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Quick Chat Review: December 21st

Here's our weekly review of O-Live Blazer blogger Casey Holdahl's chat with Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick and Blazer President/GM Steve Patterson.  As usual a disclaimer that much of this is summarized and little of it is word-for-word.  You can listen to the entire chat here.  My thoughts (if any) follow each portion of the review.

Jason Quick steps to the plate first.

Q:  What's the news from practice?

A:  It was a bad Blazer practice today.  Nate ended it early.  He said there was no need to see any more of that.  It was their first bad practice for a long time.  Nate says we can't get complacent with our success.  Nate also says Raef will see time against Toronto because he's upped his game and conditioning.  It'll be interesting to see if he can spread the floor on offense.

This isn't entirely surprising.  All teams do this.  The difference is that we're young enough to not get away with it.  But one of two things will happen:  either we'll win the game and it's all good or we'll lose and a lesson will be learned.

Interesting about Raef.  I expect the fans will complain about that (and I might too) but we can look at it as another lesson to our youngsters.  Play hard in practice, play in the game.

Q:  Fans want Lamarcus Aldridge to get those minutes.  Any insights there?

A:  Nate says Lamarcus is not earning time right now.  He keeps making mistakes, like a rookie will.  Nate has made it clear that nothing will be given for free on this team.  The people who play in the games will be the people that earned it in practice.

And there you go.

Brandon Roy had no ill effects from playing yesterday, by the way.  He practiced full speed today and played point because Jarrett Jack is under the weather.  Roy's heel responded well to the 23 minutes last night.

That is obviously fantastic news.  We couldn't hope for better.  

Q:  What about Roy at the point?  Is that a good idea?

A:  I think it's his future position.  It's something to keep an eye on this summer.  There's a chance Jack could be traded.  That's not a knock on Jarrett's ability or performance.  He's been great.  But if the opportunity arises they might do it because they're confident in Roy.  There aren't too many big PGs out there.

This surprised me as much as anything I've ever heard in a Quick Chat.  On a certain level I can understand it.  If you really think Roy is a point guard and if you have confidence in Sergio, then Jack gets caught in the middle.  But another, probably much bigger, part of me is screaming, "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!"  I'm not saying Jack plays a perfect game.  He still has a lot to learn.  But he's shown indications of being able to learn plus he's shown a lot of grit and determination plus he's shown a nice little skill set.  He's not only talented, he plays winning basketball.  You can see it in his attitude and in the way he carries himself.  I don't take that lightly...not in a league with guys like Stephon Marbury who have all the talent in the world but somehow have never been able to win.  Personally I think Jack is as much of a "glue" player as anybody out there, and I think he's quietly (at least to public view) led this team right where it is.  I'm just having a hard time wrapping my mind around not having him around when playing him and Roy together seems a plausible alternative.  Besides, wouldn't we be nearly starting over at shooting guard again then?  At a minimum I hope they'd take a while to consider any move like this.  Jack's play is not going down anytime soon, which means his value won't go down either.

Q:  Some fans are asking what the deal is between you and Bonzi?

A:  Every time he sees me he calls me a (cough) "female dog".  He needs to grow up.  He still thinks he was dealt a bad hand in Portland.  His actions since have shown what kind of person he is.  I personally have nothing against Bonzi.  He can be fun and engaging.  But he could very well be out of the league if he doesn't shape up.  I just ignore him every time he does that.

Q:  Do you think with the way things are headed in his career versus the way things are headed in Portland Bonzi might realize that maybe it wasn't the fans?

A:  No, I don't.

OK...let's hear the semi-predictable chorus of how Bonzi isn't that bad and Jason Quick is just stirring up random accusations about him and how evil the Oregonian is.  Horse pucky.  I'm as big of a fan as anyone and I've loved this team with my whole heart for many, many years but a jerk is a jerk and Bonzi is, was, and probably always will be a jerk.  I have no reason to defend Jason.  I don't know him and the extent of our conversations has been a little back and forth via e-mail and that's all.  If he said something stupid or wrong (in my opinion anyway) I'd damn sure have no qualms about saying exactly that.  But he called it on the nose here.  As it turned out there was never a reason to regret bidding good riddance to Bonzi.  And that's a lesson that should be remembered.  Talent isn't you use it, to what end you use it, and where your focus is also matter very, very much if you expect to win in a team sport.

Oh but wait, I'm brainwashed, right?

Q:  With Roy coming back is now the time for the Blazers to think about trading a two-guard like Dixon or Webster?

A:  That remains to be seen.  The rotation last night seemed to click all seemed to work out minute-wise.  I don't think there will ever be a problem with the players about their playing time.  This team has incredible chemistry.  In eight years I don't think I've seen better.  They understand their roles.  There's a tightness there.  Today when Nate ended practice early there were still seven players on the court half an hour later working on drills with Monty Williams.  This is a special team.  It's starting to turn for the Blazers.

I suspect that nearly everyone seriously following the team would concur with those assertions.  Also it doesn't really surprise me that players stayed after practice.  This team looks, feels, and often plays like it does exactly that.  I am really scared to see what they could be like in 2-3 years if they keep their heads on straight.

Q:  How does Jamaal Magloire fit into that chemistry?  Why is he playing better?

A:  It coincides with him being put into the second unit.  He fits better there.  He clashed with Zach in the first unit.  There weren't enough shots for them both.  He has more room and more freedom off the bench.  He understands that maybe he's not a starter, at least not here and now.

I am impressed that he has come around that quickly and that well.  He really has been making contributions lately.  This, too, should be a lesson for all players.  If your upset about something it's much easier to make your peace with it and do your job well than it is to stew and submarine your career and the team's chances.  If Jamaal really did want out of this situation I can't think of a better or more efficient way to go about that than what he's doing right now.  His value (and I'd guess interest in him) is increasing by the game.

Q:  Are they going to trade him still with the team playing so well?

A:  I think they want to get some value for him.  They gave up a valuable piece in Steve Blake for him.  They want more than cap relief from that.

I suppose that depends on their cap strategy (assuming they have one) and how much in cost-cutting mode they truly are.

Q:  Joel's defensive performance on Yao seemed great last night.

A:  That was Joel's best game of the season by far.  Every game he's starting to become more of a factor.  He's looking to his shot a little bit more and to at least be willing to be involved in the offense.  He has to present that threat out there.  He's gotten more comfortable and is in better shape.  He was a difference maker last night.

Agreed.  He's still not come out with one of those beast-like efforts he had under Mo Cheeks, but he's getting steadier and contributing more.

Q:  Has Travis earned a new contract?

A:  Nate and I had a long conversation about him.  Nate said if we don't give him a contract somebody will.  Nate thinks he's a 6th Man of the Year candidate.  His emergence has become so important to the team, especially in the 4th quarter.  With so much focus on Zach they need somebody who can create his own shot.  Everybody on the team used to cringe when Travis pulled up.  Now they like it.  Travis embodies everything the franchise is about...potential developing into reality.  He's a factor out there and Nate is thrilled.

I'm sure Nate goes up and down with him every day, as most of us do.  And if we're asking a full season from Zach before we buy in totally it's probably only fair to ask that of Travis too.  But right now he looks like a million bucks.  Or more precisely several million a year.  He better not regress after he gets that contract though...

Q:  Travis' athleticism helps on defense too.

A:  He's a great weak-side defender.  His on-the-ball defense still leaves something to be desired.

Agreed wholeheartedly.  If he could even become an average straight-up defender though he'd be quite a weapon.

Q:  Would Outlaw struggle if he moved to a new team?

A:  Probably.  He'd have to learn a new system.  A side note:  Nate says when he's out in public the player that most people ask him about is Travis...more than Zach, Jarrett, Darius, anybody.  There's something about Travis that seems to connect with the fans.  People can relate to his dynamic flair.  Travis is one of the great stories of this team so far.  Even his personality has blossomed.  He's opening up from just being that shy, kind, gentle kid.  His sense of humor is coming out.

I think people see Travis and get a faint echo of that young, leaping kid jones they had for Jermaine O'Neal.  Travis isn't Jermaine, but JO taught the fans to feel that way.

Q:  Talk about the crowd last night.

A:  It was nice.  I don't know what's keeping people from coming out to watch.  The organization has done everything people have asked.  They got rid of the bad characters, got some talent, and they play an exciting brand of basketball.  Last night the Garden was abuzz and the team feeds off of that.  I'm surprised that there's less of a reaction from the crowd during timeouts, especially after a run.  I think the crowd is still trying to catch up and bond.  The roar for Brandon Roy was huge.  Everybody noticed him.  He's going to own the town.

Agreed here also.  I know we said this a few times earlier, but not for a while, so here goes...  If you're not buying a couple tickets to see these guys every week or two, what are you waiting for?  This season, in maybe the first time in five years, that's money well-spent.  As noted in last night's game review, I also loved the crowd reaction and I hope there's much more where that came from.

Q:  Will the Blazers make the playoffs?

A:  No, but if it ended today they'd be tied for 8th.  This team is surprising me on a daily basis.

I'm not really surprised by the things we see moment-to-moment on the court.  You know when Martell or Travis raise up for a shot there's a good chance it's going in.  You know when Zach is on the move good things will probably happen.  You know when Jack or Roy has the ball you're probably going to have a positive outcome.  But it still surprises me when I look at the collective result of all this put together.  12 wins in 26 games isn't much to some franchises, but for us right now it's nearly a miracle.

Q:  How will the Iverson trade affect the conference?

A:  It makes Denver a better team and the Blazers still have four meetings with them.  They're the favorites in the division.  Denver was a thorn in the Blazers' side anyway.  This trade isn't good news for the Blazers.

We were never going to beat Denver regularly this year anyway.  By the time we get good enough for it to matter Iverson will be plenty old.

Q:  Who's your non-Zach MVP for the Blazers?

A:  Jarrett Jack.  He's been very solid and answered the call.  He's been better than the team could have imagined.  He's emerged as that rock, the leader.  I would have to put Ime in there somewhere too.  He's been incredibly valuable, guarding the opponent's best scorer, not being even a second thought for Nate.

Funny, that's who all of you voted for too.  Great minds think alike, eh?

Q:  How many games before Brandon starts again?

A:  Two games.  Maybe in the Suns game even.  Either them or New Orleans.

It won't be long, agreement to bring him along slowly or not.  Nate's going to see possible wins and insert him.

Q:  Would the Blazers have trouble re-signing Ime, considering how well he's played?

A:  It's possible that somebody could make a run at him but I think he'd want to say here.  It's a good fit.

Also I think he's of more value to the Blazers than he would be to many teams.  Basketball IQ and perimeter defense are still in short supply here, and that's what makes him stand out.  On a veteran team he wouldn't have the same role.  That said, does anyone else see him developing more and more into a Bruce Bowen kind of player?

Q:  Anything you anticipate for the Raptors game?

A:  For the first time in a long time the Blazers will be favored.  I'm curious to see Brandon Roy.  He was a little rusty last night, maybe apprehensive.  It's been a while so it's almost like we've forgotten his game.  Bargnani is interesting to watch but he gets lost out there.  Jorge Garbajosa is a lot bigger than you think he is.  Still the Blazers should win the game.  What a post-Christmas matchup that would be with Phoenix if both are on winning streaks.

True, but comparing our winning streak to that of Phoenix is like comparing a kid who just put together his very first plastic model of an F-15 to an actual fighter pilot.

Q:  Who goes to the bench if Roy starts?

A:  Martell

Q:  Martell had a decent game last night but he seems subdued and serious.

A:  That's Martell nowadays.  He's moody.  He's kind of lost that fun, childlike aura he had last year.  The fun seems to be gone.  He's coming along though.  He's escaped out of that danger zone he was in earlier when he was contributing nothing.  He's doing some things now, though he still needs to do more.

I think we've all noticed this.  Something is just not clicking for Martell and you can't quite pin down what it is.  His shot looks decent, he's just not taking it much.  He'll grab a few rebounds and make a few hustle plays but then he'll disappear entirely.  I just don't get it sometimes.

Steve Patterson joins the program now.

Q:  Your impressions of the team right now?

A:  Anybody that's paying attention is excited about where we're headed.  We've won on the road.  We've won at home against good clubs.  We're in good position to win tomorrow.  Toronto is also playing well though. this point Mr. Patterson has a right to crow a little.

Q:  What are our chances of making the playoffs?

A:  (laughs) We'd be leading the Atlantic Division.  It'll depend how we play against the Western clubs, especially on the road.  Everybody would say we're well ahead of where we were expected to be.  If everything breaks right we could be at or above the .500 mark.

That alone would be a huge I don't think we'll make either, let alone the playoffs.  But isn't it nice to be talking about these things?

Q:  How does the Iverson deal change the division?

A:  He's an exciting player.  He and Carmello being the leading scores in the league they'll put some points on the board.  If everybody stays healthy they'll have a two-year window.  They'll be tremendously exciting to watch no matter what.

Is anybody else looking forward to the chemistry aspect of this thing as much as anything?

Q:  Are the trade phones still ringing?

A:  Things have returned to normal.  There will be some tweaks at the trade deadline.  Also after the first of the year with the non-guaranteed contract deadline.

That and everybody's going home for Christmas.

Q:  Your reflections on the Denver-New York fight?

A:  It's not the image the league wants to portray.  It's not what the fans want to see.  A few guys escalated the fight and they got appropriately sanctioned.  David Stern doesn't do these things off the top of his head.  The league doesn't need this.

OK, but we're a long way from the old ABA days when a fight was pretty much expected with every hard pick.  It feels like the WWE vs. the old ECW when comparing flavors.  I'm not arguing for fighting, I'm just saying that it seems to be such a bigger deal now than it once was.

Q:  What is the status of Zach's foot?

A:  He's fine.  He played well the other night.  He's ready to go.  We're happy to have Brandon Roy back too.

That would be a severe understatement I imagine.

Q:  What does Brandon bring to the team, on the court and off?

A:  Fan enthusiasm, for one.  He makes the players around him better.  He's willing to take the big shot but also finds his teammates.  He helps on defense.  He's well-rounded and savvy even though he's just a rookie.  There's no way he shouldn't be Rookie of the Year.  Those who questioned what we had to give up in order to get him are going to see what kind of player he is.

OK...this is, like, the third time he's brought up that last part since he's been doing these chats.  Or maybe it was Pritchard that brought it up once on another podcast.  Either way, there are some long memories, and perhaps some stinging wounds, in the Blazer front office.  While I was hardly the only person who questioned some of the moves on draft night, I was one of the more prominent "local family" ones, so let me clarify.  I didn't hear ANYBODY (certainly not myself) question that Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge were the guys to get on draft day.  In fact I remarked the day before the draft that I would be very happy if we got exactly those two.  Nobody doubted what they could become, nor claimed the talent we got was bad or unequal.  Plenty of people did (and some still do) question whether we could have gotten one or both of these wonderful players without making the extra moves that we made, however.  THAT was the question, and the only question, I heard asked seriously.  And that question cannot be resolved by Brandon playing well or poorly or anything in between, because it has nothing to do with his talent.  So I guess if I were Mr. Patterson I'd ease up on that a little, because nobody is talking about it anymore.  In fact the glory of Brandon's play has already made people from Steven A. Smith on down forget that it was even an issue.  So all he's doing by bringing it up is to open old questions that don't need to be opened or asked and making people remember things that are less positive instead of the more positive stuff we have right before us.  In other words, his words are having the exact opposite effect from what he intends.  Even if you felt wronged by people's questions that night, time to let it go.

Q:  What about Travis?  Can he win 6th Man of the Year?

A:  That's harder because there are so many good players out there.  He's made strides from where he was this summer.  We weren't that pleased with his summer but he came back strong in the fall.  His conditioning is the best it's ever been.  He's taken coaching well.  Right now he'd be a senior in college and if that were true he'd be a lottery pick.  He's made a lot of progress this year.  Hopefully he'll continue to grow.

This is maybe the first time I've heard a Blazer official make that bold of a statement about not being pleased with a current player for anything other than disciplinary reasons.  I think I like the candor.  I'm also glad that Travis is out of the doghouse.

Q:  Do you keep in touch with players that move on from the team?

A:  Sure.  I've been around the league a long time.  There are some old guys still around that I drafted.   You talk with people like that, people who move through, people you try to trade for.  The NBA family isn't that big and you get to know each other.

That's interesting.  I wonder how the league determines what is tampering and what isn't though.  How close of a relationship can you have and how much can you talk?  Or does "keep in touch" mean one of those typical male "Hey.  Hey!  How ya doin'?  Fine!  Call me sometime, we'll get lunch.  Alright, keep in touch, man." deals?

Q:  Will you campaign to get Travis into the dunk contest this year?

A:  We've asked in the past and he hasn't wanted to do it.  You have to come up with showy dunks.

Personally I think he's wise to stay out of it.  He can sure go high, but he hasn't got the hands to do the sweet stuff.  Unless he's got more he isn't showing us he'd get oohs and aahs for one dunk, then ignored after that.

Q:  What's your opinion on the old ball coming back?

A:  David did the best he could with it.  A number of players were unhappy.  So let's just go play with the old one.

Q:  Could that throw the Blazers?

A:  No...everybody's got to play with the same ball.

Makes sense.

Q:  Are you more reluctant to make trades when the team is playing well?

A:  You're always trying to maximize assets.  You want to make a deal at the appropriate time.  As you do better your guys get more interest.  We do like where we're going, though.

This is the old Catch-22.  There were a fair amount of people this summer saying, "Don't trade Zach when his value is low!  Wait until he plays better!"  My immediate thought was that when he plays better you won't want to trade him at all.

Q:  How many second round picks belong to the Blazers next year?

A:  We've got at least our first and our second, and we picked up four second-round picks last year, spread out through three years.  Teams are interested in picks in the coming year's deep draft.  They're good assets and every so often you score with one of them.

I guess they're assets, but I don't remember a ton of them being traded for people you'd remember.  They can become valuable on draft day I suppose.

Q:  You and Nate apparently decide together who goes on the inactive list.  What do you take into account when deciding?

A:  Who's playing well (or not), who's healthy, the night's matchup.

I wonder how hard of a decision that is right now.  Graham seems a permanent candidate.  That just leaves one other guy.

Q:  Your thoughts on the Raptor game?  Will Brandon be in the starting lineup?

A:  Brandon will play.  He probably won't start for a few games.  We don't want to rush him back.  He'll get minutes.  Toronto has a good, young club.  You'll get to see the #1 pick, Bargnani.

It is a little hard to muster enthusiasm for a Raptors squad sans Chris Bosh, but since Steve didn't say it, I will...go out and see them anyway.  This has become a good thing to do on a Friday night again.

Good chat again this week.  I was again impressed by Steve Patterson's relaxed manner and candor.

--Dave (