PORTLAND — The smiles were bright. The introductions were enthusiastic. The energy was palpable.
Then, the first question brought the situation back to reality.
Jonny, Hasheem: Why haven’t your NBA careers worked out so far?
The Trail Blazers introduced newly acquired players Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet to the media Monday, but it was hardly the ushering in of a new era. Flynn, a point guard, averaged 3.4 points in his 11 games with the Rockets this year while shooting 29 percent from the field. Thabeet, a center, averaged 1.2 points in five games with Houston this season and has twice been sent down to the NBA Development League during his three-year career.
The pervading thought in Portland is that, considering their expiring contracts, neither will be in a Blazers jersey next year as the team looks to rebuild.
But in the meantime, going back to that original question about their unenviable careers...
“I think sometimes you find yourself in situations where you really can’t control them,” said Flynn, 23. “You work hard, put in the extra effort, and have great relationship, but things don’t go your way.”
Added Thabeet: “We want to come up here and work and prove that, if I had a chance to start over, I could have been something.”
Joining Flynn and Thabeet were Blazers interim general manager Chad Buchanan and interim head coach Kaleb Canales.
Flynn said he observed Canales’ enthusiasm on television during the Blazers’ win over Chicago Friday, calling his energy and constant high-fiving “infectious.”
And Flynn is certainly looking to feed off of that.
Two years ago, the former sixth overall draft pick was averaging 13.5 points a game in Minnesota. A hip surgery followed, as did the relinquishing of his starting position. So when asked about the significance of the scenery-change, Flynn exuded nothing but optimism despite being part of a rebuild.
“There are a lot of guys that can play basketball, but you never know it because they’re not in the right situation,” Flynn said. “But this is a great organization, a great fan base, it’s almost like the stars aligning.”
Thabeet was then asked the same question.
“I’ll just repeat what he said,” he replied.”
Greetings, Mr. Canales
Monday also marked the first day Canales met with the local media since his promotion to interim head coach. He said the first indication he had that he would be replacing Nate McMillan Thursday came when his cell phone was inundated with “an abnormal amount” of text messages after practice.
Buchanan said that the the Blazers have been “lifeless” of late and that Canales seemed like the perfect candidate to inject energy into the team, commending his optimism while adding that Kaleb “has never had a bad day in his life.
“When you first meet him, you think it’s phony or corny,” Buchanan said. “But that’s him. He’s genuine.”
Aside from running the Blazers’ summer league program, Canales has never been in a head-coaching role before last week.
“But I did have my own JV team when I was 22,” he said. “That was a lot of fun.”
In addition to his work ethic, Canales’ reputation revolves largely around his ability to connect with players. Buchanan relayed a story Monday about LaMarcus Aldridge hopping on a flight to Ladero, Texas to speak at Canales’ camp. Aldridge was initially scheduled to pop in and pop out, but ended up spending the next two days with Canales and his friends simply because of their rapport.
Canales still spends an inordinate amount of time at the team’s practice facility when the Blazers are home, saying Monday that he sleeps just as many nights on the facility’s couches as he does in his own bed.
Being a head coach, after all, has long been a goal of his — and he isn’t about to waste the opportunity.
“It’s been a blessing but it’s bittersweet because Nate was a special person in my life. He’s a great coach and a great man,” Canales said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I feel like it hasn’t stopped — our preparation. We’re excited to get back to the Rose Garden.”
Another question that came up Monday was if Canales would be able to appropriately chastise his players when they deserved a tongue-lashing. Buchanan answered with an emphatic yes, saying he sees him doing in practice all the time, “but he’ll always pat him on the back afterward.”
Still wanting to win
The protected first-round draft pick the Blazers acquired from the Nets is likely the most valuable asset the team attained Thursday. The pick is top-three protected, meaning that if New Jersey’s position in the lottery is third or better, Portland will get the selection.
Buchanan said that teams expressed interest in the pick within 45 of minutes of Portland’s acquiring it. Even so, while it would seem as though losing games and moving up on the draft board would most benefit the Blazers, Buchanan said the franchise is still very-much focused on winning.
“That people think we want to tank the season is completely inaccurate,” Buchanan said. “ (Owner) Mr. (Paul) Allen) isn’t about that. Kaleb isn’t about that. Teammates owe it to each other to lay it on the line. Making the playoffs is an accomplishment.”
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org