Portland Trail Blazers Prepare For D-League Moves, Armon Johnson 'Possible' First Idaho Stampede Assignment

Update: The Portland Trail Blazers have assigned both Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson to the Idaho Stampede of the NBA Development League the team announced today.

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Last year at this time Armon Johnson was in the thick of his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers playing behind the point guard combination of Andre Miller, Patty Mills and even the recently retired Brandon Roy.

"Playing" is a generous term.

Johnson barely saw eight minutes of game time through the first two months of the season, and now a year later during a compact season and stacked backcourt once again, not much has changed for the smooth lefty out of Nevada. Miller is gone. Mills is gone. Roy is gone.

And in the next two to three weeks Johnson may be on the go too.

This time a return to the Idaho Stampede, Portland's D-League affiliate, appears in the works for Johnson and three other Blazers as the team begins the evaluation process this season on their young un-used core which includes Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, and rookie Nolan Smith, along with Johnson.

"Initially we want to give Nate (McMillan) anywhere from five to seven games to figure that out (Portland's rotation), to have the team and figure out how he was going to use guys," Mike Born, Portland's Director of NBA scouting, told Ridiculous Upside in a phone interview.

"Once we know who is playing and who isn't playing then we have a better idea and can go from there."

The decision may be easier to make than Born and the Blazers may think.

In five games this season, only Smith has played in two games, with both Williams and Babbitt logging one game each. As for Johnson, he's relegated to the in-active list where he's been forced to watch and learn once again. Yet like in seasons' past with guys like Martell Webster, Patty Mills, Babbitt and Johnson, December and January are months where players have made the journey from Portland to Boise to play for the Stampede.

The Blazers plan to keep that game plan going within this condensed schedule.

"We are looking to stay in the same calendar. It's a little different because we are starting later with the season, but if you want to allocate guys to the D-League you want to give them enough time to adjust," Born continued.

"A lot of our young guys played well in camp and they all did good things, and obviously we have some new players to figure out how they will work -- Ray (Felton) and Jamal (Crawford), then Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith -- so Nate and the coaches are trying to wrap their mind around who this group is and how the younger guys fit into that plan."

When asked if Johnson would be looked upon first for assignment, Born said "that's possible".

"Because Armon is in-active we will definitely look at him, but we'll look at all of those guys going down at some point if it fits our schedule and their (Idaho) schedule."

Last season, Portland assigned Johnson to Idaho on January 28, with the rookie point guard averaging 3.1 points, 1.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 8.1 minutes in 28 games played with the Blazers. At that point, it was the second time Portland utilized their D-League affiliate after Babbitt -- who averaged 6 points, 4 rebounds, a blocked shot in 30 minutes over 8 games as a rookie -- played for the Stampede from Dec. 8-18. In that span he averaged 18.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in 27.3 minutes over four games with Idaho before being recalled.

In early March, Babbitt was reassigned to Boise and returned to Portland after a 24-day stay where the forward averaged 20.9 points and 8.0 rebounds in 10 games. While Babbitt's playing time and role didn't change upon his return to Portland, the overall experience was beneficial. The same went for Johnson.

In his second game with Idaho, Johnson finished with 23 points off the bench - one of five games where he scored 20-plus points per game. On February 22nd, the Blazers recalled Johnson who averaged 18.2 points (59.7% FG), 4.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 27.6 minutes in 9 games (with one start).

"This year is different too because of the lack of practice time. There are so many games. This may be even a better year for guys to be in the D-League, because in the past we always liked having guys around because we were battling injuries and couldn't send an extra body to the D-League," added Born.

"At the end of the day we will potentially look at all of those guys getting down there if it can benefit them, and it will. If they are not getting the chance to get minutes with us the D-League is a great tool. Any of the guys who have been sent down there, they've all come away from having pretty good experience and we have a great affiliate in Idaho. They've done a good job of getting our guys down there, acclimated, and as many minutes as possible and juggling their roster."

Last season, Johnson returned from his time with the Stampede with a new perspective on the game. The six-hour bus rides through small Midwest towns in mid-February gave him a greater appreciation to applied to both the game and his life off the court.

He was thankful for talks with NBA veteran Antoine Walker. He became addicted to game film and DVD's of his D-League highlights. He relished the playing time and impact he actually had on the game.

Overall, Johnson referred to the experience at the time as "humbling".

"Initially guys are like, ‘why am I going to the D-League', and the reason they are in the NBA is because they work hard and have a lot of self confidence to play in the NBA," Born said.

"When Armon and Luke went down last year, they really didn't know much about it. But since I coached in the D-League for two years and was around minor league basketball for seven years, I felt I could give them an idea what the experience would be like."

That D-League experience will come at different times this season for Babbitt, Williams and Smith, but expect Johnson to have his number called first by the Blazers in the coming weeks.

It could be "humbling" all over again.

"There are good players down there and they are going to come after these guys," said Born, who will travel to the D-League Showcase in Reno (Jan. 9-12).

"They are also getting the chance to play versus just going through drills."

Wendell Maxey is a featured writer with Ridiculous Upside and covers basketball overseas and the NBA and D-League at large. After spending the last eight years covering the NBA in New York, New Jersey and Portland, Wendell now lives in Nuremberg, Germany. You can read more of his writing at Beyond The Beat and follow him on Twitter @w_maxey.

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