Blazers’ would-be depth all in Vegas

VIDEO: The Trail Blazers’ young guns rout the Hawks in Las Vegas Summer League

LAS VEGAS — Two seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers’ bench was remarkably young and perilously inadequate. Last season, the addition of veteran Mo Williams plus incredibly good health among the starting five limited opportunity for the Blazers’ babies.

As Summer League heats up, that banging sound you hear is opportunity knocking. Which young Blazers finally walk through that door will be an intriguing story line to monitor. The choices are all right here in Vegas. In fact, if the Blazers don’t boast the most players from their big-league team on their Summer League squad then they’re right there near the top.

Six of Portland’s 15 roster players are on its Summer League squad: Guards Will Barton, Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum, as well as frontline teammates Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson. All six players have either one or two years of league service, and all six are seeking to make a first-time impact in the Blazers’ rotation.

McCollum, Robinson and Leonard are all top 11 draft picks.

“It’s an important summer for our young bigs and and our young perimeter guys,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said as he watched Portland’s summer team beat down Atlanta, 91-76. “CJ, Will and Allen, there’s an opportunity. I can’t say how many minutes, but there’s an opportunity. Joel, Meyers and T-rob, after signing Chris [Kaman], there’s some competition.”

Kaman was granted a two-year, $9.8 million contract coming off two subpar seasons with Dallas and then the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet Portland felt compelled to sign him up as backup to starter Robin Lopez because they’ve haven’t been able to count on Leonard or Freeland.

The young guards won’t have to contend with Williams, who remains on the market as an unrestricted free agent, however the Blazers signed steady veteran in Steve Blake.

“In my rookie year everyone talked about the bench,” said Leonard, who took a step back last season, partly due to injury. “Last year was a much better year for us, young guys stepped up. Now we need to have even more of a deep bench, confidence from coach to put us in there and know the score isn’t  going to down, we’re going to keep it there or we’re going to increase the lead. It’s confidence in the starters and coaches that when we come in we’re going to do a good job and they can know we’re going to be all right.”

Self-confidence is a big pat of it, too. The leader in that category could be Thomas Robinson, the fifth overall pick two years ago by Sacramento, who was traded by the Kings and then the Rockets. He played in 70 games for Portland last season, averaging 4.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg in 12.5 mpg. He provided some high energy moments off the bench during the playoffs and now the 23-year-old says he’s discovered what it takes to be a productive NBA player.

“I am where I was supposed to be after my rookie year, making that leap to knowing what type of player you are in this league and knowing what you’re going to do for your team,” Robinson said. “That’s where I am now, where I should have been last year.”

Few expected the Blazers to end up where they did last season, winning 54 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the last 14 years. They have a dynamic starting five with All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, streak-shooter Wes Matthews, stat-stuffer small forward Nicolas Batum and Lopez, their lunchpail center.

Bench parts at every position are on the roster. Now, with another year under the belts, the question is which ones walk through that door.


  1. NBA prospect / insider Nathan says:

    yeah Blazers must use their bench to succeed point blank

  2. michael louis says:

    The first thing the Blazers need to do is use their bench more. The Spurs won the championship by using more then just 7 or 8 players. You have to use your bench in the regular season to get them ready for the playoffs. You cant expect them to play well when someone gets hurts then now you want the to perform. When they only get minutes when we are blowing out a team or getting blown out. Common sense says put them in a game that matters so when the playoffs come it wont be much of a shock. The Spurs played their bench all year long and sometime when Parker back up was playing well the coach left him in to gain that experience. Portland needs to do the same.

  3. harrythehawk says:

    Too much competition in the West and the Trailblazers ran out of steam last season, couldn’t keep up with the big dogs. Hopefully, they will do better this season. Best wishes to them. Damien Lillard deserves it.

  4. Bigdaddy Draftdog says:

    T-Rob and Will the Thrill. If they don’t get some big minutes this year, can Stotts.

  5. Keesu` says:

    The Blazers are a good young team. If they get some help from their bench it will make them that much better. CJ is a real pro who can drill it from anywhere. TRob will improve . the big question mark has been Leonard. If he can develop that will help the Blazers immensely

    • MrHegemony says:

      Watching Leonard play live here in town, it looks like the game is still moving too fast for him to keep up. He’s got a lot of potential, but it remains to be seen if he’ll find any minutes with Kaman and Freeland as simply better options. I’m particularly intrigued at the promise of T-Rob and Barton – those dudes both stepped up during the playoffs, and could be poised for break-out seasons (as much as is possible off the bench).

  6. Derek says:

    This BLAZERS team is ready to make some noise again this season. T-ROB is a rebounding machine and BEAST, He will be a great compliment to Kaman as they come in to give Lopez and Aldridge rest. I really like Freeland too, he can play. CJ McCollum is going to be a crafty guard and should play well next to Lillard as well as Blake to play the 2. Adept at steals and can handle the ball really well in traffic. Good shooter too. BUT HOW COULD I LEAVE OUT “THE PEOPLE’s CHAMP”: WILL “THE THRILL” BARTON. This boy has pure heart, hustle and a nose for the ball you cant teach. He can flat out BALL and may be the most athletic guy on the roster at 6’6″ and 180 lb. He can do it all and his 3-ball is getting A LOT better. With a consistent 3 point shot (hes got the corner 3 pretty well now) this guy is a starter in the league at the 2 guard. Hes a basketball junkie too. He can name off players and stats from the Dr. J Era, dude lives and breathes the game. That’s the kinda guys you want on your team and the blazers have keepers. Few team have the presence of mind or patience to go through the process and hone the talent you draft. This team is building something so special all because GM Neil Olshey and Paul Allen are doing things the right way: ala Spurs-esqe. GO BLAZERS!!!

  7. I still think they need a veteran wing off the bench but with the growth of Damian Lillard this team looks poised to make a real run. CJ reminds me of a young Lou Williams when he gets his feet set it’s good. I can see him developing into a Chauncey Billups type.