If you’re looking for a fluffy, feel-good story amidst all the chaotic free agency rumors and stress, look no further. Here it is.
On what couldn’t have been a more beautiful day here in the Rose City the Trail Blazers welcomed three new members to their family, draft picks Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard and Will Barton.
The whirlwind day started with a trip on the MAX—how Portlandish can we get?—through downtown and up to the Children’s Museum where fans both young and old joined the media for an introductory press conference.
Once atop the hill each of the fellas took their customary seats in front of the crowd while General Manager Neil Olshey doted on their talents and exactly why they’re great fits for Portland.
Olshey dubbed Lillard, the sixth pick in the draft, a “franchise guy” and continued with a litany of talents that will undoubtedly please Portland fans when he takes to the floor at the point guard position this season.
“For those of you who didn’t get a chance to see a lot of his games, I compare him a lot to my former point guard Chauncey Billups,” Olshey said. “He’s got a real quiet presence, he’s got a command presence, guys respect him. He’s got an incredible work ethic, he’s a leader, he’s an elite shooter, he makes great decisions with the ball. He’s the kind of point guard players love to with because he’s a team first guy not a me first guy and all those things are why we were so excited he was available at the sixth pick.”
Leonard, the Trail Blazers’ pick at 11, is a big-man whose talents continue to develop as his athleticism shines through.
“I think his talent level is off the charts, he has a chance to be a franchise center in this league. He’s a tireless worker, he takes care of his body. Athletically he’s just a superior athlete,” Olshey said. “The intriguing thing about Meyers is that for a player of his age, at this point he’s got an emerging skill set for a big guy. He’s got great touch from the free throw line, he has a face-up game, he can score over his left shoulder, he’s got great footwork and I think he’s gonna be a major impact guy on the defensive end of the floor blocking shots, rebounding, controlling the paint. Again, another great piece to our core going forward in terms of building the franchise with the right kind of players and the right kind of people.”
Finally, Will “the steal of the draft” Barton.
“I still have no idea how Will got to 40,” Olshey laughed. “Paul Allen started asking us to trade up at around 22 to get him and we kept running into headstrong teams that wouldn’t move their picks. He was a gift. I still can’t believe that with the 40th pick we got a guy who probably should have been in the mid to late first round in terms of talent. He’s going to be an impact guy on our roster. He rebounds the ball like a big man even though he’s a wing player and he’s got a tireless motor, which I like. He’s gonna be a nightmare for guys in practice, he’s gonna make them work.”
This day wasn’t just about informing Rip City of the resumes possessed by the rookies, but was also a time to sit back and bask in the glory of a successful draft—and for the newbies the first glimpse at their new NBA home.
“It’s been a very embracing, warm feeling that everyone seems to love basketball around here and we have a great fan base,” Leonard said. “So I’m very excited to put on the uniform and get ready to go.”
Lillard, Leonard and Barton all raved about the welcome they’d received via social media, an emerging staple of Trail Blazers fandom.
“I’m excited about it. Just from social networks, Twitter, Instagram and things like that, all the fans they’ve been real embracing,” Lillard said. “I see they tweeted all three of us. They mention us in a lot of tweets everyday. So I’m excited to get out here and play for this team.”
Perhaps the most moved of the three was the somewhat reserved Barton who seemed to relish every moment of the experience. He signed countless autographs, posed for pictures and was genuinely glowing.
“When I got picked I was so happy, at the end of the day I always wanted to play in the NBA.”
So there you have it Rip City, the newest members of the family. Each a high-character, talented and ready-to-work guy.
Welcome them yourself via Twitter: @Dame_Lillard
. And if you missed them live here's video of the full press conference
and the rookie fan chats