Quick Chat Recap 1 04 07

It's time for our recap of Oregonlive's "Quick Chat".  As always this is a hurriedly-typed paraphrase of what was said, and unless indicated I make no claim to airtight, exact quoting...just getting the gist of it right.  You can hear the entire chat here.

Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick is up first...

Q:  What's going on with the Blazers right now?  They're struggling...

A:  I can't sum it up easily...it's complicated.  Nobody, including Nate, can wrap their hands around it.  A lot of the young guys are playing more than they've ever played before:  Jack, Outlaw, Martell.  They're hitting the wall.  Nate is giving them a day off today.  Normally he'd have them working but he senses that the team is tired.  Another thing that's affecting the team:  an unsettled rotation.  They were in a groove on the road trip, they had won five straight, and it was the same 8-10 players in each game.  The bench players knew when, how, and for whom they'd play.  Now all of that is out of whack with Roy's return.  It's not Brandon's fault or anybody's.  There's no animosity or complaining about minutes.  People are just playing with different people and they're playing different amounts of time.  Things are confused and Nate's trying to fix it.  Also some people aren't playing hard enough.  Zach Randolph's help defense has been atrocious.  Jarrett Jack can't keep anybody in front of him.  They need more out of Joel Przybilla.  Jamaal Magloire keeps making mistakes that veterans shouldn't make.  It isn't just one thing.

It is complicated, and those are a lot of things to go wrong in the space of a couple weeks.  But this highlights one of the realities about the Blazers:  they're fragile.  Most of that has to do with them being so young, of course, but this is hardly a new development in Blazerland.  Everybody remembers Uncle Cliffy's dropped ball in crunch time in Game 6 of the 1991 Western Conference Finals.  Few remember that the play only became critical because we had played a horrible game up to that point and needed nearly everything to go right in a frantic, late-game comeback to win.  And even fewer remember that the reason we didn't get a Game 7 anyway was because we had pitifully folded in Game 1 of that same series at home and handed the Lakers a huge advantage.  Then there's the famous Game 7 collapse in the 2000 conference finals, the Memorial Day Meltdown against the Spurs in 1999...you could go on.  Part of the culture of this franchise has been when you really put the screws to us we curl up into a crimson and white-clad ball of angst.  If we're ever going to be successful we need to develop the mental toughness to change that pattern.

Q:  Talk about Roy.  How much pressure does he feel since we've been losing?

A:  A little bit, but he's grounded, mature, and heady.  I don't think he'd think it was all his fault.  But he's aware enough to realize the disruption since he's been back.  He wants to help this team get out of it.  He wants a bigger role and more shots, and not in a selfish way.  He wants to help the team get out of its funk.

He's definitely the keymaster.  Now all we have to do is figure out the gatekeeper.  Zach?

Q:  What's going on with Zach?

A:  He did bump his knee late in the Utah game and continued to play.  He was clearly favoring it.  Then in the Boston game he was favoring it heavily again.  Nate wants some honesty from him.  How bad is it?  Does he need to sit?  Nate needs him to do the things necessary for the team to win: establishing low post position and play some defense.  He's not doing those things now.  Nate just needs an honest answer.  Is it your knee or is it just an effort issue?  I'm sure they will have that talk.  They have lengthy conversations 3-4 times a week.  On the road they're constantly talking.  In practice assistant coaches will run things while Nate and Zach chat.  If there is a bond at all between them Zach has to be honest with Nate.

What's Zach going to say?  "Yeah, I've been dogging it, coach.  My bad."  Part of me thinks that it's good that Zach and Nate have this kind of relationship, but another part of me thinks it's bad news when the franchise player and supposed leader of your team has to be cajoled like that.  More fragility...

Q:  Is there any possibility of Zach ever becoming a defender?

A:  Nobody on the Blazers expects him to be a good defender.  They do expect effort though.  They break every game down and watch it.  When his teammates see him giving effort it means a lot to them.  That's all they're asking him to do.  They know he's not a gifted defensive player.  Most offensive forces in the league aren't, but they put out effort.  All it takes is one person breaking down to ruin the defense.  These last two or three games it's been obvious that Zach has not put out the effort on defense.

`Tis true.  As Zach goes in the effort department (and by effort I mean at least attempting to defend, fight, and move as opposed to just taking shots) so goes the team.

Q:  Why isn't Aldridge playing more?

A:  Open your eyes, guys.  Look at what's going on.  The team is trying to trade Jamaal Magloire.  They cannot trade him when he's on the bench.  Not every Blazer official is in agreement with this, but the general consensus is they want to see what they can get for Jamaal and they feel Lamarcus has time to develop.  I can tell you this:  if they cannot trade him by the deadline I'd be shocked to see him get playing time because he has not earned it.  He's not playing better than Lamarcus.  This team's not going to win though.  They're not going to make the playoffs.  And now all of a sudden they've given up on developing their youth, a policy they've been following for the last two years?  It's painfully clear they're trying to shop Magloire.  I don't necessarily agree with that decision though, or I don't understand why made the deal in the first place.  They knew they had a lot of other big guys already.  And if I hear anybody on the Blazers say "former all-star" even one more time I'm going to puke.  We all know that's a joke all-star appearance.  [Editor's note: Yes, that's a direct quote.]  The deal was a mistake.  They need to remedy it now.  It's not playing well in the locker room.  Everybody knows who should be playing.  The more he plays, the more unrest there is.

This is exactly what many of you have been saying.  (sigh)  I have been trying to fight the notion, somehow holding on to the belief that Nate is too stubborn to give major minutes to guys who won't help him win.  I'm still sticking to my guns but the island appears to be shrinking....

Q:  Is that the same situation with Sergio Rodriguez?  He provides so much energy when he comes in.  But he can't get off the bench.

A:  This isn't as clear-cut.  The two guys ahead of Sergio are Jack and Roy, two talented guys you're trying to develop.  Jarrett is a winner and a leader in a non-flashy way.  I like Sergio too though.  I think we'll start to see Sergio play more.  This is all starting to support my theory that Jack could be traded in the off-season.  I still think the organization views Roy as the point guard of the future and Sergio as a good backup or interim while Brandon learns.  It's a nice problem to have...too many point guards.

I said it before, I'll say it again...PLEASE don't trade Jack.  Or only if you get a deal that not even a crazy guy could refuse.

Q:  What's your opinion of Brandon Roy at the point?

A:  First of all, I don't think Roy has healed from his heel injury.  He looks slower and he favors it.  Nate agrees that Brandon doesn't look as quick or confident.  There's something not right even though Brandon says there's no pain.  I think point guard is Brandon's position though.  He's got the smarts, he's got the size, he's unselfish.  The only thing he needs to get is more confidence bringing it up against smaller guards.  At the point he creates mismatches every night.  He's also brilliant at the pick and roll.

OK...but if we attributed the team's lack of confidence and cohesiveness to Jamaal playing, we must also attribute some to Roy playing the point.  For one thing that's got to undermine Jarrett's confidence and his perception of his value to, and future role on, the team.  (By the by, I have been a proponent of Jarrett as the 6th Man of the Year combo guard off the bench since the moment he donned the uniform, but that's beside the point right now.)  For another thing it leaves a massive, gaping hole at the off-guard position, the very hole we tried to fill by drafting Roy.  It's like having a painful tooth cavity for more than a year, getting a filling, and then having the darn thing fall out when you're right in the middle of dinner.  Ooooh!  Remember that pain?

Q:  Why isn't Joel Przybilla getting the ball more off the pick and roll?

A:  I've asked Nate that a thousand times and he shoots it down.  He says it was because Nick Van Exel was running it and people ran to stop Nick, leaving Joel open.  That wouldn't happen with our current point guards.  But he also ran it with Sebastian Telfair.  I don't know why, but it seems Joel is wasting away right now with this team.  They're not getting their money's worth out of him.  It's 4-on-5 on offense.  They don't even look to him.  They've got to make him a factor.  He's got better hands and outside touch than Jamaal.  Why did you sign him if you're only going to use him in a limited role?  He brings a lot in the locker room and with defensive grit but you have got to get more out of him.

I hate to say it, but Joel has looked like dead weight out there this year.  Whatever is going on, it ain't right.

Q:  Is Joel a starting NBA center?

A:  Probably not, at least as he's being used now.  You can't have a starter averaging two points and expect to win.  He could be developed into a 9-10 point scorer though.  When he first broke into the starting lineup under Mo Cheeks he started averaging 8 points and 10 rebounds.  The Blazers would love that.

Right now the Blazers would love 2/3 of that.

Q:  Is Joel the leader on this team, or is there even one?

A:  I still think Zach is the leader.  He has the most stature and everybody looks up to him.  But Zach's more of a follower.  Jarrett is more of a vocal leader and Joel helps some.  If you want a vocal guy it's Jarrett.

Uncle Dave's Basketball Lesson #24:  If you have to ask whether there's a leader on your team, there isn't one.

Blazers Assistant Something-Something of Basketball Whatever (and current Cult Hero to the fans) Kevin Pritchard joins the chat.

Q:  What's going on with the team?

A:  Brandon coming back has changed the rotation.  We've made so many changes on this team that it's taking folks a while to adjust and get used to things.  Besides there are peaks and valleys in this league.  We're just not playing well.  We need to get back to the scrappy, peppy team we were, and we will.  Young teams' confidence gets shaken easily.  Veterans can turn it around quickly but young teams take longer because they don't understand what's going wrong.  We've got a good locker room and guys who care about winning but we're young.  You have to go through a learning curve in every business and that's what we're doing.

Hmmm...these are the same standard answers that Steve Patterson would have given.  So why do they sound better coming out of Mr. Pritchard's mouth?  (No offense, Steve.)  I suppose it doesn't hurt that in any case they're true.

Q:  It seems like the last couple games the effort hasn't been there.  How much is that Nate's job to fix and how much falls on the players?

A:  Coaches get too much credit and too much blame.  Nate is doing everything possible:  motivating, managing, leading.  But ultimately it resides with the players.  Sometimes teams play harder than other times...that's a league reality.  But you can't let it slip for multiple games, which we have.  When we put this team together we expected hard workers, guys who would put out in practice and learn there and then translate that into the games.  And really these guys are.  I look for three things:  Are we playing harder than the other team?  Are we playing smarter?  Are we playing together?  I can't say that we have been the last couple of games and we need to get back to that.  That's when it's fun to watch, that's when I'm proud of them, that's when we have the greatest probability of success. Ultimately talent wins in this league but you have to play hard every night to maximize that talent.  Even if you're a little less talented I want to put out a hard-working, competing team that does all the little things.  Even if they don't win they have a chance.

I've seen very few games this season where we've clearly played smarter than the opposition.  However we used to make a much better stab at playing harder and until this last couple of weeks we always managed to play together.  The last one is the fallen wheel that finally tipped the bus, I think.  I don't see a lot of trust out there at the moment.  And frankly, with a ton of 1-for-x shooting games from the supporting cast, maybe that trust has been legitimately lost.  But then again, what choice do you have but to make the right play at the right time and hope it falls in for you?  The alternative is the slop-fest that we see right now.  A wise person who once trained me in certain aspects of my profession once said, "Trust the process, Dave.  Trust the process."  She meant to have confidence in doing the right thing the right way even when you can't see where that will lead, or see any immediate evidence of success.  She was right, and probably that's what the Blazers need to do too.

Q:  You've mentioned the Blazer ethos multiple times.  Does every guy on the team fit that ethos right now?

A:  We're getting closer.  We're like a family...we have some issues.  We're trying to resolve those issues as quickly as we can.  We're not perfect yet.  There's only one perfect team, and that's the team that wins the championship.  When I got here there was a bit of dissention in our culture.  Fixing it isn't like flipping a switch.  You have to grind it out as a manager, as a player, every day to make sure the culture gets better.  We've moved the dial a long way towards the good, but we're not there yet.

OK...this is part of why I like this guy so much.  First of all that's a completely honest answer which seems heartfelt but at the same time doesn't say more than a team executive should.  Integrity and passion are a hard combination to beat.  Secondly, that was a brilliant sentence about the only perfect team being the one that wins it all.  That's exactly right, and exactly what we should be shooting for...that and nothing else.  I guarantee you that two years after we make it back to the playoffs all the people who are now viewing a 7-8 seed as the Promised Land will be saying, "Why can't we get out of the first round?  We really suck!"  I don't care about a 8-seed unless and until it becomes a 2-seed or a 1-seed and then a finalist and then a champion.

Q:  Good teams have an identity.  Do the Blazers have one right now?  What is it?

A:  We have a couple, and that can be a problem.  We have some skill sets that match up and some others that match up but combined they don't match up.  We've got some guys that aren't so good at running and some others (Sergio) who can push the ball.  We love Sergio but we didn't know he was going to be this good, this fast.  What do we do with him?  He creates easy fast-break buckets.  He and Lamarcus and Travis and Brandon make a great fast-break team.  But the problem is that's not a great defensive team.  And to fast break you have to rebound well.  These guys are also young.  So their style doesn't work.  And the rest of the team doesn't fit their skills.

First of all, that was a GREAT question by Casey, and his rapid development into this role of interviewer doesn't get nearly enough acknowledgement or credit.

Beyond that, I love Kevin's analysis here.  It's not like he said anything revolutionary, nor anything that most who have watched the team don't already know, but he hit the nail on the head as far as the current conundrum and he explained it in such a way as to teach you something or help you see something.  I wonder if there's any chance he'd like to assume color commentary duties as part of his portfolio?

Q:  What kind of style do you favor?

A:  I like a team that wins.  I like watching the Suns.  To run you don't have to have a fast team.  You have to have a team that's willing to rebound and committed to running off of every miss.  Of course it doesn't hurt that they have the best point guard in the last ten years.  We do have some running pieces too though and I enjoy watching them.  I enjoy watching the young guys develop.  That's what we're trying to do...keep them in the game, make them better players.  The problem is the curve isn't a steady 45 degrees.  It can be incremental for a couple years then increase exponentially, leading to many more wins.  I've been proud of this team overall, we just need to get back to our hustling selves.

Again this is insightful analysis.  It's not enough to say, "We should run this style."  You have to commit to that style and everything it entails.  Otherwise you're like the guy who wants to be in a relationship but just can't commit.  No matter what you call it, it's not going anywhere.  We don't have problems because we can't run, we have problems because we don't commit to the things that allow us to run.  (Same with shooting, defense, whatever...)  That is the problem of nearly every mediocre-or-worse team in the league.  They all have talent, but some commit and sacrifice and some don't.

Q:  Can Zach play on a running team?

A:  You need four running guys to run.  Even the fastest teams covet a post guy.  The first big guy down the floor is the key one.  It forces the defense to cover him which opens things up for the guards and open shots.  That's what the Suns do.

Once upon a time the Blazers thought Zach would be that first guy down the floor.  Wha hoppened?

Q:  Injuries:  How is Zach's knee?

A:  I think he bumped it in the Toronto game.  He's fine though.  It's just a small bruise.  It's hard for a big man in this league to sustain the level of play he's had.  As soon as they do they get double- and triple-teamed.  That's what's happening.  That's why it's critical for him to make good decisions in the post.  I thought he was doing better earlier than he is now.  When he develops it he has control of the ball and the game, like a point guard, and can just pick apart other teams, which is fun.

Again being honest without calling the guy out or embarrassing him.  And it's good to hear that the knee thing is not being used as an excuse.

Q:  Roy's heel?

A:  There are two different schools of thought.  Some feel it's a chronic thing from overuse.  Others feel it's a natural, one-time injury that will heal.  Right now we're at the latter point.  The only thing he needs to do is be more aggressive.  He's a facilitator and wants to make everybody around him happy.  Elite players are looking to cut people's hearts out.  We need to get him to do that a little more.

This is such a fine line to draw.  I agree with everything Kevin said but also you don't want Me-Bo Part Deux.  (Not to bag on Zach entirely, just the trap he sometimes falls into.)  I think this is a little bit like what I said yesterday about needing to see some anger or chippy behavior or vengeance or something besides nice, sweet play from this team.

Q:  How has your job changed this year?

A:  I still have all the draft responsibility.  Steve is more responsible for trades and the day-to-day operations.  Right now my nose is to the grindstone trying to find the next Brandon Roy or Lamarcus Aldridge.  We do a mid-season review on 70-80 players that's intensive (200-300 hour) and allows us to track people and make better eventual draft decisions.  It keeps us prepared in case we have options to trade.

I believe that's called "due diligence" or something, but you can hardly argue with Pritchard's and his staff's results.

Q:  Did you see anybody at the Les Schwab Invitational that interests you?

A:  The NBA says I can't watch high school games, only college or overseas.

Who wants to bet there's bootleg tapes floating around?

Q:  Anybody or any position that you've got your eye on right now?

A:  I'm a big believer in drafting the best player available.  I like guys who are big for their position.  I like guys who are skilled but can also handle their position defensively athletically.  This draft has a chance to be very, very special at the top positions... difference makers... guys who will win championships.  They're that special.  Then you move down into the six or seven range and there are guys who are good but won't win championships all on their own.  Then it drops off again.  Then you go for that great value pick in the 25-30 range.  We think we've done a pretty good job with those later picks the last two years.  If you look at the stats and success ratios guys picked 22 and below don't make it that often and we've got a couple guys in Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez that we feel will be in this league for a long time.

I hope with every fiber of my body that Mr. Pritchard gets to show his draft prowess by selecting between those two championship players.  I have an article in the hopper about this that I'll try to squeeze in before this time next week.

Q:  How would you rate the strength of this draft, 1-10?

A:  It depends on where you're picking.  In the first two it's a 10.  Three through eight it's a 7-8.  After that it drops off.

True.

Q:  Where are you spending your time?

A:  Everywhere.

And concise!  (He wouldn't let Casey pin him down to a state or locale.  You gotta try though!  Way to go for the scoop!)

Q:  Thanks, Kevin!

A:  Hey, don't kill me on the message boards, OK?

Butcher him?  This is the nicest chat I've heard in forever, and well worth a listen.  I don't know what it is about this guy.  I once heard a girl explain an attraction of the female species in general to a certain celebrity as "It's a girlie thing".  Whatever that is, Pritchard must have it, except I suppose you'd say, "It's a Blazer fan thing".  I'm no different than the rest of you who voted him overwhelmingly (120 votes out of 148, or 81%) as the most liked guy in Blazer management.  I'm a total sucker for nearly everything he says.  (And I try hard not to do that kind of thing.)  Short of trading Brandon and Lamarcus for Bonzi Wells, I don't think Kevin could shake the following he's developing.  Again, that's no offense to Steve Patterson.  It's just that there's Buck Owens and then there's Elvis.  Buck was a better songwriter and might have been a better musician overall than the King, but dang!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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