Jason Quick

Carmelo Anthony to Portland? Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum make their pitch

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USA Today

Carmelo Anthony to Portland? Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum make their pitch

BEAVERTON – If Carmelo Anthony never joins the Trail Blazers, it won’t be because of a lack of effort from the Blazers’ two cornerstones – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Through a series of cryptic and vague comments on Wednesday at Lillard’s youth basketball camp, both Lillard and McCollum said they have been in contact with Anthony in attempts to lure him to Portland via a trade.

“I spoke to him,’’ Lillard said. “Because obviously he makes us a better team. So obviously with that being out there and being a real possibility, I don’t see why I wouldn’t reach out to him and let him know the interest is mutual if he is interested in us.’’

What was Anthony’s response?

“I’m not going to share all that,’’ Lillard said. “We had the conversation about it because it’s something we need to talk about, so he knows it’s not something that just a team (is interested) ... it was myself and CJ would love to have him, so we reached out to him, texted him, that’s it.’’

McCollum, who was making an appearance at Lillard's camp, was more cryptic, saying he has spoke to Anthony “indirectly” through the trainer they both share. He added that he is flying to New York on Thursday to train and will “say hello (to Melo) if he’s there.’’

“If we get him … when we get him … I think we could be top three in the West, easy,’’ McCollum said. “I think he’s interested. Obviously I feel he wants to play with his team – the Banana Boat friends. I know he wants to play with CP (Chris Paul) and LeBron, and those are good options, but I feel we are a good option.’’

Anthony has a no-trade clause, and it is believed he wants to steer his destination toward Houston, where he can team with Paul and James Harden. But to get to Houston, a third-team will likely need to be involved in a trade, which is where Portland has entered the conversation.

The Blazers, however, do not want to help Houston gain another star, and instead are hopeful to convince Anthony that he can win, and perhaps win big now, in Portland alongside Lillard, McCollum and blossoming center Jusuf Nurkic. However, it is unclear whether Anthony would waive his no-trade clause to come to Portland.

That's why Lillard and McCollum reached out - to change his view of Portland by assuring him he would be wanted. 

“He’s Carmelo Anthony,’’ Lillard said. “You add another guy who can score 50. Over the last decade, he’s been one of best players in the league. Playing against him he’s a cerebral player. He’s smart. He played in the triangle. I can only imagine what it would be like to have him isolating on one side, and CJ in the corner, and me in opposite wing and Nurk on the opposite …  I could only imagine how tough it would be to guard us.’’

That Lillard and McCollum reached out privately to Anthony is consistent with their public pursuit of NBA stars this offseason since the Blazers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State.

On social media, both Lillard and McCollum pushed a pursuit of former Indiana star Paul George, a desire that Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey pursued by making a trade offer centered around the team’s three draft picks on the Monday before the NBA Draft. Indiana turned down the offer and instead traded George to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Later, in July, McCollum shared a promo on social media that showed Anthony wearing a No. 7 Trail Blazers uniform.

“I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?’’ McCollum said when asked about pursuing players via social media. “If you want something you go get it, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But I think it’s important if you want a free agent, you let them know, you have to express that. Sometimes (a player) is just reading articles and doesn’t know what going on, but if you speak directly you can give them an idea of exactly what you are thinking.’’

For Lillard, this summer has been another step in his becoming more vocal and more active in trying to recruit players to Portland. Last summer, he visited with Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons during free agency, and this season he has been behind pursuing George and Anthony.

“I want to win a championship. It’s that simple,’’ Lillard said. “After my rookie year I’ve been in the playoffs every year and the playoffs are fun … but at this point we need a breakthrough. I’m tired of watching … each year it bothers me more.’’

Both Lillard and McCollum said they feel Olshey is listening to them, and that he is trying to improve the roster.

“Like I said, I do my job and I’ll allow them to do their job, but there comes a point where we have to improve individually with what we have but also we have to improve as everybody else improves their roster,’’ Lillard said.

Trail Blazers lose game, and Zach Collins, Pat Connaughton to injury

Trail Blazers lose game, and Zach Collins, Pat Connaughton to injury

LAS VEGAS – The good news for the Trail Blazers: Caleb Swanigan continues to impress at the Las Vegas Summer League.

The bad news: Both Zach Collins (right quadriceps contusion) and Pat Connaughton (left hamstring strain) were injured Tuesday after playing only 11 minutes in the Blazers’ 99-85 loss to San Antonio.

Swanigan, whose relentless effort has been eye-catching throughout Portland’s first three games, has been the standout player for the Blazers in Las Vegas, his effort and activity as impressive as his statistics.

On Tuesday, the 26th overall pick had 19 points and 13 rebounds while hitting 8-of-13 shots. His offensive arsenal on Tuesday included a three-pointer, an offensive rebound putback, a mid-range jumper and a layin in transition, and he continued to be active and agile on the defensive end.

Swanigan, who has had double-doubles in two of the three games, is averaging 15.6 points and 11.0 rebounds at Summer League. 

How would Swanigan describe his mentality when he steps on the floor?

"Just balls to the wall, that’s my biggest thing … pardon my French, but play hard, man,'' he said.

Summer League hasn’t been as memorable for Collins, Connaughton or Jake Layman, the four players who will be, or are in contention to stick, with the NBA club.

Collins came up lame in the second quarter and went to the bench, where he slammed a towel to the ground in frustration. At halftime he limped to the locker room, then was the last to return to the court, where he didn’t take part in warmups. Shortly after, the team announced he would miss the rest of the game with a bruise to his upper right leg.

Collins finished with four points and four rebounds while making two of three shots. In three Summer League games, the No. 10 overall pick  averaged 6.3 points and 5.7 rebounds while hitting 6-of-23 shots.

"I don’t know if I got hit, or pulled something,  or what,'' Collins said. "I just know it hurts"

Collins said he was feeling discomfort in the leg after Sunday's game, and said that same discomfort "flared up" on Tuesday.

"Which kind of sucks because I felt like I was getting into a little but of a rhythm offensively, fianlly,'' Collins said. "Then, my leg gave out.'' 

Connaughton, who is trying to show the Blazers he deserves a $1.4 million contract before the July 25 deadline outlined in his contract, had his best game shortened when he pulled up lame in the second quarter. Connaughton had seven points, two rebounds and three assists in 11 minutes, hitting 3-of-6 shots, including 1-of-3 from three-point range.

The Blazers (1-2) did not say how long Collins or Connaughton would be out, but Collins said his hope is to return at some point in Vegas.

"If I'm good to to go, I'm going to play,'' Collins said.

Meanwhile, Layman continued to struggle with his shot on Tuesday. After going 1-for-13 on Sunday against Boston, Layman went 1-for-9 against the Spurs, finishing with three points and three rebounds. Layman in three games has made only 6-of-30 shots.

San Antonio (2-1) was led by guard Bryn Forbes who had 35 points on 11-of-26 shooting.

Trail Blazers' Zach Collins dealing with 'frustrating' start to Summer League

Trail Blazers' Zach Collins dealing with 'frustrating' start to Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Zach Collins on Sunday said he felt better about his second Summer League game, but the Trail Blazers rookie says he remains frustrated that his offensive game is sputtering.

“I thought I played a little better; just couldn’t hit a shot,’’ said Collins, who had five points on 1-for-7 shooting in the Blazers’ 70-64 loss to Boston. “It’s frustrating. I don’t feel like offensively I’m playing as well as I could be, and that ball isn’t going in right now. I just have to keep going at it.’’

In the Blazers’ first game on Saturday, Collins was 3-for-13, after which he described his play as “terrible.’’

The Blazers coaching staff is trying to temper expectations of the No. 10 overall pick – both of Collins and the fan base – by focusing on what they are saying is solid defense.

Collins, who is admittedly his harshest critic, says his defense should never waver. 

“I feel like my defense is going to be there consistently, because that’s an effort thing,’’ Collins said. “That’s something I can control – the effort.’’

Offensively, Collins said he felt like he rushed shots inside and said he needs to get to the basket more often. Whether or not that is a byproduct of him feeling pressure to produce in front of his hometown, or to live up to his No. 10 draft position, Collins said it doesn’t matter.

“Regardless of where I’m drafted, I hold myself to a high standard,’’ Collins said. “Obviously, I’m not hitting shots right now, but I have to know the work I’ve put in to get to the point that the shots are eventually going to fall.’’

Jim Moran, the Blazers’ Summer League coach, said the biggest thing that will help Collins is the weight room.

“What excites us the most is his work ethic, his ability to pop and shoot 3’s and he listens, pays attention,’’ Moran said. “I’m excited once he gets around our weight staff and gets a chance to hit the weight room and bulk up he will really be able to expand his game.’’

In the meantime, Collins is learning how to deal with frustration.  

“It’s hard. He’s out here and he wants to play well, miss a couple shots and things don’t go his way and it gets frustrating ,’’ Moran said. “He’s very hard on himself … that’s one thing, he has a high standard for himself, he always thinks there’s something he could do better and that’s something we like as coaches.’’

Swanigan gives glimpse into his defensive versatility against Boston

Swanigan gives glimpse into his defensive versatility against Boston

LAS VEGAS –Lost in the avalanche of all the missed shots Sunday by the Trail Blazers was a glimpse at a potentially important defensive development.

For a couple possessions early in the first half, rookie Caleb Swanigan guarded small forwards on the perimeter, and with relative success.

In the opening minutes, he was matched against Boston rookie sensation Jayson Tatum, who jab stepped against Swanigan before elevating for a mid-range jumper. Swanigan didn’t go for the fake and tightly contested the shot , but caught Tatum on the elbow. It resulted in a three-point play.

Later, he closed out on small forward Semi Ojeleye at the three-point line, then adjusted and moved his feet as Oleleye tried to drive to his left. Cut off, Oleleye passed back to the three-point line. Swanigan recovered and was able to contest the outside shot.

“I thought he was good,’’ Blazers’ Summer Legaue coach Jim Moran said. “He is very good at moving his feet. He has to get better at angles, and I think he will learn as time goes on to use his length … but defensively he is very dynamic.’’

Swanigan, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound big man who played center in college, is widely considered by the Blazers as a power forward. But in today’s NBA, with small lineups and the need to switch on pick-and-rolls, the ability for a forward to guard both small and power forward positions is invaluable.

Whether Swanigan has the quickness, anticipation and discipline to guard small forwards will go a long way to determining how deeply – and quickly – he impacts the Blazers’ regular season rotation.

Judging from Sunday’s small sample size, there appears to be a chance Swanigan can succeed in covering both positions.

“I did well, kept them in front of me,’’ Swanigan said when asked how he thought he defended small forwards. “I can guard small forwards, guard guys like that if I have to. That’s the NBA – you guard who is out there.’’

On offense, Swanigan led the Blazers in scoring for the second straight game, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds on 4-of-12 shooting. 

Poor shooting dooms Trail Blazers in loss against Boston

Poor shooting dooms Trail Blazers in loss against Boston

LAS VEGAS – There wasn’t a lot of happy faces around the Trail Blazers on Sunday after few, if any, played well during Sunday’s 70-64 loss to Boston at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Portland missed its first six shots, fell behind 11-0, and skidded to the finish from there while shooting 27.9 percent in a game that was stop-and-go because of a litany of fouls.

Blazers’ top draft pick Zach Collins didn’t have the rebound offensive performance he hoped for after sputtering in his debut, but he once again showed signs of being a reliable and sturdy defender. Collins had five points, five rebounds and two blocks while making 1-of-6 shots from the field and 3-of-6 from the free throw line.

Caleb Swanigan, the Blazers’ other first round pick, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds while making 4-of-12 shots.

It wasn’t any better for the Blazers’ roster holdovers, Jake Layman (1-for-13) and Pat Connaughton (5-for-11), who hit his last three shots. 

Boston got off to a quick start thanks to two of their prized youngsters. Second-year player Jaylen Brown hit his first two three-pointers and No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum continues to impress as a polished and NBA-ready rookie. Brown had 13 points and eight rebounds while Tatum finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. 

Meyers Leonard: New trainer, new shot, new outlook as he vows to improve

Meyers Leonard: New trainer, new shot, new outlook as he vows to improve

LAS VEGAS – Meyers Leonard says he is getting better this summer.

The embattled Trail Blazers center has moved to Los Angeles for the summer and is training with noted NBA skills coach Drew Hanlen, who among other things has made an adjustment to his shooting mechanics.

“I’ve been working out a lot,’’ Leonard said Saturday while watching the Blazers’ Summer League entrant in Las Vegas. “I’m confident where I’m at in my progression this summer. And, I feel healthy. I feel as good as I have in five years.’’

In April, after a disappointing 2016-2017 season that was in part stalled by hip and back injuries, Leonard said he was entering this offseason with an excitement unlike any of his five previous summers.

Three months into his training, Leonard has even more verve. He said the first phase of his training with Hanlen has been centered around his technique, and the second phase will begin at the end of July with some one-on-one play with another Hanlen client, Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.

Later in the summer, Leonard said he will play 5-on-5 at the Clippers’ practice facility and UCLA, which are noted gathering spots for pickup games between NBA players in the offseason.

Leonard has been under scrutiny in Portland since he was the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, a particularly after last season, when on the heels of signing a four-year, $41 million deal he averaged 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from three-point range.

After visiting with former teammate Wesley Matthews in Dallas over the All-Star Break, he took Matthews’ advice to change his offseason routine by hiring Hanlen, who has an extensive client list that includes NBA players Dwight Howard, Bradley Beal, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Clarkson.

“I’ve learned a ton from him,’’ Leonard said.

After studying Leonard’s game tapes, Hanlen determined that Leonard’s feet were too close as he shot, and that his shoulders leaned back slightly, causing him to aim his shots. With a wider base, and a concentration on quicker wrist-release, Leonard says his shot is feeling much improved.  

“There have been a lot of little, intricate things Drew has pointed out that helps me build a better shot routine,’’ Leonard said. “Hopefully that transitions into games to where I just feel really good with what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.’’

It’s a drastic change from last summer for Leonard, who went six months without picking up a basketball while he rehabilitated a surgically repaired left shoulder. He points to that inability to workout in the offseason, and the hip and back injuries during the season, for derailing his rhythm and confidence.

It’s why the Blazers coaching staff encouraged him this summer to not only workout, but engage in a lot of 5-on-5.

“I think the biggest thing for Meyers is he needs to probably get a feel of reacting to the game,’’ Blazers coach Terry Stotts said at the end of last season. “I think he needs to play a lot this summer and work on his reaction time on both ends of the court.’’

Leonard still fights himself at times over a career that hasn’t developed as quickly as he, or many fans, would like. He says he needs rhythm and confidence to succeed and for various reasons he hasn’t been able to attain that in Portland.

“It’s been rather frustrating for the vast majority of my career.  I feel like I can offer a ton more, but I work well with confidence, and kind of feeling good, and I don’t know that it’s always been reciprocated,’’ Leonard said in his exit interview with the media in April. “But that comes with the territory. This is the best basketball players in the world. An elite group of people. I have to continue to work and be better.’’

If anything, Leonard has become a student of the game, and his teammates – Damian Lillard in particular – point out that he is among the sharpest at knowing other team’s plays and communicating on the court. But Lillard in April said it’s time for Leonard to do less thinking and more doing, and that starts with a mindset.

“I think with Meyers, there comes a time where you have to take it personal,’’ Lillard said. “He’s got to take it as a challenge. A guy like that, you know, with such great skills – he has great touch around the basket, he’s a great athlete, a really good shooter and a really smart player -- so it’s just a matter of him putting it together and taking it as a challenge. I know if I was in his position, at this point I would just really take it as a challenge to put it all together and get it all done.

“I think his contract with our team shows that everyone believes that if he puts it together and when he starts to believe he can put it together, he will give us some valuable time,’’ Lillard said. “But I think its time for Meyers to really believe it, and throw himself in to becoming what he is capable of becoming. It’s not up to anybody else.’’

Leonard has heard those comments and says he has taken them to heart. More than ever, he has less excuses and is owning more accountability.

“I respect Damian just about as much as I do anybody, so I take that and I listen to it  and ive been working, man,’’ Leonard said.  “That’s what I’ve been doing. I just have to keep improving and see where this summer takes me.’’

When he arrives back in Portland, it will be to a more crowded frontcourt after the Blazers drafted center Zach Collins and power forward Caleb Swanigan. Although Leonard said he didn’t watch the draft because he was napping after working out three times that day, he knows the battle awaiting him in October training camp.

“I understand we took two bigs. It is what it is. That’s competition. That’s just the way it is,’’ Leonard said.  “The NBA in itself is a business. It’s my job now to come back to Portland at the end of the summer and show what I’ve done.’’

Pat Connaughton looking on the bright side after a scoreless Summer League opener

Pat Connaughton looking on the bright side after a scoreless Summer League opener

LAS VEGAS – Pat Connaughton looked on the bright side Saturday after he went scoreless in the Trail Blazers’ opener at the Las Vegas Summer League.

“The good news is I can’t score any less points in the next game,’’ Connaughton said after missing all five of his shots.

Connaughton, whose Summer League performance will go a long way to determining whether the Blazers give him a guaranteed contract, left Cox Pavillion with mixed feelings.

“I’ve always been one with a winners-win mentality: If we get the win, I’m going to leave the arena happier than I came in,’’ Connaughton said. “Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be … I don’t want to say frustrated because that’s not the right word … but I’m going to be conscious of the fact that I want to play better.’’

If there was a bright spot to Connaughton’s play, it was his game-high six assists, which underscores a facet of what Connaughton has been trumpeting heading into Summer League: He is more than just a shooter.

“Obviously the shot was not falling and I’m not happy about it, but there are more things to the game of basketball,’’ Connaughton said. “The second half was a better judgment of playing the whole game. When I came into the league, I was known strictly as a shooter - now, I’d like to keep that going --  but to be able to handle the ball, make the passes, and at the end of the day we got the win and that’s what matters.’’

Summer League coach Jim Moran said Connaughton is the type of player whose stat line doesn’t always tell the story.

“From his standpoint, I didn’t even look at stat line; I was happy with the way he played,’’ Moran said. “Pat plays the right way, and that’s how we play.’’

Still, Connaughton knows that at his position he has to make shots, and Saturday’s performance notwithstanding, he feels like he has proven he is up to the task. Last season in 39 games he shot 37-of-72 from the field (51.4 percent) and 17-of-33 from three-point range (51.5 percent).

“Look, I’ve made shots throughout my career. Shots will fall. I’ve scored the ball throughout my entire life,’’ he said. “But this game is becoming a shooters game. So you absolutely have to make shots to play in the NBA.

“I don’t know that you have to make every shot you take in Summer League to make sure you are on a roster. I think it’s more important to play the right way and take the shots that come to you. Because at the end of the day a Summer League game is different than an NBA game. They are played at different pace and different frantic things go on. It’s just a matter of taking it in stride and building on it.’’

The Blazers have until July 25 to decide whether to keep Connaughton as the 15th man by guaranteeing his $1.4 million contract, and Connaughton has repeatedly said that he doesn’t feel pressure to impress.

That confidence is borne out of hard work and preparation, and the security of knowing a professional baseball career is also an option. He was selected by Baltimore in the fourth round of the 2014 Major League Draft as a pitcher.

“You have to look at the position I’m in: I try to make sure I always keep my options open, but when you want to play basketball, and want to play at highest level, you have to make sure you are confident in the work you’ve put in throughout the year,’’ he said. “I think it showed the last two games of (last) season and I think it showed in the playoffs. Now it’s a matter of making sure that you don’t get down because you had one rough shooting night. You still won and you were still able to facilitate and get other people the ball.’’

Connaughton was quick to emphasize that he is not nonchalant about his uncertain status with the Blazers and the NBA.

“You have to be smart in that you don’t want to make it look like you don’t care, because that’s not the case,’’ Connaughton said. “You just hope it’s on your terms and not someone else’s.’’

His next chance to impress will come Sunday at 5:30 when the Blazers play Boston.

“That’s the great thing about Summer Legaue,’’ Connaughton said. “You usually play the next day.’’

Blazers' Zach Collins on his Summer League debut: "Terrible"

Blazers' Zach Collins on his Summer League debut: "Terrible"

LAS VEGAS – Trail Blazers’ rookie Zach Collins didn’t mince words when it came to evaluating his Summer League debut on Saturday:

“Terrible,’’ the 7-footer said after the Blazers’ 72-63 win over Utah. “Terrible … I just didn’t play well.’’

Collins finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, but had six turnovers and shot 3-of-13 from the field. Many of his turnovers came when he was stripped inside or lost control of the ball in traffic.

“I was soft,’’ Collins said.

Inside the Blazers, the evaluation was much more measured.

Jim Moran, the Blazers’ assistant coach who is serving as Summer League head coach, said he could see Collins beating himself up in the locker room while looking at the boxscore, but he said the 19-year-old was probably obsessing about the wrong things. 

“From a coaching standpoint … we are more concerned about the defense, and on defense he was good,’’ Moran said. “That’s the one thing when we watch film tomorrow, we will stress his defense. Just being in the right place, setting screens, getting guys open … it’s the little things first. He’s going to get his shots, and they are going to fall, but he can’t judge his play off the stat sheet.’’

Collins showed flashes offensively, particularly early. He threaded a nice bounce pass to a cutting Jake Layman that resulted in a dunk, then later hit a turnaround baseline jumper.

On defense, his four blocks were are the obvious highlight, but the coaching staff said he also stood out in the subtleties of the game, such as moving his feet, rotating to help and fighting through screens.

More than anything, Collins showed the fire and competitiveness that the organization touted when they traded up to take him with the 10th overall pick. Never was it more evident than his immediate postgame assessment of being “terrible,” a mood that didn’t subside 30 minutes after the game had ended.

“I’m my biggest critic, so right now I’m going to give you guys some pretty negative stuff about myself,’’ Collins said. “That’s just the way it is.’’

Caleb Swanigan leads Trail Blazers' opening win with double-double

Caleb Swanigan leads Trail Blazers' opening win with double-double

LAS VEGAS – It didn’t take long for the Trail Blazers rookies to make an impact Saturday in the Blazers’  72-63 win over Utah in both team's Las Vegas Summer League opener.

Caleb Swanigan, the No. 26 overall pick in last month’s draft, scored the first basket of the game on what figures to be his signature play – an offensive-rebound putback in traffic.

One offensive possession later, Zach Collins – the No. 10 overall pick – threaded a nice backdoor bounce pass to Jake Layman, who dunked. Collins, a 19-year-old 7-footer, followed up the pass with a polished turnaround jumper from the baseline on the next possession.

By the end of the game, it was Swanigan who made the biggest impression as the 6-foot-9 power forward finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds and several hustle plays that ended up with him on the court or saving balls from going out of bounds. Half of his points came from the free throw line as he punished Utah inside, even as he struggled through 4-of-12 shooting, which included one three pointer. 

Collins, meanwhile, had a sputtering debut as he went 3-for-13 from the field and had five turnovers. Most of his turnovers came as he struggled to secure the ball in traffic, resulting in him being stripped or losing control. Collins finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

Pat Connaughton, the Blazers player with the most at stake at Summer League, struggled with his shot – missing all five, including three three-pointers – but he finished with a game-high six assists. Connaughton needs a solid showing in Las Vegas in order for the Blazers to guarantee his $1.4 million contract before the July 25 deadline.

Jake Layman, who started at small forward, had 13 points and five rebounds while making 4-of-8 from the field, including 2-of-6 from three-point range.

Utah was led by guard Donovan Mitchell, the No. 13 overall pick, who had 19 points.

Next up: Blazers vs. Boston, Sunday 5:30 p.m. (CSN, ESPN2)

Trail Blazers' Summer League primer

Trail Blazers' Summer League primer

LAS VEGAS – Before the Trail Blazers begin Summer League play on Saturday here’s a quick primer on some subplots and storylines heading into the first game:

Biggest stakes:  Nobody has more riding on this Summer League than third-year guard Pat Connaughton, who needs a solid outing to have his contract picked up by the team. The Blazers have until July 25 – or a little more than a week after Summer League ends – to decide whether to guarantee Connaughton’s $1.47 million contract for next season.

Connaughton will start at shooting guard and head coach Terry Stotts on Friday said he will be one of the players to push the ball upcourt and initiate offense. Connaughton said one of his goals is to show he is more than a catch-and-shoot player, a trait that he feels he showed last season when he had 19-points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds in the regular season finale.

The team hopes he has a Summer League breakthrough similar to that of Allen Crabbe in 2015, and certainly part of that breakthrough will be shooting the ball better than he did last year in Las Vegas, when he made 34 percent of his shots from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Right now, Connaughton is holding down the 15th and final roster spot, but if he is less-than impressive, it’s conceivable the Blazers will explore using their tax-payer mid-level exception ($5.192 million) for the final roster spot.

The Main Attraction: Most eyes will be on first-round picks Zach Collins (No. 10 overall) and Caleb Swanigan (No. 26 overall) to see how they fare against bigger and better competition.

Collins, the 7-footer from Gonzaga, is being likened to the next Kevin McHale, while Swanigan – a 6-foot-9, 250-pound bruiser – is reminding some people of Zach Randolph.

The book on Collins is that he is tough, competitive and very skilled. He might be a little slight in build, but he is only 19 and figures to fill out. And I can tell you this: the kid has a confident air about him that he belongs.

First impressions of Swanigan: the Blazers veterans are going to love him. He’s all about hard work, and letting his actions do his talking. I think he is going to be relentless in pursuit of rebounds, and I’m interested in seeing how he defends.

Who is starting? The only question mark is who will start at point guard, but the bet here is it will be RJ Hunter, the former first-round pick of the Boston Celtics.

Hunter is more of a two guard, but the Blazers like his basketball intelligence and ball handling. The other starters are locked in stone: Connaughton at shooting guard, Jake Layman at small forward, Caleb Swanigan at power forward and Zach Collins at center.

How can you watch?  If you are unable to make it to Las Vegas, you can still watch the games on television. CSN will broadcast Saturday’s 3 p.m. opener with Utah and Sunday’s 5:30 p.m. game against Boston. Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd will call the games from Portland.

Tuesday’s 1 p.m. game against San Antonio will be on ESPNU.

Keep an eye out for … : Jake Layman playing some power forward, or “Stretch 4.” Layman in his rookie season played exclusively at small forward, but Connaughton this week revealed that the team has been experimenting with Layman as a Stretch.

With the Blazers’ abandoning their experiment with Meyers Leonard as a four, there is some opportunity for the 6-foot-9 Layman to carve out a niche if he is able to guard opposing power forwards.

NBA experience on Blazers’ roster:  Aside from the Blazers’ holdovers on the roster, the Blazers have brought in five players who have NBA experience.

Jordan Adams, a 6-5 guard, played 32 games with Memphis over two seasons, and guard Markel Brown (6-3) played in 109 games, including 35 starts, in two seasons with Brooklyn.

Jorge Gutierrez, a 6-3 guard, played 47 games over four seasons with Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Charlotte and Nick Johnson, a 6-3 guard, played 28 games with Houston three seasons ago.

The biggest name, however, might be RJ Hunter, the 2015 first-round pick (28th overall) of the Boston Celtics. Hunter, who  is a 6-5 guard who played in 39 games over two season with Boston and Chicago. He famously hit a three-pointer in the NCAA Tournament to help Georgia State upset Baylor.

Who is the coach? Assistant Jim Moran will serve as acting head coach, which he says is the first time he has ever served in that role. He joked that his biggest worry – of which he warned Pat Connaughton – is being left hanging if he offers a high-five to a player.

Odds and Ends: The most points by a Blazers player in Summer League is Jerryd Bayless, who had 36 against Phoenix in 2008. The most rebounds is 18 by Thomas Robinson in 2013 and the most assists is 10 by Sebastian Telfair (2005) and Kevin Pinkney (2006).

And Remember … : Good or bad, don’t put too much stock into what happens in Summer League. I can remember watching Nicolas Batum as a rookie have trouble bringing the ball upcourt and wondering if he would ever make it. By the first week of the regular season he was a starter.

Also, Summer League is often dominated by guards, simply because it’s generally an up-and-down pace where the guards control the ball.