has played well and been a team leader under new coach Brett Brown. He could evolve into a team centerpiece with rookie Michael Carter-Williams and others.
• League sources believe Sacramento Kings swingman Marcus Thornton is available. Thornton is viewed as a talented scorer, but an average (at best) defender and facilitator. He has fallen out of new Kings coach Michael Malone’s rotation. Thornton did score 24 in a win over Brooklyn a few weeks ago, so he does have some value.
• The Chicago Bulls may look to shake things up after it was announced Derrick Rose will miss the season. Rose underwent surgery on his right knee Monday. The Bulls still want to win and get into the playoffs, sources said. But if things head south quickly, they could gut the roster and aim for a high lottery pick to pair with Rose for when he returns.
• Small forward Luol Deng is a candidate to get traded if the Bulls go that route. A team source said if the Bulls do trade Deng, they would have to get what they consider a steal (a young player and picks) to trade him within the Eastern Conference. The asking price from a Western team likely wouldn’t be as high.
• The Bulls could also hang on to Deng and let him bolt in free agency at season’s end, when his contract expires. One league source said, as of today, the Bulls won’t even think about what to do with Deng until the February trading deadline approaches.
• Veteran shooting guards Richard Hamilton and Shannon Brown, and second-year point guard Kendall Marshall, remain unsigned. But each is drawing interest from several teams. League sources expect Brown and Marshall to sign somewhere by the New Year, and Hamilton perhaps not long after that.