14 September 2009
Last year around this time, Steven Hill and Luke Jackson prepared to battle for a roster spot in Portland.
Then Shavlik Randolph swooped into Portland during training camp and messed Hill and Jackson’s game up. Well, here we are again with training camp set to open September 29 and a couple roster spots unfilled in Portland. Management remains bent on signing a free agent or two (see Jeff Pendergraph’s hip surgery) with a handful of bigs preparing to make the Blazers practice facility home until further notice.
But who will be the last man standing – or the last men standing?
Juwan Howard: There was about a four or five-season stretch when Howard was close to averaging a double-double in the NBA. Unfortunately those numbers came in the early stages of his now 15-years in the league which began with the Washington Bullets. But it’s not like the 6’9 forward is a complete embarrassment in these twilight years. Three seasons ago in Houston, Howard played in 80 games for the Rockets and put up some decent numbers (9.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in about 26 minutes per game). Okay, I know what you are thinking: that was back in 2006-07. Since then, Juwan’s bounced from Dallas to Denver to Charlotte (where he appeared in 39 games for the Bobcats last season) and the window on his career is closing. But for what Portland needs – a veteran with playoff experience to play spot minutes behind LaMarcus Aldridge and bang with Greg Oden along the way in practice– Howard isn’t exactly ineffective in the paint. The opportunity is certainly there to stick in Portland.
Greg Ostertag: Somewhere Isaiah Rider is probably jealous of Greg Ostertag. While Rider wants another shot at the NBA, Ostertag is actually getting a real life look at returning to the league (although the New Jersey Nets are reportedly discussing inviting Rider to training camp this season) thanks to the Blazers. The 7’1 center played 11-seasons in the league between the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings and hasn’t played in the league since 2003, but at 36-years old is attempting a comeback after being inspired by the NBA Playoffs last season. While Ostertag – who spends time playing non-checking ice hockey to keep active - admits he hasn’t picked up a ball in three years, the popular belief is Portland merely needs a big to bang with Greg Oden in training camp and practive and Ostertag fits the bill cheaply. “I’m rusty,” Ostertag said in an interview with Lawrence World-Journal. “I have some cobwebs. The more I play, the quicker I’ll get it back. Now I’m trying to get in good shape and get stronger. The basketball will come.”
But will it come in Portland? You have to appreciate the love for the game and his desire to return, but let’s be honest here: there are better options around right now than Ostertag.
Jarron Collins: Ostertag isn’t the only former member of the Utah Jazz who will be worked out by Portland. The unrestricted free agent and eight-year veteran center is also reportedly showing interest from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 6’11 Collins’ best season in the league came during his rookie year with Utah when he averaged 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 68 starts. The guy isn’t exactly Dwight Howard on the stat sheet, but he’s serviceable and is one of those guys with know-how. Compared to some of the other players available to Portland, putting Collins at the bottom of the wish list is a safe bet – right alongside Ostertag.
Stromile Swift: It’s actually surprising Swift wasn’t picked up earlier this offseason by a team with a deep free agent budget considering his athleticism and the relative youthful factor (he’s only 29). Yet for the second overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, moving around the league from Vancouver/Memphis, Houston, back to Memphis, New Jersey and Phoenix doesn’t exactly scream “Sign Me” these days. Swift has shown signs of promise (his second season in Memphis and his last season in Memphis), but the 6’10 power forward isn’t what Portland is looking forward in a back-up to Aldridge. He’s much more suited for Golden State or a return to Phoenix.
Melvin Ely: If management should take a good hard look at any of the players on this short list – outside of Juwan Howard – Ely has to be that guy. Don’t let the sparse scoring numbers (5.6 ppg career average) dissuade you from what the brawny 6’10, 261 pound center/forward can bring to the table. According to one Blazers source who has been privy to Ely’s workouts in Portland, “he’s more than just muscle down there. He’s got a lot of nice touch around the basket too.” For the past two seasons, Ely was a role player Byron Scott in New Orleans used to beef-up the Hornets front line and outwork the opposition. Don’t think of Ely as another burly forward or castoff free agent in the light of Ike Diogu. Consider Melvin someone not afraid to mix-it-up and do the dirty work – even if it is in limited playing time. He gets this early vote to make Portland’s roster for the toughness factor alone.
Zendon Hamilton: If you know anything about Zendon Hamilton’s story, it’s virtually impossible to say anything bad about a man on his own personal NBA journey. Undrafted out of St. John’s, the 6’11 center has had several stints overseas, in Dallas, Los Angeles with the Clippers, Denver, Toronto, Philadelphia (twice), Milwaukee, Houston, Cleveland, Portland in 2006, and he last played in Russia. He’s the epitome of a 10-day contract in this league, a feel good story for sure for the Blazers if he makes it to camp or even on the roster. If you found yourself pulling for Steven Hill last training camp, Hamilton is probably your guy.
pic via: media.2theadvocate
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