Spanish F Victor Claver "Ready For Everything" In Rookie Season With Blazers

Christian Petersen - Getty Images

Spanish forward Victor Claver said that he is "ready for everything" as he approaches his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers.

There weren't any horror stories from Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez, he insisted, but there was plenty of uncertainty. Portland Trail Blazers rookie forward Victor Claver had traveled throughout Europe, played at the highest level overseas, enjoyed three extra years of seasoning, gotten accustomed to favorable press treatment in his home country and represented Spain at the 2012 London Olympics, where he won a silver medal.

But this was new, a relocation 5,000+ miles from Valencia, where he had his hometown's golden boy during a half-decade with the local club. His departure for the NBA was not unprecedented among his National Team colleagues. Fernandez came to the Blazers, moved on to the Denver Nuggets, and then returned home. Sergio Rodriguez came to the Blazers, moved on to the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks, and then returned home. Ricky Rubio came to the Minnesota Timberwolves and suffered an unfortunate, devastating knee injury, putting his career into limbo for the time being. Juan Carlos Navarro came to the Memphis Grizzlies and returned home as soon as possible. Jose Calderon came to the Toronto Raptors and found himself in a battle for a starting spot year after year after year after year. From this generation, only the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, found All-Star honors, mega-contracts and the global stardom that the NBA promises the world's best teenagers.

Given that history, you couldn't fault Claver for harboring trepidation about his NBA jump. The odds, even among his country's best, aren't particularly great and, at 24 years old, he knows that his basketball lot in life is already more reality than potential. His prodigy stage already unfolded in the ACB; he's mentally accepted his role as a tertiary contributor.

If Claver is worried about coming to America, he certainly doesn't show it. Quite the opposite. It's hard to remember a professional athlete who smiles and giggles more easily. It's not nervous energy; he just appears to be an extraordinarily happy person. He talks easily, in his second language, and he is quick to quip. His mantra is simple: he knows he is in for what will almost certainly be the toughest season of his professional career, on and off the court, and he is ready to roll with the punches.

"When I knew I was going to come I prepared myself for everything, for good things, of course, but bad things too," Claver told Blazersedge after training camp on Monday. "You never know how it's going to go. You have to be ready for everything. If you don't play, if you have bad relationships with teammates, if something happens to you, you have to be ready. That [mentality] is very important in this big change for me."

Claver sees himself as a small forward but not exclusively so. It's an accurate self-assessment. He's blessed with a smooth stroke and he is clearly most comfortable facing the hoop and operating on the perimeter. He understands the logic behind using a shooter as a stretch four and is open to the idea. He doesn't hesitate when asked to name his biggest asset.

"Versatility," he said. "I'm not a specialist in anything but I can do a lot of things. I think that's important. That's one thing that helps a star like LaMarcus [Aldridge], or Damian [Lillard] or Wesley Matthews. They are going to get a lot of shots in the game. They need some people who support them."

Claver played a similar supporting, reserve role for the Spanish National Team in London. Truthfully, he did very little, other than float on the perimeter as a release valve on offense and chase through screens on defense. He was the young guy on the totem pole and his playing time was limited on Spain's crowded wings.

In lieu of any personal highlights, one of London's standout moments came when Claver watched his future Blazers teammate, Nicolas Batum, punch his Spanish teammate, Juan Carlos Navarro, below the belt during the final minute of Spain's quarterfinals win over France.

At Media Day, Batum told reporters that he had discussed and laughed about the incident with Claver, whom he has known since they were teenagers on the European youth circuit, and that the Spaniard told him he "understood" why he threw the groin punch.

Claver confirmed that conversation to Blazersedge and couldn't help but laugh at the memory.

"I understand because of the moment of the game," Claver said, before adding, "But I'm not going to do that."

He laughed again. "He was mad because in that moment he knew he was going to lose. You could go to the bench and kick a chair or..."

He trailed off into more laughter rather than finish the sentence.

It's not all fun and games for Claver but there's no moodiness, no purposeful distancing. He admitted that he has yet to form close friendships with any of his Blazers teammates but he didn't seem particularly concerned about it. That will come, and he's satisfied with his shared history with Batum and his shared language with British big man Joel Freeland, who is fluent in Spanish after starring in the ACB league in recent years.

"We have good relationships," Claver said of Portland's esprit de corps after one week in camp. "Young guys."

One reason for his comfort level appears to be his developing relationship with coach Terry Stotts. Claver said Portland's training camp practices have been longer than what he was used to in Spain and that the players spend more time in the gym overall here because they work out in the weight room individually rather than as a team before practice, as was the overseas custom.

"He has good communication with the players," Claver said of Stotts. "He was a player so he knows what players need to know. He talks a lot but quiet, he explains what we need to change or do."

"Quiet" was intended to mean in contrast to screaming and it came off as Claver's preferred communication style. The obvious concern is that he could be bullied in the NBA game, particularly early, and that his effectiveness could be limited if he can't keep up physically in the paint or on the glass.

Less than 48 hours before his first preseason game, he has no plans to roll over. Asked if he could have a successful rookie season without playing significant minutes he shook his head.

"That would be tough, of course," he said, more serious than at any other point in the conversation. "I came here to play. [I know] it's hard, it's not easy to come in my rookie year and play a lot of time. What I want is to play. If not, I'll work every day to play."

Despite his respect for Stotts he did say that he's not yet clear on his role. Refreshingly, there's no agonizing or pouting or threats, as we've come to expect when the playing time subject has been broached in previous seasons. Claver is more eager, at least right now, to praise Lillard's potential than to stress about his own burn.

"He has a lot of talent, he's intelligent too," Claver said of Lillard. "He's not the kind of guy who can only shoot or penetrate. He can use both hands. If he has the ball, he controls the game as he wants. As a point guard that's very important. I hope he can adapt to the NBA game soon."

His own adaptation is less crucial to Portland's success, clearly, and less certain. If he is to be used as a three, he's competing with Luke Babbitt (who Stotts prefers as a four), Sasha Pavlovic and Adam Morrison (for now) for reserve minutes behind Batum. If Claver is to be used as a stretch four, he's competing with Babbitt, Freeland, J.J. Hickson and Jared Jeffries behind Aldridge. In other words, he almost certainly won't be playing if he can't hack it at the three.

"I don't know yet," he said simply when asked if he thinks he will see the court early on. "We have a lot of friendly [preseason] games now, so we'll see how the roles go."

That ease of mind feels like the product of a man who has done his homework. Claver carefully weighed his decision to come to the NBA from overseas after a lengthy courting process by Blazers management. In July, he decided the timing was right, signing a 3-year contract worth a reported $4 million. Part of his due diligence involved talks with Fernandez, who went from hero to goat during three seasons in the Rose City.

"What he explained to me about Portland was that everything was good," Claver told Blazersedge. "He liked Portland. He enjoyed the people and the fans. The team. Maybe it wasn't what he expected before he came. At the end, he wasn't as comfortable as he thought."

Like Fernandez, Claver is used to a bit of special treatment from the Spanish media. As one of a select few Spanish players filling out an NBA roster this season, his star power got a nice bump back home by virtue of his arrival in Portland, even if he's not a franchise centerpiece.

"They take care of us," Claver said of the Spanish media, grinning. "Not all the journalists love us, but most of them. Most of the Spanish players, almost all of them, play in Spain. It's not like Serbia where they will go all around Europe. You don't have many who play outside of Spain."

As the conversation came to a close, the easy-talking Claver clammed up for the first time because of seemingly innocuous subjects: Who does he compare himself to and who are his favorite players?

To the former, he would say only "Victor Claver." Regarding the latter, he dodged the question four separate times before finally relenting that Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Love are at the top of his list. He respects the Gasol brothers, of course, but said they don't measure up to the Oklahoma City Thunder scoring champ.

"For me, [Durant] is the best," Claver said. "The way he can shoot, he's the only one."

He said it with a shake of his head while looking out past the 3-point line. It was a respectful admission but not total awe. He projected a self-esteem and a level of pride that you might not expect from a rookie, even one who is three years removed from his 2009 Draft class. Who wants to list off their favorite players when they know they will face off against them in three weeks?

"I know most of them," Claver said of the new competition level that is awaiting him in the NBA. "I've been playing in Europe, not only in Spain but I played against great players on the National Team. There's nothing special, but they're good."

There was a lot of emphasis on the final word. But no laughs that time.
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