Friday, June 30, 2006

Picture

O-Live's Eric Marentette has a picture of three of the newest Blazers (Aldridge, Roy, and Freeland) standing together at their introduction at Peninsula Middle School today. You know what I like about that picture? Roy is in the middle of the other two and he doesn't look that much shorter. (Some, but not a ton.) My heart sank a little bit when Minnesota took Roy and sank even further when we took Foye, whether the latter was hyped as a possible rookie of the year or not. The guy wasn't much taller than David Stern and that's usually trouble for a guy who will end up playing a lot of shooting guard. No such difficulties with B-Roy.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Joel

With tomorrow marking the beginning of the free-agent negotiation season, I'd like to pick up a little bit on what both the O-Live Blog and the Behind the Blazer Beat Blog are saying about Joel Przybilla. At this point we need him. We need him badly.

It's not only a matter of big bodies, though Quick and Tokito made that point quite well concerning next year's roster and its lack of true centers. It's also what Joel brings to the table.

--He's a decent defensive rebounder, and we don't have a single other proven one on the team. Hopefully Aldridge will pick up on this and Skinner can certainly fill in, but neither are guaranteed minutes, especially if Zach remains. And I don't have confidence in Aldridge tearing up the league on the boards with that body if you play him primarily at center this first year. (He might make strides and maybe he'll surprise me, but I doubt it'll be enough to carry the team.) The thing is, Joel amassed his rebounding numbers only playing 24 minutes a game and being put out of rebounding position half the time by having to cover for the leaky defense of the guards. I'm hoping that at some point during this season Jack, Webster, and Roy will start to pick up a little more defensively. I'd like to see what Joel could do with more minutes and without having to play goalie.

--Joel is also the most unselfish of our current frontcourt players on both ends of the court. He plays help defense consistently, which Miles does sometimes but Zach almost never does. He doesn't need to touch the ball to be effective on the offensive end either. He seldom gets a shot but he makes 54% of the ones he takes. Those qualities are in short supply among our frontline starters and quite necessary given the makeup of the team.

--Joel is the best, and maybe the only, pick-setter on the team. In fact he's one of the better pick-setters in the league. He stands in there, he takes the hit, he rolls efficiently...he's near textbook. As I've said before, Martell really needs a pick or two to get good looks. Getting them adds 4-6 points to his average easy. If Joel himself doesn't give them, he can set the example for others who will. Again I hope Aldridge will develop into this kind of player, but it's too early yet to depend on him.

--Joel brings a little bit of toughness to a team that almost completely lacks it. We have skill guys, leapers, and streaky shooters to spare, but we don't have a single really hard-nosed player outside of Joel and maybe Skinner. It's hard to win in this league without a little tough in you. And it's hard to be tough if you don't feel your teammates are beside you and have a little tough in them too. Joel doesn't back down. He's feisty. We need that.

--On a more general note, while the league may be shifting towards the guards again, big men are still at a premium. We saw how coveted they were in the draft. The ones that come available on the open market cost a lot of money...maybe more than they're worth. If Joel were to re-sign at the mid-level exception, it would be a complete no-brainer for us. We couldn't even begin to replace him at that level even if we could find a decent center to come in.

The beat writers thought that the chances that he'd stay were slim, and I can see why. If we were able to offer even three million more a year I think we'd have a shot, but even with steady raises, 5.5 million to start isn't much compared to what a center gets nowadays. Doubly so when your agent is in your ear talking about rare opportunities and possible disasters. But I'm still hoping that somehow there's an 11th hour conversion. It might not be the best thing for Joel, but it'd be the best thing for us.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Reaction

As I read through the morning's reaction from fans and columnists alike I couldn't help but be struck by what a big and weird day yesterday was in terms of people's perception of the team. I know I've used this analogy before, but it's appropriate: The WWE couldn't have scripted something this radical. Steve Patterson turns from heel to babyface. John Canzano turns from heel to face also. (How did they both manage that at the same time?) Paul Allen makes a similar turn. Kevin Pritchard goes from questionable guy to the consensus next GM. Adam Morrison goes from the #1 headline to a footnote in history. Around here I reverse the trend by turning from babyface into (I hope temporary) heel. And Fatty, the new rising star around here, writes in the comment section that this is the "renaissance" of the Blazers, which is both uncharacteristically positive and shockingly multisyllabic for him.

I feel like the legendary Joe Schmoe when I say, "What is going ON here???" Isn't it amazing how quickly things can change?

Jorga offers her usual sensible and important thoughts by e-mail:

>>I just hope that the fans will be patient. It's pretty exciting getting two lottery picks - we have to remember this is just a so-so draft. I am just afraid that if we don't start off playing .500 ball that the fans are going to start griping again.<<

I agree that we're going to have trouble winning in the short term and I also agree about the caution about the draft. It'll take a while for the youngsters to develop and when they do I'd be more than happy if they turned out to be solid starters. I'm not expecting miracles. I do hope that this good feeling lasts longer than just the draft buzz and I hope the fans give the team an honest chance over the next couple of years. What we saw yesterday was the light at the end of the tunnel...or maybe the first faint possibility of light...but we're hardly out of the tunnel yet. There's a lot to be excited about but a lot of work to be done also.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S. I was just messing with you, Fatty. You are one of the best characters in this motley group and a budding superstar. I bet you dollars to doughnuts one day we're going to see a Fatty Blog. It'll be super long with very narrow margins. I look forward to it...

Brilliance?

In case you missed it, Chad Ford (via Eric Marentette, link at right) offers this explanation for the Roy deal:

"Of the four, Roy is my favorite pick, and I like the way they maneuvered to get him. The Blazers caught wind of the Wolves' plan to take Roy and trade him to the Rockets. So Portland drafted the guy the Wolves wanted, Randy Foye, forcing the Wolves to send Roy to Portland for Foye."

Now...far be it from me to give attribute a ton of credibility to Chad Ford, but if this is the way it went down that was pretty brilliant. That's hardball. (And good bluff calling.) Maybe Minnesota thought we'd pick Rudy Gay at #7? In any case, if true, they were going to get their money from either Houston or us, so it didn't cost them anything to try it.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Reading

If you haven't read it already, Behind the Blazers Beat provides a great rundown of the draft day action.

--Dave

Owned?

Lauryn brings up a question that I'm sure is on a lot of our minds:

>>WHY was PA paying out and buying up draft picks if he doesn't have a vested interest in this team much longer? That is the story behind the story in my opinion. Does that seem logical to you?<<

I batted this one around in my head for a while too. I came up with two possibilities:

1. He's still going to own the team.

2. He decided if he's going to go out, he's going out his way. Last night was certainly more old-school Paul Allen than the recent vintage. Wheeling...dealing...free (some might say frivolous) spending...it almost felt like 1999.

Unhelpful, isn't it? The truth is nobody has ever known what's going on in PA's mind except for PA. I will say one thing however...if the response to the draft is any indication, he's done a good job of reinvigorating the fans and giving them optimism for a while. Six trades and two lottery picks certainly got everybody excited. I think for many it felt like somebody opened the door and let the stale air out and we got some circulation again. So maybe it's a combination of 1 and 2.

Guesses?

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

The Day After

Ahhhh...welcome to the post-draft hangover. As we rub the sleep from our eyes and wonder exactly what happened in our wild night of binging, let's roll over and look at our roster as it now stands.

Point Guard:
Steve Blake
Jarrett Jack
Dan Dickau
(Sergio Rodriguez)

Shooting Guard:
Martell Webster
Juan Dixon
Brandon Roy

Small Forward:
Darius Miles
Travis Outlaw

Power Forward:
Zach Randolph
Brian Skinner
Raef LaFrentz
Lamarcus Aldridge

Center:
Ha Seung-Jin
(Joel Przybilla)
(Joel Freeland)

(The guys in parentheses either aren't signed or will probably spend the year in Europe. I also assumed that Voshon Lenard is gone.)

Things to ponder:

--Obviously these moves show confidence in Jarrett Jack, which is not surprising, but do they also show confidence in Travis Outlaw? Assuming Miles gets moved, he's no worse than the primary backup at small forward this year. He could be the starter if we don't get a small forward in return. (There will be sentiment to start Roy at the 2 and Webster at the 3 but I imagine it'll take a while for Roy to gain that confidence.) Who knows, maybe he'll still get moved, but if the roster stays similar we'll be relying on him.

--Sticking with the guards, very soon we're going to have the option to run a three guard lineup from time to time. We haven't had that in a while.

--The obvious question for the big men is who plays center. Does this mean they think we can re-sign Joel? Otherwise we're going to have a power-forward-by-committee post presence and that ain't good. Raef used to be a center but is more of a perimeter power forward now. Skinner can play some center but isn't really a first option there. Aldridge is too slight yet and Zach won't like being a 5. I'm hoping that Joel comes back...

--If we get the center position filled, that still leaves us with a glut of power forwards. As I said last night, it doesn't feel like we're done here. Assuming we also want to move Miles, we seemed primed for a forwards-for-forwards trade. The question is, with whom?

--Does anyone have any insight as to why we traded Alexander Johnson? Reports said the Blazers were high on him because of his athleticism. We traded for him in the second round and then traded him away for future second round picks. Was it just a pick-grabbing ploy?

All in all, I'm cautiously optimistic. The backcourt certainly looks a lot further along than last year's roster. You could live with those guys for quite a while. Aldridge will have to hold down at least one of those frontcourt positions long-term to make it work though. I don't expect to be great, or even good, in the immediate future, but I do want to feel like we're one step closer. At first blush it feels that way now.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Draft Recap Part II: The Periphery

Besides talent there were several peripheral issues to this draft. Obviously it was the most active draft in terms of trades in Trailblazer history, and likely among the most active for any single team ever. Frankly, though, I was disappointed with much of what happened. That we got the guys we want was fine, but how we did it was questionable.

Greg Anthony was perfectly correct in pointing out that we did not have to make the trade for Aldridge. Granted Chicago probably bluffed at him in order to draw us into that scenario, but we fell for it and it cost us a player unnecessarily.

My belief is that the consequences of our actions caught up with us in the Foye/Roy deal. Of course I have no inside information of any kind, so who really knows what went down there, but trading players selected with consecutive picks is unusual to say the least and worthy of further examination and explanation.

The trade was announced about five to ten minutes after the picks were made. Ask yourself, if Foye wasn’t part of the Timberwolves’ plans all along, how in the world did we, in that short time, convince them to take him in exchange for a player they supposedly selected after months of preparation? Obviously this couldn’t happen. What Minnesota did is select the player they knew we wanted, knowing that they could get something extra from us just like Chicago did. Again, there’s no proof, but isn’t it a little convenient that Danny Ainge, the GM doing the selecting for us in the seven slot, just happens to be a long-time teammate and friend of Kevin McHale, the V.P. of Basketball Operations for the sixth-picking Timberwolves? If either Foye or Roy were acceptable to the Wolves one phone call from Ainge saying, “Portland really wants Roy…” would be enough to enable the leverage play by McHale. And don’t think that wouldn’t have happened. It’s a cutthroat business, and if you show weakness you deserve whatever you get. Even if there was no information passed, just tipping our hand early would have netted the same result.

Anyway, how it happened is not the point. The point is that it did happen. Bottom line: Chicago got exactly the player they wanted plus Viktor Khryapa for free and Minnesota got exactly the player they wanted plus cash for free...gifts courtesy of your Portland Trailblazers. We got worked twice in front of the whole NBA, the second time in a manner so obvious as to be unmistakable.

There’s nothing more enticing at the poker table than a fish (new person/sucker) with a large bankroll. The good players will bluff him and bluff him all night long until he calls the bluff or surrenders all his chips, whichever comes first. We were the fish tonight, and we showed both our bankroll and our gullibility to be substantial. You can bet everybody else was taking notes. If the current management team stays in place, you can almost guarantee that in every draft from now on one or two teams are going to threaten to take whatever guy they think we want in hopes of getting something extra out of us until we call that bluff and refuse to pay out.

Rumor has it that a common phrase around Blazer headquarters a few years ago was “SPAM”, or “Spending Paul Allen’s Money”. That’s why Vulcan was brought in to run a tight ship and half the staff got the axe. Well, having the Blazer front office spending Paul Allen’s money unnecessarily is one thing, but you’re in real trouble when guys in Minnesota and Chicago start adopting SPAM as their catchphrase too.

As harsh as the commentary was sometimes, they had a point. What transpired tonight made us look foolish, confused, and worst of all weak. We were amateurs out there. Isiah Thomas has a league-wide reputation for being a certain kind of patsy. We now have a rep for being another. It was sloppy execution and needs to be looked at and corrected.

(Update: Lauryn writes that they announced at the draft party that it was indeed Steve Patterson who called McHale and brokered the deal. So we ended up paying the difference between a #6 and #7 rookie salary slot plus cash to take Roy. While "insurance" deals like this are sometimes done, this doesn't change the fact that we paid out to both teams when we didn't need to.)

Speaking of harsh commentary…the second issue of the night is undoubtedly going to be Steven A. Smith’s vitriolic diatribes, many of which were reserved for the Blazers. I know it’ll get a reaction, but remember he’s paid to do exactly that. He wouldn’t be the first sports reporter to become a total “faux-controversial” ass because somebody flashed a T.V. show and money in front of his face. Actually Rush Limbaugh perfected the art form. Unfortunately few of his millions of media imitators have his talent, and Smith obviously doesn’t. In my mind if you object to him the best tack is just to ignore him and recognize what he says for the ridiculous tripe it is. He gets rewarded if you like him. He gets rewarded if you hate him. He gets nothing if you don’t give a crap because he’s just silly.

I must admit, though, it was pretty funny to hear him say he had no time for things like analyzing Portland's foolishness when ESPN was paying him to spend his time doing exactly that. What...did you have a golf game you had to get to? Grilled cheese sandwich burning on the stove? Meds ran out and the pharmacy was closing? Whatever it was, it's a shame when guys get too important to bother covering the sport that makes them important in the first place.

Unfortunately this is what sports reporting has become nowadays. If you haven’t done so already, read back in the April archives for a post on sports commentators. If you’re wondering why it’s so hard nowadays to have a decent conversation with someone, online or off, about sports or anything else controversial, you’ve just seen part of the problem. Personally it would bother me to have my whole career stand for a kind of discourse that makes the world worse instead of better and teaches people to be less civil and thoughtful instead of more, but apparently most folks don’t have those qualms, especially when a nice, fat paycheck is in the offing.

Hey...if you get sick of it you're always welcome here. We may be right sometimes, we may be wrong sometimes, but we try really hard not to be total dipwads.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Draft Recap Part I: The Players

The most important part of this day is the plus/minus on the players, so we'll recap that first. A couple of peripheral issues will be addressed in the next post.

The most solid thing you can say about the draft is that the Blazers got exactly the players they targeted and more of them than originally hoped for. For that reason, whatever else you say, you have to say this was a good night. Here's the long and short of what we got and gave up:

ACQUIRED
Lamarcus Aldridge--Young, talented, tall power forward who might be able to play center someday. Probably a good defender someday.
Brandon Roy--Most all-around solid player in the draft, 6'6" guard who could eventually see time at both backcourt spots. Decent shooter and defender.
Sergio Rodriguez--A popular, talented point guard with potential star quality who is good on offense but has serious defensive questions.
Joel Freeland--A tall, skinny British kid who is a project at best for the next two years.
Raef LaFrentz--Another PF/C with a large, three year contract, a decent perimeter game, but health and talent concerns.
Dan Dickau--A backup combo guard with a nice shooting touch and some smarts but not much else.
Three future second round picks

Gave Up (Note this will not include players we drafted just to trade, as we never had them.)
Sebastian Telfair--A popular, talented point guard with potential star quality who is good on offense but has serious defensive questions who also has two years of experience in the league.
Theo Ratliff--A center with a large, two year contract and great shot-blocking ability but health and talent concerns.
Viktor Khryapa--A backup small forward who did a hundred little things right and was popular with the fans.
A 2008 second round pick
A whole wad of cash

A few things stand out:

1. We acquired a whole lot more players than we lost. Unless some of these guys get cut or shuffled to Europe, we're going to have to make more trades to cut the roster down, especially if we think we need more veterans.

2. We now have a TON of power fowards. Is a major trade in the offing? You would think that since he's in the owner's doghouse Isiah would be kept on a short leash. But if he has one year to prove himself with unfettered GM and coach power winning now would become very important to him. And he needs better forwards to win. And he didn't draft any. And Zach and Darius would probably help him win more next season than Channing Frye and Jalen Rose, at least on paper. Just sayin'...

3. We also, by the way, have too many guards still. Best bet is that Dixon is going.

4. It's no wonder people were confused when we traded Telfair and Ratliff but picked up Rodriguez and LaFrentz. Both of the acquisitions have all the problems of the old players plus some more besides. The single worst pick up of the day was LaFrentz's contract. In fact had we been able to keep Theo and not take Raef I would have been a lot happier.

5. We did not pick up much toughness or interior power, two things sorely lacking from this team. But I guess you can't fix everything at once.

6. Apparently Paul Allen's purse strings are starting to loosen again.

7. Overall as a fan I am pleased by the players we got. HOW we got them is another matter, but that will be covered in the next post.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

What the...????

Well, we've gotten through the high picks. Of course nobody will know for a long time how we did, but there certainly seemed to be things that didn't go right there. The Wolves taking Brandon Roy had to be somewhat of a shock. This isn't the first time Kevin McHale has taken the wind out of our sails either. (Kevin Garnett) It's almost like he delights in it.

OK...now wait. Excuse me, but what the freakin' heck??? Just as I was typing that ESPN announces that Portland and Minnesota are swapping Brandon Roy (picked 6th) and Randy Foye (picked 7th)! And there were no other considerations listed. Now I am just totally confused. Why would they pick those guys and then swap them? Was Kevin McHale screaming into the phone, "No...FOYE! I said FOYE, not Roy!"???

For those keeping score at home, the trade chart now looks like this:

Portland trades Telfair and Ratliff to Boston for Lafrentz, Dickau, and the #7 pick.

Portland trades Tyrus Thomas (#4 pick), Viktor Khryapa, and a 2008 second rounder to Chicago for Lamarcus Aldridge (#2 pick)

Portland trades Randy Foye (#7 pick) to Minnesota for Brandon Roy (#6 pick)

Look folks...this draft has passed well beyond interesting into the realm of the truly bizarre.

--Dave

Another Trade

As you know, ESPN is reporting that we're swapping Thomas for Aldridge and throwing in Khryapa and a second rounder next year to sweeten the pot. Greg Anthony asked my question: WHY? Neither Chicago nor Charlotte would have taken Aldridge. So we gave away Khryapa and a pick for free. Are we just dumping his contract to clear roster room? And why pay a guy second pick money when we could have paid him fourth pick money? There BETTER be a clever master plan at work here, that's all I gotta say...

--Dave

Update

Tokito and Quick are reporting that the trade is actually multi-player, with Ratliff and Telfair going to Boston for Dickau and Raef LaFrentz. All I can say to that is: NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Why LaFrentz? His contract is a year longer than Theo's at the same money. He's also become less and less effective over the years, turning into an exclusively perimeter player on offense and a non-factor at defense and rebounding. The only thing he does well anymore is block shots. (If true I guess this means the Blazers aren't confident that Joel will return.) Unless there are more moves coming, I would pan his acquisition even for the pick.

Since it's only coming from one source (albeit our own) and that source is saying they've "received word" without naming sources, I can still hope this is just a rumor, right?

UPDATE:

ESPN has just confirmed the deal including LaFrentz. (sigh) It's not just the extra cap burden into LaFrentz's third year...as I've said a couple times before, what people missed about Theo was that his contract would be a very valuable bargaining chip next season. $11 million in expiring contract will get you a lot in the NBA. That's gone now though. And for what? Whoever we get or whatever we do better really pan out or Prichard has a black mark on his record from Day 1.

--Dave

Draft Day Part I

Well, the first salvo has been fired, as apparently we've traded Sebastian Telfair to the Celtics for the #7 pick in the draft. Possible inclusions are Dan Dickau from their side and Theo Ratliff from ours, but those are speculative at this point.

Thoughts:

In a way I will be sad to see Telfair go. He probably had the most potential of the three point guards to become a true star. His speed is irreplaceable. He also had that certain je ne sais quoi that made him feel special no matter how he played. On the other hand he also had the most potential to be a bust. He has yet to find his shooting ability and may never do so, which will severely limit his potential. Even if he does make it big it will undoubtedly be as a scoring point guard and those have met with limited success in the NBA. Plus you have to think after seven years of Damon the Portland brass just got sick of watching small guards get barbequed on defense no matter how good they were otherwise. If we get Brandon Roy in return our backcourt will actually be pretty big at 6'3", 6'4", 6'6", and 6'8". If Roy can swing between the two guard spots we become enormous.

As far as the pick goes it will all depend on who we get. As I said a few days ago, this almost certainly means the Blazers have a good idea who is going where. (Unless Pritchard is a loose cannon or an idiot, neither of which seem to be true.) It could also mean that pick will be packaged somehow, either to move up or to move some of our existing players. #7 seems pretty low compared to some of the picks we've been discussing, but keep in mind that's only from recent perspective. A few years ago the seven spot would have seemed really high.

In short I'm not against the trade but I won't know how I feel until I see what we do with that pick.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

National Pundits

I know I said I wasn't going to post until tomorrow, but I just can't help indulging in a (hopefully brief and justified) rant about national media types. While I have relatively little problem with our local crew compared to many, I find myself getting annoyed frequently with national guys who opine on the Blazers situation when they obviously know nothing about it beyond third-hand rumor. Examples from this week include Chad Ford saying that Portland should draft Morrison because he's local and all the fans want him and Andy Katz saying that Telfair is buried in Portland's rotation when he actually started for much of the season. Think they'd say either of those things about the Knicks in similar circumstances? Of course they wouldn't.

Reality check: unless it's a deep playoff or glitzy market team most of these guys don't even watch the games. They read the same stuff all of us do and then act on it as if it were truth. In fact most of you if you are well-read and actually bothered to watch a game or two this year have more experience with the Blazers than many of these experts. No doubt they know more about the league as a whole and are far better connected, but what they know about your favorite team couldn't fill a thimble.

It's common knowledge that when an opposing team comes to town their broadcasters will ask ours, "What should we know about your squad?" and that's what they go on. It's the same with the national experts...except leave out the "asking" part. That's why most of them quote platitudes, deal in the most obtuse of sweeping generalities, or even say things that are just plain wrong when talking about the Blazers.

I'm not saying everybody works this way. I've always thought Steve Kerr seemed on top of things, for instance. But with most of them, honestly, they don't really care about your team unless it's going to give them a story and readers, which Portland isn't at this point. And that's fine, but then I ask in return why we should pay any attention at all to what they say.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Feeling a Draft

I've always said that one of the sure signs your team is bad is that you get all excited about the draft. But, well...we are who we are. I'm getting excited for tomorrow and I'm not ashamed to admit it! I'm not thinking we'll get the next franchise player out of this draft but I'm hoping for a solid piece and an indication of the direction we're going. Besides our part, there are several things I'm curious about:

--Who's #1? At this point I'm thinking it'll be either Morrison or Bargnani, but who really knows? Those also seem the most likely two that someone would trade for, so Toronto may pick them to move them.

--Where does Rudy Gay go? He's the most enigmatic of the big stars. It seems he could go as high as 3 or slip down in Paul Pierce fashion into the late single digits or even early doubles.

--Does anyone move up? I have been speculating so far that you might see a lot of movement because the talent pool is relatively balanced, but another way of looking at it is that nobody is really good enough to move up for. Will we see a ton of jockeying or none at all?

--How much of a premium is there on centers? This may play out in the highest picks with Aldridge, but he's more of a PF/C than a true middle man. I'm curious about Patrick O'Bryant and Saer Sene, both of whom are project types. Is the middle still important to GMs or will these two speculative picks fall to the late first round? If so, would the Blazers move up to get one of them?

--How many seniors will be selected in the first round?

--Where do the Dukies end up? Shelden Williams is a good player who's flying beneath the radar right now. He might rise higher than expected. JJ Redick submarined himself with the DUI charge. How low will he fall?

--Who does Chicago take? If it's not a power forward, could there be a trade in the works (since they really need one)?

As far as Portland goes, I think their selection could betray a little bit about their future plans, if not by intention at least by necessity. I could see Rudy Gay or Tyrus Thomas in the small forward slot alongside Zach long term. I don't see Morrison and Zach fitting together well in the long run (both need the ball, both have defensive questions) and I think Aldridge or Bargnani would eventually replace Zach if they panned out.

In any case, it should remain an interesting day. For those who note the regular posts here, unless something radical comes up I will hold off posting tomorrow until after the draft when we will finally have something substantial to talk about.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Monday, June 26, 2006

More Mychal

If you have not heard it, you really should listen to the Mychal Thompson podcast from Eric Marentette's O-Live blog today. The link takes you to the download page. Click on Mychal's name to download it. It's an amazing, AMAZING interview and, as Eric himself said, quite passionate. (And I'm not just saying that because this blog got referenced.) The basketball talk was great and Mychal's Blazer spirit and love for Portland really showed through. Trust me...just listen, then write me and tell me again why this guy isn't already part of the organization, especially part of the broadcast team. Also see if you don't get a little bit of that "old school" Blazer feeling again.

Oh, and if you appreciate the work, don't forget to shoot Mr. Marentette a note of thanks.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Flash and Sizzle

Dr. Dave wrote over the weekend:

>>I'm probably slow but an interesting thought occurred to me: something that should and probably does influence a GM's decision on draft day is a player's potential marketability (endorsements, publicity, image, etc.) This could have an enormous residual effect on the drafting franchise, could it not? Without a clearcut "STAR" this year, who would you say could bring the most pizzazz to the table?<<

Not slow at all, my friend. In fact you're very timely. You just reminded me of a couple of reasons not to draft someone...reasons appropriate to this draft in particular precisely because of the characteristics you mentioned.

If there were a Lebron or Shaq in this draft the star power pick would be a no-brainer. (Assuming we had the #1.) But notice that the fame follows the talent in those cases, not the other way around. I mention this because almost every year there's a popular guy out there who seems like a potential star, either because of personality or occasional brilliance on the court. We fans salivate at the idea of grabbing him with a low to mid-round pick. But those guys almost never pan out. My theory is that if the media can make a star out of you, they will, because that's what they look for...marketable players. I'm comfortable with bona fide superstars. I'm comfortable with guys who are unknown either because the media hasn't found them yet or because their game is just solid and you know what you're going to get out of them (but it's not superstardom). I'm uncomfortable with guys the media has tried to hype but for whatever reason didn't turn out to be anything more than tantalizing. Usually something is wrong there.

Long-time Blazer fans might remember Florida center Dwayne Schintzius. He came out of college in 1990 and was originally expected to be a high selection. Because he left his college team mid-season after a battle with the coach his stock dropped in NBA circles, but the media was still all over the guy. In fact the attention was intensified because people knew that this high-profile player wouldn't go early and was going to be a lottery-like steal for somebody later. Though they talked about him from Pick #1 and our fans were getting progressively more excited as he slipped pick after pick towards our 25th spot. He ended up going to the Spurs at #24 amidst a host of Portland groans. All the hype led to a 2.7 career scoring average.

Some people argue that Sebastian Telfair was more of a popularity/hype pick than an honest assessment of talent. The jury's still out on that one.

A rough analogy from football is the Heisman trophy winner each year. Sometimes there's an obvious Reggie Bush (assuming he pans out). But often times the Heisman winner, while arguably the highest profile player, is far from the best for the NFL game.

In short, considering popularity is fine if the talent is there, but that usually means you're picking 1 or 2. Otherwise you're safer ignoring popular sentiment and going with the guy you think will help most even if nobody has heard of him. Indeed, a lot of really good players drafted after the top three were completely unknown coming out of college. Scottie Pippen is one of the most famous examples, but Porter and Kersey are examples from our own history. Even Clyde Drexler was largely under the radar when he was drafted. And last year you could hear the hoots and catcalls resounding from the rafters when the Raptors selected Charlie Villanueva. Most of the media "experts" panned them for the unsexy pick. He actually turned out to be one of the better rookies, producing far more than Martell did, for instance.

I don't think good GMs draft for popularity, and bad GMs don't keep their jobs long. I think this is appropriate, as I'd be really upset if I thought my team was drafting players to get me to buy a ticket (or worse, to help somebody else sell me a shoe) without also being sure that those players were actually the best available.

To answer your original question, The Stache is obviously generating the most national buzz at this point. He's far and away the biggest media figure of all the draftees and would get the most interview/endorsement attention initially and keep the Blazers in the public eye. But over the long haul the player who will sell the most tickets and generate the most attention locally is the player who turns out to be the best on the court and helps produce wins. That's the spark that will keep people coming. If I'm a Morrison fan I might buy a ticket to see him on opening night and maybe go to another game or two later in the season to check up on him, but unless he produces numbers and/or the team wins, that's it. I'm certainly not going to buy season tickets unless one of those two things happens, no matter how great his personality or facile his conversation.

Unless a GM is relatively sure Morrison is the best prospect to generate numbers and/or wins, it would be a huge mistake to draft him. (And hold off Stache fans...he may very well be just that. I'm not making a judgment one way or another. I don't know. I'm just praying Pritchard and Patterson do.) Without those things every player on the team will fall flat in the public eye, making the residual benefit of drafting him almost nil.

Personally I've already decided in my own mind that I'm going to love whoever we draft until he proves me wrong, even if I've never heard of him before. I hope most Blazer fans will do the same even if we don't end up riding their favorite, or the most well-known, horse.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Draft Day Trades

With rumors flying fast and thick a few different people have e-mailed with some version of the question, "Do you think we'll make a trade to move in the draft?" I'll tell you the truth, I am wondering too. Your guess is as good as mine. I'm not sure many of the GMs even know at this point.

You almost never see draft deals consummated before the day of the draft. Most often they're during the draft itself. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. Teams with attractive picks want to maximize their trade value, so they wait to hear all offers. Unlike regular trades, there's little pressure to execute a draft pick deal. Lots of teams might have tantalizing power forwards and back up point guards, but where else is your trade partner going to go to get your spot in the draft order? You're the only one who has it, which generally means a seller's market, which generally means late execution of trades.

2. Having or getting a high pick means a lot of excitement for fans and media types, but picks in the abstract mean nothing to GM's no matter what the number. Only PLAYERS matter. And unless you're talking the #1 pick, you don't know what player will be available with a pick until the selections are actually made. No GM in the world will trade to get a pick without knowing what player he can get with it. This is especially true of high picks which cost a lot to trade for. You don't want to empty your wallet thinking "Lebron" and end up with Darko, Kwame, or Joe Smith instead. That's a fireable offense. The only scenario in which I can see a pre-draft-day trade happening is if a team likes two great prospects equally and moves to get the second pick, knowing one of them will be there. Utah did this last year with Portland right before the draft. They knew Bogut was going to one of the first two teams and I assume that they would have been happy with either Deron Williams or Chris Paul, so they traded for #3. Obviously Portland felt the same about pick #6. Even that was more rare than seeing both teams make selections in their respective slots and then swapping the players, leaving no room for uncertainty.

Of course this early-trade scenario gets progressively more unlikely the farther down the pick order you go. Especially in this year's draft where talent is mixed and nobody knows who will pick who, the number of people who would like four of the top players equally and would be willing to place a trade value on any or all of them well before the fact is miniscule...probably none. For this reason I expect we will not see our fourth pick traded early.

This also means this draft will be the most exciting one to watch in recent memory despite (and because of) the lack of proven talent. I know I will be glued to my seat Wednesday afternoon. If you've never watched on I suggest you do the same. (You have to watch the whole first round to see if there are any moves!) If nothing else, it will be interesting.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Worst, Worster...Worstest???

One of the phrases that's become commonplace this offseason is, "We can't do that because we'd be the worst team in history!" This brings up memories of the '72-'73 Philadelphia 76'ers, who went an amazing 9-73. Every year or two some media person will predict that a team will approach or break that record. Usually it's a small-town team with players he hasn't bothered to watch. It never happens though. You'd have to lose eight games for every one you win, which is hard to do even for underachievers. At the very least you have to figure that ten teams will take you for granted over the course of a season...a sure recipe for losing in the NBA.

Nevertheless there seems to be this idea floating in the air that "worst in history" is much poorer than "worst team in the league right now". As usual, I did some research to try and verify or disprove. The method was this:

I looked at seven of the eight worst teams in modern NBA history. I asked how many seasons it took them after their horrific performance to return to 30 wins and how many it took them to return to the playoffs. (This is what happened to the 8th team. We couldn't use the '04-'05 Atlanta Hawks because it's too recent and they haven't done either yet.)

Then I looked at league-wide records from 1970-2001, excluding the lockout-shortened '99 campaign. In each year I asked the same two questions of the three worst teams: How long did it take them to win 30 and how long to get back to the playoffs? I wanted legitimately bad teams other than the worst seven, so order to qualify a team had to win fewer than 30 games in a full season in addition to being one of the three worst.

Results:

81 teams qualified for the latter category over that 30-year span. The average time it took those "horrible but not worst ever" teams to win 30 games again was 2.2 years. It took them an average of 3.7 years to make the playoffs.

Here is the list of the seven worst teams in modern history with the same two stats:

'73 Sixers (9-73) 2 years to win 30, 3 years to playoffs
'99 Nuggets (11-71) 2 years, 6 years
'93 Mavericks (11-71) 2 years, 8 years
'87 Clippers (12-70) 3 years, 5 years
'94 Mavericks (13-69) 1 year, 7 years
'96 Grizzlies* (14-68) 7 years, 7 years
'83 Rockets (14-68) 2 years, 2 years

*expansion franchise

Indeed, it seems that the people who fear being one of the worst teams in history have a point. While the average return to 30 wins in this group is only half a season higher than the other (2.7 years), the average time it took them to return to the playoffs is significantly higher at 5.4 years. Almost two whole seasons may not seem like much, but four years in the NBA is an eternity in terms of player continuity, coaches, and injuries, and this is half that.

Perhaps a more faithful way to look at the stats is median...the exact halfway point in the study group which 50% of the teams are above and 50% below. In the group of 81 the median number of years to 30 was 3 and the median years to the playoffs was 4. Here our "worst ever" group fares better. Six of the seven fall below the median for time to 30 wins and two of them fall below for return to playoffs with another close. If you discount the Grizzlies expansion franchise years the numbers get better, with all the teams below the median winning 30 and half of them within one year for returning to the playoffs.

Conclusions:

It's not good to become one of the worst teams in history, but it's not necessarily an inescapable disaster either, or at least not much more inescapable than being among the worst in any given season. None of the seven worst teams in the modern era came close to holding the record for longest playoff drought. The worst team of all time was also among the quickest to recover (and indeed as we know played for the NBA Championship four years later). You wouldn't want to intentionally maneuver to be bad, but it's not something to mortgage your franchise to avoid. It's probably a blow to fans' pride as much as anything.

It's also clear, however, that returning to the playoffs is a much more difficult task than merely being mediocre, taking nearly double the time in both groups. Almost everyone who's bad sees a small recovery...it takes time and hard work to see a full one.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda...

With the draft less than a week away and controversy already thick in the air, I figure everybody could use a little certainty about now. So here are my lock-solid draft guarantees:

1. No matter who we pick half the people will excitedly hype the guy as the next coming of Jesus (Shuttleworth).

2. The other half will claim that we bombed.

3. Unless the guy turns out to be LeBron Jordan (or Shaq Chamberlain if he's big), one year from this date somebody will look back and say, "We could have picked ________. What a stupid GM we have."

I'd like to address the latter point today. Despite the illusion of surety and predictability created by hordes of prognosticators and their busy typing fingers, I'm firmly convinced that drafting is a near-total crap shoot. College, high school, or European excellence sometimes translates into NBA ability, but not always. You try to refine that body of work through combines, camps, and individual workouts. You measure these kids backwards, forwards, and upside down. You issue a battery of psychological tests and interview everyone they've ever known, worked for, or glanced sideways at. Even with all this, you're basically engaging in the NBA version of speed dating. Except instead of trying to determine who you'd like to meet for coffee next Tuesday, you're trying to find the best guy to give millions of dollars and the keys to your franchise to. And unless you pick the one candidate out of sixty who will have the best rookie year, some guy who's never met any of the players, hasn't seen them work out, and switched his own pick thirty-two times in the week leading up to the draft will tell you that you did it wrong and he knew it all along. Welcome to the real, live version of "You Be the GM".

So in celebration of our boundless wisdom as fans, earned through long years of honing our hindsight to 20/20 precision, I present the Best Draft Board Ever for the Portland Trailblazers. These would have been our selections if our dumb ol' GM's would have been as smart on draft day as all of us fans are years after the fact. Every one of these guys could have been ours with the actual first round picks we had. (I only reference possible uses for our second or later round picks if the potential players were remarkable. These are listed in parentheses.) Links lead to career stats, but will take you off this page. Peruse at your leisure and enjoy what could have been...

1970 Nate "Tiny" Archibald
1971 "Downtown" Fred Brown (and Spencer Haywood)
1972 Bob McAdoo
1973 George McGinnis
1974 Bill Walton (and George Gervin)
1975 Lloyd "World B." Free
1976 Adrian Dantley (and Alex English and Dennis Johnson)
1977 "Fast" Eddie Johnson (not the one you're thinking of unless you're a real hoops junkie)
1978 Larry Bird and Reggie Theus (and Mo Cheeks and Michael Cooper)
1979 Jim Paxson (and Bill Laimbeer)
1980 Kiki Vandeweghe
1981 Larry Nance and Eddie Johnson (the one you're thinking about) (and Danny Ainge)
1982 Fat Lever
1983 Clyde Drexler
1984 You Know Who (and Jerome Kersey )
1985 Terry Porter
1986 Nate McMillan and Arvydas Sabonis (and Jeff Hornacek and Drazen Petrovic)
1987 Reggie Lewis
1988 Anthony Mason
1989 Vlade Divac (and Cliff Robinson)
1990 Toni Kukoc
1991 No Pick
1992 PJ Brown
1993 Sam Cassell
1994 Voshon Lenard
1995 Theo Ratliff
1996 Jermaine O'Neal
1997 Bobby Jackson
1998 No Pick
1999 (2nd round Manu Ginobili)
2000 Michael Redd
2001 Zach Randolph
2002 Carlos Boozer OR Tayshaun Prince (I wimped out. Take your pick.)
2003 Josh Howard
2004 Sebastian Telfair
2005 Chris Paul

Egad! Think of the opportunities missed! Imagine the records broken by this juggernaut franchise! Why, they'd have to invent new numbers just so they could retire them! Consider for a moment the enormous trade value of just our leftovers. And the championships...ohhhhh, the championships!

So what conclusions are we to draw from this? That every GM we've ever had is a complete idiot, of course. (I mean, only hitting on 12 out of 50? Fire them all! Blindfolded monkeys could do better!) Either that, or maybe this isn't quite so easy as it seems and we should give these guys a break. I'm not going to spend all week proving it, but I bet if you looked through the draft history of every team you'd see the exact same thing. Want to wager?

I hope we hit it big on draft day, but I don't know if we're going to, you don't know if we're going to, even the GM's don't know if we're going to, especially this year. Often you can't really tell until years later. In the meantime what say we sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride?

A pre-emptive toast to whomever we pick. May he give us all reason to cheer and look forward rather than back.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Other Guys

Eric Marentette's "Where's Duckworth?" post yesterday got me thinking about the other players on those early 90's teams. We've already sung the praises of the chronically underrated Buck Williams and everybody knows about Clyde, but we probably don't think about Terry, Jerome, and Duck as much as we should, nor give them enough credit when we do think of them. I don't think I need to go into detail about who they were or how they played. An entire generation of Blazer fans came in to the fold through their efforts and knows them by heart. Instead some memorable moments surrounding that trio:

Mike Schuler was still relatively new on the Portland bench in 1987-88. During that 53-win campaign he gave his players a motto: win everything at home and give yourself a chance to win in the 4th on the road. He must have been pleased on January 16th, 1988 when the Blazers found themselves down by a bucket with possession of the ball in the closing seconds of a road game against San Antonio. He was not pleased, however, when after the timeout the Blazers inbounded the ball to a young point guard named Terry Porter and he proceeded to break the designed play by taking the ball to the coffin corner, left side by himself. As the last seconds slid off the clock, Porter raised up and released...swish. Blazers win 121-120. Afterwards Clyde, interviewed by the TV crew, said something to the effect of, "It's a good thing he made that shot because coach would have killed him otherwise." I remember that moment because it was the first time you really suspected Terry might be a clutch player with ice in his veins...a truth that he proved over and over again during his tenure here.

My Jerome memory is more fuzzy as far as time. I can't find any reference to it explicitly on the web to help with details. I want to say 1991 but it could have been '90. But if you were watching the moment, you remember it. We were playing the Clippers on the road and Kersey and 6'8" young tough Ken Norman had been going at it for most of the game. Finally things boiled over as the two faced off. Norman threw the first punch, a wild, looping haymaker typical of guys on the playground going at it. Kersey dodged and before you could blink threw a straight jab, flush to Norman's jaw. BAM! Kenny was flat on his back. The whole thing took about two seconds, but the authority behind that punch and the "Don't mess with us" attitude it symbolized really represented what those early '90's teams were about and what Jerome brought to the table. (A quality almost completely absent from our current squad, by the way, which is part of the problem.) Far be it from me to glorify such violence, but...well...Kersey and the team served notice that night.

I really liked Duckworth's game. He had obvious limitations, but he maximized his strengths to such a degree that you hardly noticed. He learned the now-lost art of taking up space with his big body. How many huge guys nowadays disappear in the lane on both ends of the court? You always knew where Duck was. He didn't grab rebounds as much as prevent the other team from grabbing rebounds, letting Buck and Kersey do their thing. Sure he scored, but as yesterday's article pointed out, a large part of his value was in clearing space for others to score. If Ha had half of Duck's presence and skill, he'd be a guaranteed future starter. My favorite Duck moment is also of indeterminate origin. I don't remember the game well because I was there and thus couldn't replay it off tape. I don't remember the opponent. I do remember it was 1991. As I recall, one of the guards poked away the ball and it came to Duckworth at halfcourt. He turned and started dribbling down the right sideline towards the basket, completely unopposed. His only company was a streaking Clyde coming down the left side of the court. Duck, still dribbling the ball and moving at a less that rapid rate, turned and looked at Clyde. He knew the play was to get Clyde the ball and watch him throw down a crowd-pleasing super jam. But how often does a 7-foot, 300 pound guy get a break-away chance? So he looks at Clyde and Clyde just kind of shrugs his shoulders and motions towards the hoop. You could almost see Duck perk up as he rumbled the rest of the way to the basket and threw down a dunk that was completely nondescript--causing maybe one in ten people to rise from their seats--but was all his baby. He pointed at Clyde on the way back down the court. Clyde just chuckled. The big guy got his moment in the sun.

Also, who can forget Big Duck doing his best Willis Reed impression, coming back from injury in Game 7 of the 1990 Western Conference Semifinals to help us beat the Spurs and advance? David Robinson had killed us the game before, and Duck put enough of a hurt down on him to let us squeak by...our first time going that deep since the championship.

Buck and Clyde were the Cadillacs of those contending teams, but they were also made up of a bunch of guys nobody had heard of who worked hard, played together, and made good. I hope someday we see something like it again in P-town.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

No Guarantees?

In a comment to yesterday's post on intangibles, Knuckleheads (nice name!) brought up the subject of guaranteed contracts in the NBA. I've thought a lot about this issue. In my post on whether character matters (April Archives) I brought up guaranteed contracts as a major reason why it does...because if a guy plays only for himself and not his team, the game, or something bigger, giving him eighty million over seven years takes away all his incentive. The whole "contract year" phenomenon has become sadly commonplace in the NBA, so much so that I'm starting to take it into account when looking at trades. I don't know if real GM's do also, but the fact that it has to be mentioned shows you that things are not ideal.

There's no way guaranteed contracts will ever disappear from the league. The players union would strike a million years or just form their own league before they'd let that happen. Nor, in fairness, do I think they should be eliminated. Injuries are the biggest reason why. Players need some guarantee of return on their investment of putting their bodies on the line like they do. Plus a player is more likely to be worn down by injury in his later years, which is also his prime earning time. Non-guaranteed contracts would work over league veterans, which is something I don't want to see. I know the NFL has essentially done away with guarantees, but with all due respect to the violence and brutality of that sport (much greater than in the NBA), we're talking sixteen game seasons and players that only play half of those games anyway. You see more immediate injuries in football but fewer of the chronic, nagging, career-altering-or-ending variety that come with an 82+ game basketball schedule. I suspect eliminating guaranteed contracts would cause players to be more tentative, less likely to go all-out, and would punish those who do give it all, to the detriment of the game.

I would like to see a middle ground. I'm no contract lawyer, so there will probably be holes, but I'd propose something like this:

--The salary schedules/maximums remain the same, perhaps with a small bump upwards. Salary cap rules remain the same also.

--Teams could offer guaranteed contracts a maximum of four years in length.

--At the beginning of the next-to-the-last season of a three or four year contract (after the second or third year, in other words) the team would have three options:

1. Let the contract play out as written.

2. Offer the player a three-year extension with appropriate raises, to take effect when the contract expires. The player then has the choice to accept the extension or become a free agent after the next season. Extensions may be further extended every three years in the same manner.

3. Waive the player completely. In this case the team is still responsible for the player's salary in the coming season. However a team with enough room under the salary cap to absorb the contract can pick up that player. Though the player's salary is paid by the waiving team, the contract goes off their cap and is transferred to the cap of the team that picked him up. Thus the waiving team pays extra for cap space and ridding itself of an unwanted player and the adopting team gets a player to try for free for a year. If the player is not picked up on waivers his salary remains on the cap of the original team whether they welcome him back or not.

--Players and the league would contribute a small percentage of revenue to an injury fund. If a player under 33 years of age has a career-ending injury in the final year of his contract (rendering him unable to sign a new contract he would have otherwise gotten) he receives one more year of salary at a rate based on his previous earnings. If the player chooses to accept this payment his career in the league is over...he can never return.

--The players' share of league revenue (in other words, the salary cap) gets bumped up by a couple percentage points to compensate for player losses under this system compared to the old way. Thus the players get more money overall but the owners, while paying out more, get better assurance that their money is being well-spent.

This system would offer reasonable certainty of players making money without binding teams to poor prospects in perpetuity. In essence the player has a "contract year" every third season, which should help encourage performance. The waiver option allows teams to make occasional mistakes but pay for them in cash rather than cap space, and consequences for the waiving and receiving team don't last beyond a year in any case. It would probably be used rarely anyway, not just because of the payroll cost but because expiring contracts would still be valuable to teams over the cap.

As I said, it's probably full of holes, but that's my best initial shot.

From time to time someone will ask why contracts aren't simply based on merit and performance. It's a nice ideal, but unworkable because of the nature of the game. As we've said numerous times, basketball is unique among the major sports in that all five players can fulfill any responsibility at any given time. In football responsibilities are divided by rule and position (linemen can't receive passes, quarterbacks don't defend). In baseball they're divided by batting order on offense and physical location on defense. (Barry Bonds may be a great hitter, but he can't shove the 8th guy in the order from the plate and say, "Let me take this one!" Nor will a shortstop usually field the right fielder's fly ball.) In other words, there's relatively little chance of a player at one position competing or interfering with the duties of a player at another position. Not so in basketball. Who shoots on any given trip down the court? Could be Zach, could be Martell, could be Theo. Ideally it'll be the player with the best chance of getting an easy look at the basket that possession. But if you start paying these guys based on how many points they score that's not going to happen. Also imagine the chemistry problems if, say, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton perceived Kobe was taking food out of their families' mouths every time he put up a shot. Same with rebounding or any other stat you can name. You'd totally break down any incentive to play like a team. Also there are many aspects of good basketball that don't show up in the stats, so quantifying "good play" for the purposes of salary correlation becomes near impossible.

Nor would it work to base salary on wins and losses. You'd have the exact same finger pointing and chemistry problems and players would gravitate to the best teams in the league faster than you could say, "Baby needs a new Bentley!"

Guaranteed contracts are not ideal, but they're going to be around in one form or another, like it or not. I think it's possible to mitigate their detrimental effects while still maintaining the integrity of the game. I'd like to see something like this looked at in the future.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Intangibles

Dash writes:
>>Just wondering if you've ever done a piece on the "intangibles" of sport such as: home court (field) advantage, chemistry, curses, momentum, legacy and such. So hard to measure or even define yet they are so much a part of the game. Would be interesting reading.<<

I haven't, but great suggestion! Let's take them one by one.

Home Court Advantage:

This has long been an issue with the NBA, but conventional wisdom says it's becoming less of a factor as time goes by. I searched for recent statistical studies on the phenomena but came up empty. The closest I came were stats for the 80's and 90's and some modern bookie papers that said NBA home court wasn't worth as much as it used to be. Nevertheless, home teams still win around 60% of the games on a consistent basis.

Any number of factors could account for this: the emotion of the fans, a good night's rest, familiar shooting backgrounds, and more lenient refs, to name a few. I tend to credit the first and the last the most. Basketball is a consistent-high-energy sport and also one that depends on constant, immediate feedback. (You get feedback on every shot, for instance, by seeing whether it went in. That's how we all learned to shoot.) A good home crowd can provide a boost in both areas. And although it's impossible to correlate home court with an increase in sheer number of whistles--the refs wouldn't be doing a very good job if you could--the sport leaves enough wiggle room in judgment that you've got to believe refs are subtly influenced by the venue too. I think, however, that as the league moves away from the superstar model back into team play you'll see this aspect decline. It will be interesting to see if home court goes along with it.

Whatever you believe or don't believe about home court advantage, I think everyone except the 2003 version of Bonzi Wells would agree that given the choice it's nicer to play at home.

Chemistry:

We talked about this one early in the blog. You can read more about it in the April archives. To me, chemistry is like pornography: hard to define exactly but you know it when you see it (or don't). As recent vintage world (international) championships have proven, building a successful team is not just a matter of taking ten hugely talented players and throwing them together. You need a balance of stars and role players, tough guys and reasonable thinkers, tacticians and raw athletes. More than that, each player has to know and accept their role. Clyde Drexler's highest scoring season was 1988-89 when he tallied 27.2 points per game. We won 39 games that year. He took almost 400 fewer shots the following season and scored four points less per game, yet we went to the NBA finals. Why? He made more of an effort to get Kersey, Porter, Duckworth, and the newly-arrived Buck Williams into the game. That's chemistry. It's not getting along. It's not even being necessarily being nice people. It's being able to function together like a well-oiled, consistent machine despite whatever differences you might have. Some teams have it, some don't. Sometimes teams have it for one part of the season but then lose it. (This year's Pistons are an example.) One thing's sure...if you don't have it, you don't win big.

Chemistry is the hardest thing for a GM to get right because you never know how a group is going to interact until you get them together. Sometimes a good team can absorb and even reform a bad-chemistry player. (Some would argue Dallas has done that with Jason Terry and Keith Van Horn.) Sometimes a bad-chemistry player can rip apart an otherwise good team. (Every head in the room just swiveled towards Ron Artest.)

In general, though, you will find the best and brightest stars--Bird, Magic, Duncan, to name a few--are also great chemistry people. Jordan, though called selfish by some, was also more than willing to give himself up on the defensive end, spend countless hours in the gym practicing his shot, and give up game-winning opportunities in the last game of the Finals to guys like John Paxson and Steve Kerr. Shaq and Kobe are about the only modern examples of guys winning it without chemistry. I would argue that they are both freaks of nature and that they had (*cough*) "help" with at least one of their three championships (WCF vs. Sacramento) and maybe two (vs. Portland). Certainly had Shaq been reffed back then like he is in the current series the Lakers would not have dominated to the extent that they did. In any case, chemistry has to include you main players, and probably spring from them, or else it's no good.

Curses:

While tempting, I don't believe in them. The Red Sox had the most famous long-standing curse in history. Coincidentally it carried through all those years of sub-par talent, beer-league recruiting, and the occasional natural bad break. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that as soon as they got sterling pitching backed by good defense and a decent offense, the curse disappeared. In the absence of further evidence, I'll continue to believe that any woes Portland has are products of bad management choices or poor play. I'm just not ready for the "Curse of the Waltino".

Momentum:

I do believe in this, however. We've all seen it too many times. Most modern teams run variations of five or six plays all night. Sometimes they don't work for two-and-a-half quarters, then mysteriously everything clicks and those same plays net bucket after bucket. I think it goes back to what we said above about basketball being a game in which emotion and immediate feedback play significant roles. It's human nature to think the world is against you when you're rolling snake eyes at the craps table and that you can do no wrong after hitting three sevens in a row. The same is true in basketball, but unlike independent, inanimate dice, how you think on the court actually affects your play. The relationship between the brain and athletic performance is complex. At what level does the perceived become real? And how much feedback (usually in the form of opponents dunking on you) do you need before it becomes reality for you?

This is why great coaches train their teams in practice not to feel, not to think, just to do. Repetition to the point that action becomes instinctive and nearly emotionless (until it's done, anyway) is the key to overcoming the vagaries of momentum. This also means that mental strength and maturity is an underrated attribute in basketball.

Legacy:

There's no doubt that legacy plays some role in NBA success. A gross as it sounds, most kids grow up dreaming of starting for the Lakers, not the Clippers. There's a tangible difference when you put on the purple and gold, or a Bulls uniform, or Yankee pinstripes, or pick your marquee franchise. It doesn't mean you'll win if you're bad, but it does make it easier to recruit the talent and follow the leadership necessary to get you back on the winning track if you've lost it.

One of the greatest casualties of the recent Portland decline may be the loss of a winning legacy. It can't be measured by record alone, rather that a team stands for something in the league and in the community. There's a difference between a losing season or two and a losing franchise and I'm not sure which side of the line we're on. We used to have the best broadcasting corps in the league. Other teams would come to observe how we did things. Gone. We used to have the strongest fan identification in the league, among the best in any league even. Gone. What else have we lost over the past decade? It's not so much that these things are causing on-court losses as they are possible reflections of the same malaise that shows itself between the lines. It has an effect to the extent that any message of incompetence, sloppiness, confusion, or that excellence just doesn't matter filters down to all employees, including the players. And once that happens you lose the unifying, overarching goal that makes the great teams great. Regaining a winning record may be simple compared to rebuilding a tarnished legacy.

On the one hand I want to say memories are short, because they are. People would much rather sign with the Clippers right now than the Blazers, history be damned. On the other hand, when Sam Cassell has his biennial, ship-sinking implosion and the Clips slip again, they'll have a much harder time reversing the slide and regaining excellence than a team like the Lakers would have. Or now us.

None of these intangibles can replace talent and hard work. Those are still the two overriding determining factors in NBA success, accounting for probably 98% of your wins. But in a league where five or six other teams are also going to have that talent and drive, who's to say that the other 2% might not make the difference? More than one game (including last night's) has been decided by a favorable call or a cold-blooded play in the face of long odds. And a lot of those plays come to storied franchises. I wouldn't stay up nights worrying about any of these things, but to the extent they're controllable, I wouldn't ignore them either.

Have your own examples of any of these things? You're more than welcome to comment or e-mail.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Last Media Word (for now)

Ahhh...the media topic continues to bubble both above and beneath the surface, and a lot of folks are commenting/writing on it. Unless there are further developments, I'll wrap up the "official" conversation with this:

I think the analogy I made almost flippantly below about the Blazers and the Oregonian sounding like a married couple in trouble is proving apt. The more I think about it, the more it fits. Since, barring a Blazer move or a meteor hitting the "O", they are stuck with each other, a couple pieces of unsolicited advice...

One of the keys to staying married in times of strife is realizing that you are going to be married and planning accordingly. While you may daydream of an idealistic life apart, in truth you need each other, and realizing that helps you avoid the temptation to grasp short-term pleasure (like blasting each other in public) instead of long-term gain. And you two DO need each other. The Blazers cannot become a niche product and still survive. The market is just too small. We've seen that play out in the last three years. The team needs mainstream fans and the only way to reach those fans in this town is the Oregonian. If you can't manage to be media-savvy, at least avoid being media stupid. On the Oregonian side (or at least the sports side of the Oregonian) you are sportswriters in a one sport town. Your national and local attention both come largely from your coverage of that one sport and its local representative. Try giving folks a steady diet of Beavers, Timbers, and Winterhawks columns and watch what happens to your renown and that of your sports section. I am not suggesting in any way that you should refrain from honest reporting as you cover the team, even to preserve your own position. It's not your job to be a team booster. However, when you are tempted to use your press position as a bully pulpit, whether it's in reaction to an indignity the team has visited upon you or an honest attempt to bring about change, remember that you can only go so far. Not everything thought or learned in private should be made public, and sometimes why you say something is as ethically important as what you say or how you say it. Stepping over that line is not only unhelpful, but destructive to both institutions. There should be no doubt about you erring on the side of caution here.

A tidbit of wisdom that most long-married couples come to accept: Being right does no good if it leads to you sleeping on the couch.

This is true not only of your relationship with each other, but with your fans and readership. Your overt purposes may be good basketball and good media coverage, but you are both essentially in the sales business, or at least in the relationship business (if "sales" is too crude of a term). That means you're dealing with other people. And truth is never absolute when other people are involved. Sometimes what's right for the health of the relationship is more important than what you think is right personally...not always, but maybe more than you're giving credit for. Take away those other people and both bouncing balls and printing presses sound pretty hollow. No doubt all parties in this situation are dealing with "truth" of sorts, but how your truth is received and used--what effect it has on this community and its relationships--will be as important in the long run as how right it is at this moment.

That, folks, is my best shot. Unfortunately I fear this "story about the story" is far from over. It's really funny...you can talk philosophy, ethics, and institutional/organizational responsibility all you want, but when egos get bruised it all goes out the window, reduced to something basically and utterly human. And egos have been bruised here on both sides. Stay tuned.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

Pleasant Problems

As we begin our third month together, a couple of philosophical blog matters:

It has always been my plan not only to read, but to respond to every piece of e-mail that I get and most comments (even if it's just with a "Thank you" and "I agree") because I really appreciate all you guys who take the trouble to read this, let alone write in response. I find myself in the unexpected position of reporting that the volume of e-mail we're getting is making that resolution more difficult to keep. I intend to keep it anyway, I'm just letting you know that if I'm a little slow some weeks, it's not because I'm ignoring you, don't care, or haven't read your submission. It's probably because I'm pursuing (sigh) real world responsibilities. (Who'da thunk it?) I will get back to you, I promise. And please don't stop writing. Absolutely no revenue and only a modest amount of world-wide fame (*cough*) come from doing this, so getting to talk Blazers with you is my only tangible reward. And it's one I treasure. Just be a little patient with me if it takes me a while to return the favor from time to time.

This is also true of suggestions for posts. Some things I feel comfortable talking about off the top of my head, but others I have to think about or research for a while first, and we're getting a backlog of those. I'll work on clearing that up, and thank you for the great ideas!

Lastly, one can't help but notice that the comment section is seeing more frequent use, and that is great. Some of you who have been in contact since the very beginning already know something I think it's time to make more explicit now. I know this site will never be the most popular, the most authoritative, or the most "inside" on the web. I never envisioned it would be such. But I did have a vision when I started this site beyond a narcissistic compulsion to see my own words in print. Maybe it's impossible and maybe it's just dumb, but I thought the web could use a place where people could just come and talk without all the egos, spitting contests, and rancor that typify most discussion sites. In a way I wanted a coffee shop atmosphere, where a bunch of folks just dropped in, read a little, and talked Blazers and it didn't matter if they were long-time regulars or just stopping by. I don't think the world needs another biggest, most authoritative, or most "inside" site, but I do think it could use a friendliest, most welcoming, most "honest-but-fairly-relaxed" one...the "Cheers" of websites, if you will. And given the acrimony flying around Blazerland lately--not just between differing fans but between the team and fans, the team and media, the fans and media--I think such a site could help people feel connected in a time it's all too easy to just slip away.

The thing is, I can't do this alone. How you respond to this site and each other makes a difference in what this little place becomes. Two things are necessary:

1. I need to be willing to keep my hands off the comments section and let you have basically whatever conversation you want, agree or disagree, even if you say things differently than I would. If I can't manage this it's neither honest nor friendly. And I am committed to doing so. To this point I have not required registration for comments and I have not deleted anyone's comment save one. It is not my intention to do either in the future.

2. You have to use that freedom wisely, in a way that not only gets your point across, but also takes care of the people you're making it to. There are a hundred other sites where people do that "anonymous internet who-cares" style of conversation. Why try to duplicate that here? I would very much appreciate it, to keep the site alive and to its purpose, if you would just pretend you're sitting in that coffee shop among friends and strangers and try to discuss accordingly. Make your point and be honest, but try to put things in such a way that if your grandma were listening (or someone else's) you wouldn't be totally ashamed. One of the strong, strong things that's come through in the e-mails and comments is that we don't have a homogenous community here. Nor do we have the stereotypical group of sports fans. There are old people, young people, women, men, and people of all professional backgrounds and histories here. Given what's going on with Portland and the Blazers, I hope that excites you. Just make sure you plan accordingly when you speak, even if someone disagrees with you.

I have no doubt that if the site keeps growing "trolls" will creep in from time to time. It always happens and the anonymous comment feature will probably allow it. But I'd rather take that risk in the name of allowing someone who (understandably) wants to remain anonymous at first to join in the conversation. I intend to have a thick skin about trolling and I hope you do too. If you don't like a comment, just skip over it and keep reading. Eventually with a lack of attention it will pass. If a comment is blatantly offensive be assured that I will delete it as soon as I check the site. Otherwise I'll grin and bear it as I hope you do. No need to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch, so to speak. If there are occasional bumps and bruises along the way, just consider them growing pains.

Thank you all for the continuing to read. Even with the grinding off-season, I hope the next couple months are as vibrant as the first two.

--Dave

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More of Our Stories

The response to the post about Blazer stories and community was significantly positive. Many of you shared some of your own stories by e-mail or in the comment section. I figured re-printing them would be a good weekend post.

I'll start off with a couple more of my own then share some of yours.

I remember the first time I ever saw a Blazers game in person. It was 1978 and we had won the championship the year before. As a little kid I had stars in my eyes over anything having to do with the team, but the idea of actually going to a game was out of the question. For one thing they were always sold out. Besides, my family didn't do stuff like that. We weren't poor but we weren't rich either. As a little guy I didn't know how much Blazer tickets cost, but the way I loved them I imagined it must be at least a thousand dollars. Maybe more. But one evening after a quick dinner my mom and dad piled my little sister and me in the car. They wouldn't tell us where we were going even though we pestered them the whole trip. When we pulled into the parking lot of the Memorial Coliseum and actually out of the car there I was excited. I thought, "Oh cool...the circus!" (We had been to Ringling Brothers a couple times and that was my only frame of reference.) As I held my dad's hand walking across the lot I kept asking, "Is it the circus?" And he kept saying "No..." but he still wouldn't tell me what it was. Then I remembered once at school they had taken us on a field trip to see the symphony and that was in a big building like this. (All big buildings seem alike when you're a kid.) This was fine for school but not so great for an evening all my own, so I asked in a much more subdued voice, "Is it a concert?" Dad said no. Then I remembered hearing about some kind of flea-market weekend sale going on and my mom like garage sales, so I asked, "Is it a sale?" He said no again, but he still wouldn't tell me what it was.

My folks hid the tickets as we walked through the turnstiles. There were big, lighted pictures of Bill Walton, Jack Ramsay, and even an NBA ref (I believe it was Mendy Rudlolph) on the walls. I rubbernecked as we passed each one. It still never hit me what we could be there for. You know how some things are so amazing, so huge as to be totally incomprehensible? Like you know they exist but it never actually enters your consciousness that you'd be a part of them? I think that was it. (Because really, I was a pretty smart kid in most other ways. Honest.) By the time we got to our entrance doors I had made up my mind that it was the circus after all and my dad was just trying to surprise us. I was wondering about the elephants as we walked into the arena. Then I saw the basketball court.

It said "Portland Trailblazers".

I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked up at my dad and he nodded. I would give anything to have a picture of what must have been the expression on my face at that moment. And as it turned out, dad didn't buy these tickets at all. His boss had them (whether they were the company's or his personally I don't know). So instead of walking up the stairs we walked down, down, and down until we were in the second row. The first row was reserved for that night's opponent, the Denver Nuggets. We were right behind their bench. They had David Thompson and Dan Issel and they ran a lot. But we won the game 123-110 anyway. Boy was I happy.

An odd memory from that game: At a timeout one player said a word that I wasn't supposed to say. (I didn't know what the word meant, but you could tell by the tone.) The coach, who I now know was Larry Brown, also said one of those words. Then somebody, one of the assistant coaches or players, said, "Guys, there are kids." Then about eight of the people on the bench looked back at me and my sister. I think the coach grimaced a little. In fact he looked like he had swallowed an alligator and was trying to keep it from crawling back out. But the language was pristine the rest of the evening.

I wrote my dad's boss a big thank-you note after I got home. It would be fifteen years before I'd see another game in person and I've never had seats that close again. But I'm not greedy. That one experience was enough to last an entire childhood and beyond.

A quicker one:

That same year the Blazers were running a promotion where two of their players would sit and sign autographs for whoever came. It was at the Lloyd Center. My older sister decided to take me. The players that day were Dave Twardzick and Larry Steele I believe. I don't know for sure because we looked and looked and looked all around the Lloyd Center and couldn't find them. I remember searching behind circular racks of clothing at Meier & Frank to see if that's where they were. We never did find them. As it turned out the signing was not at Lloyd Center but at the Lloyd Building a couple blocks away. By the time we figured that out it was too late. Fortunately they had another one next week. Graciously my sister took me again, but she didn't tell me who was there. (That seems to be a habit in my family.) I was hoping they'd be as good as Dave and Larry, but let's get serious...I would have even loved Corky Calhoun. So we walked up to the building, went inside, and sitting there side by side were Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas. I shook their hands and got autographs from both. My sister had to prompt me to even say hello. They were VERY big and I was totally in awe. They laughed and were nice to me.

I once high-fived Clyde as he was on the way down the tunnel and that is the only personal Blazer experience that even comes close.

OK...on to you guys. First a couple e-mails.

Isaac writes:

It was May 27th, 1990 (my 10th birthday) and my bestfriend's mom took us out to greet the blazers uponreturning from 2 games in Phoenix for the WesternConference championship. I was 10 years old andabsolutely in awe. There were my heroes right beforeme... Clyde, Buck, Terry... the whole gang. I evenremember being excited to see Drazen Petrovic... hewas one of my favorites. I've always rooted for theunderdog. Bob Miller was there with his radio show and he wascoming around talking to the fans like Al Rocher. Hegets to me and my friends and they all scream out,"it's his birthday!". So Bob starts talking to me andI just freeze up. All the fans are looking at me andthe Blazer players are standing around shaking handswith people and Bob asks "so why are you here todayyoung man?"... and i reply "uh... i dont know, they(my friends) brought me here." Just completely frozeup and blew my chance at speaking to the masses. AfterI made that stupid comment I think to myself, "whydidn't i say 'because I love the Blazers and I'm hereto support them and help them win it all!'"? So manydifferent scenarios ran through my head. But the pointis, the whole thing was such an amazing event. Heck,the Blazers had lost the previous game, and everybodystill came out in droves. The area around theHillsboro airport was packed. I have a picture of thatday with me, my best friend, and my brother... it's anabsolute classic. I'll keep that one forever.

BlueDuck shares:

I'm only 18 so I don't have a story from the '77 championship year or anything like that. My story comes from about seven or eight years ago when my elementary school class took a field trip up to Portland to ride the Sternwheeler and visit OMSI. I believe this was taking place during the year that the Blazers made a run to the Western Conference Finals and got swept by the Spurs. This trip took place late in the school year, right in the thick of the playoffs. We were on the top deck of the Sternwheeler on a picture perfect day. The top deck was pretty much one flat space where helicoptors could land and there were dozens of people hanging out on the pad taking advantage of the weather. I looked down and noticed that I happened to be standing on a letter "Z" right in the middle of the deck. I didn't think much of it until I noticed that there were a number of letters all over the pad. After following around the letters, I realized that "GO BLAZERS!" was laid out across the entire deck. A couple of days later, I was watching the next Blazer playoff game on TV and as NBC was coming back from commercial, they showed an overhead shot of the top deck of the Sternwheeler and mentioned that businesses all over the city were involved in a contest to see who could display their Blazer spirit most effectively. I really hope we can get back to the days where the entire city is engulfed in BlazerMania. The Blazers are by far my favorite professional sports franchise and I can't wait until we are winning again, with a full Rose Garden and a city behind its team.

And re-printed from the comment section of the "Community" post below:

Blazer Prophet writes:

The year we won our championship, there was a downtown record store open 24 hours. I was in there checking out records at about 1AM and as I turned I was mowed down. With a most sincere apology, Maurice Lucas reached down and helped me up (his hands reached to my elbow) and we had a little chat. He was funny and really cool.

Jorga writes:

Somewhere I have a picture of my daughter wearing her 1976 championship shirt (she's your age, Dave) and I know it got handed down to her brother so I can probably find a picture of him in it too. Pictures are about all that's left from that era for me. Not many memories of community, but do have one of a ferry ride out of Seattle when I had some sort of "Go Blazers" placard in a car window. People thought I was pretty brave to display it in Sonic territory, but Sonics were already out of the playoffs and I just had to rub it in. Got home without anything nasty happening to my car or me.

Scott R. says:

being in san diego, i don't expect to get much love from anyone for my blazers. seems almost everyone here jumps on the lakers bandwagon every year then jumps off as soon as it is the cool thing to do. But, with that said, i STILL wear every piece of blazers clothing i can get my hands on(ducks too, but that's another story for another day). I even have bought a little cheerleading outfit, size 2T, that both of my Girls have worn and i have a set of shorts/jersey that they have worn and my boy will wear too when he is big enough. (i have 2 rules in my house: No Lakers fans. No Raiders fans. pretty simple huh?) back to the topic at hand...I still get stopped probably about 20% of the time i'm out by people of various ages asking about the blazers. I get ribbed by the bandwagon laker fans. But i do get a lot of intellegent conversation from many basketball fans who are looking for everyones perspective. I also get a lot of good spirited conversation from a lot of blazers fans that i didn't even think had migrated this far south! I love those days and it makes me proud to be a blazers fan and have faith in our loyal fan base being built back to the level it was not too very long ago. Bottom line is this: While the fans seem to be in hiding right now, there are still some of us loyal, rabid fans spread across this country(i've had the same conversations in Chicago too, but i was only there for 13 months). I am positive that it won't take much to get the less hard core fans out of hiding and wearing the red and black again!!

I really like this one from Brian:

I'm living in Asia at the moment, but I still were my Blazer apparel frequently. Even though most of these guys have no idea who the Blazers are, I still get people asking me about the team and its players.The most interesting experience was one day when I was in a grocery store on a busy weekend and a woman flagged me down. She was obviously a foreigner (non-asian) and when I went over to talk with her, it turned out that she was from Portland also and had seen my Blazers cap. We talked for several minutes about Portland and the team, the good ole days of Clyde and Terry and what's going on currently.It was kinda cool that half way around the world the Blazer bond was still at work.

I can really relate to Dr. Dave's memory:

You know you're old when the "good ol' days" of Blazer basketball were the times before Clyde and Terry. Living in southern Oregon, a live game was a rare treat. So my fondest memories are simply those times just me and my boys hunkered over a radio at playoff time (it didn't matter how the season went-you always knew the playoffs were coming...). The comforting voice of the Shonz who could draw you right there beside him, front and center. Pumping fists, high fiving, biting nails, at times even hiding our eyes, we would push our team to the end. Win or lose, they had our hearts. I'd do almost anything to have that feeling back again.

And finally an anonymous submission:

I remember listening to the final game of the Western Conference championship, I think in 1990 or '91 with my husband. We beat Phoenix and it was maybe 9:30 at night. At the end of the game, Bill Shonley mentioned that the Blazers would be landing at the Hillsboro airport sometime after midnight. My husband and I grabbed our coats and ran to the car. We got there slightly ahead of the 10,000 other fans so we were right at the fence. I remember the crowd's feverish anticipation of that plane landing so we could get a glimpse of the players stepping off the plane. We waited for probably 3 hours but I never regretted getting to be a part of that! I talk Blazer stuff about the new guys now and people look at me like I'm whacked! But when we get back to winning ballgames, I look forward to hanging my "GO BLAZERS" sign in my car window again.

Thanks to everyone who shared a story or memory. I have many, many more myself and if you'd like to keep sharing yours, this could become an ongoing "once in a while" feature here. Personally I find all this positive talk/energy surrounding the topic therapeutic.

Enjoy the nice weekend!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)