The 2021-22 Portland Trail Blazers made their first appearances earlier today during the team’s annual Media Day. Among those was new acquisition Larry Nance Jr., a versatile, defensive-minded big who came over via a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here are a few of the quotables from Nance’s first official press conference as a member of the Blazers.
When asked about whether his recent experiences in playing for a struggling Cleveland Cavaliers team contributed to his excitement in playing for Portland — owners of the NBA’s longest-running streak of playoff appearances — Nance offered a quick rebuttal before expressing his appreciation, saying he was “dying” to get back to the postseason.
“I have been to the Finals, so I do want to put that out there. I haven’t been on losing teams my whole career. So that experience in the Playoffs was what drove me to want to come here. Being in L.A., we weren’t very good as you know, and then once (LeBron James) left Cleveland, we weren’t very good. I’m a guy that’s been dying to get to that stage again. The Playoffs is what basketball’s all about, what we dream about as kids.
I know for a fact I’m ready for that stage again, and that was a big factor in my decision to come out here. This team has been in the Playoffs for what, eight, nine years straight, the longest consecutive streak in the NBA, standing I think? And that was important to me. And so, I’m excited to play whatever role, how big or how small, these guys deem necessary for me to do to get back to the Playoffs, and hopefully deepen the run.”
This season will mark four consecutive years since Nance went on that NBA Finals trip in 2017-18, and as he notes, the Cavaliers weren’t as effective following James’ departure. To Nance’s credit, the Cavaliers rostered 25 different players last season, and Nance was one of only two players to log 1,000 minutes and produce a positive on-off swing (+2.8).
Nance also chronicled some of the “nightmare” of creating defensive gameplans to guard his new teammates, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, in the past:
“As a defensive mind, coming in to play these guys was always a nightmare because you have to pick up both of them so high, as soon as they cross the court. Across half court, so, those two are top-two, if not the top-one backcourt in the league. They’re incredible and they have been for the past few years. I’m going to keep saying, ‘Whatever they need me to do is what I’m going to do.’ I think I’m gonna be tremendously helpful when teams start to blitz either one of those two, blitz as in trap, and I think that’s where I’m really going to help on the offensive end, making plays going downhill, going 4-on-3 once those guys get trapped. We have thought a lot about it, and this is going to be a really good fit for me.”
Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian threw out a question about the Blazers’ defense, talking about how opposing defenses never worried about how offense would come against Portland’s porous defensive schemes. He discussed the first-ever conversation he had with head coach Chauncey Billups.
“The first conversation I had with Chauncey Billups was like, ‘Hey look. This team was the sixth-seed in the Western Conference, which is a monster of a conference, and was No. 28 in defense last year.’ When you think about it, it’s a ludicrous stat. It’s ridiculous. And so he goes, ‘That’s my main focus, is we have these incredible offensively-gifted guards and we can surround them with guys that, we don’t have to be No. 1 in defense. Get us to the middle of the pack or slightly above, a No. 3 offense and a top-10 defense, that’s a recipe for success, and that’s one of the things that I’m here to do.”
Nance hit on his own accomplishments from 2020-21, a season in which he led the NBA in steals in prior to injuries. As he noted, Cleveland went from No. 30 in defense to a top-three unit before he got hurt.
Over the rest of the presser, Nance also hit on the experiences of that 2018 NBA Finals appearance, what he seeks to do off-court and within the community — a major penchant of his in the past — his appreciation for a “forward-thinking” Portland atmosphere, his excitement about seeing the Portland Timbers’ soccer team, defensive accountability, and sacrificing for the team, among much else. The link to Nance’s full media day interview can be found above.