November 30th Quick Chat Review

Here's our review of the weekly Quick Chat with Oregonian beat writer Jason Quick and Blazer Grand Poobah Steve Patterson.  You can hear the chat in its entirety here.  Please note that this is not a word-for-word rendition, just a summary with notes.

Q:  Any news from practice?

A:  It's a gametime decision on Raef LaFrentz.  He went through a full contact practice today.  He'll likely play tomorrow or Sunday.  Roy has another MRI on Friday.  They'll be able to gauge the progress on his heel.

Nothing new here.  It'll be nice to have another veteran to throw out there though.  LaFrentz is hardly a game-changer anymore, but at this point we'll take it.

Q:  The Blazers have lost 8 of their last 10.  What are you seeing?

A:  Obviously the biggest issue is defense.  Also they're starting to play higher caliber teams.  The defensive problems are glaring though.  Injuries have forced them to play a lineup that doesn't have much defense.  Zach is a below average defender, Martell is lost defensively, Juan Dixon is undersized and can't keep people in front of him, Travis Outlaw gets confused easily.  That's four major-minute players who are clearly below average defenders.  Only three players on this team are average or above defenders:  Joel, Ime (though he's undersized), Jarrett Jack (who has trouble with opponents' quickness but is hard to post up).  In time Lamarcus will be great.  He's still young and not getting respect from the refs.  But this is just not a defensive roster.  This further magnifies the importance of Brandon Roy, who is a good defender.  His presence automatically reduces the time poor defenders are on the court.  Roy may not be the best player, but he's clearly the co-MVP of this team along with Zach.  When Brandon comes back Zach's stats will skyrocket.

I don't know how much more Zach's stats will skyrocket, but I also suggested the other day that when we get a little better caliber of defender in the backcourt everybody else will look better defensively too.  If you've got a fritter-munching security guard watching the front door, the key to keeping the premises secure is stopping people at the garden gate.

Q:  Webster is struggling on both ends of the floor.  What's going on?

A:  He's a mess.  He keeps insisting it's his back.  If that's true nobody understands why he won't sit out and get healthy.  If Brandon were here they could afford to sit him but right now they need him.  But they're getting nothing out of the kid.  I like Martell but it's like he freezes up out there.  Nate says he doesn't shoot enough.  Nate has tried to get it into his head just to shoot.  He just won't though.  He's a mystery right now.  Other than Jamaal Magloire you have to say he's the biggest disappointment of the season so far.  Also Martell is not having fun out there.  He's not joking with the guys.  He's just so serious, not enjoying it.

Ahhhh...the complexities of the human personality.  Ever wonder why total jerks often seem to get the best girls?  It's because they're too blindly self-centered to realize that they're total jerks.  The introspective guy spends all day coming up with the perfect plan, weighing pros and cons, theorizing about relationship dynamics, and fretting over his own imperfections.  Meanwhile Mr. Who-Gives-a-Rip has already put 92 moves on.  It feels a little like that's what's happening to Martell.  Half the guys in the NBA don't have a conscience and will think they're God's gift to the world even if they just missed a dozen in a row.  Martell misses one and starts doing interpersonal dynamic work and trajectory calculations in his head.

I actually have been preparing a post on Martell which I'm going to save for Monday so we'll leave it at that.  Suffice it to say that I'm with Nate on this one.  Just shoot, man!   (Or alternately, just ask her!!!)

Q:  Travis is looking for his shot more now and looks much improved.  Is there a possibility of Outlaw starting at the 3 and Ime moving to the 2?

A:  I don't think so.  Travis actually approached Nate earlier in the year and requested a bench role.  He's really taking the initiative out there.  We've chided him in the past for being passive or timid.  It's nice to see him with confidence.  He's still brutal on defense but he's blocking some shots, which I guess is part of defense.  Travis is nice surprise this season.

I love Travis off the bench.  One of the problems with starting him is that he'll be in Zach's shadow continually.  He's the perfect energy guy off the pines as long as he scores enough to justify his presence out there.

Q:  Will Portland re-sign Outlaw?

A:  That's a good question.  At the beginning of the season I'd have said, "No way."  Now he's showing enough glimmers of brilliance that it becomes a tougher decision.  He needs to show them enough to make them want him.  This is a huge season for Travis.  I think he'd love to stay in Portland.

My two questions would be in what role and how much?  Unless you're comfortable with both those answers I don't think you do it.

Q:  Could Outlaw be used as trade bait?

A:  He could be expendable, but the team is starting to become a little more intrigued with him.  Travis is a lightning rod in this organization.  Some love him.  Some are totally done with him.  It'll be interesting to see how this pans out, how his season affects the two sides.  There's no middle ground in the front office regarding him.

His contract is so slight that unless another team was enamored of his talent he wouldn't be worth mentioning in a trade.

Q:  Is now the time to move Zach with his trade value high?

A:  I think Blazers would look at it.  It would have to make the team better though.  I don't think they're shopping him.  His value is at an all-time high though.  He's starting to get noticed by opposing coaches and the league.  He's the topic when you talk Blazers.  Chicago might be interested.  Would they give up Gordon?  Nocioni?

We've talked about the Chicago stuff since this summer.  I do think Zach was noticed before this...he's long been the key in the Blazers' game plan.  However I think he's being taken more seriously now in terms of the damage he can do.  He's starting to get doubled with energy and respect and it's happening on a consistent basis.

Q:  Is Zach a franchise player?

A:  No.  The franchise player is Brandon Roy.  You have to defend, score, pass, and make teammates better.  Brandon Roy does that, Zach not so much.  KG does it, Dirk mostly does it, Zach is very good but not at that level.  He's overpaid, not a max contract guy.

This is a little bit like the MVP discussion.  Zach's the best player on the team.  He's the franchise player right now.  He's probably not a franchise player in the mold of those other guys.  But neither is Brandon Roy.  (Both definitions appear to be operating in this answer at various points.)  In the future, Roy is more likely to develop into that kind of multi-talented franchise player than Zach is, but I doubt Roy will ever put up enormous numbers like those guys.  We may not have a true "franchise player" on the roster at this point.  But neither did Detroit when they won it really.

Q:  Some say with Aldridge advancing now's the time to trade Zach.  Can Zach and Lamarcus play together?

A:  It could work.  Aldridge has some outside game.

This is a "yes, but..."  Lamarcus does have range, but he still operates mostly with his back to the basket, which is part of what the coaches want Zach to do as well.  Zach actually has longer range than Aldridge but they hope he doesn't employ it so much.  Also Lamarcus belongs in a sprint, Zach belongs in a walk-a-thon.  I'm not sold that they can co-exist on the same team if Aldridge becomes as good as everyone hopes he will be.

Q:  Bill Simmons mentions you as one of his favorite NBA beat writers.

A:  That's very flattering.  I've never met him, but it's very nice.

They should really have an annual award for NBA Beat Writers.  They could call it "The Snoopy" or something...

Q:  What's the center situation with Przybilla back, Aldridge playing reasonably well, and LaFrentz on his way?  How does this affect Magloire?  What's the depth chart?

A:  It's Joel, Aldridge, Magloire, LaFrentz.  Sources say Magloire is on the market.  Two Eastern teams have been contacted.  Expect him to be traded by the deadline if not in the next month.  Obvious it's not a good fit for him here.  He's unhappy and biting his tongue.  The downside is that he hasn't played well enough to attract interest.  An expiring contract is probably his biggest asset right now.  I don't know how they'll handle playing time in the meantime.  Do you shut him out and risk diminishing his trade value or do you play him even though he's not the best fit out there?

He's still a good rebounder and can occasionally score in the post, so I think you play him and watch to see how his production is going.  If it's a good game give him more time.  If it's a bad one don't feel bad about having him sit.  He has made a difference when he's played well.  I'm surprised we got that much semi-definite information on the trade situation but I'm not surprised by the news itself, nor will most Blazer fans be.

Q:  What are they looking to get back for him?

A:  Probably a small forward, maybe a shooting guard with size.  They need people who can score.  Well, come to think of it they need guys who can defend as well.  They'd take anything that would make the team better.

The real problem I see is exactly this issue.  What kind of pieces do you take back?  Obviously you're not going for cap space, because that's Jamaal himself.  But do you trade him for a back-up player?  We already seem to have a lot of those.  Do you go for a starter then, perhaps packaging him with another minor piece?  You're not going to get a star that way.  But how do you even know what kind of starter you need and where?  You probably don't need another starting point guard.  Is Brandon the long-term option at the two?  Is Lamarcus at the four or the five?  (Of course you can't get a starting center back anyway.)  We just don't know.  And if we don't know what we're developing into, either in terms of talent or style, we don't know what we need to acquire.  The only thing I can see for sure is that we need a small forward this year and that would seem like a no-brainer as long as you don't mind going big-for-small.

Long story short, whatever the Jamaal trade is (if any) is likely to be underwhelming.

Q:  Blazers-Magic tomorrow.  You attended both practices today.  Observations?  Anticipations?

A:  Dwight Howard is the focus of the Magic.  He's leading the NBA in rebounding.  He could become the youngest ever to do that.  He's had three 20-20 games.  He's huge...enormous.  On TV he looks big but in person he is a large, large man.  The Magic lead the Eastern Conference at 12-4.  They finished last season 16-6 after the Steve Francis trade.  That means they're 28-10 in that span.  That's a Mavericks/Spurs type record.  This is a team to watch.  Jameer Nelson has blossomed into great PG.  Turkoglu is a nice player.  Battie cleans up.  Hill is healthy.  It was a fun practice.  They're a fun team, really close to each other.  They even crack up their coach sometimes.  You can tell they're a team.

I remember Howard being a semi-modest surprise over Okafor when he was drafted.  Looks like they knew exactly what they were doing...

At this point Steve Patterson joins the chat.  It sounds like he's still a little grumpy over something...maybe that contract question Casey hit him with a couple of weeks ago.

Q:  The team is going through a rough stretch.  What's been your feeling?  What are you seeing?

A:  Injuries have started to catch up to us.  Roy being out hurts.  Przybilla is barely back, Raef not quite.  We've been on the road a lot.  We've been playing against quality Western Conference opponents too.

All true enough.  There's likely more to be said but I suspect we're not going to hear it from Steve.

Q:  Any news on Brandon Roy?

A:  He's anxious to get back.  He has more scans tomorrow.  He'll probably stay in the boot for another week regardless of the results.  We want him at 100%.  He might start practicing after that.

The extra week in the boot is news, but not totally unexpected.  Many of us are hoping that's all that is required.

Q:  For the most part the future looks dialed in but it seems like we're missing a small forward.  What or who do you foresee as the small forward of our future?  Do any of the guys here already fit?

A:  The first step is to see how Darius responds to surgery and rehab.  Ime Udoka has been playing surprisingly well.  Webster and Outlaw could play some minutes there, as could Roy.  We have to see how these young guys develop.  Their positions aren't set.

See, this is what I wonder about bringing inside, "name" people in to do these interviews.  They have instant credibility and star-allure, but you already know exactly what they're going to say.  They can't really say anything different, can they?  So what are you really getting other than a chance to hear Mr. Patterson's dulcet tones?  He mentioned every person on the roster who has ever played that spot.  Now, your average beat writer or blogger or what have you doesn't have any privileged information, but at least (s)he would take a flyer on something like this and give you an educated guess to chew on.  Is there any difference between having privileged information but not sharing it and having none at all?  And in the end, which kind of answer is more informative, entertaining, and maybe even accurate?  I like different team officials as special guests, but pound for pound I'll take the speculation of the writer in a situation like this.

Q:  How do you feel about Travis Outlaw's game so far?  Good points?  Bad points?

A:  He has better conditioning.  He had difficulty playing long stretches last year.  It could have been diet, asthma, or just general conditioning.  Whatever it was, it's much better this year.  He has made strides in his skills.  Playing at the 4-spot helps.  He also continues to get bigger, which is good.  If you consider he should just be a rookie in the league because of age he's doing very well.

I think we need to raise a general question:  is age a fair criteria to judge people on?  Yes, Travis is young, but after four years in the league you better bring something to the table more than a rookie.  Otherwise what was the point of drafting you in the first place?  A little special dispensation is fine, but at some point years in the league have to count as well as years on the planet.

Q:  How would you assess Martell's struggles?

A:  Everybody has ups and downs.  He shouldn't put any more pressure on himself.  He wants to be very good and he will be.  He should be a sophomore in college right now.  You can't rush it.  We're all comfortable he'll be a very good pro with the Trailblazers for years to come.

Having just said that about Travis, we also should remember that although he had a flashy run at the end of the season, Martell really didn't get a ton of quality time last year.  For all intents and purposes, this is Martell's "rookie-plus" year.  I like what Patterson said about the office's stance on him.  He really didn't seem worried a bit.

Q:  What about Magloire?  What have you seen?

A:  Everybody knows he got off to a slow start.  He's gotten better in the last few games.  It's always good to have big bodies.  He's been very professional, a good person in community and locker room.  Has a lot of years ahead of him and we hope he keeps playing well.

Hmmmm...I think they call that "damning with faint praise".

Q:  Is it true that teams in the same conference don't want to trade with each other?

A:  Maybe some people think that way.  It's never been an issue with me.  I look at what's in the best interest of our franchise.  If we can get what we need I don't worry about the other ball club.  We're in a position where we're building with young players, trying to put a club together for a long run.  We're not one of the top couple teams that would have to worry about meeting a traded player down the road in the playoffs.  We'd trade to make the team better regardless of the other team.

Solid outlook.  I always thought that was a bit over-hyped.  Fans tend to bear grudges against opponents more than professionals, at least in this sense.  The one exception would be the one Patterson cited, which would be having your ex-player come back and bite you head-to-head in the playoffs.  Not an issue here.

Q:  The Ben Wallace headband controversy has been the talk of the league.  Nate also has some rules, including that one...

A:  Workplace rules are the prerogative of a ball club.  Both the coach and other executives can make them, just like other workplaces.

Nate also has a bunch of young puppies, none of which have won squat.  I would guess that the year after we won the championship some of the rules might ease just a smidge.

Q:  Jason Quick was mentioned as a favorite NBA beat writer of Bill Simmons.  Who are some of yours?

A:  I don't want to leave anybody out.  There are a lot of good writers out there.  I enjoy reading all of them, particularly the up and comers.

Boy...we have to be politically correct about beat writers too?  Although this was an interesting question from Casey considering the local environment lately...

Q:  Has it become more easy or difficult to deal with players in recent years as a front office person?

A:  Any organization has to have good communication with all their employees.  For us that includes the players.  For the most part our guys understand the business, the league's direction, and their role in it.

I didn't transcribe his whole answer but I found it interesting that Patterson referenced the "league direction" at least a couple of times.  It certainly seems like that whole swirling dress code/uniform/straighten up and fly right deal is alive and well and that the NBA continues to make a concerted effort in that vein.

Q:  What about the next two games?  What do we need to do?

A:  We need to do a better job defensively.  30 point quarters are tough to overcome.  We need better rebounding.  Also execution down stretch.

All are true.  This does beg the question, "Ummmm...what's left?"

Q:  Has Nate been focusing more on defense in practice?

A:  It's always a focus, especially with Nate.  He's a defensive-minded coach.  Indiana is a playoff club and we were right there with them.  As our guys get healthy we'll have an opportunity to take teams like that out of their game.

That's a beautiful way to put it.  I tried to say something like this the other night but couldn't quite find the phrase.  We haven't taken anybody out of their game lately.  We also haven't surprised anybody with our game lately.  It's not like things have been horrible, just by the numbers.  And by the numbers we're supposed to lose almost every game.  This again would be an argument for acquiring someone a little more nasty and feisty who was going to shake us out of our patterns.

Q:  What's the prediction for tomorrow night?

A:  Buy a ticket and we'll all see together!

Sound advice.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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