A few thoughts about Seattle's rumored NBA return

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A few thoughts about Seattle's rumored NBA return

By DWIGHT JAYNES
Follow @dwightjaynes

It is being reported that the Maloof brothers are finalizing a deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to the Hansen-Ballmer group in Seattle. I would remind everyone that deals like this aren't done until they are officially done and the Maloofs are not generally predictable.

That said, it makes sense and with a reported 500 price tag, that's about as high as that franchise could be valued for sale.

A few random thoughts and reactions:

-- This thing would affect the Portland Trail Blazers, of course. The most obvious is that fans would now have the opportunity to view their team easily and inexpensively on the road. Those trips up I-5 are a legendary part of Blazer history, as is the rivalry between the teams, which at times was intense. For players, too, it's a change, with two road games per season becoming 40-minute flights instead of longer journeys.

-- It also could mean some division realignment. Seattle should be in the Northwest Division, since it would become the most "northwest" team in the NBA. But the Kings were in the Pacific Division. Could Oklahoma City switch with Sacramento and move into the Pacific? Not sure, but it make a lot of sense.

-- The franchise could call itself the Sonics. It should call itself the Sonics. The Seattle Kings, located in what for decades was officially called the "Queen City," would make no sense.

-- You can feel sorry for fans of the Kings, just as you felt sorry for fans of the Sonics when their team left for OKC. But really, everyone by now should know the unfair set of standards that rule pro sports. Some cities get stuck with lousy owners, some don't. And some cities refuse to get blackmailed into giving carpet-bagging owners free stadiums and arenas.

That's fine. Take that stance with my blessing. But at the same time, don't cry too hard when the team moves to another town. Remember, this whole thing isn't fair and never has been. Owners are there to make money -- off you, the fan. And they want to make lots of it. If you're disturbed by that and can't take consolation from having that team come to your town to satiate your fandom, just don't get involved. Don't invest in the team with your heart or your wallet.

It's business, whether you want it to be or not. And sometimes it's dirty business. And if you want a team in your town, you play the game the way it's played -- not the way you think it ought to be.

-- I hope this happens. Be fun to have a team up north again, even if it seems destined to look a lot like the woebegone Sacramento Kings for a few years.

No matter position, Blazers' Evan Turner says 'I can make a lot happen.'

No matter position, Blazers' Evan Turner says 'I can make a lot happen.'

There shouldn’t be any surprise that Evan Turner will share the backup point guard duties for the Trail Blazers this season.

The 6-foot-7 Turner last season was a primary ball handler for the Celtics off the bench, and the newly-signed wing said he grew up playing point guard from youth ball to college.

“I came out of (Ohio State) a point guard, and the experts said I was a wing,’’ Turner said Wednesday. “I never shot a spot-up shot in my life … I am what I am. I grew up playing with the rock. I knew how to play all the positions, and I think if I get minutes on the court, I can make a lot happen.’’

It’s the major reason why the Blazers signed Turner to a 4-year, $70 million deal this summer – he can do so much from so many different positions.

But over the course of his six year NBA career, during which he has played for Philadelphia, Indiana and Boston , it’s clear Turner has some frustrations with his perception. Whether it’s labels that he is a wing, a poor shooter, or a point-forward, Turner thinks it’s unfair.

“I think of myself as a basketball player. Dribble, pass, defend, right? Somehow, I get labeled an enigma. But a one-trick pony has a spot in this league, you know what I’m saying?’’ Turner said. “In this world, we don’t recognize injustice until 30 years from now.’’

He said he was always a point guard as a youth in Chicago, except for middle school, when he moved to shooting guard to allow Iman Shumpert to play point. Shumpert now plays with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He said he grew five inches when he reached high school, and he found himself playing forward, even though he still gravitated toward handling the ball.

Now, the Blazers envision him playing everything from point guard to power forward, although he will likely spend most of his time at small forward and point guard.

Big man Ed Davis said Turner has already shown he is one of the better passers on the team, which combined with his ball handling, is the reason the Blazers believe Turner can alleviate some of the play-making burden on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

If there is a weakness to Turner’s game it’s his three-point shooting. Last year he shot 24.1 percent (20-of-83) and he is a career 30.5 percent from three-point range. On Wednesday, Turner stayed after practice and worked with assistant David Vanterpool on his shot.

The Blazers, who are one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the NBA, don’t figure to rely on Turner to make three’s, but that doesn’t mean coach Terry Stotts won’t encourage him to take the shot.

“If he is open at the three-point line I want him to shoot the ball,’’ Stotts said. “He is going to work on it just like Mo (Harkless), Chief (Al Farouq-Aminu) and Gerald Henderson did last year. If they are open and it’s a good 3 and you are comfortable I want you to shoot it.

“Evan shot the three really well … I’m surprised how much people are making about his three-point shooting with how much he brings to the table. If it’s in rhythm and he’s set, I want him to shoot it. He’s too good of a shooter to not have the confidence to take open threes.’’

Whether that comes while he is playing forward, guard or point guard, Turner says it doesn’t matter. He is a basketball player.

“I’m going to do whatever coach asks,’’ Turner said. “Whatever happens, happens. I just want to play.’’

Lillard vouches for Plumlee's new shot: 'It looks better'

Lillard vouches for Plumlee's new shot: 'It looks better'

When Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee on Monday said he had developed a mid-range jumper that he plans to unveil this season, many took a wait-and-see approach to the news.

After all, Plumlee took less than a handful of shots outside the key last season and won’t confuse anybody for a pure shooter.

But according to those who have played against Plumlee this summer and who have watched him workout, the center is indeed making an earnest effort to add the shot to his offensive repertoire.

“A big part of shooting is having confidence … and he’s been confident in his shot all summer that I’ve seen him,’’ Damian Lillard said. “He’s been in here working on it and in pickup he has been taking the shot. It’s a lot better shot. It looks better and he’s making it a lot more. So, if he spends the time doing it, hopefully it’s something we can depend on.’’

Plumlee has cautioned that he won’t make every shot, and that the shot will only be taken within the flow of the offense. During the team’s first practice on Tuesday, the media was allowed to see 3-on-3 competition, but Plumlee didn’t attempt an outside shot.

“I’ve seen him work on it,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “I think for him, if he is standing out there, it’s just getting use to take those shots and having the confidence to do it. He has put in a lot of time over the summer, and if you can make a mid-range shot and keep the defense honest, that’s a good thing. But it’s not going to happen overnight. He has to get comfortable.’’

The proof will come once the preseason begins Oct. 3 at home against Utah, then ultimately in the regular season, when the Blazers kick off the schedule Oct. 25 against the Jazz.

Plumlee said he studied his shot and broke it down this summer, much like a golfer would examine and refine his swing.

Last season, Plumlee refined his free throw form after a disastrous 5-for-20 start at the line. He ended up shooting a career-best 64.2 percent.

Now, after a summer of altering and practicing his shot, he says he will abide by a simple approach.

 “If I’m open, I will take it,’’ Plumlee said. “I’m happier with my form.’’

It could be a substantial development for the Blazers and Plumlee, whose agent is in talks with the Blazers about a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline. Already an important cog in the Blazers’ offense because of his athleticism and passing ability, if Plumlee adds even the threat of an outside shot, it could present a bevy of problems for defenses.

“If he does (develop the shot) he becomes even more effective than he already is,’’ Lillard said. “In pick and rolls … it makes him an even more lethal weapon for us.’’

Stotts says he doesn’t want Plumlee to worry too much about the shot and thus forget about the things that made him so valuable last season.

“He is good at what he does: he’s a great passer, can put the ball on the floor, and he makes opportunities for his teammates,’’ Stotts said. “He was really good for us last year at the offensive end, and if he is able to make a mid-range shot, it’s all the better.’’

Agent for Mason Plumlee on extension talks: 'Everything is in a good place'

Agent for Mason Plumlee on extension talks: 'Everything is in a good place'

After an unprecedented summer of spending, the Trail Blazers still have one order of business left on the table: Whether to offer an extension to fourth-year center Mason Plumlee.

Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, said this week he has “dabbled” in extension talks with Plumlee’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, but feels no rush before the Oct. 31 deadline.

Bartelstein, meanwhile, says he remains in “constant” contact with Olshey about Plumlee, but their talks haven’t gained traction.

“I can’t say whether or not we will get something done or not,’’ Bartelstein said Tuesday. “We are fine either way, we really are. If we get a deal done now that works for both sides, great. If not, we will revisit it in the summer.’’

If the deadline passes without a deal, the Blazers will almost surely extend Plumlee a qualifying offer at the end of the season that will make him a restricted free agent in the summer of 2017. The Blazers will then have the right to match any free agent offer Plumlee receives – the same path they took this summer with Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe.

It’s a tricky equation for both sides: Signing an extension now prevents a player from entering the free agent market while also providing security should a catastrophic injury happen during the season. For Plumlee, there is also the lure of another projected spike in the 2017 salary cap – from $94 million to $102 million – creating another market where rich contracts are offered.

Even though the two sides are in open dialogue, Olshey said he doesn’t foresee straying from his usual approach to extensions – waiting until the final hours before the deadline to start zeroing in on terms.

“I’ve been pretty consistent with this: I don’t have extension discussions -- unless it’s a no-brainer max discussion – until the week that the deadline hits,’’ Olshey said. “But unless it’s a no-brainer Damian Lillard max (contract), or a no-brainer CJ max, nothing gets done over the course of four months that can’t get done over the course of four days.’’

Last season, Olshey made a 4-year, $40 million offer to Leonard the week of the deadline, an extension Leonard turned down in November. In July, Leonard signed a 4-year, $41 million offer.

Today, Leonard reflects back on his decision and says it played with his mind. And Plumlee on Tuesday said he would be lying if he said he didn’t think about the extension and the thought of this being a contract year, especially after the Blazers doled out $242 million in contract this summer.

“But look: I’ve spent one year here, and some of these other guys have been here longer, so I’m happy to come out here and prove myself and grow with the team. Like …  I’m very content either way. I’m OK playing another year;  I’m OK signing in the fall. So, we just have to look at it and make a decision, both the Blazers and me.’’

Plumlee had a career season for the Blazers after being acquired in a draft-night trade with Brooklyn. He averaged 9.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists. In the playoffs, he was the catalyst to beating the Clippers, averaging 8.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

This season, he has added 10 pounds to his frame and says he has added a mid-range jumper.

The question now is do the Blazers, and/or Plumlee, want to secure his talent and potential now, or wait until the free agent market?

“Extensions are always difficult to do because you are dealing with some unknowns,’’ Bartelstein said. “There’s not a so-called marketplace. But Neil and I talk all the time, and Neil is someone I really enjoy doing business with because we look at a lot of things in a similar way.

“But one of the things I do know is Mason had the time of his life last year,’’ Bartelstein said. “He loves it in Portland. He loves the guys, he loves playing for Coach Stotts, and the fans embraced him. Portland fans know the game, and they loved his energy, his athleticism and his motor.’’

Plumlee, who turns 27 in March, said he is confident he won’t let the contract talks be a distraction, even if it’s on his mind.

“I’ve always had mentality that every year is a big year because you only get so many of them,’’ Plumlee said. “The life of the NBA is not forever, but I don’t wait until a contract year to prepare differently or do anything differently. I take the same approach every year.’’

In the meantime, Plumlee says he lets Bartelstein do his job so Plumlee can do his. And right now, roughly four weeks from the deadline, Bartelstein says the two sides are still in the early stages.

“We’ve kicked around some ideas and talked about different things,’’ Bartelstein said. “Everything is in a good place. It’s just a matter if it makes sense. If we get something done, great. If not, Mason will be locked in and trying to help the Blazers win.’’

Terry Stotts reveals part of Trail Blazers' rotation

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Brett Davis/USA Today Sports Images

Terry Stotts reveals part of Trail Blazers' rotation

Don’t expect Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts to declare a starting lineup anytime soon, but after Tuesday’s opening practice the coach did reveal one important note about his rotation: Newcomer Evan Turner will share backup point guard duties with CJ McCollum.

“It’s one of the reasons Evan is here,  to help with that,’’ Stotts said Tuesday. “He played point last year with Boston. Whether you say he is point guard or point forward … he can initiate the offense from his position. I think if you watch what he did last year with Boston he is a very versatile player on both ends of the floor.’’

Last season McCollum exclusively – and capably -- handled the backup point guard duties, but the Blazers made an offseason point of emphasis to add another ball handler to alleviate the double-teaming pressure teams applied on McCollum and starter Damian Lillard.

Turner, who signed a 4-year, $70 million free agent deal with Portland, will be that man while third-year point guard Shabazz Napier is expected to be used only in emergency situations.

“That’s one of the reasons we signed (Turner) to begin with … there was so much pressure on Damian and CJ to be the primary ball handlers. Adding another play maker … this league is about being able to make plays and Evan is very comfortable with the ball in his hands. He’s an excellent passer, he can find bigs, and he can bring the ball up the floor.’’

Turner, of course, will also be a candidate to start at small forward, with competition coming from Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe. It figures to be the only intrigue in Stotts’ opening night lineup, as Lillard and McCollum will start in the backcourt and Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee figure to start in the front court.

Stotts, who eschews talk of starting lineups throughout the season, held true on the first day of training camp, saying he wants to keep an open mind.

“That’s what October is for,’’ Stotts said. “I’m not going to talk starting lineups. I think you are going to see different players get starts throughout the preseason; that’s what this three, four weeks is for.’’

Whichever lineup Stotts chooses for the Oct. 25 season opener against Utah doesn’t mean it will be etched in stone. Last season, Stotts used seven different starting lineups, and this season his roster is much deeper and more versatile, affording him to make adjustments on the fly. 

“It’s fun … it’s a challenge,’’ Stotts said of his options. “You want to make good decisions, but again, that’s what October is for: Who plays well with whom?  (Seeing) different lineups and different combinations and then we will settle on something. But I don’t think you have to have all the answers going into the first game of the season.’’

Notes: Rookie Jake Layman did not practice Tuesday and Ed Davis withdrew himself from the end of practice, both because of injuries the Blazers did not disclose … Owner  Paul Allen attended the first practice. “I’m really optimistic about this year and I think you can feel that atmosphere in the gym,’’ Allen said after the practice … Neil Olshey, Blazers president of basketball operations, said the team will give “full support” should its players choose to express themselves on social issues through protest or other means. Damian Lillard said he imagines he will do something, but doesn’t have anything planned at the moment.

First practice highlight for Blazers: The return of Meyers Leonard

First practice highlight for Blazers: The return of Meyers Leonard

It was only the first day of Trail Blazers training camp, and it was only a 3-on-3 drill, but there was a welcomed, if not surprising, sight Tuesday on the court: Meyers Leonard.

But it wasn’t just that the 7-foot-1 big man was on the court after having April surgery on his left shoulder. It was what Leonard was doing.

He made a nifty back-door pass that resulted in a layin from a cutting CJ McCollum. He made a sweeping hook shot in the lane. He made a smart swing pass to McCollum for another basket. And twice he defended the rim, which mirrored his earlier efforts during the team’s defensive drills.

“I blocked more shots today than I ever have in a practice,’’ Leonard said.

It was only a snapshot of the team’s 2 ½ hour workout, but Leonard was certainly one of, if not the, highlight of the segment open to the media.

“The truth is, I felt really good out there,’’ Leonard said. “I was a bit surprised. I didn’t think my mind would be as good as it was. I made shots. Defended. And like I said, I’ve been trying to work on my game in the post.’’

Leonard is still under the watchful eye of Chris Stackpole, the team’s director of health and performance, and isn’t scheduled to take part in 5-on-5 activities until Oct. 8.

But on Tuesday he banged bodies, contested shots, and was in the fray of the action – all without incident on his surgically repaired left shoulder, and with some noticeable results.

“I thought he had a good day in the things he was able to do,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “He played with confidence, had no ill effects from his shoulder surgery. It was good to see him out there.’’

Captain Damian Lillard said it was difficult to fully judge Leonard because it was only 3-on-3, but he liked what he saw.

“He looked good, especially for not having played so long,’’ Lillard said. “The scrimmaging we did today really benefitted him because he was popping back and there was no other guys on the weakside, so he could make jumpers. But he looked really good.’’

Leonard is stressing he is a changed player and person this season because he has freed himself of the mental burden he carried last season after turning down a $40 million contract extension and playing through injury.

In July, Leonard signed a 4-year, $41 million deal after averaging 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three-point range. He is projected as a backup power forward and center on this year’s team, although Stotts said he will evaluate all of October’s practices and exhibition games before naming starters.

If Leonard continues to show what he did Tuesday – heady passes, a defensive presence inside and a steady shot – he figures to be a factor.

But Leonard is the first to remind: It was only one day, and one practice. But still, it was a positive step.

“Every day isn’t going to be as good as today,’’ Leonard said. “But I have a standard for myself and a clarity in my mind that allows me to be in a good spot every day.’’

Just one little inside story from Trail Blazer media day ...

Just one little inside story from Trail Blazer media day ...

When I started showing up for Trail Blazer media day it was a little more than three decades ago and things were a lot different.

Players had to autograph a few hundred basketballs, as they do to this day, pose for promotional pictures, read a few scripted lines for promotional videos or the radio and then, at the end of a long day, head into the media room for interviews. I never blamed them for dreading the media part of it during what was already a taxing day -- nobody likes to be asked the same questions over and over, particularly on live television or radio where there are no do-overs.

Monday, as the Trail Blazers went about their duties of autographing everything from skateboards to basketballs, mugging for promotional pictures and all the rest, I could have excused some weary and wary looks from the players as they joined our "Talkin' Ball" set. But after a full day of all the other chores, they came to us with an almost universal attitude that I don't recall from previous teams.

Now remember, I go all the way back to the Jack Ramsay and Rick Adelman eras and the players in those days were, by and large, an affable group. Good guys. I can't say nearly as much for players of other eras, though.

But I was extremely impressed with what I saw from the Trail Blazers Monday. Almost without fail, each player reached across the desk, looked us in the eye and shook hands with each of us prior to the cameras turning on. Players were not just polite, they were cordial, outgoing, smiling and seemingly trying their best to have fun with the situation. During the interviews they were relaxed, letting a little personality show.

Now while I'd like to think that all this was simply because they'd missed us over the summer and were just excited to renew our acquaintance, but I know better. This is just a pretty nice group of people on this team. Good guys from all I can see. What you hear from the coaching staff and front office about these players and their character appears to be legit.

"They're good guys," said head coach Terry Stotts after practice Tuesday. "I've said this before, but last year was a very refreshing year from a coaching standpoint because of their work ethic, their character, the type of people they are and certainly they're talented. But all that stuff matters. It makes them want to come to work. They enjoy coming to work and they enjoy each other's company.  It makes it easier for the coaches and everyone else in the building."

Does having players like that make a long-term difference on the court for a franchise?

"Yes," said Stotts emphatically. "Certainly you have to have talent. It starts with talent. But character and culture and all those things  aren't far behind."

The team certainly brought a lot of enthusiasm to Tuesday's first practice, at least the part the media was allowed to watch. I'd expect that to continue. The leadership among the players is as solid as it is in the front office and on the bench. This organization is tight. Close.

And that can only help it navigate through the long season ahead.

Top 10 things to know about Trail Blazers' media day (No's 6-10)

Top 10 things to know about Trail Blazers' media day (No's 6-10)

As the Trail Blazers’ arrived at Monday’s media day, we knew they were a deeper and more expensive team than last season.

But we also found out some other interesting tidbits.

Some players had developed new shots. Some had adopted a new mindset. And others had a new position.

To help you sift through the day’s events, here are the Top 10 things you need to know from Monday’s four-hour media day, including the sixth-through-10th most important storylines.

The top five storylines can be found here.

6. Allen Crabbe and his “small things”

There will be a lot of eyes on wing Allen Crabbe this season, eyes looking to see if he is worth the four-year, $75 million deal he signed in July.

On Monday, there was nothing to see (practice doesn’t start until Tuesday), but there was plenty to hear as the fourth-year player revealed his offseason emphasis, which included three facets that should be encouraging to coach Terry Stotts and Blazers fans.

  1. Becoming better with the ball in his hands.
  2. Adding a post game to his repertoire.
  3. Becoming a better defensive rebounder.

Crabbe called his points of emphasis “small things,” but if they come to fruition, they will be huge to the Blazers and Crabbe’s stake as an $18 million player.

The last time we saw Crabbe he was one of the team’s better perimeter defenders and a solid three-point shooter (39.4 percent last season). Outside of those two very valuable assets, Crabbe’s game was limited.

He was shaky with the ball in the open court. Had trouble creating his own shot off the dribble. And he was a rather non-existent factor as a rebounder (2.7 last season), with one notable missed defensive rebound against the Clippers in last year’s playoffs.

So if Crabbe just adds two of his three areas of emphasis, it would greatly enhance his chances of living up to his monster contract.

One thing Crabbe made certain on Monday: Just because he might be sleeping in silk sheets now doesn’t mean he will be resting on his laurels.

“It’s not like I’m coming in relaxed because I got a new contract, or because I played last year,’’ Crabbe said. “I know as fast as it came, it can be gone just as quick.’’

The Crabbe-Evan Turner competition will be interesting to watch in the preseason, and it sounds like Crabbe is anxious for Tuesday’s training camp to arrive.

“That’s where you earn your money, where you earn your minutes,’’ Crabbe said of the preseason practices. “I want to go out there and I want to play and prove to people I’m getting those minutes because I’m worthy of them.’’

If he adds ball handling, a post game or better defensive rebounding, he will be more than worthy.

7. CJ McCollum and being at ease

Probably the most unsettling words on Monday for Blazers’ opponents came from CJ McCollum, who said he is entering this season more at ease mentally.

“I think there is less pressure,’’ McCollum said.

Last year, McCollum said it was somewhat “nerve wracking” for him to produce in his third season after spending most of his first two seasons injured and out of the rotation.

After a breakout season last year (20.8 points, 4.3 assists, team-best 41.7 percent three-point shooting), McCollum says he enters this season feeling more “comfortable.”

“I know what it takes to do it,’’ he said.

Built into comfort is a more nuanced understanding of the game, both from what the Blazers are doing and what the opponents are trying to take away.

“I’m understanding the game better, thinking the game through,’’ McCollum said.

Already one of the game’s more crafty shot makers, McCollum figures to be even more dangerous with the comfort a year of experience and knowledge brings.

8. Al-Farouq Aminu and the move to power forward.

One of the more underrated facets of the Blazers’ late-season push and success in the playoffs was the effectiveness of Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward. But internally, the Blazers knew his shift from small forward to power forward was a difference maker, so during his exit interview last May, coach Terry Stotts posed a question:

How do you feel about moving to power forward next season?

Aminu, who is as carefree as they come on the team, shrugged his shoulders and gave a familiar reply … “I just want to play.’’

“He asked my comfort level,’’ Aminu said. “I told him it was pretty high. It’s something that if it’s in the best interest of the team, it’s something I want to do.’’

So heading into the season, the team has made no secret that Aminu will be the team’s starting power forward, in part based on their analytics team projecting a 53-win season with him at power forward and in the mid-40’s with him at small forward.

A dogged and versatile defender, Aminu was a surprise offensive weapon last season with streaks of three-point shooting (36.1 percent last season) and huge rebounding nights, even if his ball handling looked more like an exercise of hot potato. The ability to have a three-point threat at power forward helps create one of the key components to Stotts’ flow offense: spacing.

Of course, Aminu will also see some time at small forward, adding another card to Stotts’ deck of versatile players.  That makes Aminu one of the Blazers’ central players moving forward, and he doesn’t seem to care which forward spot he plays.

“If I’m on the court,’’ Aminu said, “I’m happy.’’

9. Ed Davis and his added bulk

There are two factors that explain everything you need to know about Ed Davis and his summer:

1. He lifted weights five times a week.

2. He estimated he ate five-to-six meals a day.

“I cranked up the calories,’’ Davis said.

The result? An estimated 15-to-20 pounds in added weight (he says he’s about 245 pounds today), which includes noticeably larger biceps from a year ago.

The Blazers’ top big man reserve was among the team’s better defenders last season, but if he had a defensive weakness it was holding his ground against the brawn of players like DeMarcus Cousins, Brook Lopez and DeAndre Jordan. It’s why the team felt the need to go out and secure a rim protector like Festus Ezeli.

With the team exercising caution in bringing Ezeli back from an offseason knee procedure, Davis will be a key element to the team’s early season interior defense, and the front office has to be happy to see his thicker arms and more dense frame.

10. The battle for the 15th spot

Who wins spots in the starting lineup won’t be the only competition at hand during the next month. Olshey brought in an intriguing stable of talent to challenge holdover Luis Montero for the 15th and final roster spot.

The options for the final roster spot are varied, from guard Tim Quarterman, to forward Grant Jerrett, to center Greg Stiemsma.

Stotts said he will make sure he takes time every day from his evaluations of lineups and combinations to monitor the competition for the 15th spot.

“That’s what entire month of October is for,’’ Stotts said. “You don’t want to have preconceived notions but that’s why you bring guys in. I’ll keep an eye on it daily because it’s the decision we will have to make at some point.’’

Top 10 things to know about Trail Blazers' media day

Top 10 things to know about Trail Blazers' media day

As the Trail Blazers’ arrived at Monday’s media day, we knew they were a deeper and more expensive team than last season.

But we also found out some other interesting tidbits.

Some players had developed new shots. Some had adopted a new mindset. And others had a new position.

To help you sift through the day’s events, here are the Top 10 things you need to know from Monday’s four-hour media day, starting with the top five most important storylines.

1. Mason Plumlee says he has developed a mid-range jumper.

Nothing was potentially bigger Monday than the oh-by-the-way revelation from the Blazers starting center that he had developed a mid-range jumper this summer.

Plumlee cautioned the development is “not a storyline,” but anybody who has followed the Blazers understands what this could mean to the team’s success.

Plumlee last season was an exceptional passer. He was a solid rebounder. And he was supremely athletic for his size and position.

But he was also painfully non-existent as an offensive threat.

When he would receive passes from Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum in the middle of defenses last season, Plumlee wouldn’t even entertain the thought of shooting. Instead, he would look to only pass, even though the defenses were playing off him and daring him to shoot.

Even without the threat of a shot, Plumlee was a dangerous weapon. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who were torched by Plumlee in the first round of the 2016 playoffs to the tune of 8.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Now, if Plumlee has indeed developed a reliable shot around the free throw line, it will force defenses to be more honest in guarding him, making him not only a bigger scoring threat, but also a factor in creating better spacing for the Blazers, which will allow for him to better pick apart defenses with his sharp passing.

Last season, Plumlee might have taken five mid-range jumpers, usually to beat the shot clock. So will we really see Plumlee consistently shooting mid-range jumpers this season?

“For sure,’’ Plumlee said on Monday.

The fourth-year center said this summer he broke down his shooting form much like a golfer studies and changes his swing.

 “I’m happier with my form going into the season,’’ he said. “I really broke down my shot this offseason. I’m looking forward to expanding my game within our offense, just being more prepared for the same situations.’’

 Plumlee, who early last season made adjustments to his free throw stroke with great success, says his shot will look different this season.

 “Look, I’m not here telling you all I’m going to make every shot I take,’’ Plumlee said. “That’s something I felt was going to be open, the way we play basketball. To me, it’s not a storyline or anything. It’s going to be taken within our offense and it’s something I’m looking forward to improving upon. I’m not here as a finished product … but it’s something to be worked on each day and taken advantage of in games.’’

By the way, Plumlee was also singled out by team captain Damian Lillard as a player who impressed during offseason pickup games. Lillard said he was impressed with how Plumlee was moving – footwork being another facet Plumlee said he worked on this summer. Lillard also estimated that Plumlee took 20 charges during pickup games.

Whether all of this translates to the games remains to be seen. But how much Plumlee has evolved offensively will be a key subplot to the Blazers’ preseason.

2. Word from the players: Maurice Harkless opening eyes

No player on Monday was mentioned more by his teammates than Maurice Harkless.

Damian Lillard recalled being on the losing end of pickup games at the team’s facility because Harkless couldn’t miss with his outside shot.

Unsolicited, CJ McCollum brought up Harkless’ improvement.

And newcomer Evan Turner took note first of the “unreal guard play,” then remarked on the versatility and athleticism of Harkless.  

Harkless, whose late-season insertion into the starting lineup at small forward helped change the team, said he spent much of his summer altering his shot.

The biggest change, Harkless said, is he no longer looks at the ball as it is leaving his hands. And judging from Lillard’s experience of being on the losing end of pickup games because of Harkless’ shot, the adjustment is working.

“It’s really helped a lot,’’ Harkless said. “It’s nothing mechanical. A couple of guys have been telling me that for a while, but I spent the whole summer buying into it. I would have guys watching my eyes the whole time.’’

Like Plumlee, if Harkless shows improvement with his shot, it could be a game-changer for the Blazers. His value last season was in his defensive versatility in being able to guard anyone from Chris Paul to Klay Thompson to Draymond Green, and his ability to get rebound baskets or scores off slashes to the basket.

If there was a downside, Harkless shot 27.9 percent from three-point range, and he wasn’t encouraged to take mid-range shots. Now, if his shot has improved, Harkless could be a complete player who could make coach Terry Stotts’ job of doling out playing time even tougher.

“I’m just another guy on the team, trying to get minutes,’’ Harkless said. “That’s up to coach to decide. We are all just pieces to the puzzle – he’s supposed to put it together.’’

If Harkless has a more consistent outside shot, he becomes a much more important piece to that Blazers’ puzzle.

3. Meyers’ mindset: Leonard free of pressure, negativity

Nobody on Monday was more introspective and honest than Meyers Leonard, who was stunningly blunt about his mental struggles last season and his approach to this season.

Leonard, who says he is ahead of schedule on his recovery from April shoulder surgery and will begin full-contact practicing on Oct. 8, said last season was “by far the most stressful of my life, without a doubt.’’

Between turning down a $40 million contract extension in November, to trying to play through a separated shoulder early in the season, Leonard said his mind was never right last season. He said for the first time in his life, he feared failing.

“I told everybody I was fine,’’ Leonard said. “I wasn’t.”

 It’s what many figured throughout his struggles last season, when he averaged 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds and was replaced in the starting lineup by Noah Vonleh: his biggest hurdle was between his ears, not the job in front of him on the court.

He says he has freed his mind of the pressure that comes with being a self-proclaimed people-pleaser with the help of journaling. He started on July 17 with writing in a “gratitude journal” with which he begins each day documenting what he was grateful for the day before.

Later, he writes in his “mindset journal” which answers his “Why?” each day   (i.e. why wake up?) by stressing his core values. 

“When you lose your why, you lose your way,’’ Leonard said.

The goal of these exercises is to flood his mind with positive thoughts, which he hopes translates to the court.

Leonard, of course, could be one of the most unique and potent weapons on the Blazers. As one of the game’s top three-point shooting 7-footers and a solid mid-range shooter he provides spacing that enables Lillard and McCollum to attack the rim easier. And last year,  Leonard was the best Blazers big man in guarding physical offensive centers like DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol and Greg Monroe.

The potential is there, but so too has been the getting caught out of defensive position, his propensity to foul, and his tentative nature to take open shots.

Now, with a surgically-repaired shoulder and a 4-year, $41 million contract, his mind is cleared of what stressed him last season, and his focus has shifted to what he can do, instead of what he hasn’t done.

On the court, he says he worked this summer to get his shot off quicker, hone his mid-range shot and further develop his post game, which included work with facing up much like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

But it is clear that Leonard won’t make his full impact until he gets his mind right, and he appears to at least have started that journey, if not made headway. Part of that process is tempering even his own expectations. He says he doesn’t believe he will figure everything out until he is 27. He turns 25 in February.

“Mentally, I’m in the best place in my life,’’ Leonard said.

4. Damian Lillard’s health and conditioning

One of the undercurrents of the season will be whether Damian Lillard’s plantar fasciitis resurfaces in his left foot.

Last December, the painful condition that is centered in his heel, became so troublesome that Lillard missed seven games.

Lillard on Monday said his foot “feels great” even though there are days he thinks about it.

“But it hasn’t caused any pain,’’ Lillard said.

Lillard is well known for his relentless workout regiment and his emphasis on honing his skills, but interestingly he said his focus this summer was more broad.

“My conditioning and my strength in my legs and health is what focused on the most,’’ Lillard said. “The stronger I am and the better shape I’m in, then I can be more efficient … that’s what’s most important – get to the end of the game and still be effective.’’

5. Festus Ezeli and his knees: Signed not for October but later

One of the more telling quotes of Monday came from Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, in regard to the organization’s plan for center Festus Ezeli, one of the team’s free agent signees.

“Sometimes there are signings that are not about Oct. 1,’’ Olshey said. “They are about later in the season.’’

That is the case with Ezeli, the muscular center who was signed to a two-year (partially guaranteed) contract because of balky knees. In August, Ezeli had a platelet-rich-plasma treatment done on his left knee, the same knee that was operated on in February, which sidelined him for 31 games while he was with Golden State. In 2013-2014, Ezeli did not play because of surgery to his right knee.

“The good news is we have a lot of depth at that position and can be patient,’’ Olshey said, referring to Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard.

After the Aug. 23 procedure to his left knee, the Blazers estimated Ezeli’s return at six weeks, which would be a mid-October return. Ezeli on Monday said he started running last week.

“My knee is getting better,’’ he said. “It’s getting better and getting stronger. We are going to go based on feel. There is no rush. We just want to do everything right.’’

Trail Blazers FanFest slated for October 2nd

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Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers FanFest slated for October 2nd

Fans will have their first opportunity to watch the 2016-17 Portland Trail Blazers live in action when the team holds its 12th annual Wells Fargo Fan Fest on Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Moda Center.

The free event features first-come, first-served general admission seating, with doors opening at 3 p.m. The afternoon will be headlined by an intra-squad scrimmage at 4 p.m.

Free family passes are available now at all Wells Fargo branches in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Parking on the Rose Quarter campus will be free, subject to availability. Fans may click on the link at http://www.nba.com/blazers/fanfest to download their tickets.

Wells Fargo Fan Fest is a great opportunity for fans to get an up-close look at this year’s Trail Blazers, including NBA All-Star Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Al Farouq Aminu and more.

Fans will also get a chance to see performances by this year’s BlazerDancers and Stunt Team, and receive prize giveaways from team mascot Blaze the Trail Cat.

The Trail Blazers Foundation and Wells Fargo are taking it to the court once again to offer $100,000 in grants for schools across Oregon and Southwest Washington in support of their academic, art, athletic or community programs. Visit trailblazers.com/takeittothecourt between Oct. 2, 2016 and Jan. 1, 2017, to apply for up to $10,000 for your school.