Injuries always seem to make way for young players.
The Portland Trail Blazers now not only have a myriad of injuries they are dealing with at the moment, but now they have two young, eager big men ready to prove themselves.
The Blazers and Kings trade become official Tuesday with the Blazers acquiring forwards Trevor Ariza and Wenyen Gabriel and forward/center Caleb Swanigan from Sacramento in exchange for Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two second round draft picks.
Most fans know what they’re getting in 15-year veteran Trevor Ariza, but what about the other two?
For Swanigan, he is, of course, back in familiar territory.
The 6-9 forward out of Purdue was selected by the Trail Blazers in the 2017 NBA Draft with the 26th overall pick before he was shipped to the Kings last season at the trade deadline.
Damian Lillard couldn’t help but talk about how strange it was to see Biggie back at the Blazers practice facility.
“When I walked in, he was up there, he was getting tapped and we both acknowledged that it was kind of weird, like, I don’t even think it’s been a full year of him being gone, so it was weird, but it’s good to have him back, another chance,” Lillard said.
Now that Swanigan is in his third season, he has a new perspective on things.
“The biggest thing with me is that is just growth off the court a lot of things.” Swanigan said. “Just making sure I’m handing my body and other things that I’m doing right… That’d be the biggest thing I’ve grown in.”
The backup big man has now played in 55 NBA career-games while averaging 0.7 points on 37.6 percent shooting to go along with 1.0 rebound.
After just one day back of practicing with the Blazers, he isn’t sure how to feel.
I really don’t know what my reaction is. I’m still taking it in, like it’s different, but it’s the same, so it’s like I’ve been here before, but at a different time… It was good seeing the guys. Still seeing some familiar faces was nice to see. The coaching staff, of course, is the same, so that’s fun. -- Caleb Swanigan on being back in Portland
The 22-year-old isn’t ready to make any claims about this Blazers 2019-20 season.
“All you hear about is the injuries. So, it’s hard to really give them a judgment when you don’t know what guys they really had out there. I’ve been watching a little bit, but each game has been a different group of guys, so it’s hard to get a feel for what it is,” Swanigan said.
Just as Lillard mentioned the day the trade was reported, there could be a lot of opportunity for Swanigan, Biggie is ready to bring that same liveliness that Blazers fans fell in love with him during the 2017 Summer League Championship run.
Swanigan believes he can provide “energy, the same thing as before.”
After seeing Swanigan back in a Blazers practice jersey, there is one noticeable difference: Swanigan’s leaner stature.
He said he has lost “about 30 pounds” since he was last in a Trail Blazer uniform after changing his lifestyle to daily early workouts along with eating right.
As for Wenyen Gabriel, a lot of fans don’t know what to expect from the young fella.
Lillard wasn’t sure either.
“I didn’t know much about him, but you can tell he’s really talented,” Lillard said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s long, athletic, just raw, you can tell there’s a lot of ability there, so it’ll be interesting to see.”
Wednesday, Gabriel showed his excitement of making his way to Portland.
“When I find out it was Portland, I was pretty happy. I’m excited because there’s opportunity up here right now, and the fact that they wanted me involved in this trade, I felt like, you know, there was some value in that,” Gabriel said.
The 22-year-old went undrafted in 2018 after declaring for the NBA draft last summer following his sophomore season at Kentucky.
The former Wildcat says he hasn’t been informed of his role with the Blazers yet, but he’s going to make sure to stay ready.
“I’m just going to focus on what I can control right now and then just be ready to go out there and be ready to play tomorrow,” Gabriel said.
With all the injuries, Gabriel feels there is a real opportunity with this current roster.
“The type of player I am—I’m long and athletic. I can shoot the ball well so; I think I can help space the floor… Very versatile on defense and offense, so I think I bring a lot of different things to the table and we’ll see what the team needs from me,” Gabriel said.
The Massachusetts and New Hampshire native already knows a couple of the young Trail Blazers too.
Gabriel played against Gary Trent, Jr. in high school and said he knows Anfernee Simons through summer camps.
“To know some familiar faces out here, definitely helps the transition,” Gabriel said.
Of course, there are never any guarantees in the NBA, and for the two newest young players, it’s not for certain they will even see much of the court with the Blazers.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts offered up this about the young forwards, “With Caleb, he remembers a lot of the things that we did and, so I think for him – getting him on the court will be pretty easy… And, Wenyen is a young player and we’ll see where that goes.”
Thursday night will be the first time to see the new guys as the Trail Blazers host the Dallas Mavericks.