Just this preseason, Trail Blazers second-year guard Nolan Smith has experienced the highs and lows of life as an NBA role player.
Smith walks to the center court with the rest of the starters on one night. He remains seated the next, and the three letters “DNP” appear after his name in the game’s boxscore.
Will Barton also knows this turbulent ride.
He misses the majority of his first two weeks of training camp, and his first NBA road trip as a rookie, before settling in with 14.6 minutes on the court. Then on Monday night, just like Smith, Barton watches the entire game against the Utah Jazz from his cushioned seat inside the Rose Garden.
The two were the ‘Did Not Play’ casualties of a crowded Blazers roster.
However, now that the Blazers (3-3) will visit the Jazz tonight to complete their seven-game preseason schedule, both Smith and Barton should expect to stretch their legs a bit more.
“Things will be back to normal,” Smith said after Wednesday’s practice.
Monday night certainly was anything but normal for the Blazer rotation.
When starting point guard Damian Lillard picked up two early personal fouls, Blazer fans might have looked quizzically at the scorer’s table as they saw Coby Karl disrobing from his warmups. Not Smith. Then at the start of the second quarter, Lillard returned, but with Adam Morrison as his wing man. Not Barton.
Karl finished with five points and two assists in more than 16 minutes on the court, while Morrison played 18:59 and recorded four points on three attempted shots.
Later, Blazers coach Terry Stotts explained his decision as wanting to give time to both Karl and Morrison, two players who are fighting for a spot in the rotation. That left Smith and Barton with the short straws.
Still, both players recognized the reasoning behind the move.
Smith, who had previously filled the minutes of injured backup point guard Ronnie Price and even started the Oct. 17 Denver game in place of Lillard, even acknowledged that before the game he learned from Stotts that he would not play. And although Barton, being a low rung on the ladder might not have known the plan — “(Stotts) didn’t say anything, I’m a rookie. He doesn’t have to tell me nothing,” he said — he still understood it.
“I know it wasn’t anything that I wasn’t doing. I just think he wants to get more of a better look for Adam and Coby since we’ve got to make that decision soon,” said Barton, one of the 15 Blazers under a guaranteed contract this season. “I didn’t take anything of it.”
With 336 minutes in this preseason to split up, Stotts has taken a test drive with 20 different players. This has led to an interesting mix of substitutions and five-man lineups. During that Oct. 17 Denver game, Karl got more minutes than All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. Two nights later, when it was time for a fourth-quarter comeback against the Golden State Warriors, Stotts kept his starters on the bench and trotted out Smith, Barton, Jared Jeffries, Sasha Pavlovic and Joel Freeland.
However, as the warm-up games draw to a close, as Smith noted, it’s time to get back to normal.
On Wednesday, Stotts said his starters will be on the floor for the 30-plus minutes that they would have in a regular-season game. Although Stotts played coy in revealing how he will work his rotation for this final exhibition game however he noted at least one change: Karl will not be his first point guard off the bench.
“Probably not,” Stotts said. “I’ll probably go with Nolan (on Thursday).”
Barton said he does not know where he fits — again, it’s tough being a rookie. Still, he remains alert for whenever the coach looks his way.
“I expect to play (Thursday),” Barton said. “Just trying to get a win and be ready to contribute to the team as much as possible and play my game.”
This ready-for-whatever mentality also has Barton eager for the Halloween night regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life. I’ve been preparing for this moment since I touched a basketball,” Barton said. “I’ll be ready, mentally and physically.”