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Battle for roles, jobs heats up at Blazers camp

Notes from some of the key elements of Tuesday's opening practice at the Trail Blazers' three-day mini-camp prior to their foray in the Las Vegas Summer League …

• With only one point guard under contract in Portland -- at least temporarily -- there would seem to be minutes available in a backup role to Damian Lillard next season.

The logical candidate is CJ McCollum, the 6-3 guard who played mostly shooting guard during his rookie campaign last season.

"I see the opening," said McCollum, who averaged 5.3 points in only 12.5 minutes in his 38 games last year. "It's hard not to see it. You see Twitter, you see everyone talking about it.

"I can't control if we bring somebody else in. I just have to work hard and put myself into position to help in any way possible, whether that be point guard, 2 guard or both."

McCollum spent more time at the point than at shooting guard in the first practice session and said he expects to start there when the Blazers open Vegas Summer League play against New York at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cox Pavilion.

"I'll do whatever (coaches need) me to do," McCollum said. "I'll be a point guard in situations where I make decisions, where I'm running the show. But we have a lot of quality ballhandlers who can orchestrate, so I can fill the wing and play both on and off the ball.

"I know the plays a lot better than I did last year, from the 1 and the 2. I'm getting more comfortable each day. I'm not too worried about playing point guard on offense. I'm more focused on the defensive end, keeping guys in front of me and playing the spot. I'm sure I'll start (Saturday's opener) at the 1 and then slide over to the 2."

• Then there was swingman Will Barton, who, when asked what specifically he has worked on since the end of the 2013-14 season, mentioned "outside shooting, defense, point-guard skills."

So does the 6-6 Barton see himself as a candidate for some of those point-guard minutes?

"I see myself playing whatever Coach (Terry Stotts) wants me to," Barton said. "As long as I'm playing, I could be playing center."

Barton knows there is plenty of time for Blazer management to bring on more point-guard help.

"It's a long summer, with free agency and trades," He said. "Nothing is set in stone right now. I can't say there are point-guard minutes available.

"All I'm trying to do is become a complete player, to work on my overall game. I've talked with Coach about being a complete guard. You never know who's going to be there and who's not. I just want to be prepared for anything."

• The free-agent signing of veteran center Chris Kaman makes the path to playing time more difficult for returning bigs Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland.

Leonard didn't try to sugar-coat his reaction.

"Don't really have an opinion on it," was all he would say.

Freeland was a little more expansive.

"It's a business," he said. "What can we do? (Kaman) is a great player. He's going to help us a lot. It just means me and Meyers have to pick it up more and prove our worth so we can play on this team."

After earning a solid spot in the rotation, Freeland suffered a sprained right MCL on Feb. 11 and missed the rest of the season. He said the knee is fine now and has been working full-bore on it since early June.

"I'll wear a brace on it through summer league; then I'll take it off for good," he said.

Freeland said he is starting from Square One.

"My whole thought process going into this summer is to do exactly the same things as I was doing last year, and more," he said. "Nothing has changed. I have to prove myself again. I have to work on my offense, work on my defense, and take a step forward.

"I have to push myself harder. I have to show the stuff I did last season, and improve. Nothing is given in this league. You have to prove yourself every day."

• Leonard and Freeland have spent a lot of time working against one another over the past four weeks, going one-on-one and working on post defense. Though just 22 and entering his third NBA season, the 7-1 Leonard said 2014-15 will be "the biggest season of my career. I have to prove to coaches every single day through practice, workouts, summer league, that I'm worthy."

• Speaking of working hard, Blazer players now gain entry to the Tualatin practice facility through a DNA thumbprint system. McCollum, for one, has been able to slip into the gym and work out whenever he wants. He says he is down to 5 1/2-per cent body fat and weighs less than 195 pounds.

But McCollum isn't the only Blazer who has been a regular this offseason.

"It's funny," he said. "We run into each other. We all try to be sneaky and get in our reps, get our shots and get better on the sly. We kind of compete like that. But the gym is open to everybody. It's no secret.

"It's our job. People don't understand how much time we put into it. They think it's fun and games all the time, but there's a lot of hard work behind the scenes."

• Last year, second-round draft pick Allen Crabbe was off to a decent start when he sustained a virus that put him down for the last two weeks of the preseason. The former California shooting guard never recovered and spent most of the season either on the inactive list or in the Development League.

"It was weird," Crabbe said. "I remember it was the middle of one practice. I felt sick, went over to the trash can and threw up. It just stayed around. I missed the last four preseason games. I felt like I'd had a really good training camp, had a couple of good preseason games. It was unfortunate.

"This summer league will be a new opportunity for me to impress the coaches some more. And then hopefully, I can stay healthy this year."

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