Nobody on the Blazers has more at stake at the Las Vegas Summer League than third year guard Pat Connaughton.
The Blazers have until July 25 to decide between keeping Connaughton at $1.47 million next season, or let him pursue his NBA and Major League baseball dreams elsewhere.
How Connaughton does in Las Vegas will go a long way in that decision for the Blazers, as a source inside the team said Summer League will be “important” for Connaughton.
Internally, the Blazers are hoping Connaughton has an emergence similar to that of Allen Crabbe in 2015, when Crabbe in Las Vegas averaged 15.5 points in four games, which included a 9-of-12, 24-point game against Dallas.
At the time, Crabbe was in a similar position as Connaughton – playing for a guaranteed contract – and Connaughton took note how Crabbe handled himself.
“I’ll take a similar approach to the way A.C. did my rookie year,’’ Connaughton said. “He didn’t really come out and try to score 35 points a game. He just made sure he played his game. He showed the things he had gotten better at … and he put himself in position to play well during the regular season.’’
Crabbe, of course, was picked up that season for just under a million dollars, then after a breakout NBA season he signed a four-year, $75 million contract last summer.
Connaughton will start at shooting guard for the Summer League Blazers when they open play Saturday against Utah (3 p.m., CSN), but he said he will be under little pressure to prove anything.
“I wouldn’t say anything is at stake. For me, it’s more about playing well and building upon the things I’ve worked on for the last two years, building upon the end of last season,’’ Connaughton said.
Connaughton says he is confident that all he is missing is an opportunity, a feeling based in part off his showing in two spot-starts at the end of last season and in part off his off-season workouts.
Last season, after the Blazers clinched a playoff spot, Connaughton started the final two games against San Antonio and New Orleans. He had 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting against the Spurs and against the Pelicans he had 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds while making 7-of-13 shots.
He says he wants to show that he is more than a catch-and-shoot guard – and presented that seven assist, seven-rebound performance against New Orleans as proof . Ultimately, though, he knows his defining trait is shooting, a facet he struggled with at last year’s Summer League, when he made 34 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range.
“I was a little disappointed in the way I shot the ball, particularly from three,’’ Connaughton said. “With that being said, I think I was able to make an impact in a lot of the games and go up and, not just hold my own, but have some success against touted rookies and second year guys that were in summer league last year. I’m trying to build upon that. ‘’
Whether Connaughton indeed builds on that could have an impact on how the Blazers’ roster looks come October. Portland is carrying the league-maximum 15 players right now, but if Connaughton doesn’t impress enough to guarantee him, the Blazers could explore using their mid-level exception ($5.192 million) in the free agent market.
Assistant Jim Moran, who will coach the Blazers’ Summer League team, said Connaughton has been one of the hardest workers this offseason and that has translated to him playing confidently.
“The stuff he has been working on all summer … we want to see it translate,’’ Moran said. “His confidence is very high. I’m really hoping he plays well because he has put in time and developed his game and work ethic.’’