Trail Blazers set to unveil new team at Sunday's Fan Fest

Trail Blazers set to unveil new team at Sunday's Fan Fest

Sunday will be the public’s first look at the 2016-2017 Trail Blazers during the annual Fan Fest, and coach Terry Stotts says fans will see a team that has been productive during training camp.

“We’ve been able to get the things done this week that we wanted to get accomplished,’’ Stotts said Saturday. “Offensively, we have more offense in because we have so many player back … I would say this has been a very good first week. Very pleased.’’

Admission is free to the 4 p.m. scrimmage at the Moda Center, with doors opening at 3 p.m. The team will play four six-minute quarters. CSN will air the scrimmage at 4 p.m.

“We will treat it like a regular scrimmage,’’ Stotts said. “I think we’ve done a good job of approaching it with the right mentality – that it’s not a (time) to showboat. It’s to work on the things we’ve been doing all week.’’

Stotts said he will divide the training camp roster into two teams. The Blazers have 18 players in camp, but four will be unavailable Sunday because of injury: center Festus Ezeli (knee), center Meyers Leonard (shoulder), forward Noah Vonleh (thigh) and forward Jake Layman (shoulder).

The Blazers will kick off their seven-game preseason schedule on Monday at the Moda Center against Utah at 7 p.m.

Consistency next on Allen Crabbe's plate

Consistency next on Allen Crabbe's plate

Somewhere between signing a $75 million contract in July and the start of training camp, Allen Crabbe absorbed a message from the Trail Blazers’ coaching staff.

No longer is it good enough to sprinkle in a good offensive game here, and a big defensive play there. To be “a player” in the NBA, one has make an impact consistently.

“That’s one of the things the assistants were telling me … you have to bring it every night,’’ Crabbe said. “You can’t expect to go out one night and have 30 and have 4 points the next night. A good, solid player has it every night. I’m not saying I have to have it going offensively every night, but you have to find other ways to do little things that won’t show up on the stat sheet.’’

Consistency will be one of Crabbe’s challenges as he embarks on his fourth NBA season, which figures to be unlike any other during his career. For the first time, the former second-round pick enters camp as a lock for a rotation spot. And unlike any other time in Portland, there is a stable of talent at the wing, where Crabbe alternates between shooting guard and small forward.

“That’s what I like about this team – it doesn’t allow anybody to relax, regardless of pay,’’ Crabbe said. “Everybody is pushing each other and nothing is guaranteed. Coach always tells us that ‘Nothing is guaranteed.’’’

Crabbe says he never had a feeling of contentment when he signed his free agent deal, and that certainly hasn’t changed since taking the Blazers’ practice floor. All  he has to do is look at newly signed Evan Turner, who is a noted defender, and accomplished play-maker who can play both guard positions and small forward. Or watch Maurice Harkless, whose new shooting touch has been one of the early eye-openers of camp, and remember how Harkless’ insertion into the starting lineup last season for his defense helped vault the Blazers.

“I’ve always had to work to crack the rotation and now that I’m in it doesn’t mean it’s time for me to relax, because we have so many other guys who are capable of doing great things on the court,’’ Crabbe said. “I’ve never been comfortable, so there’s no reason to start now.’’

Crabbe, who averaged 10.3 points and 2.7 rebounds last season while shooting 39.4 percent from three-point range, says he is trying to improve and expand upon his game this season, particularly with his defensive rebounding and ball handling. The stiff competition in practice will only help that improvement, he says.

“Coming to practice, if you think it’s going to be a little cool breeze, a walk though, there’s no reason for me to be here,’’ Crabbe said. “Going up against these guys each and every day will push me to get the most out of myself.’’

Sunday is Fan Fest -- and we've got you covered if you can't be there

Sunday is Fan Fest -- and we've got you covered if you can't be there

Fan Fest is traditionally a very fun time for die-hard Trail Blazer fans. And every year I enjoy watching the crowd at courtside, which usually doesn't get the opportunity to sit so close to the action but on this day they do -- because all they had to do was get in line early and race for their seat. It's wide open. And free.

Sunday afternoon in Moda Center the Trail Blazers will stage this season's Fan Fest at 4 o'clock and I expect it to be another interesting day as fans get their very first look at the new Trail Blazer players  -- before the game and during it, with meet-and-greets, Q-and-A sessions and even a kids-only press conference.

But if you can't be there, CSN has you covered. Dan Sheldon, Orlando Williams and I will be there to give you our observations and comments along with interviews as we watch the team go through its public scrimmage. All the dunks, cool passes and three pointers will be on display.

And what about the team's emphasis on defense this season? Will we see any evidence of that or will it be one of those scrimmages where offense takes over?

You will find the answers Sunday at 4 p.m. on CSN.

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

evan_turner.jpg
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.