New Guards Find Their Way During First Summer League Practice

by Casey Holdahl
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While many fans have devoted considerable interest over the past week to the NBA's off-court drama (and rightfully so), the Portland Trail Blazers, or at least some of them, returned to the court at their practice facility Tuesday morning for their first 2018 Las Vegas Summer League practice. It's certainly not the first time members of the team have taken to the court since being eliminated in the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, though it was the first time since late April that they took the court with something tangible to prepare for.

But while equaling or surpassing their second-place performance at the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League would be nice, the goal, as is usually the case in exhibition play, is more about improving than winning.

For Wade Baldwin IV, who the Trail Blazers signed as a two-way player last season before earning a two-year deal, summer league provides him an opportunity to show Portland made the right decision giving him another crack at the NBA after the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that selected him with the 17th overall pick of the 2016 Draft, cut him prior to the 2017-18 season.

"I think there’s always uncertainty in July," said Baldwin IV, whose contract for the 2018-19 season is not yet guaranteed. "My situation last year, I thought that I was good and then things happen. It’s important to keep your foot on the gas pedal, full throttle at all times."

The 6-4 guard out of Vanderbilt also noted it's important that he helps set a tone during summer league practices, especially when it comes to his new teammates on the regular season roster.

"I think it’s important that I bring energy and confidence to the new guys, the young guys," said Baldwin IV. "Anfernee (Simons) is going to need a little push, Gary (Trent Jr.) is going to need a little push. Anything I can do to help the team get better."

Simons, who Portland selected out of IMG Academy with the 24th pick of the 2018 Draft, said his first real practice as a Trail Blazers was about getting accustomed to the professional pace, especially for a player who did not play college basketball.

"Just getting used to the game speed, play my game, try to learn as much as I can," said Simons. "It was pretty tough at the beginning how fast paced it was, so I kind of just slowed myself down. I was able to knock down a couple shots."

As for Trent Jr., who played one season at Duke before being acquired by Portland from Sacramento during the 2018 Draft, Tuesday's practice was his first opportunity to show he has first round talent after being selected in the second round with the 37th pick.

"I always had a chip on my shoulder, but it’s even bigger now," said Trent "I want to showcase what I can do. I can be a great teammate, I can survive in this league, I can stay in this league. That’s what I’m trying to do."

While Trent Jr., Simons and Baldwin IV have personal goals for summer league that can be accomplished in wins or losses, NBA players do tend to be a rather competitive bunch. So even though improving with an eye toward the 2018-19 regular season is of the utmost importance, trying to extend their stay in Las Vegas for as long as possible by winning a few games, or even returning to the summer league championship game for the second-straight year, is still an aspiration.

"Simply to show that I belong in this league, be a great teammate to my teammates." said Trent Jr. about what he was hoping to get out of summer league. "The most important thing is winning. That's what I'm (most) looking forward to."