austen marshell

Damian Lillard Starts Blazers Career as Floor Leader

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Lillard shows his incredibly leaping ability during his college days. He brings that talent to Portland.

Exhibition games in the summer don’t technically mean much, but when you bring your team back from a 17-point halftime deficit, the results can’t be ignored.  Portland Trailblazers first-round draft pick Damian Lillard is in Portland to take control, if you judge him based off the Blazers’ 85-82 Summer League opening win over the New Orleans Hornets.

Lillard finished his professional debut game with 25 points, four assists and four rebounds at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on Sunday leaving many Blazers fans to wonder, in mid-July, what is to come this October when the season officially starts.

In the first half though, Lillard, even to his own admission, may have been uncharacteristically nervous.

“The first half there were some butterflies,” Lillard said. “I was just getting used to it — the speed. There was a lot of athleticism out there. But I think once I calmed down and got comfortable, that’s when I started to play better.”

Leading up to the draft, the plus on Lillard’s side was that despite attending a smaller school, in Weber State, he was a player with a demeanor of confidence and poise.

His knack for scoring seemed to be based off of an ability to break down double-teams and quickly pull-up, knocking down jumpers as he averaged a second-best 24.5 points last season in the NCAA.

In the first half on Sunday, though, Lillard was 2-of-10 in an uneventful showcasing of his skills.

“When I came out, a lot of my shots were jumpers,” Lillard said. “I felt like I needed to get in rhythm, which meant I needed to get to the free throw line, and I needed to get to the rim and draw contact.”

In the second half, Lillard’s demeanor didn’t seem to change.  What changed was the pace of the game as he exploded and took control, attacking the Hornets’ defense on pick and rolls and getting easy buckets for himself and his Blazers teammates.

“It all came back to me,” Lillard said. “I was being patient. My shots weren’t falling, but I stuck with it.”

Lillard, Leonard and Barton pose with GM Neil Oshey

Fellow rookie, and pick-11 overall, Meyers Leonard seemed to be impressed.

“Unbelievable,” Leonard said of Lillard’s performance. “I’ve seen what I need to see out of him. I completely expected it. But now he’s just going to take off from here.”

Blazers’ general manager Neil Olshey has referred to Lillard as the “franchise point-guard” and drafting him over some of college basketball’s bigger names, like the Hornets’ Austin Rivers, who was also available at the sixth spot of the 2012 draft, solidifies that thinking.

The comparisons of Lillard to Blazers great Terry Porter is unfair but in the world of sports, probably a welcomed burden for him who, even as a rookie, said things after Sunday’s victory with the voice of a veteran.

“I really wanted to show people I can make plays and get guys involved,” he said. “I thought I got a lot of guys shots. Any time you can come in and make the guys around you better and get them easy shots, I feel like you’re doing your job and you’re playing well and just making the right plays, and I thought I did that.”

This is the first of what could be many career games in a Blazers uniform for Lillard. And if his first official outing as a Blazer has any indication for his career, the city of Portland and the Rose Garden have a lot to look forward too.

Seattle Can Only Sit and Wonder

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Oh how perturbed the city of Seattle’s basketball fans probably feel.  At the same time, the birth in this year’s NBA Finals and the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder as a former franchise in Seattle may not have even happened had the team stayed in the Emerald city.

An important aspect to the reality of the Thunder, as a team, is that the fan base and always-talked-about energy and crowd involvement within Oklahoma City. The Chesapeake Energy Arena, in particular, is a far cry from the environment in the city of Seattle, and at the KeyArena.

Kevin Durant is arguably one of the top-3 players and the feature player of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Before going to OKC, Durrant won the Rookie of the Year award as a Sonic.

Who’s to say that the SuperSonics would be in the same position of going to the NBA Finals as the Thunder is now?

With all due respect to Seattle, the environment provided by the whole state of Oklahoma is much different than that of the atmosphere in the Emerald City.

“This means the world to our state,” Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin said. “This has touched every corner of our state.”

But the harsh reality for all involved in this basketball soap opera is that this team was and is the former Seattle SuperSonics.  Kevin Durant won Rookie of the Year as a member of the SuperSonics.  Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collision were all drafted by Seattle, not Oklahoma City.

The likelihood of this young Thunder team being in the Finals as the former Seattle team is undeniable. Most Seattle SuperSonics fans probably feel the Thunder would be in the Finals this year had they stayed in the North West.

“The first thing you do is to try not to be a hater,” former Seattle SuperSonics guard Slick Watts told USA Today. “You understand in life that things have to have a perfect setting, and right now, Oklahoma is going through a perfect setting.”

One of the worst parts about the whole fiasco, for Seattle is, that in these particular Finals, the biggest stars of this generation in Durant and Westbrook are competing against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade who play for the new-age, drama-induced, Miami Heat.

A matchup like this, in terms of views and revenue, will be comparable to, and has the appeal of, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp battling Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. This is the NBA Finals we all wanted to see. For Seattle, this has turned out to be a nightmare of a divorce.

Maybe the Sacramento Kings and the Maloof brothers should try and make a move to Seattle in the near future, since they can’t seem to get a new arena any time soon. A Seattle Kings team seems to have all the makings of what could be a perfect marriage for the franchise and Emerald City.

The Kings making a move south in California to Anaheim, which is in the immediate vicinity of Los Angeles isn’t feasible economically.  Also, a move to a city like Las Vegas seems even less desirable and doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of a real basketball city in need.

Where else would a Kings’ marriage be plausible?

Seattle has an echoed emptiness without basketball and seems overdue for professional games on the hardwood. A decision to move to the North West wouldn’t be a gamble for the Maloofs, but who knows?

An admirable part of this for the city of Seattle is that truly, on the surface, the city seems glad to see head coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder’s success.

Oklahoma City has one of the biggest home court advantages in the NBA.

On the inside there may be a hint of simmering envy and who’s to argue?  The Thunder really were and are the SuperSonics.

We should be celebrating with them right here in Seattle is the rightful attitude.

“This team was built on the backs of Sonics fans,” said Adam Brown a Seattle based producer of the documentary of the franchise and city parting ways entitled “Sonicsgate”. Brown believes Seattle deserves, and will receive, an NBA franchise sooner rather than later. “They (the NBA) ripped it away, and it’s one of the biggest (sports) scandals of our time.”

“Sonicsgate” is a detailed underscoring documentary of politics and finance which ultimately caused the SuperSonics demise in Seattle.

Financially speaking, you have to spend money to make money and renovations to KeyArena would surely be reaping the financial benefits from the anticipated NBA Finals matchup of Durant and LeBron.

The cries for professional basketball returning to Seattle aren’t just money driven, though.

With assistance of former head coach George Karl and teammates Payton and Kemp in the filming of “Sonicsgate,” a want for a basketball return to the city seems to be heartfelt.

In 2010, at the Webby Awards Gala for films, SuperSonics career-leader in games played, Payton accepted the award for “Sonicsgate” as the Best Sports Film.  Payton was a special surprise guest for the producers and with his trademark charisma, didn’t disappoint.

As in Webby Awards tradition, acceptance speeches for winners are limited to five words or less and Payton chose his words carefully.

“Bring back our Seattle Supersonics!”

For Seattle, in the coming seasons, hopes are high for the possibility of the return of the NBA and the possibility is truly there.

For now, there is wonderment as to what could’ve been as the former SuperSonics start their push for what could be their first NBA championship in only their fourth year of existence as the Thunder.

With a Thunder win in the Finals, for the city of Seattle, this would’ve been the cities second championship with the first and only celebration being nearly 32 years ago.

Go Thunder.