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New head coach Chauncey Billups and plenty of the players speak to a new mindset entering the 2021-2022 season.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Trail Blazers' forward Larry Nance Jr. smiles whilet taking questions during Blazers Media Day on Sept. 27, 2021, at the Moda Center.After an offseason with plenty of off-the-court decisions, the Portland Trail Blazers' media day before camp opens on Tuesday had plenty of non-basketball talk.

The prevailing message from the team was about accountability and defense, two holes that players and new head coach Chauncey Billups agreed have been missing during this era of the Blazers.

However, the starting core remains the same, but there'll be plenty of competition for bench spots and roles in the upcoming season between new signees and developing players looking to take the next step.

Here are the highlights from Blazers media day 2021:

Getting defensive

There's no hiding the fact that the Blazers have been lackluster on the defensive end the past few years. That's the biggest basketball challenge facing Billups as the first-time head coach takes over.

Billups talked about how every great team he played for during his career also played great defense, so it's no surprise Mr. Big Shot was more about his team playing Big Defense.

"Defense isn't easy and sometimes not fun, but if you want to be a great team in the NBA," Billups said. "The further you advance in the playoffs, I've never seen a team win the championship or even compete at the highest level for one that wasn't a good defensive team.

"I'm no guru, like this is my first time at it, but I do know what it takes to win."

Part of those issues were highlighted in Portland's first-round exit to the Denver Nuggets last season when Nikola Jokic took advantage of times when Jusuf Nurkic was in foul trouble or off the court.

Bringing Larry Nance Jr. and signing Cody Zeller are two pieces that President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey hopes can also change the defensive mindset.

"The coaching staff is very excited because the way (Nance) plays on the defensive end really translates to the style of play that (the coaches) are looking to implement for us this season," Olshey said. "I think the (new players) are a really good fit stylistically and I think they're also guys who in any system can contribute to the defensive end."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups waits for his turn at the podium during Blazers Media Day on Sept. 27, 2021, at the Moda Center.

Lillard is centered

After another first-round exit in 2021, star guard Damian Lillard was vocal about his displeasure with the trajectory of the team.

As Billups put it, he views two types of teams in the NBA: Teams with a superstar and teams looking to find a superstar.

Case in point, Billups and Olshey wanted to do everything they could to keep their superstar happy.

"Dame and I, our relationship started way before I became head coach of this team," Billups said. "Dame is two-feet in or two-feet out type of guy and obviously he's two-feet in. … I think he's happy with what's happened this summer with our roster being a lot deeper. A little less pressure for him to be absolutely amazing every night."

Lillard expressed that he believes the roster put together by Olshey and Billups is one that can be a really good team, but time is ultimately what will tell.

"We got some decent guys around that we can form into a really good team and be competitive," Lillard said. "There's only one way to find out how competitive and what it can actually be. We're going to find out soon."{img:316902}

Of course the offseason has a whole was busy for Lillard, who showed up to media day with his 2020 Olympic gold medal while playing for Team USA.

Lillard also got married over the summer and dropped his fourth studio album as Dame D.O.L.L.A with plenty of features.

Overall, it was an eventful summer for Lillard who said he learned that anything in life can come unexpectedly, like his twins that came earlier this year.

"I think it kind of put me in my place," Lillard said of his offseason. "I got engaged when it was least expected. Things happened when it was least expected so I want to see it through."

Holding feet to the fire

Besides defense, the biggest goal for Billups and his team is to create a new sense of accountability.

If that means calling out a certain guy for something that he did wrong, they'll do it, no more generalities.

That kind of mindset helped bring Nurkic back into the fold after he also voiced his displeasure with the way the 2021 postseason ended.

"With Chauncey I at least know he's going to be straight up," Nurkic said. "We've had great conversations and we go from here. … I'm glad somebody wants to be a bigger part of the organization."

Ultimately, the team expressed Monday that it will take some sacrifices and guys filling into their roles if Portland wants to get over the hump and be the 2022 version of the Phoenix Suns.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups takes questions during Blazers Media Day on Sept. 27, 2021, at the Moda Center.

Nance and Norman Powell, last season's trade acquisition, spoke to that kind of mentality and want to bring it to Portland this season.

"The thing I can bring from that (NBA) Finals trip (with Cleveland) is just the hunger and drive to get back," Nance said. "If they need me to play two minutes a night, terrific if that means we're winning. If they need me to play 30 minutes, terrific. As long as we're winning, I don't care."

While it sounds terrific on paper, the Blazers hope the roster build and new coaching staff will turn the playoff mainstay into a title contender.

Keep following the Portland Tribune for more coverage leading up to the preseason and regular season at portlandtribune.com


Austin White
Reporter
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