Bringing in high character players and those charismatic locker room guys who easily fit in Blazers head coach Terry Stotts’ system, has been the main mission of how the Trail Blazers current roster is constructed and how it’s been constructed over the past few seasons. And it's been working.
Kent Bazemore is one such guy who fits the Blazers mold.
Moreover, Bazemore understands how he’ll fit in with Portland.
“The culture here is great. I’m here to continue moving the franchise in the right direction, that’s winning a championship. I watched them all last postseason, it’s like the first time you see your wife, it just fits your eye. I’m excited to be here and looking forward to getting after it,” Bazemore said at his introductory news conference on Wednesday.
In 2016, the Blazers were looking at Bazemore in free agency before he re-signed with his current team at the time, the Atlanta Hawks.
Three years later Portland got their man who can come in as a supportive role player both on and off the court.
“We’re really excited to have Kent here. His style of play is going to fit in perfectly,” Neil Olshey said on Wednesday.
Bazemore, the soon-to-be 30-year-old, is excited to play in front of the Trail Blazers fan base. He reminisced on how the Moda Center crowd was always rocking when he came in as an opponent.
“It’s just such a good environment. I think they understand the game of basketball,” Bazemore said of Trail Blazers fans.
And by the sounds of it, Rip City is going to be a big fan of Bazemore.
Even though Bazemore is ready to contribute on the offensive end, it’s his gritty defense that has gotten him where he is today.
He brought up PJ Tucker and Andre Iguodala and how – “they just stand in the background and do the dirty work,” and that’s what Bazemore is here in Portland to do.
“Not a lot of people like to do it, so if you do it well, you stand out,” Bazemore said with a smile. “It takes effort and I like making it easier on my teammates. If I can make it tough on other teams' best players, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Bazemore has had a long relationship with Damian Lillard since the two came into the league at the same time in 2012.
“[Dame’s] a mid-major guy, so is CJ [McCollum], and I am as well. I think we all have that kind of, that chip, he plays with an enormous chip on his shoulder and that’s something I would love to play for, go to battle with every night. He and CJ really are the best backcourt in all of basketball.”
“I think it’s a solid position for me to come in and do what I do best,” Bazemore added.
Coach Stotts believes Bazemore’s versatility will be key to the team’s success.
“I think the athleticism that he brings to the roster is important… Guys like Kent have a way of impacting games on their own, whether it’s defensively, or rebounding, or getting out in the lane or a timely three. I think he just fills a lot of those things that we are looking for at the offensive end.
“He’s going to find his way on the court and his going to be affective when he is there,” Stotts said with confidence.
Bazemore concurs with his new coach.
“I look at myself as a plug and play [guy]. I really don’t see myself missing a beat here. The style fits great. I just want to make the guys jobs easier, running the ball, slashing, getting back to what I was doing, running the lane. There’s not too many people that can keep up with that for a real long time,” Bazemore said.
The Trail Blazers culture and team chemistry, especially the supportive second unit, is something that Bazemore says can make you jealous of when you're on the outside looking in.
“It definitely makes you jealous. You’ve got the guys running off the bench, greeting their guys and you can see them locked in the entire game, cheering them on. That does a lot. My career first started on the bench with the Golden State Warriors, waving a towel the entire game. You see how it benefits your teammates,” Bazemore said.
Bazemore nodded his head in agreement with Olshey as the Blazers GM spoke on the stability and continuity of the roster.
“I’m a huge proponent of continuity. My first year in Atlanta we won 60 games, but then guys kind of trickled out after that you kind see the affects… It’s important to keep your guys around that have been around. You look at a team like Toronto, obviously, they made a big move bringing in Kawhi [Leonard], but a lot of those guys had already been there. Kyle Lowry was a staple. He was a leader and that team reflected that. So... Dame and CJ, you keep those guys here… Nurkic, he just came here, but he has fit in so perfectly. I think all those guys blend together and that alone will attract the right people to come,” Bazemore said.
It wasn’t just that Bazemore went undrafted in 2012, it was also persevering through his rookie season when he played just 4.4 minute per game in 61 games played.
“I was ranked 499 out of 500 [players] my rookie season by ESPN. There was a joke that was there: dead guys in front of me," Bazemore joked. “So you know, when you start in places like that and you work your way up, it’s almost like you’ve cracked some type of code."