Barton is baaaaaack but hold that exclamation point…

Yes, rookie Will Barton has returned from that lingering hamstring injury but as he re-joins the team and makes his first NBA road trip, backup PG Ronnie Price (ankle) remains out.

Here’s my story for tomorrow’s paper:

By Candace Buckner
Columbian staff writer

TUALATIN, Ore. – Just when one Trail Blazer escapes the trainer’s room, another just may need to get comfortable there for the next few weeks.

On Sunday, the Blazers welcomed back rookie Will Barton. After missing the majority of training camp, as well as the past two preseason games, Barton returned from his hamstring annoyance and practiced the full session. Barton will make his first NBA road trip for Monday’s game against the Sacramento Kings.

That’s the good news. The prognosis for veteran guard Ronnie Price shuffles the Blazers’ lineup like a deck of cards.

The Blazers held out Price after that wicked ankle roll he sustained early in the fourth quarter of Friday’s game in Phoenix. Price walked out of US Airways Center on crutches that night and although head coach Terry Stotts said on Sunday that Price no longer needs the assistance, the injury will force the point guard to miss the Blazers’ game in Sacramento. Expectedly, Price will miss more action.

“(Price is) much better today than expected but I don’t want to put a specific time,” Stotts said, answering a query about a possible return date for Price. “It’s going to be a while but hopefully he’ll be back for the season opener (Oct. 31). But we’ll see how he goes.”

The absence of Price, the seven-year pro and backup to starter Damian Lillard, shortens the Blazers’ depth with ball handlers and triggers a counter from Stotts.

Nolan Smith now moves to exclusively play point guard behind Lillard while Barton will log minutes as a backup shooting guard who will also handle the rock.

“He looked like he was a 100 percent,” Stotts said of Barton. “He needs to review the plays. He’s been out a little bit. But yeah, he’ll get minutes at two as well. I don’t know if he’ll play any point but he’s a ball handler that can be on the floor with Damian or Nolan and help with the ball handling responsibilities.”

Also, Stotts gets to experiment with 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum in the backcourt.

“Nolan and Damian are going to play a lot of guard, a lot of point. That reduces the flexibility at the two spot,” Stotts said. “We’ll probably play a bigger lineup without that flexibility at the backup one and the backup two.”

“Nic hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes at two, (but) I anticipate playing him a lot more minutes at two because he’s probably my first choice as a backup two anyway.”

Even with Price out of sight on Sunday, the practice facility still had a feel of a crowded house. The Blazers’ latest addition, Justin Holiday, pumped the training camp roster to 19 players. Along with Holiday on the floor, Barton finally got to put that black sweatband of his to use.

In previous practices, Barton was the kid who couldn’t come outside to play. His right hamstring aching, and so Barton could only watch as his teammates drilled through Stotts’ plays. Basketball seemed more like homework as Barton tried to commit offensive and defensive sets to memory by writing down all the options of each play.

For the first time since Oct. 2, Barton was able to play ball besides compensating by studying, lifting weights and wading through the team’s pool for two-a-day rehabilitation workouts.

“It felt real good, especially being back here the last road trip (and) watching them play those first two games,” Barton said. “Being a rookie and being so anxious to be out there, it was killing me.”
Now, with his homework completed. Basketball 101 begins.

“Out there I feel like I got to get caught up with the play,” Barton said. “So now, it’s like, I already have to know the plays at my natural position at the two, sometimes the three, and now the one. So, it’s just like, ‘I gotta get it!’”
“There’s no pressure. I don’t feel bad about it. Actually, I like it. It just means more minutes for me at every position. So, I just got to know it.”

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