Monday, July 31, 2006

Wonderful Recap

In case you missed it, Jason Quick and Mike Tokito have posted a great summary of Blazer movement since the beginning of last season. In the excitement over moves it's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees, forgetting how different the team looked just months ago. The beat writers list every trade as they point out that ten members of our roster are no longer with us.

If you scroll through this blog's archives somewhere buried in all the posts is a warning not to get too attached to our players because historically few members of sub-20-win teams survive the rebuild. It appears the Blazers are accelerating that process.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

My Blazer Pick

There were a lot of fantastic responses to the weekend question of which historical Blazer you'd pick to add to this team. The suggestions were:

Arvydas Sabonis
Buck Willaims
Maurice Lucas
Terry Porter
Fat Lever
Jerome Kersey
Shawn Kemp (but not when he was a Blazer, so I don't think this counts)
Scottie Pippen
Kiki Vandeweghe
Larry Steele

You can keep the discussion going, but I thought I'd weigh in with my pick. The criteria were that a player can only be taken after the first time they put on a Blazer uniform, it was to help this year's team, and no Clyde or Bill. I must admit I was sorely tempted to take a point guard or a small forward, and thus Porter, Lever, Vandeweghe, and Kersey were all on my short list. But in the end I decided to trust in our young guys. I wanted someone who would contribute to the games of Jack, Webster, and Roy and make it easy for them to be out on the court. I couldn't bring myself to pick a power forward because this question didn't give me the magic power to trade Zach. That's why in the end I settled with Sabonis...even the older, wearing down version. He was much more spry in his first couple seasons here than the old guy people remember seeing last. He can play on the high post and perimeter on offense, which leaves tons of room for Zach to operate down low. It also draws a man out to guard his long-range shot. If Darius could learn to quick cut when Sabas is holding the ball at the top of the key, Miles could dunk all day long. Sabonis would also be an easy outlet for the guards on offense and would get them the ball back in positions where they could score. He's smart enough to make those kids look better. He also sets picks when needed. On defense he's a nice companion to Joel at the 5-spot. He takes up a lot of space, which is something that's still lacking on this team despite all Joel's effort and shot blocking ability. He shows well and gets back on the pick and roll despite his huge size. Some will complain about him not being able to get up and down the court but I'd argue Sabonis would help our running game better than any big man we currently have. The first step to fast-breaking is rebounding and outletting the ball. You could be pretty sure that Sabonis was going to get rebounds that came near him. Nobody got around that wide body to beat him out. And nobody since Walton was better at getting the ball out after rebounding. He sometimes did it with his back to the play. It wouldn't matter if he didn't make it back for the dunk finish. Darius and Zach and the guards could do that. A first-year-Blazer Sabas would be good for at least 15 and 9 on this team and he'd probably up everybody else's scoring average by a couple of points to boot. For his brains, his unique size, and his skills, he'd be my guy to add to this year's team.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

More Trade

News is coming out today making the Magloire trade official. There's great conversation about it all over the place. A few things I've noticed that have either been subjects of controversy or forgotten altogether:

--Several people are wondering what positions Magloire can play. He's always been a center and pretty much always been the best center on whatever team he's been on since he's matured. (That doesn't mean he's a savior. He has, after all, been traded several times. If he were all-world that wouldn't have happened.) I think he could also spend some minutes at power forward if needed. Neither Joel nor Raef take up a lot of space in the low post on offense, which clears the way for Jamaal. His quickness could be a liability guarding skinny, quick power forwards (you won't see him on Shawn Marion, for instance) but in cases like Tim Duncan I don't see any problem. Some have mentioned offensive concerns, which is legitimate, but I don't see it as horribly different from what Chicago is trying to do playing Ben Wallace and P.J. Brown together. They have a ton of scorers at the small positions, which is basically how we're evolving. Chicago is a couple years ahead of us in experience and talent development so it will likely work better for them than us. But I can still see it as a backup plan.

--One of the biggest questions is one I raised in the weekend post, namely where Magloire fits in terms of the hierarchy of big guys. Specifically I've noticed what to my mind is an overvaluing of Raef LaFrentz, which is common just after a trade. Forgetting contracts, leadership, and all the peripheral stuff, here is where I see our fours and fives ranking in terms of talent, skills, and production:

Before the Trade
Zach Randolph
Joel Przybilla
Brian Skinner and Raef LaFrentz (tie)
Lamarcus Aldridge (hasn't played yet)
Ha Seung-Jin

After the Trade
Zach Randolph
Jamaal Magloire
Joel Przybilla
Raef LaFrentz
Lamarcus Aldridge (hasn't played yet)

Admittedly the gap is large between Zach and everybody else in both cases. There's also another significant talent gap after Joel in both lists.

Whether you prefer Skinner or LaFrentz in the pre-trade list is largely a matter of whether you like more points, rebounds, and big-body post play or more blocks and an outside shot. Either way they're way down the chart. How much you value Skinner is about how you should see LaFrentz's value. (Which actually ends up being much worse because Raef's contract is downright awful.) In the second list the gap between Magloire and Przybilla is fairly small, but Jamaal has more experience and a little more well-rounded game so I gave the edge to him despite Joel's astonishing blocked shot numbers.

Anyway, the point is that Raef isn't that high in either list and actually ends up further down the depth chart after the trade than he was before. And if you're hoping Aldridge will develop into even a middle-of-the-road contributor, that puts Raef dead last.

--We shouldn't forget in the ensuing media hubbub that AM 1080's Ian Furness broke this story (in the Portland market at least). Furness was taking a lot of flak on draft night for his outspoken criticism of the team, some of which at least he must have had substantiation for from league sources. Apparently his sources are good at least in some respects. I wonder if this will rehabilitate him in the eyes of the fans. And don't forget that the Blazers targeted 1080 pretty hard in their post-draft Courtside show...Furness being the one who publicly talked about Darius Miles trade rumors that the team "debunked" that night. I found it funny that the Blazers' official response to the Magloire story over the weekend was "We don't comment on trade rumors". Ummmm...yes you do. So far we've learned if the rumor is false the Blazers will go public and castigate the people who mentioned it. If it's true they'll say "No comment".

If the team really wants to keep the cards to their vest they probably need a better poker face...

Edit: Eric Marentette is reporting that Steve Patterson will be sitting down with the guys at 1080 from 3 to 4 this afternoon. That is good to hear.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Trade Flash

I'm breaking into the weekend festivities because the Racine, Wisconsin-based Journaltimes.com. is reporting that the Blazers and Bucks have agreed to a deal sending Steve Blake, Brian Skinner, and Ha Seung-Jin to Milwaukee for Jamaal Magloire. Of course nothing is official before it's signed, but usually when something is reported to this level it goes through.

Magloire averaged 9.2 points and 9.5 rebounds in just over 30 minutes of play last year. He's around a 47% shooter, which is average for a big man. I haven't seen him play as much as I'd like, but I remember him as fiery and pretty devastating when he gets going.

Of concern is this quote from the Journal-Times (via hoopshype):

"Magloire became especially disgruntled with [Bucks coach Terry] Stotts during a five-game stretch in late March, when Magloire never played more than 22 minutes a game...Despite being the Bucks' best rebounder and interior defender, and going against a tall Detroit frontline, Stotts never played the 6-foot-11 Magloire more than 29 minutes in any of the five first-round playoff games against the Pistons."

A change in scenery often fixes attitudes, at least temporarily. Still one wonders if Magloire will be happy playing behind Joel (or if Joel will be happy if he gets benched right after signing with us). Magloire is in a contract year, which guarantees a solid contribution but also means he'll want to be on the floor a lot. Magloire isn't a runner either, so this could show a further commitment to the halfcourt game.

I think the trade does the following for the Blazers:

1. Shores up the center position, which was still a little thin. (I hope Raef wasn't hoping to play much this year though.) It also gives us a little scoring punch in the middle.
2. Provides more rebounding.
3. Lumps three separate contracts (Blake and Ha's both minor and expiring and Skinner's two years at $5.5 million) into a one-year, $8 million deal, providing slightly more flexibility next season.
4. Consolidates the roster, leaving spaces open as management prefers.
5. Makes it easier to make another move, either trading a frontcourt player and keeping Magloire or using Magloire's expiring contract as bait to go along with a bad contract. Because of roster limits it's easier to throw in one player than three. We'll also now have room to take back multiple players for a single one.

I don't know that Magloire is a long-term answer, but he's big, skilled, and it doesn't cost us anything to try him out for a year.

On the other end we don't lose too much we weren't parting with anyway. It feels like management has all but given up on Ha. I think they like Skinner but they have too many PFs already and his picking up the last year option on his contract next season was going to be more of an annoyance than a boon to them. I believe they will be sorry to see Blake go, but I also think they were prepared to watch him walk at the end of the season anyway. They likely would have made him a modest offer to stay, but he likely wouldn't have accepted it.

I know it's been batted around in the O-Live forum, but since it appears to be becoming more real, if you'd like to continue the discussion here you're more than welcome.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Blazer vs. Blazer (vs. Blazer vs. Blazer) VI

A doozy this weekend. We'll leave it up a little longer to make sure everyone sees it.

Other than Clyde Drexler and Bill Walton, if you could rejuvenate one Blazer from any time in history and bring him back on this year's team, who would you choose and why?

I'll give my answer on Monday.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Guest Spot

TP43 wrote last week asking for some discussion on a topic I know almost nothing about...Blazer radio commentary. I've been out of the broadcast area for a decade so you can count the number of times I've heard Brian Wheeler on one hand and the number of times I've heard Antonio Harvey work on zero. So I've asked TP to step in with a Friday Guest Column on the topic, which might become a semi-regular feature around here if enough people want to submit opinions/questions. Here's TP:

----------------------------------------------------
In Need of Analysis

With the addition of Nate and the apparent ascension of Pritchard, (still not a Patterson guy) you get the feeling the front office is making progress and rounding into form. The roster is beginning to be populated by hardworking, well behaved, character guys--with two notable exceptions--so you feel like that area is on the right track. There is a third area, the broadcast team, that plays a key role in the fan experience. The rest of the broadcast team is pretty good with Wheels & Rice and I've grown to appreciate Barrett more than I thought I would but the odd man out in my mind is Antonio Harvey. As a person, I like Antonio well enough but frankly he sometimes strikes me as a fill in that didn't quite pan out due to a lack of preparation, ability to articulate, provide insight to what goes on behind the scenes, or nuances in-game.

To me, a radio color guy should be a former long-term Blazer player or coach, someone who "gets" Portland, well spoken, a straight shooter who isn't afraid to criticize if warranted, and is very strong in either of these two areas: the ability to add insight to the inner workings of the team and what it is trying to get done out on the floor in the mold of a Hubie Brown, or be loaded with anecdotes and player insights like a Mychal Thompson type. Not saying these two are my favorites, just handy examples of the general types of broadcasters that seem to add the most.

What about someone like Jimmy Lynam? He spent some time here in Portland, he's very well spoken, he seems to be a stand up guy who will tell it like it is, he's got the obvious X's & O's credentials, and with his long tenure in the NBA he's got a million stories to tell.

What's your opinion of Antonio Harvey, who would you replace him with if he needs to go, and why the new selection?

TP43

-------------------------------------------------------

I would add to that...who is/was your favorite Blazer radio analyst of all time? (Keep in mind that Schonely and Wheels are play-by-play guys.)

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Trade Possibilities

An astute reader named Marc picked up on the Zach/Darius trade question the other day and took it a little further, offering this:

>>I would welcome exploring the question of what teams might have some interest in either player. Forget, for the moment, what we might get back. – Anything of value would just be a bonus – the pressing issue is to identify teams for whom Zack or Darius might prove to be assets.

>>To begin to answer this question, I think you have to identify the kinds of teams that might have a use for our guys. My thought is they would have to be low playoff teams searching for a way to improve their chances. [I doubt that either great teams or teams in need of a massive overhaul would be inclined to take a chance on talented but flawed and overpaid players]. Also tempted might be teams with acknowledged stars who could presumably establish control over our guys in a way that apparently no coach can. Finally, some teams which may meet the foregoing criteria would not be suitable either because of the solid forwards they presently have (such as Sacramento) or because of their history with Darius (such as Cleveland).<<

I'm more or less on board with that analysis, though I do think there are a couple teams who do not meet those exact criteria who might be interested for various reasons, such as New York or Golden State. But to keep it simple I'm going to simply re-print the list of teams Marc suggested, adding in my own thoughts after each.

As possible suitors for Zach Marc suggests:

Denver
The most talked about possibility is Kenyon Martin. He brings different qualities than Zach but just as many questions and his contract is just as long and almost as high. For that reason I don't think we make that trade. A big part of the reason for trading Zach is that you just can't give a contract that big to a questionable guy.

Technically another possibility after December would be Zach for Nene and Najera. Denver would have to find somewhere else to drop Martin in the process. Nene's contract is significant, but if you liked him enough (and they didn't) it could be a deal at some point down the line. But I'd guess the chances of any Zach trade with Denver to be low.

New Jersey
The only guys that qualify salary-wise are Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson. The first two won't enter the realm of possibility for either side. I think Jersey would view trading Jefferson for Zach as a lateral move at best. We might like it if we were sure Aldridge would pan out at PF and we could draft another center. I think this deal would be even less likely than a Denver trade. The Nets just don't have the disposable salaries.

Houston
A package of Juwon Howard, Bob Sura, and Dikembe Mutumbo would work in a trade for Zach. We'd have to cut one if not both of the latter. Howard's contract runs three more years (assuming he'll pick up his option) at about half Zach's. His production is a little more than half Zach's but nothing to write home about. Essentially we'd be getting about 50% of the player for about 50% of the price for the next three seasons then cap freedom after that. In bald terms it would be just dumping Zach though, and I think Portland likes him more than that. Only if he pulled something awful would we consider doing this.

Philadelphia
This actually is the most intriguing of the possibilities. Randolph and Skinner match salary-wise with Chris Webber. The Sixers have been disenchanted with him despite his production and he's also getting old. I don't know how much Cheeks liked Randolph but Zach did have his best years under him. Zach would also be paired with an established superstar, which may ease some of Philly's concerns about him. We'd be renting Webber and his 20/10 stats for two years as Lamarcus grew. We'd pay $3 million more this season and $9 million more next in exchange for freedom after that. (Alternately we'd have Webber's enormous expiring contract to deal next year.) The timing would also be right for losing C-Webb in that all our recent draft picks would have had 1-3 years to incubate and should be ready to contribute full-time in exactly that year. This seems more probable than any of the other three scenarios.

Marc's candidate to relieve us of Darius is the...

Los Angeles Lakers
The two possibilities here are Miles for Kwame Brown straight up or the much-rumored Miles for Mihm and McKie trade. I doubt we'd pursue the former even if they would. Brown's contract does run out sooner than Miles' but we're not talking major cap relief in either case. I'm lukewarm on the Mihm/McKie possibility given that we're already logjammed with shooting guards and PF/C-types. I guess if we really wanted to move him for the cap space it would be a good deal since both contracts expire after this season. Somehow I don't see the Lakers wanting to get smaller in either case though. And doesn't Odom somewhat duplicate Miles? Now Zach AND Darius for Odom, Mihm, and McKie we could maybe talk about. (That works under cap rules too.)

Marc also has a couple potential suitors who could swing either way:

Boston
The Celtics have three players under big enough contracts to matter: Pierce, Szczerbiak, and Ratliff. They aren't trading Pierce for anybody right now, least of all one of our two malcontents, so that's out. I don't think we have much interest in Wally anymore. His contract runs three more years and we now have a couple of young wing players who might actually be able to shoot. That leaves Theo. I doubt we would re-acquire him because if we were going to do that, why not just make the player we'd trade for him part of the deal in the first place?

Minnesota
Minnesota's potential names include Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marko Jaric, Trenton Hassell, and Eddie Griffin. Any one of them except Griffin would probably match up for Darius (give or take). You'd need two or more to match Zach. But then why would they want Zach with one of the top PFs in the league already on board? All except Davis and Griffin (both expiring in 2008) are signed into 2010 or beyond, which makes them long-term commitments for us. Every one of them has questions either with attitude or style of play. If we really wanted to dump Miles we might be able to do it, but it would be a lateral move for us.

In short, while I agree with the logic behind these potential trade partners, the outlook seems pretty bleak at the moment. I have a hunch we're going to have to think outside the box if we want to move these guys, and we may have to wait until more opportunities arise. If it does happen in the short term, it's likely to be something out of left field.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Zach Pics

There's considerable conversation today about Zach Randolph's Workout Pics at the Blazer website (via Eric Marentette). He does look a bit leaner than his playing weight at the end of last season. I suppose we'll have a chance to get all jazzed about the possibilities as training camp approaches but forgive me if I'm still underwhelmed. To wit...

1. Unlike many, I have never offered weight as a significant criticism of Zach. With the style he plays a few pounds more or less won't make much difference and to my eyes he's never been that overweight anyway. Skinny, uninspired, two-dimensional play is not much better than hefty, uninspired, two dimensional play. Being lighter might make it easier to give a little effort though.

2. Zach has always come into camp in decent shape, even last year after the surgery. His m.o. is to gain weight during the season.

3. I see the photographs, but I also saw him in Vegas and though he was wearing a baggy shirt that made it hard to tell, he didn't look all that much different than when I saw him midway through last season. That's not to say that he hasn't lost weight, but in person it didn't look like a radical, shocking transformation or anything.

4. Every summer/fall I maintain the same thing: You'll know we've truly made it when we don't have to read even one article about how Player X has reformed his life or Player Y has gotten into better shape this year. Those things should be de facto on a good team. Would it be better if Zach were in great shape? Sure. But getting all excited about it is like crowing over a college kid being able to read. You're a professional athlete! You're supposed to be in shape! I know the pictures are meant to be a positive PR point for the team and all, but the fact that the issue is significant shows as much about what's still wrong with the team as what's getting better.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Much Ado About...

In the last couple of days both Eric Marentette and Henry Abbott have dealt with the "Jailblazers" moniker being thrown around the national media. I understand why this is a sensitive issue to die-hard Blazer fans. Nobody likes to see the team into which you put your heart, soul, and passion branded that way, especially when the tag no longer fits. It's like they're calling you a fool for believing. Every teenager who's ever dated a guy her parents dislike because he once belched inappropriately at her family reunion has felt the same way. But honestly, I think collectively we need to put this one to bed and just let it go. Fretting about it won't do any good. It'll still pop up from time to time. I don't think it's any malice on the part of national media types, it's just human nature.

There's no statute of limitations on sports clichés. Every rounded, over-the-shoulder shot that a center puts up gets called a "Sky Hook" even when it looks nothing at all like Kareem's. You'll still hear old-timers reference the "Boston Bounce" when the Celtics haven't been anywhere near lucky for the better part of three decades. Once a label becomes part of the popular culture lexicon it sticks well beyond the endurance of its originator.

This is doubly true when the label is negative or spicy. Monica Lewinsky is probably somewhere living a rich, full, complex life right now, but what association do you draw with her name? Is that fair? Is it current? But you did it anyway. It's human. Like it or not, this team did go through a time when it either had the colossal misfortune or the colossal ineptitude to acquire the most motley collection of negative-press attractors ever seen in the modern era. That's going to be noticed and that image is going to stick. If you embezzle funds and are caught you may reasonably expect to be known by some permutation of "the embezzler" even after you have reformed and gotten on with your life. You can't blame media people for operating on the same principles.

In fact as I wrote to Eric Marentette the other day, I am actually starting to see a shift among national media folks in their handling of this matter. They are starting to talk about the Jailblazers as an "era" being "recalled" instead of current reality. In fact one could argue that the most current thing about the entire matter is the Portland fans' collective hand-wringing every time the subject gets brought up. I am not trying to bag on anyone who has written or commented...I'm GLAD people have defended the team in that way. But if we really are years after the fact I think we can stop now, let the references pass, and let the team itself prove the point.

Besides, I think we're missing the blessing in disguise in all this. Even more predictable than the media's overuse of cliché is its insatiable appetite for good stories. And everybody falls for the story of the bad guy made good. If and when we do rise again, they're going to give our reform far more attention than they ever gave our fall from grace. I can practically write the copy for them now. You'll just have to imagine the Dick Enberg-like voice doing it...

"They were once known more for arrests than assists, for blotters than buckets, as defendants rather than defenders, but those days are long gone. This is a NEW Portland Trailblazers squad, out to reclaim the glories of their distant past. Led by __________ and __________, they're seeking to challenge the powers-that-be, carving a place once again among the league's elite."

"That's right Dick. They used to leave their fingerprints at the police station but now they've left them all over this conference, compiling a 52-30 record and putting a scare into the more established teams."

"Can these former 'Bad Boys' make good on their playoff dreams? It's Blazers/Suns, and it's next!"

See how that works? Nifty, huh? Just you wait...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Zach v. Darius

Wow...I must admit that I am surprised by the results of yesterday's question! Conventional wisdom says if you have to trade either Zach or Darius you keep the more talented/productive guy. So I assumed that most folks would vote to jettison D. Miles and give Zach another chance. But here I read the comment this morning and it's overwhelmingly for trading Zach. (Respect to Ken and TwoDeep for providing the contrary view though.) This leaves me in a pickle because:

1. I was prepared to be all brilliant and counter-cultural and post an opinion why we should go against the grain and trade Zach, but it turns out I am neither!

2. The reasons you stated for choosing Zach were pretty comprehensive, leaving me not as much to talk about.

But hey, we'll give it a try...

My reasoning stems from the conviction that when all is said and done neither one of these players will be happy, healthy, productive members of this team in three years. If you think one or the other will make a turnaround for whatever reason then understandably your opinion will differ from mine. But if you go with my assumption (which I think is pretty solid given the evidence we've seen in the past few years) you have to ask the question, "Which one of these two will it cost less to keep?" In almost every category the answer is Darius.

The most obvious example is contractual, as was brought up in the comments. Miles' contract in its final year is only 75% of what Zach's is right now. He's probably overpaid for what he contributes, but he's hardly a cap buster. In simple dollars and cents, moving Zach frees up more space, which equals more flexibility. (Assuming we don't take on equally bad or worse contracts for either, which we can't do.)

Another theme which came through strongly in the comments was style of play. Zach both dominates and slows down the game, for better or worse. He touches the ball in at least 60-70% of the sets. The plays run for him consist of a guard standing on the perimeter waiting for him to get position and then dumping him the ball and watching him work, perhaps anticipating a return pass if there's no move for Zach. There's little movement of ball or feet. This means Zach tends to score to the exclusion of others even when he has a dominating game. And as long as he is on the court, this will continue to be true. Some wish for a return of the young, hungry, "garbage man" Zach, but why would that happen? That Zach was battling Rasheed for a spot and playing time. This Zach has it. That Zach expected no plays called for him, this Zach complains and quits when he doesn't get the ball enough. In his mind he's earned the right to be the man and he's not going to give up that spot to anybody. That's fine if the team is actually going to be built around him, but if you go with the theory that he's not going to lead this team to the promised land, it becomes a burden rather than a blessing.

One of the most persistent ideas floating around the Blazer universe is that Zach will somehow become a good second option. We've talked about this before but it's worth repeating. It's not going to happen...at least not with this team. He doesn't have the right skill set or style of play. Second options can't hold the rock as much as he does and need to do a lot more away from the ball. And as we just said, he feels like he's earned the right to be number one on this team and he will not settle for a demotion. If he were somehow traded to Miami I could see him becoming second banana because the stars there are already established, but we have no such established stars here nor any means of acquiring any save perhaps trading Zach himself. Have you ever been asked to do something at a job that you simply refused to do, to the point of being willing to quit over it, because you've been through too much at that place to ever do it? Then you get another job and they ask you to do the same thing and you go along without a peep. It's weird, but it's human nature. And that's where Zach is with the Blazers. He might be willing to be Robin to Paul Pierce's Batman, but here he's Superman or nothing.

Darius, on the other hand, has no such mindset. Neither his style of play nor his view of his own position require the action to center around him. Even though he's no more likely to be a long-term answer for this team than Zach, you can play Darius without shifting the gravity of the offense. Also Darius' offense involves a lot more cutting and movement. You don't have to be standing still to get him the ball and he doesn't usually keep it for half of the 24 second clock. As our main veteran he'd still create a ripple, but a lot less significant one than Zach. For a young team with developing players, I think you take the smaller footprint and better overall distribution.

Finally there's the practice/community character issue. Neither guy has shined in this department. But other than the racial slurs directed at Cheeks, Darius hasn't done anything that Zach hasn't also done. Walked out on the team? Both did it. Undermining authority and goldbricking in practice? Check. Disapproving comments and snide remarks in the press? Yup. And Zach has actually done more to harm his community image than the relatively quiet Darius. But the difference is, you can bench Darius for this stuff...in fact you can sit him until the end of time and it wouldn't matter than much. Not so Zach. As soon as you suspend or bench Z-Bo, the whole character and spirit of the team changes because he's your best guy. If Dallas came to down and Jason Terry was benched or Golden State visited and Mike Dunleavy Jr. was suspended it'd get a mention but it would still be basically the same game. With Dirk Nowitzki, Baron Davis, or Jason Richardson not playing the whole complexion of the game changes. And nobody could forget it because the media, commentators, and everybody would be mentioning it every five minutes. There's no way to take punative measures against Zach without also destroying the team and its atmosphere. If the Blazers do keep him, that's just something we'll have to accept. Far easier, in my opinion, to let that be somebody else's problem and deal with the relatively less controversial task of trying to keep Darius corralled.

Unless you believe that one of these guys will reform and become a superstar, when faced with the choice of trading one or the other, I think the clear choice is Zach. On the court, off the court, and on the spreadsheet it just makes more sense.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Blazer vs. Blazer V

Sorry for the interruption over the weekend but my internet service was down for most of the last two days (insert angry emoticon here). Now that it's back, we'll pick up where we left off by moving the weekend topic to Monday. I was trying to give this a rest for a while, having talked about it quite a bit in the first couple months of the blog, but it was suggested and we need some excitement around here, so here goes...

Let's say you must trade one and must keep one. Who do you trade, Zach or Darius? Why?

Assume that you're going to get decent, but not spectacular, value for either, according to their respective talent. (In other words, no superstars are coming this way but you'll get a medium-good player or a lot of cap space for Zach or a decent or a little cap space for Darius). Consider any issues/reasons you wish.

I'll weigh in with a detailed reasoning tomorrow. Fire away!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Blazer Dreams

I watch watching a kid shoot hoops at the local park the other day and it brought up memories of my own Blazers dreams…a time when all I wanted in the world was to grow up to be 6’11” tall, red-haired, and start at center for the Portland Trailblazers. I think I shared this last year when subbing for Eric, but I lived on Mt. Tabor right across from Western Baptist Seminary. They had a single hoop in their parking lot…the only place for a little kid to shoot in the neighborhood (my mom not being really fond of the idea of my going up to the park courts alone). The hoop abutted a large briar hedge, which in the days of rubber balls spelled instant doom (thorns) so I learned to shoot very precisely or I lost my ball. I’d go out for hours, shooting in rhythm and imagining I was wearing, as Bill Schonely put it, "the scarlet and black". I would make myself make ten shots from different positions before moving on to the next and ten shots in a row from range before I could go home. I would devise 32-person free throw shooting contests, populating the brackets with players like Tree Rollins and David Thompson but always throwing two or three Blazers in there. They’d go head-to-head, ten shots each, single elimination until someone emerged victorious. (I’d be shooting free throws for all of them, of course.) I was always mad when somebody besides a Blazer won, but that’s how it went. I remember one time Bill Walton and Dave Twardzik ended up in the finals against each other and I was torn who to root for. I was one obsessive little kid.

My big career got temporarily derailed in 5th grade when my mom got a call from my math teacher saying I was 20 or so assignments behind. Apparently my mom was of the opinion I was spending too much time on free throws and not enough on fractions. I tried to explain how I was going to become a Portland Trailblazer and didn’t need math, but she was less than sympathetic. I still think mom and Mrs. Morrison owe me at least a three-year, $8 million deal.

I suspect in our heart of hearts most fans’ secret dreams would center around suiting up for the team, even just once. Wearing that officially-issued jersey with your name on the back would be unimaginably incredible. As I grew up and real life impinged, however, I found my Blazer dreams evolving. Now in my mid-thirties, as slow as molasses on the court, and with the vertical leap of a mostly-used sponge, any fantasy of an NBA career died long ago. In fact I don’t even think I’d want to get on the court with the guys anymore in practice or just to play H-O-R-S-E. It’s not that it wouldn’t be fun for me, but it would be such an embarrassment because of our comparative levels. It’d be like displaying your ‘94 Honda Accord at a car show or taking your refrigerator-scribbled drawing and saying, “Look at this!” to Picasso. Both are fine for what they are, but come on…different worlds man. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have a dream or two though. As I sat down and took inventory, here’s what I came up with:

1. I’d love to have lunch with Paul Allen and ask him what it’s like to own the team, what he’s learned and how he’s grown along the way, and how some franchise decisions evolved. (OK...and about the Civilian Space Project, the Sci-Fi museum, and all that. I swear sometimes that guy is living my life. Except being a computer impresario he's far better at math than I. See above for a possible explanation why.) Most of this I’d love to be able to write about here.

2. I’d like to sit beside a Blazer scout or two on a scouting trip, or maybe Kevin Pritchard during a game, and have them share what they see to make me a better observer.

3. I’d like to watch game tape with Nate with some chips and salsa to share and a lot of time to rewind and analyze. (In fact this may be #1.)

4. I’d like to talk anywhere with Buck Williams for about an hour.

5. I’d enjoy watch a real, live practice and game preparation…not just going to the parts the media are invited to, but to be a fly on the wall during the whole thing.

It’s funny how as I’ve aged the dreams have shifted more to the management/coaching side than the playing. It’s not that I still wouldn’t want to hang with the players, but I suspect they’d perceive an age gap as well as a fan/player gap that might stilt things a little. I mean, Brandon Roy called me “Sir” when I met him. (Bad move, B-Roy…I’m not THAT old! But I remember how 30+ seemed when I was 22, so you get a free pass.)

So what are your all-time and/or current Blazer dreams? Playing, coaching, observing, hanging out? Share them below or by e-mail.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

How Things Change

Contemplating the weekend Blake/Dickau poll it struck me how quickly things can change. For instance:

--1 year ago everybody would have wanted Dickau over Blake.

--2 years ago nobody would have given half a fig for Joel Przybilla.

--3 years ago Zach, Darius, and Theo were the solid core for our future.

--Last summer Ha and Travis were rumored to be in trade deals that we turned down because we liked their potential.

--At the beginning of the season we were sure our future included a Russian or two. In fact four weeks ago Viktor was a fan favorite and likely long-term backup.

--In September we had five small forwards: Miles, Patterson, Outlaw, Khryapa, and Monia. Now most are looking forward to having just one, and they're not even sure about that one.

--A month and a half ago Webster had a 95%+ approval rating among fans and was the consensus future of the franchise. Now some are starting to see him as expendable.

It just goes to show you why it's good we're not in charge of things. (Although I suspect some NBA GM's also operate on similar principles.)

Add some if you wish...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Where Are We?

Time to shift the focus back onto the court for a little while. Eric Marentette (link at right) posted pieces from John Hollinger and Kerry Eggers questioning the futures of Travis Outlaw and Ha Seung-Jin respectively...neither of which came as a surprise if you read the summer league stuff here. We've talked about it in bits and pieces along the way, but it seems useful now to recap where the Blazers are vis-a-vis the availability of their players. This is my best guess. Obviously if a LeBron or Dwayne Wade were available all bets would be off, but we're remaining withing the realm of reason here. (And mind you, this is not necessarily how I feel about them, but how I think the Blazers feel.)

Basically Untradeable (in order from least likely to be traded to most)
Brandon Roy
Jarrett Jack
Lamarcus Aldridge
Martell Webster

Not Exactly Untradeable, but Won't Be Traded Because They Just Signed
Joel Przybilla
Sergio Rodriguez

Available for the Right Offer (but it's not forthcoming)
Zach Randolph

Available as a Throw-In
Travis Outlaw
Steve Blake
Dan Dickau
Brian Skinner
Juan Dixon
Ha Seung-Jin

Could Be a Throw-In but His Contract's Too Big
Raef LaFrentz

Actively Shopping
Darius Miles

Notes:
--Roy's play has shifted Webster's stock a little, but don't worry, he's still untouchable. If they were forced to trade one of those four at this point, though, it would probably be him. Funny how that switched.

--To me the decision to pick up Travis' option for one more year is a no-brainer. First of all we give him another year to cook. Second, if he's part of a trade his contract is low and doesn't matter much in terms of cap space. Nobody will see his expiring contract as valauble, they'll want another year with him.

--I'm a Blake fan too, but in the end his contract situation, management's love of Jack (and maybe Roy) at the point, and his talent/salary value to other teams makes him expendable. Don't shoot the messenger.

--I don't think we should waive Ha as Eggers speculated, but management likes the flexibility that carrying only 14 players gives them so they just might.

--I also don't like the idea of moving Skinner just in case we do trade Zach and because his contract expires next season, but I expect that possibility is on the table. He'd actually make a significant throw-in.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tum-Tum-Tum-Tums

The net is abuzz about the Sonics sale and its implications and a couple of interesting questions came in via e-mail from Jon, “A-2”(?), and Amie. (Edit: That should have been "Annie". Sorry.)

“How would you feel as a Sonics fan?” (Apparently one reads this blog, which is cool.)

I feel great empathy for Sonics fans this morning. I really hope a suitable deal gets done that keeps the team in Seattle. That’s where it belongs. I can only imagine the sick feeling in the stomach considering the alternative…in fact I don’t want to imagine it much because it may come to Blazer fans as well. We’ve had a strong, good rivalry over the years and other than the Blazers there’s no team I’d like to see moved less.

If I were a Sonics fan I’m also pretty confident that the Blazers moving north would be a poor substitute, as would be the reverse. If I’m a Seattle fan I grew up on Jack Sikma, Freddy Brown, Dale Ellis, Gary Payton, and Ray Allen, not Bill, Clyde, and Rasheed. I don’t want all that history flushed down the tubes just to get another team, as if they were interchangeable. If anything I might want an expansion franchise someday to start again and carry on the memory unblemished, but I’d find the idea of adopting the Blazers vaguely nauseating.

“Do you think Portland becomes a regional team if the Sonics move?”

No, for the same reasons I just stated. Green and gold is not red and black. Portland’s never had an MLB or NFL franchise so it’s easy for us to root for the Seattle teams in those sports. But imagine if the Blazers left town…would we suddenly convert to Sonics fans en masse? Not a chance. Why, then, would Seattle folks do the reverse? In fact to the extent they were passionate about the Sonics they’re less likely to adopt the Blazers, not more. (How many diehard Cleveland Browns fans do you suppose became Bengal Boosters when their team moved to Baltimore? And they’re in the same state!)

“You just said you liked the direction management is going. Don’t you trust them?”

Depends. In the post on Kevin Pritchard I basically said I trusted him to do his best to build a good team, be passionate about doing so, and be gracious to the fan base. That makes no judgment on which fan base we’re talking about. In fact while I hope he has some connection to Portland in particular, I doubt his tenure here has been long enough that he couldn’t easily shift that allegiance to the people of Seattle or wherever he was made a General Manager. That’s his job.

Despite things apparently being more palatable in the management department, it’s still pretty obvious that the organization is operating under an “us against the world” assumption in many ways. It comes out strongly in the dealings with the media, but I guarantee you there are some (and maybe plenty of) people in the organization who see fans either at best as dupes (or marks) and at worst as annoyances…either way firmly planted in “the world” end of that equation. I had a friend once in the ministry and he was a nice enough guy but his attitude about working in a church was, “This would be a great job if it wasn’t for all the people I have to deal with.” It’s perfectly possible to execute your job duties competently, maybe even excellently, without evidencing any particular connection to the people whom you serve. This has been part of the Blazers’ culture for a while now and I don’t think it’s completely changed.

Let’s face it, for the last decade the team has been less the “Portland Trailblazers” and more the “Trailblazers who happen to play in Portland”. I think there are people on staff who would like to remedy that, but I don’t think there are many prominent ones with long enough tenures or enough connections to the city who would complain, protest, or even feel great remorse if the effort were shifted wholesale to a new fan base. There are no Terry Porters here, no Clyde Drexlers or Bill Schonelys. In fact it’s pretty likely that some folks would actually be relieved to be dealing with new reporters, new politicians, and new fans.

In short, I do trust that people at Blazer HQ want to do their job conscientiously and well. I trust that they are basically people of integrity. I do not think that they have always shown they perceive this particular community as critical to that integrity, nor do I trust that any such bond would prevent them from being just as happy moving somewhere else. I do hope that as the team and community grow together again that bond will re-form. I also hope that the one guy with the most potential for the intimate connection because of his tenure and past emotional involvement—namely Paul Allen himself—feels that bond strongly. As many have pointed out, however, it’s difficult to know what Paul is thinking at any given moment.

“How likely is it that the team will move?”

I wouldn’t say it’s likely at this point. Too many dominoes have to fall first, including the team ownership situation being resolved, the Sonics actually moving, bankruptcy being declared and cleared in court, and the NBA approving a move. That’s a lot of hurdles. This is kind of like being married for a while and your spouse starts spending a fair amount of time with a co-worker of the opposite sex. Is an affair immanent? Probably not. But it’s still not a great sign and it’s something you’ll want to keep your eye on.

At the very least everybody needs to get out their antacid of choice and start a steady diet, because until Allen actually buys the Rose Garden back or sells to someone who does, this is going to be a constant issue and will almost certainly be used for leverage whether or not there’s any serious intention of moving the team. Necessary for business…not fun for the fans.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sonics Sold

As I'm sure you've heard by now, the Seattle Supersonics are being sold to a group of investors whose head is from Oklahoma City. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that with the arguments over the lease and the loss of money in the organization a permanent relocation is possible. That would end our oldest and most consistent rivalry, which would be sad. It also brings up the specter of a Portland move. We're still facing the same basic problems. But now if Seattle loses its team we have to worry not only about "foreign" investors but about Paul Allen moving the franchise three hundred miles to the north if he keeps the team. At this point you've got to believe that Paul and the staff are more in love with the team than this city, its media, and its fans. And the NBA is sending signals that it's more than willing for such things to happen. Nothing will go down this year because the Hornets are already playing in Oklahoma City, but the possibility lurks in years to come.

I don't want to jump at shadows, but I'm of the opinion that no movement is good movement and I do not welcome this news.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Race and the Blazers

In the months leading up to the draft I read comments in several online venues which both disturbed me and made me think. Every once in a while a post would come up saying Portlanders favored Adam Morrison over everyone else because he was caucasian. I tried not to respond in a knee-jerk fashion because I felt the issue needed some thought and probably some space. I don't even know if I should be tackling it now, well after the draft. I'm probably not in the best position to know, being caucasian myself and living outside of the Portland area for about a decade now. But it seems to me something needs to be said, if not in the interest of rebutting the claim at least in the interest of productive thought and conversation. It doesn't seem fair to just let those assertions hang in the air as if they were unadulterated truth (even if there is some truth in them).

I think the first and fairest admission to make is that yes, there is racism in Portland, both individually and institutionally. I don't know whether it is better or worse than other comparable cities, but I do know that as Portland has become more multi-cultural over the past few decades it has experienced revelations that have brought those facts to life...revelations that maybe other places had decades ago but we are just experiencing now. It is my sincere hope that the city is learning and growing from those revelations, but I am not naive enough to think that the process is, or will ever be, complete. Racism IS a problem...a crippling barrier...which affects all of us. Nobody is exempt.

Nor can one claim that enjoying watching people of different races on an athletic field is proof that racism doesn't exist. Sports are their own world with very specific rules and boundaries. Among the most important are the lines marking the borders of play. On one side of those lines lies unbridled spectacle...energy and violence displayed for the entertainment of the people on the other side of the line. At least for the duration of the game the two worlds do not mix. This is why we get a vicarious thrill when something leaks over those boundaries, like a foul ball in baseball or when a player slaps our hand while walking out the tunnel. We get to touch, experience, and keep a little bit of that "other world" and its excitement without actually being in danger ourselves. This is also why those barriers breaking down completely in the case of the Indiana/Detroit brawl a couple years ago made national news for days and was met with such shock and horror. It wasn't just the violence...we see that every day in boxing matches, ultimate fighting, and even bar brawls down at the local dive. It was more like another world impinged on ours, like chaos swirled through what was supposed to be an orderly society. The point is, saying, "We like those players" in the context of the game means, "We like those players as long as they're in another world, separated from ours." This doesn't eliminate the possibility of racism, any more than a Roman citizen saying, "I like that gladiator" would show equality in that society.

Without letting us off the hook, though, I think there is some evidence on the other end of the scale also, both in the specific case of Morrison and in general.

First of all, it became evident as the draft approached and even more evident after it that the supposed support for Morrison was overblown. Yes, a lot of people liked him, but not necessarily to the exclusion of other players. In fact from the comments I read and heard, as many people favored Roy, Thomas, and Aldridge as A-Mo, just not as vocally or with catchy music. After the draft 99% of the comments were positive in favor of Aldridge and Roy, while the anger at losing out on Morrison was barely a blip on the radar. Clearly some Morrison fans converted instantly, which would pretty much preclude race being the main issue here. I would bet that most of the people who supported him would talk about his emotion or the fact that he won the college scoring title long before they would mention his ethnicity. That's not to say it didn't play any factor, but I doubt it was a significant one for most people and certainly not for the fan base as a whole.

In fact if you broaden the question and look at the most popular Blazer players in history, race doesn't seem to be a determining factor in that popularity. I only go back to 1977 so I can't speak for the Petrie-Wicks era, but since then I would judge the following players among the most enduringly revered:

Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Jim Paxson, Billy Ray Bates, Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter, Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Brian Grant, Jermaine O'Neal

Before all is said and done I bet that Martell Webster and Brandon Roy both end up on that list too. Only two of those players are American-born caucasians, two are Eastern Europeans, and the rest are African-American. If you polled people on the most popular Blazer of all time Clyde Drexler would win hands down. Jim Paxson, though popular in his era, would barely register. It doesn't make a lot of sense that a fan base aching for the next Clyde would refuse to accept him unless he were also white.

Though we said you cannot assume any kind of general equality based on the public's opinion of players on the court we must also say that Portland as a whole has historically been very invested in welcoming players into the community, even in the "bad old days". Kenny Carr, Kermit Washington, Kevin Duckworth, Mychal Thompson, and many more ex-Blazers remained Portlanders long after their playing days. This does not in any way imply that people have been more accepting of African-Americans as a whole in the community--that's a separate issue. But as far as Blazer players, the people of Portland (at least in the popular perception) have seemed quite willing to go beyond that "sports barrier", maybe even more so than in other towns. Again, it doesn't make sense that the community would turn around in the draft and say, "Whites Only".

One of the residual topics hanging over this discussion that I see mentioned all the time is the treatment of Rasheed Wallace. One of the popular lines of thinking seems to be that we ran him out of town, possibly with the implication that race, or honesty about race, had something to do with it. Maybe I'm all mixed up on this, and I am willing to be corrected if I am, but I honestly don't see it. Casual fans in this town loved Rasheed...LOVED him. The Garden would rock with "Sheed" chants every time he touched the ball. The initial thing that cause people to question him was the 50,000 technicals, especially getting tossed in the San Antonio WCF series in 1999 for jawing at Mike Mathis in the 4th quarter. At that point you started to hear a few boos when he'd get worked up and was cruising for a "T". But that didn't inhibit the cheers one bit. The second big incident was the freeway bust in the Hummer with Damon and the pot. Again I would argue this was less a racial issue than one of common restraint. James Edwards was African-American and our center for a couple of years, and he had the nickname "Buddha" for a reason and everybody knew it. Nobody said a thing. This town would have jumped at the chance to get Robert Parish at any point in his career, including after his admission that he used marijuana. But both guys were basically able to control the partying and keep it in private. Sheed didn't. Given that, I don't think it would have mattered if he was Kiki Vandeweghe...the negative attention still would have been there.

Either way, neither of those straws broke the camel's back. Rasheed did not want to be here in the last year of his contract. He did not want to re-sign here. In his last season he started taking large breaks on the court. He also started giving quotes like "CTC", guaranteed to infuriate any fan. Only THEN did you hear the boos rain down. And you know what? It was still 50/50 in the Garden, and remains so today when he visits. To the best of my ability to discern, neither the cheers nor the boos have much to do with race. In fact all-time Blazer hero Bill Walton got (and gets) basically the same response and all he did was come up with a foot injury that caused his Portland career to end.

In short, I don't see that anybody ran Rasheed out of town in the first place. And if they did, I don't see how it was because of race in particular.

I don't deny that racism is an ugly, tragic reality in our society. I don't think, however, that in the venue of professional basketball there is justification for painting Portland fans as more racist than any others. It bothers me that the assertion is just thrown out there casually. In this day of media licentiousness and word pollution, anything that is repeated enough starts to take on an air of truth. I don't think such claims do justice to the players or the community and it would bother me to have fans or players read them and just assume their veracity without any reflection.

I don't know if this post will engender a lot of comments or a collective "Meh". As I said, I am hardly the expert on this subject and I welcome divergent views. I would ask, however, that folks be very intentional about what they say and how they say it, as I have tried to be. Be mindful that all kinds of people are reading and please be respectful of others as you comment.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Seven Reasons

If you're reading this blog you probably don't need encouragement to follow the team this year, but maybe you have friends, neighbors, spouses, or siblings that you have to convince to hop back on the bandwagon (or at least convince of your sanity for doing so yourself). So after this long desert drought in which excuses to NOT to love the team were as plentiful as grains of sand, here are seven reasons to start following the Blazers again this year.

1. Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge
Neither one of them is going to be a superstar this season, or maybe ever. In fact they may not even get that much playing time in their rookie campaign...especially Lamarcus. But as I said from Vegas, what you do see of them you will love. They are different than most of the rookies we've acquired in this decade. They're well-rounded, play defense, and can score in a variety of ways. They make an effort to play right even if they don't always succeed because of their youth. They also seem like decent people and are unlikely to let you down in the public relations department. Dare I say they might bring back a little of that Blazer community pride? Perhaps that's going too far, but one can hope. Even if both turn out to be good-but-not-great players, the picks will have been worth it, especially in this relatively weak draft year. It's always fun to follow and speculate about rookies. This year will be good in that respect. (Let us make a communal pact to save the "Why doesn't he play Aldridge more?" chants though. Let them grow at their own pace.)

2. Martell Webster
He's pretty fun to root for all on his own, but I also think he may become a big key to the Blazers' future. And I say this not because I think he's the next Clyde Drexler. To the contrary, I'm becoming more and more comfortable with the realization that he's not. Of course he will improve and I expect his game at the end of this year will look light years better than at the beginning, but realistically he probably will never be comfortable handling the ball or taking people off the dribble for the majority of his points. He's going to need a lot of help from teammates to shine. But we'll need him to shine in order to win. That means his colleagues will have to play unselfishly. Big men will need to set him up with screens, guards will need to watch for him and get him the ball, and he'll have to hustle to take advantage of both. He'll also need to work hard and do the little things on the other end of the court in order to justify all that help. In short, if you see Martell contributing big it'll probably mean we're playing good team ball on both ends of the court. His advent could finally put a wooden stake into the heart of that old "give one guy the ball and watch him work" style of offense. And that funeral is long overdue.

3. Nate McMillan
We'll go easy here because Nate was the main publicity point last year, but that doesn't change the fact that we've got a good, good coach. The national media recognizes it, Team USA recognizes it, we should too. Even though he wanted veterans, part of the advantage of going young is that Nate and his staff will be able to mold these guys more freely. What this team looks like in three years will be largely due to his efforts. It'll be fun to watch him try and build them into winners.

4. Plenty of Intrigue and Drama
And thank goodness it's ON the court this year. Other than Zach's downtown drag race, last year was clean as a whistle as far as Blazer incidents. I don't think many people noticed that. I don't expect that will change this year, so it's time to retire the off-court problems talk until further need. There's still plenty on the court to keep fans busy though. How will Zach handle the influx of new talent and the maturation of our sophomores? Who wins the point guard spot and who gets the backup minutes there? Can Travis Outlaw step up and earn some consistent small forward minutes? Who backs up the big spots? And, of course, who gets traded and who comes in? Mind you, controversy is not a good sign for a winner. In fact if you think back to the early-90's teams and the '77 championship squad, there was none. Let's face it...drama like this is a sign you're bad. But it also makes being bad a lot more interesting.

5. The Tickets are Cheap Still
I don't know if you noticed last year, but the Blazers were giving away tickets for next to nothing...sometimes literally free. After 21 wins and not adding any brand-name talent there's no basis to change that. While most of the world still hasn't noticed them, this is a chance for you early birds to get in on the cheap. You can probably get half price tickets at Bi-Mart or Costco or wherever they were selling them last year. You can probably get another couple with a fill up on gas. You're not going to see LeBron, Shaq, or Kobe, but truth be told those aren't always the most interesting games anyway. (OK...the Lakers are always interesting.) I'd look for games against Seattle, the Clippers, Charlotte, New Orleans/Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, or Toronto. Those are going to be as exciting as any big-name franchises coming through. If you're really excited and if they're available again this season, I'd get three of those three-game $76 packages they keep offering on the TV...one at the beginning of the year, one mid-season, and one at the end. You'll get a good chance to see how the kids develop over the year and you'll see roughly a quarter of the home games in person for a little over $230.

Also, if you do want to go to a few games, with the relative paucity of people you have a great opportunity to become the next Dancing Lady, Hippy Guy, or Grandma Endzone superfan. Got a schtick, gimmick, or even just a cool sign or two? You know you're going to get noticed. If you're one of the new-century hipsters who believes your life isn't real until it's on TV, this is your big chance!

6. Keep It on the Down Low, but Possible Upswing Ahead
I don't want to overstate this, because many folks will start to go bananas with predictions as the season approaches and most will overestimate in favor of improvement. I remember the indignant uproar when John Nash foretold 20 wins last season. I also remember the cries of 35, 40, 45! Guess what? Nash was right. And despite the optimism over the draft nothing much has changed since April. Nevertheless, this is the first year since 2000 that we can even think about saying with a straight face that the Blazers have a chance to do better, or at least not sink. It's not the light at the end of the tunnel, but it might be the bend before it. No matter what the win-loss total says at the end of the year, I expect you will see players playing better, harder, and more as a team. And that bodes well for seasons to come.

The big question will be "When do you think the Blazers will actually BE better?" With due credit to Chuck Woolery, my answer to that is simple: 2, 2, and 2. Two trades, two acquistions (likely one from those trades or free agency, one from the draft), and two years. At that point I think we'll be able to talk about the Blazers making a run at a low playoff seed and maybe being considered an up and coming team.

7. Joel Believes, Why Don't You?
No explanation necessary.

Something I missed? Add your own below or by e-mail.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Blazer vs. Blazer III

Something a little more current this weekend. Assuming both are injury-free, who do you want as your back-up PG, Dan Dickau or Steve Blake?

E-mail or comment below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Kevin Pritchard

I got the chance to observe the Blazers' GM-in-waiting during the Courtside Monday Night broadcast last week. Seeing him in person was informative. Heretofore he's been more of a shadowy figure than Steve Patterson, who himself was less visible than John Nash. Since most readers probably haven't seen or heard much from him, I thought it might be interesting to share my impressions. I am not claiming to know the man in any way, nor to have talked to him beyond what I'm going to describe here, so don't take this as "inside" information or gospel on him. It's just one person's observations from a couple hours of watching and one conversation.

The first thing I noticed about Pritchard is that he has a neat combination of being unassuming, yet somehow commanding the room. When he walked in the door and sat down, you pretty much knew it. But it wasn't an obvious, "look at me" thing. One national media guy in Vegas was unmistakable because he strutted around like a peacock listening to the Bee Gees. It was really funny, in a gym full of testosterone, to see a guy acting like he had the most walking with a notebook in hand instead of a basketball. Pritchard wasn't anything like that. He was quiet, didn't say much beyond acknowledging the broadcast crew, but the minute he sat down he was the unspoken center of gravity in the room.

He was either facing backwards or sideways to the fans for most of the proceedings, but you could still tell a couple of things. One, his rapport with his colleagues was respectful, but easy. They really seem to like him a lot and be comfortable around him. They defer to him though. He is the question answerer, even off mic. When he speaks you can hear a pin drop. (I mean I know it's just the broadcast crew, but still, they don't have to respect him like that.) Second, he was generally relaxed through the proceedings, but the line of his shoulders, his back posture, his hand movements...everything just went to another level of intensity when any of the kids were on the air. He seems really, really invested in the players he's drafted. It's great that he's that passionate. It also tells you that this is a guy who, at least right now, doesn't think he's going anywhere, which may tell you something about the ownership and management situation. (On the other hand he may just be the kind of stand-up guy who has decided to give it his all no matter how long he's there, but if that's it he's damn good at it. There was no way he looked like an interim or lame duck in there.)

If you heard the show (or the podcast on the Blazers' site) you heard the things he talked about...culture, family, and the like. He seems honest about that, and as I said before the players and staff are starting to adopt that language, so he's clearly having some effect. He comes across as a guy with a clear vision and enough passion and communication skills to convince others to come along. From what I gathered of the off-air interaction, much of which I saw rather than heard, he listens to those around him. But he also doesn't strike me as the kind of person to suffer fools gladly. You get the sense that he's going to get his way. If he is named GM this will not be a nebulous, John Nash type reign. Right or wrong, his stamp will go on things.

Business management has been moving towards the "lead strongly from among instead of above" theory for years. Pritchard seems to be able to pull it off.

I did get a small chance to talk to him after the proceedings. It wasn't much because I didn't want to disturb him, but he was kind enough to rise from his seat when I approached even though he didn't know me from Adam, which showed something about the kind of guy he is. I didn't introduce myself as being from this blog because...well...that seemed a little tacky, like I was trying to self-promote or something. I mean I love doing this and I'm amazed at all the energy you guys put into reading and responding, but I have no illusions about the cosmic importance of what we're doing here. Introducing myself like the next GM of the Blazers should notice a speck in the online world like this seemed presumptuous, especially with real media people like Barrett, Harvey, Wheeler, Rice, and Marentette in the room. Anyway, I asked him a couple questions, he took the time to answer, and that was it. He didn't treat it as an inconvenience. He actually seemed like the kind of guy who just liked to talk basketball, no matter who it's with, which is strangely familiar to me...

So all in all I was impressed, and my guess is we should be comfortable if and when Pritchard is named as the next GM. I guess the only concerns would be if his passion would blind him to reality (like being really invested in a guy who turned out to be not as great as he hoped or invested in his guys but not other people's), but everyone's strengths are also their weaknesses, so that's no special fault. It will be interesting to see how the team and the organizational climate fare under his watch.

EDIT: 2forLarue asked in the comment section and a couple of others have asked by e-mail what questions I asked Mr. Pritchard. I am 100% sure that he didn't tell me anything he would not have told anybody...I have no secret, privileged information. But fair is fair and I did not approach him saying I was going to put his comments in a blog, and even in such a small forum as this I don't feel comfortable doing so without having let him know that first. I have a big pet peeve about people who go into a public forum and say, "Here is the conversation I had with Person X" and then reprint the whole thing. It feels self-indulgent...like "Look at me! I'm so special!" Mr. Pritchard didn't talk to me because I was special, he talked to me because he was gracious and kind enough to do so. I'd feel crass even giving the appearance of turning that kindness around for my advantage at his expense. It seemed important to add the conversation into the post in an era where management has been known for being distant and out of touch. But I'd prefer to leave it as being about him rather than what was said. I hope that's cool with everyone. To ease your minds though, we just talked about a peripheral player who is unlikely to affect the course of the team. Nothing revolutionary.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Vegas Wrap Up

I had a chance to talk to a couple coaches and former players not currently associated with the Blazers. Since I didn't tell them I was asking questions for a blog I'm not going to narc them out by revealing who, but the general collective wisdom included:

--Jarrett Jack is the real deal at point guard and will be the future at that position.
--Roy is an adequate PG for summer league but probably won't see many minutes there at all in the regular campaign.
--Some think the Blazers will have a problem in the future because Roy and Webster play the same position.
--Others think that Martell will make a living on the wing, and since most shooting guards slash through the middle or come off curls at the elbow, he'll end up being more of a 3 because he'll be able to defend small forwards outside and just run from wing to wing. (That should make Ken happy, he's been saying it for a while.)

Not being a GM or scout myself (or having any pretensions that I am good enough to do either) these summations should be taken with a grain of salt, but based on what we've seen at summer league here's my best guess about the strengths/weaknesses of each player and their prospects...

Martell Webster--He's starting to expand his game and do the little things necessary for him to earn playing time in the NBA. His defensive effort was far better than we saw last season, as was his court awareness. His shot is easily the best on the team but he still has problems scoring when he has to handle the ball himself. Catching and shooting off a curl screen is automatic for him, dribbling or hesitating messes him up. He also disappeared a bit when he wasn't involved in the offense. He's putting more pressure on himself than the coaches are on him, at least in terms of frustration level. This will definitely be another year of learning for him. Expect to see improvement, but don't look for a transformation into stardom just yet.

Travis Outlaw--He still shows flashes of brilliance and his performance increased over the last couple of games. He's lost out there too much for a guy beginning to move into veteran status, however. His defensive performance was marginally better. His offense is still really streaky. He's reverted to shooting five different ways instead of banking on one or two solid moves. Nobody flies or makes spectacular plays like him though. If the Blazers have more patience expect him to see backup minutes. If their patience has run dry he could be traded.

Lamarcus Aldridge--Nobody should describe this kid as "raw". His game is actually quite smooth and polished. He just needs time to make the adjustment, especially with his body. He's got good offensive tools and good defensive instincts. He just needs to see where he can contribute. Expect him to get pushed around a lot this year, maybe to the point of disappearing from time to time. I don't think he can play center yet unless we're just running up and down the court. Don't expect huge minutes or huge production, but watch him grow into his role. Plan on loving him big time in 1.5-2 years.

Brandon Roy--This was Roy's summer league. Had the team centered the offense around him he would have scored as many as Foye. He was unstoppable. He's slippery on the dribble and has a great sense of where and how to get his shot. He plays credible defense already and can pass some. This is just summer league and he'll have several levels of adjustment to make. He'll need to learn to deal with quick-handed and big-bodied guards both, and I expect that to be a struggle. But he will also contribute right away, likely at the 2-spot.

Ha Seung-Jin--Has hasn't changed much, which is bad news. My gut says he will be waived or traded. If he's not, he'll not see much court time.

Joel Freeland--His biggest asset right now is his speed. He runs exceptionally well for a big man. He needs to add both bulk and strength before he can even think about playing the league at 6'10" though. His offense is decent, if a little limited. He's still feeling his way on the defensive end. If he puts in the required work, expect him to get a look as early as next season. The Blazers have already said he's going back to Europe this year.

Hector Romero--He showed the ability to score, some hustle, and a little bit of rebounding. He also has grit and a stout body. He's a little undersized for his position though and caught in a numbers game here. The Blazers seem high on him so expect him to get an invite to camp. If Ha is cut or Skinner is traded he could even make the team, but it's a long shot. I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a team somewhere though.

Kevin Pinkney--He showed a lot of hustle and became a player that the coaches relied on during summer league. He's pretty versatile. He's caught in the same trap as Romero, however. The buzz is that he needs to add some strength and get another year's experience before he's ready for the league.

Marque Perry--He did a fine job running the squad for summer league and showed some shooting range, but his defense was suspect and his shot spotty. We already have our steady guard in Blake and a prospect back up in Rodriguez. Perry only gets an invite to camp if they need another warm body.

Fred House--Provided a little energy and got a decent look, but like Perry I don't see him figuring into future plans.

Brandon Bowman--Tall, but not as versatile, polished, or productive as Pinkney and Romero. Probably won't get another look this year.

Nedzad Sinanovic--We saw less than four minutes of him, so maybe this isn't a fair judgment, but from what we saw I'd say he's like Ha, just without the talent and quickness.

(Yup, I said that.)

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Summer League Wednesday

I'm sure the final game has been wrapped up a couple places by now, but just in case...

--This was Aldridge's game to shine. That was nice to see. He got a few touches in the first half but the second half was really his time. Basically we were getting whipped because we didn't get back on defense and got outhustled to nearly every rebound and loose ball. Lamarcus took it upon himself to say, "Huh-uh." He rebounded hard. He had a couple of really nice blocks (including one when he was on the way back DOWN!) and several strong defensive possessions, including showing strong on help defense. On offense he showed some nice touch from the outside, some deft passing (even once from the high post), and some silky low post moves when he could maintain position. He helped change the course of the game, which is something you hope he'll eventually do in the big leagues too. I understand there's a lot of speculation going around about Aldridge. I wouldn't put too much pressure on him early, but in the end we're going to be happy with this pick.

--Roy had another good statistical outing, but got taken out of his game a little. By that I mean he was defaulting to shooting a lot which, while not bad in itself, was a bail out position for him as point guard. (Just like it's been for Bassy in previous years.) Much of our comeback was made with him on the bench. The upside is that when he decided to score he was usually successful, so much so that when they put him back it was at the 2-spot. Even more of an upside is that he'll be a 2-guard in the league and scoring will be his full-time job. He is getting better and better at scoring off the break too. This kid is tricky.

--Freeland got the start this game and showed more good effort on both sides of the floor, including a pop and stop shot and a couple of nice turn-around shots from 12 feet. He seemed to get frustrated, either with himself or the coaches, midway through the first half and never saw the floor again, however.

--Sinanovic finally got on the court. Meh. Defends worse than Ha.

--Fred House saw a lot of time and helped us come back in a spark plug type role.

--Martell kind of disappeared a little when he wasn't directly involved in the offense. He's still learning how to play and where to go. This was a very good summer league for him overall and he really showed his drive, but we need to be patient with him also.

--As far as the overall game, it wasn't their best effort even with the comeback at the end. We had our hands down on defense, left perimeter players open, and didn't hustle in transition defense. The skeleton of the help defense was there but it wasn't fleshed out by people making quick and correct rotations. There was a lot of reaching for the ball and not much foot movement. We also committed a fair number of turnovers. We fixed most of these problems in the comeback but it wasn't enough. We're still learning how to turn it around and how to win.

--Z-Bo showed up for the last game. Jarrett Jack has been there all along as was warming up by shooting before the game. His shot looked good.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Not Quite Getting It

I had the rare (for me) opportunity to hear Courtside Monday Night last night. The lineup of guests was impressive and it was a really good show. You could feel the energy in the room among the broadcasters. The organization seems genuinely excited about the future, which is good to see.

Kevin Pritchard hit the phrase "changing the culture" hard a couple of times during the evening. Obviously this is a point of emphasis and it's one that will find a sympathetic ear among the fan base. He also used the metaphor of family to describe the organizational outlook...a phrase which is also being repeated by the players from what I've heard.

Despite this promising talk, there were also a couple moments that made me think that for all their effort and apparent good intentions, the Blazers are holding on to some counterproductive assumptions which, if not examined and modified, will leave them short of their goal of reconnecting with the community.

The first moment came when Mike Barrett, himself now a blogger, described blogs as a 300-pound gorilla in need of taming. At the very least there's a sensitivity, and probably more of an antipathy, towards public comment (and criticism) of the team among its organizational representatives, including the representatives whose express job it is to facilitate communication with the public. That's counterproductive.

Blogs are plentiful and varied but they all have one thing in common: they are written by fans, people who are passionate about the team. The more blogs, the more words, the more readers, the more passion...it's as simple as that. Sometimes those words will be positive, sometimes critical. That's the nature of fandom. I guarantee you that in Pittsburgh right now some fans are criticizing the latest Steeler moves, and I'd be hard pressed to think of a fan base more dedicated or a team more successful at this moment in time.

The most famous post of this blog was undoubtedly the second draft-night post about the process of trading draft picks. And yes, it was critical of the way the Blazers operated (but not of the overall results). That post got 40 comments. I got another 18 e-mails besides. That's 58 people who took the time to pour their hearts and opinions onto virtual paper and express them to me and the world. How exactly is that bad for the Blazers? Many of those posts were critical of my take, but that didn't hurt overall blog readership one bit. It's tripled since then. That's not bad at all. Let's say the situation were reversed, and the Blazers posted a carefully-thought out critique that said while they were fans of my writing in general and followed it closely, they thought I was in error on this one point and wanted to make that known. Do you think that would hurt this blog? I'd get six million hits after that!

The Blazers shouldn't be suspicious of blogs, nor should they be looking to tame, moderate, or in any way fight them. They should be praying that a hundred more sprout up overnight. I know it's difficult for people in the organization to get a good feel for the grass roots fan base, but they've got to realize how unique and exciting it is that this conversation is happening, even if it's occasionally critical. If you had said out loud in 2003 that you didn't agree with something the Blazers did in their draft, the response wouldn't have been 58 e-mails and comments, it would have been a collective "Who cares?" That apathy is what the team should truly fear. Blogs help pull people out of it and back into contact with the team and the game. I hope the sentiment expressed by Barrett is not widespread or typical, not just because I am blogging, but because I really think in pursuing that line the organization will shoot itself in the foot in an area that would otherwise be to its advantage.

The second moment came not from a specific comment, but from a strong overall impression that the Blazers still see themselves in an adversarial postition with the media and public as a whole. Their response to the AM 1080 rumor was indicative, as were a couple other things they said regarding their publicity. In case you haven't noticed, part of their coping strategy is to supplant media outlets with their own broadcast sources, third-party websites with their own websites, blogs with their own blogs, and so on. They will use information control as the lever to cement this change. We've already seen part of the strategy in the famous "recording every word" policy and the draft workout shenanigans. It's hard to overstate what a mistake this is.

As far as blogs and websites, as we just said, the Blazers should want more, not less of them. Online venues work on the movie principle of marketing. Going to one movie doesn't prevent you from going to others. In fact it actually encourages you to go to more. The Blazers should indeed be adding their official voice to the online conversation, but it should be to spur this activity, not to limit it.

As far as the official media, you WANT these guys to have access to your stuff and to report on it. Taking the news in-house is always a mistake. You never get the result you want. If you report good news people always take it with a grain of salt because, well, it's coming from you! (If I go out and say this blog is great, for instance, it has little standing because what else am I supposed to say? If someone else says it the credibility factor goes way up.) And the first time you have bad news to report and try to spin it with the official line, people smell the difference and then your credibility is shot altogether. So whether the news is good or bad you never get the result you want. You cannot win.

Furthermore, trying to supplant the media gives them more credibility, not less. It makes them seem like truth-tellers with the guts to say what you will not. Throughout modern history every country and organization that has tried to do an end run around the media by taking reporting in-house has only served to make them more important. As with the online component, the Blazers should certainly be giving themselves press, but they should be doing it in such a way as to involve the local media, not to fight it or attempt to shut it out.

Maybe some people don't worry about these things. I do. I always worry when I hear someone state a goal and then do things which, intentionally or not, are going to subvert that goal. I like the direction the Blazers appear to be headed, on and off the court, but there's going to have to be a little bit of intentional forgetting and a lot of peacemaking forthcoming to sustain it. You cannot have a family when half of the participants are harboring resentment towards the other half, let alone actually fighting them. I pray the Blazers are wise enough to realize this, otherwise this experiment will die on the vine. And that would be sad.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reminder

I will be at tomorrow's game but I am leaving right after to travel back home. Watch for a full report of the game and a wrap-up of summer league in general Thursday night.

--Dave

Questions and Comments

Folks have e-mailed a few questions and observations, so on this off-day we’ll cover them.

>>I perused the stats this morning and noticed that none of our guys are very high up in anything, even though we have a winning record. (And I am aware that some of the leaders played in fewer games and may slide rapidly.) I'd like to think that it's because we actually have a more balanced team and so all the numbers are spread among a larger number of guys while the other teams have fewer who are producing. What is your take on this?<<

You have it exactly right. While other teams are featuring single players like Ager, Foye, and Lucas, we have Webster, Outlaw, Roy, and to a lesser extent Aldridge. Also part of what we want to see from Roy (and even Webster) as guards is the ability to see the floor and make a play, so other people scoring figures in there too. We don’t necessarily want any of these guys to rule the stat sheet…in fact in a way it’s good that they’re not.

In addition, our summer league team is pretty unselfish. Part of that comes from centering around two players with experience I think. If Romero or Pinkney are open and in good position, they take the shot even when more “talented” players are on the floor. No complaints, just high fives…end of story. This also is a good thing and something that should happen more on the main team.

>>How many of these non-signed players are going to be invited to camp? Players like Pinkney and Romero and others who are getting minutes and numbers. And what are the odds of their being on the roster?<<

It’s hard to say exactly. To make it to camp a player has to be good enough to get the invite but not so good that another team with more potential to play them lures them away. This includes European teams. If I had to guess I’d say Romero gets an invitation to camp and accepts it. Pinkney might get an invitation but might not because we’re already carrying four power forwards. If he receives an invite from another NBA team with fewer forwards with guaranteed contracts he’ll probably go there. I’d say the odds were pretty long against Romero making the regular season roster because even though he has decent talent he’s 6’8” and looks to play more of a power position, which makes him a little short. Also he’s hit a number of shots, but they haven’t been self-created or under pressure. With the exception of a dunk, he hasn’t really done anything to make you notice him. (Read below for a different view from Ned, however.) If we had fewer forwards I’d say Pinkney would be a possibility for a deep bench player on the regular squad but he’s caught in that numbers game so I’d say the odds were pretty long there too. I’d like it if he made it, but I’d be surprised. I’d also be surprised if some other team didn’t give him a look though.

>>Why are they using Roy at the point? Are we still looking for a point guard? Or is that the best place for him in Summer League?<<

He has some point guard skills, though he’s going to have some adjustment to make at the NBA level. Basically they want to see if and how well he can play the position, because not only would this give us a 6’6” point guard possibility, it would open up more minutes for him and possibly allow us to consider trading Blake (if they thought he could be serviceable this year) or Jack eventually (if they thought he was going to be really good for a long time). The latter point is also valid with Martell starting at the 2-spot. Roy wouldn’t be getting nearly the minutes at shooting guard that he is at point.

Notice, though, that they’re not starting Roy, even in summer league. That job belongs to Marque Perry. I think part of what they’re doing is sending a message to Brandon about what will be expected no matter which position he plays: see the court, distribute, make your teammates better, and earn your minutes with your play. In my mind this is a lot better than taking the “here’s the ball, go score 20 kid” approach. The kid ain’t gonna score 20 or get that many shots once the ball goes up for real. In fact he may not get 20 minutes, let alone points. But in those minutes he can still do the things that are making him great here,

>>My heart sank when I read your comment "...the movement stopped and the team just died." Isn't that what we saw all last season? Why does that happen? How can an entire team stop working just like that? Is it lack of floor leadership? Something lacking in the coaching?<<

Don’t let your heart sink too much. It happens. I attended the “Perfect First Quarter” game against San Antonio in 1991. Many folks remember that when the twelve minute buzzer sounded we were up 48-19. Most have forgotten that the next three quarters were utterly non-descript. It’s human nature to let down after building a lead. When everything is going in you forget that the reason shots are falling is that you’re running the plays well. You start thinking just anything is going to fall. And when it doesn’t you start pressing more to make something fall. Pretty soon there goes your lead. More veteran leadership probably prevents such slips and the fact that we had a new head coach may have added a little, but in the end the important thing was that we ran good plays in the final minute and pulled out the win through smarts and effort.

>>I like what I've heard and read about Joel Freeland. With his athleticism and instincts, he seems farther along than Ha is, even at this point. Would you agree?<<

I guess it depends on what you mean by “farther along”. I’ve consulted with a couple internet experts on this question and they’re waffling similarly. If you mean it looks like he might grow into a regular player someday, then yes, Freeland is farther along than Ha. He also shows a greater grasp of the game (which is sad since he famously was a bag boy a few years ago). He applies defensive principles better. He’s aware of the court and his place on it better. He’s also a ton quicker, which helps. Ken pointed out that he’s often the first guy up and back on offense and defense. But as far as stepping into a game next season and providing something meaningful, I think maybe you’d still have to go with Ha just because of the impact of his body and the fact that he’s been there before. If Freeland and Ha’s growth continues at their current paces, Joel will have easily passed him up by next year though.

>>Speaking of Ha, what do you think his prospects are? I am starting to be a bit pessimistic about his future. It doesn't seem like he is successfully developing the mindset of an NBA center.<<

Ha is one of the disappointments of my summer league experience. But then that’s been said in years past too. He’s not worse than he was last year, but he’s not better either. He seems congenitally incapable of using his body to get position and grab a rebound and he might as well not exist on any kind of help defense. At a minimum, a big guy like that is supposed to eat space and in that respect he’s on the Atkins diet. That, coupled with him being a Nash project, makes me guess he’s not long for the Blazers. If we’re just talking a 15th man though, I’d probably still hold onto him and work him hard. He’s still very, very young. But as I said last night, if you look at his progress compared to Dallas’ Pavel Podkolzin, Ha isn’t in a favorable light.

>>I am starting to have similar feelings about Mr Outlaw. He is gifted athletically, no doubt about that..but after 3 years now with the Blazers, I would've hoped that he would be a more consistent, more well-rounded player. Not to be mean, but I wouldn't be sad now if we were able to unload him in a trade.<<

What we’ll do at small forward will become one of the intriguing story lines of the next season. If this is an audition for Outlaw, I’d say he’s passing but not by much. I would suspect the Blazers are feelingly similarly to you. We’re going to make use of him and will certainly not dump him for nothing, but his stock isn’t rising anymore and if he’s an attractive throw-in in a trade we’ll have no problem making that move.

>>How much will Aldridge contribute this year?<<

Some, but not a ton, at least not at first. He will be a good player within a few years. He has skills, he can jump, and he may even turn out to be a force on defense. But he’s getting pushed around a bit by summer league guys, which doesn’t bode well for the regular season. Be prepared to be pleased by what you do see of him, but also be prepared to see him in small doses. Next summer league will be his jump-off point.

Finally Ned writes:

>>One of the benefits of being an Oregonian living in Las Vegas is the chance to attend some awesome events like summer league hoops. I'm also really impressed with the play of Romero. He has a strong body and can not be kept off the boards with his tenacity, but more importantly, the guy simply works harder than anybody else. In the game against Minnesota, he took a pass on the three point line, looked hesitant at first because nobody was guarding him and then he decided to attack the defense and thunderdunked over the Minn defense. Just as impressive as that play was, I noticed that he was the first guy back on defense after the dunk. As a fan, you have to love that and as a player, you have to be inspired by that type of effort. That type of play seems to be indicative of what I've seen out of him in the past few days and will land him on somebody's bench around the league.

>>Even after Foye's impressive offensive display over the past few days, I'm glad we have Roy because his skills, size, and feel of the game allows him to play several different positions well, plus the guy is looking to distribute often and will eventually develop into one of several leaders for the Blazers. Foye's game seems similar to somebody like Iverson, in the sense that as he continues to develop his offensive game, there may not be anybody that will be able to stop this guy one on one.

>>It would be great to retain Pinkney and Romero to see how they develop their game. T-Outlaw's development seems to have plateaued a bit after several seasons with the Blazers and I wonder if he would even make the roster if the 'Zers had any depth at the 3 position this year. I'm still rooting for him to contribute as a Blazer, but at this stage he still doesn't appreciate the intricacies of the game on both ends of the floor that might have been there if he had several seasons to grow at the college level.<<

Thanks for the eye-witness view, Ned!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)