August 13, 2022

TUALATIN — New Portland Trail Blazers Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II each have roots in Oregon.

Payton played for the Oregon State Beavers from 2014 to 2016. Grant was born in Portland in March 1994 while his father, Harvey Grant, played for the Blazers.

Of course, both have different types of memories.

During their introductory press conference Thursday at the team’s practice facility, Payton recalled playing with Blazers backup center Drew Eubanks, who re-signed with the team this offseason. .

“It’s nice to have a Beaver next to me in the organization,” Payton said. “So this is going to be fun. I’m excited. I hope we can start throwing lobs again.

As for Grant, well, his memories weren’t quite as rich.

“I don’t have too many memories,” he said. “I was only 2 years old when I left.”

Well, now the two can build new memories here together as two new additions to a Blazers squad desperately trying to build a winner around Damian Lillard, who turns 32 on July 15.

The Blazers also reintroduced Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic on Thursday. Both signed new contracts with the Blazers. But this is old news. The same goes for Eubanks.

The new faces are Grant and Payton. Both certainly bring strong skills to the table. But probably not enough to move the team’s needle to contender status.

That said, Blazers general manager Joe Cronin has made it clear on several occasions that his plan continues through the summer of 2023. So while he had hoped to land another big fish, he wasn’t going to. overpaying and sacrificing what he perceived to be valuable. assets to ward off another star of Grant’s caliber from another team. Reported negotiations with Atlanta for John Collins and Toronto for OG Anunoby fell through.

Then again, their respective teams were also out of contention last season, so who knows what either might have done for the Blazers. But it’s clear this team needs another impact player to have a reasonable chance of even reaching the Western Conference Finals amid a deep field that only looks to get stronger next season with the return of injured LA Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray. Denver Nuggets.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Gary Payton II, who signed with the club as a free agent, speaks with the media at the team’s training facility in Tualatin, Oregon, Thursday, July 7, 2022.Sean Meagher / The Oregonian

For now, what Cronin and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups think they have is a team that will be versatile, brave and competitive, especially if Lillard returns to his old form as a title contender. MVP before a heart injury led to surgery in January and ended the worst. season of his career.

“I think we’re very happy with what we’ve achieved so far and I think we’ve built a team that others will be nervous to play,” Cronin said. “We have a team that is going to compete, that is going to be very tough to beat and has the potential to win a lot of ball games.”

Still, he acknowledged that the roster is not a finished product and that he must continue to seek to improve the roster’s talent level.

“We want to continuously look for opportunities,” he said. “We want to be aggressive in the trading markets and all the other opportunities where we can improve. But at the same time, I think we have a really, really strong core that we want to grow with.

Personality, character and fit seem to be the main traits the Blazers are looking for, and Cronin and Billups said Grant and Payton easily tick those boxes.

However, the lack of roster size, a problem Cronin acknowledged before trading 6-foot-3 CJ McCollum and Norman Powell, still remains to some degree.

Yes, the Blazers mostly traded the 2025 Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick, acquired from New Orleans as part of the McCollum deal, for the 6-8 Grant, who can excel as a power forward or small forward.

But the addition of 6-3 Payton, signed from outside Golden State for $28 million over three years, has left many fans perplexed, given the Blazers will start 6-2 Lillard and 6-3 Simons at both guard positions with 6-5 Josh Hart as the primary backup guard and potential starting small forward. Additionally, the team drafted Shaedon Sharpe, listed at 6-6, with the No. 7 pick in the June 23 NBA Draft. Then consider that small forward Nassir Little, who will challenge Hart for the starting job, is 6-5. That leaves Sharpe, 19, the tallest player available to play as a point guard, shooter or small forward.

“The way we transformed this roster, we looked for specific types of players, regardless of size,” Cronin said. “We are looking for, as I said earlier, number one, the person. Number two, their mentality. And of course, always the talent.

Joe Cronin, General Manager of the Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin speaks with the media at the team’s training facility in Tualatin, Oregon on Thursday, July 7, 2022.Sean Meagher / The Oregonian

Billups is most intrigued by the athleticism Grant brings to the forward position as an all-around player who can play well with Lillard and score in a variety of ways, in addition to bringing length and the ability to pass defensively to smaller players.

“We haven’t had that and we need that,” Billups said. “And every team needs a guy like that… He feeds and eats everything. Rock everything defensively. I just see putting him in a pick and roll with Dame or Ant, and switching them up and having a little guy on him. I mean, you can just let him go to work. So many things we can do.

Billups said Grant had the ability to score 18 points without a play being called for him.

“He can take advantage of lags,” Billups said.

As for Payton, who reached this point in his career after going undrafted in 2016 and spending time with four franchises in six years, he defines the type of player Billups wants.

“He’s my kind of guy,” Billups said. “Swiss Army knife. He’s proven his worth and his worth throughout the year. He’s done something a lot of people never do in this league. And I’m not just talking about winning championships, I’m talking about , he ground all the way.

Their character, Billups said, is paramount to their importance going forward.

“I like character guys, character people,” Billups said. “Winning character. Competitiveness, I’m very competitive. So I like players who are really competitive.

Grant’s name had been linked to the Blazers for several months. He and Lillard played together last summer for Team USA and grew close as friends. Grant said he’s been thinking about the move for some time.

“I definitely thought it was a possibility at first,” Grant said.

After the Blazers’ victory in Detroit on March 21, Nurkic and Hart tweeted a photo of themselves talking to Grant on the field. The tweet didn’t include any words.

Nurkic translated on Thursday the message his tweet wanted to convey.

“Bring your ass to Portland, straight up,” he said. “The player he is and what he is capable of doing on the pitch. Obviously I also know people around him. I’ve also played with former teammates. So I know that’s “a special guy. Like Chauncey said, it’s both sides. Not just on the pitch, but also off the pitch. We’re really happy to have him.

Nurkic added that he plans to take advantage of Grant’s ability to dunk on lob passes.

“I will test it,” he said.

While rumors of the Blazers’ interest in Grant had swirled, Payton’s signing came out of nowhere. He played a key role last season behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Now he will look to do the same for the Blazers.

“Basically everything you need,” Payton said. “I can do anything you need. Define screens. Bounce. Defend. Everything you need, everything it offers in the game plan. I think I’ll fit in and be able to do it without a problem.

There is plenty of time for the Blazers to complete a trade or a signing. But for now, that appears to be the team the franchise will enter next season with. And Cronin and Billups seem happy with the direction they’ve taken so far.

“We’re super excited as an organization about them as people, as talents, and as guys playing the brand of basketball we want to play,” Cronin said.

— Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

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