Anthony Tolliver, a self-confessed basketball junkie, was sitting in front of his television watching the Trail Blazers in the playoffs and got an idea. As an 11-year veteran of the league, he knows himself and he knows what he can bring to a team.
“I was watching the playoffs the last few months and I thought, wow, I can really help them out,” Tolliver said Wednesday during his media availability.at the team’s practice facility. “I jumped on it.
“Free agency was a bit of a whirlwind. I was really looking for an opportunity to go to a team where I was valued and wanted. They made that very clear. I haven’t had free agency go this quickly in my entire career. But I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity to play for a contender and play with guys like Dame and CJ and there are a lot of great players on this team.
“And also, kind of watching the playoffs last year, how they got double-teamed a lot and that’s literally how guys like myself can excel.”
Tolliver has long been known as a professional shooter and one of the NBA’s first 3-and-D stretch fours. Most players have a lot of adjustments to make during their careers. Tolliver has done that but has also seen the league move more toward his skillset – a big man who can defend and then step out and hit a three-point field goal.
“It’s going to extend me out for a little while longer,’ he said with a chuckle. “It’s something – I can’t say that I’m a genius and foresaw the future, that it was going to be to this extent – but a while back, back in high school and college, even though I was playing the five, I knew the future for me, if I was going to make the NBA, was going to be on the perimeter. Being able to shoot really well I kind of made the assumption that, hey, no team is going to turn down a player who can play defense and knock down threes. That’s kind of been the case the last 12 years.”
Indeed, Tolliver has modeled a lot of NBA uniforms. He’s played for nine teams, including the Trail Blazers for 12 days in 2009-10, been waived four times and traded once. Through it all, he’s persevered, working hard and doing the things that made a player valuable to a team in whatever role he’s asked to fill.
“I’ve been in survival mode since Day One,” he said. “Never been handed anything. Had to earn every single second I’ve had in this league. I think that’s why I’ve stuck around. There’s no let up. It’s just continuous work and continuous fight just to stay relevant, really. Being a role player in the NBA, I call it the hardest job in the world because you never know when your number is going to be called, but you have to work like you’re going to play 30 minutes a game. And that’s a really tough balance to have. I’ve been able to find that niche and take advantage of it.”
Along the way he’s become popular with teammates and fans for how hard he’s played. In a stint with the Pistons in Detroit, his leadership and hustle was called it the “Tolliver Effect.”
Here’s what Coach Stan Van Gundy said about him at the time:
“He’s one of highest-character guys in the NBA,” Van Gundy said of Tolliver, “and what he will do in terms of leadership I think is important to our team, but it’s important that he’s a guy that can go out and play. It’s tough to be a leader who’s not playing and A.T. still plays at a high level.”
Tolliver, asked about that, said: “I think a lot of people like my energy and a lot of people call it infectious, especially on the court. On the court I don’t say much – I just work. Sometimes as a player if you have a teammate like that, it can affect your game as well. That would probably be the ‘Tolliver Effect.’”
But the locker room attitude is important, too, and Tolliver confesses he’s more talkative there than on the court.
“Off the court I’m consistent,” he said. “I try to pride myself on being consistent on and off the court. And so just helping guys out -- the young guys – I don’t look at young guys as threats. I see something they’re doing wrong and I help them out. I tell them what to do. I tell them,'Why don’t you try this?'
“Self-preservation says don’t tell them your tricks. Guess what, they’ll use it and take your spot. For me, it’s about the team.”
As a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter, Tolliver is known for his outside shooting, but don’t overlook his defense.
“The defense has been there before the three-point shot,” he said. “The three-point shot has kind of been an evolution. I saw the way the NBA was going and I worked on it for years. The defense has been my base, especially after going to Creighton and (playing for) Dana Altman. I’m not this crazy, spectacular athlete a lot of people are in this league, so I know I have to be smarter and be in the right place.
“I take a lot of pride in being in the right place, taking charges and doing the things that other people don’t want to do.”
And perhaps now, after all those seasons and teams, he’s in the right place as a Trail Blazer.