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Friday, April 28, 2017

Stories by Darryn Albert:

Broncos players take to Twitter to call for team to sign Gary Barnidge

The Denver Broncos are once again assembling en masse on Twitter to call for a player signing.

The Cleveland Browns announced the release of former Pro Bowl tight end Gary Barnidge on Friday.

Shortly after the news broke, Broncos safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Chris Harris called for the team to give Barnidge a look.

We already saw a similar (albeit unsuccessful) attempt by the Broncos brass earlier in the offseason. But tight end is definitely a position of need for the team (Virgil Green currently sits atop their depth chart), so perhaps management should indeed look to the TL.

Report: Magic interested in Larry Bird as candidate for president

The reverberations of Larry Bird’s decision to step down as Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations are already being felt.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports on Friday that, though Bird’s current plan is to continue on with the Pacers as a consultant, the Orlando Magic are interested in him as a potential candidate for president.

Bird’s surprising decision to resign was announced earlier in the day Friday.

The Magic shook up their front office after a fifth consecutive losing season in 2016-17, firing GM Rob Hennigan earlier this month. They have cast a wide net in their search for a new lead executive, but if Bird is indeed that guy, it will be interesting to see how head coach Frank Vogel reacts — he coached the Pacers for six seasons before Bird failed to renew his contract last offseason.

CJ McCollum wants Blazers to pursue Paul George in offseason

CJ McCollum is trying to pre-order his tickets to the PG-13 movie.

The Portland Trail Blazers guard held a Twitter Q&A on Thursday due to his flight being delayed and was asked who he would like to see the team pursue in the offseason.

McCollum replied simply by tagging the handle of Pacers star Paul George.

The Pacers and the Blazers were both swept in the first round, and the latter does have a need at the forward position after making due this season with Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless getting most of those minutes. But Portland doesn’t have nearly enough assets to swing a trade for George, who won’t hit free agency until summer 2018, and the four-time All-Star already seems enamored with a different Western Conference team.

McCollum and backcourt partner Damian Lillard are both under contract through 2021, but the problem is that Harkless, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Allen Crabbe are signed to long-term deals above market value as well. Those kinds of contracts clog up cap space and reduce Portland’s ability to field a competitive trade offer, making an acquisition of George seem like more of a reach for them than anything.

HS coach: Kawhi Leonard was originally slated to play for UCLA

Kawhi Leonard

Could Kawhi Leonard have assumed the torch from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love as the next great Bruin baller?

In a feature by Sam Gardner of FOX Sports that ran on Thursday, Leonard’s high school coach, Tim Sweeney of Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California, said the San Antonio Spurs superstar originally had his sights set on UCLA for college and was “signed, sealed and delivered” to then-head coach Ben Howland. But Sweeney claims that jealousy over Leonard’s standout play in a brief AAU stint with the L.A. Dream Team in 2008 led to his falling out of favor with the more prestigious programs in the area.

“Kawhi outshined Renardo Sidney and everyone on the team,” Sweeney was quoted as saying. “The Sidney group all of a sudden was badmouthing him around everybody, OK? Everybody kind of bought in it, and all these big-time schools — which were probably about eight or 10 of them — dropped off. They literally dropped off the face of the map.”

For what it’s worth, Gardner notes that Steve Fisher, Leonard’s head coach at the university he ultimately wound up attending, San Diego State, as well as Justin Hutson, Leonard’s lead recruiter, were both unaware of the blacklisting of sorts that Sweeney claimed.

Leonard wound up averaging 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in his two seasons at SDSU. At the time, he was largely seen as a raw prospect who mainly specialized on the defensive end, nowhere near the two-way machine he has since blossomed into (as even his current head coach will admit). But given that the Bruins were led by the likes of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee during that two-year stretch, it’s worth wondering if landing a big fish like Leonard could have bought Howland, who was fired in 2013, some more time and drastically altered the way the UCLA program looks today.

Journalist responds to Blazers GM putting him on blast

Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey isn’t here for your slander, as one local journalist is finding out the hard way.

In his season-ending press conference earlier this week, Olshey reacted to a column by John Canzano of the Oregonian that criticized Portland’s “broken” culture after their first-round loss to the Golden State Warriors.

“I was glad that it was written by someone who came to two games all year,” said Olshey, per Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk. “Clearly, the motivation was to abuse his privileges as a media person with his pass so that he could get tickets for his relatives and pictures taken with the opposing point guard in the opposing point guard’s jersey. Because clearly, that’s an unbiased opinion, right? That’s an impartial observer talking about our roster when he has his nephew in a Steph Curry jersey taking pictures with Steph Curry. Sure.

“You know, look. I’m very comfortable with where our culture is,” continued Olshey. “I mean, look, you guys are around it. Hey, you’re in that locker room more than I am, right? I mean, quite honestly, you guys know. The day I stopped coaching, I haven’t walked into an NBA locker room. Not once. It’s not my place. When I talk to the guys, it’s out of the locker room. That’s their sanctuary. So, you guys know how close a group that is, how they feel about the coaching staff, the support that they get from the organization. They know we have their best interest at heart.”

For his part, Canzano took an opportunity to respond to Olshey’s comments on Wednesday, admitting that he had, in fact, attended just two Blazers games all season but had watched many others, presumably on television. He also rebutted the nephew-in-a-Curry-jersey anecdote specifically:

I bought a pair of tickets to Game 3 for my nephew and our church pastor. I had to work the game, so I needed a chaperone to sit with the kid and the church youth pastor was all for it. I dropped them off in front of Moda Center and picked them back up after the game. The nephew, 11, likes Steph Curry and wore his Curry jersey to the game and the pastor snapped a photo of the kid with Curry warming up in the background. It was posted to social media. My nephew is in the foster-care system. My wife and I are his guardians. It felt like the right thing to do. Not sure why this is even a topic. Not sure fans care, either. But I suppose Olshey was trying to say that because my nephew wore a Curry jersey, I couldn’t be impartial? I don’t know, and it’s a waste of time to think about it.

Though it does happen, it’s rare to see a reporter get ethered like this in the NBA. But Olshey has been protective of his guys lately in the wake of their early playoff exit, so you have to admire the fervor of the Blazers GM.

Brandon Phillips has hilarious quote about avoiding disabled list

He may be a 35-year-old playing on one of the worst teams in baseball, but Brandon Phillips hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

On Thursday morning, the Atlanta Braves second baseman, who is currently battling a groin strain, dropped a funny quote about avoiding the disabled list.

“I’m not going on the DL, that’s not going to happen,” said Phillips, per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m going to wrap it up, I’m going to do something. I’m going to be like Chipotle burrito, I’m wrapping that thing up. I’m not going on the DL, I promise you that.”

Phillips has actually gotten off to a hot start in his first season as a Brave, slashing .352/.387/.507 with two home runs, nine RBIs, and five stolen bases through 19 games. But he should probably proceed with caution as Chipotle hasn’t always been kind to his fellow MLBers.

Tyronn Lue not worried about LeBron James’ increased playoff workload

Tyronn Lue

Tyronn Lue goes by a different playbook for LePostseason.

Speaking with the media after team practice on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach said that he wasn’t concerned about LeBron James’ increased playoff workload.

“Of course, we’re always cognizant of LeBron’s minutes, but in looking at this situation, we didn’t look at the minutes as an issue,” Lue said, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “It makes more sense to close out the series and have the additional rest versus playing potentially even more minutes, potentially 96-144 more minutes. Closing out and the rest that comes with it far outweighs the other potential scenario.

“I mean, I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of minutes,” continued Lue. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games, and then he had a week off again. So next [series] he might play 48 minutes.”

The 32-year-old James played a seemingly exorbitant 43.8 minutes per game in the Cavs’ first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, tops among all players so far this postseason. But as Lue alluded to, sweeping the series gave James and the Cavs at least a full week of rest before the start of the second round, making any apprehension over minutes a moot point.

Lue was more concerned about the workload issue during the regular season, even if James also led the league then with 37.8 minutes per game. But with no back-to-backs to worry about and the high-stakes nature of every single game, it will be all systems go for The King from here on out.

Jonas Valanciunas called out for farting on Raptors’ team plane

Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas apparently left an unpleasant surprise for his teammates on the flight to Milwaukee for Game 6.

In a post to Instagram on Wednesday, Raptors forward P.J. Tucker called out Valanciunas for farting on the team plane, sharing a video of the team suffering in the immediate aftermath of the Lithuanian’s gas expulsion.

Valanciunas has had a decent postseason so far with 10.0 points and 7.6 rebounds a contest for the Raptors through their first five games, helping them jump out to a 3-2 lead in their series against the Bucks. But who knew that he had it in him to give Vince Wilfork a run for his money?

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