TUALATIN, Ore. — The Trail Blazers began their Las Vegas Summer League training camp on Tuesday morning at their practice facility.
It was notable — not just because Meyers Leonard was a surprise addition or it was the first time for media to meet second-round pick Pat Connaughton — because it was the team’s first availability since the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge.
As well as Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and assistant coach Kim Hughes.
“I think LaMarcus made a decision for himself and that’s OK,” Leonard said. “He wanted to go back home. I respect that. Now we have to move on.”
For Leonard, Hughes was the bigger loss. While he respects the team’s decision to let Hughes go, there’s no doubt about how important Hughes was to his own development.
“Obviously it’s tough for me to see him go,” Leonard said. “We had a great relationship, a working relationship but also a personal relationship. Before practice, after practice. Before games, during games, dinners.”
“Talking about everything. I do believe that I’m more of a mature individual. I’ll have to move on from it.”
That maturity has already come in the form of leadership.
Entering his fourth year in the league, Leonard mentioned multiple times the need to become a better leader.
The decision to play in summer league was one that he made and Blazers coach Nate Tibbetts does expect Leonard to play in some games.
Improving on the court is a plus.
“I want to be down there, be around the new guys,” Leonard said. “It’s certainly important for me to be around them, be more of a leader.”
It’s evident after the shake up that this team will be Damian Lillard’s team.
“Now that he’s the only starter left, I think he’s going to take a lot of the brunt of the leadership,” Leonard said. “I truly believe that he can do that. But I want to be right next to him.”
Connaughton could be next to Lillard at times if he finds his way on the court next year as a rookie.
With a 44-inch vertical and a good 3-point percentage, he’s already saying all the right things.
“Everyone is here to win games,” Connaughton said. “It’s not just to put up 40 shots. It’s about coming here to win ball games. That’s what they’re literally paying you to do.”
But among the fringe players “trying to make it” was 36-year old Keith Bogans, an 11-year veteran who is attempting an NBA comeback after taking a season-plus away from the game.
“My goal is just to be around the game,” Bogans said. “I can still play the game. Still in shape. I just wanted to take last year off and start this year off with a fresh start.”
The Blazers have 12 players on the roster when you include Connaughton and the non-guaranteed deals of Allen Crabbe and Tim Frazier, who are both expected to get big minutes in Vegas.
This means they have three open roster spots.
With most of the players being very young, a spice of veteran know-how would seem to fall in line with how Olshey has built the roster in year’s past.
It sounded like Bogans was already angling to be this rebuilding team’s veteran presence, in the same way that respected veterans like Jared Jefferies and Earl Watson have been in that role in year’s past.
“I know it would be more of a coach/player type role,” Bogans said. “I would be on the team to help these guys a lot with the experience that I have.”
For everyone, from young to old, it’s a fresh start for the Blazers.