Portland Trail Blazers must decide what’s next for Pat Connaughton

Sep 26, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Potland Trail Blazers guard Pat Connaughton (5) poses during media day at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

How does Pat Connaughton factor into the Portland Trail Blazers’ future?

Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Pat Connaughton has completed his second season in the NBA. However, much like his rookie campaign, it was one in which he did not receive extensive playing time.

Connaughton played 39 games in 2016-17 and made one start. He averaged 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds per game in 8.1 minutes per game.

Through his first 37 appearances, Connaughton only received minutes late in blowouts. He averaged 6.6 minutes, 1.7 points, and 1.1 rebounds per game in those matchups. But he was finally given the space to showcase his talents in the last two games of the year.

Connaughton made his first career start in the Blazers’ 99-98 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. He scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, going 3-for-4 from three. He also added four rebounds and three assists.

Connaughton outdid himself in the following game, a 103-100 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. He finished with career highs in points (19), assists (seven), field goals (7-for-13), and three-pointers (5-for-10). He also added seven rebounds to the ledger.

Pat Connaughton’s last two games of the season were highly impressive. But did those performances show enough to keep him in the Blazers’ future plans?

Connaughton is entering the final year of his rookie contract. However, it is a non-guaranteed year. He will be owed nearly $1.5 million in 2017-18 if he is not waived on or by July 25.

This presents a small dilemma for the Trail Blazers’ front office. At age 24, Connaughton is a young, athletic perimeter shooter. He has been slowly developing in Portland’s system and may be primed for some big games in 2018.

On the other hand, releasing Connaughton affords some light financial relief to a team that is over the salary cap.

Also, he is still the third shooting guard on a team where C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe consume all of the rotation minutes at that position. Considering their abilities and the money invested in them, it’s hard to see Connaughton eating into any of their playing time.

Feb 13, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Pat Connaughton (5) reacts after making a three point basket in front of Atlanta Hawks guard Mike Dunleavy (34) during the first quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The team could choose to start a new shooting guard project with someone younger. That includes rookies the Blazers could pick up in the upcoming draft with any of their three first round picks. The difference between Connaughton’s deal and what the rookies would be owed is marginal.

However, he does have a final opportunity to prove himself before general manager Neil Olshey makes his decision.

The Portland Trail Blazers will be participating in the 2017 Vegas Summer League. Head coach Terry Stotts stated during his April 25 exit interview that Connaughton would be among the players on the roster.

The league runs from July 7-17. This provides Connaughton with enough time to showcase what two years of steady development has done for him. The front office will likely hold off on a decision until after Summer League wraps up.

It will be Connaughton’s third consecutive season at the Summer League. He averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 10 games over his last two trips to Las Vegas.

Connaughton had a particularly strong stint in 2016, averaging 14.8 points per game in five games. He scored 19 points in a sudden death, double-overtime win against the Utah Jazz. He also had 23 points in a game against the Boston Celtics.

Over the past two seasons, Pat Connaughton has been an enthusiastic presence on the bench. However, he hasn’t been able to consistently receive time on the court. The Trail Blazers have done what they can to develop him, but the team has come to a crossroads.

We will see if Portland feels Pat Connaughton has more to give, or if he will be a summer sacrifice.

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