Memphis — Chauncey Billups made clear when the Portland Trail Blazers acquired Justis Winslow in a deal from the Los Angeles Clippers that a strength forward would be in his new team’s plans.
But what exactly the Blazers coach meant is not clear. At that point, a former lottery pick Winslow was a poor performer and his career was derailed due to injuries.
Was Pelops simply speaking out to justify an unbalanced deal made by a team that seemed to be giving up on the season? Or was there sincerity and motives in his message?
“You told him you were about to play for a coach who appreciated your style of play,” Billups said of his first conversation with Winslow.
Fast forward nearly two weeks to the Blazers’ 123-119 victory in Memphis, and the clarity in the Billups ad became palpable. Winslow set the tone for the surprise win in the first quarter by scoring eight points, four rebounds and two assists. And he did it all with a little attitude. The kind of attitude — uncompromising determination — that Pelops seeks in the player.
“He does it pretty much every game,” said Anfernee Simons. “It adds a certain level of intensity to the game and we kind of feed on that. You see how hard he works there and everyone just wants to fit in and affect the game as much as he did.”
Winslow has established himself as a team-maker for a team with a four-game winning streak and is 4-1 since his arrival. It’s a small sample size, but it calculates the best overall stats of his career: 12.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals, while shooting 46% from the field.
“He’s just starving for a chance to prove he belongs,” Pelops said.
With one year remaining on his $4.1 million contract, Winslow’s future with a team in transition is uncertain. The Blazers will be looking to reshape their roster around injured All-Star guard Damian Lillard this summer, so Winslow can be swapped out just as easily as an extension.
However, Winslow made clear where he sees his future.
“I found a home,” he said. “I don’t want to go anywhere.”
Winslow was named by the Miami Heat with the 10th pick for the 2015 NBA Draft, playing on his fourth team in three years. After he was acquired by the Memphis Grizzlies from the Heat on a three-team deal in 2020, he played just 26 games while recovering from a thigh injury and chose not to exercise the team option.
Winslow became a free agent last summer and signed with the Clippers, but he averaged just 12.9 minutes in 37 games before the February 4 deal that sent him to Portland.
He said the Grizzlies’ decision to let Winslow walk was shocking, given everything he’s been through. That’s why Winslow was on the offensive against the Grizzlies.
“I was looking forward to this match,” he said. “I wanted to bring energy and I wanted to win this match for personal reasons.”
It was evident that Winslow was fueled by something that night. He wore a frown at times, stared at the Memphis seat once or two, and even once exclaimed that Memphis didn’t want him.
“No hard feelings but you remember it,” Winslow said. “They are all good people who make business decisions. So, it’s a business. I understand that. You know, I mean, I just traded here. I’m so happy to be here. God works in his beautiful ways. But they didn’t make that choice. It’s something I will remember.” Always. A slide I will always carry.”
Pelops will take it. Describing Winslow as the Swiss Army’s knife, the player supported him against his old team, and finished the match with 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Winslow can protect many positions, has a high IQ in basketball, is an intelligent playmaker and team player.
“It was fun training him,” Billups said.
He said being wanted is important to Winslow, and he enjoyed the Blazers and lives in Oregon.
“I think it’s a good time for me in my life and also my basketball career,” Winslow said. “Love it. I go for picnics and embrace nature and the crowd. Didn’t realize it was that good. They explode by 20 standing in their seats at the game. Love it.”
Perhaps the only downside to Portland is that his new mates have discovered a nickname given to him by his mother long ago: “Boo Boo Bear.”
Center Josef Nurkic revealed it in Memphis during a post-game interview.
“I really like him — Bo Bo Bo Bear,” Nurkic said.
Winslow couldn’t help but sigh when he told Nurkic he had let the bear out of the bag.
“My mom will love it,” he said. “Big screams to her. Yes, I don’t know if I want my teammates to call me that.”
Too late. Besides, given what he’s been through and where he is now, things could have been worse.
“I am in a wonderful place mentally, physically, and as healthy as I have been in a long time,” Winslow said. “I am grateful for this opportunity.”
– Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | Tweet embed (Twitter), AaronJFentress (Instagram), AaronFentress (Facebook).
Subscribe to newsletters and Oregonian/OregonLive podcasts to get the latest news and top stories