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The former lottery pick who has bounced around league is in competition to be a bench player for Portland

SMITH• Smith's night: Dennis Smith Jr., a former Dallas Mavericks lottery pick who signed a training camp contract with the Trail Blazers, is in a competition for one of Portland's roster spots, and he showed Monday night why he could very well make the team.

Smith scored 18 points and was a team-high plus-10 while on the court. He made 7-of-9 shots (2-of-3 3-pointers) and added seven assists in Portland's preseason game at Moda Center (which Sacramento won 107-93).

"He's had a great camp. I was happy he had the opportunity to show what he was doing" in training camp, coach Chauncey Billups said. "He gets into the paint, he can spray it around (with passes), create opportunities for everybody else. He got a lot of minutes, and I thought he played well."

Smith is 23 and is on his fourth team in five seasons. He was drafted by Dallas with the ninth pick in 2017 and started and played in 69 games his rookie season, averaging 15.2 points. He played in only 110 games in the next three seasons for Dallas, New York Knicks and Detroit.

He's competing to be a third point guard behind Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons. "You have to have the right spirit to take DNPs," meaning did-not-plays/coach's decision, Billups added. "If you get an opportunity to play, (coaches) gotta be able to trust that guy and how he's going to play. (The player) can't force it and over do it."

• Ant's play: Simons had 24 points, but he was minus-19 against Sacramento.

"I thought 'Ant' was really good," Billups said. "He continues to make strides and stay aggressive. I wanted him to be confident. I liked his floor game."

The problem in the preseason loss was the Blazers, who fell to 0-2 in preseason play, had 27 turnovers and went 6 of 29 on 3-pointers.

• Depth: Billups addressed his team's depth after Monday's game.

"I think we have real good depth this year. That was point of emphasis for Neil (Olshey) and the front office," he said. "We wanted to be a deeper team." He mentioned signees Tony Snell, Cody Zeller and Ben McLemore and acquisition Larry Nance Jr.

"I like our depth. I am very optimistic about this season. Excited about it."

It appears Smith, Patrick Patterson, Marquese Chriss and Quinn Cook are competing for rare roster spots, perhaps just one.

• Next up: It's a week now until the Oct. 20 season-opening game against Sacramento at Moda Center.

The preseason schedule continues Wednesday, Oct. 13 at Phoenix, and Friday, Oct. 15, at Golden State.

• For more: We'll have a Portland season preview and a look at the NBA Western Conference and Eastern Conference in the next edition of the Tribune, Wednesday, Oct. 20.

We'll have coverage all season long at www.portlandtribune.com.

• Big story: The Trail Blazers didn't have much comment on the big news story last week: Former NBA players charged in attempting to defraud the National Basketball Association's health and benefit plan. According to prosecutors, the group attempted to steal $4 million from the league.

On the list of 18 former players is current Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Milton Palacio. Other Blazers connections include Darius Miles (2004-2006), Ruben Patterson (2001-2006) and Sebastian Telfair (2004-2006).

Palacio played in the NBA from 1999-2006 with six different teams.

He's been placed on administrative leave. "The federal investigation is independent of the Trail Blazers organization and we will have no further comment pending the outcome of the legal process," the Blazers said in a statement.

• Improvements?: Billups was emphasizing transition defense and offensive spacing, as well as the drive-and-kick and swing aspects of offense, in the lead up to the second preseason game.

Overall, "I'm happy with where we are, how these guys are trying to pick it up and implement and do things. I also know it takes time," Billups said.

• Zeller out: Golden State's Andre Iguodala dunked and came down with his right elbow on new Blazers post Cody Zeller's nose — an unfortunate break, literally, in the first preseason game. Zeller had surgery last week on the broken nose. "Surgery went well," Billups said. "We still don't know when he'll be back." But, Billups said in a radio interview Monday that Zeller could be back for the season-opening game.

• Competition: Simons has some competition for backup point guard with Dennis Smith Jr. and Quinn Cook. Billups wants Simons, aka "Ant," to show that "he's ready to take it to another level."

Also, questioned by reporters about final roster spots for the likes of Smith, Patterson, Chriss and Cook, Billups said, "it's still a battle right now."

• On coaches: "They get along well, understand what we want to accomplish. It's been a great experience for everybody," CJ McCollum said of Portland's new staff.

• No trade: It was reported that the Philadelphia 76ers offered Ben Simmons to the Trail Blazers for McCollum, three first-round draft picks and more. Portland reportedly turned it down.

On Monday, ESPN reported that Simmons had reported to the 76ers, after sitting out training camp while saying he would not play for Philly again.


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