Media Day 2013 was a rousing success for the Portland Trail Blazers. There were fireworks, quips, and even a rogue BINGO quote or two. Ben Golliver gave us all the quotes and an excellent summary of superlatives. All that remains now is sorting out wheat from chaff. Most Media Days contain barges full of the latter and little of the former. We got lucky this time. Media Day actually brought us some nutritious material.
Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey
I suppose we have to start with the big-splash reaction from Neil Olshey when asked (from his view, pestered?) about the LaMarcus Aldridge trade rumors. You've read it already, but here it is again for reference:
"Oh dear God, would you guys get over it? How many -- asked and answered. Thank you [to Chris Haynes], by the way. What else, guys? Show me a media report where LaMarcus Aldridge has said anything other than, 'I hope the team improves, I'm excited about what we did, I want to get better and I want to win.' Then we can have a conversation. Until then, let's move on. OK? Is that possible.
"It's not breaking news, dude. We covered it in July. Guys, let's talk about something, someone has got to have a better question than that."
As is often true with Olshey, we find that how something is said is far more entertaining and artistic than what is actually said. Indulge me in divorcing the drama from the quote for a second. Let's dig for the logic here, trying to find some sort of barometer or insight into the basketball side of things.
Olshey's assertion appears to run:
1. If LaMarcus Aldridge says anything on the record to the media about an impending trade or a desire for an impending trade this will indicate he could be moving and open the subject for discussion.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge has not made such a statement to the media on the record.
3. Therefore LaMarcus Aldridge trade rumors are baseless and his trade status should not be inquired about further until such time as Condition #1 is fulfilled.
The freight-train-sized hole in this logic: if Condition #1 were a prerequisite for trades then 499 of every 500 deals would be dead in the water. I can't remember the last time a player went directly on record demanding to be dealt. Even after a player has been traded and there's nothing to lose you seldom hear him come out and say, "Yeah, I wanted to get away from that other team," let alone before the deal is consummated. The criterion Olshey is asking people to apply to gauge relevance simply doesn't exist. Ergo questions about Aldridge's status will never be valid...which is no doubt how Olshey would prefer it.
Back channels, quotes from other GM's, and phone calls from agents have all been indicative of trade potential in the past. They're hardly perfect predictors but they're grounds for reasonable suspicion. That's how the NBA trade mill works. A player feels discontent. Rather than hanging his organization and teammates out to dry by complaining publicly, he lets his agent or someone close to him express the sentiment to reporters.
We all know the deal here...or we should anyway. Just like every other player in the universe Aldridge will be completely off the trading block (and officially "happy to be here") until the moment he is actually traded. If and when that happens the backstory explanation will come, justifying the move. But we're not going to get that in advance, and properly so.
This is not to say Aldridge is moving tomorrow. But whether he leaves the team next week, next month, next year, or never the accurate description of the current situation isn't, "Oh dear God," rather, "Nothing has changed." Nothing moved yesterday. Nothing shifted. Nothing developed or un-developed on this front when Neil Olshey gave that quote.
Olshey going on offense with the media was an elaborate way of saying, "No comment." There was no firm logic behind his assertion, no stunning revelation behind his words. It was a heap of drama about not much...ironically just what he's accusing the media of generating.
There might have been nobility in the effort in the sense that Olshey took the bullet for the rest of his staff and players, trying to inhale (and then reject) the question preemptively so others wouldn't have to answer it with their own version of "no comment". On the other hand Olshey's M.O. is to put on a big show when a simple, "We're focusing on this year. We like the team we have, including LaMarcus, and have no plans to move him" would suffice. Putting the mustard on the hot dog was probably unnecessary, certainly indulgent. It's the kind of diatribe you expect on partisan talk radio shows, carrying about as much substance.
The other unfortunate part is when "the show" throws guys like Chris Haynes under the bus, even jokingly. Like most folks, I go up and down in my assessment of Portland media folks. But I can say without qualification that Haynes is one of the guys I trust most and learn the most from. He puts in blue collar work, writes clearly, and isn't afraid to tell the story. He's certainly on the short list of best media representatives in this market, period.
It's sad that the least substantial part of Olshey's interview got the most buzz because apart from the Aldridge quote, he excelled. Olshey has a gift for making the party line exciting. His statement about trying to develop young players without sacrificing wins might as well have been part of Media Day Bingo. It's been the Blazers' motto for years; both they and a dozen other teams around the league have proven it's easier said than done. The repeated phrase, "It's a process" is cliched code-speak for "Expect something better but not too much." But Olshey showed strong confidence in Thomas Robinson and C.J. McCollum and continues to be over the moon for Damian Lillard, indicating the thrust of Portland's planning. He talked about his bench veterans providing stability and locker-room leadership, setting expectations within their measure. He also tabbed Nicolas Batum as the player needing to step up his game, supporting his Eurobasket summer and hoping that success will breed success.
Coach Terry Stotts
Coach Stotts' interview was shorter on shock and eloquence than Neil Olshey's but rang throughout with Stotts' customary self-effacing honesty. He set the playoffs as an expectation and didn't discount the need to actually perform in the post-season rather than being satisfied with getting there. On the other hand his responses were seasoned with discretion, as in:
The Western Conference is very competitive and there's at least 12 teams out there that think they are playoff teams and there are only eight of them. That's why you play the season. I'm not backing away from the challenge and the competition of making the playoffs. We've improved our roster, the players coming back from last season have a year of experience, we're going to be a better team, there's no question about that. What that translates in, in terms of wins, playoff seeds, that's why you play the season.
Stotts gave off the impression of a coach who believes in and supports his players but also a coach who knows that the road ahead is long. As we've said before, acquiring and dreaming about "potential" is far easier than actually coaching it.
As has been his mantra since last season ended, Stotts tabbed defense as the biggest target for improvement. In a rare moment of Media Day candor he revealed that Portland's pick and roll defense will run conservative, keeping new center Robin Lopez near the basket. This is hardly surprising given Lopez' strengths and limitations but it was refreshing to hear the coach spell it out.
Interestingly enough, the first thought that sprang to Stotts' mind when considering his new bench was offense. Citing three-point shooting across the roster is a no-brainer, but with defensive improvement as Items 1, 2, and 3 on the to-do list, you wish Stotts could have added more than just Lopez to his list of defensive standouts.
Coach Stotts was more conservative on C.J. McCollum than Neil Olshey was, affirming that McCollum has skills and a long career ahead of him but indicating he'd have to stay ready for his opportunities and fight for minutes. He also landed on defense and efficiency as areas of improvement for Damian Lillard. He echoed Olshey in praising Batum in general but asking for more consistency from him.
In no way was Stotts' interview revolutionary. Homespun would be more like it. But it provided insight into the actual state of the team--triumphs and challenges--and put the off-season in perspective. It's probably best summarized as, "Lots of work done, but many miles yet to go." The Blazer cocktail recipe still reads equal parts optimism and caution.
President Chris McGowan
Blazers' President Chris McGowan had his rap down in his interview, emphasizing the connection between Portland's fan base and the team. He hit all the right touch-points: sourcing local food, putting players and fans in touch with each other, balancing out music volume in the arena, utilizing a wider variety of music, bringing in live music, making game nights more unique, having them reflect Portland culture. He trotted out the obligatory season-ticket cheerleading and downplayed the negativity surrounding the Moda Center name change, but other than that his transcript might as well have been out of the "How to Make Blazers Fans Happy" textbook.
Those tempted to get cynical about this should note that at times in the past, Blazers execs haven't even realized the textbook existed. Whatever comes out of the game-night evolution, at least McGowan is listening to the people around him. Ideally you'd want the alchemy between team and fans to create a vibrant and integral arena experience. But even if the Blazers can't manage to distinguish themselves in that way, knowing how to talk to their fans as more than sheep or dollar signs--acknowledging publicly that culture matters even if they can't fully capitalize on it yet--is a positive step.
Among the players, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez clearly stood out as Media Day superstars.
You could almost hear Batum's Eurobasket high oozing through in Ben's description of him. If determination could be bottled and dispensed throughout the season, Portland's staff would no doubt be wringing out Nicolas' jersey for every last drop and saving it for a rainy road trip in January. With both the coach and the GM mentioning Batum as an X-factor in need of more consistent play and Nicolas himself making pre-season declarations, this should be an interesting year for the French forward.
Robin Lopez is a hoot...an instant Hall of Famer in the quote department. You can't get any better than a guy liking uniforms that highlight his complexion or blasting his brother for being inferior in every department except (of course) for All-Star level NBA play. This guy is going to fit into Portland weirdness just fine.
And that's that. We went from ridiculous to meaty and accurate to humorously sublime...a far longer and more entertaining journey than we take on most Media Days. Compared to Media Days past this one was an A+. Kudos to Ben Golliver for covering it all for us. On to training camp!