“We’re going to get some wins” Deni Avdija readies for next part of NBA journey in Portland

To say that the Israel basketball world was stunned would be an understatement when the news of the country’s lone NBA player Deni Avdija was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Portland Trail Blazers on draft night in a blockbuster.

However, it wasn’t just the Holy Land hoop aficionados that were shocked to see the news cross the wires in the middle of the night, it was Avdija himself as well that didn’t see it coming, perhaps even blindsided by the move.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect [to be traded],” the 23-year old said at his first Blazers media appearance. “Sometimes that’s the business and I embraced it. At the beginning, it was a little shocking as DC was my home for four years and I had some great moments with the Wizards and now I am in a different place. I was a little shocked, it’s tough to leave home, but I’m excited to start a new chapter and really take this organization to the next level.”

Just like his fans in Israel, Avdija was jolted into a new reality early in the morning as he was in a deep slumber, “Well, I was sleeping. I was in Israel, it was 2 a.m., woke up, they let me know, Woj bomb thing. I didn’t go back to sleep that night. It was shocking. It took me time to embrace it, but now that I’m over it, I feel like I’m in a great spot, and I’m very happy.”

And a great spot Portland definitely is for the 6”9 forward as the club had had an eye on him for quite some time. Former ESPN draft analyst and current assistant Blazers assistant general manager Mike Schmitz travelled the world following Avdija who helped Israel win back-to-back Under-20 European Championships in 2018 and 2019 while also capturing the tourney’s MVP award in the latter which was held in Tel Aviv.

“I’m very excited, a new chapter in my journey,” Avdija exclaimed. “Great organization, they welcomed me very, very well, so it’s a good start. I’m glad to be in a place where people embrace me and love me. I’m going to bring my competitiveness and we are going to have a lot of fun.”

Fun it will be on a team that features a number of up-and-coming young studs including Scoot Henderson who was selected 3rd overall in last year’s draft along with Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons and Deandre Ayton. While he doesn’t have any pre-existing relationships with any of the current players, everyone has welcomed him with open arms to Rip City.

“The players welcomed me pretty good. Everyone is smiling and telling me congratulations. When [management] picked me up at the airport, we spoke about the city, the culture, what they expect from me. The value of the trade, they gave up a lot to get me and I feel that it’s an honor.”

Deni Avdija – Photo credit: Portland Trail Blazers

While he didn’t list it as one of the attributes he brings to the table, Avdija happens to be one of the most unselfish players in a league that is full of players who want to show that they are the best there is, the best there was and the best there every will be. With his mentality, Avdija knows that he will be able to help make a team that is just coming out of their shell and who only won 21 games last season better.

“I’m always making the right play, trying to make the right play as much as I can. I’m very team friendly. My teammates, I want to do the best I can to make them be better on the court. Just hardnosed, just trying to come do his job and win games, that’s it. I’ll definitely try to help the young guys and bring their game up a level. I am here for them.”

Avdija also wants to continue to evolve and improve himself as well and he will do his best to keep on getting better while soaking up what he is being given by his new head coach Chauncey Billups and his staff as a key cog in the club.

“I’m every day in the gym, weight room, treatment room trying to get my body right. It’s really important for me. I want to be there for the team in every game possible. Bring my competitiveness and joy to the game and I feel doing all of the extra stuff around helps me do it. That’s my goal. Play as many games as possible. I did 82 one year, and I’m going to try to do it again.”

Deni Avdija and Scoot Henderson – Photo credit: Portland Trail Blazers

“As for expectations, I expect to be a big part of the team, help them become a better team and take them to the next level. I expect to get better every single day. Come here work out, get the knowledge of the coaches and become a better player and better person.”

The third Israeli in the NBA after Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel has worked hard to get to where he is today. Avdija climbed the ladder at Maccabi Tel Aviv and was named the Israel League MVP in 2020 just prior to beginning his career overseas in the NBA. However, nothing was ever handed to him on a silver platter.

“My journey has not been easy, it’s never easy. I never received any gifts and I always worked really hard for the things I accomplished. Since I came to the league it’s been a tough ride. I’ve played with some very competitive players and I feel like my role has expanded with the years and I honestly fought for every minute I saw on the court, every chance that I got the ball and I tried to do the best that I can and it got me here.”

Washington was Avdija’s first home in the NBA and that fact will never be forgotten but being traded is part of the business in the North American sports landscape and now it’s on to a new challenge with a new team and a new city.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“I think that they really loved me,” Avdija said. “I did a lot for the organization and the city. It was not the timeline I guess. I did whatever I could and gave whatever I could on the floor and that is the business. I feel like we had beautiful years and now I am in a different organization and I want to get the best I can here.”

“I matured enough in this league to understand the business side of it, to understand it doesn’t matter where you are at. At the end of the day you play ball and play the game that you love. I’m a big completive guy and I love winning, I love being around people and meeting new people. For me it’s fun.”

Last season Avdija saw his statistics really take a solid leap as his scoring jumped from 9.2 to 14.7 points while adding 7.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game. His outside shooting also improved to 37.4% from beyond the arc from under 30% the year prior.

“I really worked on the mental side of shooting and really understand that I am a good shooter. I really worked a whole summer focusing on the shot and making sure I was confident about it. I’m not overthinking anything anymore.”

Avdija, who has a passion for winning and for playing basketball unfortunately experienced plenty of losing while with the Wizards and is now joining a team that also has struggled since the departure of its most recent superstar in Damian Lillard. However, the Israeli has the make up and know how in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I understand that in the NBA patience is a big part and I’ve seen teams that were not good and now are top of the league so I really believe that this group can be there. I was making sure that all the losing stuff wouldn’t get into me and I came everyday even if you’re not in a good spot in terms of the standing.”

“Just come in and don’t look at the record, just come and play as hard as you can and compete to win. For me every win last year, even though we didn’t win much, was big time. Big time for our group, big time for me and I want to try and continue this culture here as well.”

Now in the State of Oregon which borders the Pacific Ocean, Avdija and the Trail Blazers are the only major league game in town of the four top sports in the United States. That means there is a passionate fan base for the team that last won the NBA Championship back in 1977 led by the late Bill Walton and coached by the legendary Jack Ramsey. Winning is important to the franchise and that’s what Avdija will try his best to do with his new team.

Deni Avdija – Photo credit: Portland Trail Blazers

“I heard that there is a very good fan base here, so I am excited to be a part of that. The West Coast, different city and seeing how the people interact and be a part of Portland is exciting. I’m excited to meet you all, I’m very happy to be here and we’re going to have a great time and we’re going to get some wins.”

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