PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers introduced Kent Bazemore during a press conference Wednesday.
Bazemore, a veteran 3-and-D wing, was acquired in Monday's trade that sent playmaking forward Evan Turner to the Atlanta Hawks.
The newest Blazer is long and rangy, standing 6-foot-5 with a 7-0 wingspan. He's a good outside shooter who has shot close to league average, about 35%, on a high volume of 3-point attempts over his career (a little more than five attempts per 36 minutes).
Bazemore, who turns 30 on July 1, is also a "very good" defender, according to Chris Kirschner, Atlanta Hawks beat writer for The Athletic.
"He was one of the better defenders on the Hawks last season," Kirschner said Tuesday during an appearance with John Canzano on The Bald Faced Truth. "When he is healthy, he provides spacing, and very good defense."
Read a full transcript of the press conference below
Over the past four seasons with the Hawks, Bazemore averaged 11.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals in 26.7 minutes per game, while shooting about 42% from the field and 35% from the 3-point line.
Bazemore started last season well, averaging more than 14 points through the first 34 games. But he suffered a right ankle injury on Dec. 29 and missed the next month. "That ankle injury really set him back," Kirschner said.
When Bazemore returned, rookie Kevin Huerter had taken his starting position and Bazemore went from playing almost 28 minutes per game before the injury to about 21 minutes per game. Bazemore went through a two-month slump after the injury, shooting about 34% from the field and 28% from the 3-point line.
Bazemore, like Turner, is a strong presence in the locker room. He was supportive of Huerter after he lost his starting position and it became clear the rebuilding Hawks were moving in a different direction and away from Bazemore.
"Everyone says Turner is such a good guy in the locker room. Bazemore is essentially the same thing in the Atlanta locker room," Kirschner said. "The Blazers are definitely getting a solid basketball player who can help them."
Full transcript of press conference
BAZEMORE ON HIS IMPRESSIONS OF PORTLAND
The fans here are great. The Moda Center has always been rocking, regardless of what side of the ball you’re on. I came here playing with the Lakers back in 2014. I threw an alley-oop to Wesley Johnson to win (see the box score). I think it was our first time winning here in a while.
It’s such a good environment, they understand the game of basketball. I don’t think they boo the other team. They just like to watch a good brand of basketball, and I’m excited to have them as allies now. The culture here is great. I’m here to just continue moving the franchise in the right direction, and that’s winning a championship. I watched them all last postseason, and it’s like the first time you meet your wife. It just fits your eye. I’m excited to be here and I’m looking forward to getting after it.
BAZEMORE ON LILLARD AND CJ
Damian Lillard and I came into the league at the same time, and were actually classmates at the rookie transition program, him, myself and Meyers Leonard, so a little bit of history there. [Lillard's] a mid-major guy, so is CJ [McCollum], and I am as well. I think we all have that chip. [Lillard] plays with an enormous chip on his shoulder, he’s someone I would love to play for, go to battle with every night. Him and CJ are really the best backcourt in all of basketball.
It’s a solid position for me to come in and do what I do best. In Atlanta, over the past couple of years, the outlook on the franchise shifted a little bit. I kind of got caught in the middle of that, trying to reinvent myself in the middle of it all. But I’m here, and I can do the things I was put on this earth to do.
BAZEMORE ON PLAYING DEFENSE
Not a lot of people like to do it, so when you do it well, you stand out. It takes effort. I like making it easier on my teammates. If I can make it tougher on the other team’s best player, I feel like I’ve done my job.
I really don’t care for plays being being run for me. I like to go out there and do the dirty work, like P.J. Tucker and Andre Iguodala, and all those guys around the league who just stand in the background and do all the dirty work. That’s why I’m here.
BAZEMORE ON THE FIRST TIME HE RECOGNIZED HE HAD REALLY LONG ARMS
I played football growing up. I hate dropping passes. So I run across the middle, I was like 11 years old, I stretch out, and this guy just smacks me. That was when I found out football wasn’t for me. But I caught the ball, and I saw it on film, it was an amazing catch. That was the first time I really knew I had extremely long arms for my frame.
NEIL OLSHEY ON BAZEMORE’S FIT
We’ve always liked him. He’s a great fit positionally for us, style of play. He was a free agent we were looking at in 2016. At the time, he did exactly what guys are supposed to do. He resigned with the franchise that gave him a great opportunity to showcase his abilities, and they got him off the market really before the market opened. But here we are, three years later, and we continued to track his progress.
As our team got better and better, having a player who plays his style of basketball, he can contribute at an even higher level, because like Kent said, there are things that aren’t going to be asked of him here that may have been asked of him with a younger roster. His shot quality is going to go up with Dame and CJ. His ability to defend multiple positions, his ability to play without the ball, move without the ball, will be key for us in terms of Terry [Stotts'] system.
OLSHEY ON BUILDING THE ROSTER
We all know we’re in a difficult position. We’re over the tax as of today after this acquisition. We had a lot of non-Bird free agents on our roster, and we only have one tax midlevel. In order to continue to build this roster to compete at the level everyone has become accustomed to, a lot of our transactions are going to be by trade.
You know, [Evan Turner] was phenomenal for us, he’s great in the locker room, his skillset. But with the distinct possibility that we might end up losing Rodney Hood to offers that go beyond what we can compete with, based on our tax midlevel, we needed to get a wing that replicated a lot of the things we were successful with doing last season.
TERRY STOTTS ON BAZEMORE’S SKILLSET AND FIT
A lot of the things Neil just said, obviously. The athleticism he brings to the roster is important, the ability to run the floor. One thing I like is what he just said about not having plays run for him, but finding his niche. Guys like Kent have a way of impacting the game on their own, whether it’s defensively or rebounding, or getting out in the lane, or a timely 3.
I think he just fills a lot of things we’re looking for on the offensive end, and as you mentioned defensively, he can guard three positions, he can really be tough at the defensive end, and I think his versatility will help us as well.
BAZEMORE ON JOINING A WINNING TEAM
It’s a breath of fresh air. The past two years have been tough. I’m a guy that loves to compete every night. Obviously I want to thank the Atlanta Hawks for putting me in a position to thrive, put me in position to be still sought after with a franchise like the Portland Trail Blazers. So big thanks to [Hawks general manager Travis] Schlenk and [owner] Tony Ressler and the crew there.
It feels good. I know these guys want to win every night and it’s something that’s understood, it’s something that these guys don’t have to talk about. I’m sure there weren’t many talks during the season after losing a game or something and saying, "Hey guys, we gotta pick it up." I’m sure these guys they get after it every night. That’s another thing about playing in the West, there are really no nights off.
Getting back to that brand of basketball, playing at a high level every night, is what I love. My first year in Atlanta, we won 60 games, got to the Eastern Conference finals. So I’ve been almost to the pinnacle of NBA basketball, and it’s tough. I know how every possession matters. I know about taking care of business when you’re supposed to. I know how to win on road, where I know it’s tough in certain atmospheres. These guys all replicate that.
With the growth of Dame and CJ and getting Nurkic back next season, it’s going to be huge. I’m just champing at the bit. Just had a son two months ago. My zest for life is at an all-time high. My body feels great. I’m just ready to get back to the promised land.
BAZEMORE ON HIS HOMETOWN OF KELFORD, NORTH CAROLINA
It’s about as big as this room. Kelford, North Carolina is where I grew up, about 300 people. I had about 12 or 13 kids my age, so we [played] a lot of sports, played a lot of things growing up. It’s still something that’s a part of me. I love brotherhood, I love community, I love camaraderie, I love team chemistry, and I’m a big component of that.
Even back to my college days playing under Blaine Taylor [at Old Dominion], he always preached being your brother’s keeper. I think these guys, they do that here, and that’s why they’ve been successful. I look at myself as a plug and play. I don’t really see myself missing a beat here, the style and fit is great.
I just want to make the guys' jobs a lot easier, moving without the ball, slashing. Getting back to what I was doing, running the lanes. Not too many people can keep up with that for a very long time. Look at a guy like Corey Brewer, one thing I really liked about his game was he just stretched the floor, he would just run through the camera guys if he had to in order to shrink the defense. And that’ll open up a lot of opportunities for my teammates.
BAZEMORE ON OBSERVING THE CULTURE IN PORTLAND WITH A DIFFERENT TEAM
It makes you jealous, man. You got the guys running off the bench greeting their guys, see them over there locked in the entire game, cheering them on. That does a lot. My career started on the bench with the Golden State Warriors, waving a towel the entire game. You see how it benefits your teammates, how they feed off of it. You’ve got five guys on the court, then you got another eight, nine, or 10 guys over there, even the coaching staff, even the training staff, the guys in the weight room. Everyone benefits when we win here, and that‘s what makes the job special. I think everyone counts, and that’s what makes this franchise a great one.
OLSHEY ON OFFSEASON PLAN
It’s a work in progress. We had talked about this at exit interviews. Roster building is fluid. We went into the draft, we had certain plans, and a certain player got to us we weren’t expecting, and we considered that a win. Where we are today, adding Nassir [Little] and Kent [Bazemore] has moved the ball forward for us.
We’re clearly not done. Different organizations make different moves relative to their cap position at different times. In about four or five days, it’s going to be the teams with cap room that are the belle of the ball. And let’s not fail to make that distinction. There’s a difference when you have a $5.7 [million] tax midlevel and someone has $60 million in cap room, you know. Who’s going to be answering telephones? But we return a lot of our core pieces. We have a lot of stability with our roster, with our coach, stability with our culture.
It will be ongoing. I know everybody would like to send out their grades on July 1, and if you sent out grades on July 1 last year, they would not have reflected Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter. Understand, that’s why we have July, we have August, we get into the preseason, we get to December 15, we have January contracts, we get to the trade deadline. Roster building is an ongoing process. The more you evaluate your team, the more you know where your needs are. And I think that’s what people should expect.
There are not going to be fireworks on July 1 with a $5 million tax midlevel competing against teams with two max slots. That doesn’t mean we’re not retaining the core of our roster, it doesn’t mean we’re not making trades to add quality players, it doesn’t mean we’re not developing our young guys. As you could see when you walked into the building, Gary [Trent Jr.] and Zach [Collins] are out there working already. Our minicamp ended eight days ago, and they’re still here.
We’ll continue to work to find ways to compete and continue to build our roster. Hopefully, we’ll do what we did last year, which is when it really matters, late in the year, we have a team that can go on the kind of run we went on last season.
BAZEMORE ON CONTINUITY
I’m a huge proponent of continuity. Like I said, my first year in Atlanta, we won 60 games, then guys started to trickle out after that. You kind of see the effects of it. The front office changed a bit, and they had other plans.
It’s important to keep guys around that have been around. Look at a team like Toronto. Obviously they made a big move to get Kawhi [Leonard], but a lot of those guys had already been there. Kyle Lowry was a staple, he was a leader, and that team reflected that. You keep your guys there. In Portland, Dame and CJ, you keep those guys here, and Nurkic, he just came here but he’s fit in so perfectly. I think all those guys blend together, and that alone will attract the right people to come.
This front office here does a good job getting high-character guys who fit with what they want to do. In the NBA, there are a lot of guys who make a lot of money, and there could be so many egos, but when you find guys who are willing to sacrifice, that sets you apart. They’ve done a good job of getting the right guys here.
OLSHEY ON CHARACTER AND CHEMISTRY
We look at talent, we look at chemistry, we look at character. It’s always the same scale, are you more valuable than your problems? There are degrees with different players. Some guys take a little maintenance, but they’re worth it. There are guys who are going to infect your culture, and damage the ecosystem you have in your locker room. That’s probably not worth it.
We talk about character because that’s what we’re drawn to. We’re drawn to guys that want to be in Portland, they want to play they way we want to play, they want to be good teammates, they value being around other high-character people. We were in the Western Conference finals, so we must be doing something right.
When you look at the kind of challenges and adversity the team faced on and off the court last year, I don’t know that a team of low-character, more-talented players would have accomplished that. When you have multiple staff members battling cancer, people with life-threatening injuries from car crashes, when you lose your franchise center a week after the All-Star break to a collosally bad injury, not once was there a blip on the radar from the coaches, to the strength room to the training room to our players, that we weren’t all pulling the rope in the same direction.
What happens when you [don't focus on character] is you’re more vulnerable to fracturing and when you face adversity, do you have the kind of people who can stand up to it and overcome it? Last year was an example, every time we thought we were out of the woods, Enes [Kanter] dislocates his shoulder, Rodney [Hood] gets a knee injury, CJ [McCollum] hurts his leg. Everything we went through, it was a great run but nobody’s looking at what we had to battle throughout the entire year to get there.
I don’t know that there would be another team in the league who could have overcome the kind of challenges that this group overcame to achieve what they did. It’s a testament to the kind of people, not players, but the kind of people they are.
STOTTS ON BAZEMORE AND THE TEAM’S WING ROTATION
Well, it’s a little early to talk about the rotation. We don’t know what the roster is going to be, so get back to me on that question. Kent has a body of work in the league. He’s shown what type of player he can be, playing him at the 2-3 wing spot, but I don’t want to pigeonhole him.
As far as how he fits in, he’s going to fit in. He has shown he’s able to fit in in Atlanta and working his way into the league. He’s going to find his way. Obviously, I’m going to help him with that. Getting used to how we play, a lot of times I don’t like having too many preconceived notions. Obviously we have some ideas, but I don’t want to say this is how we’re going to do it for sure, because it is fluid over the course of the year.
The one thing that is true is he’s going to find his way on the court and he’s going to be effective when he’s there.
BAZEMORE ON HIS ARMS FOUNDATION
Editor's note: Bazemore's foundation, the ARMS Foundation, is a non-profit youth organization. The foundation's website says the foundation "exists to invest in youth, inspiring them to achieve their dreams and seeding programming that drives those dreams to become reality." Learn more here
I’ve always been the type of person who likes to help people, even if it’s giving them a smile. Giving is such a tremendous platform. You know, being undrafted and working my way up, having people make sacrifices for me, I felt almost obligated to uplift people. Through my ARMS foundation, I’m moving into the tech space and the stem space. I think those two areas, outside of sports, give you the best opportunity be as creative as you want, you can be as weird as you want, you can be whoever you are, almost a come-as-you-are type thing. Sending underprivileged youth from rural areas to Austin, Texas, just getting on a plane, stuff like that it really opens their eyes to seeing what’s out there.
I remember the first time my mom drove us down to Florida to play in the AAU Nationals, I got to see OJ Mayo, Bill Walker, Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love. I was like, ‘Man, this basketball is legit.’ They were playing in the championship game, and I was just sitting there watching, and I was like, ‘I’m going to be out there one day.’ I really had my eyes locked on playing at the highest level, and I’ve outlasted a lot of people way more talented than me. I think coming from an area where you’re born with so much grit, learning how to channel that, getting the right people around you, really gives you the best opportunity to succeed at life.
I’ve been doing work in Atlanta, Virginia, where I went to college, and back home. My ultimate goal is to build an academy. I want to help kids the best way I can. It’s not about taking tests. It’s about learning the things of life. For me, my rookie year, I didn’t set up auto pay and missed three payments. Just small things like that, learning how to just do life, get the small mistakes out of the way, and just grind. My rookie season, I was ranked 499 out of 500 by ESPN. There was a joke that there were some dead guys in front of me. When you start in places like that and work your way up, it’s almost like you’ve cracked some kind of code. And I just want to shed that kind of knowledge.
BAZEMORE ON ANFERNEE SIMONS LETTING HIM HAVE NO. 24
I’m going to take care of him for that. The equipment guy hits me up and said, "What number do you want to wear?" I asked, "Is 24 available?" He said, "I’ll ask," and my agent screenshots a tweet saying I’ll be wearing 24. So, big props for that. I’m going to look out for [Simons] all season and as long as we’re together.
24 is a number I’ve had since, before Kobe, by the way, I was the first KB24. I’ve had that number since I was 12 or 13 years old. It’s been with me for a very long time, and it means a lot. 24 second shot clock, 24 hours in a day, and me and my mom are 24 years apart. There’s a lot that goes into that.