Summer League could be pivotal for Blazers

Portland needs to see improvement from younger players

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer



LAS VEGAS — For most teams, the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas is usually about showcasing a team’s young talent for the first time.

On Friday, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, the top two picks in this June’s draft, faced off in what is no doubt the main event of the NBA Summer League.

And then there is the Summer League team for this year’s 2014 Portland Trail Blazers, without a 2014 draft pick and bringing back six players from their current roster — Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, Joel Freeland, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland.

The Blazers will begin their summer league run on Saturday when they face the New York Knicks.

Portland announced the signings of veterans Chris Kaman and Steve Blake to help boost the team’s depth and experience after making it to the next round of the playoffs.

Of course, general manager Neil Olshey and coach Terry Stotts both have said that for Portland to go where they want to go — presumably past the second round of the playoffs and beyond — that their young guys must improve.

Portland’s younger players have been in and out of the practice facility in Tualatin since June, almost in secret from one another.

“We run into guys and try to be sneaky, get our reps in,” said McCollum, a second-year guard. “Kind of get our shots and get better on the sly. T-Rob is in here and I say ‘man, he beat me here today.’ “

“It’s definitely been like that. I show up at 7 one morning, nobody here,” Thomas Robinson said. “I show up at 7 the next morning and 5 people are in here. Then I come back at night time and you hear somebody else in here. It’s like once you turn the corner in the parking lot, it’s like ‘Whose car am I going to see?’ “

Individual performances often live on in Summer League lore and stay there.

Damian Lilllard’s 2012 Summer League MVP preceding his 2012-13 NBA Rookie of The Year award is the exception more than it is the rule of Summer League.

Improvement is what the Blazers want from their young guys to earn time on the floor.

The way third-year man Barton sees it, the only way they can improve in the eyes of the coaches and Blazers staff by winning, not putting up gaudy numbers.

“CJ was the leading scorer (in 2013 Summer League) we know that. Everybody knows I can score,” Barton said. “We know what everybody can do. My whole thing is about winning games, looking good as a unit.”

Even more so because of the recent acquisitions, Portland’s younger players will have to earn their spot come training camp.

Robinson and Barton enter the Summer League after stepping in and contributing in the playoffs.

McCollum and Crabbe both had health setbacks that they feel sabotaged their seasons. Leonard is fighting to get on the court in what he says is the biggest season of his career. While last year’s biggest offseason success story, Freeland, looks to earn his spot once again.

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