Media Day Superlatives

The cover of the 2010 Portland Trail Blazers Media Guide.

You might remember last year's Media Day Superlatives: my massive attempt to sift through the rummage of a hectic multi-hour free-for-all to dig out the best quotes, storylines and exchanges from the Portland Trail Blazers' annual Media Day.

It's back like it never left. And let's get right to it. This is a monster.

Click through for full updates on...

  • Greg Oden
  • Rudy Fernandez
  • Erick Dampier Rumors
  • Wesley Matthews
  • Dante Cunningham
  • Brandon Roy
  • and extended thoughts from Blazers Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

Biggest Story

"I won't be there opening night."

Without a doubt, the biggest story today involved Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden, who showed up in good spirits, albeit a little sheepish, and without a firm timetable for a return to the court, other than to say he will not be available when the Blazers open the regular season.

As Dwight Jaynes notes, Blazers GM Rich Cho said today that Oden is suffering from "patellar tendinitis," which is delaying the rehabilitation process.

All indications are that Oden could miss a sizable chunk of the beginning of the season. If anyone put forward sincere and specific optimism about Oden's recovery timeline, I did not detect it. 

"Right now, I'm still trying to go through 5 on 0 plays, getting the cutting down, just doing little stuff like that and working out with Bayno, by myself," Oden said. "That's about all I can do right now." He also said his rehabilitation is progressing based on pain tolerance. "How much I'll be able to do is how my body feels. I'm not going to be able to go full contact [during training camp]. That's just not going to happen." 

Oden acknowledged that his recent workout routine has been filled with "good days and bad days" and that he is still overcoming psychological and physical limitations with his knee. "The big thing I'm worried about is random movements. When you're out there on the court, that's what you've got to worry about. Until I can do those comfortably that's when I know I can progress on to playing against somebody and playing with contact."

He continued, "The doctors always tell you you've got to separate the stuff you've got to push through versus the stuff you've got to be like, 'Hold on, lets treat this, and not make it any worse.' That's part of the physical and also the mental."  The worst part, it sounded like, was the day-to-day uncertainty. "Some days there is a little pain, some days there is no pain." 

Oden sounded frustrated but also realistic and, to his credit, he tried to take a hopeful tone. "It happened. It's the plate that has been put in front of me. I gotta take it in stride and do what I can with it."

He also made a point to tell members of the media that he was happy to see them and attempted to crack a joke or two. "I lost 30 pounds over the summer," Oden started with a smile. "Well, it was more like 25 because I gained [back] 4 pounds of lean muscle. I had a really good chef in Indiana. I would love to say it's my mom, but she would cook me up greasy food."

Oden also noted that his current weight is 275 pounds.  In other words, Oden ballooned to roughly 300 pounds earlier this Spring before he began his intensive summer workout program. "I prepared myself this summer to be an all star and be as healthy as I can be and I'm going to keep on doing that until I can be out there as healthy as I can be and be an all star."

Oden, who is a restricted free agent after this year, continued to say that a contract extension was not currently being discussed. "That's not even in talks right now. I'm still injured and I'm not out there on the court. That's not even in the conversation right now."

After more than 10 minutes of questions about his health, Oden sighed and said simply, "It's a continued struggle every day," before launching into the same explanation for the seventh or eighth time.  

On this week's Wingcast I set Thanksgiving as a target date for him to return to the starting lineup. Nothing that happened today made me think that I had been too pessimistic.

Best Rumor Shoot Down

In sharp contrast to Kevin Pritchard's constant coyness when it comes to trade talks, Rich Cho flatly denied contacting free agent center Erick Dampier to express interest when I asked him today. "No."

He then elaborated with a fair bit of specificity. "I received a call about Erick a few weeks ago. What I told his agent was that we have 15 guys, 15 guaranteed contracts. If we make a move down the road where it opens up a roster spot at the center position then he's one of the guys we might look at. That's the only thing I've talked with his agent about."

Best Debunking Of An Offseason Report

LaMarcus Aldridge literally laughed at the notion he had added 20 pounds of muscle.  He said last year his playing weight was 246 and agreed that he had added additional mass over the summer, but said that it didn't feel right. T
his year he is aiming to weigh between 250-255 pounds during games.

 

Best Quote That Should Be A Major Motion Picture Tagline

 

"My target is anyone that is in my way."

That from second-year forward Dante Cunningham when asked whether he had circled anyone on the roster with whom he expects to battle head-to-head with for playing time. Cunningham is in an interesting spot because he's older, better and more experienced than last year but he has to prove himself all over again.

After Las Vegas Summer League, Cunningham returned home for a few weeks before coming back to Portland to continue his workouts. He understands the situation he is facing, playing behind a high-usage semi-star and lacking a true position or bench spot. He's also, quite clearly, no longer just 'happy to be in the NBA,' like he appeared to be at the start of last season.

"Being an athlete you definitely have your own egos, your own agendas," Cunningham said. "At the same time, you have to understand that things happen. Obviously I want to play, whatever I have to do to get out there."

Earning playing time, Cunningham believes, can be achieved by extending his offensive range and versatility and continuing to play every defensive possession at full tilt.

"If [Coach] wants me to go out and guard guards, or play forwards and get rebounds, I'm going to do whatever I can to get on the court. Getting my ballhandling down, extending my range, corner threes, keeping the defense spread, not allowing them to sluff off into the paint, making them come out and respect the line out there."

Blazers Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan agreed the adding three-point range would be huge for Cunningham, allowing McMillan to use him more at the backup three spot. "I don't think he has to be able to shoot the NBA 3 but I think it would be very beneficial for him," Buchanan said. "I think he's going to see minutes at both the backup 4 and some back 3 too. He's versatile enough, he's a good glue guy, he can figure out how to contribute at either position. Defensively he's got the feet and the strength to guard both positions. I think Dante is just one of those intangibles guys that will find a way to produce wherever you put him on the floor."

Cunningham has a target on those who stand between him and playing time as well as a team target: progress.

"We never scale back," he said, jutting out his chin. "Always moving forward. Our goals are to get back to the playoffs, get 50 wins, get out of the first round."

Most Eyebrow-Raising Admission

"I didn't prepare the summer before to do it. I had a lot of distractions going on."

That line courtesy of all star guard Brandon Roy, who admitted that his contract extension negotiations got to him last summer, interfering with his ability to prime his body for an 82 game season.  Roy said today that he feels he's in that kind of shape this year.

He also said he's at a better place mentally. 

"

This is the most relaxed I've been about a season in a long time," Roy said, sounding older. "I'm excited but we've been to the playoffs two years in a row. You can't come in all excited. 'I can't wait to play. I can't wait to play.' And then the season settles in. I'm just feeling more comfortable."

 

 

Best Promise (Cross Your Fingers)

 

 

"We've got to do a better job of stepping up and being vocal... I'm ready to fill that [leadership] void that coach has been needing a lot lately."

That also comes from Brandon Roy. The time for talk on the subject of being vocal is over. It's time to walk the walk about talking the talk more vocally. (Or something.)

Most Heartfelt Tattoo

Wesley Matthews has the words "Dynamic Duo" tattooed on his left bicep, along with two sets of initials. "I was raised by my mother," Matthews told me. "I told her when I got a tattoo it was going to be about us. This was actually a name given to us by a newspaper back at home that did a feature on us, they called us the 'dynamic duo.' I got it done during my senior year of high school."

Awesome tattoo and awesome story.  But ... what an honor for that writer! It's one thing to edit Jerryd Bayless's Wikipedia page so that it says "Rex". It would be quite another for Bayless to tattoo "Rex" with dino claws on his arm, now wouldn't it?

Best Idea

The Blazers should close games with Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews as their three perimeter players. It needs to happen. Roy can have the ball in his hands (there's no changing that). Plus you have the two most reliable shooters spacing the court, a ton of basketball IQ, solid competitors, and great length and versatility on the defensive end. Also, the dream sequence that stars Batum harassing every point guard in the league in a three-quarter court one-man Pippen-style press.  It needs to happen.

Think of it like the Blake/Miller/Roy three-guard lineup (except good and awesome). 

Throughout training camp I will be covertly trying to implant this lineup idea into as many brains as possible. Matthews seemed to approve of the concept today. "I feel it's something we'll experiment with in camp. [Nate] might. [Nate] might." he also made it clear he welcomes any defensive challenges. "It doesn't matter. Ones, twos and three. It doesn't matter."

For what it's worth, Buchanan co-signs the idea in principle, although he didn't want to write Andre Miller out of the closing acts just yet. "I think that's a lineup that Nate will probably look at. That would be a situation if Andre defensively was having a tough match-up, you might look to close with those guys. Andre has a lot of experience under his belt, you like to have him on the floor at the end of the game too. It will depend on the matchups. 

"I think Wesley and Nic both complement Brandon well, and complement Andre well too. There's a lot of options there for us to look at. In late game situations you have to get stops and Wesley is a proven defender in our league, as is Nic. Both of those guys will see minutes at the end of the games."

You're hopping on this bandwagon already, aren't you?

Most Slept On Blazer

Buchanan looked almost offended when I suggested forward Luke Babbitt might be the Blazers rookie least ready to contribute. "I would disagree that he's the least ready," he said quickly. "I think Luke is being undervalued by a lot of people. Part of it is me because I have a biased opinion of Luke because I like him a lot as a player. I think people will see a little different side of him than maybe what they saw in Las Vegas once he gets his feet wet and gets comfortable. Luke has some versatility to him on the offensive end that will be valuable to us off the bench. How quickly he adjusts to the NBA game on defense will determine how quickly he gets on the floor. I think he is more ready than people think."

Most Thoroughly Positive Self-Assessment

I asked Wesley Matthews whether he was coming into this training camp in the best shape of his life. He responded, "Feeling the best I ever have. Health-wise, body-wise, strength-wise, athleticism and game."

And game. I loved that part.

Blazer That Should Write For The Team's Website

That goes to Matthews, who described Elliot Williams's notorious vertical leap by looking at a gigantic mural of Greg Oden on the side of the Rose Garden and saying coolly, "[Elliot] could probably jump up and block Greg Oden's shot right there on the building."

Best Bench Backcourt?

Is it a done deal that Wesley Matthews and Jerryd Bayless will be guards 3 and 4 in the team's rotation? It's probably pretty close, and that's ok with Buchanan, who likes the combination. "

Both of those guys can create some offense. They're not perfect matches off of each other but I think you get aggressive, physical, tough kids in the backcourt, they're going to make a lot of things happen on the floor."

 

 

Buchanan continued, "I think Jerryd is going to give you a spark off the bench. He's going to give you some offense and some energy. I think Wesley Matthews, you could put him out there with anybody. He's going to be able to do more with the ball than people realize. He's got more to his game on the offensive end than people have seen. I think that will slowly start to develop with him."

Biggest WTF Like, Um, Yeah, What Was That... Ever

Watching Rudy Fernandez today (video here) was cringe-inducing. Just awkward. You felt bad for Rudy; You felt bad for yourself for watching Rudy; You just felt bad, period.Transcribing these quotes, it's clear that Fernandez is a confused, unhappy, uncertain man.

The peacock feathers have been stripped off and his tail has been retracted firmly between his legs. Over and over again, he essentially begged to be released from his contract so that he could return to Europe. 

 

"I prefer my style of basketball in Europe. I'm feeling good in the Europe competition. I don't think so in the NBA. I prefer the style of European competition and I'm feeling better in Europe than here."

Asked if a trade would serve as a compromise, he rejected the notion flatly. "I don't want to hear about New York, I don't want to hear about Chicago. I want to come back to Europe." And again, a second time. "I don't want a trade. I prefer to go home with my family and play in Europe."

Fernandez also revealed that he had shared his feelings of homesickness with coach Nate McMillan. "I talked to Nate. Nate listened to me, he understand it's too hard for me, the distance, with my family. I don't tell them trade me. I tell them let me come back to my home."

 

 

It's a minor miracle no tears were shed, such was the depth of Fernandez's feelings. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry about the fans from Portland. I really love them because they help me a lot in two years. But my heart right now wants to stay with my family and Europe."

 

In the end, Fernandez seemed to pin the entire situation on the style of play in the NBA. "I'm happy with my time on the court. I'm happy with my teammates. I'm happy with Portland. I'm happy with the fans. I don't think anything would change my opinion about the NBA."

"I understand the fans. I think the fans understand me too... I love Portland. It's amazing, the fans are amazing, they take care of me a lot these two years. But if I choose, I think I'm better in Europe with my family."

Unfortunately, Fernandez can't choose. GM Rich Cho says he will not release Fernandez from his contract. It's not an option being considered, period. 

Fernandez says he will attend training camp, starting tomorrow morning. This could get even uglier.

Most Compassionate (Not Really Compassionate At All) Teammate

 

One of the unintentionally funniest segments of tape to listen back to was this train of thought from Roy, who was asked about a brief conversation he had with Fernandez recently. He starts out sounding like he feels really bad for Fernandez, but then a switch seems to flip about halfway through, and he remembers that sympathetic figures don't win titles.  Read it verbatim.

I'm personally happy that he's back. He's a big part of this team when we're playing well. And we need him to be happy. His biggest thing is that he wanted to be back in Spain. He's homesick. I felt kind of bad. We've got to do a better job as teammates to make him feel better. Last year, with all the injuries, guys kind of got separated. Not in a bad way, just selfishly worrying about how they were going to get themselves back ready to help this team. And I think we divided a lot. So this year our biggest thing is even if guys do go down, we have to make sure guys still feel like we're all part of this team.

You can't really half it in the NBA because guys are too good. We're going to bring the best out of him. And then it's going to be our job of doing a better job off the court. We have a month to get him to that level of play. Like anything else, if a guy is hurt or a guy isn't into it, we've just got to go with somebody else.

Awwwww ...... ouch.

Best Biographical Excerpts

Two of the practice-squad additions had some pretty incredible details listed in their personal biographies.

Dwight Lewis

Listed his favorite movie as How High... Likes to play video games in his spare time.

Eric Williams

Williams is very proficient at drawing cartoons.

VERY proficient.

Most Twittery Tweet

Pretty awesome. First time that's ever happened. Thanks for reading.

In Case You Missed It Earlier

More tomorrow from Day 1 at training camp.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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