Jake Layman

Anthony Morrow: Nothing wrong with Blazers adding another shooter

Anthony Morrow: Nothing wrong with Blazers adding another shooter

The Trail Blazers this week announced that they've signed veteran Anthony Morrow to a training camp contract. Not a big deal, most likely. You need extra players during camp and the exhibition season. There are always free agents added for camp.

But Morrow interests me more than the average camp addition.

I've always had a weakness for wild-card scorers -- either terrific one-on-one players or three-point gunners. I've never cared if they can defend or rebound or pass. It's just that I've seen many times in the NBA the value of that streak shooter or instant-offense player off the bench. Morrow is a career 41.7 percent shooter from three-point range. Folks, that's more than pretty good.

Is there a place for him in a starting lineup or even a regular rotation? No, I doubt it. But there are nights in the NBA when stuff just isn't working. Offensive players aren't scoring and a team is slowly drifting out of a game. Morrow is the kind of player who can get you back in the game. I've see him do it. Put him in, run some stuff to get him a sliver of daylight from three-point range and he'll likely knock down some shots.

What more could you ask from a 10th man off your bench?

And the best thing about Morrow is that he'd be cheap. This isn't Ryan Anderson making $20 million per season. This is a minimum-salary guy.

Now understand, Morrow is very likely a longshot just to make the Portland roster. The most obvious reason he's even in the Portland training camp is to put some pressure on Pat Connaughton and Jake Layman. The Trail Blazers would love to see either of those young players develop into a dependable outside shooter. This team needs more wing shooters with range. Perhaps the presence of Morrow will be a subtle push for those players.

Either way, I like the idea of seeing another shooter in camp. The way the game is being played in the NBA these days, you just can't seem to have enough long-range gunners.

Trail Blazer summer-league team represented the franchise well

Trail Blazer summer-league team represented the franchise well

LAS VEGAS – Before the start of the annual Las Vegas Summer League tournament, I made the offhand remark that when it was finished, every team but one would tell you the truth -- that winning a summer-league championship is about as big a deal as a single melting ice cube on a typical 113-degree day here.

The other team – the one that won the tournament – would tell you, though, how meaningful and important it was. That it is a sign of good things to come.

But I didn't expect the Los Angeles Lakers to take it to the extreme, with Magic Johnson telling the assembled crowd and a national television audience, “The Lakers are back.”

Sorry, I don’t buy that. Especially with the Lakers, They have a long way to go to be “back” – that is, at the point when they were “Showtime” and the most popular team in the NBA.

Johnson knows better than anyone that summer league stuff is mostly meaningless and no guarantee of future success (or failure).

Portland’s summer-league experience was a little different than most teams here. The Trail Blazers were not loaded with a crop of youngsters who will someday be wearing a Portland uniform.

Sure, you’you'll be seeing more of Jake Layman, Caleb Swanigan, Zach Collins and (maybe) Pat Connaughton. But the Trail Blazers’ march to the championship game was fueled by some very tough and experienced free agents here playing for a job.

It would be nice to say that a few of those guys will be in training camp this fall trying to win a roster spot with Portland, but barring a trade that frees a couple of roster spots, that isn't’t likely to happen.

The free agents wearing Portland uniforms likely played well enough to earn invites to teams that offer a much better chance of them earning a spot. The Trail Blazer roster is, for right now at least, on lockdown.

So what does this fun run to the last night of the tournament mean for the Portland franchise? I’m glad you asked.

I think it was important. First, the franchise showed it could make some shrewd moves in bringing in experienced free agents who could help its roster players in important ways – like getting them the ball where they needed it, on time, and were unselfish enough to defer to those players when necessary. The group followed orders and played hard.

Of course the summer also showcased the Portland coaching staff, which I’m more impressed with every season. Jim Moran was the head coach and looked very comfortable in that position.

But all the assistants have input in the summer and they did a terrific job of instituting the Portland system and getting the most out of the players they had.

This Portland team played to its strengths, which meant pounding the ball inside with Swanigan and Jarnell Stokes. And this was a physical group that did that very well.

I think the showing of this team was good for the franchise, reflecting favorably on its organizational abilities and system. And it was especially good for Swanigan and Layman, who showed they could handle the responsibility of being important players. Both improved with each game.

I believe Swanigan will earn rotation minutes with sheer effort and versatility. He is a willing banger and a very good passer who chases every rebound.

Of course doing those things against veteran NBA players is a lot different than doing it in summer league.

And come on, Magic, you know that as well as anyone. I love the guy but for now, the only thing "back" with the Lakers is Johnson himself.

Trail Blazers win again, move into Summer League "Final Four"

Trail Blazers win again, move into Summer League "Final Four"

LAS VEGAS -- "Final Four."

Let's just call it that for the Portland Trail Blazers, who defeated the San Antonio Spurs 94-87 Saturday afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center to advance to the semifinals of the Summer League tournament. The semis will be played Sunday and the finals Monday night in the same venue.

VIDEO: Coach Moran all smiles after the win

The Blazers, who came into the tournament as the 16th seed, got 23 points from Jake Layman, who was 1-8 from the field in the first half, and 16 from Caleb Swanigan in a game when Portland dominated the rebounding department 48-31, which included a 21-6 edge on the offensive boards.

VIDEO: Coach Moran evaluates the Free Agents

Behind 14 first-half points from Swanigan, Portland led by seven at halftime and took a 12-point lead midway through the third quarter but couldn't hold onto it. Derrick White's three-point play late in the period left the sore tied at 65 going into the fourth quarter.Layman warmed up in the fourth quarter, however, and hit three three-point goals to give Portland an 84-74 lead with four and a half minutes left in the game.

VIDEO: Jake Layman on the free agents

Surprising Trail Blazers win, move into tourney quarterfinals

Surprising Trail Blazers win, move into tourney quarterfinals

LAS VEGAS -- Free-agent guards Nick Johnson and RJ Hunter held the fort down while two key starters battled foul trouble and the Portland Trail Blazers' summer-league team stunned the top-seeded Toronto Raptors 91-85 in front of a sparse crowd in Cox Pavilion that for some reason elected not to watch the Lonzo Ball Show across the hall in the Thomas & Mack Center.

With the win the Trail Blazers move into a quarterfinal tournament matchup against San Antonio Saturday afternoon at 1pm.

VIDEO: Swanigan looking forward to rematch vs. Spurs

Portland led through much of the first half and was still within five points with seven minutes to play in the third quarter, when Jake Layman drew his fourth foul. With Caleb Swanigan already on the bench with four fouls, the Trail Blazers appeared to be in trouble. But Johnson kept them within 68-67 heading into the final period with a couple of three-pointers.

And behind Johnson and his running mate at guard, RJ Hunter, Portland jumped to a 79-71 lead with 6:18 to play in the game.

Johnson's 17 points led the Trail Blazers and Swanigan chipped in another double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Blazers open summer-league tourney with win over Chicago

Blazers open summer-league tourney with win over Chicago

LAS VEGAS -- Jake Layman had 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals Wednesday night as the Trail Blazers opened the tournament portion of the Las Vegas Summer League with an 88-77 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Layman had struggled in his previous summer league games and got off to a slow start against the Bulls Wednesday night. He was 0-3 from the field in the first period but caught a little run in the second quarter that netted him 10 points. In the third quarter he finally got the Blazers the lead with a dunk, a steal and a layup. He had 20 points heading into the fourth quarter and the teams were tied at 61.

Portland also got nice efforts from Jarmell Stokes, R.J. Hunter, Nick Johnson and Antonius Cleveland, who contributed down the stretch of the game.

The Trail Blazers move on to a second-round matchup vs. Toronto Thursday night at 7 that will be telecast on NBA-TV.

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.

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. 

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.

Blazers' win vs. Spurs reflects talent, hard work by players and coaches

Blazers' win vs. Spurs reflects talent, hard work by players and coaches

It was quite a night in Moda Center Monday. Given the expectation level,  it was a shocking evening.

With the San Antonio Spurs committed to using their starting lineup at least a part of the game and the Trail Blazers saying they weren't going to use Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe, there was every reason to expect a night of little emotion without high drama.

But sports are funny that way. You never quite know what you're going to find with your next ticket. Portland's 99-98 win over the Spurs was exciting and even featured a surprise ending, as Noah Vonleh found a gift directly under the basket and dropped in a layup to win the game a whisper before the final horn.

A few things I wanted to point out about this game before we move on to all the playoff fuss:

  1. I say this over and over but a lot of people don't seem to understand it. Men on NBA benches are very good basketball players. In many cases, they just don't have the opportunity to show it. When you watch Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton and Jake Layman play, you're seeing people with terrific athletic ability and good basketball instincts. They can play this game -- but they are in line behind more experienced or talented players. It's all the more reason I just laugh when people tell me some of the great college teams could beat an NBA team. They wouldn't come close. These days it takes a heck of a talented player just to make a roster in the league.
  2. I can't emphasize enough what a terrific job the Trail Blazer assistant coaches do in keeping their entire squad ready for duty and on solid improvement curves. Portland's bench played the normal San Antonio starting lineup on an even basis whenever it was matched up that way. That kind of thing doesn't happen by accident. Yes, the fourth quarter was a bench game, but prior to that the Blazer reserves didn't blink against Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and the rest of that roster. Kawhi Leonard, by the way, managed no rebounds or assists in his 20 minutes of duty. Those guys wearing Trail Blazer jerseys Monday night competed hard and smart.
  3. A lot of times a team will run a lineup consisting of bench players out for a late-season game and chaos ensues. These guys played together and with purpose -- and just nine turnovers. It was an impressive display of unity, talent and confidence. And after decades of covering the NBA, I can tell you that kind of game doesn't happen without countless hours of work by the coaching staff and the individual players.

Games like that one Monday are good for a team. They build pride in the franchise and confidence within all involved. It was a very impressive night.

And fun, too.