Jim Moran

Trent Jr. looking to crack rotation, coach Moran looking for Trent to improve on defense

Trent Jr. looking to crack rotation, coach Moran looking for Trent to improve on defense

A group text message quickly became a place to bond for the summer Trail Blazers.

This year, all eyes were on second-year player Anfeernee Simons, who was just named to NBA Summer League second-team. But when Simons suffered a sprained ankle in the final seconds of the Blazers’ third game and missed the rest of the tournament, the focus shifted to second-year player Gary Trent Jr.

The 20-year-old quickly picked up the slack with Simons out and he made sure the team camaraderie was strong.  

Portland finished Las Vegas Summer League play by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 99-84 on Friday night. Trent Jr. led the way with 28 points and eight rebounds, as the Blazers wrapped up Summer League with a 2-3 record.

The overall record may not have shown how close-knit the Blazers summer squad became in such a short period of time.

“It was a great Summer League team. The way they put the team together. It was great. In the Summer League group chat we have, everybody was joking… You could tell we gelled together quick, just it couldn’t translate on the court, but it was still fun, it was great to meet those guys,” Trent Jr. said.

The Blazers shooting guard not only took charge off the court, but he also averaged 28.4 points on 41% shooting from the field to go along with 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Portland’s Summer League head coach, Jim Moran spent a majority of Trent Jr.’s rookie season working with him day in and day out.

Coach Moran is eager for Trent Jr. to make a leap on the defensive end.  

“I work with Gary every day, so he had 28 tonight, but I look at the defensive stuff. So, for me when I watch the film I’m going to be focused more on the defensive mistakes,” Moran said.

“I know he’s a scorer, I know he can shoot, he’s a talented player, but I think as a coach you’ve just gotta keep working on their weakness and I think right now just getting him to buy in more on the defensive end... But, I’m happy for him. He had some good games out here,” Moran added.  

Coach Moran knows Ternt Jr.’s defensive mindset is a working progress. Right now it’s all about repetition for the young Blazer. 

“Every time I go to talk to him about defense, he’s shaking his head going, ‘I know, I know,’ so we’re on the same page about it, it’s just a matter of committing to it every day,” Moran said with a smile.

“The opportunity to lead and just play,” Trent Jr. said was the biggest positive takeaway for him personally. “All last year, I didn’t really play that much, so just getting the opportunity to get on the floor, get up and down, being able to get a foul, being able to knock down a jump shot, it’s a great feeling."

It was evident by watching all five games played in Las Vegas that the game has slowed down for the Blazers shooting guard.

“Just being patient, I know where to get on the spot where I can get my shot off within the offense. I know the plays pretty well now, so just… be patient, let the game come to me,” Trent Jr. said.

As the son of former Trail Blazer Gary Trent Sr. now sets his sights on cracking the rotation for the 2019-20 season with the Blazers, he knows he must have an impressive training camp in the fall and make sure to “control” what he can on and of the floor.

“Really just control, what I can control. Just continue to work, if the opportunity comes I’ll be ready,” Trent Jr. said.

2-way contract player Jaylen Hoard finding his way on Trail Blazers summer squad

2-way contract player Jaylen Hoard finding his way on Trail Blazers summer squad

LAS VEGAS – Thursday marked the fourth Summer League game for the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a hard-fought game between the Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Portland was down by as many as 14 points, but despite their fight back mentality, the Blazers were unable to complete the comeback. Portland drops to 1-3 after losing to OKC, 92-87.

The Blazers were undermanned with point guard Anfernee Simons out due to a right ankle injury and rookie forward Nassir Little going down in the first quarter with a left shoulder injury. Little did not return to action.

With Little out, forward Jaylen Hoard was given more of an opportunity. Hoard has been showcasing his aggressiveness on both ends through the Blazers’ first four games in Vegas.

Hoard signed a two-way contract with the Blazers after going undrafted out of Wake Forest.

Blazers assistant coach, and Summer League head coach, Jim Moran has been very pleased with Hoard’s defensive effort.

“Jaylen’s been really good. I think he’s unique defensively because he can switch multiple positions,” Moran said.

“We’re still trying to get him to be more aggressive on the defensive end. And, offensively… just trying to figure out where he fits in the offense, where he’s gonna get us plays. But I’ve been happy with his overall effort for the last four games,” Moran added.

The 20-year-old led the Demon Deacons in rebounding and ranked second in scoring during his freshman 2018-19 season. He finished the year averaging 13.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 31 games. He also recorded seven double-doubles.

Hoard is all about bringing the energy.

“I feel like I’ve been doing pretty good. I just come out there give energy, rebound hard and just control what I can control which is playing hard,” Hoard said.

“Hoard was also very complimentary of his teammates, saying, “We’ve fought really hard through these past few games. Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted… We’ve played great defense and we’ve really tried to compete as hard as we can.”

[RELATED]: Jaylen Hoard brings versatility to the table

Through his first three Summer League games, Hoard averaged 8.3 points on 58 percent shooting from the field.  

The Blazers small forward admitted there are a couple of big differences from his college ball days to playing against NBA caliber players.

“Guys are much more athletic, quick, fast, you really have to be able to be real conditioned and get up and down a lot,” Hoard said.

[RELATED]: Jaylen Hoard ready to pour his heart out with Trail Blazers

In Thursday’s loss to OKC, second year player Gary Trent Jr. led the way with 22 points.

Trent Jr. has been pleased with the rookie’s performance so far.

“He’s been great,” Trent Jr. said of Hoard. “When he first got here, I really didn’t know too much about him. I know he works hard and he plays every possession. So, he has a bright future if he just stays with it, continues to work hard he’ll be successful,” Trent Jr. said.

Hoard and the rest of the Blazers Summer League squad will play a consolation game on either Friday or Saturday. The schedule will be set late Thursday night.  

Anfernee Simons gets 35 points and an injured ankle in summer-league loss

Anfernee Simons gets 35 points and an injured ankle in summer-league loss

LAS VEGAS – Everything was going very well for Anfernee Simons Tuesday night in Cox Pavilion. He was leading the Portland Trail Blazers in scoring with 35 points in 25 minutes, hitting six of his seven shots, and had the ball in his hands with a couple of seconds to go and his team trailing Utah by a basket. He was in position to tie the game.

But instead, he ended up in a prone position, under the Portland basket after slipping on the way to the rim on an attempt to hit a game-tying dunk or layup.

And with Simons flat on the floor, surrounded by coaches, players and trainers, that was a lot more important than the final score. The second-year guard suffered an ankle injury but was headed for further examination and unavailable for comment.

The injury was not believed serious but there was nothing official at the time of this writing.

The Trail Blazers lost the game 97-93, but Simons was the story – as he’s supposed to be. He’s being counted on to be a rotation player for Portland this season after seeing little action last year. He showed off a lot of his arsenal against the Jazz, hitting six of his seven three-point shots, 13-18 overall, and scoring on drives, a dunk off a lob and assorted other attempts.

“I thought he played really well,” summer league coach Jim Moran said. “I took him out in the first quarter and I probably should have let him go the whole quarter. I still want him to be more assertive and more vocal. Running the team, he needs to be more communicative. But overall, I think he had a really good game.”

Gary Trent Jr., coming off a game when he made seven of his eight three-point goals, saw things even out a bit, hitting 4-15 overall and 2-7 from three for 12 points.

The Blazers’ first-round pick, Nassir Little, made two of seven shots, 0-4 from three-point range and scored four points, with his college coach, Roy Williams looking on from a seat near the Portland bench.

“He’s the most explosive player I’ve ever coached,” Williams said during a halftime interview.

 

When Gary Trent Jr. hits a couple in a row, "It's all over." And it was

When Gary Trent Jr. hits a couple in a row, "It's all over." And it was

LAS VEGAS – Anfernee Simons, who has spent untold hours alongside Gary Trent Jr. in gymnasiums getting up hundreds and hundreds of shots, knows what happens when Trent gets in a groove.

“When Gary hits a couple in a row, it’s over,” Simons said with a smile.

And it was over early Sunday night and Trent hit more than two in a row.

Trent hit all six of his three-point shots in the first half, made 10 of his 12 shots from the field in Cox Pavilion and seven of his eight three-point shots during Portland’s 97-87 win over the Houston Rockets in Summer League play. When the smoke cleared, the second-year guard had scored 31 points in 25:02, along with six rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in a spectacular performance.

“We just tried to get him the ball and let him go,” said Simons, who had a solid shooting night himself, hitting 6-11 and 4-6 from long distance.

Trent is refreshingly honest about where he is and where he wants to be.

When told what Simons said, Trent offered, “I would like to think that. Me and him work countless hours in the gym with the coaches, just working on our jumpers day in and day out. When it’s time to showcase it and prove it, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Trent spent time in the G-League last season and it was about the only extended playing time he got during his rookie season. With the depth the Blazers had at guard, he was at the back of the line. And when you’re behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum it’s like going to graduate school for basketball. You better get your homework done.

“I’m not going to lie at all, it was tough,” Trent said. “First time in my life not playing at all, for a while. It was great people and fun to me, that I was learning from them, watching them day in and day out, everything they do – how they work, how they stay after, how they eat. I watched every single thing they do. It makes you work even harder, it makes you more hungry. So, I’m just going to continue to work.”

Both Trent and Simons have continually been asked what they’re working on in summer league and both give just about the same answer.

“I’m working on everything,” Trent said. “I’m not a finished product. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, so I’ve got to continue to work on my all-around game – my dribbling, my shooting, my mindset to the game, my playmaking. Everything.”

Trent and Simons did not play well in the team’s 20-point loss Saturday and the two combined to go 8-26 from the floor. Summer League Coach Jim Moran said he went over a tape of the game with the pair and challenged them to take more leadership.

And it worked.

“We had to pick it up,” Trent said. “Coach Jim Moran said that as well. Pick it up at the offensive end and the defensive end, if we want to win. And that’s what we did tonight.

“I think we bounced back pretty well.”

The team gets Monday off before getting back in action Tuesday.

Trail Blazer summer league team struggles in opener vs. Detroit

Trail Blazer summer league team struggles in opener vs. Detroit

LAS VEGAS – The defending-champion Trail Blazers’ summer league team got off to a rocky start Saturday afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Blazers were outscored 25-16 in the fourth quarter and dropped a 93-73 decision to the Detroit Pistons.

Portland made just 24 of 70 shots from the floor, including a 5-for-20 effort from three-point range. Meanwhile the Pistons went 15-41 from three.

“It was tough,” said Portland assistant coach Jim Moran, who is in charge of the summer leaguers. “Very tough. I was a little disappointed. We had a really good week of practice and then that game did not resemble what we did. It was frustrating.

“They were hitting threes early but they weren’t contested threes. We dug ourselves a hole early and then had to give up so much energy to get back in the game. I thought ‘Ant” (Anfernee Simons) was good in the first half. We were a little sloppy. We had some possessions when we really guarded, which was encouraging. I think for Ant and Gary (Trent Jr.) being veteran guys, they’re going to have to be more vocal. And it’s hard – they’re second-year guys. They have to learn that and grow into it."

Simons scored 15 to lead the Blazers, but had only one assist and three rebounds. Trent scored 10 on 3-12 shooting and Devin Robinson added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Blazers are back in action Sunday at 7 p.m. in Cox Pavilion vs. Houston.

“I’m expecting us to be much better,’ Moran said, “I’m expecting us to guard, not give up open threes, keep the ball out of the middle. There were some positive things and hopefully we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

Lillard's trust in his teammates is the difference-maker for Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Trail Blazers, heading into tonight’s Game 3 vs. Oklahoma City, have been playing as well together as they have over the past several seasons. Different players are stepping up to help Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum like never before. This team is connected – at both ends of the floor.

And it all started at one of the low points of the season. The foundation for the team’s current play was built during adversity. Dark days.

McCollum went down with a knee injury during a game at San Antonio March 16. And nobody was quite sure how quickly he would return. Jusuf Nurkic would be lost for the season with a broken leg March 27. What appeared to be a season when the Trail Blazers could make a run at the conference finals, people suddenly questioned their ability even to make the playoffs.

Just how many points per game would Damian Lillard need to score per game to get this team on the winning track and into a decent playoff seed? Forty points? Fifty?

Turns out that approach wasn’t the right direction. Lillard had a better idea.

“I go back to those first three games when CJ was out,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Before Nurk got hurt, but CJ was out. Those three games where he averaged 30 points and double-digit assists – being very efficient scoring the ball and setting up his teammates.

“I think that really set the tone for the rest of the season.

“Damian is very astute. Now he’s been in the league -- this is his seventh year -- I think he’s learned a lot. So I think he understood the dynamics.

“It’s not to say he wasn’t trying to score – we need him to score. But his understanding of the game and its dynamics had a lot to do with it.”

Lillard knows he’s progressed over time and those who have watched his career develop are aware of it. But the world may not understand how deep his intellectual approach to the game has become.

Maybe a few years ago, well...

“I would have taken it upon myself to try to have more big games,” Lillard said. “But I think it’s part of experience, learning and watching film and having a coaching staff that challenges you.

“Like now, when Nate Tibbetts mentions something to me like ‘Hey, I want to show you these clips. I want to talk about this.’ And we talk about it and so OK, I understand that.

“Dave Vanterpool says, ‘Dame, I need you to look at this.’ And Jim Moran says, ‘Dame, look at this.’ Dale Osbourne …they’ve all come to me and that has helped me advance my game as a point guard – mentally, and to know how to manage things better.

“Playing for a good staff, I went into that situation thinking, ‘I need to try to help my guys, where I can put them in a position to do what they do best, instead of me taking it upon myself.’

“And that will make us a better team in the bigger picture. And it will work out better for us. With Nurk and CJ out, it will work out better for us. And it was a perfect situation.

“That’s just what it had to be. If it came to where we weren’t going to win the game, my mentality was, if we get to the fourth quarter and we’re not scoring, then take it upon yourself.”

It’s all about trust – such an underrated ingredient in a team’s success. And Lillard gets it.

“Guys are capable,” he said. “Allow them to do what they do. Because they know the opportunity is going to be there.”

And they know their leader, Damian Lillard, trusts them.

“Exactly,” he said. ”That’s all the difference in the world.”

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Credit Blazer coaching staff with a great job this summer

Moving forward, I'm not sure we can draw any conclusions about how much value -- if any -- Portland's summer-league championship will bring to the franchise moving forward. But I can say one thing for sure: it's a great tribute to the Portland coaching staff.

For the second summer in a row, the Trail Blazers assembled a roster of players who came together at both ends of the court. This year's championship team dominated every team it played and offensive execution and defensive aggression were a big part of that. And that is coaching. Head coach Jim Moran does a great job with his teams but the credit doesn't stop there. The entire Trail Blazer coaching staff -- Nate Tibbetts, David Vanterpool, Dale Osbourne and John McCullough -- contributes to the summer-league effort and these guys get only three or four days to organize and coach their squad before its first game.

And somehow, they create a solid team in a very short amount of time that plays the game hard and plays it right.

And it must also be pointed out that Neil Olshey has provided his young players a great chance to learn and improve by surrounding them in summer league with unselfish journeymen veterans who know how to play. This season it was K.J. McDaniels, Archie Goodwin and John Jenkins -- solid vets playing to land a job in the NBA or overseas -- combining with experienced Portland players Jake Layman and Wade Baldwin IV to give the youngsters a chance to succeed.

Time to say a few things about individual players who suited up for Portland's summer unit:

  • Anfernee Simons -- Way better than I expected him to be. Not intimidated and very obviously talented.
  • Gary Trent Jr. -- A pro shooter. He knows where he wants to get his shots and how to get them.
  • Wade Baldwin IV -- A legit NBA player who continues to improve. He's defending people well enough to get them mentally off their game. Man, does he need help at the foul line, though.
  • Jake Layman -- If he can bring that offensive confidence and jump shot into training camp, he's going to get rotation minutes this season.
  • Caleb Swanigan -- I'm never sure of what to expect from him. He has NBA rebounding and passing skills but struggles when playing against size.
  • Zach Collins -- He's coming along fast as a defender but would love to see him be able to consistently make shots.

In summary, you can make whatever summer-league victory parade and championship-ring jokes you want, but winning is fun no matter where you do it. And very often a lot or work behind the scenes goes into the effort.

 

 

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 finalize coaching staff

Trail Blazers finalize coaching staff

The Portland Trail Blazers have finalized their coaching staff for the 2016-17 season, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

Assistant coach Dale Osbourne has been promoted to the front of the bench, and John McCullough has joined the coaching staff after spending the previous four seasons as the team’s advance scout.

Osbourne, entering his fifth year as an assistant, returns to head coach Terry Stotts’ staff along with David Vanterpool (fifth season), Nate Tibbetts (fourth season) and Jim Moran (second season).