The Portland Trail Blazers opened their practice facility to the media on Wednesday. While reporters could not view the on-court play, Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and forward Luke Babbitt took questions afterwards. Blazers big man Earl Barron and rookie guard Nolan Smith were among the other Blazers in the gym.
Matthews confirmed that he is in good health -- minus a recent bug -- and that both of his ankles are good to go.
Most of the talk centered on Blazers coach Nate McMillan's recent declaration that he was "leaning towards" utilizing Brandon Roy as his starting two guard. Matthews stepped into the starting role while Roy underwent surgery last season and remained in that spot as the Blazers managed Roy's minutes upon his return.
Matthews mostly said the politically correct things but did admit he views himself as a starter.
"I want to be on the court," Matthews said. "I'd be lying if I said that I didn't want to be on the court. I'd be lying if I said I didn't see myself as a starter."
But Matthews sounded comfortable with either starting or coming off the bench.
"If there's any way I can help the team, I'm going to do it," Matthews said. "I'm excited that B. Roy's back, that he's feeling better. B. Roy brings a lot to this team as he's shown in the past. Whatever the team needs me to do."
In past years, McMillan has experimented with juggling his lineups to test out different combinations of starters and reserves. Matthews didn't want to touch the lineup questions, brushing off the idea that there might be a situation where both he and Roy start alongside each other.
"I don't know," Matthews said. "That's not up to me. That's up to coach. But all I can control is my effort and what I can bring to my court and what I can bring to this team and I'm excited to do so."
Prior to Portland's Monday announcement that they planned to retain Roy, Matthews said on Twitter that he expected Roy back. What made him say that?
"I just can't envision the Portland Trail Blazers without Brandon Roy," Matthews said. "I can't even fathom that."
Matthews said that he and Roy have seen each other this week.
"All cool. All love. Me and B. Roy are cool, we are real tight. Except he's ducking me right now on that Washington game."
Matthews' Marquette Golden Eagles beat Roy's Huskies, 79-77, at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
Blazers sophomore forward Luke Babbitt said he spent most of his offseason in the weight room working to improve his flexibility, strength and athleticism. He views himself helping out as a stretch four.
"I'm a lot more comfortable than I was last year," Babbitt said. "Any time you're in your second year, I've been through training camp, summer league, I know what coach Nate expects. I'm ready to come in and help this team... I do expect to play better in the minutes I'm given."
Babbitt barely played as a rookie, playing 137 minutes in 24 appeareances, and spending a significant stretch of the season in the D-League with the Idaho Stampede. During his two years at Nevada in college, Babbitt shot 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep. He shot just 27.3 percent from the field and 18.8 percent from deep for the Blazers last season.
"If you look at my numbers, it wasn't the numbers I'm used to putting up, the percentages and stuff," Babbitt said. "I would expect that to go up, there's no doubt about it."
In early November, Babbitt made a surprise cameo at a National Basketball Players Association meeting in New York City on behalf of the Blazers, when player representative Marcus Camby and alternate LaMarcus Aldridge were unable to attend.
"That was the meeting before the decertification so they were still negotiating," Babbitt remembered. "Everybody was tense. We were missing games at that point. Everyone took it really serious. It was not a laughing matter at all."
He recalled an emotionally-charged and urgent atmosphere.
"Everybody wanted to get back to work," Babbitt said. "There was no doubt about it. All the players were together on that. I was no different, wanting to get back here as soon as possible. Obviously the process had to play itself out a little bit more until that was going to be possible. It was in the final stages but everyone was pretty tense. There was a real possibility that we were going to miss the season."
Babbitt also got name-checked in a letter sent out by NBPA president Derek Fisher to all players, although Fisher spelled his name incorrectly, dropping the second "t" on the end.
"It happens all the time," Babbitt admitted. "I have a funny spelling."
Blazers forward Gerald Wallace told John Canzano of 750 AM The Game that he remains open to playing any position for the Blazers this season although he does consider the small forward his best position. Audio here when it's available.
Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on Babbitt and some time he spent in China working on his game during the lockout.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter