Playing time, most basketball coaches will tell you, is a meritocracy. You earn your time on the court -- through your production in games and practice. And with your experience. And your attitude.
I’m never sure. I can go all the way through my experience covering sports at all levels and ruminate over all the times when I wondered why a certain player was used ahead of another. Why some were relegated to the bench and others weren’t.
Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts said Tuesday that with his team, playing time is a meritocracy -- those who play the best get the minutes.
But Stotts has a lot of talented players who could make the case for deserving minutes. Somehow he has to ration that time on the court.
I trust coaches -- some more than others -- to make those personnel decisions. After all, they know the sport, and their players, better than I do.
But I still think it’s permissible to ask questions about such things. And I’m always curious -- because it varies from coach to coach -- what is the criteria for those decisions?
Do veterans get a break? How much does a career-long body of good work compare to a red-hot streak of several games? How much of it is attitude? Do some players get more time on the court because the coach knows if they don’t, they will become a problem?
I have even seen players be given starting roles because they convinced their coach they couldn’t be effective playing off the bench -- which always seemed to me to be some form of extortion.
How long does a young player need to wait to get his chance?
I learned something a long time ago -- maybe all the way back to when I was playing sports:
You don’t get better, you don’t improve, you don’t develop, by NOT playing.
And let’s get real now, Carmelo Anthony is back with the team after missing a game. Is there a possibility that Anthony will lose minutes -- he has not been effective in the two games he’s played -- to Trent, or someone else, when the Trail Blazers take on the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night?
Particularly when Monday night’s big win over the Lakers came with Trent playing a huge part, outscoring the Los Angeles bench by himself?
Does that one game mean anything? Does Trent’s performance in that sixth-man role going back to the bubble last summer earn him consideration for being that first man into the game off the bench?
Again, I know one thing -- playing six minutes one game and then almost 24 in the next one -- isn’t conducive to a player’s comfort or development. Consistent minutes often mean consistent play. Inconsistent minutes lead to mental and physical ups and downs.
“We've got a really good bench and Gary had a good game last night,” Stotts said. “And so did Enes Kantor. No one really talked about the game that he had off the bench. Melo certainly can have a game off the bench. Rodney Hood can have a game off the bench.
“As people like to say, it's a good problem to have. But that's the sort of thing that we will see during the season.”
Does Anthony get a little more time to adjust to his role because of what he did in Portland last season and throughout a Hall of Fame career?
“I mean, he's certainly earned that, not only throughout his career, but with us last year,” Stotts said. “So yeah, he's earned that right.”
Trent played 23:43 in the win over the Lakers and scored 28 points on 14 shots. Stotts used only a nine-man rotation and would find more time by using 10 players, but then the question would remain -- whose minutes would he take?
How will Stotts make time for Trent?
“We’ll see,” he said.