No matter what happens the rest of his career, Nolan Smith has accepted that he will always be linked to Kenneth Faried.
After every mammoth dunk, every dizzying double-double, every hustle-infused highlight-reel moment Denver's "Manimal" unleashes, somewhere, some disbelieving Trail Blazers fan will curse under his breath: "He should be a Blazer."

"I don't blame them," Smith said. "I don't blame them at all. Seeing what he's doing, seeing how he plays when he's on the court with his team, it's very easy to say, 'Damn, we could have had him.' But they could have had Michael Jordan, as well. It's part of the draft. They're mad at Greg Oden, too. So you can just add me to the guys they can be mad at."

And there's no question Blazers fans are mad. The team's decision to select Smith one spot ahead of Faried with the No. 21 overall pick of the 2011 NBA draft is one of several personnel moves that led to last season's roster implosion and this season's rebuild. As Faried quickly blossomed into a beastly difference-maker in Denver, Smith disappointed in Portland, rarely cracking the rotation and rarely contributing meaningful minutes.

Smith's two-year tenure in Portland will come to an end this week and it's only fitting that he'll face Denver -- and Faried -- today in one of his final games with the Blazers. But as he leaves Rip City, Smith prefers not to dwell on his past failings, but rather to focus on rediscovering his game and prove there is a place for him in the NBA.

"This is a business and things in this league happen in time," Smith said. "You have to get to a team where you're in their plans. That's one thing I'm looking forward to this summer in free agency. I'm going to get to a place that wants me, that wants me to be myself and play my game. If you think about it, there's no telling what would have happened with (Faried) if the Blazers drafted him. He might have been playing behind LaMarcus (Aldridge) and maybe his opportunity wouldn't have come. His opportunity in Denver didn't come until Nene got hurt. But Kenneth got an opportunity and Kenneth made the most of his opportunity -- in Denver. So now all the Portland fans can be mad."

Smith's perspective is that he was never given a fair shake in Portland. Last season's NBA lockout stalled and complicated his development from Day 1. A harried training camp sabotaged the Blazers -- and Smith's growth -- and a frenetic season that was heavy on games and light on practices shackled a player that earned first-team All-American honors and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year as a senior in college.

But what about this season? Smith had a full summer, a full training camp and a full slate of practices and games to show his value. The Blazers have been desperate for bench production since opening night and Smith never seized the opportunity. He was unable to beat out Ronnie Price in training camp and, when Price went down with an ankle injury, never was able to gain the trust of coach Terry Stotts.

Smith says it's hard for a player to show his talent and develop a feel for the NBA during a three- or four-minute shift. Team insiders respond by saying that, while Smith worked hard behind the scenes in practices and workouts, he never showed enough ability and confidence to earn a rotation spot.

The aggressive, multifaceted player from Duke who scored in bunches and shut down opposing guards on defense has been absent in Portland as Smith has struggled to run a team, handle defensive pressure and shoot with consistency. He's averaging just 2.8 points and 0.9 assists, while shooting 37 percent from the field, in 7.3 minutes per game this season.

"I'm not one to make excuses," Smith said. "I don't point fingers. I don't blame anyone for anything that's going on. This just wasn't the right situation for me. And I think everybody can see that. I'm just going to learn from it and move on. I'll always be happy that the Blazers drafted me with the 21st pick. They made my dream a dream come true."