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Mannix and Beck break down the rumors out of Portland, where Damian Lillard reportedly has interest in the team trading for Ben Simmons, and why we disagree on whether or not the Trail Blazers are currently in shambles. We also discuss whether CJ McCollum is the piece missing for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to make them true title contenders in the East, why the feel-good story of the Knicks’ early-season success has quickly ended and if LeBron should spend his last five years in L.A. or Cleveland.

The following transcript is an excerpt from The Crossover NBA podcast. Listen to the full episode on podcast players everywhere or on SI.com.

Chris Mannix: I want to begin this show, Howard, talking about the ever-evolving situation between Damian Lillard and Portland in the aftermath of Neil Olshey being fired. The question has naturally turned to, what does that mean for Damian Lillard? … Now, there has been some reporting over the last couple of days about Damian Lillard's interest in playing with Ben Simmons, about his interest in a long-term extension with the team. For whatever it's worth from Lillard's side, I'm told none of that's true, that Lillard has not expressed any interest in acquiring Ben Simmons, that since he's not eligible for a max extension yet, there haven't been those discussions either. So, yeah, there seems to be some disagreements on both sides between what is the case with Damian. 

Let me get your take on where things stand now, specifically with Lillard. I mean, we know that Olshey was let go by the Blazers as a result of what came out of this investigation into the hostile workplace. We don't know enough about it to really get too deep in the weeds because the Blazers are not releasing the results of the report. Olshey has not spoken on this yet, and it's still unclear if he's getting paid. I think he's owed around $20 million with what's left on his deal. It has not been determined, at least not publicly determined if he's going to get paid for that. So we'll stay away from that side of it, at least for now. And just talk about kind of the future of Damian Lillard in the aftermath of this front office shake-up in Portland.

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Howard Beck: Yeah, and listen, I'm not going to say that they shouldn't have fired Neil Olshey. Cause we don't know what exactly was in that investigation. We don't know what they found, we know there was a hostile workplace. How much of that is on Neil Olshey versus other people ... We don't know.

Mannix: Can I just say one thing on this, Howard? And I've written this before, so I don't mind obviously saying it on the podcast. One of the things that I've been told, came out of this investigation was a lot of "Neil was mean to me" stuff. Like Neil can be a very abrasive guy. He has a temper and that manifested itself with some, somewhat ugly exchanges with staffers within that organization. Those staffers told their stories to the investigators. I don't believe that there is some... I guess, any boarish behavior is bad behavior, but I don't know if there's any, you know, one smoking gun that was attached to this. It was just a lot of those types of stories that were fed to investigators that I think ultimately led to that decision.

Beck: So this may be fully justified, right? Uh, based on non-basketball stuff, you could also justify it based on the basketball. You could say, Hey, look, you had a long run, longer than most GMs get in their positions, and they've plateaued, we need a new direction, new whatever. Like whether it was a basketball decision in some parts, whether it was purely because this investigation is almost immaterial. But where they are right now is a very difficult and I think a dangerous spot. This is the worst possible time, among the worst possible times for a franchise to be rudderless or to have a leadership vacuum at the top of basketball ops. And I'm not saying that means that they shouldn't have fired him. Again, we don't know what the total causes were and what percentage was basketball versus other stuff. I would just say that given where they are in the standings, given all the smoke surrounding their situation. Possible trades of McCollum for Ben Simmons or somebody else, possible trades of Damian Lillard, Lillard's in this slump, Chauncey Billups is early in his coaching career and is certainly struggling to get this team on course. This is not a great time to have a vacuum at the top of your basketball ops. And I don't know when they're going to replace him. Are they going to wait till after the season? Does Joe Cronin who stepped in as interim, is he fully empowered to pick a direction? Because they're at an inflection point right now, and there's a potential opportunity out there. 

Whether Damian Lillard does or doesn't want to play with Ben Simmons, whether he has, or has not expressed that to somebody which then leaked out in a report in The Athletic recently, the bottom line is Ben Simmons is available. We know that much, as sure is certain. And we know that Ben Simmons next to Damian Lillard - you and I agree that would immediately improve this Trail Blazers team. And a CJ McCollum-based package that you and I have discussed many times seems like a potentially viable way to go. So if I'm the Portland Trail Blazers, I want somebody that I truly trust to make important basketball decisions in that job, but right now they're in flux.

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