The transcript from Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller's press conference runs more than 3,400 words. Let's crunch that up a little bit to look at the highlights, lowlights and most important pieces of information to emerge on the first day that the NBA lockout's media blackout ended. We'll grade Miller's performance.
Miller is not a natural public speaker and doesn't particularly enjoy the role so it wasn't a surprise that a media scrum ensued rather than a normal press conference. Miller handled the tight quarters fairly well but he was physically swallowed up by the pack and didn't have the authority that comes with being on a stage, with a microphone and being able to delegate questions. He was therefore nit-picked on a few occasions and got into one back-and-forth that lured him into saying something that it totally inaccurate, cutting into his credibility. Given that this was essentially a stump speech it should have been a press conference. Miller, by virtue of his past track record, his organization's recent management decisions and the fact that he has repeatedly said he doesn't want to be GM but is now acting and speaking as the de facto GM, needs to be in situations where the circumstances give him full authority. Doing it in the one place in the world that has the worst cell phone and wifi reception is also annoying. Grade: 5 out of 10.
Coming out of the box aggressively in an attempt to set or correct the message is (virtually) always a good thing. It was a good idea given the lockout media blackout that ran for months and the black hole of information that resulted. Grade: 10 out of 10.
The biggest win on Wednesday afternoon was his statements on guard Brandon Roy, without question. Miller effectively communicated a few important ideas. First, that the Blazers had not yet made a decision. Second, that they have the utmost respect and appreciation for Roy. Third, that the fans would factor into the decision. Fourth that they reached out to Roy first on Wednesday before anyone else. Fifth, that a healthy Roy would give Portland a great roster but that the organization would need to respond if Roy is not healthy.
Regardless of whether they play to use the Amnesty Clause or not, those are the exact right things to say. Point by point, that has to be your stance. If you waive Roy, it's in the best interests of the organization to project the aura that you carefully considered it, you gave him a full evaluation, you didn't do it in a shady manner, you were upfront with Roy about it, that you took into account his importance to the fans and the community and that it eventually came down to what was best for the organization. That's the best damage control you can manage in a sticky situation like this. If the decision is made, the organization must work to protect itself and owner Paul Allen from charges of greed, rashness, coldness and detachment. Miller's statements did that effectively by laying the groundwork on each point.
Miller's comments are solid if the team decides not to waive Roy too. They let him know he is cared about, let the fans know they respect him and his contributions and emphatically denied a report that they feel is inaccurate. That's all you need to do if you plan to keep him.
The only problem: calling out a columnist by name. Miller made this personal and there is no long-term benefit to doing that, although it's been done repeatedly by him and other Blazers executives over the last few years. You simply don't want to get into a pissing match with anyone when your ultimate public presentation is affected primarily by the whims of owner Paul Allen. Way too much exposure for your future credibility. Grade: 9 out of 10.
One way or another, Miller's comments about center Greg Oden qualify as a gaffe. Miller essentially said that he expects and hopes Oden will be back on the court by January and that he will participate in training camp. Pressed on how that was possible, Miller got the timeline for the dual start of training camp and free agency wrong and implied that Oden could be in camp as a restricted free agent even without signing a new contract. As the NBA clarified to Blazersedge on Wednesday night, that's not possible.
The easy explanation here is that Miller is already a full step ahead of the media because he is acting under the assumption that Oden is back no matter what, perhaps because player and team have reached an informal agreement. Did he tip his hand here? If the Blazers and Oden have already agreed on the one-year qualifying offer for Oden then it would make sense for Portland to push this through as quickly as possible to get him into camp. Same thing if they have a multi-year contract offer already in mind. Sign it, seal it and show up to camp and re-join the team (albeit without medical clearance for basketball activities).
But there's still that issue of restricted free agency. If I'm Oden's people, I read the transcript and see that Miller and the Blazers are already counting their Oden eggs before they hatch. I'm in no rush to sign anything and I'm exploring the free agent market to see if there's a team out there ready to make a legit offer. That process might not produce anything, but I'm definitely giving it consideration before I lock in for the year. If I'm another team around the league with interest in Oden and/or making the Blazers pay for the right to re-sign him, I consider making my offer that much larger because Miller just talked himself into matching everything, right?
The success: Oden and Blazers fans now clearly know that the Blazers remain loyal to Oden and consider him a very high priority. That should have been the one and only goal on Wednesday.
On balance, Miller's messaging on Oden was not good. He either needlessly sold leverage or he tipped his hand to the rest of the league and he publicly stated assumptions that shouldn't be stated. Above all, he screwed up the mechanics of the next two weeks after saying over and over how his staff has been working diligently on its plan, how they are ready to go, and how the Blazers are fine without a new GM because the staff has things covered. This, while talking about his active role in the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Not a great moment for his credibility. Grade: 4 out of 10.
The most underrated headline on Wednesday was Miller's admission that the Blazers could go the entire season without filling their GM role, thus potentially doubling (or more) the possible length of their "search process." Sneaking this into a press conference that's more focused on player matters was actually a solid trick. Great in the short-term, really, because the attention will turn from the front office mismanagement and Allen to the court soon anyway. Get it out, get it out of the way and get back to business.
While the delivery was solid the news is not so good. It's very difficult to swallow the idea that the remaining group of decision-makers has the right combination of experience, skill, ability to communicate to Paul Allen, understanding of the salary cap and roster-building expertise to make this team a contender, which is Miller's stated goal. The burden of proof is fully on them now and as he tried to list off the attributes of his remaining staff members it felt like some ominous music should be playing while the executioner's blade rose up in slow motion.
Delivering bad news in a good way is much better than delivering bad news in a bad way. Miller bought his organization a substantial amount of time when the cost was cheapest. Grade: 7 out of 10.
There was only one major lost opportunity in this press conference. Miller chose to speak vaguely about organization's directions and free agency plans, naming only Oden as a clear part of Plan A, and said that he thought his roster would be great if Oden and Roy were healthy. Then, only in one or two passing sentences, he complimented LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.
This is something that someone with the "sales" gene -- like Kevin Pritchard or other GMs around the league who instinctively know how to connect with fans -- would never have done. Setting up a vague plan does not build excitement and hoping or wishing for good health after what fans have gone through in the last three or four years and with the Amnesty reports swirling is not doing you any favors at all.
A much better approach would have been to identify the roster's strongest points and most popular assets and push those until the cows come home. Bang everyone over the head with all the great things Aldridge did this summer. Raise excitement around Batum with whatever personal anecdote is out there. Praise Matthews' return to health. Maybe even mention Gerald Wallace, who is clearly your second best player. Might be a good idea. Get the anticipation momentum building for acquisition Raymond Felton. There are selling point and obvious strategies to sell those points. Miller, with the exception of one or two sentences, completely missed those opportunities.
The equivalent if Miller was still selling Jordan Brand sneakers: He shows up at the sneaker release party talking about how great the shoes would be if they can just get the laces to fit perfectly through the holes and if the tongue decides to keep in place, rather than sticking to the company's relationship with the greatest basketball player of all time, it's overwhelming global popularity, all of the technological developments in this latest model and all the hours of unmatched design skill that went into producing it.
I fully understand he doesn't view himself as that type of public salesman. That's fine. If he can't or won't do it someone else needs to. Grade: 3 out of 10.
Miller smartly ducked the ticket renewal issue. All he needs to do there is thank the fans for their loyalty and he did that and spin the organization in a positive financial light. Grade: 10 out of 10.
Defending Paul Allen
I completely understand why someone in Miller's position would be very upset and feel motivated to defend his boss against month of attacks during the lockout negotiations process. He said what needed to be said and set up an easy and reliable bogeyman: the national media. That's all well and good.
But these words should never come out of his month: "At this point the team is not for sale." Which words do you think people will focus on given all of the recent organizational inconsistency? The first three words or the last six words? "At this point" or "the team is not for sale"?
That's opening up a can of worms and exposing the single greatest fear and insecurity that fans have about their team at a time when they are trying to get excited and jump fully back on board after an ugly, ugly labor impasse. Why are you possibly saying those words? Grade: 4 out of 10.
Vaguely defending the coaching staff is the best he can do if his hands are truly tied. If you've been reading this site for years you know I put Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan up on a pedestal so Miller flat blanking on his name and calling him "what's his name in Utah" was worse than nails on a chalkboard. It was an honest mistake. Still, it reminded me of "Drexler's Pistons". The burden is constantly on Miller to establish his credibility. Forgetting the name of an iconic NBA legend who happened to be a division rival for decades while trying to compare your team's strategy to his unusual and admirable outlook on life? Not good. On the plus side, if it turns out that Elliot Williams can score and jump like that what's his name from Chicago when he was young then none of these previous 1,800 words will matter. Grade: 3 out of 10.
No one was fired or "parted ways with" during the press conference. Grade: 10 out of 10.
Overall Grade: 65/100
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter