It's been an annual tradition for a few years running now so, without further ado, here are your 2013 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day superlatives. The following are the top quotes, most interesting stories and strangest moments culled from hours of audio interviews conducted by members of the local press at the "Moda Center" on Monday.
Is this the most talented roster you've ever had as a head coach?
Blazers coach Terry Stotts: "I don't even think it's close. This is the best roster top to bottom that I've had the privilege of coaching."
Does that change your mentality coming in?
"No. Other than, embracing the challenge. Embracing the challenge, embracing the expectations. It's a lot better knowing that you have a chance to win every night. I liked as an assistant, being on teams that you knew were a 50 win team, and it was just a matter of what playoff seed you were going to be, I liked that. So, I don't know if we're there yet but I like going into the season feeling that way."
This was a really easy pick. In the run-up to Media Day, I went back through Stotts' Basketball-Reference page and reached the same conclusion as he did, and I put this question in my hip pocket for Media Day. Honestly, I thought it was pretty cut-and-dried, but I did the old "put yourself in his shoes" trick to weigh the possible responses, and I came to the conclusion that most coaches would say something along the lines of "That's like comparing your children" so as to dodge the expectations and pressure that come with such an admission.
Stotts has never made it to a third year with the same team as a head coach, so he is perfectly positioned, in theory, to be such a dodger. A self-interested coach, or one preoccupied with his job security, simply wouldn't set himself up for a possible fall in the future. With these answers, Stotts took ownership of his own fate and he sent a silent message to all the important parties. To GM Neil Olshey, he said: "Thanks for the help this summer, it's my turn to work." To his players, he said: "I believe in you." To owner Paul Allen, he said: "I'm ready to earn my paycheck." To the fans, he said: "I'm not only genuinely excited about this team but I'm thrilled to have the opportunity."
Not sure a coach in his position could do any better than that.
As in, best quote-deliverer, this one goes to new center Robin Lopez, without question.
Lopez was strangely out of it during his introductory press conference but "Rolo" had his mojo back on Monday. He's not funny in the traditional sense but it's easy to admire anyone who is willing to toss out one-liners knowing that there will be some misses along with the hits.
A sampling of his goofier offerings.
On the Blazers' jerseys: "It really does wonders for my complexion. It brings out the highlights in my hair too."
On his sibling rivalry with Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez: "He's compensating for a lot of stuff. I'm a lot more handsome, a lot wittier. It's really unfair that I got both the good looks and the gift of gab. There's a reason he's going out there scoring however many a night."
On what he would use on the back of his "nickname jersey": "I might have to have a poll of some kind... I've got Beast, Screech, Sideshow Rob, which I have a feeling might be the favorite, I've got Rolo, the Boy Wonder, Robocop and the Big Simba."
Most Important Basketball Development
Stotts: "Our pick-and-roll defense is going to be more conservative, along the lines of Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio, where we don't extend our bigs, keep our bigs closer to the basket, protect the rim. We were one of the the worst teams at giving up shots at the rim and they converted a lot of them at the rim. We want to protect the rim better than we did last year. We did a good job defensively against the three-point line, which we want to continue. When you look specifically at what we're doing, you're going to cover 50 or 60 pick-and-rolls in a game. If we improve our pick-and-roll defense and our transition defense, those two areas alone will jump us up into the top half of the league."
This is pretty much what you would expect to hear with Lopez in the fold and with Portland's ugly defensive numbers staring back from last year's page. It's a good sign that everyone seems to be of the same mindset, at least to start.
Deepest Basketball Observation
Media Day is usually conducted at the surface, but Blazers guard Wesley Matthews went for a deeper dive when he explained how the addition of Lopez will make his life easier when it comes to playing perimeter defense.
"When you've got a guy like Robin behind you in the paint, you can take more changes, you can play more on instinct. That's a big part of how I play defense. I've been, not necessarily shackled as far as how to play defensively, but I'm big on instincts. [Nicolas Batum] is big on instincts. If we see a gap we feel we'll be more confident shooting that gap rather than trying to play it safe and potentially get picked off and beat. We're playing against pros, they're getting paid millions of dollars to try to score on us, same way we're trying to stop them. [With Lopez,] we'll be able to make our reads knowing that it's not going to result in a lay-up."
Most Triumphant Summer
No one besides Nicolas Batum could possibly qualify for this one, not when the Frenchman showed up with his EuroBasket gold medal (click here for picture). Here's his reflection on taking home gold.
"It might be the biggest memory of my basketball career right now. When you win this type of tournament or title, especially for your country, it's been huge. My family was there. We beat Spain, and Spain has given us so much trouble the last couple of years. When we beat them, we were very happy to beat them first. Then to reach the final, and win the gold medal. When we got back to France it was just crazy. People waiting for us at the airport, we went straight to see the president. All week last week, every day, meeting with media people, an epic week, great memories."
Blazersedge's final grade for Batum was right here. Here's how Batum summed up his time in Slovenia.
"I had some struggles shooting-wise, I couldn't make a basket. I just tried to step up when the games counted the most. I just tried to do my job on defense. I think I never played that type of defense in my life. Tony [Parker] was there, so I knew if I wasn't there [offensively], Tony was the guy who was going to score. My job was to shut down a lot of guys on the opposite team, that's what I tried to do."
Best Summer Internship
That one also goes to Batum, who passed on this story about learning from San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker, who led France in scoring at EuroBasket.
"Tony Parker talked to me every day. He said, to get to the next level you have to do this and you have to do that. I spent all day with him and before the final, he came to me and said, 'You're going to win the final for us. I'm going to step down and give you the ball. And you're going to have to step up and show the way.' For me, he was the second-best player in the NBA last season. When one of the top players in the world says that to you, for the biggest game of the tournament, the gold medal game, to take it right from the start and play, I grew up a lot. I'll try to bring that back for the Blazers."
Most Popular Trend
Everyone wants to shoot three-pointers. Stotts said the team will likely shoot even more three-pointers than last year (Portland finished No. 4 in attempts) and he mentioned all the usual suspects (Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and CJ McCollum) along the way.
However, two other guys put themselves into this conversation (these bits are excerpted from longer answers). First, LaMarcus Aldridge...
On what he worked on during the offseason: "Shot more threes. I definitely feel more comfortable with that out there..."
How will your three-pointers come about during the season: "[In our offense], there's so many options. Trail threes, pick-and-roll, in certain plays coach puts me in that corner. I'm not going to force it, everyone knows that I don't want to shoot threes, but if I'm open I'm going to shoot it."
Then, it was Meyers Leonard's turn. Remember, the second-year center promised to extend his range before Las Vegas Summer League, too.
What did you work on this summer: "...Tried to extend my range. You should anticipate that I'll probably shoot some threes this year. That won't be an off-the-wall thing."
Target three-point shooting percentage: "40 and above."
That's really high: "Well, yeah."
How will your three-pointers come about during the season: "Trailing in transition. When teams push the ball to the baseline, which we call blue-ing, it's easy to pop back and space the other two guys into the corner. Also some special play-type situations."
Do you realize that stepping out to the three-point line will draw criticism: "I think it's important and coach Stotts would probably agree that being versatile and being able to stretch the floor especially as a five can hurt opposing defenses. Obviously I have to stay in the paint as well, and know that that's my job first and foremost. When I need to make a play, or it's drawn up, I know I have the confidence to do so."
Best One-Liner About The Three-Pointers
Dorell Wright recounted an early conversation with Stotts, who laid out the ground rules for when a "green light" applies.
"Our first conversation with him telling us the type of team we're going to be, [we discussed] what are good shots and bad shots here. He told me a pull-up three in transition contested is a bad shot. With that being said, it's good to hear."
The only bad shot for this team's shooters is the truly, truly, truly bad shot.
Most Confident (And Predictable) Predictions
Damian Lillard: "Make the playoffs, I want to make the All-Star team, those are the top two things I want to do."
OH DEAR GOD, what else could it be? Rather than copy and paste Blazers GM Neil Olshey's emotional detour into LaMarcus Aldridge trade rumor questions, I'll just put the link here.
On the weirdness scale, that sequence didn't quite match-up to the press conference in which Greg Oden showed up with a cane to apologize for pictures of his privates hitting the Internet, or the time I sought an official comment regarding Amazon Ashley Adair, or the time Vulcan Inc. called to clarify Paul Allen's role in an alleged Giraffe bone smuggling saga, but it lands in the same general ballpark.
It's hard to imagine a more counter-productive, distracting start to Media Day for the Blazers, but at least I received a steady stream of text messages that simply read "OH DEAR GOD" and "LORD" all afternoon.
The real question: What would His Holiness the Dalai Llama think of such a display?
Most Honest Self-Assessment
I'm sure I've been pretty hard on Joel Freeland over the last year but hats off to him for his approach to the summer. So often, players on the fringes look to external factors (playing time, coach, teammates, situation, etc.) to make excuses for their struggles. Freeland not only took total ownership of his poor rookie season, he spent all summer trying to get himself into position to take a real step forward.
Freeland opted against playing for Great Britain at EuroBasket and instead dedicated his summer to increasing his lower body strength. After taking off 14 pounds during the 2012-13 season, Freeland added roughly seven pounds back this summer. His upper body still looks quite lean.
Here's how Freeland explained his current predicament and what motivated him to commit fully to NBA workouts this summer.
"I see myself as a 4/5. I'm still trying to make that adjustment. My whole career I've been mainly a post-up guy. The adjustment for me as a four, stepping out, purely being in that mid-range, that's been tough for me, that's been real tough. In other games in my career, I was able to get a rhythm while playing in the post, hit two or three hook shots and then step out, a jump shot is pretty easy when you've got some confidence. But when your first shot is normally a jump shot, that's a different mindset.
"Of course i missed [EuroBasket]. I would have loved to play for my National Team. It was just a decision I had to make for myself and my career going forward. I do plan on playing for them in the future. I would love to help them out any way I can. At this moment in time I had to think about myself and try to take a step forward in my career going into next season and helping help the team. I wouldn't say it was a bad move for me. It was a move I had to take.
"I didn't want to take a step back. Playing in the summer for your National Team isn't only a two-week thing where you just play the EuroBasket. It's about two months. If you're playing for two months in a different style, especially in the adjustment I had to go through, playing seven years in a certain way, the European way, and then having to adjust your game to the NBA, I didn't want to go back for two months when I could be working those two months on my game and progressing in the way I need to be in the NBA way. That was my thought process going into that."
Most Welcome Self-Assessment
Dave wrote recently about why, exactly, Batum is so polarizing. Can all sides agree that Batum struck the right tone here?
"I am the X-factor of this team. We all know LaMarcus is the go-to guy, the franchise player, the All-Star. Damian, we all know what he's done last year. I'm kind of the glue guy between those two guys. I have to be there on offense and defense, I have to show the way on defense, create some shots, I have to do a lot of things to make sure this team is doing well."
Smartest Take That Runs Somewhat Counter To The Predominant Storyline
All summer, the Blazers' offseason story has centered on the new bench, and rightfully so. Here's LaMarcus Aldridge's take on what the new bench should mean...
"It shouldn't take any pressure off [the starters]. We should keep the pressure on ourselves to start games off right, to set the tone early. Our bench should maintain it or make it better, [but] I don't want guys to relax because we have this bench that's better. I feel like we should still hold a lot on ourselves to get things started off right. Last year, we had too many games where we started off down 10 or down 15. This year it should be easier for us but I don't want us to think that now it's easier, if that makes sense."
Best Use Of The Self-Deprecation/Humble Brag Combination
Aldridge: "I'm not flashy, I'm not a dunker. I'm not Blake Griffin windmilling on people, which would be fun if I could do it, but I just can't. My game is more like Tim [Duncan], it's just boring. I do the same thing every night, people get used to it. They expect it. I don't think people appreciate it after awhile. I know Neil does and I know my teammates do."
Best Teammate Quote On LaMarcus Aldridge's Situation
So many people asked so many questions of so many players about Aldridge's happiness/unhappiness. Batum gave the most thoughtful assessment.
"We missed the playoffs two year in a row. We were very frustrated. You want to win. You don't want to be on vacation on April 15th two times in a row. L.A. is the leader and go-to guy of this team, he can't accept that we didn't make the playoffs twice. He just wanted to have a better team and I think he got it. I think he got it. He's happy now. He wants to prove that he's one of the best power forwards, if not the best power forward, in the league and bring this team back to the playoffs."
Best Reaction To A Contract Option Being Picked Up
Thomas Robinson: "I live to fight another year."
Followed by a wide smile.
Everyone has goals. Some are large, some are small, some are long-term, some are day-to-day, and some are... well... just ask Wesley Matthews, who really wants himself to be more intelligent when it comes to body maintenance.
"Most of my goals are to stop being so hard-headed and stupid. Stretch, get in the cold tub, foam roll, that's my goal right now."
With Lopez now in the fold, Aldridge opened up a little bit about exactly how badly he's wanted a traditional center alongside him in recent years.
"I just wanted to play with a big fella. I played with J.J. [Hickson], which was fun. I had a little taste of playing with Greg [Oden], which was exciting at times. I never played with a dominant big man. [Marcus] Camby's fun but he's not dominant. I had Joel [Przybilla] but he was kind of at the end of his career. Having a young big man sounds fun to me.
"[Olshey] told me a few guys and Robin was one of them, he asked me how I felt about him and I said I like him. I remember last year playing against him, he crashed the boards like crazy, blocked shots, clogged the paint really good. I'd like him on my team.
"Neil came to me and he was pretty frank about, 'What things do you feel strongly about.' I just want a big to play with. I feel like I can go to the next level playing alongside him because he's going to block shots. If he doesn't block it, I can come block it. I'm just happy to have him here."
Most Referenced Opponent
After the Blazers failed to to land Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert in restricted free agency last summer, two Blazers mentioned him independently on Monday.
Leonard brought him up when discussing what he was working on: "One-on-one defending in the post. Help defense, the verticality rule, like Roy Hibbert."
Then Aldridge brought him up when assessing the Miami Heat's signing of Oden...
"I'm happy for [Oden]. I think he can actually make them better. If he gives them eight [points] and eight [rebounds] a night, that's a mean eight and eight, where you have to double-team him. LeBron [James], [Dwyane] Wade and Chris Bosh [can play] off the double team. He's definitely what they needed. They saw the Indiana series and saw how big Hibbert was, and I feel like he can go at it with Hibbert if he's healthy."
Most Easily Misunderstood Slogan
Mo Williams: "My slogan for the year: I'm going to be a problem."
He meant for opposing second-unit defenders.
Blazers president Chris McGowan: "We have [a replacement for the Free Chalupa promotion] and we'll announce it this week. I'll take guesses, but we'll announce it this week. But I think it's something our fans will obviously appreciate."
Best "Boil It Down" Season-Defining Quotes
CJ McCollum on the offense...
"I think offensively we'll be somewhat of a juggernaut, we've got a lot of guys who can shoot and a lot of guys who play one-on-one."
Lillard on the defense...
"Defending is pride. It's all about wanting to do it. Having the mentality of, 'I'm not going to be the weak link' or, 'I'm not going to get scored on.' I don't think we had that last year. This summer, I watched film on myself, ball screen defense, pursuing after a ball screen, lazy possessions, I saw a lot of stuff that wasn't me being a bad defender, it was stuff that I could have just done a better job of."
Olshey on the big picture...
"Everything we did this offseason was with one goal in mind. We're going to continue to develop our young guys, it's just not going to come at the expense of winning games. I think as you see the roster we put together, the more comfortable you guys get with it, you're going to realize that we maximized our cap room, maximized our assets, we're still rebuilding our talent base. We've improved. We're not really where we need to be, but we're closer than we were."
Let the training camp games begin.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter