SALT LAKE CITY – Portland Trail Blazers guard Will Barton has cemented himself right in the thick of the rotation as Portland is two games away from concluding the regular season before heading into the playoffs.
Barton, 23, for most of the season played the role of the human cigar, only being inserted into the game when the team had a huge lead or when there was a deficit to large to overcome.
That cigar has since been handed down to someone else and he’s not looking to reclaim it.
“You know me, I love to play. I love this game,” Barton told CSNNW.com. “Whatever it takes for me to get out on the court, I’m going to do it. I’m not trying to go back to the end of the bench.”
The street-ball style-of-play Barton possesses didn’t generate consistent minutes or appearances at first. He took chances, like scorers seldom do. Probably too many chances for coach Terry Stotts’ taste. Somehow, he was able to tone it down without losing his aggressiveness.
He has a role on a winning team. Not too many young players can say that.
“Will is more in control this season,” Stotts said. “He has come a long ways and you have to give him all the credit for working hard and staying ready. It’s not an easy thing to do for young players.”
The 6-6 guard was taken with the No. 40 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft out of Memphis by the Trail Blazers, which shocked him, as he believed he was a first-round talent. He still managed to parlay that snub into a three-year deal with the third year containing a team option, of sorts.
His third year becomes fully guaranteed if the team doesn’t request waivers on him on or before July 31. If he is kept past that deadline, the third year of $915,243 is guaranteed. General Manager Neil Olshey will likely take all the time he has at his disposal before making a decision in order to fully assess Barton's growth and development.
Barton says he tries not to worry about his contract situation with the team on a mission to finish out the season strong before the playoffs, but admits he does ponder it more than he should.
“I try not to think about it as much but I do sometimes,” he said. “You just never know what people are thinking. Hopefully I make it past the deadline. I would love to stay here and be here. But, you just never know. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.
“Portland took a chance on me. It would be huge if I can stay in Portland. But like I said, it’s a business and I’m aware of that. You just never know.”
And when Barton is on the court, you just never know what he’s going to do next. He’s electric like that. It might be the no-look assists. It might be slipping back door for the monster dunk that tends to end with a loud yell.
Maybe he’s locking up like nobody’s business or just simply talking. He absolutely loves to talk.
“He always has something to say,” teammate Thomas Robinson said. “It’s all positive, though. He’s just trying to get everybody pumped up. That’s my guy.”
The impact Barton has had on this club, no one could have predicted this. He went from being a player you couldn’t trust on the court to being a guy that plays meaningful minutes in big games.
It’s a testament that good things do come when you work hard for it. Now he’s hoping it pays off.
“I’m try to just staying in the moment,” Barton said. “Stay focused on the team, us winning and me producing whenever I’m out there. Hopefully my deal will work out here in Portland. I’d like that.”