Blazers Coach Terry Stotts: Demotion To Third String Is "Nothing Against Meyers Leonard"

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts addressed his decision to move Joel Freeland over Meyers Leonard on his depth chart.

Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts addressed Friday his decision to move Joel Freeland over Meyers Leonard on his depth chart, a move that essentially squeezes Leonard out of the rotation to start the regular season.

Here's a transcript of Stotts' statements.

Decision to place Joel Freeland over Meyers Leonard

Like I said last night, Joel has earned his minutes. We need defense from that position. The focus we've put on defense as a team has paid off so far. Joel has earned it. He's had an impact on the game defensively. He's had a really good summer. It's nothing against Meyers. I think Meyers has improved. He's much better than he was last year. He's going to continue to get better. At this point, Joel has earned it.

Areas of improvement for Meyers Leonard to get back into the rotation

It's a long season. 82 games, opportunities happen. He'll get an opportunity. He just needs to keep working. Things happen throughout the season. When his opportunity comes, when his number is called, he has to be ready.

Did you talk to Meyers Leonard about the move?

I talked to him. It's part of the game.

What is Joel Freeland doing that Meyers Leonard isn't doing?

I think he's protecting the rim. He's putting his body on the line. He's been consistently doing the dirty work. He's gained the respect of his teammates by all the hard work and the dirty work that may go unnoticed, but his teammates sure notice it.

Joel Freeland's teammates have also spoken up about his training camp play

I think everything generally works itself out. It's a credit to Joel that he's played as well and as hard, made the improvements that he's made. He had a rough rookie season and he made a concerted effort to make strides over the summer.

Any turning points that helped you make the decision to place Joel Freeland above Meyers Leonard?

I think it was just over the course of time. I've said from the beginning, because we have a deeper bench, we have a lot of versatile players, there's going to be tough decisions to make. It wasn't just one thing. I gave it a a lot of thought. It's one of those things, you come into the beginning of the season, you have to make those decisions.

Blazers GM Neil Olshey had this to say about Leonard to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com.

"This is only Meyers Leonard's second year," he said. "One of the things you have to realize is bigs take a while to develop in this league, especially young bigs that left school early. Meyers is going to contribute to this roster just like Joel Freeland is, but when you have the opportunity to get Robin Lopez who fits in so well with exactly what we needed which was a rebounder, a defensive-minded player, a rim protector that will have LaMarcus' back in the paint, we couldn't have designed a better player to go get."

Leonard did not take questions after Thursday's win over the Golden State Warriors, in which he played just three garbage time minutes. Many of the Blazers players, including Leonard, were not available to the media on Friday because the team had an NBA security meeting immediately following practice. A team spokesperson said that Leonard is expected to be available to the media on Saturday.

Back on Media Day, I wrote this about Freeland's offseason work...

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Most Honest Self-Assessment

I'm sure I've been pretty hard on Joel Freeland over the last year but hats off to him for his approach to the summer. So often, players on the fringes look to external factors (playing time, coach, teammates, situation, etc.) to make excuses for their struggles. Freeland not only took total ownership of his poor rookie season, he spent all summer trying to get himself into position to take a real step forward.

Freeland opted against playing for Great Britain at EuroBasket and instead dedicated his summer to increasing his lower body strength. After taking off 14 pounds during the 2012-13 season, Freeland added roughly seven pounds back this summer. His upper body still looks quite lean.

Here's how Freeland explained his current predicament and what motivated him to commit fully to NBA workouts this summer.

"I see myself as a 4/5. I'm still trying to make that adjustment. My whole career I've been mainly a post-up guy. The adjustment for me as a four, stepping out, purely being in that mid-range, that's been tough for me, that's been real tough. In other games in my career, I was able to get a rhythm while playing in the post, hit two or three hook shots and then step out, a jump shot is pretty easy when you've got some confidence. But when your first shot is normally a jump shot, that's a different mindset.

"Of course i missed [EuroBasket]. I would have loved to play for my National Team. It was just a decision I had to make for myself and my career going forward. I do plan on playing for them in the future. I would love to help them out any way I can. At this moment in time I had to think about myself and try to take a step forward in my career going into next season and helping help the team. I wouldn't say it was a bad move for me. It was a move I had to take.

"I didn't want to take a step back. Playing in the summer for your National Team isn't only a two-week thing where you just play the EuroBasket. It's about two months. If you're playing for two months in a different style, especially in the adjustment I had to go through, playing seven years in a certain way, the European way, and then having to adjust your game to the NBA, I didn't want to go back for two months when I could be working those two months on my game and progressing in the way I need to be in the NBA way. That was my thought process going into that."

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-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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