D-League prospects look for opportunity
Matt Rogers takes flight on media day. (NBAE/Getty Images)
Whether that turns out to be the case with the Pacers and their four training camp imports -- forwards Jarrid Famous, Tyren Johnson, Darnell Lazare and Matt Rogers -- remains to be seen but it appears their chances are much better than usual.
"Anything's possible," Coach Frank Vogel said. "When you catch somebody's eye, by the time we get done with camp I might say, 'You know what? That kid can play. We may need him.' As long as we have roster spots available there's always opportunity there."
Whether any roster openings are available could depend on future moves. At the moment, the Pacers have 17 players on the camp roster, including newly acquired veteran power forward David West. If they keep the full complement of 15, that means two of the D-League prospects could be included.
"They're all high-level D-League players and all of them have a chance to play in the league," Director of Scouting Ryan Carr said. "They're guys that we've been watching and tracking throughout their careers. As soon as we were able to reach out to agents, we got on the phone right away. We wanted to make sure we got guys we were really, really interested in and all four of these guys fit that.
"They're doing great, they're in great shape, they've been able to play and go through their training camps. The first few days, we're really pleased with what they've brought to camp. All of them are good and they have a chance."
A 6-11 forward-center from Southwest Baptist (Texas), Rogers was the first pick ever for the Texas Legends, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft -- one spot behind Magnum Rolle, the last player cut from the roster before last season began.
Rogers was on a few teams' draft boards until suffering a knee injury during his senior season and has been playing catch-up since. An agile and active big man with a decent shooting touch, Rogers has made a solid first impression on the Pacers.
"It was a long offseason," Rogers said. "I think every player felt that. But getting a few games under my belt in the D-League I think helps. I got to be coached by Del Harris, who's been around a long time and really knows the game, and so I've been able to learn from him. And just to be able to work a little of the rust off that players build up over the summer.
"Making an NBA roster is every player's dream and that's the opportunity that's been presented. I'm just here to take advantage of anything and everything I can to be able to make that roster."
Johnson, a 6-8 combo forward, was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year for Louisiana-Lafayette in 2009-10 when he averaged 17.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals. He was one of the standouts of the 2010 Portsmouth Invitational and went through summer league play with the Bobcats and Kings. When he didn't make an NBA roster, he headed overseas.
He chose to remain stateside this year, however, and was averaging 18.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before joining the Pacers' camp.
"I'm really just trying to fit in, to look like I'm an NBA player, to show them that I'm on their level," said Johnson. "I told my agent, I don't care about the payroll, my dream is to play in the NBA. That's why I didn't go back to Europe this year. I passed up a lot of deals because I wanted to play in the NBA."
Famous, an undrafted rookie free agent from South Florida, was off to a spectacular start with the Iowa Energy, averaging 21 points and 12.2 rebounds in his first six games. A rangy 6-11, 240-pounder, Famous has raw potential that intrigues the Pacers.
"Young big guys are always good to take a look at," Carr said. "They develop at different paces and you never know. Big guys especially are hard to figure out. If you're interested in them you have to make sure you follow them and keep track of their progress."
Lazare was entering his third D-League season and second in Fort Wayne when the Pacers called. The former LSU forward was averaging 19.3 points and 8.0 rebounds.
Of prime importance for these players is balancing the need to catch the coaching staff's eye while playing under control and showing they can fit in with the team concept.
"My coaches back home told me 'don't try to be a hero, play smart, do the things you do well and do them well and don't try to do things you're not made to do, just play your game,' " Rogers said.
The Pacers historically have not made use of the D-League but that could change this year. With a compressed schedule and a relatively short preseason to prepare, these prospects may just be able to fill a need. There's a reason, after all, at least 55 D-League players currently are on NBA training camp rosters.
"There's that aspect, there's guys that can't get out of contracts overseas, there's definitely openings for guys like me and other D-League guys," said Rogers. "We're just trying to take advantage of that."