Hart gets the start on Winslow, a little is okay

For the record: Every player in the NBA wants to be a starter. Sure, most would accept roles off the bench if they couldn’t win one of those five coveted places, and some could realize they’re better off as a reserve, but even the most enlightened, team-first individuals still want that start. There are not many axioms that include professional sports, but the desire to start is one of them.

Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups, as a former player, knows these things. So when it came time to break the news to Josh Hart, Justis Winslow and Nasser Little about which of the three would be their starting small-attack at the start of the 2022-23 regular season, he likely knew he had a couple of tough conversations about the horizon. But he also knows that disappointment far outweighs the lack of transparency.

“It’s a relief to know if it’s you or the other guy,” Pelops said. “It’s kind of a relief to know so you can settle into what your role will be.”

So after evaluating the three over the course of bootcamp and pre-season, both in terms of their performance and how they work alongside confirmed starters, Billups came to the conclusion that Hart will join Damian Lillard, Anvernee Simmons, Jerami Grant and Joseph Nurkic when the Blazers begin their season on October 19 at Sacramento, not just because of his skills, but because of the way he handles the game. And once he made that decision, he wasn’t late in delivering it.

“Josh gives us something that we don’t have in that starting unit, the edge and the fire he plays with, I think, helps that unit,” Billups said. “His rebound ability, the way he guards, the thrust he gives us in recoil, I think is great for the unit. It’s great for Dame, it’s great for Ant, and it takes some pressure off Nurk to try to get all the bounces. He was the best for the team and I wanted to do it as early as I knew so we could be clear.”

Hart, who averaged 4.0 points with 50 per cent shootings, 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steals in three 23.3 minutes per preseason game, has started in 118 of 296 career appearances since being selected from Villanova by selection. 30 of the 2017 draft. So he’s been a part-time regular since entering the league – he started 55 games in his first two seasons, with the Lakers – and after starting every game but one last season, he feels like he’s proven he’s ready to play. A full time job.

“I was a regular starter last year, and I think I proved that I can be a key player in this league,” Hart said. “That’s what I expect. Just play the game how I play my game, let everything else fall how it can.”

Sending the good news to Hart was the easy part. But while the decision may have been difficult for Billups – each player had a unique situation to start – the way Winslow and Little took the news showed respect for their coach and a great deal of self-awareness, two completely underrated traits throughout the league.

For Winslow, who averaged 7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 cuts in two pre-season games, knowing he’d come off the bench was disappointing. But as a veteran who has also made nearly a third of his career appearances, he is well aware of the role sacrifice plays in the team’s success. Lots of players these days talk about being a “star in their role,” and Winslow sees that as his responsibility now, even if that role is off the bench.

“I wasn’t going to say I was upset, but I wanted to get started,” said Winslow, who has learned the importance of being a team player under Miami’s Udonis Haslem, an NBA veteran. “But just keep trying to build. There is nothing concrete, whatsoever, in the NBA. Just stay with her. You have to subscribe during the season, and you have to sacrifice.

“That’s one of the things I told men before we started that you should be willing to sacrifice. Right now, that’s one of the things I have to sacrifice, but I still have to get out there and be myself and play my game.”

As for Little, he understood that he wasn’t ready to step into the starting role after undergoing shoulder surgery in January and abdominal surgery in May. While his improvement in his third year was one of the few positives coming out of Portland’s 2021-22 season — he averaged 13.1 points on shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent on shooting from three, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists in January — – He was not allowed to fully return to basketball activities until the beginning of the training camp. This simply wasn’t enough time to get back in shape and rhythm to what it was last season, something he readily admits.

“I understand. Frankly, I agree with (Pelops),” Little said. “I told him, ‘All the people as I was in January, I’m not him now.’” If so, it would probably have been a different conversation, but I told him I thought he made the right decision. There was no ill will.

“Beyond that, Josh got it. He played really well in camp, just the way he pushes the ball in transition, I think he allows guys like Dame and Ant to open up. I meant what I said about whatever decision they make is what I do. Credit to Josh and I’ll keep working again and getting into my groove and playing it.”

While the decision has been made, there’s no guarantee the Billups will stick to one start all season – in fact, he’s specifically indicated that he might not. Hart, Winslow, and Little know this too, which is a huge amount of motivation. But most importantly, Billups knows he’ll need all three at their best, whether as starters or backups, for Portland to succeed this season. Everyone in the NBA may want to start, but no more than they want to win.

“(Hart) played well, he earned it, he did a good job. The two other players he’s been competing with, Justice and Nas, are going to be a huge part of our squad this year in their own way,” Billups said. . Who starts, who knows if they will finish. We just don’t know. But I really appreciate the three players and I think for us to be a good team the three have to play well whenever they play.”

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