Here's our recap of Oregonlive's Quick Chat hosted by Casey Holdahl. As always this is a paraphrase of the questions and responses. You can listen to the entire chat here.
Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard joins the chat.
A: The big thing this summer was working on the draft and being prepared with the Greg Oden/Durant debate. Also going into free agency. With the Zach Randolph trade we've set ourselves up to be a free agent player in two years. I've always said it's important to have a good core of young talent and the ability to go after free agents in the future. I liken it to baking a cake. We've got some ingredients. We've got great culture and chemistry. We're going to have to work to keep that...that's a priority. Now we let these guys grow. We need to see improvement out of some players this year. We want to be competitive. We want to win some games. We're going to expect to win some games. In a couple years we'll have an opportunity to go out there and be free agent hunters.
Q: How exciting will that be?
A: One thing that we did over the summer [to enable this] was trading Zach Randolph. That allowed us to save $33 million and to be in the free agent market in two years. Even a bigger part--though the money is an issue in any business--is that we're in it to win a championship. That's what we're shooting for. Moving Zach allows us to play Lamarcus Aldridge. He's not where he's going to be. He's shown some promise and we really like him. He's without a doubt one of the hardest workers on our team and an incredible kid. All the signs are good for him to be a major impact player in this league. Along with Oden getting healthy, Brandon, Channing, and Jarrett we have an opportunity to get better over the next two years and add a great player at the end of that two years.
Well, I don't think there's any doubt about where KP stands on this issue. It looks like free agent shopping in 2009. THOSE will be some exciting months as far as speculation posts.
A: Two years ago in our draft we targeted Brandon and Lamarcus. We were excited about getting both of them but didn't know if we could do it. I said then that Lamarcus was three years from being a starter in this league and four to five from being a big impact player. I'd like to revise that. I think he has a chance to be an impact player this year. I don't know at what level. The pre-season is a different level from the regular season which is also a different level from the playoffs. He's got to prove that he can do it against the top level players, which will be a challenge for him. He's got to get through the first 41 games, go through the whole league, and make his adjustments. That's when you find out if a guy is good. You look at stats after the all-star game, not before.
Q: What parts will he struggle in and what parts will he excel in?
A: No doubt shooting and running are his major strengths. Tyrus Thomas can run, Al Horford is a pretty good, young runner, Amare Stoudemire too. Lamarcus is right up with those guys. Then there's his shooting ability, his ability to pick and pop, and his energy. Those things make him special. The downside is that he's not as strong as he's going to get. In 3-4 years when he adds his true body strength he'll be even more dynamic. Also the ability to put the ball down on the floor, create contact, and get to the free throw line. Because he's a great shooter we want him getting fouled a lot. He'll need to work on those things but they are manageable. He's got such great physical tools and hard work that we don't worry about him hitting he ceiling. We know he's going to get there.
Q: What about his developing three-point shot? Is that a good thing? Will it keep him from going down low like he should?
A: Nate chuckles about it and I chuckle. We need his butt down in the post because he's our best post scorer. But what's great is that he and Channing can be on the floor at the same time and create problems. Not many teams in our league can put two really, really good shooters at the 4-5. Lamarcus can play the 5. The thing we worry about is that you can be hot or cold. If you live by 15-footers or 18-footers it's tough. We need him to be an inside presence and Nate will demand that out of him.
If Lamarcus develops even more strength and size he will be truly scary. Also I'm glad the team's game plan isn't to live by jumpers. I had hoped that the Atlanta game heralded a change for the better.
A: We like him. He's an incredible kid and wants to please. He's getting into a different kind of shape than he did in New York. They wanted him to bulk up and be a banger. Nate wants him to be more of a gazelle. He's taken some weight off. He's looked better this week in practice and he looked better against Atlanta. We need him to be more of a physical presence--not the beast type but an up and down player. Then when we get into the halfcourt he's got to be able to get good post position and get fouled or score.
Q: What's your take on the new style of play? Are we better off than last year?
A: I've always been a proponent of running. You have to be selective though. There are two gears in this league. Sometimes you want to be as fast as you can but then you get into the playoffs and you have to slow it down. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades. I prefer a faster game. We're built better for fast play now. Brandon can play as fast as he wants, though he can also play in the halfcourt. Martell is one of our fastest runners, Travis is a fast runner, Lamarcus also. Believe it or not Channing is starting to become a pretty good runner. Josh McRoberts...Greg...Joel...Sergio...Steve...Jarrett...we have a team that can get up and down. That style of play will be conducive to success later on. We may take our bumps and bruises at first but I believe it's the right style. I'm glad Nate has embraced and incorporated it.
A running team has two effects. First of all it scares people from getting on the offensive glass. They say, "You know what, let's not send four guys to the offensive glass, just two." Hopefully it will help our rebounding. Also as we learn each other and get a feel for each other we should get easier shots. We've seen that in the first three pre-season games. It's different from the regular season but I still like the fact we're pushing the ball. Martell Webster is getting easier shots now because he can run and get to a spot and catch and make plays.
Both are very solid points and desperately needed. Two of the top 3-4 things that will make a difference in our win-loss record this year are how well we rebound and how many easy shots we get.
A: I hope Jarrett and Steve and Brandon and Travis and Lamarcus and even Joel Przybilla--who is showing some offense with his free throws--will take up the slack where Zach left off. I'm a big believer in Lamarcus Aldridge. I think Zach was a good player for us. I think he'll be a great player with New York. He wasn't exactly what we were looking for. This gives us an opportunity with Lamarcus. I know we took a media hit especially on the East Coast for the trade. I wish him the best but with where we were going it was the right choice to allow Lamarcus to bloom.
Q: Talk about what you've seen from Martell this year.
A: We evaluate in years, not in weeks or months. Martell has taken a step up. It'll be interesting if he can continue to do that. Can he do it as the competition rises? He's become more mature and I expect him to handle some adversity this year. We have to remember the kid is 20 years old. Players at his position peak at 28 or 29. He's nowhere near playing his best basketball. Patience is tough. I want to win. I guarantee you there's nobody out there who wants to win more. If I play Tiddly-Winks I want to win and I'll play until my knuckles are bare. I'm competitive. That's why I played in the NBA...it wasn't talent. But I know you can't skip any steps in building a team. You have to go from A to B to C. We're starting to see that progression from Martell. We expect him to have a good year.
Q: What do you say to people who look at the roster and say they don't see an NBA-caliber starting small forward there?
A: You look at every NBA team and they will always say, "If we only had..." and you can fill in the blank. I was talking to San Antonio and they were saying, "If we just had more shooting!" I thought that was interesting that the World Champions, multiple times, were still looking. You're always looking to upgrade. Now specifically with our 3 position, I look at it this way: you have three different, dynamic players at that position. I don't mean dynamic in terms of "all-stars" but "completely different". Travis is the complete athlete who can jump out of the gym, get hot, and change a game with his shots every once in a while. James Jones is the spot-up shooter, solid, and knows the league and the game. Plus he's a great kid. He's a great pro and very intelligent. Martell Webster is not where he's going to be but he has a beautiful shot that he needs to get confidence in. We have three things to look at. Over the next two years we'll have all three guys and then we'll make the decision which one fits us best. And again I'm going to make that decision over a period of years, not weeks.
Q: Can you explain the injury exception you got for Greg Oden?
A: You're allowed to apply for an exception if a player is proven to be out for a year. We sent in a notice, the doctors looked at it and agreed that Greg was out for a year. At that point you're awarded a disabled exception which is half the salary slot of the disabled player, which is $2.3 million or so. Now we have 15 guaranteed contracts. To take on a player we'd have to move a player. It allows us to look at different options. It's kind of like a game of chess. You want all the options. This is just another option. The exception does have an expiration date, October 31st. If you see us do something it means that makes us a better team. If you don't see us do anything it means we didn't get an offer that we were comfortable with. It's like a trade exception. We always apply for it. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. We're talking to every team in the league. Hopefully it can make us better. I don't expect it to because this isn't a great time for trades. Everybody is still evaluating. Everybody is going, "It's two weeks in, let's not give up on this guy." You don't see much activity at this time. If I had my druthers it would be until the trading deadline. It isn't. We do it to cover our bases. You know me, I'm proactive. I'm going to make this team better any way I can. That's why we applied for it.
Q: Did you apply for the exception for Darius Miles last year?
A: Yes we did and we got it. It expired.
Q: What is the status of Brandon Roy's heel?
A: Brandon is such a talented player because he's cerebral. He understands the game. He has physical skills that we love but we love his ability to make plays, be crafty, to do things with his mind beyond just his physical talents. That's why he'll play for a long time. As a management team we have to minimize some of his practice time. That's totally normal. There are a lot of people out there who say we have to do surgery. You have to be careful with that. The foot is not like the knee. It's a fickle part of your body. There's nothing you can do without your feet. The knee is complex. The foot is ten times more complex. You have to be careful with anything you do surgically with your feet. So we're resting him more and saving him for games. He's practiced two days in a row and felt no discomfort. He's been feeling much better. It was probably from overuse this summer. If I'm getting mad at a player for overworking in the summer then something is wrong. We haven't had that in the past. We have a very hard-working team. Now it's our job to rein him back a little bit.
Is there a possibility we go to surgery down the line? It could be. But we want to make that the last resort. He can play on it right now. It can cause him discomfort but I'm overprotective and thinking about the long term. People say that surgery is the best long-term but you don't know. Feet are fickle.
Another good point. Also as all of these guys transition into veterans I would expect them to be able to do more preparation with less actual work...to hone down what they need to do so they're not overworking basketball-wise in the summer. Lifting weights and conditioning, great, but I think the Olympics and other international competitions have shown pretty consistently that NBA players need a break from high-level hoops in the summer.
A: I think it's actually 10 people in 2 years that we have player options on, or conditional guarantees, or they're in their last year. Most of them will be restricted free agents. We've set this up so we'll have restrictions on all of our young players.
Q: If you cut a second round draft pick to camp and then cut them do you relinquish their rights?
A: Absolutely. There were some questions about whether we should have given Taurean Green a full-year minimum contract. But we were able to get a second year at our option. I'm always trying to figure out if we can keep players happy while retaining flexibility for the future.
Q: Talk about what you think of Taurean Green.
A: He's the most charismatic player we have. He makes us all laugh. Flying back from Atlanta he started rapping and talking and made us all laugh. As a rookie we make him sing "Happy Birthday" to everybody who has one. He does it with vigor. He was like the Four Tops out there a couple times! You can tell there's a reason this kid was the leading scorer and assist man on two championship teams. He has huge guts. He's willing to take big shots. He looked Allen Iverson in the eye in Denver and was not intimidated a bit. He's a rookie and I don't want to get too high or down on anybody at this point. What we've seen has been an unbelievable surprise. He can shoot the ball or play off Brandon. We didn't know how much of a point guard creator he was. At Florida he didn't have to because he had so many other good players around him. We've given him flexibility to be creative. He's shown us he can get his own shot and get them for other people. On defense he's like a gnat...pesky. We like that. He has pushed all of our other point guards.
Q: Do you and Nate McMillan see eye-to-eye on Sergio?
A: We don't agree on everybody! I don't believe Sergio has played his best basketball. But in no way am I down on him. He's 21 years old. He's going into his second year in the NBA from Europe, which is a huge jump. He had a very good rookie year. We think in a couple years he could be a big piece to what we're doing. If he doesn't play it's because someone beat him out and he's got to improve. That's a good message: he needs to improve. He's a clever player. I talked with him for 45 minutes. He knows where he's at and knows he needs to improve. He's what we want in a young point guard. His ceiling is high and we hope he reaches it.
Q: Speaking of Nate McMillan, at what point did he become Mr. Nice Guy and lose the "Sarge" aspect?
A: There are a couple things. First of all he's evolving as a coach. He's more comfortable with who he is and what he's about. But without a doubt the big thing around here is we like our team now. At times in the last three years I've looked down on the court and I wasn't sure I liked my team. I always wanted the team to represent what we're all about. Are we going to have arguments and people upset about playing time? You betcha! I'd be upset if people just accepted their roles and didn't want more. But there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. All of our other off-court stuff...I promised Mr. Allen and myself and Nate that I'd bring in a team we could be proud of...a team that we'd feel would come in every, single day and try to learn to play basketball...a team that would play for their teammates and be unselfish. Whether we win or lose when my tenure is done (which will hopefully be in many, many years) I want to look back and say I ran a really good program with really good coaches, players, and staff. I want to say we loved what we did and we were willing to do anything we could to make this team become the best we could be. That's paramount to us. Right now when I look out there I'm proud of how hard we're working. Does that mean we'll win a championship? I don't know. But I know we're doing it the right way and that means more than anything.
Ahhhh...a good, old-fashioned KP quote. I was wondering when we'd get one!
A: That's tough. Different players need different cultures. Our culture is unselfish and you come from a winning program. I will get criticized during my tenure as GM. Every GM does. And the big thing will be that I missed out on some talent that I should have gone for. And I'm OK with that. I will pass up a higher-talented guy if he doesn't fit what the Portland Trailblazers are about. Because of that it makes it more difficult. We have to do more research and interviews. We have to know the players in a deeper way. I'm willing to do that. If it means I pass on some great players then so be it. I believe if you get 15 guys of high character and talent--which IS possible--then you're going to be better off for it.
This is actually very insightful. It's good to know the shortcomings of your approach, whatever the approach may be. It's pretty rare that people will acknowledge such things, let alone speak of them openly.
A: I do. The thing about Greg is he's so coachable. If you tell him he has to come in 10 times and get treatment 15 times and get in the pool 5 times and lift weights 2 times, he does it. He does what is necessary to be a good player. He has about 3 more weeks of full crutches. Then he can walk on it. That's when you'll see him around town. He's not a shy guy. He loves the community and talking to people. It takes him a little while to get comfortable but once he does you can't shut him up!
Q: What do you expect to see against Sacramento tomorrow?
A: Sacramento is an interesting team. They've got a lot of talent. We respect what they've done. They've got young and existing talent. Now that we're getting closer to the season you're going to see the starters playing more minutes, the subs playing less minutes, and the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th men not playing at all. You're going to see a more competitive game. If you don't think these games mean anything then you didn't see our guys after the game in Atlanta. They didn't have all their guys but they still played their Joe Johnsons and Al Horfords. We won the game. Every time we step on the court we want it to mean something. For this team it does. And it's fun. You'll see a competitive game. You'll see Artest on Brandon Roy and we'll see how that works out.
Q: What do you think of the matchup between Brandon Roy and Kevin Martin. They're both up and coming talents...
A: Brandon Roy is a pretty physical guy. Brandon may guard Kevin but I don't think you'll see Kevin guarding Brandon. They'll let Artest take a crack at him. (Not literally!) It's a good matchup of two, young, talented scorers. I like Brandon's ability to make his teammates better. That's the thing that separates him.
You could do worse than a smart, offensively-talented, physical, unselfish playmaker in the backcourt.
Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick joins the chat.
A: The good news is that Brandon Roy has been cleared to play on Friday. He made it through all the practices this week without problems with his left heel. He'll probably play the first and third quarters. Obviously a good step for the team and for Brandon. It's a smart decision. He needs to get some game time in before the season starts. He will play again Wednesday against the Sonics. He'll probably play a little bit more than just the two quarters then. It sounds like the final game in Redmond Nate will rest most of the starters and let the reserves play.
Q: Is Brandon over the psychological aspects of the injury and able to go full-bore without holding back?
A: I don't think he's thinking about it all that much. He might be a little bit in the back of his head but he's able to go full speed. I think at first he was thinking about it more but that's what this week's practices were about. Go full-speed. Let's see if you can handle it and respond. The answer was a definitive, "Yes!"
Q: Where is the team roster-wise now?
A: Nate is getting awfully close to solidifying his starting and second units. These next couple of games we'll see that. The game in Atlanta showed how Nate will play in the regular season. It was an 8-man rotation. Throw in Brandon Roy and it's 9. That's exactly what he wants. That rotation was Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake, Joel Przybilla, Lamarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, Martell, Channing, and Taurean Green. I think the opening night starting lineup will be Jarrett Jack at point, Brandon Roy at shooting guard, Martell Webster at small forward, Lamarcus Aldridge at power forward, and Joel Przybilla at center. People are going to think that Jarrett Jack has beaten out Steve Blake. That's not necessarily true. Nate was emphatic that neither of those point guards have blown each other out of the water. They both had decent camps and pre-seasons. He just feels the first unit will be more halfcourt while the second unit will run. That second unit will be Blake, Taurean Green, Travis Outlaw, James Jones at power forward (that raised my eyebrows but Nate is confident he can play the 4) and Channing Frye at the center. Now that's not going to happen every night. But that's what Nate is leaning towards. The second unit has athleticism and speed and can expose some other teams. Now on opening night it's the Spurs and you've got Manu Ginobili coming off the bench. How are they going to defend him? That might be a problem with Green out there but maybe you switch Blake to Manu and go from there. These next couple of games will be Nate seeing how these units play together, mesh, and co-exist. I'm pretty sure he'll enter the season with those 9 people.
This is another sure sign of the maturation of the team. Part of it is that solid teams usually play 9-10 guys. But another part is simply that Nate feels like we have 9-10 guys. My impression in earlier seasons was that there were about 6-7 guys Nate felt comfortable running and after that it was pretty much a crap shoot between 8-15. It's much better to have 10-11 guys you trust and cut it down a little than to scramble around filling those last three rotation slots with different guys every second game.
A: He loves it. He absolutely ecstatic with the way they've worked. They're getting a lot done. This pre-season has had a lot of developments as far as player improvement. Joel Przybilla has answered the call. He's night and day better than he was last year. That's not hard to do, but he is looking the best that I've ever seen him in his career. He's a dominant defensive force. In Atlanta he had 6 or 7 blocks, though he was only credited for 4. He drew 3 charges. He was a factor! He's looking to score...not a bunch but he's giving them a threat. The other major development is Martell Webster. The kid has played lights out. His stats are incredible but they only tell part of the story. He's played very much within himself. Kevin Pritchard and I were talking during halftime in Atlanta about a play in the first half where Martell was double-teamed and trapped at the top of the three-point circle. Last year we would have seen him panic, make a back dribble, and make a silly pass. This time he identified where it was coming from and fired off a nice, crisp pass over the double team to Channing Frye which led to a baseline jumper. Little things like that are showing his confidence and maturity. Obviously if he can continue to shoot the ball like this it will be quite a weapon. Brandon Roy is going to command so many double teams when he penetrates. If he can have that sure-fire outside shooter in Martell as an option on the pass this team could be very, very dangerous. Lamarcus Aldridge is going to light this league up. Brandon is going to do his stuff. If Martell can be that third, bona fide scorer it would be enormous. If Martell meshes with the first unit it allows Travis to play with the second unit. Nate has been fretting all pre-season that he doesn't have a go-to guy on the second unit. Travis can be that guy. Nate has an incredible amount of confidence in Travis' offensive capabilities. He's one of the few guys Nate calls plays for: Brandon, Lamarcus, and Travis. Travis can now safely move to the second unit and become its go-to guy.
Travis will probably be happier there. He'll have all the shots he can eat, which seems to be his most comfortable role.
As far as the offensive possibilities, yes...that's exactly how it will work when it goes right. I think there will be plenty of nights where it just won't go right, particularly against talented veteran teams. There will be times our offense should look great but I anticipate plenty of games where we sputter as well. There might even be a night or two where we look downright impotent. That's all part of the growing process.
A: That remains to be seen but you have to give credit to the guy. All three pre-season games he's answered it. It wasn't a big game in the opener with the second one bad and the third OK. He's answered the call all three games. He's done everything the coaches have asked. He's not just scoring from beyond the arc. He's putting the ball on the floor and getting his jumper off the dribble. He's getting to the free-throw line and is tied for the lead in free throws. He's getting steals and not turning the ball over. He's done everything possible this team has wanted. He's starting to look like a lottery pick and that's big. Also there's the surprise of the pre-season, Taurean Green. He has flat-out locked in a spot in the rotation. Nate has said he HAS to get him on the court after what he's seen. He's clearly leapfrogged Sergio Rodriguez as the #3 point guard. Nate has said he could even play at the end of games. I want to see him play with Brandon. Just like Martell is important to Brandon with the kick-out pass, Taurean Green's three-point shot is money. Today in practice the point guards were going through a drill shooting three-pointers over and over. He hit 11 in a row and they were all net. The guy has "it". He's going to be a factor on this team. We didn't know that coming into training camp.
I don't want to get too carried away on his minutes. He's still going to be in the 15-20 minute range. That shooting guard on the second unit is going to get 4 minutes. They're going to give Brandon a quick breather and get him back in. He'll get 4 minutes here, 4 there, and maybe some crunch time in the 4th quarter.
Q: How would Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack handle having a rookie on the court during crunch time, which would seem to be their time?
A: I think they're going to get their chance as well. All four point guards--including Sergio--are very capable and skilled. Each brings something different to the table. It'll be a gut feeling for Nate...who's playing well that night and what the matchups are. If they need size then Taurean's not going to be in there. Like I said opening night we'll probably see a lot of Blake against Ginobili. Blake and Jack are the primary point guards and will get a lot of the minutes. But there will be times when Taurean will be on the floor in the last 5 minutes of the game. He got 14 minutes against Atlanta and I think 8 of them were the last 8 minutes of the 4th quarter.
The way our team is set up it probably won't matter as much who the point guard is in the critical closing plays. The ball will belong to Brandon either way.
A: They did. Zaza Pachulia played for Atlanta and he's not much of an inside force. Al Horford played a lot. That guy's going to be good. It was a decidedly smaller Atlanta group but they're incredibly athletic. Portland had a nice mindset of attacking the rim and going at them. They beat Atlanta in free throw attempts 25-21 and Atlanta came into the game leading the league in free throw attempts for the pre-season. Portland did a nice job. Lamarcus looked marvelous. He had turn-arounds, dunks, outside shots...it was a full display of his arsenal and it was beautiful. I was in the Hawks' locker room after the game and they were marveling at him. I think that will become a league-wide trend. He's going to open eyes around the league. There's a strong chance this kid can make the all-star team. I don't think it's crazy to say he could go for 20 and 9 this year.
Q: We asked Kevin Pritchard about Lamarcus' three-point shot. What's your opinion of that?
A: I like it. It's good for him to work on. I don't think he's completely comfortable using it in a game yet and I know Nate isn't comfortable. Although in the pre-season opener his first shot his foot was on the line for three. I think it's great for him to do that. He's already got range out to 18 feet but if he can add range, more power to him.
At this point the audio cuts off. After 46 minutes and 37 seconds of chat (and 10-odd pages of transcribing) maybe that was merciful. I don't think there could have been much else but if I'm wrong somebody can correct me.
Fantastic chat as always. Kudos to Casey and crew at O-Live.