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Quick Chat 10/10/07

Here's our recap of Oregonlive's Quick Chat hosted by Casey Holdahl.  As always this is a paraphrase of the questions and responses.  You can listen to the entire chat here.  

Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick joins the chat.

Q:  What have you seen at camp that's interesting?

A:  First off I'm excited for tonight.  I'm excited to see this new brand of Blazers basketball that we've seen in practice...a decidedly more up-tempo, pushing, fast-break style.  I'm curious to see if they can do it in a game while limiting their mistakes.  That's the big thing Nate has been harping on in camp.  Also I'm dying to get a look at Taurean Green.  Nate cannot stop raving about this kid.  He has officially leapfrogged Sergio as the #3 point guard now.  The only bad part about that is Nate is itching to see how he plays with Brandon Roy and we're not going to see Brandon at least during the first five games of pre-season.  Nate really thinks that Taurean Green will be a factor for this team.  From the little bit of live practices we've been able to see I can tell you this:  Taurean Green has done something every day to make me notice him.  You can't say that about everybody.  The kid just has something that makes him a winner.  Nate is enamored with him.  Also fans will be able to get their first look at Channing Frye.  I think they'll be pleasantly surprised.  He has a feathery-smooth jump shot, pretty much money from the top of the key and in.  I'd like to see if he shows a little bit of ruggedness and get in there and play some post offense and defense.  Also James Jones...we haven't seen much of him in practice because he's been held out.  He has a pretty stroke, not quite as pretty as Martell's but it's really nice.  When it goes in the net it's very soft.  I'm curious to see if he or Travis is the answer at the three.

Q:  How has practiced changed with the up-tempo offense?  What will be the biggest growing pains with the new style?

A:   The biggest change is that the team no longer concentrates so much on the halfcourt offense revolving around Zach Randolph.  The personnel have changed.  This is a more athletic, quicker, and smarter team.  As a result we've seen Nate emphasize pushing the ball.  He never did that before.  This is him adapting to his personnel.  I think the big question will be whether they're able to curtail their turnovers.  That remains to be seen.  Early on Nate also cautioned that the up-tempo stuff is partially because Brandon Roy is absent and you have two point guards out there.  By nature it's going to be a quicker game with two guys who can handle the ball.  Nate professes that Brandon Roy is not a guy you want to run with.  He's not a Clyde Drexler.  When opening night comes that starting unit will be more of a halfcourt style offense because Brandon Roy is so good at pick and rolls and breaking down his man.  The second unit will be the go unit with athleticism and speed.  We're going to see a lot of experimenting in the pre-season to see which groups play well with each other and what their identities will be.  We're going to see shifts tonight.  Nate has said he'll bring in five guys for five minutes at a time.  We're going to see some mixing and matching.

Wow...I don't know about the rest of you but that revelation about not wanting to run with Roy is the most interesting one I've heard in years.  I know he was very successful in the halfcourt last year but I always assumed that he'd flourish in an up-tempo game as well.  And to be fair I don't think either Nate or Jason is saying Brandon can't run, rather that the halfcourt plays to his offensive strengths.  It does sound like Nate is actively shaping the team offense around Roy, which is a huge vote of confidence.

Q:  If Brandon Roy is not a guy you want to run with what players do benefit most from an up-tempo game?

A:  Travis Outlaw obviously.  Lamarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye.  Although Channing surprises me a little bit.  He's not as fast as I thought.  He's kind of a lumbering guy.  He's not Jamaal Magloire bad but it takes him a while to get going.  Lamarcus, as we all know, runs like the wind.  If Sergio gets in the game that tempo favors his style.  Joel can hang in that kind of game.  I don't think it affects him.  Martell would be good in the open court.  He could handle the ball better but you like to see him flying on the wing and pulling up for a three.  The team as a whole is pretty adaptable to that style.

Q:   What will the second unit be?

A:  If I were pressed to name them I think Blake will be in the second unit.  As I said Nate wants the first unit to be more halfcourt-oriented.  Jack is not quite as good at pushing the tempo as Blake is.  The two is a wild-card.  Nate is leaning towards using another point guard there, either Green or Sergio.  Martell will be the three, Frye at four, maybe slip Lamarcus in at the five after a short breather.

Q:  Who will start tonight?

A:  Blake and Jack, Travis, Lamarcus, and Joel Przybilla.

Q:  What will we see out of Lamarcus tonight?  Will he get a full run?

A:  I don't think anybody will see starter's minutes (30-35) tonight.  Maybe one of the point guards will see a lot of run but I don't foresee Lamarcus getting up to 30.  Part of that is because Nate wants to see Channing Frye.  As far as Lamarcus' season he's going to be marvelous.  I don't think the NBA realizes how good this kid is.  He's got incredible work ethic.  We've heard from Strength and Conditioning Coach Bobby Medina that Lamarcus is the best guy as far as getting in the weight room.  After every practice this season Lamarcus has stayed after to shoot three-pointers.  Over and over and over again from every side and angle he's shooting threes.  He wants to make that part of his repertoire.  I'm not sure he's ready to make it a part of his game yet but he's working on it.  He's also working on the left hand.  He's not ready on that yet either but when it goes in it looks pretty.  He's the full package.  He can shoot inside, outside, run the floor, he's a great defender, he can scramble and trap, block shots...the kid is destined to be a ten-time all-star.  This is going to be his breakout year.  He'll lead the team in scoring this year.

So far, so good on that count too.  Though technically Martell led the team in scoring last night.  But Lamarcus has the ability to score efficiently as well as copiously, which really improves our offense.

Q:  What do you do about the center position tonight with only Joel Przybilla out there?

A:  It'll be interesting to see how Nate plays that.  Maybe Frye will get some minutes, maybe Aldridge.  It'll be interesting to see.  I don't have a really solid answer on that.

Q:  Will we see Outlaw at power forward this season?

A:  Yes...a lot like last year.  Last year he played almost exclusively at power forward.  Just because of the need at small forward he'll play a little bit more there and the starting job is his to take.  But I'm sure he'll play at power forward because Nate is going to experiment with different lineups.

One thing's for sure...if Travis can't make it as a small forward with this team this year then he's just not a small forward.

Q:  Let's get back to Sergio and Taurean Green.  Fans like Sergio and every time you mention him some fans get upset that he's not playing more.  What is going on there?  Is Sergio not ready to play at this level yet or is it style of play?

A:  If I took anything from Monday's open practice it's that Sergio is not ready.  If Nate had to stop something or yell instructions 90% of the time it was at Sergio.  Nate says he has a hard time with the language, even though his English has gotten better.  He still has a hard time making the transition between hearing the call and relaying it to his teammates or hearing a call and being able to adjust defensively.  He's constantly out of position and he still makes silly turnovers.  That just doesn't fly at the point guard position.  On top of that Taurean has been very good.  He's a great defender.  He's the best outside shooter among the point guards.  That's going to earn points with Nate McMillan.  Taurean is just tough.  There's something about him...whatever "it" is, he has it.

Q:   How has Taurean been on defense?  That's something people feel is a weakness of Sergio's.

A:  If you were to pick a forte for Taurean it's defense.  He gets his nose in there.  He's only 6'0" but it's a sturdy 6'0".  He has a bulldog mentality.  He's not afraid of anything.  He gets his nose in there and pressures baseline to baseline.  That's something the Blazers have always wanted their point guards to do.  Sebastian Telfair couldn't do it.  Jarrett Jack has yet to do it.  Nate wants a point guard who when the other team inbounds the ball he'll be in their hip pocket all the way down to the free throw line.

Hmmm...Nate's saying Sergio isn't ready.  Jason Quick is saying Sergio isn't ready.  Those of us who watched during Summer League are saying Sergio isn't ready.  I think there might be a possibility that Sergio isn't ready.

I believe the language issue is some of it, but that's not all of it.  At least I hope it's not.  If it is that's even worse because the guy should have spent all summer locked up with some Berlitz tapes or Rosetta Stone software or something.  But honestly, even if the English were perfect, the guy needs time.

Q:  Does the emergence of Taurean Green make Sergio expendable?

A:  Both Nate and Kevin Pritchard have been pretty up front in saying they like all four of the point guards and they're going to give them time and let them develop.  These are all young guys...even Steve Blake is relatively young.  They want to see how they grow and see how they fit.  They're not going to be making any knee-jerk reactions and trading anybody.  The only way I can see that happening is if they're in the thick of a playoff race in February and they feel they can make a deal to get them over the hump.  That's the only scenario I can see.  I don't think this team will get an itchy finger and feel like they have to unload one of these guys.

That's exactly what we don't need.  Just because guys like Sergio aren't ready right now doesn't mean they're not a star in the making.  Look how long it's taken Travis to get to even a semi-dependable level.  And everyone is hoping his ceiling is way higher than this.  A team that's this young anyway doesn't need to be trading off assets it doesn't know about.  On what basis would you say Sergio (or any of the young talents on this team, for that matter) is expendable?  That's the point...we don't know what we have yet.

Q:  Not even with the injuries to the big men?

A:  I don't think so.  They want to see this play out.  They don't have great expectations for this season.  They want these young guys to stay together, build, and get better together.  There's a lot to be said for that.  Teams that grow up together have chemistry.  They want to see what they have first.  I don't think a trade is on the Blazers' radar.

For so long the Blazers have been the point they were going to drown.  This year they've come up for air.  Now they have to see if they can swim.  If we see they can swim this year then they have to get to the shore.  Then we have to see if they can climb the mountain.  We'll know that they're ready to climb the mountain when we stop talking about position battles and whether or not guys are ready.  We'll be talking about how to beat the Jazz.  That's the team that the Blazers have their sights on.  They have the most staying power at the top in the West.  All the other teams are getting old or breaking apart.  The Jazz with Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer and Andre Kirilenko are going to be there for years.  Once we start talking about having a point guard who can defend Deron Williams or having a big guy who can stay with Boozer, that's when you know the team has arrived.  That's when it's time to start talking about trading for pieces.  Years ago when the Blazers were good that's when they brought in guys like Scottie Pippen and Shawn Kemp (even though that one blew up on them).  Years ago the Blazers killed the Jazz because they had J.R. Rider who could post up Jeff Hornacek and he couldn't stop him.  Once the Blazers start looking at matchups that's when you know this team has arrived.

Well said.  I've argued for a long time now that you'll be able to tell where this team is in its journey by what we talk about.  As I said earlier this week you can tell we've already come out of the darkest depths because we're not longer making excuses for our players, we're not arguing about or defending management, and we're not talking trades in every second post.  You can also tell we're not very far out of the depths because pre-season and the draft still mean a lot to us and get us excited.  (Nothing wrong with that...we are where we are.)  The next step will be pre-season and the draft being minor events and people being concerned about the regular season.  After that it'll be folks wanting to skip the regular season and just get right to the playoffs.  None of these things cause progress, of course, but they are good indicators you've made it.

Q:  Any update on Josh McRoberts?

A:  No.  He still has an immobilizing boot on.  It's going to be 2-3 weeks.  The best case scenario is that he plays in one or two pre-season games.  That's a shame because people are going to enjoy his game.  He's a fun player to watch.  Any time he gets the ball near the rim he dunks it.  He's a crafty passer.  He has a little knack for making nice passes.  He would have been fun to watch.

Q:  Any update on Darius Miles?

A:  No.  He's still working out.  He still hasn't been cleared to practice with the team.  He's not around during practices.  He comes in right when the team is getting done and he has is own private workout when the gym is cleared.  The best thing I can say is that he's lost all of that weight her gained and he looks decent.  It's a long, long haul and I don't think he'll be a factor with this team this year.

Q:  What is Martell doing to meet Nate's expectations on defense?

A:  I couldn't tell you that.  Martell is quicker this year.  He's shed some weight.  He's always wanted to be good.  You have to want to play defense.  He wants to.  He's been so raw and young and that's hurt him.  Now in his third year he'll pick up some of the tricks of the trade and he'll be better.

Also...Joel Przybilla made an interesting comment yesterday.  As the team gathered around Nate at the end of practice Nate gave them a message.  He started off saying that there was only one guy on the team who could rely on his offense to be on the court, that being Brandon Roy.  Everybody else needs to play defense to be on the court.  I thought that was an interesting message to send on the eve of their first game.  Whatever happens on offense doesn't matter as much as how you play defense because the defense will generate the offense.  That was an interesting tone-setter.

I knew the Brandon Roy comment was coming because I had read some reaction to it elsewhere.  I think people are prone to misinterpreting it.

I do not believe Nate was giving Brandon a free pass to not play defense.  We just got out of that kind of situation with Zach and it didn't do us any favors.  Besides that's just not something Nate would say.  Here's my take:

  1.  Nate said that because he knows that Brandon does put effort into defense.  In essence he's saying, "The best offensive guy on our team, the one who could get by on his scoring alone, works on defense.  Where do you think that leaves the rest of you?"  This was not only an attempt to spur the rest of the team but a sign of trust in Brandon.  I think Nate sees Brandon as somewhat akin to Gary Payton, who certainly could have skated by on his offense but became one of the best defensive players ever.  I'm not saying Nate thinks Brandon will ever be as good of a defender as Gary, but I think he looks at him as an all-around star and team leader like that.
  2.  Nate said it because he knew Brandon wasn't playing.  It was completely safe to point him out without worrying whether he just gave a guy a free pass to goof off that night.
  3.  In a weird way this also puts pressure on Brandon to keep up his defensive effort, lest the rest of the team accuse him of taking Nate up on his "offer" and slacking off.
Q:  Let's talk about defense and the up-tempo style.  A lot of people think when you go up-tempo then defense goes out the window.  I can't see Nate doing that.  How does defense work in the up-tempo game?

A:  First of all any up-tempo offense has to have good defense and rebounding.  That's how you generate a fast break...not taking the ball out of the net and inbounding it  but getting ahead of the defenders.  I think it will change this year with Lamarcus at power forward.  They're a much quicker, more athletic, scrambling-type defense.  We saw this late last year with Lamarcus at power forward.  Nate loves to use Lamarcus in the trap.  We'll see him scrambling and trapping because he has long arms and is quick and coordinated.  We'll also see a lot of zones trying to confuse people and take them out of their rhythm.  Against the zone people take outside shots which lead to long rebounds which lead to fast breaks.  We're going to see a much more active defense.  That's purely because Zach Randolph isn't here.  We all know Zach was a brutal defender and it was tough to hide him on a regular basis.  Lamarcus is an above average, if not good, defender who is versatile and will be able to help trap.

Q:  Will Channing Frye's speed be a liability on the fast break?

A:  Right now I'd say maybe.  It was enough to make me say, "Wow...look at him lumber."  We know that Channing did not pass the conditioning test.  He and Travis were the only ones who didn't.  It looks like he has a little bit of junk in the trunk.  Maybe by the end of training camp or pre-season he'll be back in shape.  I don't know if it's something inherent that he's not very fast or if it's an out of shape thing.  Maybe that's something I'll ask him tonight.

Q:  Who wins a foot race between Joel Przybilla and Channing Frye right now?

A:  I don't know.  Joel is pretty quick for a big man.  I'd say Joel because he was able to finish his conditioning test with five seconds left over while Channing couldn't finish his.

The Buffet of Goodness better be careful or he'll have to become the Side Salad of Restraint for a while.

Q:  Talk more about the battle between Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw at small forward.

A:  Travis has an advantage over Martell.  Nate has already said that Travis is the #3 option and is expected to be the third highest scorer on this team.  Martell right now only knows how to score if he's open and has time to shoot.  Travis knows how to get himself open and score.  Also Travis is a phenomenal weak-side defender.  He was second on the team in blocks this year.  He's still not a great defender though.  Travis has incredible upside.  The kid is extremely talented.  It's just matter of him getting his mind straight.  Right now he's as comfortable as ever with the system.  He's been here long enough that the learning process isn't so steep.  Travis has a decided edge.

Travis also needs to be careful because Martell is quite capable of taking that spot back from him.

Q:  I read something the other day about James Jones saying he was one of the worst players in the league when it comes to getting baskets down by the hoop.  Is there room on the roster for a three-point specialist?

A:  Yes!  It's a glaring need.  This team hasn't had a bona fide three-point shooter since Steve Smith.  That's killed them at times.  I would venture to say that in the last two years the Blazers have seen more zone defenses than anyone in the NBA.  That's because they haven't had anybody who can make an outside shot.  You bet there's a place for James Jones even if he just shoots jumpers.  He's a real X-factor for this team.  If he and Martell can make 40-42% of their three pointers then this team will be right up there around 40 wins.

Q:  Is the team ready to play tonight?

A:  This team is absolutely ready.  The practices has been incredibly sharp and intense.  I think the team will steal some games early in the regular season just because of how hard they play.  I don't think you'll ever hear Nate McMillan come in post-game and say, "We didn't have good effort tonight."  Certainly some guys won't have it on certain nights but I think there's enough guys to cover on a given night.  This team is ready.  They've been on-task during practice.  They've gotten a lot done.  They accomplish what Nate has planned every practice.  That hasn't happened in Nate's two years here...where he goes through every practice and accomplishes what he has on his plan sheet.

Q:  You mentioned that Nate's "Sarge" personality has taken a back seat.  What other changes have you seen in Nate?  Does he seem happier?

A:  Well sure!  This is a coach's dream.  He's said it over and over.  This group listens.  They come on time and practice hard.  There's no messing around.  Before there were so many distractions from Zach goofing off in practice or Darius taking things personally and making one-on-one battles during practice when they were trying to accomplish a team goal.  A bunch of that stuff has gone on.  Ruben Patterson did various things.  It's not happening this year.  It's really a coach's dream.  There is a comfort level with Nate.  He's just more at ease and he's encouraged.

Q:  Zach Randolph scored 17 points in New York's pre-season game so I hear they're satisfied.

A:  Yeah, sure...Zach's going to score.  But he's also going to give up a ton of points.  I guarantee you.

I'm just relieved not to have to second-guess anymore.  I'm happy to be able to celebrate our players' successes, big or small, without having to put asterisks behind them for all of the reasons Jason mentioned above.

Q:  Any update on the Clippers tonight?

A:  I haven't studied up much on the Clippers.  Elton Brand is out.  Tim Thomas will be getting his minutes.  Point guard is a big question for them with Shaun Livingston out and Sam Cassell being ancient.

Q:  So what else is going on this week?

A:  Well we go to Boulder for a game against Denver on Friday and then to Atlanta for a Sunday afternoon exhibition.  That's the weekend.  Beyond that I don't really have anything planned because I like to watch these games and then read and react and let the storylines develop.  We'll go from there.

Q:  Really quick, what did you think about John Canzano's column today?

A:  I didn't agree with it.  I think Paul Allen has already made that statement that he's committed to the team.  He paid three million dollars for Sergio and another three million to get Rudy Fernandez.  He's shown an incredible commitment to the team and to winning.  He bought out Steve Francis too.  That's a lot of money he's spent in the last couple of years to make this team better.  I still think he's one of the best owners in professional sports because he's willing to spend the money if it'll make the team better.  He's shown incredible commitment to the organization and the city.  Plus he's made all of these improvements to the Rose Garden.  He's behind it.


Good chat today, as always.  Hope you enjoyed it!

--Dave (