Quick Chat Recap 12 14 06

Here's our weekly recap of O-Live's chat with Jason Quick and Steve Patterson.  It is a summary, not a word-for-word transcript.  The entire chat can be found here.  The recap is longer than usual but that's because they said more interesting things than usual.  I think you'll find it worth the read.

Oregonian beat writer Jason Quick is up first.

Q:  Any new news today?

A:  No.  The team is practicing as we speak.  We know Portland is not a willing partner in a three-way trade to get Allen Iverson.  Magloire would be the Blazer included.  Denver is tempting us, but Portland does not want Nene's contract and knees.  Philly wants Magloire in order to cut costs.  Staying out of it is a smart move for Portland.  Nene's contract is too big.  It does show there is interest in Magloire across the league.  He's a commodity.  They might be able to get more out of a trade for him now.  His awakening on the court during this road trip helps.  He scored 40 points on the trip.  He was 3rd on team in rebounding and #1 on team in field goal percentage in that stretch.  It's encouraging.  This is a big plus.  There are several teams out there that want him.  The Blazers can pick and choose.

That is pretty good news, because a few weeks ago Magloire's value looked about the same as Darius'.  Of course the team may well decide that letting his contract come off our books is fine too.

Q:  Is the improvement due to him putting in more effort or just getting more time?

A:  He's come to a peace with his role.  He's found that being with the second unit is beneficial to him.  They're running plays for him.

Also possible:  He knows it'll help him get traded quicker.

Q:  He looks like the #1 option on offense when Zach is off the floor.

A:  Maybe not #1 but they're going to him.  He's committing fewer turnovers now and contributing in other areas...assists, steals.

That's true.  His game is better with the second unit when he's the primary post guy.  In fact last night he was the #1 option in a lot of sets.  Unfortunately between Zach, perhaps Martell, and Socks we don't need another guy who has #1 option leanings.  (Brandon could probably be happy and successful in a supporting role but not the other two.)

Q:  How does the team feel about his improved play?  How does that affect Lamarcus Aldridge?

A:  Lamarcus didn't play as much towards the end of the trip because of Magloire.  He's also having trouble with fouls.  He doesn't get to play much against teams with bigger players.  Nate is bringing him along slower now.

I love what Lamarcus has done.  But I also saw that when he was put into the position of having to be a man out there, let alone the man when Zach was out, he struggled.  We shouldn't ask much more from Big Smoothie than Nate is willing to have us see, at least for now.  Bad habits and crumbling confidence don't facilitate the kind of development we need from him.  Ask Martell how hard it is to get over some of those things...

Q:  What happened this road trip?  How'd they go 4-2?

A:  As corny as it sounds, it's a togetherness thing.  This team has found cohesiveness in passing the ball and in help defense.  Joel Przybilla is a big part of that.  He was really active last night.  He saved us on defense in the middle towards the end of the game.  They're all talking to each other.  They communicate how to play to each other.  Even Zach is talking on defense.  That's a huge step.  We also saw maturation from Zach (save for flipping the bird).  His defense is better, he's passing better, his play has improved.

I suppose if I say it and Jason Quick says it that makes it true, right?  However I have also said that it wouldn't be particularly surprising to see some or all of that improvement slip right back down the drain, especially as we face higher caliber teams.  We haven't taken a step forward as much as measured how long our stride potentially is.  It'll be interesting to see where our foot actually ends up.

Q:  Is Zach over the anger at the suspension and fine?

A:  He's still irritated but it's not going to affect him on the court.  He's also irritated by Darnell's dismissal.  That sent ripples through the locker room, by the way.  The players liked him.  He went to see movies with them and such.  He talked to them.  The players were shocked by the firing.  They were upset.  They didn't understand the timing and reasoning.  But back to Zach...he's going to get over it.

I believe both are true.  I think if I were the players, at least the ones with guaranteed contracts, I'd have everybody write a $10,000 check and given them to Darnell as severance pay and a Christmas present.  If they liked him that much, that is.  Being upset is one thing but taking that frustration and doing something positive with it is better.

Q:  Where does that suspension money go?

A:  The team keeps it and I think they send it to charity.  I'll have to double-check on that.  I know the NBA does that.

To tell you the truth, I don't know either.  Technically it's not taking back money already paid, like a technical foul.  It's not having to pay money in the first place.  Anybody remember any precedent?  I don't think AI's paycheck is going to charity in Philly right now...

Q:  Lately we've built big leads and given them back.  What's up with that?

A:  It's the talk of the locker room.  Nate attributes it to youth.  Young teams become complacent when they get ahead.  They get loose and stop executing.  When you give up an obvious play like a turnover leading to a dunk the tide can turn quickly.  Nevertheless it's a good problem to have...much better than earlier when they were falling behind immediately.

That seems right to me.  We're a fighter.  We can hit the other guy pretty good but we don't have one-punch knockout power.  Nor do we have a killer instinct.  Instead we kind of hit the guy and admire our fist.  "Hey!  That was a pretty good punch!"  Meanwhile the guy gets up and gets angry.  Sometimes it takes us a while to get back into fighting mode.

Q:  Will Ime Udoka get his contract guaranteed or will he be another cost-cutting measure?

A:  If you think the Darnell dismissal caused ripples, wait and see what happens if they try to let Ime go!  This guy has started every game.  He shot 50% from the field on this road trip and more from the 3-point line.  He comes up with subtle, game-turning plays.  He is the glue.  He's in the Viktor Khryapa role and has more than filled in.

Letting Ime go at this point would be a sign that the team is more in cost cutting mode than winning mode, and no talk of getting Martell and Travis more playing time would ease that feeling for me.  Not to mention what it would probably do to Nate...

Q:  How about Steven Graham?

A:  I don't know.  He's been inactive lately and his chances for playing time will diminish more with Roy's return.

Translation:  He better save up that Christmas paycheck because it's going to have to last him through Valentine's Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day...

Q:  Outlaw had a big game last night.  Is he for real now or will he slide back again?

A:  He'll probably remain hit or miss.  He made some huge plays in Memphis, especially those two blocks in the final minute.  He makes amazing plays.  But I've never seen Nate so irate at a player as he was at Travis last night.  He put Travis in and Outlaw let somebody blow by him immediately.  Nate was screaming at him while play was still going on, yelling at him to "Get his f'ing head in the game" repeatedly.  Travis has ungodly athletic potential but also has enormous mental lapses.  This also describes Martell Webster and a lot of the young, growing guys.

Yeah...my sense is that even with his improvement and more consistency those big plays are saving Travis' butt, not promoting it.

Q:  Is Martell putting it together a little?  Is he healthier?  Is he accepting his role?

A:  I don't know what to say about him.  The one upside is that he's beginning to shoot.  But he still has games with just three shots.  He has one good game, two bad games.  He needs to be more of a factor and develop some consistency.  But then we're talking about a 20-year old kid.

Exactly.  I'm still not worried and won't even begin to seriously until the beginning of his fourth season.  That said, he probably isn't having trouble accepting his role lately since it's been as a starter.  The key question is how he will adjust to being used off the bench when Socks returns.  Then again, it's not like he's playing 40 minutes or taking 20 shots at the moment anyway.  Maybe being back with the second unit will free him up a little.

Q:  Will Roy be back soon?

A:  They're practicing today but it's a light one.  They won't have seen Brandon in heavy action but the trainer will evaluate him and see if he can play.  It's probably 85-90% he'll play against the Clippers, but if not then it's 100% that he'll be back Wednesday against the Rockets.  Everyone's been waiting.  Zach mentions Brandon's name at least ten times a day.  He's obsessed about getting Brandon back on the court.  I expect a huge spike in Zach's numbers once Roy is back.

Jason has since announced that Brandon won't return until Wednesday.  It's not entirely clear whether that heralds continued foot problems or they just sensibly decided not to rush him back with too many expectations.  Either way is fine by me.  If he needs to sit out most of the year to get it right, so be it.

I expect Zach's play to look more like it did in the first quarter of the Memphis game once Roy gets back, because Roy helps grease the offensive wheels.  But how much farther can Zach's numbers spike?  Is he going to get 40 and 15?  And how many more shots can he take?

Q:  Whose minutes will decrease when Roy comes back?

A:  Martell's and Travis'.  Travis will probably see most of his minutes at power forward versus teams that have smaller big guys.  He played a lot of small forward on this trip but Martell will probably assume more minutes at that position.  It'll also affect Sergio Rodriguez and Dan Dickau.  Nate hasn't found enough consistency in those two.  Nate is really upset at Sergio's turnovers.

Sergio has talent but as I've said repeatedly the league has figured him out.  Unfortunately for him that happened after only a handful of games.  Now he'll either have to stay on the bench long enough that he becomes a surprise once again or he'll have to really work on broadening his game.

Q:  It doesn't seem Nate wants to play either Dan or Sergio right now.  Any chance that they'll find someone else at the point?

A:  No.  They'll be comfortable with Jack and Roy there.  It's hard to be too hard on Sergio.  He's still making tons of assists.  He does good things and is a more than adequate third-string point guard.

Agreed.  As long as Roy is healthy there's no need for anyone else.

Q:  Are you looking forward to anything against the Clips?

A:  Zach Randolph vs. Elton Brand is always a good matchup.  Elton has always torn him up until this year.  Earlier this season Zach dropped 30 and 10 on Elton.  That shows how diversified Zach's offense has become and how his game has grown.  Elton can't figure him out so easily anymore.  I love watching them play against each other.  Elton is a beast and one of the best defensive power forwards in the league.

I'm also looking forward to seeing how Jarrett Jack stacks up against more mature competition.

At this point Blazers President/General Manager Steve Patterson joins the show.

Q:  Your thoughts on the road trip?

A:  I was pleased with the record.  We were 4-2 and but for a ball rolling off the rim could have been 5-1.  Pacers' president Donnie Walsh likes the way our team is headed.

I think it's easy to like the direction our team is headed.  The real question is which players will get us there.

Q:  What can you share with us about the Darnell Valentine situation?

A:  I'm not going to get into specifics about any particular employee.  Any company under financial stress like we are will have to reorganize sometimes.  That's what this is.  Darnell did a good job for us while he was here.  He has opportunities elsewhere.  We hope he does well with them.   We'll continue to monitor our costs.  Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions when you're in the economic situation we're in.

Possible Translations:

  1.  If you'd buy more tickets we could keep Darnell.
  2.  If the NBA would institute revenue sharing for small market teams we could keep Darnell.
  3.  It's P.A.M.'s fault.
Seriously, Mr. Patterson keeps referencing the Blazers in terms of a business, like any other company.  In some ways that seems reassuring.  It could lead to more sound decisions than were made in the last decade (some of which got us into trouble).  And Lord knows among the words you'd love to associate with the Blazer front office are certainly logic, sensibility, and stability.  On the other hand, it's my experience that entities like this usually only want to be considered a business when it suits them and wish to be considered otherwise when it's to their benefit.  The computer gaming industry went through a lot of controversy in this vein a couple of years ago as it struggled in emerging from a niche, hobby-type market to the mainstream.  The producers and developers very much wanted to continue the long-standing, "family loyalty" nature of the industry when it came to people purchasing their games.  "If you don't support the industry by buying six new games a month it'll die out and then what will we do?"  On the other hand when it came to offering services to the consumer--not releasing buggy games before they were fixed, including comprehensive and clear manuals, providing customer support after the purchase--they were very much, "It wouldn't be prudent from a business point of view."  So you're family when we're giving to you, but you're a business when it's your turn to give to us.  I see...

The Blazers, and really all professional sports teams, walk a similar line.  If you're a business and that's the realm we're dealing with then we need to talk about things like quality control for your product, suitable customer care (not just when buying tickets but the whole game environment), and an acceptable return on our investment of money.  Chances are a team just coming off the worst record in the league with prospects of only moderate improvement in the near future, a team with a checkered recent past, a team playing in a slightly run-down arena where you have to pay twenty bucks to park and six dollar for a beer doesn't want to talk too much in those terms.  Put another way, when Steve Patterson implores us weekly to come out and support the team it should be for the reason that we're going to win the game...if we're talking business.  Basically, right now at least, the Blazers are counting on you NOT viewing them as a business.  Right now they're counting on your emotion, your loyalty from years past, your slightly irrational hope that just because you like something it can be better than it really is.  Far from asking questions about investment return and quality control, they're banking on plenty of us saying, "Hey, it's the Blazers!  Come out and support them no matter what!"  

Obviously they can't throw the business model out entirely, and everybody understands that.  But at some point there also has to be some give...and some give back to fans.  You can't just count on continued passion and blind loyalty if you do not also do some things to support that passion and loyalty...even if those things don't make business sense.

By the by, I think I shall e-mail business wiz extraordinaire Helen Jung and ask her this specific question:  In what ways are the Blazers like, and in what ways are they unlike, your run-of-the-mill business operation.  I think the answer would be enlightening.

Q:  So it sounds like the Darnell thing was more of an economic decision than a performance issue.

A:  (pause)  Yeah, I'm not going to get into specifics about any of our employees.  It's just not prudent to do that.

Understood.  I'd really like to hear Darnell's side of the story though.  If I knew how to contact him I would ask him myself.

Q:  Talk about Zach Randolph for a minute.  How do you feel about him?

A:  He had a great off-season which has led to a great season.  He's playing at an all-star level.  Who else scores 25 and 10?  He's learned to pass out of the double team and is showing some leadership on the defensive end.  If you look at the guys who have microfracture surgery it takes more than a year to get back to where they were.  Now people see why we made that kind of financial commitment to him.  Now you see why we didn't make any of the silly off-season moves some people were suggesting with Zach.  He's the best low-post scorer in the league.

OK, fair enough.  But I think there are plenty of people who still think that P.J. Brown, that New York pick, and another player would be a decent looking swap for Zach.  Just sayin'...

Q:  In the all-star voting a host of forwards are ahead of Zach, including many who aren't playing as well as he (or playing at all).  What does Zach have to do to get on the team?

A:  Only the starters are picked by popular ballot.  He has to keep playing well, improve his image, and show people what kind of guy he is.

Save your jokes on that last part.  I've already thought of them.  We'll let it pass.  Mr. Patterson is right in that he never had a chance to start anyway, so the popular vote means nothing.

Q:  Why did the team suspend Zach instead of the league doing it?

A:  There's no sense in hiding behind the league.  We had extensive discussions with them and decided it was best for us to do it.  That's not the kind of behavior we want to see out of any of our players.

Right or wrong, bravo for taking the stand.  And bravo for being up-front like this about it.  It's nice to finally hear an answer that doesn't include the predictable formula, "Zach understands what he did to embarrass the team and promises not to do so again..."  That action and this approach will signal a change in the corporate culture as much as anything.

Q:  Zach has some quotes in the paper that he's not very happy with the suspension.  Will it hold up?

A:  We'll see.  Nobody is very happy when they get disciplined.  We're not too worried, we'll just deal with the process as it comes.

Honest and impeccably correct.  Steve has a pretty good batting average so far today!

Q:  A lot of people are talking about Allen Iverson.  Are the Blazers involved in any way?

A:  The phones are busy.  There are a lot of people trying to posture around deals involving Allen Iverson.  But it's gotten a lot of other talk going as well between GM's.  99.9% of that talk doesn't lead to deals, but we'll keep having the conversations.  Philadelphia will probably choose to deal him sooner rather than later.

More of an answer than I expected.

Q:  Has a player ever come up to you and demanded to be traded?

A:  Sure! (laughs)  You know...it's something I think gets over-hyped.  Guys get frustrated.  At one point or another half the team (or their agents) demands to be traded.  Ruben Patterson used to ask after every game.  The problem was there was nobody interested in taking him.  And a lot of times that's what you've got to tell these guys.

Holy guacamole!  That actually sounded like a moment of pure, unguarded mirth!  And it came across perfectly.  What HAS happened to Mr. Patterson today!  This is getting near to the point of really being worth a listen, if nothing else to make you feel closer to the team and the guy.  

Q:  Do a lot of players overvalue what they're worth?

A:  Don't we all?  That's human nature.

True enough.

Q:  When you're evaluating a trade what factors do you consider?

A:  There's no particular single factor.  You want guys to help you win games.  You have to look where your window is...rebuilding, near-championship, etc.  Character, talent, contract, cap (present and future), and finances all come into play.  It's a complicated scenario to move someone of Iverson's stature.

Q:  So it's harder to move someone of Iverson's stature than a second-tier player.

A:  Oh yeah, obviously.

Makes sense.

Q:  Rate this team's progress so far on a scale of 1-10.

A:  I'm very pleased.  We have a lot of road wins compared to last year.  Other GM's are excited about our talent.  Nobody did better in the draft than we did.  Both top guys could be ROY and eventual all-stars.  I'm excited about where we're headed and the job that Nate has done.

This is, like, the third time he's mentioned other teams being excited about our talent.  You get the feeling that it's been a while since that's been true and he's pretty happy about it.

Q:  What are Paul Allen's plans for the future?  People are worried about a move.  Some say it's keeping them wary of hopping on board with the team.

A:  People should come out and see the ball club.  We have great players.

Uh oh...  There goes all of that candor, honesty, and goodwill right down the crapper.  I don't expect a full answer about this.  He can't give one.  Even if they were planning on staying 100% they can't just come out and say it with negotiations still ongoing (or possible in the future).  And even if they could say it it's probably not Steve Patterson's place to do so, but rather Paul Allen's.  But still, one expects a little better answer than THAT.  Total avoidance isn't going to endear or reassure anybody.  What a bummer semi-wind-up to the interview.

Q:  Lamarcus Aldridge's minutes are getting cut into because of Magloire's play.  As a GM does that worry you?  Would you rather see the younger guys play?

A:  We want to see all our guys play well.  Magloire had a slow start, Aldridge a hot start.  It's good to have competition at spots.

Again a semi-unanswerable question, but that's about the right answer anyway.

Q:  What are you looking forward to against the Clippers?

A:  I hope we do the same thing at home that we did on the road: good defense, low turnovers, and a win.  The Clippers are fun to watch and we are too.

This is something I've wondered about...given that last statement.  The Blazers are doing what many sub-par teams around the league do:  promote their contests by playing up the opponents.  Brandon Roy comes on the screen and says, "Come see McGrady and Yao and get Shaq for free" (or whatever it is).  I don't see that playing all that well in Portland.  Most Portland fans are Blazer fans more than NBA fans.  Even if the team is semi-lousy, I think fans would respond better to Socks smiling at them and saying, "You don't want to miss what we're going to do next!" or "Come and watch ME play!" or something of the sort.  In other words, I wish he'd reverse the sentence and say, "We're fun to watch...and the Clippers are too."

Interesting interviews today.  A couple of huzzahs for Casey Holdahl for the fine work.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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