Notebook: Babbitt provides an outside hope
The Portland Trail Blazers entered the 2010 NBA Draft hoping to improve the team’s perimeter shooting, which struggled at the end of 2009-10 due to the late-season departures of guard Steve Blake and forward Travis Outlaw.
By the time a chaotic draft night was over Thursday, the Blazers felt certain that instant improvement was in sight.
By trading longtime forward Martell Webster — a notoriously streaky outside shooter — to Minnesota, Portland acquired the draft rights to former Nevada sharpshooter Luke Babbitt, who was originally selected by the Timberwolves with the No. 16 overall pick.
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound guard averaged 21.9 points while connecting on 50.0 percent of his field goal attempts and 41.6 percent of his 3-point tries as a sophomore with the Wolf Pack. In addition, he sank 91.7 percent of his free-throw attempts and knocked down at least two 3s in 13 of his 34 games.
Chad Buchanan, Blazers director of college scouting, said Babbitt is a highly skilled left-handed player who can handle the small and power forward positions. Buchanan also highlighted Babbitt’s ballhandling skills, while praising the 21-year-old’s dynamic offensive talent.
“He’s very excited to be a Blazer,” Buchanan said. “We interviewed him back in the pre-draft combine, and he knew everything about our team.”
Buchanan said that Babbitt and Portland center Joel Przybilla share the same trainer, adding that Babbitt was pushing his agent to find a way to make the former Nevada standout a Blazer rookie.
“I’m very excited about Luke,” Buchanan said. “And I know the feeling is mutual.”
Buchanan drew an instant comparison between Portland guard Jerry Bayless and Elliot Williams, who the Blazers selected out of Memphis with the No. 22 overall pick during the first round.
The 6-foot-5, 180-pound Williams spent two seasons as a Tiger, averaging 17.9 points and 3.8 assists while starting all 34 of Memphis’ games in 2009-10.
Buchanan said the super-athletic Williams possesses an ability to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line, mimicking Bayless’ playing style.
But what truly makes Williams Bayless-like is the energy he brings to the game.
“He’s got a great motor,” Buchanan said. “A very hungry player.”
Williams suffered a knee injury in May during a pre-draft workout with San Antonio, which caused his stock to slide. During the interim, Williams declined media requests, creating an aura of mystery about his NBA prospects.
“He took a little time away from workouts to get himself healthy again,” Buchanan said.
Portland’s interest remained high, though. The Blazers then ran Williams through a workout in Los Angeles two weeks before the draft. Impressed by the ex-Tigers’ innate athleticism — highlighted by an outstanding leaping ability — Portland decided to pull the trigger.
“Fantastic athlete,” Buchanan said. “He’s going to do some things on our team that we don’t have anybody capable of doing.”
Blazers coach Nate McMillan is still interviewing candidates to fill out his coaching staff and nothing has been finalized, a team source said Friday.
A website reported that assistants Bernie Bickerstaff (Chicago), Jim Lynam (Philadelphia) and Chuck Person (Los Angeles Lakers) will soon be added to Portland’s coaching staff.
The Blazers have already lost two assistants since the end of the 2009-10 season. Monty Williams was named New Orleans’ head coach, while Maurice Lucas will not return due to health issues. In addition, lead assistant Dean Demopoulos and assistant Joe Prunty are not expected to be retained for the 2010-11 season.
The Blazers are unlikely to participate in a big-name sign-and-trade deal once the NBA free-agency period begins June 1, a team source said Friday.
Portland lacks the necessary salary cap space to lure in premier expected free agents, such as Cleveland’s LeBron James or Miami’s Dwayne Wade. But the Blazers could participate in a sign and trade that would allow the team to acquire a star athlete in a prearranged deal, in which an opponent would first sign the player, then trade the player to Portland in return for assets of equal value.
However, this scenario is unlikely to occur. Instead, the Blazers are expected to focus on the best way to improve the team through free agency by using a mid-level exception expected to be worth about $6 million.
Stay or go?
Factoring in to the decision as to whether Portland will use its MLE is how the team handles the contract of newly acquired veteran
forward Ryan Gomes, who was obtained by the Blazers in the draft-day deal with Minnesota.
Gomes is set to make $4.2 million next season. However, the five-year contract he signed with the Timberwolves in 2008 is only partially guaranteed.
To retain Gomes, Portland must pick up an option by June 30. This would guarantee the final two years of the deal at $4.6 and $4.9 million.
If the Blazers waive Gomes, the team would only have to pay a portion of his salary. In turn, the organization would gain more salary-cap flexibility during the upcoming free agent session.
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