A Fresh Start For Everyone On The First Day Of Training Camp

by Casey Holdahl
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Players might not necessarily look forward to training camp, but they’re generally excited once it gets underway. The conditioning can be tough, even with players in the modern NBA generally staying in good-if-not-great shape year round, and participating in two-a-days doesn’t leave much time to do more than rest before returning to practice, but the renewed optimism that comes with the start of a new season usually makes those annoyances much easier to bear.

And this year, with an entirely new coaching staff led by first-year head coach Chauncey Billups, eight new players -- some already under contract, others playing for one -- and most of the COVID protocols that were in place last year rendered unnecessary by the entire team being vaccinated, the excitement at the Trail Blazers’ first day of camp seemed palpable.

"I thought it was good. Guys came out, competed really hard," said Billups, who led his first official practice as an NBA head coach Tuesday morning in Tualatin. "Training camp, I know as a player, I hated training camp. It was just so tough. You work your behind off all summer and you get in and get your butt kicked."

A number of veteran players, a number of whom had never participated in an NBA training camp run by someone other than Terry Stotts, noted a different sense of enthusiasm at Tuesday's practice. They didn’t say it was better or worse -- it’s hard to derive any conclusion from one day of practice -- just the fact that it was new to everybody, no matter how long they’ve been on the team, added to the interest and camaraderie.

“It was different having a whole different staff. Usually I come in here, I know exactly what we’re gonna do, I could probably put the practice plan together,” said Damian Lillard. “But this is the first time that I was just kinda like ‘what’s next?’ It was fresh. Obviously everybody had a little bit of rust, it was a little bit sloppy when we went live but everybody went hard. It was a good first day back.”

And for the players hoping to expand their roles this season, Tuesday’s practice was the first official opportunity to prove they can do more than previously thought.

“It was great, been looking forward to that,” said Jusuf Nurkic. “Guys were really competing. You can tell new energy, new fresh start for everybody I feel. I think it was a great first practice.”

While most coaches tend to tinker a bit with preexisting sets and schemes at the start of a new season, the Trail Blazers under Billups are undergoing wholesale changes on both sides of the ball. That’s not to say the players are starting from scratch, but when you render the institution knowledge one attains from playing for the same coach for nearly a decade moot, it does require a different level of attention.

“It’s a new start,” said Lillard. “Sometimes when you haven’t been a part of a new start and then it comes, you like ‘this is new.’ For guys that didn’t play a lot of minutes they’re looking around like this is my opportunity to show that I can help the team more than I did in the past. And for us, we learning a new offense, we’re learning new terminology, things like that. So it’s given us more of a reason to be engaged or more engaged than we would be usually coming in here like ‘alright, we’re gonna run Thumb, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that.’ It’s been different in that way. I think it’s been a different level of energy because it requires us to be a little more engaged.”

Billups echoed both Lillard and Nurkic’s sentiment that the first day of training camp was replete with quality energy and enthusiasm, though he also noted there was room for improvement. Holding players accountable has been an emphasis for Billups during his first days as the head coach, so while he was generally happy with his team’s performance on the first day, he did point out that it was hardly perfect.

“I thought the dudes really got after it, paying attention to details,” said Billups. “I think that’s one of the things for us this year is we’ve got to be kind of locked in to detail things. Angles on screens, angles on when we’re the ball handler, timing of passes. And we went through it early on and then when we started playing live you could tell that they didn’t pay attention to that. So we’ll do a little bit more of that stuff tonight.”

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