Portland Trail Blazers Acting GM Chad Buchanan began Monday morning's press conference by saying "the smoke has cleared," fitting given the many changes to his team's roster and his organization since last Thursday.
Even with the talk of smoke and the "blow it up" vibe to last week, there were no real bombshells on Monday. There were, however, a number of points of varying interest and importance. Dig in to the nitty gritty.
LaMarcus Aldridge Endorses Kaleb Canales
On Thursday, Blazers president Larry Miller told reporters that the team had sought the feedback of a number of players regarding the organization's decision to fire coach Nate McMillan and replace him on an interim basis with assistant coach Kaleb Canales, now the youngest head coach in the NBA at 33.
"It was kind of a lifeless team, there was no fire with the group," Buchanan said on Monday. "No enthusiasm, no passion. We felt like, Kaleb, that's who he is. If there's anyone who could flip the switch a little bit, it was him. Whether it happens or not, we'll see."
Buchanan said that All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge -- among others -- was consulted on the coaching change after management concluded McMillan was no longer reaching the group.
"Obviously, L.A. is an important voice in that.," Buchanan said. "LaMarcus just wanted to recharge this team somehow. All of our players were frustrated, just like our coaches were."
Buchanan said that Aldridge, who has been close with Canales since arriving in Portland, was particularly effusive in praising Canales' high-energy, player-friendly personality.
"I talked to LaMarcus about Kaleb's personality. Would guys respond to that? LaMarcus was like, 'Absolutely. We all love Kaleb. We respect him. We see how hard he works.' LaMarcus was definitely behind it. LaMarcus likes all of our assistant coaches too but I think Kaleb's personality fit what the team needed right now. LaMarcus was 100 percent behind it."
Playoffs vs. Tanking
Despite going deeper into the bench in recent games and trading away two starters on Thursday, the company line continues to be that the Blazers will push for the postseason. As of this writing, Portland sits in 12th place in the Western Conference, 2.5 games out of the No. 8 seed. Buchanan said he "absolutely" hopes the Portland can make the playoffs.
"You want your team to compete every night," Buchanan said. "If we lay it on the line for the next 21 games, who knows what's going to happen. You have an injury to one of these teams ahead of you. You get hot for a 5-game stretch, [win] three, four, five in a row. You're right in the mix... We would never be about [tanking]. Kaleb isn't about that. Mr. Allen isn't about that. The perception that we want to tank the rest of the season is completely inaccurate. We owe it to our fans, teammates owe it to each other... Making the playoffs [would be] an accomplishment for where we're at right now."
Still, Buchanan is never more excited these days than when he is talking about the upcoming NBA Draft. He beamed on Thursday when describing the first round pick acquired from the New Jersey Nets in the Gerald Wallace trade, he spent part of last week scouting the SEC tournament, he attended the NCAA tournament at the Rose Garden on Saturday with the team's salary gap specialist Joe Cronin, and he said on Monday that his attention is now fully on draft preparation.
"Right now, we're going to focus on the Draft. We have the potential to have one very high draft pick and depending on where we went up, [our pick] could be just outside the lottery or in the lottery as well."
New Jersey's pick is top-3 protected in 2012, top-2 protected in 2013, top-1 protected in 2014 and unprotected after that. Buchanan said that Basketball Analytics Manager Ben Falk constructed a chart to determine the odds -- based on the ping pong balls -- of the pick transferring this year, a chart that aided the negotiations with New Jersey.
"Any negotiation you ask for the moon," Buchanan said, detailing the haggling over the protections. "You're going to ask for unprotected. You've got to. They weren't going to do that. The No. 1 pick in this Draft is going to be a major franchise player. That's smart of them to not do that. That's where we started, they started a little lower and we met in between."
The No. 1 pick he was referring to, of course, is University of Kentucky big man Anthony Davis.
In addition to Portland's own first round pick, which will likely be in the lottery, Portland also holds the Minnesota Timberwolves' second round pick and the right to flip their own second round pick with the Denver Nuggets. With four picks in hand, Buchanan said he likes the depth of this year's Draft but admitted the strength of the pool might not be at his team's positions of need.
"There's a pretty good crop of wings," he said. "The fours and fives are pretty strong. I think the point guard group is not very strong. The centers is a little deeper than last year but not super deep. It's right in the middle there. There's a couple good 2s. There are some guys who can swing 4 to 3 and there are some pretty solid straight 4s too."
He then quickly reminded a group of reporters that he can potentially move a pick or picks in trade too.
"It's deep for us, it's deep for the other 29 teams. The 29 other teams might meet that [positional] need... We may not value the players that are there from a positional standpoint but that doesn't mean that another team doesn't. We got calls within 45 minutes of making that [Wallace] trade from teams, expressing interest in the pick and expressing interest in [talking] this summer. 'If you're not going to trade it now, let's revisit it this summer.' How that plays out, you never know. But there's going to be value around the league."
The bottom of Portland's roster saw a lot of action this week. The Blazers acquired Flynn and Thabeet from Houston for Marcus Camby; They acquired center Mehmet Okur and forward Shawne Williams from New Jersey along with the pick in exchange for Gerald Wallace. To accommodate those moves and get down to 15 roster players, the Blazers waived center Greg Oden and big man Chris Johnson.
With 15 spots filled, the Blazers also renounced the rights to restricted free agent point guard Patty Mills over the weekend. Buchanan said on Monday that the Blazers delayed renouncing Mills until after the trade deadline because they intended to sign the Australian point guard if they had succeeded in trading a point guard and had created a roster spot in the process.
Obviously Flynn and Thabeet were introduced as Blazers on Monday whereas Okur and Williams were not. Okur is done for the season with a back injury and Williams had foot surgery in February. Given those factors, both Buchanan and Canales referred to the roster as being 12 or 13 deep, depending on whether you count Elliot Williams, who is expected to be lost for the remainder of the regular season with his shoulder dislocation, an injury that could require surgery.
After the flurry of moves, Buchanan said the Blazers are now likely done for the season.
"I wouldn't close the door for sure but... most likely this is what we'll finish with," Buchanan said.
Initial reports said the Blazers might buy out Williams, who has a player option for $3.1 million next season, Buchanan said Monday that a buy out won't happen immediately and might not actually take place.
"We're still open on Shawne," he said. "We're not necessarily committed to buying him out at this point. He has another three weeks on crutches, recovering from his foot injury. He can't do any rehab for another three weeks. We'll probably bring him in and help him with his rehab. Get to know him a little bit and make a decision at that point."
One possible roster move that could come between Monday and the end of the season would be releasing Okur, Buchanan said.
"You could just waive him because he's not going to play this year, which would open a roster spot. We've talked about it but it's nothing right now. That's something we're discussing. We haven't made a final decision on that."
That would most likely happen, he explained, in the event of a serious injury.
"If we get to the point where we need a player at a certain position, then that's an option... If Wesley [Matthews] went down with a season-ending injury tomorrow, knock on wood, if you get in that situation where we need another body, then that's a possibility then we could create a roster spot doing that."
Flynn, Thabeet and Okur will all be unrestricted free agents this summer. Buchanan said that he expects Flynn to attract some interest based on his performance to date and sees Thabeet as a biannual exception type of player.
Recent reports indicated the Blazers will look to aggressively improve their backcourt this offseason.
"If you look at our roster next year, Nolan Smith is the only point guard on our roster next year," Buchanan said. "That's a position of importance in terms of need and the importance of your team. We've got an established All-Star in our front court and we'd like to incorporate a backcourt player of similar caliber in an ideal world... If it's a point guard or shooting guard, a high caliber player is what this team needs to take that next step."
Buchanan also said he was pleased with some recent flashes from reserve rookie point guard Nolan Smith. He compared Smith to former Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic, who waited for years playing limited minutes behind All-Star Steve Nash. Buchanan said that Canales would take a similar approach to coaching Smith as Suns coach Alvin Gentry took to guiding Dragic.
"Just play, if you make mistakes just keep playing. Don't look at the bench."
Even with the addition of Flynn, it's a safe bet Smith will continue to see regular minutes at the one as he has in Portland's last two games.
Assessing Hasheem Thabeet
Thursday was an insane day but one of the funniest wrinkles was the number of text messages that came in just bashing Thabeet's commitment to basketball.
Buchanan acknowledged that there is some negative intel that follows the 2009 NBA Draft's No. 2 overall pick but said that he would be given a clean slate in Portland. Buchanan called up Gregg Popovich's favorite phrase -- "Pounding The Rock" -- to explain their approach towards the 7-foot-3 Tanzanian center who boasts career-highs of 10 points and 11 rebounds and season-highs of 6 points and 3 rebounds.
"I knew it was going to take some time for him [coming out of the Draft]," Buchanan said. "Whoever took him was going to have to really invest time in developing him. Our business is so results-oriented, if you're not patient with a young player like that, they can kind of give up on them and he falls to the wayside. Whereas you have to just be every single day committed to developing that guy. Work with him every day, if he goes a stretch of five games without playing you keep working him every day. It's a two-way street. If a kid senses that you've given up on him he can lose his motivation to improve."
With Chris Johnnson gone, Thabeet plugs in as a third string center, Buchanan said, and will have the chance to compete for minutes, an opportunity he didn't really receive in Houston under either Rick Adelman or Kevin McHale.
"He grew up playing soccer," Buchanan explained. "At UConn he had some success, he started to commit to himself. He's gotten to the league and he hasn't really had minutes and the opportunity he hoped to get. He's got to come in and earn it. We can't [exclusively] play Kurt and Joel. It's nice to split them the way we have but we need another body in there to relieve those guys."
Paul Allen Selling The Team?
On Thursday, Blazers president Larry Miller said clearly that he was not aware of any move by Blazers owner Paul Allen to sell the Blazers. Buchanan reiterated that statement on Monday.
"I've never had any indication from Mr. Allen or anybody that's what is going to take place," he said. "Mr. Allen has been very involved in all the decisions we've been making, like he always has been every year. He loves this team, he loves the guys in that locker room. I have no indication of that taking place."
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter