Free agents face long odds
STATELINE – First-round draft picks Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were nowhere in sight.
But their excused absences didn’t seem to matter.
Former Nevada Wolf Pack star Kevinn Pinkney was only 30 feet away gathering in rebound after rebound. Onetime NBA “Enforcer” Maurice Lucas was doling out some of his aggressive secrets in the paint. And well after the Portland Trail Blazers’ practice ceased on Monday at Kahle Community Center, Martell Webster was demonstrating to youngsters what it takes to go straight from high school to the NBA.
Obviously, it was far from a typical summer day at Kahle, with the Trail Blazers using the indoor facilities meant for local customers.
“It’s a great facility,” Webster said. “We get here and run. They’ve got enough hoops. They have the lifting area upstairs. It’s all compact and it’s a great package.”
The Trail Blazers spent most of Monday morning’s practice session focusing on their half-court motion offense and combatting high-post screens. Rookies Roy and Aldridge, who were acquired by the Blazers via draft-day trades, have not yet been signed and didn’t participate in Monday’s practice.
The dozen free agents and rookies who have joined several Blazers’ veterans for the four-day primer for the Las Vegas Summer League have about as much chance of making the team as Pee Wee Herman has of becoming Hollywood’s leading man.
“It’s a long shot to make this league if you are not drafted in the first round,” said Blazers’ assistant Dean Demopoulos, who ran most of the practice while coach Nate McMillan tended to business away from the camp. “It’s the best basketball in the world, bar none.”
Lucas, a four-time NBA All-Star, said the camp is more about developing existing players with the team.
“It’s only an opportunity,” said Lucas, a second-year assistant. “This game is about fits, and what a particular team needs. We’re trying to raise and mature Martell and Travis (Outlaw), guys who have long-term contracts, and make sure they have an opportunity to play a lot. The other guys are fill-in guys and we take a look at them, and every now and then you’ll see a guy who sparks your eye and then you have to take another look at him and bring him back to training camp and see how he plays against all of the big boys.”
Only a Blazers’ camp in Reno could have been more ideal for Pinkney.
“When they called me to come up to Reno, I was already in Reno, so I just had to get a ride up here,” Pinkney said.
Pinkney, the winningest player in Pack history, is trying to leap from the European leagues to the NBA. He struggled during a four-month stint in France before rebounding in a 2006 Polish league.
Since Pinkney last played for the Pack in 2005, he said his flexibility, shooting range and leaping ability have all improved.
“I’m trying to get the three-four (positions), but whatever they want I’ll play that position,” Pinkney said. “My whole goal this year is to go to training camp with somebody.”
Lucas lighted up when asked about Pinkney following practice.
“We’re looking for somebody to play behind Zach (Randolph). Someone who will do some rebounding for us, block some shots, and he’s got some skills in that area,” Lucas said.
The players only need to look to Lucas for inspiration. The second-year assistant had a distinguished NBA career and was part of Portland’s only championship team in 1977.
“I’ve been around the game a long time and I understand what some of the younger guys are going through,” Lucas said. “I also understand the pressure of trying out for a team. You have to be little lenient here, a little lenient there, but you’ve got to push them to the max.”
Webster was taking little solace in his second-year status with the franchise, staying well after the other players caught a ride back to Harveys Resort & Casino in Stateline.
“(The offseason) that’s when the great ones get great,” said the former Seattle Prep (Wash.) star. “My grandma always told me, ‘If you’re not out there doing it, someone else is.’
“I don’t want to have regrets, so I make sure I get my time in the gym, get my lifting in, so I can become an elite player.”
The camp concludes today with a pair of short, closed practices. Kahle is closed to the public because of the holiday. The Trail Blazers will open Summer League play on Thursday morning in Las Vegas.
Blazers notes: Lucas put off his coaching career until his final child finished high school. “I gave my kids a chance to grow up with me, and I had an opportunity to go to all of their games and events.” … Lucas’ son, David, who was an All-Pac-10 player at Oregon State, just finished his first professional season in Portugal. … Lucas last visited the South Shore in the early 1990s when the Trail Blazers put together a fantasy camp for fans so they could spend a week with the 1976-77 championship team. “It’s bigger than I remember: more people, more hotels. But the lake is as beautiful as ever,” he said. … Kahle Recreation Specialist said customers have had unique experiences the past few days. “On Monday the guards were up lifting with our customers and this morning the forwards and centers were lifting with our customers. That’s what we like to bring to Kahle – it speaks for itself, a community center,” Davis said.
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