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Quick Chat 10-04-07

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.

But before we get into it, I suddenly realized that I have never given Casey credit for one of the best opening lines in the podcast business.  "Greetings, Blazer fans!  It's Thursday, it's 2:00 [or in this case 2:01], and we are here with Jason Quick..." has become cozy and familiar like coming home after a long week.  It's not in Schonely-ism territory yet, but it's good stuff.

Q:  How was practice today?

A:  We have news...not good news for the Blazers.  Josh McRoberts had a very bad ankle sprain last night, his left ankle.  The team is listing him as week to week but I told that to Jarrett Jack and he said, "No way!  He's going to be out way more than one week."  It's one of the worst ankle sprains he's seen.  He exaggerated and said his ankle is the size of a basketball.  Obviously it's not that big.  The weird thing about it is he was just making a cut.  They were going through their offensive plays and he was making a cut and he got tangled up with James Jones.  He rolled it and it's very severe.  As a result Nate has made tonight's evening session optional just because they're running out of bodies.  That's Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, Darius Miles, and now Josh McRoberts.  That's four people out and they're running low on bodies so Nate's going to have to scale back a little bit.

Q:  Any comment from the franchise on why this stuff keeps happening?  People are saying the team is cursed...

A:  No.  This is basketball.  This stuff happens.  A lot of it happens in training camp because this is the first rigorous action they've been under.  I know they played pick-up basketball but the tempo and intensity of these practices lend themselves to injury.  Obviously this is a freak thing with Josh.  I think Brandon is a little different and may be more chronic.  There's no way to explain it.  Injuries just happen.  That's always one of the unknowns going into the healthy your team is going to be.

I'm sure what Jason meant to say is that we won't be cursed after Saturday the 13th when Blazersedge officially disperses the bad juju...

Q:  If Josh McRoberts got tripped up with James Jones does that mean that Jones is practicing now?

A:  James Jones just practices in the evening sessions.  He takes the morning sessions off.

Q:  What did you see at the practice aside from Josh and Brandon being injured?

A:  First of all Kevin Pritchard told me that the first three practices were the best practices he's seen in a while.  Nate McMillan agreed with that.  He is very, very pleased with how things are going.  The team is very coachable.  They're getting stuff done.  He's had to do very little yelling although he did yell a little in today's practice.  The frustrating thing is that Brandon Roy is not practicing.  A lot of the team's offense is centered around Brandon Roy and Nate has special plays drawn up for him.  They can't implement those because Brandon obviously isn't practicing.  They're hoping to get him back tomorrow for some light practice and have him back at full speed next week.  But other than that Nate is ecstatic with how things are going so far.

Once again you can hear the implication that it hasn't always been that way, which can't have been fun for Nate or anyone.  It sounds like the team has done a great job of making sure good influences are around our young guys.

Q:  Has anyone stood out, looking good?

A:  Yesterday we got to watch about 20 minutes of scrimmage and Jarrett Jack really stood out.  He was my player of the day.  I told that to Nate and he said yes, Jarrett has looked very good.  The thing that people will notice is his lateral movement.  He's able to put pressure on the ball-handler from baseline to baseline.  He's able to funnel his man to the sideline and still stay with him.  His mobility and quickness are markedly better.

I also have a couple of tidbits of information.  If Jarrett Jack is excelling, a guy who isn't and is in trouble is Travis Outlaw.  It got to the point yesterday that Nate and Kevin Pritchard had to pull him aside after practice, bring him in a room, and speak with him.  They told him he is going to be an important part of this team...the third option on offense...the third highest scorer.  They told him he had to step it up.  Of particular concern is his conditioning.  He did not pass the conditioning drill the other of only two people who couldn't.  Channing Frye was the other.  Travis has passed every year.  The fact that he was not able to do it and couldn't even finish the last two times he ran it was of great concern to Nate McMillan.  It's exactly what you don't want to see from a guy you just signed to a contract...coming in out of shape.

Q:  Travis didn't mention working out when we talked to him about his summer...

A:  I don't know what he did.  I do know this, having been around him since he was a rookie:  he needs someone to prod him.  He's not what you'd call a self-starter.  Maybe being back in Mississippi isn't the best environment for him.  I think they will get a handle on this now that he's in Portland and around the coaching staff.  He'll be pushed and prodded.  The first push was yesterday when they sat him down and told him he needed to step it up.

I think the biggest piece of news, if it ends up panning out, is Jarrett Jack's lateral quickness.  Jarrett has an incredible body for a point guard.  He's going to be able to bump and bruise any time he wants.  He could be a threat in the paint, on the drive, or with his shot and he's proven he can do all three.  He also does a decent job of running the offense...not spectacular, but good enough.  His two weaknesses appear to be running the break (and the jury is still out on that because of who he had to run with last year) and defense.  He has the body to be a good defender.  He has the mindset to be a good defender.  The big question is does he have the quickness to be a good defender.  If indeed his lateral quickness has improved (or he's learned how to use it) and it's not just a mirage of the players he's guarding being equally slow or not going all out, then he's going to be a very dangerous guy.  Simply put:  if he defends, he starts.  No question.

The Travis thing is disappointing but not terribly out of character.  What Jason said about the contract deal just sends chills up your spine.  We've seen the post-contract letdown (a.k.a. the contract-year dupe) multiple times.  I really don't want to believe that of Travis.  I tend to think that the argument about him not being a self-starter is the better explanation.  I hope that's not wishful thinking.

Q:  OK, so Travis isn't playing well, James Jones is anybody playing well at small forward?

A:  Out of the conditioning drills Martell Webster was the best of anybody on the team.  He finished the four runs with 17 seconds left which was better than anybody on the team.  He tied Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez for the fastest time.  The two big eye-openers from a positive standpoint were Martell and Lamarcus Aldridge.  Lamarcus had 16 seconds to spare, Blake 13, Sergio 13, Jarrett Jack 9 seconds.  Everybody who was able to run it passed except for Travis Outlaw and Channing Frye.  They will have to pass it tonight.

Q:  Or else what?

A:  Or else they'll be doing it all through training camp.  And I'll tell you this is not a way to get on Nate's good side.  If you're not in shape Nate will not be very happy with you.

You know what's funny?  When Casey asked, "Or else what?" you were thinking of tangible penalties...fines, getting cut, etc.    Some of those (the fines anyway) may still happen.  But Jason's tone of voice made it very clear that the worst penalty of all was getting on Nate's bad side.  I just find that really amusing.  It's as if one couldn't imagine a worse penalty in the if the players were Nate's kids and their mothers had just said, "Wait until your father gets home!"  I mean, you know he can't do anything permanently bad to you because he's your dad, but still inside you feel like you're one dead little kid.  Those words "Nate will not be happy with you..." seem to carry a ton of weight.

Q:  Have you ever seen them run this drill?  What's it like?

A:  They run baseline to baseline...I think it's either 5 or 7 times.  The guards have 60 seconds, forwards 61 seconds, power forwards 62 seconds, and centers 64 seconds.  They can bank time.  If Steve Blake finishes in 55 seconds he has an extra 5 seconds for next time.  They run it four times.

Come on, Jason!  Get the number down!  You know all of us are itching to go out there and try running it!  Is it 5 or 7?  And is "baseline to baseline" one-way or round trip?  I expect this to be answered in the next chat.

Q:   Let's talk about the shooting guards.  Who is playing with Roy injured?

A:  Right now Nate is playing Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack as his 1 and 2 guards.  They switch off.  Martell has been impressive not so much with his outside shot as his interior play.  He's had a couple of nice drives and finishes.  We've also noticed that individually he's been working on receiving passes at the three-point line, dribbling, and getting a shot off.  He's trying to work on ways to score besides just drifting behind the three-point line.  If you remember last year Martell would play 14 minutes and not get a shot because he was just drifting trying to find that wide open shot.  Often times you're not going to get that shot.  He's got to find a way to create his own shot and he's working on it.

Q:  Any change in demeanor?

A:  He seems happier.  He's in great shape.  I think he has changed his mindset.  He's going to be more coachable.  He wants instruction and to get better.  He knows this is a big season for him.  Nate has thrown the gauntlet down.  This is his third year.  He needs to get better.  There are no more excuses.  I'm excited to see whether he's going to be able to take all that and translate it into something good on the court.

Q:  Will Martell play at shooting guard in the pre-season or will it be one of the extra point guards?

A:  I don't know yet.  I don't think Nate knows yet.  I think he'll experiment.  I think Martell will be in the top nine and play a lot.  He has to because Brandon has to rest.  I'm talking regular season here.  Brandon is going to have to rest sometimes.  They're going to need a 2 to step up.  Martell is the logical choice.

Obviously I love the good news on Martell.  Every Blazer fan should.  But then again since we just talked about Travis' ups and downs with the contract we should point out that Martell's extension time comes soon.

Q:  What are the team's chances if Brandon Roy can't play regularly?

A:  Brandon is going to be fine.  I don't think he'll have to miss games because of his heel.  They're going to be hyper-sensitive about that.  Nate has already said if Brandon comes to him and says he needs to take practice off because of the heel he will more than happily grant Brandon that leeway.  They'll be careful with him and make sure he can play every game.

Q:  He felt this heel during the summer too. He said he aggravated it.  How does that work with a bone injury?

A:  It's certain ways that he lands that aggravates it.  In the summer he had a nagging feeling but the thing on Tuesday he had a sharp pain.  He hit on the sore spot and it sent a shot of pain through him.  Other than that I can't tell you much because Brandon doesn't even know.  Obviously if he knew what caused it he wouldn't do those things.  It's more or less a mystery injury.

Q:  What is the reputation of the Blazers' training staff throughout the league?

A:  Jay Jensen is the head trainer and he's been in the league for 15-18 years.  He used to be with the Timberwolves.  He's very well respected.  He's cautious and cares about the health of the players. He's not going to send a guy out there if he feels it's going to make something worse.  Jeff Clark is the assistant trainer and he's been with the team ten years.  I have the utmost respect for those guys.  I don't think you can pin the injuries on them.

On Roy's injury:  No Oden = No Angst.  That's the long and short of it.  We just have to let this play out.  The worst that could happen is he needs surgery and if he does, thank goodness it's this year when we're hurt anyway.

Q:  Sergio wasn't in the nine-man rotation that Nate outlined earlier.  Is he sending a message to Sergio or maybe to Sergio's fans?

A:  I don't think Nate meant either.  I was so surprised that people made such a big deal out of that.  Really when you look at it Sergio shouldn't play ahead of Blake or Jack, at least not to begin the season.  I don't think it was a motivational tool either.  It's pure and simple:  you've got to be a better point guard than those two to get on the court.  I don't think Sergio has that complete package right now.  I still think Sergio will play.  He will be the #3 point guard.  And this is not set in stone.  If Sergio comes into camp and pre-season and lights it up--plays good defense, hits the outside shot, makes good decisions--then Nate will reward him with playing time.  But right now I don't think there's any way you can say that Sergio should be ahead of those other two guys.

Q:  I think even Sergio knows he has a ways to go.

A:  Yes.  He's used to this from the Spanish National Team.  He didn't play very much because Jose Calderon was playing well.  He realizes that.  I don't think Sergio thinks he's an all-star who's ready to break on the scene.  He realizes that he has room to grow.  I still think Sergio is in this team's plans.  They like him.  He'll play this year.  He just won't be a focal point of this team yet.

This is pretty much how I felt.  I love watching Sergio.  I hope Sergio gets really, really good for us someday.  There's no way Sergio is there yet.  Throwing him out there before he has proven he's ready won't be good for him or the team.  Let the boy cook a while longer!

Q:  Is Darius Miles at practice?

A:  I haven't seen him.  He hasn't been cleared to play.  He may be in the weight room or somewhere that's off-limits to us but I haven't seen him.

Q:   Have your thoughts on Darius changed since media day?

A:  No.  I'm not entirely sure what my thoughts were before.  I just think it's going to be difficult for Darius to play this year.  He still has a long way to go in his recovery.  And even when he's cleared to practice that's just the beginning of the battle.  Then you have to be good enough to get on the court.  It's a huge thing.  He's had two knee surgeries.  His timing is going to be off.  His wind is going to be off.  His confidence will be down.  Everybody I've talked to when they've had knee surgery has said it's a huge mental thing to come back.  Will the knee hold up?  Do I still have that explosiveness?  It plays with your mind.  He's going to have to overcome a series of obstacles before we can talk about him playing in a meaningful game.  I don't think it's going to happen this year.

Q:  Is Joel returning to his old form?

A:  I have a story on Joel coming up tomorrow.  One of the big noticeable things in this training camp is Joel Przybilla's shot.  Mike Barrett let us in on it earlier on that Joel's shot is different.  I'm telling's completely different.  I have a quote from Lamarcus saying, "Yeah, Joel's shot is pretty now.  We all know how ugly Joel's shot was and what a poor free throw shooter he is.  It looks like a normal shot now."  Joel is hoping to shoot 70% from the line this year.  His career high two years ago was 53%.  Get the end of practice today Nate said if somebody could make a half-court shot he'd let them off of practice tonight.  Nobody made it.   Then Nate said if a guard could make it from three-point range the team could have practice off.  Nobody made it.  Then he said if a center could make a free throw then they could have it off.  Joel stepped up and swished it.  That's why tonight's practice was optional.  Nate told me afterwards that he was going to give them the evening off anyway but he wanted to see if anyone could hit a pressure shot.  Joel was the one to do it.  I think people will notice a change in his shot.  It won't translate into him being an offensive force but at least he'll try shots this year.  Last year he attempted fewer than two shots a game and opposing teams could play 5 on 4.  He wouldn't look to score so they didn't guard him.  Assistant coach Monte Williams says that Joel was shooting free-throw-line jumpers.  Nate was surprised by him shooting fade-away jump hooks.  It looks like he'll try to be more offensive-minded.  It will be a real benefit if teams have to respect Joel on the offensive end.

Q:   Do you think it has anything to do with Channing Frye being on the team and maybe taking center minutes?

A:  I don't think so.  Joel left last season very disappointed with himself, and rightly so.  It was a horrible season.  His whole mindset was to improve his leg strength in order to stay healthy and to improve his shot.  They actually started tinkering with his shot last season in a game in Phoenix, pre-game.  They started changing his form.  He took that into the summer and worked on his shot every day.  He didn't do the boxing or anything else, it was all basketball.  He just went into a gym and shot every day.  It's a nice looking shot now.

Q:   Do you think they'll run Joel in the pick-and-roll this year?

A:  I think they will if he shows some offensive ability.  This is something Nate and I butted heads on last year.  I told him that Joel was effective with the pick-and-roll in the Cheeks era and wondered why we weren't seeing that under Nate.  He said, "Hey, we're running pick-and-rolls for him and he's just not rolling and wanting to shoot the ball."  That was a confidence issue.  Joel admits he had zero offensive confidence last year.  Part of it was that he didn't want to get to the rim and get fouled because he didn't think he could hit a foul shot.  He shot 37% last year.  If he can shoot 70%, which is a lofty goal...but even 60%, then that's a facet that the Blazers haven't had.

I feel like Mr. Wet Blanket today, but I also have to point out that it usually takes a while for guys who make dramatic shot changes in the summer to evidence those in actual regular-season play.  The free-throw line thing will be the most hopeful, since he's unguarded and only has as much pressure as he puts on himself.  I hope Joel does come out and shoot charity shots well from Day One because that will be a big boost to his confidence.  But NBA shooting is different than shooting anywhere else.  The pressure, the defense, the dirty-trick bumps, the pace of the game and the's a whole different world out there.  I guess I'm saying it wouldn't surprise me to see Joel come out and miss a lot at first if he tries to shoot.  That doesn't mean his shot hasn't improved and I hope he won't give up on it or get discouraged if that's the case.  Even guards have trouble adjusting.  I think the real barometer will be how he's doing mid-season or three-quarters of the way through.  Don't dismiss what Jason and Mike have said if we don't see it right away.  But I wouldn't expect miracles either.

Oh...when Jason told his Joel story was anyone else disturbed by the fact that not a single guard could hit an unguarded three pointer?  Halfcourt, OK.  There are guys in the NBA who can sink that shot on a regular basis but for everyone else it's luck.  But reasonably good guards should be able to hit a three in practice just about anytime.  If one guy misses, fine...but ALL of them?  That's the part of the story that stuck out most to me.

Q:  Any news on Lamarcus?  Is he more of a leader with Brandon out?

A:  It's tough to tell but he's looked great.  He's very good inside and very physical.  He's in great shape.  He's going to be fabulous this year.  He's going to open up a lot of eyes around the league.  The average fan in Charlotte or D.C., they know who Lamarcus Aldridge is but they have no idea just how great he's going to be.  I think he'll be around 20 points and 8 or 9 rebounds and will carry this team at times.

Q:   Speaking of Washington, somebody e-mailed that Gilbert Arenas was on Jim Rome today and says he has double-red-circled the Blazer games this year.  I guess that means he's going to try and score 200.

A:  (laughs)

Apparently Fauxstradamus, 49-Short, Agent 2 (for 16 or whatever it was) doesn't think he has enough nicknames.  Here's a prediction for you:  the only way Gilbert Arenas scores 50 on the Blazers is with a gamepad.  Set on easy.  

Q:  Any news on Channing Frye at all?

A:  He's another bright spot.  His jumper is money.  From the top of the key it's all net almost every time.  That's another reason why there's going to be improvement in this year's team.  Channing Frye will be a double-digit scorer.  I have yet to tell what kind of defender he is but he's a big body and likes to get in there.  Mostly I've been impressed with his jump shot.

His defense is reportedly less that solid.  But New York invested very little into helping each other out.  This team may make each other look better defensively.

Q:   Anything coming up besides the feature on Przybilla?

A:  On Monday Joe Freeman is doing an article on the shooting coach that the Blazers hired.  It's kind of a growing trend in the NBA.  The Blazers are one of five teams who have hired a shooting coach.  He's working with Joel.  He uses video and charts every shot Joel takes in practice.  Through the first four practices he has Joel shooting 77% from the field.  That kind of presence will be a real asset to the Blazers.  Also he's a guy who if a player calls him at 11:00 at night he'll go to the gym and shoot.  That's going to help this team in the long run.

That's another thing.  This team is filled with gym rats.  They come to the gym, lift, shoot, sometimes around midnight or 11 p.m.  They have no practice tonight but Jarrett Jack is rounding up guys that are going to be in the gym tonight.  That's a great thing.  People can feel good about getting behind this team.  They're doing everything they can to get better.

As soon as Jason said, "Shooting Coach" what popped instantly into my mind was Stacy and Clinton from TLC's "What Not To Wear".  (Yes, the Milwaukee's Best can is falling on my head as I speak.  Hush.)  Especially with Joel, you know?  I can just see them.  "Joel, with the help of your friends we've been taking secret footage of your shot.  They all seem to think it's ugly and we agree.  So we're going to take you to New York and give you a complete shot makeover."  Then they make him go in the 360-degree mirror room and hoist a shot.  "UGH!  What was THAT?  It looks like it came from a 1940's low-budget sci-fi flick where the robots didn't get their joints greased well enough!"

Q:   If you go to the Wells Fargo fan fest this year and get to know some of the guys, unlike maybe in past years, when you meet a few players they're going to be pretty cool to you.

A:  They're going to embrace the fans.  It's really genuine too.  Talking to them at media day they realize the excitement in this town about the team.  They want to live up to it.  They're in tune to how the fans feel about them.  They want to reciprocate by being personable and working hard and performing well.  It's a really neat group.  It sounds corny but believe me, I've been around this league for a while now and this is an impressive collection of guys.  They're really cool people.

No doubt.  I love this team already, win or lose.  This is as emotionally attached as I've felt to a Blazer team since the 2000 run.

Q:   You mentioned that Dwayne Casey might be hanging around practice.  Any word on that?

A:  Yeah...he's not going to join this team as a coach.  They might consult with them periodically.  He, Nate, and coach Dean Demopolous are very close.  He has an itch to get his eyes back on the NBA game.  It's more of a friendly visit than anything else.

Another thing I wanted to add about the Fan Fest and the opening pre-season game against the Clippers...if you get a chance to see the new scoreboard the Blazers have, it's absolutely incredible.  It's probably the best scoreboard in the NBA.  Charlotte has a nice one, HD and very large, but this Blazer scoreboard is something else.  It has a lot of cool features at the top, it has the Portland skyline, the Freemont bridge that lights up, the Portland parallel sign that's on the Schnitzer Hall that also lights up.  They also have a new sound system, which is something that's been lacking in the Rose Garden.  It's going to be a neat element to the games this year.  It's really, really impressive.

It's too bad we can't get Mr. Casey as an assistant.  It would be great to have that trio together again.

Oh, and what do you want to bet Paul Allen has a bigger screen at home?

Great chat as usual.  I enjoy the comfort level and camaraderie between Jason and Casey.  I don't know how many other teams have regular podcasts like this but I'm sure there are few, and even fewer this informative and entertaining.

--Dave (