Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Moving Day

The news today is not so much about the Blazers as the Blazer Blog universe. As you may or may not know, there’s been a little bit of a shake up in our blogging world. The long and short of it is that Lance Uppercut can no longer run the blog at Blazersedge.com and I will be taking over that site effective today. The details of the switch are mundane. Basically when he found out he couldn’t continue Lance wrote and said something to the effect of, “I’ve grown this blog from its infancy and if I have to leave it, I want you to be the one who takes over.” Having become attached to this blog after only five months of doing it, I could empathize with how he feels. And frankly, when somebody asks you that way you don’t say no…at least not in my world. It was an honor to be asked. So I agreed to make the change.

Hopefully this won’t affect the community we’ve formed too much. It will mean bookmarking a new site and re-registering your name if you want to keep your moniker. Blazersedge does allow anonymous comments if that’s more your style, but I’ve been registered there for months and I’ve never seen any ill effects from it. The biggest positive is that the audience will be a little wider and thus we’ll have more potential for conversation. We’ll also be connected to a nationwide network of NBA team blogs which should open up new avenues for synergy. This could be really neat when the season starts. Finally, because the site is attached to a professional organization, there is opportunity for a little financial compensation for the work, which frankly never hurts.

I’ve talked with Sportsblog Nation, the parent company that owns the Blazersedge site, and they’ve assured me that they’re both familiar with and appreciative of the work here and don’t expect the style of blog to change at all. (Please bear with and have empathy for the Lance fans for whom this will take some adjustment though.) Believe me, if I had any doubts about being able to do the blog my way--which basically means inclusive, respectful, and as fairly and thoughtfully as possible--I would not have taken the opportunity, extra readers and compensation or no. I’ve never been a person to chase those kind of things for their own sake and I never will be. I’ve never even had a visitor counter up at this site…that’s how concerned I am with numbers. The most important measurement to me is how wonderfully and well you respond with your comments and e-mails. More than any particular brilliance of mine, I’ve always seen the passion you guys put into what you say as the best feature of the site, and that “facilitated conversation” focus will not change. I simply see this as an opportunity to take the conversation we’ve had here and open it up to more of the world. I still maintain that at this point in time opportunities to connect and converse like this are important in the Blazer universe. Many, many of you have introduced yourselves by saying, "I can't talk Blazers with any of my friends." I hope this blog has brought you some new ones.

This site will remain up and functional as an archive spot, though this will be the last new post here. There is absolutely no way to express my heartfelt thanks to all who have written and commented as the site has grown. I have become very attached to all of you and I hope you will be willing to make the switch along with me. It wouldn’t be the same without Jorga, The Prophet, Sean, Dr. Dave, Ken, Ignacio, Scott R, TP43, Earl, Eli, Noah, Robert, Marc, SchoolMarm, and of course Fatty…and all the rest of you folks too. Part of the underlying thesis of this little blog experiment was that fans really can and do make a difference, and you guys have proved that in spades.

See you at the Edge!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Monday, August 21, 2006

GM Talk

All the GM/President/Team Official talk both here and elsewhere over the weekend got me thinking...

In many ways it must be a royal pain in the butt to be an NBA GM. Here are guys who have dedicated their whole lives to studying the game. Sure there are a couple of former-star-player GMs out there but for the most part guys still come up the hard way: coaching in other leagues, becoming a scout, maybe serving as an assistant coach or in a minor front office job with more hours than power or pay. Let's face it, you never hear the names of most eventual GMs until they actually take the main seat. That's because they spent the last ten years taking notes on a clipboard in places like Minot, North Dakota or Eastern Europe (take your pick which is more hospitable) or teaching your 11th man how to set his feet properly or watching 92 hours of tape a week and hoping to get a word in at the meeting. In many cases they've taken away from their families, their homes, their finances, and everything else in their lives to pursue this passion and goal.

Most people would be overjoyed to be in the top 10% in the world in some endeavor. Being in the top 1% would put you in another stratosphere. When you're an NBA GM you're sitting somewhere around the 10 millionth percentile. That's how fully ensconced in the elite you are. And yet with all that, any and every yahoo with a mouse, keyboard, and a head full of incomplete information is fit to criticize your work. And they will...constantly. Every time one of your guys underperforms, every time some other team makes what looks like a flashy deal (whether you had any chance to go after that player or not), every time somebody likes the draft pick from their alma mater over the player you selected, and every time (heaven forbid) you just make an honest mistake like everyone else in the universe, you will be skinned, shish-kabobed, and grilled over an open flame with hate sauce.

How many of your critics have scouted one game in Minot, watched one hour of tape, or even know proper footwork when they see it is up to debate. That you're their target is not. I imagine it's frustrating. Even if you had the time and energy to defend your work you couldn't. You'd have to divulge information that fans can't know (like who you're interested in or willing to trade) or that fans don't want to know (like what's really wrong with their favorite player off the court). And even if you did lay it out there for all to see, half the people wouldn't understand and a good portion of the rest would disagree. So you learn to keep your head down and your mouth shut, isolating yourself from the criticism while trying not to appear distant or uncaring. The best GMs successfully walk a tightrope, balancing good public relations with keeping their sanity. It's no accident that most of the best GMs are relatively quiet and nondescript, flying below the radar until there's something tangible to announce.

And we haven't even tackled the potential problems in dealing with your owner, who may be a meddlesome fan looking over your shoulder and pushing for a fantasy-league approach or may be a businessman for whom winning is an incidental convenience as long as the bottom line is good. Nor have we talked about dealing with your coach, who more often than not is strong-willed, demonstrative, and completely convinced of his own vision, which may or may not coincide with yours or that of the players you've acquired. He has greater access to the media (and sometimes your owner) and half the time he's thinking he could do your job too. And don't even start with the agents, constantly angling for sweet deals and more exposure for their clients whether it's in the best interest of the team or not. And there you are, at the crux of all of it...relatively powerless to affect any individual part but largely responsible for making sure it all works together.

Maybe the appropriate question isn't why we don't have a GM yet. Maybe it's "Are you sure you want to be one?" I hope I'm at least a semi-knowledgeable fan, but I know that I fall so far short of what would be needed in that position that I'm like a sub-atomic quark on the butt of a giant. It's easy to pick out one or two examples of people who have failed in the position and say, "I could do better than THAT" but that's not reality.

I imagine that the Portland GM position at this point is fairly complex relative to the rest of the league. We may be headed in a positive direction, but we're still a long way from normal around here. The fact that we're even dealing with the GM issue and nobody knows what's going on (just like nobody has for the past five years) illustrates the point. Do you see other teams having these kind of discussions/issues? The good ones don't. We're reminiscent of a recovering junkie who's off the stuff but whose life is still so full of wild extremes that you don't quite trust him yet. And we're looking for somebody to come in and be the conscience and guiding force in this mess. That isn't going to be easy. In fact if nothing changes I'd presume a very high rate of failure for whoever takes the job.

I'll be glad if Pritchard does get the spot, but in reality probably more for us than for him.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More PR

As I sauntered to and fro through Stumptown on my vacation, a few more possible Blazer PR ideas occurred to me. Maybe these are obvious to some, but keep in mind I haven't frequented the city for more than a couple days in...oh...probably five years or so. Having lingered a while this time, here are my impressions/suggestions:

1. It seems nowadays that the most visible symbol of what's right and vibrant in the city is the MAX system. So why isn't there a Blazer-themed MAX train or two? Everybody else seems to have them painted up, so you know it's possible. How cool would a black train with red and white highlights look? The Blazers could also request it run past the Rose Garden on game nights.

2. Despite the growth/renaissance in certain sections of the city, others look quite dilapidated. The I-84 and I-5 corridors are particular eyesores. There are any number of cold cement bridges, overpasses, underpasses, and business buildings with ugly facades facing the freeway. A little public art is called for here. Forget investing big time into TV ads which are unlikely to astonish anybody. (Who's forgotten that the Blazers exist? The problem is people see them as disconnected to the community. TV ads address the former, not the latter.) Why not commission some artists to decorate those structures with murals of past and present players? You know that grain elevator by the Steel Bridge that Amazon.com has an advertisement scrawled on? How great would that look with a 100-foot tall Martell canning a jumper on it? You could go all up and down the freeway corridors with a Blazer hall of fame. When you ran out of room there you could start placing murals all over the city. Eventually it could become a neat project trying to track them all down. (Have you found Lloyd Neal yet? I hear he's somewhere on Killingsworth.) All you'd need (besides the funding from your budget) would be for the city and/or businesses to give permission. And who wouldn't go for that? You'd be beautifying the town and giving it distinction as well as getting your name out there. Plus you'd be employing some local artists. It's a win all the way around, and something I really think people would grow to appreciate.

3. I've seen a few plaques around public buildings and institutions crediting the Paul G. Allen foundation for its public donations. That's nifty and I'm glad Paul has done those things for the city. But if he's really intent on owning the team long-term and really wants to connect them with the people again, wouldn't it help if those donations were made in the name of the Portland Trailblazers? I know they're handled through a charitable trust and there are rules about that kind of thing, but how hard would it be to do? The reasoning is simple. When folks see Allen's name up there I'm sure they appreciate it but they also think, "Eh...he can probably afford it." In fact some crass people might think, "$50,000? What's that to Allen? He should have financed the whole building!" But every time the people see the Trailblazer name up there they get reminded that the organization is an integral part of the community.

I'm not sure how practical any of these ideas are, but again these are the type of things the Blazer PR department should be throwing around in their internal meetings...

Back from vacation Monday.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Guest Spot Part Four

Dr. Dave (just like me but with a better degree) has some interesting thoughts in our Guest Spot today. I'll let him speak for himself...

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Oregon Trailblazers

Let it resonate... give it a moment to sink in...say it slowly a couple of times. It does roll off the tongue quite nicely. If your reaction was negative, I understand. I can almost hear the choruses now; "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Or "It's always been that way!" Or perhaps "Please, no more controversy". Yes, I'm proposing an idea I'm sure has been batted around before: let's change the name of the team to reflect the loyalty of fans all over the state. From one who resides in the southwest corner of Oregon, it seems perfectly natural and right.

I understand why the franchise probably chose the name of Portland in the beginning. No one at that time could have predicted the huge following of fans outside the city limits. In the glory days of Blazermania and Rip City, I can tell you from experience there was hardly a vale or burg in the state out of range of the voice of Bill Schonely's narrative. Now, less than half a dozen stations outside Portland carry the games. Yes, interest has waned of late. Some of that is due to the recent downturn of the organization. Some is due to Trailblazer management underestimating the fan base outside the metro area. Not to mention the invisible political wall which separates Portland/Salem from the rest of the state. Keeping the Rose City's name associated with 'our' team inadvertently perpetuates that division. As things are, fans living outside Portland are excluded in a sense from the Trailblazer identity.

In my proposal, Portlanders would not be excluded since we're all Oregonians. (Note to those Blazer fans living outside Oregon: that's a whole 'nother can of worms. Please submit your own proposal.) Right now, as the team is re-tooling with young players and a fresh outlook, it would be a good time to make the change. Let the kids come to know and love Oregon as well as Portland. The Trailblazer name itself refers to the first pioneers who made their way west on what would become known as the Oregon Trail.

I'm sure my bias in this matter is in full bloom now. However, I do speak for many Trailblazer fans who are feeling somewhat shunned. Remember that in the great expanse between Seattle and Oakland there is no other top level professional team we can call our own. It would be nice if the Blazer PR guys got a little creative in trying to recapture a huge following out here just waiting for an excuse to jump back on board. In reality, I know there's not a cat's chance in a kennel that this will happen anytime soon. I'm sure there must be some contractual snag that would prevent it. And my optimism for the future will not diminish even if it never happens. I'm just sowin' a little seed. Lord knows we have some fertile minds in here, right?

C'mon... say it one more time...O-r-e-g-o-n Trailblazers.

Ain't it sweet?
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Hmmmm...I'm not sure how I'd feel about that, but it is a different proposal and Dave makes some good points about the fan base. Comment below or to my inbox.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Over/Under

One more vacation-type question and then we have what I think is a very interesting (and perhaps controversial) Guest Spot Friday on a topic that I've never heard broached before.

Question of the day:

Who do you think is the most underrated Blazer of all time? Who is the most overrated?

As usual you can use any criteria you want but please keep in mind that underrated and overrated DON'T mean "good" and "bad" respectively. A lot of people would probably name Clyde as the all-time best Blazer, but it'd be hard to argue that he was underrated. Similarly (as heretical as it might seem to some) folks might think Terry Porter was a really good player but got more credit than he was due on those early 90's teams, especially when compared to Buck, Jerome, etc. (I wouldn't say that, but I could see where someone could make that argument.) That doesn't mean that they think he was a bad player.

I almost hesitate to comment on this one because being on shore leave I haven't researched very thoroughly, so understand that I'm shooting from the hip here. But I'll try anyway.

I have about four candidates for underrated. I'm going to choose one and see if anybody names any of my other three. I'm going to go with Geoff Petrie. I know he was big in his day, but when you list all-time great Blazers now his name barely ever gets mentioned. His career was only six seasons long, but in those six seasons he topped 24 points per game three times. He also gave you around 5 assists and 3 boards. He shot over 45% for his career too. To put things in perspective, we're all excited about Zach's offensive potential because he once averaged 20 points for a season. Petrie averaged that for his career.

Overrated is much harder. I think I'd have to go with Billy Ray Bates though. He set our imaginations on fire, that's for sure. And there was that one, glorious alley-oop. But he wilted as soon as the league figured him out and even in his great year had more flashes of brilliance than substantial contributions. He's one of the great quirky characters from our team's history and our mythology would be poorer without him, but probably more is made of him than his play strictly warranted.

Your candidates?

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Worst Moments

Still updating from vacation and depending on you guys to do most of the heavy lifting as far as comments and such. Today's the second half of the mother of all Blazer questions: What is your worst Blazer moment? Again it can be a game, a season, an event, or some personal reflection/experience having to do with the team or its effect on your life somehow. Again I'll grease the wheels with my Top 3:

1. The ball slips through Cliffy's hands in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter of Game 6 of the '91 Western Conference Finals. Big comeback, forced turnover, two-on-one break, Jerome has the ball and a lane but opts to pass to Cliff. The pass was a little late, Cliffy didn't expect it or follow through...it's nobody's fault...it's everybody's fault. We ended up losing the game by one. With it came the end of the series and of the best season the Blazers have ever had. And we lost to the Lakers no less (who went on to play pathetically against the Bulls in the NBA Finals). I'm not sure any single moment has elicited such a simultaneous groan from Blazer Nation as this one. It kind of encapsulates every dream that should have come true but didn't.

2. The news breaks that Clyde is traded. I know he wanted it and I know it was time, but that didn't stop the empty feeling. And somehow it just wasn't possible to get that excited about getting Otis Thorpe in return. It was the end of a very good era.

3. The Blazers lose in the first round against Seattle in '78. This will be beyond the memories of some of you young-ins. Indeed, I was just a kid myself. We had won the championship the year before. We were 40-8 to begin this season. Walton went down late in the season, made a brief comeback, but couldn't bring it for the playoffs. Surely we'd win anyway, right? Wrong. Since I had only started watching the year before and since I was innocent to the cruel ways of the world, this was my first introduction to everything not going exactly as planned. I still remember the feeling. "Did that really happen?" If I had known that almost 30 years later we'd still be looking for that second ring I might have cried.

What are yours? Listening ears and sympathetic shoulders abound...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Best Moments

I'm on vacation IRL this week and I can't do much extensive blogging without getting "The Glare" from the old ball and chai...uh...I mean my dearly beloved. There will still be posts every day, but my interactivity level (comments and e-mails) will be lower until next Monday. I'll depend on you guys to fill in the gap a little with your comments and stuff.

So let's get this started with one of the two mothers of all Blazer questions:

What is your favorite Blazer moment ever? It can be a game, a game result, an acquisition, a specific play, or even just some random childhood memory regarding the team.

I'll give you my top three to get the wheels turning.

1. The Championship. Nothing will ever, ever beat that in my mind. Such a dizzy, wonderful feeling it was. What smiles that put on the face of a little kid.

2. Winning game two of the 1990 NBA Finals. Remember what a thriller that was, with Laimbeer hitting all those shots and us coming back and all? This was in the fairly early days of the 2-3-2 Finals format too, and it seemed like all we had to do was take care of business at home and that title was ours. Who knew that we'd not win another game? Actually at that point I wouldn't have wanted to know, because I just loved that moment of anticipation.

3. Jerome Kersey dunks during the Perfect First Quarter in 1991. Yes, I was there. Yes, it was more than awesome. The Coliseum was SO LOUD that night too. I don't know that we'll ever see another twelve minutes of Blazer basketball like that in one stretch again. And Kersey's dunk just put the exclamation point on the whole thing. The crowd was out of its mind and San Antonio just didn't know what to do.

I have more to say on each of these moments but it'll have to wait until another "story day" post. Register your votes for Best Blazer Moment Ever!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Turning it Around

Let's assume for the moment that Zach will remain a functional part of this team for the foreseeable future. I've read speculation a few places that this will be a bounce-back season for him. I'm willing to concede the possibility, but I also think such an eventuality would have to include criteria beyond the current, nebulous "being in shape" or "the knee feels better". If Zach does make a comeback, it will almost certainly necessitate most of the following:

1. He has to start showing as much energy/intensity/desire on defense and defensive rebounding as he does on offense and offensive rebounding.

To me, this is precisely where the surgery excuse falls apart. Even last season, even with the gimpy knees the season before, when there are points to be scored Zach all of a sudden brightens up and becomes the man of a thousand moves again. When it's time to get back in transition or grab that defensive board he looks lame. This has been an issue since his rookie year. It has nothing to do with his knees and everything to do with his heart.

2. He needs to have zero tolerance with himself for things like not practicing hard, slighting coach, skipping or being late to team events, and leaving early.

That's part of what being the best player on this team, with these players, with this coach, at this time means. People don't really understand that "best player" is not just about talent or skill (at least if you want to talk about functional effectiveness). It's a relational, contextual concept like "good spouse". You may have inherent qualities that recommend you as a person to marry, but unless those qualities translate into your specific marriage they don't do a lot of good. In other words, it doesn't matter if 90% of the world would love (in theory) to marry you if those qualities they admire don't translate into making the marriage you're actually in good. The relationship you're in informs you what being a good spouse means. Ignoring it is both perilous and a complete waste of time. That's also true of being a team's best player.

In this context, at this time, these things are important to this team. Whether they would be as important in Detroit is immaterial. Zach doesn't wear that uniform, he wears ours. He's not responsible to those teammates and coach, he's responsible to ours.

I think it's also time to put to rest the whole "Zach's a follower, not a leader" excuse. Consider:

A. He pouts and complains when he doesn't get the ball, when he gets pulled out of the game before he thinks he should, when he's not center of attention out there. In other words he shows all the hallmarks of wanting to be the man. But if you want to be the man, you've got to play like the man and conduct yourself like the man.

B. If he's such a follower, susceptible to the influence of those around him, why didn't he follow Joel Przybilla, Theo Ratliff, Steve Blake, Martell Webster, Viktor Khryapa, Jarrett Jack, and Sebastian Telfair last year? Why did he pick the one guy who's an underachieving, disruptive dorkwad to emulate? Reality check: that's not being a follower, that's being an ass. You're making $16 million a year and are the focal point of your team. Time to stop it. Now.

There will always be easy ways out no matter who's around you. Most of us grow up at some point and learn not to take them. Six years in the league is enough time to figure that out.

3. Zach needs to go to Nate and say, "I know much of the offense will still run through me, but I'm also willing to be a decoy. Design some plays specifically to take advantage of that and I will do my best to follow them."

Zach's proven he's a good scorer in this league. He's also proven he's not Michael Jordan. He can't score consistently out of double and triple teams. The threat of his presence can free up other people though. And we now have some very nice shooters on this squad.

4. Of the shots he does take, Zach needs to hit 47%.

If he's not, he's not taking the right shots.

If Zach does get better and have another breakout year, it'll probably be because he did these things. All but the last item are mental/philosophical shifts. They're as simple as him deciding to do it and then backing that up. It's not a matter of can he do it. The potential has always been there. But will he?

If he doesn't do some of this stuff, one more bucket a game and one more offensive rebound a half won't matter. As good as they sound, there's nothing magic about 20 and 9 or 20 and 10. It's perfectly possible for a team to lose a ton and go nowhere with a player amassing those stats. Ask the Golden State Warriors under Antawn Jamison or just about any team Derrick Coleman played for.

If he's here, I hope he not only does it, but does it the right way.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Blazer vs. Blazer VII

This one's simple: Who's your head coach, Jack Ramsay, Rick Adelman, or (to throw a bone to those excited about the current team) Nate? Why?

Use any criteria you like to make your choice.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Guest Spot (sorta) Part Three

This Friday's guest spot is simply a question somebody wanted to ask. Sounded good to me!

>>Obviously we'd all like to add a superstar to the roster but right now that's not possible. If you could add one guy to this year's team from anywhere in the league who is NOT a superstar (no 20 point scorers, no Ron Artest or Jermaine O'Neal) who would it be and why?<<

Fire away below or by e-mail.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

PR Department

I was surfing a bit yesterday and again it amazed me how many Blazer blogs are cropping up everywhere. That made me wonder what, if any, notice the Blazer PR department is taking of this phenomenon. You'd have to be blind not to notice the groundswell, or to ignore the free publicity. All the ad slogans and official statements in the world don't carry as much cachet, or engender as much goodwill, as a corps of grass-roots folks dedicated to doing your advertising for you. And intentionally or not, there's no doubt that these sites are basically commercials for the team, piquing interest on a daily basis.

Many people like to play "If I Were GM", but let's stop for a second and pretend that we are Blazer PR guys. What would you do to take advantage of this growing medium? I know they already have their own site and blogs, but as I said in an earlier post, that only goes so far. The content is good, but it's still the "team site", so what do you expect them to say on it? While it's the best source for people who are already dedicated fans, the Blazers are unlikely to convince any skeptical potential converts through their own site no matter how glitzy it is. Besides, why do all the work yourself when you've got others eagerly doing it for you? It's like that guy in "Lady in the Water" who only works out one arm and not the other.

Here are a couple of my suggestions. And lest somebody think that I'm being self-serving, suggesting the Blazers should do something for me or take notice of what I do, let me say up front that because I live a state away and have a real life job I could not participate in any of these things myself. But I still think they're good ideas.

1. The Blazers ought to have a "Bloggers Lunch", similar to the meet and greets they have for season ticket holders. Let guys sit down with Kevin Pritchard, maybe a coach or two, and a couple of players. Let them ask some questions, even some tough ones. Let them walk on the floor at the Garden and in the locker room. Maybe even let them attend an otherwise closed practice. (Give the players fair warning that everything they do that day is going to be written about several dozen times over, of course.) Can you imagine the stream of publicity that would come out of that one afternoon?

2. The Blazers ought to invite a guy like Eric Marentette to walk with them through the intricacies of next year's draft process, from the scouting to the conversations to the war room on draft night. He'd have to be subject to some editorial control, of course, such as not disclosing sensitive conversations before the draft, but he could post along the way and then write a more complete retrospective afterwards, detailing how we got to that point. They could also cover other events like, "What's a road trip like?" and "What's it like doing a TV/radio broadcast?" Or maybe even, "What's it like to spend a day with [insert player here]?" If they were really, really brilliant they'd hold a contest to select a fan writer who would follow the team all season long just like a beat writer and give their perspectives. You'd have people salivating to do ALL these things...for free! Just pick a person who you think is responsible and whose writing style you like. Post entries on the Blazer website (or O-Live if they'll cooperate) and you're set.

3. You know those cool videos that are popping up left and right on YouTube and other places? Well, the organization is sitting on the biggest vault of Blazer highlights ever known to man. Either have your video guys come up with some compilations or get some internet friends to come in and do it for you. You could do historical packages detailing each year or era, set to era-contextual music. You could also do individual packages of popular players' careers (like Clyde or Jerome). What fan could resist watching 30 or 40 of those? Such memories it would bring up.

And by the way this raises a side point. The overall Blazer PR strategy should be simple. Forget begging people to come back and forget slogans about the team being resurrected and such. What you need to do is visually, emotionally, non-verbally, instinctively draw a connection between the team's deep past (which people remember fondly) and its near future...kind of skipping over or sublimating the recent past. These videos, perhaps with added vignettes, would be an easy way to draw the connection. I've had this nagging idea about a video where disgusted Blazer fans, collectively having had enough, take a trip (probably with their children who should be the next generation of fans) down to Union Station to throw memorabilia of less-than-charming players (Bonzi, JR, Qyntel, etc.) out the "departures" door and onto the tracks. After the catharsis of the purge they all stand there looking forlornly out the door as if not knowing what to do, and the kids especially look sad. You see a tight shot of a little girl standing there, only half understanding what's going on. Then you see a huge hand come to rest on her shoulder. The camera moves up and it's Martell, and standing there are Jarrett, B-Roy, and whatever other young guys you want to include. The girl looks up at Martell, then looks at her dad. Her dad looks at Martell and then nods to her. Martell scoops her up and she laughs. All the other kids and then the adults gather around the players and they start walking out together. A line of people start applauding on one side of the station and it's all the superfans--Dancing Lady, Paint Guy, Hippie Man, Grandma Blazer, the works. Then a line of people on the other side start applauding and it's as many of the good old players as you can gather. Jerome, Buck, Clyde, Duck, Luke, Gross, Steele...you name it. One of the prominent players nods to Martell as he walks by. Martell nods back. One of the superfans does the same with one of the new fans. Then the young players and their new fans walk out the door into the sunrise and the camera moves up to reveal the sign over the entryway which says simply, "Arrivals". Set the whole thing to some music (my personal favorite would be the Brewer and Shipley classic "One Toke Over the Line" but that's probably too edgy and close to home for them to use it) and you've sent your whole message in a three minute video without saying word one.

Anyway, the point is if a schmuck like me can think of ways to use the internet and its interactive popularity to the team's advantage, the team should probably be able to also. If you give 'net users something they can play with, share, or best of all help create and contribute to, they will flock like seagulls at the fishing docks.

Got any nifty PR ideas? Share them below or by e-mail.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Old Mule, Skinner

Not much in the news to talk about today that we haven't already gone over, but I suppose we haven't addressed the Skinner comments and reaction, which has now made it into the Canzano column (which is sure to have things abuzz). Frankly I didn't post about his comments when they happened because I didn't see it as that big of a deal, but apparently it is.

For those who have forgotten, the juicy quotes from the article:

>>Skinner, who was traded to the Bucks in a four-player deal July 31, sounded happy to be free from teammates in Portland who he said simply stopped trying.

"It's contagious, and it carried like wildfire throughout the whole team," Skinner said Monday. "Even players that were really dedicated and really wanted to be there, just made it seem like it was for naught"...

"It's everything," Skinner said. "From the way you just sit down at the dinner table, to how you walk, you can just tell when a player (has) not really lost their passion, but just lost their initiative to go out and try to win. And it just goes through everything. It goes through everything and completely destroys a team."

Skinner said he respected veteran teammates such as Voshon Lenard and Theo Ratliff, but didn't care for some of the team's younger players. Skinner didn't single out any specific players by name for criticism.<<

First of all, though many seemed inflamed by the comments, I agree with hyperbully that he's basically just speaking the truth as he sees it. Some have suggested that the guy's holding a grudge, but how do you hold a grudge against a team you were with for less than half a year? That this might not be the whole truth regarding the team is up for discussion, but that this is the truth as one person sees it shouldn't be. And that person is in a far better position to speak truth about such things than any of us are. I don't see where we'd have much grounds to contradict him. If there's one thing that wearies me a little about this Blazer-fan thing, it's when people want to bend over backwards to explain away any criticism of the team as if it were wholly untrue or motivated by something else besides honest assessment. I love the team, you love the team, we all love the team, but there just might be some things to criticize about a squad that lost 61 games last year.

Second, to whom is this apathy breaking news? We've been talking about the same thing here since the beginning of this blog. I guess this is part of why I thought the comments were no big deal. I rather expected a collective shrug from the fan base accompanied by, "Tell us something we DON'T know..."

Third, while I understood the point of the Canzano column this morning, he should know that the code of silence is neither peculiar to Skinner or the Blazers...it's a league-wide phenomenon. When Kobe and Shaq were putting on their daily soap opera a few years ago Kobe made a public suggestion that maybe Shaq wasn't in the best of shape. The furor the next day wasn't about Shaq's weight (which was obvious for everyone to see) but whether it was ethical for Kobe to "throw a teammate under the bus". The general consensus seemed to be no. And this was regarding an observation that was so patently obvious that any street-corner hack with half an eyeball could have told you the same thing. You're not supposed to rat out anyone on your team for anything, ever. You just don't interfere with a guy's reputation or potential paycheck and you don't risk disrupting locker-room chemistry like that. If, as Canzano suggests, silence is the problem then the whole league is in trouble. To expect a backup player just acquired in a trade with an uncertain future with the team to stand up and break that code is just silly. Who would it have helped?

Furthermore, from what little experience I have I'm convinced that the curtain between players and fans is necessary and maybe even good. These guys live in a different world than we do, both in terms of finances and occupational habits/rituals/requirements. I'm not sure we want too much of a glimpse into what the NBA life is really like on the inside. I suspect it might make it hard to follow a lot of these guys. I wouldn't want behavior like some of them exhibit at my workplace, but then again I'm not a professional athlete. Who knows if it's better or worse than any other team? At the end of the day you hope your airline pilot, your surgeon, and your therapist are wonderful people who do wonderful things, but the more important question is how well they fly the plane, fix your ticker, or listen to your issues about your mother. If the pilot and co-pilot are drinking gin and cruising fifty feet off the ground so they can play "slug bug" that's one thing, but stories of hazing and late nights at Scores probably aren't germane and you don't need (or want) to know them. If something bad-but-not-criminal has happened you hope that they get over it like everybody else does in similar circumstances and do their job. And this, by the way, is the issue Skinner appeared to have: not hazing, not people being annoying or disagreeable, but people not doing their jobs.

I guess the only major question left is to whom Skinner was referring. He specifically excluded Ratliff, Lenard and Blake. I think since Przybilla made many of the same comments and played really hard we can probably exclude him also. Khryapa also seems unlikely and Ha didn't get enough minutes to matter that much. I suppose Jack and Webster could qualify, but from outward appearances at least they both worked hard on their games. To be fair put them in the "maybe" category. That leaves a solid pool of Randolph, Miles, Dixon, Telfair, and Outlaw. Perhaps not coincidentally, all four of the remaining players have been reported in trade speculation. But then again, we could have told you that before the Skinner comments.

In the end, this is one of those things that only matters in August. It will be long forgotten by the time training camp opens. (Which is not that far away...YIPPEE!!!)

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fun, Fun, Fun

Our esteemed Prophet touched on something in the comment section of yesterday's post that made me think. In reference to watching players develop and hoping for the future, he said simply, "That's what makes this fun." My first reaction was, "That's right!" But in that same moment it struck me that it's been a while since the words "fun" and "Blazers" appeared in the same sentence.

"Fun" is something that's been lacking in the team for quite a while. As I think back, even the 1999 and 2000 runs were pretty serious/stressful because of the characters involved. The only real liberated, joyous moment I can remember is forcing that Game 7 with the Lakers after being down in the series. Other than that there was always a lot of Sheed getting tossed or Rider thumping his chest then disappearing. And those were in our GOOD years. There hasn't been a whole lot of fun at all since the century turned. I think this new squad has a chance to bring back the fun a little.

One of the core elements of having fun as a fan is seeing the players having fun out on the court together and really enjoying what they're doing. Part of the sports experience is living vicariously through the participants. It's no fun at all when it looks like your imaginary life would be a drag. This is part of the reason that the apathy that Brian Skinner referenced yesterday hurts so much. It's not just that you paid to see a sub-standard product, nor that your team is collecting losses...it ruins some of the fundamental reasons for being there in the first place: to forget your troubles for a while, to find something worthwhile to put your heart into, and to have FUN in doing so. If you went to a concert of your choice and the performers skipped half the guitar riffs and muttered their way through the music while staring vacantly off into space it'd leave you bitter (provided that's not actually the kind of music you enjoy). It would also be jarring if the band was angry, stressed, and yelling at people after every third song. The Blazers have been one or the other of those for the better part of a decade.

I'm hopeful that these new players will not only care about the game but find a way to enjoy it. So far they seem pretty enthusiastic. Because they're all coming in at once and because the veteran leadership is relatively weak they do have a chance to define their generation they way they want it. I'm realistic that it may take a while to develop a sterling win-loss record, but I'd like to see an immediate uptick in their enjoyment factor playing the game and of my enjoyment factor watching it. That's both reasonable and possible.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fridays

As you may have noticed with Ken and TP, the "Friday Guest Spot" thing is pretty cool. I can understand why most people wouldn't take up their own blog. Coming up with...oh...a hundred and fifty posts about the Blazers in the offseason is harder than it looks. But doesn't everybody have at least one or two great thoughts in them? If you want to express yours in the Friday Guest Spot just e-mail them to me at the address below. Eventually they'll probably end up there. The topic can be anything you want (the team, being a fan, whatever) as long as it has something to do with the Blazers.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Rules of Engagement

The Wizards have refused to match New York's offer sheet for forward Jarred Jeffries, making him a Knick. This means that maybe the rumored Miles-QRich deal won't be discussed further. (I say maybe because you never know with New York. They don't seem to have a problem duplicating positions and playing styles, as evidenced by Marbury, Crawford, and Francis on the same team.) As you know, I'm fine with that.

We're not at the point of contending yet. We're not even at the point to know when we'll be at the point of contending yet. Far from adding the final piece or two from the puzzle, we haven't even got the straight edges put together completely.

Sit down for a minute and scan the roster. What thoughts come to mind? If you're anything like me optimism and hope abound. But at the same time we don't have a lot of evidence how these players are going to turn out, let alone turn out together. Simply put, we don't know who we are yet. Look at the questions still surrounding the team even after the trades and (hopefully) improvement:

--Is Jarrett Jack a legit starter?
--Will Dickau recover from surgery and how much will he contribute?
--Can Spanish Chocolate play at all in the league?
--Is Martell a 2 or a 3 and is he capable of playing a complete game at either position?
--Will Roy's Summer League success translate into the NBA? (I'm personally pinning a lot of hopes on him but he hasn't played one game yet.)
--Will Dixon be with the team and if he has to play major minutes are we in trouble?
--Will Miles be here? What will his attitude be?
--Can Outlaw earn any minutes?
--Can Zach recover fully and produce/play like a lead player?
--Will LaFrentz play at all? If so, will his contributions be meaningful?
--Ditto Aldridge...
--Is Magloire long for the team and will his attitude be right?
--Can Joel stay out of foul trouble enough to play starter's minutes?

It's not like I had to stretch very far to come up with these questions either. These aren't exactly peripheral issues for these guys...they get brought up every time you think about them seriously. And we don't have a solid answer to any of them.

Given that it's really important to retain/regain flexibility along with talent in any move we make. In some ways we're shooting blind with every trade we pull because we're not sure what we've got, let alone what we need. Therefore I think that any player we acquire needs to fall under one of these three categories:

1. You should be able to envision his number hanging in the rafters someday. I'm not saying it has to be a lock. (We can't get that kind of guaranteed player with what we're offering.) But if you can't see any possibility that a guy could turn into a long-time, core contributor with this team, don't commit major time and money at this point. Players that fall into this category would be Jack, Webster, Aldridge, and Roy. None of them may turn out to be that good, but there's at least a chance any of them could become a lifetime Blazer because they have the skills and the attitude to do it.

OR

2. The acquisition should be a solid role-player who doesn't cost us a lot of money relative to his production. Joel Przybilla, Juan Dixon, and Steve Blake fall into this category.

OR

3. The guy's contract should be expiring or near-expiring. I would say the end of Raef LaFrentz's contract would be the outside edge for commitment if you're trading for contracts. Jamaal Magloire obviously fits this bill.

If a guy doesn't fall into any of these three categories, I'd pass. Decent but long-term expensive players, even if they contribute something we appear to need, might not help us as much right now as they'd potentially hurt us later on when we're saddled with their contracts and maybe don't need their skills or style of play. We're still playing for 2-3 years from now, and we won't know what we'll require then until a one or two of those seasons have gone by.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Just Say No

Blazer vs. Blazer will return next weekend but I want to talk about the latest rumor that I didn't get a chance to talk about yesterday because I wanted to give Ken his due, namely Darius Miles to the Knicks for Quentin Richardson.

Two words: Ugh. Why???

I know we've all been fascinated and excited by the trade bonanza this off-season (myself included) and I know we're all eager to see the rear of Mr. Miles exiting stage right (myself included) but that doesn't mean that any move is a good move. I wonder if we're becoming the frat boys who, having had six or seven shots, now can't differentiate and will just drink anything that's put in front of them. Sorry, but it's time for somebody to cut us off.

The problems with Quentin Richardson:

--He has a long, semi-expensive contract, almost exactly as long and semi-expensive as Miles'. If we get him we'll be as married to him as we are to Miles now.

--He's a head case people! The next team he's on will be his fourth team in as many years. The Clippers didn't want him. The Suns didn't want him. Now the Knicks don't want him. And he supposedly filled a need for at least two of those teams. (I don't understand why the Knicks got him in the first place with all of those score-first guards already.) Does this seem eerily familiar? It should. Two years ago that was Darius Miles.

--Yes, he can shoot 3's well and yes, he's a good rebounder for a guard, but he's also a black hole and a career 40% shooter. He only shot 35% last season. Didn't we just get done with a bunch of low-percentage shooting guards? Aren't we tired of that yet? Besides, do you REALLY want to see this guy and Zach on the floor at the same time? I can already hear the cries. "Why don't we ever move the ball? Why can't [insert young player here] score? Why don't the guys listen to Nate?"

Everybody remembers the huge 3-point shooting game he put up on us when he was in Phoenix, but that was one game in, what, around 415 for him now? If he did that all the time he would never have been on the market in the first place. He'll put up that number of shots every game if you let him, but they ain't going in like that every game. Which means if we get him you better get used to a lot of, "Quentin for three...miss! Duncan rebounds, outlet to Parker, to Bowen...JAM with authority!"

--He's listed as a guard/forward, but that's mostly because New York already has 96 guards and forward is where they stuck him. He's undersized for a small forward and his rebounding advantage goes bye-bye there. He's really a 2-guard. But we have Webster and Roy both wanting some minutes at that position, plus Webster maybe needing some minutes at the 3 (if you do believe in Richardson as a small forward). Roy needs to handle the ball some to be effective and Webster is supposed to be our main outside shooter, both of which would be inhibited by playing Q-Rich many minutes.

In short, this seems a lot like trading a player who's pretty disruptive off the court and sort of disruptive on it for a player who's pretty disruptive on the court and sort of disruptive off it, with no cap relief included and no improved prospects of making another deal down the road. That's not a good idea.

The Whitsitt era should have taught us that not all trades are created equal. Yes, we want to get rid of Darius, but putting ourselves in a nearly identical situation in doing so doesn't help anything. I'd avoid this deal like the plague.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Guest Spot (Part Deux)

Ken writes the following tongue-in-cheek take on living in what he calls a "mixed marriage".

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I don’t normally make this known, but I live in a “mixed marriage”. I’m not talking about me being a typical geek, aging white boy while my wife is a hot Asian babe, though both things are true. No, I’m talking about me being a loyal Trailblazers fan and my wife being an ardent (gasp) Kings supporter. Perhaps some explanation is in order. After all, she tries to explain me all the time to her friends, now it’s my turn.

I met my wife more than a decade and a half ago in Yuba City, California. I was working for a large company out of Portland for a few months and living in the motel where she worked. When I returned home, she came with me. (There is no truth whatsoever to the rumor she was bound and gagged during the trip and I wish she would quit spreading that around.)

At that time she was not a basketball fan. That soon changed, however, as Buck and Jerome and Clyde and Terry became household names. A couple years later we moved to Reno, NV and things began to change. I began to notice subtle little signs, like the Vlade Divac bobble head doll on the mantle and her sudden affinity for “White Chocolate”. I suppose parts of it were understandable, we were both admirers of Rick Adelman and, living in Reno, you get a large dose of Kings programming, but still it was tough when… well, one day the Blazers were playing the Kings and I suddenly realized we were arguing different sides of a call.

“Whose side are you on, anyway?” I screamed, rather politely, I thought. “The Kings, whose side are you on?” She answered. This is the thanks I get for introducing her to the game.

Then, horror of horrors, we actually lived in Sacramento for a year. It was a very good year for the Kings, however, and even I found myself rooting for them now and again (but only as a second choice, I swear!) We’ve since moved out of that insane atmosphere and having been out of it for almost three years now, I have returned to my sanity and, once again, only root for the Trailblazers. My wife, alas, is seemingly beyond repair. Late last season it came to a head.

“Better get down here, the Blazers game is on!”

“We’re watching the Kings tonight.” She answered.

“Why would we do that?”

“Because they are playing the Lakers and they are going to crush them.”

Alright! Now there’s something we can agree on.

Perhaps you, or someone you know, are/is caught in a mixed marriage like mine. Here are a few tips for coping (assuming for the moment that divorce is not an option).

1: Remember the good things you share. Basketball is, after all, only three fourths to seven eighths of life.

2: There was a good reason the words “For better or for worse” were written into your wedding vows and this is a good time to remember this.

3: Always try to find common ground such as your loathing of the Lakers and the incompetence of the refs. If that fails, and it rarely does, remember there are good people like Adelman and Petrie in almost every organization.

4: Separate TVs is not a bad idea. Separate houses are recommended only in extreme cases. For instance: your spouse is a Lakers fan.

5: Above all else, remember it’s only a game. Sometimes you have to repeat that to yourself over and over. It’s generally considered bad form to say it through clenched teeth.

Ken Fuller

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Do you live in a "mixed marriage" or are a child/parent/friend/significant other of a fan of a different team (or a non-sports fan)? What have you had to do to convince them of the sanity of your Blazer passion (or to join in it)? Any interesting stories? Share them below or by e-mail.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Jaynes Quote

You've probably already read this quote from Dwight Jaynes:

>>It’s amusing that Patterson and the people at Vulcan have been trying to sell us on this basketball-as-a-business concept. The idea that Allen has to keep an eye on the bottom line and run this team as a business.

But that’s not happening here. What kind of a business move was this? His credibility with the NBA, with potential buyers and with his landlord have dipped lower than the president’s approval rating.

And Allen is not saying what his motivations and plans are. We don’t know what’s going on. In the absence of his excuse we’re forced to dream up our own rationale for some very weird and erratic behavior. Draw your own conclusions, but I’d go with a combination of eccentricity, immaturity and nuttiness. Or maybe just wealthy arrogance.

And let me ask you this: Would you want to do business with him? Do you feel, as a fan, you could trust him with your heart or your money?

I do not see, at this point, how you could.<<

He makes a good point. Part of the fallout from this is that if and when the team is ever offered for sale again mostly you're going to hear the sounds of crickets.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

O-Live Says Allen Not Selling

UPDATED AS THE DAY GOES BY

Oregonlive.com has gone live with the news that Paul Allen is not selling the team at this point. We discussed the situation extensively last month and there's no need to rehash it now. At least we know the options are narrowed somewhat. To my mind this is a middle of the road outcome, not as bad as selling to a purchaser obviously intent on moving the team but not as good as true local ownership. We do not know, and Allen will not say, what his intentions are until and unless he buys back the Rose Garden or attempts to declare bankruptcy to get out of the lease. One of those alone will be the proof. If I had to guess I'd say this falls farther towards the good side of the continuum but as long as the Garden and the team remain separate entities it's bad for us.

It will be interesting to hear PAM's public reaction. That might tell us something.

I said at the Vegas Summer League that Pritchard didn't look or act like someone who thought he was going anywhere. Apparently that perception was accurate. Expect him to be named to some kind of official job title soon. Whether that's GM, assistant GM, Vice President of Basketball Operations, or whatever we'll just have to see.

Edit: I'll also be interested to see the official Blazer reaction. There has been none so far. Let's face it, you know Canzano didn't get the scoop from the Blazers themselves. If this had been the kind of unadulterated, splashy-PR good news fans hope for it would have been trumpeted all over the Blazer webpage and written about in the Mike Barrett blog instead of appearing first under Canzano's byline. Maybe we're still headed there, but we're not there yet. Likely the official team response will be non-committal jargon, "Paul Allen remains committed to owning the team, admires the passion of the Portland fans, and would like to see a positive outcome to this situation. Blah...blah...blah." It will be interesting to see if they even mention buying the facility as a possibility.

Second Edit: Helen Jung now has the official statements from Vulcan and PAM. The animosity is thinly veiled, where it's veiled at all.

From Vulcan: "No single entity has invested more over the years than Vulcan has in theTrail Blazers - and in that sense, no single entity has more at stake in an outcome that enhances the future prospects of the Trail Blazers as a franchise than we do. We will continue to explore ways to address the broken economic model under which the franchise now operates, while working to ensure the viability of the Trail Blazers as a team and a business."

From PAM: "In June, Portland Arena Management LLC (“PAM”) and Paul Allen began a process to jointly market the Trail Blazers and the Rose Garden arena... As a result of the process, multiple bids were received, a number of which were in a range which PAM found acceptable, and PAM confirmed that it wanted the sale process to continue to pursue negotiations with certain of the bidders. However, Mr. Allen has advised PAM that he does not wish to pursue a sale of the team at this time, and the sale process has been terminated."

Looks like we're back to square one...

Last edit: I've seen some speculation that this was all a ploy by Allen...that the team was marked "for sale" in order to determine a fair market value for purposes of Vulcan and PAM reaching an agreement. Even if the tersely-worded statements didn't cast doubt on that assertion, wouldn't that be a rather dumb move on Allen's part? Consider that his bargaining points were that the team was losing money, that nobody was going to buy, and that PAM should cut bait and sell to him at a reasonable price or else he'd be forced to do something drastic. To make that argument work, you'd need to have no valid offers, not a bunch of them. Worse, the Sonics sold at $350 million (and purportedly had a HIGHER offer which they turned down) and they have a broken-down arena and the worst lease agreement in the league (according to David Stern anyway). Last I heard the ballpark asking price for the Blazers was $300 million, but when the Sonics news broke wouldn't both parties assume that the Blazers, in a better situation when both arena and team are controlled by the same entity, would be worth more? Soliciting bidders would only confirm that. If this really was a scheme to determine market value, it looks like Allen only drove the price higher, which was both predictable and colossally stupid. Help me out here...I'm no expert. Is there something I'm missing?

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Marco's Question

I got a nice e-mail from a fellow named Marco regarding yesterday's post about how much we might improve. He had some great thoughts about our young talent but ended with a sincere question that can be summarized as, "Why don't you think we'll win more this year? Couldn't we make a playoff run?"

My honest answer is that this is sports and anything can happen, but I see the odds as immeasurably long. Don't get me wrong, I'd love it if we did, but I'm prepared for substantially less.

If you're talking about an actual run at a playoff seed, we're simply caught in a numbers game. Dallas, Denver, San Antonio, Phoenix, Sacramento, the Clippers, the Lakers, and Memphis all made the playoffs last year. The first six aren't going anywhere. Memphis may slip a little losing Battier and being unsure of Stoudamire, but they'd still have to fall a long ways and we'd have to climb just as much for us to pass them. And whatever you think of the Lakers, Kobe Bryant will carry that team to some wins. That's eight teams that are all but locks to be better than we are and there are only eight playoff seeds. Even if we were the best of the rest we don't make the postseason this year. And I have doubts about us even earning that label.

It takes two things to win consistently in this league: talent and stability. Most of the arguments you hear for us being better this year center around talent, and rightfully so. I think we are improving in that area. But in doing so we are sacrificing short-term stability.

How important is stability? Look what happens with injuries. The team doesn’t just lose talent, but continuity. How many times have you heard said of a player coming off an injury, "It's going to take a while to work this guy back in?" How many times does a team missing its superstar win a few in his absence but then look really ragged and lose his first game back? Players are not automatically interchangeable, no matter how talented. It's no accident that the worst teams in the league often use the most different starting lineups during the season. Part of that is lack of talent, but the converse is also true. Teams that don't develop a rhythm don't win.

There are also plenty of positive examples of the importance of consistency. What makes a superstar a superstar? It's not just talent. A lot of players have that. It's talent combined with the ability to produce consistently. Clyde Drexler gave you 20, 6, and 5 like clockwork. He wasn't spiking 30 and then giving you 5 the next night. That's what made him great. You could depend on him, build your team and its style of play around him. That's why those early 90's teams didn't just win, they ALWAYS won. They knew they were going to win the moment they entered the gym. This was part of the failing of the late-90's Whitsitt teams. They were massively talented, maybe more so than any of their contemporaries. But you remember players complaining that every year we got 3-4 new players and it took months to assimilate them, if it happened at all. There was no steadiness, no continuity, nothing to build around other than we dominated on paper.

Stability is a key to winning. And right now, despite all of the positive moves and good, young talent, we just don't have it.

Probably the toughest thing for a young player to learn is how to fit into the flow of the game--to make others better and to be made better by others in such a way that leads to team success. It's not that they're slow. The last thing a new person in any venture learns is how to merge into the environment. Your first day on the job you were worried about what you were doing. You barely noticed anybody else. New poker players play their own cards, not the cards of others. It's no different for these kids. I expect Jack and Roy, having four years of college experience (and one year of NBA duty in Jack's case) will have a marginally easier time than most, but neither one of them has had the responsibility they're going to get this year. Webster and Outlaw are obviously still in the early phases of their adjustment and Rodriguez and Aldridge haven't even begun it yet. If you go down that list, that's nearly every player people are excited about making a difference. And they will, just not yet, because they don’t even know who they are as individual players, let alone how to make a difference on a winning team in this league.

The fact that they'll eventually get it down doesn't change the steepness of the immediate learning curve. Even the simple things will take time. For instance, between being brand new to the league and our style of play last year, do you realize that for the most part none of our guards besides Dickau and Dixon have ever thrown an entry pass into the post to an NBA center? Theo didn't post and Joel and Ha got waved off every time they tried. Even Zach didn't post much last year and the entry passes they did make to him looked like differential calculus to these guys. This is a basic, rote move that veteran guards could do in their sleep. They'll be learning it on the job. They'll have to adjust to Magloire and maybe a stronger Zach whose games demand such. (If those young guys look off Magloire like they looked off last year's centers he's going to shove a fist down their throat in practice.) And that's just the simple stuff!

This is exactly why Nate is always saying you need veterans to win. Not because the veterans are all that much more talented than young guys, but because they know how to play, both as individuals and in the team framework, consistently enough to win.

Take a long, honest look at where we are right now. We got less stable at the point by trading Blake and promoting Jack. (Again, maybe more talented but less stable.) Plus Dickau is injured and Spanish Chocolate is young and was considered a loose cannon even in a lower league. We're going to get less stable at shooting guard if we fade away from or trade Dixon and rely on Martell and B-Roy. (And Dixon was hardly a paragon of consistency himself.) We're less stable at backup small forward with Outlaw in place of Khryapa. Our starting forwards remain the same but they are also coming off mercurial seasons and are not known for providing stability. Our backup power fowards are both new to the team and one is new to the league. The only position with greater stability is center with the re-signing of Joel and the acquisition of the veteran Magloire who, while new, can't help but be more steady and capable than Theo turned out to be last year. That's two positions in turmoil, two positions shaky, and one slightly improved, albeit by a brand new guy. It's going to take a while to sort that all out.

The point is, we did get more talented, and we are going in the right direction, but the very players we cite as examples are also the players who will, in the short term, lack the stability needed to provide sustained winning either because they're young or because they're new. I doubt we'll even begin to see thing settle down until at least February and I wouldn't be surprised if it took a whole season. That's why I think any chance of a playoff run, or even anything close, would be a miracle.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New and Improved?

Let's assume, as per yesterday's post, that barring a miracle we're done trading for the summer, save a minor roster spot addition or perhaps a Dixon trade. Have we gotten better? If so, how much?

At the end of last season the clear problem areas for the team were:

--too short and slow/unathletic overall
--stagnant offense...not a lot of guys who move without the ball or who can score without holding it for five seconds first
--sporadic commitment to defense, often in transition
--poor defensive rebounding
--not enough players with passing skills
--overall lack of basketball IQ
--not enough toughness/meanness
--lack of future cap space to make any significant changes

Let's look at how they've been addressed (if at all).

Too Short and Slow and Unathletic
The first part, at least, is the biggest gain we've made in the offseason. Just starting Jack at the point gives us an inch over Blake and several inches over Telfair. If Roy plays any point he's even taller. Both Roy and Webster tower over Juan Dixon at the 2. Small forward remains essentially the same but LaFrentz and Magloire give us taller options at power forward. While technically we lost some height at center with the departure of Ha and Ratliff it shouldn't matter too much, as both replacements have size. Frankly it will be a relief not to have opposing guards just rise and gun it over us whenever they choose.

As far as the slow/athletic issue, we've made more modest gains. Roy has tricky quickness in every direction. Jack and Webster aren't speed demons but we'll be seeing more of Outlaw and less of Khryapa at the 3, which helps (in this area anyway). Magloire is not fast, but has a good body. I'm not sure we'll be outrunning a lot of teams, but hopefully we won't get outmuscled quite so consistently.

Stagnant Offense
I'm not sure we made any gains here. Roy would be the best hope, but it'll be a while before he has a major impact. Jack is still learning how to play the point, which doesn't help. Magloire likes to score one-on-one. And, of course, the Zach issue still remains. It'll be interesting to see what kind of offensive sets Nate plans and whether the guys actually follow them.

Sporadic Defense, Especially Transition
This is where I have my greatest hopes...eventually. Every player we acquired this off-season who's not a backup point guard has defensive skills. That's a fantastic shift in emphasis. Someday Roy, Aldridge, and Jack are going to provide a very nice defensive lineup. They're also effort guys, which should help in transition. It might not show up this year, but down the line we'll be fine.

Poor Defensive Rebounding
Magloire is the great hope here. The secondary hope is that the backcourt starts defending better, allowing Joel to remain in position for boards. I'd say we got marginally better, depending on how much floor time Jamaal actually sees and how long he's with the team.

Not Enough Players With Passing Skills
Again Roy provides a partial answer...especially upgrading from Dixon. If you look at the guys who will actually be playing major minutes, however, it's still a big area of concern. Our volume scorers are just not good passers. They don't even see the floor beyond the bucket. I think we have some good potential in the backcourt but the reality is the guys who will be touching the ball most also won't move it.

Overall Lack of Basketball IQ
Still a concern. Roy has it, but we still have a long way to go with everybody else, mostly because half the team is young.

Not Enough Toughness/Meanness
If Magloire stays then he'll help address that, but we still have far more finesse/skill guys than legit roughnecks.

Lack of Future Cap Space
With the acquisition of LaFrentz this got worse, not better. We still won't have much wiggle room for the next couple years unless a major move is made.

Obviously it's impossible to remake a team entirely in a couple months. Seriously addressing three of eight problem areas and partially addressing three others is a pretty good start though. I think some optimism is warranted. As I read around the web, however, I see some people already going overboard in their predictions. As somebody said in the O-Live forum yesterday, seven trades is exciting, but exciting does not automatically equal better. The core of our frontcourt is essentially unchanged, save for the addition of Magloire. The backcourt has been revolutionized, but those guys are young. Webster and Jack are just babies, Roy and Rodriguez are younger than that, and Travis Outlaw has this weird "dog year" thing going where it takes him seven years for one year of on-court maturing. That means there's going to be a TON of inconsistency this year as the kids learn. You're relying big time on Zach and Darius in the frontcourt (and they didn't do anything last year to make you rejoice over that) and in the backcourt your steadiest players are likely to be Dan Dickau and Juan Dixon. That doesn't smell like a playoff team to me, or even close. We've taken good steps, but they're still baby steps at this point. We can certainly lay claim to having a mostly new team. Improved may still have to wait a little.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Magloire Analysis

Great look at the newest Blazer by Henry Abbott. Check it out.

--Dave

Trades, Canzano, and a Poll

After the spate of trades everybody is wondering what's next for the team. Are we done for the summer? My guess is probably we are, at least in a practical sense if not a philosophical one. I think they'd love to move Darius Miles and pick up a stopgap small forward--in fact as I said a couple months ago I hope they'd be all over themselves to move a contract or two for Jalen Rose, Grant Hill, or Eddie Jones--but it's not likely. I agree with John Canzano that any move before the off-season will be of the Juan Dixon variety, which still could net us a minor piece but won't address our main issues. This begs the question asked a couple times in the comments section of yesterday's post, "How tradeable are Randolph and Miles?"

Regarding Darius, Canzano printed this gem in his blog yesterday:

>>You're not going to like to hear this, but I just don't think Portland is capable of moving Miles at this point. There's something going on behind the scenes with Miles that fans aren't seeing here. The market does not lie.<<

The assertion is accurate. In fact it probably doesn't go far enough. Technically speaking the market didn't lie two years ago when there were no real offers for Darius' services as a restricted free agent. The market also doesn't lie about his trade history. In July, 2002 he was worth a then-sparkling Andre Miller. In January, 2004 he was only worth Jeff McInnis and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. I doubt that the decline in his perceived value has stopped.

(Side note: This might also be a caution to those of us banking on the value of Jamaal Magloire. I am not in any way suggesting he's Darius, but he went from being worth Desmond Mason and a 1st-rounder to being worth Blake, Skinner, and Ha in the space of one year. That means Milwaukee didn't get any better offers for him than that. His value on the open market right now is probably due to his expiring contract as much as anything.)

At this point it doesn't surprise me that Darius is virtually untradeable on his own. With $34 million left on a contract that runs through 2010, nobody is going to touch him without a sweetener. You can never say never--after all Raef LaFrentz has more money than that left on his contract and far less production potential and HE got traded--but if you're holding your breath you'd better be David Blaine. Personally I've decided to exhale for now.

Canzano also wrote yesterday's famous article suggesting we trade Zach and spare change to Philadelphia for AI. Plenty has been written in response over the last 24 hours. Frankly I'm less curious about the implications of such a deal (which I don't think would be good for us for various reasons) than if it's even possible in the first place. I have been hoping all along that, despite the enormous contract values, the sweetener for any Darius deal might be Zach. It seems to make sense, as he's the most talented (veteran) guy on the team. But how much of a sweetener is he really? Zach is certainly more productive than Darius and most think he's not quite as much of a torpedo to the team (though I'd argue with that), but he also gets paid twice as much. He's owed $73 million over the next five years. That kind of contract puts a large burden of proof on its recipient when it comes to trades.

A few months ago I made an assertion that Zach was no better than the 9th-best power forward in the league. Since potential trades aren't limited to just power forwards, I thought it might be useful to see where he ranks among all players. Here's the list of people who are clearly more productive and/or more valuable on the trade market than Z-Bo. Admittedly this is somewhat subjective and depends on your need, but in general I tried to set the bar very high to make this list, only including people whom I feel there would be little or no argument about. Another way to frame it would be to say that this is a list of people who, if you called their team and asked about trading them for Zach straight up, you'd almost certainly get laughed off the phone.

Paul Pierce
Emeka Okafor
Ben Wallace
LeBron James
Dirk Nowitzki
Carmello Anthony
Rip Hamilton
Chauncey Billups
Jason Richardson
Tracy McGrady
Yao Ming
Jermaine O'Neal
Peja Stojakovic
Elton Brand
Kobe Bryant
Pau Gasol
Shaquille O'Neal
Dwyane Wade
Michael Redd
Andrew Bogut
Kevin Garnett
Vince Carter
Chris Paul
Dwight Howard
Allen Iverson
Steve Nash
Shawn Marion
Amare Stoudemire
Mike Bibby
Tony Parker
Tim Duncan
Ray Allen
Chris Bosh
Andrei Kirilenko
Gilbert Arenas

In addition you could argue for or against these players being on the list:

Joe Johnson
Rasheed Wallace
Tayshaun Prince
Baron Davis
Ron Artest
Corey Magette
Richard Jefferson
Jason Kidd
David West
Manu Ginobili
Rashard Lewis
Chris Wilcox
Mike James
Mehmet Okur
Antawn Jamison

That's 35 people on the "Certainly More Valuable Than Zach" list and 15 more who get Honorable Mention. That means even giving him the benefit of the doubt, Zach is somewhere between the 36th and 51st most valuable/talented guy in the league overall. This would put him in the top 8-12% of the league, which looks pretty attractive. The problem is he ranks 11th on this list in terms of amount owed on his contract and right around there when measured against the league as a whole. That puts him squarely in the top 3% in the NBA in terms of guaranteed dollars going into his pocket. Clearly his production is not matching his contract or even coming close. At the very least you'd have to say that it would take a special situation for somebody to take Zach. Either they'd have to have a specific need for his game and believe in him a lot or they'd have to not care about money at all.

Nobody is completely untradeable, but we certainly face some hurdles if we want to move either of these guys...especially if we don't want to take poison contracts or give up one of our youngsters in return. When I look at the numbers, I seriously doubt either will be traded until we've seen them play again. I also think that if and when the best-case scenario comes about and EITHER of these guys start doing well we need to avoid falling in love with their numbers and just pull the trigger if someone will take them off our hands.

Poll Question of the Day: Who is more untradeable at this point, Zach or Darius? Why?

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)