NBA summer league

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 move into summer league championship game

Trail Blazers move into summer league championship game

LAS VEGAS --  The Portland Trail Blazer summer-league team will play for the tournament championship Monday night at 7 o'clock in Thomas & Mack Center.

And how unlikely is that?

The Portland entry opened pool play by losing two of its first three games and lost Pat Connaughton and Zach Collins to injury. Yet the team has rallied around Jake Layman, Caleb Swanigan and three free agents and found a new lease on life.

VIDEO: Coach Moran proud to be apart of this team

Sunday night the Blazers knocked off previously undefeated Memphis, recovering from a 19-point, second-quarter deficit.

The Trail Blazers trailed almost from the opening tip and faced a 23-15 deficit after the first quarter, as the Grizzlies shot 47.4 percent from the field while Portland made just 6 of 15 shots. But the summer version of the Trail Blazers is a gritty bunch and they didn't quit.

Portland narrowed the lead to three points early in the third quarter and then finally took a 54-53 lead with 5:50 to play in the third period. The Blazers led by as many as four in the quarter but were down 63-61 heading into the final quarter.

VIDEO: Blazer players excited to play for Championship

Swanigan had his double-double by then with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Trail Blazers grabbed the lead back in the final quarter and led by eight with three minutes left and coasted home.

Free agent big man Jarnell Stokes continued his solid play, standing tall with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Guards Nick Johnson and RJ Hunter continued their solid play.

VIDEO: Stokes - Swanigan is my best friend

Behind the Trail Blazers' summer-league surge -- who are those guys?

Behind the Trail Blazers' summer-league surge -- who are those guys?

LAS VEGAS -- The Portland Trail Blazer summer-league team, which had won just one game heading into the league's tournament, vaulted into Saturday's quarterfinals Thursday night -- and the players behind Portland's win were not exactly building blocks for the future of the franchise.

Yes, Jake Layman and Caleb Swanigan did their part in the win over top-seeded Toronto, but it took clutch efforts from some other guys -- free agents -- to carry the Trail Blazers to the win. With Pat Connaughton and Zach Collins sidelined by injuries, this squad has needed contributions from others. Who are those guys? Well, let's take a look:

  • NICK JOHNSON -- A former Pac-12 player of the year and a first-team all-American from Arizona, he played 28 games for Houston during the 2014-15 season after being a second-round pick of the Rockets. Played in the G-League before heading overseas for a a job playing for Bayern Munich in the German league, averaging 8.1 points per game while shooting just 33.5 percent from the field. Against Toronto, the guard took over the game for a spell in the third quarter and finished with 17 points, hitting six of his nine shots from the floor. He's a hard-nosed player who is here playing for a job, be it in Europe or the NBA.
  • RJ HUNTER -- Had 11 points on 4-8 shooting against Toronto and continued his steady play at guard. Has played 39 games over two seasons in the NBA with Boston and Chicago. Was a first-round pick out of Georgia State by the Celtics in the 2015 NBA draft. Like Johnson, he's a tough player who is here auditioning for a job. Scouts from all over Europe are here looking for talent and the NBA is still an option.
  • JARNELL STOKES -- He was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft by the Denver Nuggets out of Tennessee. He has played a total of 28 games in the NBA for three different teams -- Memphis, Miami and Denver -- and at 6-9, 265 he is a load inside. He takes up a lot of space. He's come up big for Portland on the inside, defending and rebounding well and scoring more points than was probably expected for a guy who has averaged a bit more than one basket a game during his career. At his size, he's going to play for money someplace in the world.

Highlights: Swanigan has big game in loss to the Spurs

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Highlights: Swanigan has big game in loss to the Spurs

The Trail Blazers fell victim to the injury bug in their loss to the San Antonio Spurs, losing both Pat Connaughton and Zach Collins to leg injuries, but it wasn't all doom and gloom for Portland. Caleb "Biggie" Swanigan had another great game for the Trail Blazers with yet another double-double, and showed glimpses of why he may just be the steal of the draft. Don't believe us? See for yourself in these highlights courtesy of the Trail Blazers Twitter account. 

Connaughton, Collins leave game early with injuries

Connaughton, Collins leave game early with injuries

The Portland Trail Blazers are down two men after guard Pat Connaughton and center Zach Collins both sustained injuries in the first half of action against the Spurs 

 

Connaughton injured himself on what looked to be a non-contact play midway through the second quarter. Connaughton passed the basketball to Jake Layman for a dunk, but immediately fell to the ground clinching his left leg. He was able to walk off the court under his own power, but quickly headed to the locker room.

The Trail Blazers later announced the he would not return due to a left hamstring strain.

As for Collins, it isn’t know when his injured occurred, but he could be seen being looked at by team trainers late in the second quarter. He limped to the locker room at halftime favoring his right leg.

The Trail Blazers would later announce that Collins suffered a right quad contusion and would not return.

It is not yet known if the injuries will keep Connaughton and Collins sidelined for an extended period. We will bring you updates as soon as we have more information

Portland is Las Vegas bound again

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Portland is Las Vegas bound again

The NBA Summer League is returning to Las Vegas for the fifth consecutive year from July 7-17. This 11-day, 67-game tournament allows teams to showcase the NBA future stars in a bracket-style format ending in a championship game on Monday, July 17. Each team participating in the tournament is guarenteed five games. 

One of the teams returning to Las Vegas is the Portland Trail Blazers who have attended from 2005-2010, 2012-2016 and have a 28-30 record.

Let's take a trip down memory lane to showcase one of Portland's own small forward Jake Layman at the 2016 NBA Summer League:

Be sure to follow along as CSNNW will have full coverage of the 2017 NBA Summer League from Jason Quick, Dwight Jaynes, and Jamie Hudson at CSNNW.com and across all our social media platforms.

For a full list of teams participating in the 2017 NBA Summer League and how to purchase admission tickets, check out this site here.

Blazers complete summer league with win over Boston

Blazers complete summer league with win over Boston

LAS VEGAS -- The summer version of the Portland Trail Blazers completed its season Friday with a 80-75 win Boston Celtics in Cox Pavilion.

Pat Connaughton scored 23 and Pierre Jackson 20 to lead Portland, which finished the Las Vegas Summer League with a 2-3 record. The only other game the team won was a sudden-death, double-overtime contest vs. Utah, won by a Connaugton three-point field goal.

The Trail Blazers led by as many as 13 in the second quarter and held a 44-35 halftime lead. They then watched Boston storm back to lead by 2 in the third quarter. But Portland took a 60-58 edge into the fourth quarter and fought off several Boston rallies down the stretch of the game.

Friday was a real bounce-back game for Connaughton, who has not shot the ball well consistently during the summer. He hit 8 of 18 against the Celtics and made some big plays down the stretch.

Second-round draft pick Jake Layman had one of the biggest plays of the game, blocking a potential dunk by Boston's Jaylen Brown with inside a minute to play. Layman finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Jackson hit seven of his 10 shots, had five rebounds and eight assists. There is little doubt he will end up in somebody's training camp this fall, be it Portland's or another team.

Noah Vonleh, who is suffering from a hip contusion, did not play.

 

Trail Blazers fall to Jazz -- just one summer game left

Trail Blazers fall to Jazz -- just one summer game left

The Trail Blazers trailed throughout most of the final three quarters Wednesday evening and fell 86-71 to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the tournament portion of the Las Vegas Summer League.

The Trail Blazers (1-3) are thus eliminated from the tournament's championship round and will play just once more -- a consolation game at 3 p.m. Friday in Cox Pavilion.

Non-roster point guard Pierre Jackson led Portland with 18 points. Shabazz Napier, who had been starting at the point since being acquired in a deal with Orlando, is suffering from a sprained shoulder. He did not play and is out for the Friday game, too. Jake Layman and Noah Vonleh added 10 points apiece for Portland.

The Trail Blazers looked fatigued in this game and in the second half couldn't muster much of an effort. At this point in summer league, many of the teams run out of gas.  Just as many of them run out of motivation. Very few of these teams really care about winning a summer-league tournament. This is an opportunity for personal development and to allow players to showcase their skills.

For a player such as Jackson, who has bounced around the D-League, played in Turkey and been the property of New Orleans and Philadelphia in the NBA, this is a pressure cooker -- with every minute of every game a chance to prove he belongs in the NBA, or not.

At 5-10, he's a point guard, but one who can score. He set the D-League single-game scoring record with 58 points in 2014 and has terrific quickness to the basket.

He admitted after Wednesday's game that he feels a lot of pressure in these games because his future is on the line, but that it is mitigated to a degree by the fact that Las Vegas is his home and he has the support of his family.

He was just about the only Trail Blazer with any energy against the Jazz. The Blazers were pounded 47-32 on the boards and Vonleh, who had been a consistent rebounder during the summer, managed just 2 boards in 27 minutes.

All in all, the best news appears to be that this group has just one more game left. And I'd anticipate that playing time will be spread among the entire roster in that contest.

Trail Blazers win after Pat Connaughton hits game-ending three-pointer

Trail Blazers win after Pat Connaughton hits game-ending three-pointer

LAS VEGAS -- Pat Connaughton hit a sudden-death three-pointer in double overtime to give the Trail Blazers a 92-89 victory over Utah on Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center. 

The Blazers twice blew seemingly comfortable leads -- a four-point lead with 44 seconds left in regulation and a four-point lead with 4.2 seconds left in overtime -- before recording their first win of Summer League. 

Connaugton, who had struggled through 6-of-26 shooting -- including 2-of-14 from three-point range -- finished with 19 points. He made 7-of-16 shots, including 4-of-10 from three-point range.

Blazers forward CJ Fair had 20 points and rookie Jake Layman added 11 points and four steals. Noah Vonleh, who made several big defensive plays, finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. He has recorded a double-double in all three Summer League contests. 

Utah forward Trey Lyles, a rotation player for the Jazz last season, had 30 points, including a tip in off a missed free throw at the overtime buzzer. But it was Lyles' turnover on a pass to Quincy Ford to open double overtime that set the stage for Connaughton's heroics. Under Summer League rules, second overtimes are decided by the first team that scores. 

Fair, who last season played with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA Development League, made three 3-pointers, including two during a nip-and-tuck fourth quarter. The 6-foot-8 left hander, a former Syracuse star,  made 8-of-10 shots.

Portland took a 60-58 lead into the fourth quarter when Chris Johnson slammed an alley oop pass from Pierre Jackson with 34 seconds left, which came after  Fair hit a corner three to break a tie at 55. 

For the first time in three Summer League games, the Blazers had a lead and a good start with a 19-11 advantage after the first quarter. Layman, who started at small forward, got things rolling with a steal and fast break dunk and later in the quarter he added a rolling hook shot inside and a fadeaway baseline jumper. 

The Blazers held a 38-35 halftime lead after Shabazz Napier made a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left. But he fouled Aaron Craft at halfcourt with 0.6 seconds left, and the Jazz guard made 1-of-2 free throws. 

Utah rookie point guard Marcus Paige had 11 points and Butterfield added 13. 

Notes: Blazers guard Shabazz Napier did not play in the second half because of a left shoulder sprain. It was the second straight game he could not finish because of injury. On Saturday he received stitches to his head. He had six points and four assists in 15 minutes ... Vonleh was briefly sidelined in the third quarter with what the Blazers called a "bruised left gluteus'' but he returned. 

Next up: Blazers vs. TBA, Wednesday. 

Trail Blazers sputter early, lose 85-69 to San Antonio

Trail Blazers sputter early, lose 85-69 to San Antonio

LAS VEGAS -- Noah Vonleh had a strong showing, but another slow start and a poor shooting night doomed the Trail Blazers' Summer League team to a 85-69 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. 

For the second consecutive game, the Blazers had a terrible start. With a new starting lineup that featured the additions of Shabazz Napier at point guard and Cliff Alexander at power forward, the Blazers sputtered, making only 3-of-18 shots in the quarter and going the final 4:22 of the quarter without a point as San Antonio established an 18-9 lead.

The Spurs' lead ballooned to 48-33 at halftime, thanks to forward Kyle Anderson, who scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. 

Vonleh, the Blazers' top player on their summer entrant, finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds and looked confident and at a times dominant while compiling his second straight double-double. He hit a three pointer and also had several strong inside moves that resulted in baskets. Vonleh did have six turnovers, however. 

Connaughton, the second year shooting guard who is vying to be considered for a rotation spot, again struggled with his shot, going 3-for-13 from the field, including 1-for-6 from three-point range. In two Summer League games, Connaughton is shooting 6-for-26 from the field and 2-for-13 from three-point range. 

Rookie Jake Layman, who said he battled nerves in his first game, showed signs of his athleticsm with a high-leaping block and a soaring baseline dunk attempt that was thwarted by a San Antonio foul.  Layman also hit first first three-pointer, ending a string of six consecutive misses. He finished with six points and two rebounds in 28 minutes. 

Two of the Spurs' returning NBA players - forward Jonathan Simmons and Anderson -- were standouts. Anderson led all scorers with 23 points and Simmons added 16.

Notes: Alexander cleared waivers on Sunday afternoon and was immediately placed back on the Blazers' roster. The hope is that another team likes his talent and invites him to a training camp ... Napier in his Blazers' debut played 16 minutes before having to leave with a cut on his head. He had five points, one assist, two steals and zero turnovers. 

Next up: Portland vs. Utah, 1:30 p.m. Tuesday