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Blazers ready for most unusual summer

Through two decades as an assistant coach and head coach in the NBA, Terry Stotts is invading new waters with his current Portland outfit that will participate in the Las Vegas Summer League.

Six returning players are under contract and no rookie draft picks are on the 13-player roster that begins a three-day mini-camp Tuesday at the Trail Blazers' practice facility, then flies to Las Vegas to begin summer league games on Saturday.

"I've been in this a long time, but I don't think I've ever had a summer league team with six returnees and no drafted rookies," Stotts said Monday. "It's really unusual."

The presence of 2013-14 Blazers Joel Freeland, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, CJ McCollum, Will Barton and Allen Crabbe changes things for the Portland coaching staff.

"The priorities are a little different," Stotts said. "When you bring in rookies, you use (mini-camp) and summer league as the beginning of a learning curve to the organization, our system and to understanding the league.

"These six guys have an understanding of how we play, know what we're looking for, understand the league better and have played together for at least a year. So there's a form of continuity that we hope will continue as we move further along."

Stotts emphasizes summer league will not be a tryout session for the returnees, though coaches will closely watch their progress.

"Everyone wants to see how many points players average," Stotts said. "There's nothing for these guys to prove. It's not about numbers. They're all on the team next year.

"As a team, we need to improve defensively. They need to show us they understand what we're doing at the defensive end. It's about becoming better players and playing in the framework of what we want to get done next season at both ends of the court."

Stotts said the six returning Blazers all spent "a good part" of the month of June in Portland, working with assistant coaches on individual skills, together in small groups and also in scrimmage sessions.

"They're all further along than where we ended last season," Stotts said. "CJ and Will primarily play off the ball, but they'll be put in position to be playmakers and facilitators at the offensive end. Allen, who is already a good spot-up shooter, will be given a chance to be more of a ballhandler.

"What we need from the three big guys is continued improvement defensively, especially off the ball, protecting the rim. And everybody wants to expand his offensive game. There will be more shots available, more chance to be involved in pick-and-roll situations."

While the other five returnees spent at least some time in Stotts' regular-season rotation, Crabbe played only 100 minutes in 15 games. Does that mean the second-year shooting guard out of California will get a more extended look in summer league?

"People outside our building didn't get a chance to see Allen play, but we saw him every day in practice," Stotts said. "Through June, we had games every day. It's not a matter of us not knowing what Allen can do. He'll get a lot of opportunities in summer league, but no more than the other guys."

Stotts said he anticipates the six returnees each playing in every game at Las Vegas and said he isn't sure how many of the other seven players at mini-camp -- forwards Craig Brackins and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, swingman Rodney Carney and guards Keith Appling, Davion Berry, Bobby Brown and Jonathan Gibson -- will join them there.

"It's going to be a challenge for them," Stotts admitted. "Our six players under contract know our system, know what we want to do defensively. It's going to be a challenge for the other guys to catch up and be at a level we're comfortable with.

"But we'll have four or five practices in Portland, and there are minutes to be had in summer league. All of them will be looking for opportunities to advance their pro careers."

Assistants David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts will serve as co-head coaches in Vegas for Stotts, who recalls fondly his days running the Seattle SuperSonics at Salt Lake City's Rocky Mountain Revue during his early years as an NBA assistant in the 1990s.

"I loved summer league -- the opportunity to run practices and coach the games," Stotts says. "It's a great opportunity for the players to show growth, and to give assistants the chance to get their feet wet coaching games."

A few things I'll be looking for at Vegas Summer League:

• McCollum will get his minutes at point guard. Coaches will be watching to see how he runs the offense and distributes to teammates. I'll be checking out how he defends opposing points. I see no reason why he can't be productive there at least in spots next season.

• Leonard's sorry sophomore season can be a distant memory if the 22-year-old 7-footer comes back with a vengeance next year. Coaches want to see progress at the defensive end -- fewer touch fouls and better awareness of help principles around the basket. I think there's much more there offensively, too. He's an 80-percent foul shooter and has a nice touch that extends to 15 to 17 feet. The biggest thing missing is confidence.

• I want to see Crabbe in a game situation. He has a great stroke from long range. What else can he do? It's been a long time since he has played meaningful time in a counting (even summer league) game.

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