The Portland Trail Blazers met with the press Sunday afternoon, after learning about the unexpected trade of Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round draft pick. Much like Blazers fans, the players expressed complete surprise at the announcement.
Joe Freeman of OregonLive recapped a crazy day for the players, who were blindsided at breakfast.
"I asked what they were talking about," Leonard said.
The answer was a stunner: Mason Plumlee had been traded.
Lillard was frank about the challenge of playing without Plumlee by his side.
"It's a tough one, man," Lillard said. "Mase was one of our guys; like a brother to me. I have a great bond with Mase, on and off the floor. It's sucked to see him go ... and we're definitely going to miss him.”
Lillard reflected on Plumlee’s unselfishness on the court, and leadership off the court.
"You don't find people that committed to being a better player and as committed to our team as he was," Lillard said. Plumlee is "always trying to figure out what he can do better to help us. Always in the game, he would come to me with a play call where he could literally help me get an easier look, a play where he's handling the ball and he can look for me. He would bring his iPad to me and say, 'Dame, look at this play. Right here, we should look at this more often in the game. You could (go) backdoor right here or be on the weak side.' It was just a lot of communication where he was trying to make the game easier for me."
Elsewhere, Casey Holdahl of blazers.com discussed the shockwave that ripped through the players as they learned the news, and their realization that the popular Plumlee will not be part of their long-term growth. McCollum lamented the removal of a major cog in the Blazers’ offensive engine.
"Starting center does a lot for us," said Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. "(Plumlee) handles the ball, a lot of responsibilities playmaking. He’s just a glue guy that you want on your team. He’s a guy who does things the right way, never complains and he’s getting better. He put together a nice string of 20, 25 games to where he’s getting double-doubles, making his free throws, finishing in the lane. And he’s a good guy. That’s what matters the most, he’s a good guy."
Lillard told reporters what he said to Plumlee before he departed for his new team.
"I just told him how much I appreciate him as a teammate and he was one of my favorite teammates that I ever played with," Lillard said. "Not just in the NBA, but in my life period. I'll miss him for sure."
I mean, the business sucks man. You wish you could get a team together and put pieces together and you can keep it together. You wish you had the power to keep it together regardless of anything. It happens this way sometimes."
Lastly, Jason Quick of CSN NW recapped a crazy day for Plumlee, who never caught his breath after he walked to his vehicle.
Earlier that morning, as he approached his SUV in the parking garage of his Pearl District complex, he noticed someone had broken into his car.
His mind raced. Gone was his checkbook. His wallet.
“I went in early to the facility to start cancelling my checkbook, my credit cards,’’ Plumlee said. “And someone said, ‘Neil wants to meet with you.’’’
Plumlee briefly reflected on his last days as a Blazer, as he prepared to cancel credit cards, and find identification so he could board a plane.
“I was just talking to my brother. It’s very different getting traded in the season,’’ Plumlee said. “As a player, you always feel like you are in the fight. We were just talking as a team yesterday, that ‘We are in this … we have to get into the playoffs and come through …’’’
It would turn out to be his last team meeting.
The Plumlee/Nurkic trade is expected to complete tomorrow, when the NBA League Office is open for business. It is unknown if Plumlee or Nurkic will suit up for their new teams, who are both in action Monday night. The Blazers play the Atlanta Hawks on TNT, and the Nuggets host the Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors.