Portland Trail Blazers Summer League Preview

What to watch for as the Trail Blazers take on the NBA Las Vegas Summer League.

The Portland Trail Blazers begin to play in the Las Vegas NBA Summer League on July 8th. The roster assembled is rather intriguing, including a slew of former first round picks and familiar faces mixed in with players from Portland's roster.

The Roster

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Birthdate Last Played NBA Years
37 Jordan Adams G 6'5" 209 7/8/94 Memphis Grizzlies 1
34 Keith Benson C 6'11" 240 8/13/88 Sioux Falls (G-League) 1
26 Markel Brown G 6'3" 190 1/29/92 Khimki (Russia) 2
44 Antonius Cleveland G 6'6" 195 2/2/94 Southeast Missouri R
33 Zach Collins C 7' 230 11/19/97 Gonzaga R
5 Pat Connaughton G 6'5" 210 1/6/93 Trail Blazers 2
24 DeAndre Daniels F 6'9" 196 4/15/92 Dinamica Mantova (Italy) R
2 Jorge Gutiérrez G 6'3" 195 12/27/88 Trabzonspor (Turkey) 4
28 R.J. Hunter G 6'5" 185 10/24/93 Long Island (G-League) 1
31 Nick Johnson G 6'3" 200 12/22/92 Bayern Munich (Germany 1
10 Jake Layman F 6'9" 210 3/7/94 Trail Blazers 1
9 Patrick Miller G 6'1" 200 5/22/93 Sioux Falls (G-League) R
16 Josh Scott F 6'10" 245 7/13/93 MZT Skopje (Macedonia) R
50 Caleb Swanigan F 6'9" 249 4/18/97 Purdue R

The Schedule

Saturday, July 8 | vs. Utah -- 3:00 PM, Cox Pavilion (ESPNU)

Sunday, July 9 | vs. Boston -- 5:30 PM, Thomas & Mack Center (ESPN2)

Tuesday, July 11 | vs. San Antonio -- 1:00 PM, Cox Pavilion (NBA TV)

Tournament play will begin after pool play has completed. Rest of schedule TBD

What to watch for

Debuts of Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan

Portland traded up with Sacremento to the 10th overall pick to select Collins out of Gonzaga. While the Blazers front office has been downright giddy, the draft pick has been met by the fan base with somewhat mixed emotions. Collins is often criticized for his lack of polish and there are questions if he is ready to contribute to an NBA team. Those questions should not matter in this setting as getting minutes and acclimated to the system are more important this time of the year.

Swanigan, on the other hand, appears to be a bit of a reincarnation of former Blazer Zach Randolph. Swanigan is even buying into these references by choosing to wear Randolph's former number. Swanigan is a guy you can root for, overcoming both childhood obesity and being homeless as a teen to being a finalist for the College National Player of the year and leading the nation in double-doubles. One of the more physically imposing players in the draft brings a unique blend of traits. Like a bruising bodyguard with a dancers feet and finesse. Collins' ceiling is undoubtedly higher, but Collins might be more ready this very minute to bang on an NBA frontline.

Both players are the highlight of the summer league roster and all eyes will be on them. Labeled as building blocks for the future, fans in Rip City will want them to contribute now. Both players are rumored to be considered to start alongside Jusef Nurkic in the Blazers frontcourt, so while they are both young (Collins is just 19 years old) and entering their rookie years, expectations are high. Summer League is often a mishmash of players who will be great and ones that will end up playing overseas. Collins and Swanigan will both be expected to dominate, or at least be productive.

Can Layman and Connaughton set up?

While the rest of the NBA has been going wild the past few days with Free Agency and trades Portland hasn't even been mentioned. Being deep into the luxury tax threshold has limited what the Blazers can do this offseason, and while a trade may still come, and the do have the Tax-Payers Exception to use of they choose to sign a player, the latter option is unlikely. Using this provision would result in them being "Hard-Capped" for the year, meaning they wouldn't be able to add anyone to the roster. No veterans-minimums, no 10-Day contracts, nothing at all. That doesn't provide much flexibility.

If Layman and Connaughton can make the most of their playing time this could ease the minds of the Portland coaching staff that maybe a roster improvement is already in house. Both players entered the rotation at points last season and showed flashes of being able to contribute at a high level. Showing out in Vegas is especially important for Connaughton, who's contract is the only one of the Blazers roster that is not guaranteed for the upcoming season. Both players have something to prove and have been in Portland working out so far this summer.

Can one of these guys sneak into training camp?

General Manager Neil Olshey is known as a bit of a dumpster diver, finding value in players that have been cast off (See Moe Harkless & Shabazz Napier etc.) The summer league roster is full of these guys, and there's a chance that if the Blazers make a salary dump type trade, that one or more of them could end up in training camp, or further.

RJ Hunter: Former first-round pick of the Celtics, was squeezed out at training camp in a roster crunch and ended up with the Bulls for a few games. Played most of the season in the now G-League. He will start at point guard for the Blazers in Vegas and is absolutely worth an extended look. 

Jordan Adams: First round pick that played two seasons for the Memphis Grizzlies. Knee surgeries have derailed his career a bit, the most recent having cartilage totally replace in his right knee. If he can get back to a shadow of his former self Adams is intriguing, know for being an efficient scorer with a smooth shooting stroke. 

Nick Johnson: The former Arizona star played 28 games for the Rockets in 2014, and has been overseas since. 

Markel Brown: Brown is SUPER athletic and played two seasons for a terrible Nets squad. He could have a few scheduling conflicts as he also plays for Michael Rapaport's Stickmen team in the Two-Million winner-take-all "The Basketball Tournament."

Jorge Gutierrez: Has been in and out of the league since 2013 signing multiple 10-Day contracts with three separate teams. Gutierrez appears good enough to be around, but not quite good enough to stick around. 

Two-Way Contract Candidates

As noted in a previous piece, Two-Contracts have an interesting impact on the Blazers by not having their own G-League team. Still, two-way contracts don't count against the salary cap, so Portland could add some depth without a lot of risk. Antonius Cleveland seems like the most likely candidate. He was popular on the pre-draft workout circuit and seems to be valued by other teams around the league. Josh Scott was once a top recruit in college and has the size and athletic ability the Blazers crave. Keith Benson is a G-League mainstay who's been close to getting a few 10-day deals in recent years. It should be no surprise if any combination of this three ends up on a two-way contract. 

Summer League may not have much of an impact on the regular season but it may provide some insight as to how they approach the remainder of the offseason. They will be entertaining to watch at the very least. 

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