There’s a question that always seems to surround events like the summer league and preseason play: Do you put your best players on the floor in an all-out attempt to win the game at hand or award minutes to lesser players in an attempt to gauge and develop their talents?
The question is easily answered during the preseason schedule. The whole point is to prepare for the long, long season on the horizon, so winning, though you’ll never get a coach to admit it, takes a backseat to being completely healthy when the games start to count. But when it comes to summer league, the calculus, depending on where your team is at, gets a bit more complicated.
On one hand, you want to focus on developing the young players you have under contract. A team with legitimate championship aspirations usually doesn’t have the luxury of devoting playing time to the end of the bench, so a healthy dose of minutes during the summer league is the most effective way to bring along the rookies and sophomores in a consequence-free environment.
On the other hand, how can you pass up the chance get a good, long, on-court look at a player who isn’t under contract? After all, Wesley Matthews, who signed an offer sheet with the Trail Blazers on Saturday, played as an undrafted free agent on the Sacramento Kings 2009 summer league squad, which got him a tryout and eventually a one-year contract with the Utah Jazz. It’s possible one of the free agents playing on Portland’s 2010 summer league team could be a Wes Matthews-like find, but if the lion’s share of the minutes are going to the players who are already signed or drafted, how would you ever know?
The answer is you wouldn’t. But here’s the thing: coaches don’t deal in hypotheticals. That’s what the guys in the front office get paid to do. Coaches, among other things, develop the players they think are going to be able to help them reach their goal of winning a championship. That’s what coach Kaleb Cananles, in his first stint as Portland’s summer league skipper, is focusing on.
“All of these guys situations differ,” said Canales, “but our main goal is to continue to develop these guys first.”
That means that while there may be unseen potential among the likes of Reyshawn Terry, Osiris Eldridge and Michael Fey, the majority of the minutes are still going to go to Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, Patty Mills, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson.
From Babbitt and Johnson, the Trail Blazers’ primary goal is to see how they hold up against NBA-caliber competition, but when it comes to sophomores Pendergraph, Cunningham and Mills, it’s about finding out how far they’ve come and challenging them to do more.
“I think the natural progression for their development is obviously taking leadership with this team being that this is their second year,” said Canales. “Just being more aggressive on both ends. Offensively, trying to grow their game. If it's Jeff, kind of working on his post game a little more. Dante, going to the basket a little more. Patty kind of shooting a little more. Those areas we talked to them about.
“We've worked on it. We work on it in the summer, we work on it pre-game, post-game, so let's go out there and show these guys what you've