Column: For Bayless, points and minutes come easier than peace

It took Trail Blazers guard Jerryd Bayless about five minutes to find breathing room.

The No. 11 overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft was drowned in a thick, baggy, gray hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants. His clean, all-white adidas lowtops were offset by two large bags of ice tightly wrapped against his knees. And for the first five minutes during an interview Wednesday morning at the Blazers’ practice facility in Tualatin, Ore., Bayless rarely cracked a smile and never looked at ease.

Bayless said that he is not perfect. Then he stated that Andre Miller, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are not perfect, either.
Bayless acknowledged that he has not met his own high expectations this season. But he quickly added that it was a tough question to answer, primarily because his playing time has severely faded in and out of fashion.

Then the former Arizona standout said he does not pay attention to fans or commentators who critique his game. But he soon followed up the comment by stating, “People can say what they want, but I’ll get the last laugh.”

Wrapped like a hot, tight wire, it initially appeared that Bayless was still in the same uneven place he was when the season began. Frustrated about his minutes; defensive about his talent; guarded to the point where it was safe to wonder how much Jerryd Bayless was actually enjoying being Jerryd Bayless.

Then there was a moment. Nothing truly changed. The words kept rolling, and Bayless continued to stare out at a huge, empty basketball court. But the fiery, explosive guard relaxed a little, laughed, and dared to look ahead.

“I know what I can do in this league,” Bayless said. “And I’d love to be a starter here, and be the point guard of this team.”

Blazers coach Nate McMillan said Wednesday evening that part of the reason Portland recently traded veteran guard Steve Blake was so that the organization could begin to evaluate how Bayless handles a true backup role at the point guard position. For the rest of the season, there will be no more shooting guard for Bayless; no more instances when the ex-Wildcat is asked to play off the ball and pretend like he is an NBA-quality perimeter player. When Bayless gets his 10-15 game-time minutes, he will be a living, breathing point guard.

“It’s still early,” McMillan said. “He hasn’t played the point position where he’s run the team and having to set up the team, as well as being aggressive and having to make decisions. His year and a half here has pretty much been off the ball.”

What McMillan wants to see from Bayless is what the league’s premier point guards, such as Paul, Williams and Chauncey Billups, bring to the court every night. Acting rather than reacting. Instinct instead of thought.

“That’s part of the process with him. Playing that position, and being able to make decisions without being hesitant,” McMillan said. “He is a scorer. And there are times when you can see him trying to involve guys — which is what you’ve got to do. But when he becomes really good, that decision will be made in a split second, and not (thought) in (his) mind before the play even happens.”

Bayless said he can do it Wednesday morning. Then he delivered that night during a smooth victory over Indiana on Wednesday at the Rose Garden, pouring in 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, while adding a career-high six rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes.

Bayless compared his young career to Billups’. Mr. Big Shot was initially blasted for what he lacked, not what he possessed. And Billups — who has served as a mentor to Bayless — bounced around among four teams in four years before finding salvation in Detroit.

Now, Bayless is finally getting his chance. He said the situation is not perfect. And it’s neither the opportunity nor the stage he desires. But at this point in his life, points, minutes and victories cure everything.

“You play well, you have personal peace. You don’t play well, I’m going to be wired,” Bayless said. “It’s just as simple as that, pretty much.”

But what Bayless is still learning is that very little in the NBA is ever perfect — something the once-unhappy Miller knows all too well.

“It’s always tough for a young guy who plays with energy to not know if you’re going to play or not,” Miller said. “But there’s ups and downs for pretty much everybody. This season has been about staying above water, and he puts a lot of expectations on himself. It’s tough being a point guard in this league.”

Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or Read his Blazer Banter blog at Follow him on Twitter at

Interview: Check the Blazer Banter blog at for a full transcript of an interview with Bayless.

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