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Interview: "Caught Off Guard" Blazers C Meyers Leonard Says Demotion "Lit A Fire Under Me"

Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard discusses coach Terry Stotts' decision to move Joel Freeland above him on the depth chart.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard took questions from Blazersedge on Saturday following coach Terry Stotts' decision to move Joel Freeland above Leonard on the depth chart earlier this week.

Leonard said that he was "caught a little bit off guard" by the move and said that the demotion "lit a little bit of a fire" under him. He answered every single question put to him.

Stotts said Friday that the depth chart move was "nothing against Meyers" and that Freeland "earned his minutes." His comments explaining the decision are right here.

Here's a transcript of Saturday's conversation with Leonard.

Blazersedge: Coach Stotts said that he had a talk with you about the rotation change and how things are going to play out. How did that conversation go and what did he say?

It was just a brief conversation. He told me I just have to fight for my minutes. But for me I know this is a long season and now at this point of my career, and for my work ethic and knowledge in my life, this is the hardest I've ever had to work. I know this summer I busted my butt, I busted my butt in training camp, but now it's time to go even harder. Extra workouts, extra reps. Ten percent extra effort on a drill here and there. It's time.

Blazersedge: Did you have a good camp? Did you show the fruits of your labors?

I feel like I had a pretty good camp. But, you know what, Joel came into games and he had some really big defensive plays. I have to work on my defense and I have to continue to work as hard as I can. I'm not down on myself. I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team win.

Blazersedge: On Media Day we talked about the possibility that you would try to compete for the starter's job. Now you're trying to crack back into the rotation. Is there a change in mentality? How do you handle that mental shift?

You know what, I wouldn't say it's a shift. I would say it's more of an engagement. It's really time for me give that extra effort. Not that I wasn't. But there was no doubt spots here and there where I could have went harder. I think this has lit a little bit of a fire under me. It's time for me to get after it.

Blazersedge: Did you see it coming? Coach Stotts said there wasn't a specific moment that made him make the decision, but it was the body of work.

No. I really didn't have much of a clue. I was caught a little bit off guard. But, hey, this is a business. It's coach's job to put in the game who he thinks is going to give him the best chance to win. Like I've said a few times now, it's time for me to get back after it even more.

Blazersedge: How would you characterize your feelings? Are you frustrated?

No. It's just lit a fire under me in a good way. I wish I was in the same position I was a couple of weeks ago. But, hey, maybe this is a realization.

Blazersedge: Specifically, where do the improvements need to come on defense?

A little bit of everything. Every team is different. We scheme differently for different teams. We're trying to pack the paint more like we've discussed. They showed the stats on the board the other day and our defense has been pretty top-notch. We had 17 stops in a row at Golden State. That's really impressive. Compared to where we were at last year, I really hope we can keep it up. I'm eager to be a part of that. I'm going to give it everything it takes.

Blazersedge: Coach Stotts was asked to compare what Joel Freeland had done that you hadn't yesterday, and he talked a lot about doing the dirty work. Is that something Stotts has talked to you about?

It's not a fair question in my mind. No offense whomever asks that question. We're [Freeland and Leonard] completely different people in my mind. We have different skillsets. I definitely have to get down to the nitty-gritty, diving for loose balls, tracking down more rebounds, giving my body up on defense. I'm going to give what it takes.

Blazersedge: So you do feel like you have to do those things?

More. More. I've been there, my verticality has gotten better since last year, since the summer. I have to come and give it my all every day.

Blazersedge: What do you think your role will be by the end of the season?

It's a long season, that's all I can really say. Like I said earlier, it's up to coach. What I have to do from an individual perspective is come every day, give it all I've got, try to prove to my teammates, staff and coaches that I'm worthy of being in the game.

Blazersedge: What feedback are you getting from your teammates and coaches?

I don't really talk a lot about individual performance really with my teammates. I talk a lot to Joel. I talk a lot to [assistant coach] Kim [Hughes]. He says just keep playing hard, it's a long season and I just have to bust it every day as hard as I can and everything will fall into place.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter