There were new faces and change of paces at Day Four of the Portland Trail Blazers' 2011 training camp. With just 14 days left until the start of the regular season, Portland's front office, along with Nate McMillan and his staff, are making some tweaks that will hopefully yield positive results.
Kurt Thomas Arrives
After signing a free agent contract over the weekend, 16-year NBA veteran Kurt Thomas practiced alongside his new teammates for the first time Monday. Though he's the newest addition to the roster, Monday's practice had to feel like old hat to Thomas, who has now played for nine different NBA teams.
Thomas' experience was probably the biggest factor in the team's decision to sign the veteran forward/center, and with good reason. Though the Trail Blazers are no longer a collection of doe-eyed whippersnappers, they're still a relatively young roster, with seven players claiming less than five years on NBA experience (and that's not counting Greg Oden).
"He looked good, did a good job of just making good decisions with the ball," said Nate McMillan. "Defensively, we pretty much play similar defense that Chicago plays as far as forcing the screen down, forcing the ball down, so that wasn't a major adjustment for him. He's been around for a long time, so he's seen all the systems."
With a shortened training camp, the team needed someone who could come in and play without having to learn the ropes. Thomas fits that bill and that's why he'll be spending his 17th season in Portland.
The addition of Thomas allowed the team to play full court five-on-five for the first time since the start of training camp. With LaMarcus Aldridge still on the sidelines, McMillan hasn't had enough big bodies to get in much live practice. The team has gone five-on-five intermittently, but not usually full court and never for an extended period of time. That changed today, as the current starting unit, consisting of Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby, was able to play full court for extended minutes against a rotating group of reserves.
Portland's offense changes dramatically, as you might expect, without Aldridge on the floor, and that was evident during today's run. With Aldridge, the first, second and third option is dumping the ball into the post and letting LA work. But with Aldridge still recovering from a a procedure to "evaluate the status of the electrical system in his heart," the team morphs into a run-and-gun outfit with Felton pushing the ball up the court and Batum and Wallace fanning out on the wings. Aldridge can get out in transition as well as any power forward in the league, but without the option of deferring to Aldridge, playing fastbreak basketball almost become a necessity.
Every year Coach McMillan declares at the beginning of camp that he would like the team to run more, yet every year the Trail Blazers play at or near the slowest pace in the league. Maybe this is the year Coach's wish comes true, though hopefully it'll be out of choice rather than necessity.