Future of the bench

2012-2013 Trail Blazers, bench warts and all.

After the Trail Blazers’ 102-95 loss to Milwaukee last night, several story lines emerged.

Yes, the Blazers rallied once again, fighting, scratching and clawing like the plucky underdogs they are to pull within seven points late in the game in which they trailed by 27. Wesley Matthews played like his mama was watching – oh wait, she was – and led the Blazers with 28 points along with a season-high seven 3-pointers. Also, LaMarcus Aldridge continued his strong and steady Player of the Week status with a 21-point, 15-rebound night.

Still, I thought an interesting takeaway was  head coach Terry Stotts’ publicly admitting that he was “disappointed” in the play of his reserves.

Through the season, we’ve all heard Stotts defend his bench – sometimes sounding annoyed while doing so – but to single out six guys “who wouldn’t give up on the game,” then speak of his disappointment to the other four says a lot.

On a night when Stotts searched deep for some help – he played five guys off the bench and only sat center Jared Jeffries and point guard Nolan Smith – he could only get significant production from Luke Babbitt. And this is a player that fell out of the rotation and stopped getting consistent minutes back on Feb. 22.

Let’s face it: with only 15 games remaining, three more on this road trip, time is running out on the Blazers’ postseason chances – as well as the days in Portland for several of those bench guys.

There will be a big turnover this summer, because there is the potential for the Blazers to cut ties with seven current players. Six of those players are reserves, and while I suspect some will return, others will be seeking employment elsewhere.  Here are a few.

Luke Babbitt (4.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg)

Contract ends in 2012-2013.

  • As previously mentioned, Babbitt fell out of favor as the designated reserve “stretch-four” player as rookie Victor Claver took those minutes. Babbitt’s only playing again because Claver is recovering from an ankle sprain. Still very one-dimensional and not nearly as accurate in his best skill (3-point shooting) as you’d think he would be, shooting  35 percent. Babbitt is not just the quietest in the Blazer locker room, he’s also one of the quietest players Stotts has ever been around, period. Once Claver returns, I believe his career in Portland will end true to his character, quietly.

Jared Jeffries (1.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg)

Contract non-guaranteed for 2013-2014.

  • The life of the party and helpful veteran who doubles as the resident EMT – the guy who pops up and helps carry off his hurt teammates to the locker room – will make $1.5 million for sitting on someone’s bench next season. I can’t imagine that bench belonging to the Blazers.

Sasha Pavlovic (2.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg)

Contract non-guaranteed for 2013-2014

  • I know what you’re asking right now: “Sasha Pavlovic still plays for the Blazers?!?” Believe it or not, it’s true. The small forward who you haven’t seen since Feb. 22  is still technically on the team. Those three minutes in Los Angeles against the Lakers just might be the last of Pavlovic as a Blazer. He has battled plantar fasciitis through the new year and currently sits out with a right thigh contusion. The last memory I have of Pavlovic, the Blazers were practicing and we media folks sat in the waiting room on the other side of the door. Pavlovic must have been standing close to the sideline, because through the walls we heard him shout in that very thick Yugoslavian accent of his: “WHAT THE (EXPLETIVE) IS GOING ON!” And really, who knows what  the fiddlesticks is going on? All I know is that was the same day it turns out that he sustained the thigh injury and essentially ended his short run with the Blazers.

Nolan Smith (2.8 ppg, 1.0 apg)

Contract ends in 2012-2013.

Elliot Williams

Contract ends in 2012-2013.

  • Of all the players that I believe the Blazers will wave goodbye to, it’s quite telling that the one guy I think has a chance in returning is the one who hasn’t played a single minute this season. Last fall, a left Achilles tendon wiped out the encouraging news coming from Tualatin, Ore. When Aldridge gathered teammates for casual workouts at the practice facility last September, Williams was playing so well that the Blazers believed they had their back-up shooting guard. However, Williams’ season-ending injury has left him on the mend throughout his final contract year. But because every now and then Williams had shown flashes in between debilitating injuries, I think he’s still so much of a mystery that the Blazers just have to see what he can do when he’s fully healthy. 


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