Portland Trailblazers Hot this Summer
Hopefully, interim head coach Kaleb Canales can keep his position and continue to work with what seems to be a new and exciting era for the Portland Trailblazers. The team finished 4-1 in their recent Summer League outing and there has to be an air of confidence and anticipation for this young group in the coming years.
Neil Olshey is building something for Portland fans to continue rooting for in a franchise that has its share of respect throughout the NBA. Blazers top rookie draft-pick Damian Lillard, winner of the Summer League Co-MVP, seems to be a solidified leader in this new era for Portland as the weight-bearing, franchise point-guard.
Lillard dazzled coaches and spectators alike while averaging a summer league-best 26.5 points with 5.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds in Las Vegas.
While Lillard won the shared MVP honors, Olshey also made a highly-anticipated summer move for the Blazers roster that was of the biggest concern — matching the Minnesota Timberwolves offer and resigning swingman Nicolas Batum for the next four years. This move certainly keeps the Blazers roster familiar for the fans and proactive for the key cogs in players like LaMarcus Aldridge and second-year guard Nolan Smith.
Although it seemed as if Batum was destined for Minnesota, Olshey was resilient in being able to keep the 23-year old in an effort to show that the Blazers aren’t simply looking to rebuild over the next few years in the Rose city. Olshey is doing his best in putting together a Blazers roster that can contend for the Pacific division and Western Conference crowns much sooner than later.
“The decision was made a long time ago,” Olshey told reporters in Las Vegas. “We were never not going to have Nicolas back.”
With Batum back and Aldridge leading the frontcourt, the inevitable seems to be the emergence of Lillard this coming season with fellow rookies Will Barton and seven-footer Meyers Leonard following suit. The Blazers have a look on paper that has them destined for big things this year with a group that is young but with Aldridge and Batum, breathes an air of anticipated confidence.
Summer league basketball isn’t the greatest of measuring-sticks due to its somewhat street-ball nature, but Portland deserves a lot of credit for being 4-1. Lillard wasn’t simply dominant on his own as Barton and Leonard both had their showing moments in helping the Blazers to their winning record.
Barton averaged 15 points and played up to his raw-potential in the Blazers’ last three games, scoring 27 in the final summer victory over the Miami Heat 81-55.
An intriguing aspect for the summer showing was that there seems to be a natural affinity between Lillard and Leonard as teammates on and off the court. They continuously worked with each other in the pick-and-roll with the seven-footer catching his share of lobs and easy layups.
“It was one of those things where I thought we connected right away,” Lillard said of the quick chemistry with his seven-foot teammate.
Leonard shared his sentiment for his point-guard after a Blazers win that was led by Lillard.
“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 player development director Hersey Hawkins shared his thoughts on the cohesiveness of the rookies.
“They’re going to be such a critical part of the Blazers’ future and you want them to be on the same page,” said Hawkins. “You want them to get along. And they do. They are constantly talking and they seem to have that relationship where they can say things with each other and neither one of them gets offended. That’s going to be hugely important.”
Olshey in his first year as the Blazers general manager has quickly stepped in and seemingly played chess this summer building the Blazers roster by drafting Barton, Leonard, Lillard and all the while, being able to keep Batum.
The one negative that blemishes the roster as of now is the unfortunate concussion of Smith in the Blazers only summer loss. As of late, Smith is questionable, as he didn’t play the remaining three games in Las Vegas. His health shares the heading of the Blazers concerns due to his inevitable competition and sharing of the point-guard spot with Lillard this season.
Even so, with a full team seemingly intact by Olshey, there are few if any complaints for the Blazers looking towards the coming season. The only issue that seems to be at the very top of the list for the Blazers now is the coaching and what to do with Canales.