TUALATIN, Ore. — Training camp for the Portland Trail Blazers has had the feeling of a formality for the last couple of seasons.
The last few years have seen the Blazers enter with the maximum number of guaranteed contracts and little possibility that an upstart trying to stick in the league would be on the roster.
This year is different, but it’s a familiar feeling for point guards Tim Frazier and Phil Pressey. Last year the two battled in the Boston Celtics training camp spot with Pressey winning out.
“I mean it’s crazy,” Pressey said of being back in camp competing against Frazier. “Back in Boston, now we’re in Portland. I feel like we’re both good players. Regardless of what happens we’re both good players.”
The feeling of admiration is mutual, dating back to their high school days in Texas.
“He’s a friend of mine,” Frazier said of Pressey. “We both grew up in Texas, played against each other in High School.”
The battle between the two point guards carries the most drama and the highest stakes. If this camp were televised like HBO’s Hard Knocks, it’s almost certain this would be the focus of the final episodes.
Whoever loses the back-up point guard battle, likely will not be on the team.
There are other players with non-guaranteed deals like big man Cliff Alexander and 6-foot-7 combo guard Luis Montero.
But given the similarities of Pressey and Frazier, it would make sense that the team only carry one of them.
Making things more interesting, they’re nearly mirror images of each other.
“Obviously they’re competing,” said Blazers big man Meyers Leonard. “They’re both true point guards. Talking the game, thinking the game, trying to set other guys up. It’s going to be interesting to see how they break out over the next couple of weeks.”
Pressey was brought in after Summer League had concluded.
Frazier played well to start the tournament in Las Vegas but struggled towards the end.
Shortly after summer league, the Blazers added Pressey when the Celtics elected not to bring him back. He was told by the Blazers he would have the opportunity to win a job.
It’s easy to connect the dots that the summer league didn’t give Portland confidence he could hold down that spot.
Frazier has also become something of an internet celebrity in the Blazers network.
Damian Lillard has taken him under his wing and contributed in large part to that celebrity through an internet video series Lillard dubbed the “Tim Frazier Chronicles.”
Frazier was even a good sport during the Rip City 3-on-3 tournament, acting as a judge for a dunk contest only a day after they signed Pressey.
And while even the Blazers social media team and Lillard have bought in on the gag, it’s evident that the people who matter in basketball operations still have not fully bought in on his game.
“They’re both great competitors, great young men,” said head coach Terry Stotts. “There hasn’t been a lot of separation. They’re both playing very hard. That will play itself out over the course of the month.”
Pressey has more NBA experience, holding down a job for two seasons in Boston and considering himself a defense-first player. Frazier was the D-League Rookie of the Year and MVP and can do a little bit of everything.
Offensively, neither is a gifted shooter or finisher.
The competition will be tight and could very well come down to the final days of camp.
“I’m going to give it everything I got,” Frazier said. “Whatever happens after that happens.”