Damian Lillard, Ronnie Price and the Portland Trail Blazers.
It’s a match made in Utah.
The Trail Blazers, of course, used the sixth pick in last summer’s draft to select Lillard, who attended Weber State.
Three weeks later, Portland signed Utah Valley product and former Utah Jazz point guard Ronnie Price as his backup.
Along with his role on the court, the Blazers wanted Price to help their franchise’s new cornerstone navigate his first season or two in the NBA. It’s difficult to imagine a better situation for everyone.
Lillard and Price are friends from their days in Utah — a relationship that started because they were mutual acquaintances of ex-Ute Johnnie Bryant, who is now a player development assistant with the Jazz.
Portland management "knew Damian and I had some friendship before," Price said. "They talked to me about the importance that he be OK — on and off the court."
No worries there.
"Damian takes care of himself," Price said. "He’s a very mature young man. He’s way ahead of his years in maturity. I’ve mostly just told him, ‘I’m always here if you need me.’ "
Portland coach Terry Stotts agrees that Lillard doesn’t need much guidance. He’s pleased to have Price as a resource, however, because of what he brings to the locker room.
"Ronnie’s done a terrific job," Stotts said. "He’s such a quality person. He’s stayed in this league a long time, not only on talent but because of his character and work ethic. …
"Some of that has transferred to Damian. I think Damian had a lot of it coming into the season. But Ronnie’s mentoring has been a part of Damian’s growth."
This is Price’s eighth season in the NBA, including four with the Jazz.
Never a star — or even a starter — Price has played nearly 500 preseason, regular season and playoff games because of his willingness to accept a role, do what is asked and perform admirably enough when he gets the chance.
"I’ve been very fortunate, very blessed," Price said. "And I know it’s not just me. A lot of people played a part of my career — and my family has been so supportive."
Price spent four seasons with the Jazz, playing home games just 50 miles from the UVU campus. He endeared himself to former coach Jerry Sloan with his toughness, athleticism and professionalism.
"It was special," Price said. "To spend my college years here and play professional basketball here was a big treat. I don’t regret one second of any moment I spent in Utah. It was great."
Price spent the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12 in Phoenix before signing with the Trail Blazers in the offseason.
"Free agency is free agency," Price said. "It changes day-by-day — what team you might play for or what team is interested in you. But Portland came available, got the deal done and it’s been great."
Stotts and Lillard likely agree.
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