New Additions Will 'Probably Be The Starters' At The Forward Positions
Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts is generally loathe to reveal who is going to be in his starting lineup. His refusal doesn’t necessarily stop media from asking -- after all, that is part of the job -- but those who cover the team regularly know that if you’re curious to find out which five players will start on any given night, you’ll have to get that information from a player or wait around until lineups are submitted some time close to tipoff.
But every now and then, Stotts breaks his self-imposed protocol to tip his own starting hand, as he did during his first NBA “media week” interview Tuesday afternoon from the team’s practice facility in Tualatin.
Stotts, entering his ninth season as Portland’s head coach, said Robert Covington, acquired via trade this offseason from Houston, and Derrick Jones Jr., signed as a free agent last week after spending the last two season with the Miami Heat, are currently the favorites to start at the forward positions as the team prepares for the start of the regular season in late-December.
“I think Robert and Derrick will probably be the starters and we’ll go from there,” said Stotts. “Rodney (Hood) is coming off the injury so he might be on some restrictions going into the season. So I think coming into this, that’s kind of what we’re looking at.”
While most have assumed that Covington would get the start at power forward -- he started in all but four of his appearances since the 2016-17 season and Zach Collins, who was the Opening Night starter at power forward last season, is likely out until January after undergoing surgery on a fractured left ankle in the offseason -- Carmelo Anthony, who also re-signed as a free agent this offseason, started all 58 of his career games thus far in Portland. And considering how well he comported himself, especially during the Trail Blazers’ run in the Orlando bubble, questions persisted about his willingness to come off the bench.
“We have a conversation obviously before (Anthony) signed here, most likely he’ll be coming off the bench,” said Stotts. Melo is great, whether he starts or doesn’t start, there’s a good chance that he finishes games. We’ve said this before: it’s not who starts, it’s who finishes. I think Melo is in a good place and he understands his role on the team.”
But while only a few of Anthony’s most vociferous supporters has argued for his starting over Covington, there’s been considerable debate around who would get the call at small forward. As of right now, with three weeks to go before the start of the regular season, that honor belongs to Jones Jr.
The 6-6 forward entering his fifth season out of UNLV has started in 46 of his 171 games in the NBA thus far. He started 30 of his 119 appearances with the Heat over the last two seasons, and while he might not be the level of shooter as the other options, his athleticism and defensive prowess makes him arguably a better fit playing alongside Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić.
Hood, who also signed a free agent contract this offseason to stay in Portland for the next two seasons, has started 25 of his 48 regular-season appearances with the Trail Blazers, but the next game he plays will be his first since rupturing his left Achilles tendon in a game versus the Lakers on December 11, 2019. He’ll undoubtably play an important role regardless -- his arrival from Cleveland at the 2019 trade deadline was one of the main contributors to the Trail Blazers’ run to the Western Conference Finals -- but the team is likely to take their time working him back into the rotation coming off one of the most serious injuries an athlete can endure.
Gary Trent Jr, who had a coming out party of sorts in the Orlando bubble, has also been considered an option. The 6-5 wing entering his third year out of Duke averaged 8.9 points on 44 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent shooting from three while differentiating himself as one of the team’s best defenders last season is assured to be in Portland’s long-term plans, even if he’ll start the season as a reserve.
While Stotts said Tuesday afternoon that Covington and Jones Jr. would likely begin the season as starters, training camp has yet to officially begin and there’s still a considerable amount of time before the start of the season, so nothing being contemplated as of his moment is set in stone. And especially considering how thin the Trail Blazers were at both forward positions last season, having a number of great options this time around, rather than relying on in-season signings, is certainly a welcomed change.