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Quick Chat Recap 12/07/07

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 did you see in the Memphis game on Monday?

A:  It was encouraging to see Travis break out.  If you listen to the last couple chats I was saying Travis was getting his shots and just not making them.  It was only a matter of time before he and Brandon started making them and we saw that in that game.  James Jones was an incredible lift for this team.  Even though Nate will start Martell against Miami down the road he might look at putting James in the starting lineup as he did in the second half.  James has a savvy on the court.  He's in the right place at the right time, he's patient with his shot, and he doesn't try to force anything.  If this lineup is tweaked again that will be how.

Q:   What does James Jones bring that Martell doesn't?

A:  It's hard to say because he hasn't played a lot but I would say a more consistent shooting stroke.  James has been in the league longer.  It looks like Martell's shot has diminished since the early season start.  In the little he's played James Jones' shot has been money.  His shot is so beautiful.  You've all heard me rave about Martell's shot as well.  I have a hard time choosing right now who has the more beautiful shot.  Martell's release is probably more picture perfect but the rotation and the way the ball goes in the net off of James' shot is something else.  It's like the ball explodes in the net yet it's a soft, feathery shot.  The best thing about James is he gives them another scorer.  When he's on the court he'll space things out for both Lamarcus and Brandon.  It's a nice asset to have.

Q:  What does the Memphis game mean to them?  Is it just another game?

A:  It's only big because it means they don't have to think about being winless.  Other than that I don't think it's a big deal.  These guys have played in the league enough and won enough on the road that it's not that big a deal.  It's of benefit because they no longer have to talk or think about it.

My take is that it meant more that they didn't lose it than it did that they won it.  It's not just the losing streak on the road, but the emotional weight of having lost another game they led and could have won.  As Jason is about to say...all of that potential negative emotion got channeled and flushed into Travis' big shot.  Emotion can be important to a young team.

Q:   Do you think they finally won because you weren't on the trip?

A:  (laughs)  No.  But I'll take that.  I'd gladly stay at home on road trips.

Q:  How is it different for you being at home and watching?

A:  It's a different perspective watching it on TV.  In the Dallas game I was really keen on their offense.  They had nice execution but it was apparent they were missing easy, wide-open shots that NBA players should make.  I don't think anything is wrong with the offense or needs to be drastically changed.  The system is sound and it's producing the type of shots that NBA players should make.  I also thought watching Sergio on television rather than live...I don't know the best way to put this.  I think he needs to play more.  He looked good to me.  You could sense a change in pace watching it on TV.  You could tell something was different.  He had something and I wanted to see more of it.  I don't think I've ever gotten that when I'm watching live.

Q:   He looks better on TV is what you're saying.

A:   Yeah...and it was just the Dallas game I was keying on.  It might be just that he had a good game against Dallas.  I didn't see the San Antonio game.  I really looked at their offensive execution in the Dallas game.  They got high quality shots and didn't make them.  They played well enough to win that Dallas game but didn't make the shots.

Q:   What about the last moments of the Memphis game?  How about Travis?

A:  It's hard because Travis' shot was big in so many respects.  It gave them the win, of course, but it also covered up what could have been a really ugly loss.  The Blazers gave up an offensive rebound, which has been their season-long problem.  They have to lead the league in giving up second-chance points.  Rudy Gay got in there basically untouched which is what was bothering Nate McMillan.  Going back to the basic fundamentals of basketball the first thing you do as a defender is find a guy and put a body on him.  Rudy Gay was untouched and got the basket.  The fact that Travis made the shot erased what would have been a bitter, stinging defeat.  There were some other breakdowns late that the shot helped cover up.  I don't think Memphis played all that well but Portland finally got guys going.  It was nice to see Brandon.  He played in control and looked like his old self.

This is also a pretty good explanation about why sweating wins and losses isn't productive right now.  The obvious winning highlight was the shot, but the more important one was the failed box-out.  In another few years we hopefully won't be in position to need a lot of last-second buzzer-beaters.  But we're always going to need good rebounding practices.  The win doesn't tell the whole story (just as sometimes losses don't) and it's not necessarily indicative of where we are.

Q:   Will Nate play Josh McRoberts more because other big men are struggling, especially with rebounding?

A:  No, I don't think so.  Not right now.

Q:   Then where will the toughness and rebounding come from?  That's what people want to know.  They're maybe thinking Josh will help.

A:   I don't think he's the answer.  He's really small.  

Q:   What is the answer then?

A:  They don't have one.  That's the whole point.  We're in early December and since October 1st we've been talking about the Blazers being undersized.  When Greg Oden went out everybody knew the team would be undersized and a byproduct of being undersized is getting outrebounded.  There is no answer unless you go out and get a player and Kevin Pritchard has been pretty clear about not sacrificing the future for the now.  This is a short-term problem.  It's going to be taken care of when Greg Oden returns.  People just have to be patient.  They're going to get outrebounded this year.  Sure there are some things they can do, like being more fundamental and putting bodies on people when the ball leaves the shooter's hand.  But also the Blazers have had a ton of loose rebounds that they fumble out of bounds...little stuff that they're not solid on.  It is what it is.  You've heard Nate McMillan say it a dozen times this season and I've picked it up.  They are who they are.

Right now I am touching the tip of my nose with my left index finger, pointing my right index finger at Quick, and going, "DING DING DING DING!"  I don't understand why it's so hard for people to get this.  Everybody seems to think that we can and should be playing better, that somehow there's a mystery solution out there, some combination of un-played (or under-played) players that's going to turn things around.  There is no real answer to what ails us except for getting Oden back, balancing the roster a little more, and getting some time under our belts.  Somebody (don't remember who right now) wrote a comment in one of the diaries to the effect of a great coach would have this team playing as well as it could.  What if this team is playing as well as it can?  What if right now we are a 7-12 team that's streaky and still learning how to play?  Even more, how do you know after losing Oden and getting our guts ripped out before the season ever started that we're not actually a 3-16 team playing over our heads (beating Dallas and Detroit and such)?  Given the youth of our roster and the obvious holes that's entirely possible.  The main goal of this season is to get through it having learned something and having kept our overall philosophy and desire to win intact.  Beyond that, winning is gravy.  That's the way it's going to have to be for fans this year.

Q:  Was getting together a month before the season significant or was it just a waste of time?

A:  It couldn't have hurt!  Any time you're all together, playing together, you develop chemistry knowing where people are going to be and what shots they are going to take.  Often times you see how their shots come off the board or rim.  It's hard to say it's made a huge difference sitting here at 6-12 but somewhere down the line it has to make a difference.  It's going to become a tradition.  Every year they'll be doing that.  That's just the way the culture of the Blazers is now.  You're going to be expected to come early because everybody else will be there.

Basic lesson:  If you have to hang your hats (publicly) on things like this you're not a very good team.

Q:   Tell us about Darius Miles.

A:  I screwed up in the paper and I want to clear that up.  His first surgery in 2005 was also on his right knee and his 2006 microfracture was on his right knee.  In the paper I said the early surgery was on his left knee but both have been on his right knee since he's been with the Blazers.

Q:  So what does his returning do or not do?

A:  Look...yes it's a positive step to get back on the court.  But people need to realize they're a long, long, long ways from even thinking about Darius playing in a game.  I'd be surprised if he plays in a game.  I've said that from the beginning of the season and I'm sticking to it.  It's one thing to do drills with Josh McRoberts.  It's another to go over to the Big Boy's court where the Blazers are actually practicing and run through plays and remember them, fight through screens, get the ball, make decisions and shots.  Even if you're doing that you have to run back and play defense.  And even if you're doing that you have to be better than James Jones, Martell Webster, and Travis Outlaw.  Each one of those is a huge, huge hurdle.  That's not going to happen just like that.  It would be an amazing accomplishment for Darius to get in a game this year.  It's too big of a hurdle, he's too rusty, his timing and conditioning are off, and I'm not sure he still has it.  He did surprise me when I watched his 45-minute workout yesterday...he was better than I thought he'd be.  Moving around he looked better.  But it's pretty apparent when he goes to the left and tries to jump off his right leg that he's got limited jumping ability.  But I remember at least two throw-down dunks when he went right and jumped off of his right foot.  It's apparent he's still got lift in that left leg.  In this day and age in the NBA you're going to be scouted heavily.  If he did get in the game teams would force him left all the time and force him to make an off-balance shot.

Q:  What are the team's expectations of Darius this year?

A:  I don't think they have any.  They'll take what they can get.  If he's good enough to get on the court it will be a plus.  But I don't think anyone--Nate, Kevin, or any of the players--are keeping their fingers crossed or hoping or expecting anything from Darius.  Anything he gives them will be gravy.  They've prepared themselves that he's not going to be there.  You have to remember there's hardly anybody on this roster who have played with Darius.  Joel and Travis, maybe Martell and Jarrett a little bit.  There's not a lot of familiarity with him on this roster.  It's not like they're saying, "Wow, we're missing this" or "We could have got this out of him".  I don't think they're thinking of him that much.  They're very supportive though.  

Q:  What about starting Roy at point and playing Rudy at shooting guard next year?

A:  I don't know if that will happen next year.   They might need a year to acclimate Rudy to the system and the team.  But more and more we'll see Roy morph into a full-time point guard over the next year-and-a-half or two.  I still think that's the grand plan.  We've all seen how much more effective Brandon can be with the ball in his hands.  That's the essence of the point guard plan...getting the ball in his hands so he can create on his own.  He did a lot more of that in the Memphis game.  He played alongside Blake but Blake filtered off to the wing and gave Brandon space to create on his own.  As a result you saw a lot more of a two-man game, which is something I've been imploring Nate to do all year...not that he'd ever listen.  Brandon and Lamarcus are the future of this team.  Why not let those two guys play off of each other and develop a chemistry and a way to co-exist?  In the Memphis game we saw a couple of nice pick-and-rolls and some chemistry building that could be beneficial down the road.

I hope fans can learn something from Sergio and Channing Frye this year.  Can we STOP anointing people as starters, contributors, or worse saviors when they haven't played a single minute in the league yet?!?  Can we find a happy place where we're excited about getting to see Rudy without penciling him in as the starting shooting guard who will allow Roy to move to point?  Nate says he doesn't mind mistakes, rather he minds when the same mistakes are repeated continuously.  That could probably go for fans too.

I can draw out the progression for you if you want:

  1.  Rudy is drafted.
  2.  Rudy does well enough overseas to get good stats and make some highlights in a foreign league.
  3.  Everybody assumes Rudy will do the same--no, even MORE--here.  Because naturally every overseas player turns into Dirk Nowitzki within their first two years.  It's the rule.
  4.  Rudy scores 10 points in a half in one Summer League game.  Everyone buzzes that he could be the real deal.
  5.  Rudy shows up a month early for practices with the rest of the team.  We hear from the friend of a cousin of a janitor who happened to be sweeping up while the guys were running and saw Rudy make a twisting layup around the outstretched arm of Greg Oden.  The buzz intensifies.
  6.  Rudy plays decently, not spectacularly in pre-season.  He's just saving up for the regular season, right?
  7.  WHAT?  ONLY TEN MINUTES A GAME?  WHAT IS NATE THINKING?  I mean, this is RUDY we're talking about!  Didn't he get the memo about Rudy being the starter that finally moves Roy to the point?
Here's another one of those things that people aren't going to like, but I'll say it anyway because it's true:  With very few exceptions (like first overall picks in the draft) if you're depending on somebody who hasn't played much in the league yet (potential draftee, overseas guy, someone on your bench) to make your team significantly better it's not going to happen.  This is not because of the shortcomings of the player in question.  It's because that means your team is pretty bad to begin with...almost certainly too bad for a guy adjusting to the league to fix overnight.  You will know your team is getting good when you start singing the praises of the players you actually see playing significant minutes in your uniform.
Q:   What do you think of them putting microphones on coaches?  Hear anything from Nate?

A:  As a fan I'd probably like it but I think it takes away from the coaching.  I think they'll be thinking about it and not be as frank as they'd normally be.  I understand they have the option to mute it and turn it off.  I think Pat Riley is doing it for the whole game.  If I were Nate I'd do the same thing.  When we used to sit down there on the court we were right next to the bench and believe me you don't want to hear what Nate is yelling to the guys out there.  It's not for a PG audience.  And that goes for every NBA coach.  It's a heat-of-the-moment, emotional time and place.  I don't think that has a place on national television.

I'll be curious to see how it works.  I envision them using it mostly when the coach is arguing with the referees.  You might get a few X's and O's in there or a 20-second timeout where the coach is saying, "Hey, we've got to get back on defense"...something generic like that.  I'll be curious to see.

Q:   Have you heard how Nate is responding to it?

A:  I don't think he's really into it.  He's a company guy and he'll do it if asked but I don't think it's something he's incredibly excited about.

Yah.  We're going to get a lot of "Win one for the Gipper" moments from all the NBA coaches and all of the really intense stuff is going to be edited out anyway, so what's the point?  I also have to tell you that in a league where we've been taught to focus on head coaches so much it disturbs me to see them giving media interviews in-game while their assistants are leading the huddle.  I fully realize that many assistants are actually better X's and O's guys than their head coaches but it still implies that every head coach is pretty much Mo Cheeks.

Q:  What should we look for in the Miami game?

A:  I want to see how James Jones plays.  He offered a different dynamic for this team and changed its face during the Memphis game.  I want to follow that.  Obviously Shaquille O'Neal is in town.  The Blazers don't have the bulk and size to match up with him.  Shaq is one of my favorite personalities in the league.  He's good for the league from a personality viewpoint.  I know a lot of you people probably don't like him because he was a L*ker.  He is an incredible personality.  Greg Oden reminds me a lot of Shaq personality-wise.  He has a lot of the same tendencies and personality as Shaq from a sense of humor standpoint.  We should all relish the opportunity to see Shaq play.  He's going to go down as one of the greatest big men ever.  If you're able to go to the game tonight and see him in person it's something you can tell your son or daughter in 20 years.  He's the man.

Q:  Will Channing Frye get any playing time?

A:  I doubt it.  They might though because they might have to foul Big Daddy a lot.  I meant to sit down with Channing and see where he is right now but I didn't get a chance to yesterday.  He's kind of fallen off the face of the earth but you can't really blame Nate.  Channing hasn't done anything to keep himself out there.

Q:  Back to Shaq...he hasn't seemed to be Shaq this year.  Can he still cause problems?

A:  He can.  The way to combat that is to get Lamarcus and Joel out running and make Shaq run.  If they make it a halfcourt game where he can get the ball and back his backside in then he'll be a factor.  If the Blazers really focus on running and being fluid then that could expose Shaq's weakness.  Shaq's getting up there...he's 35.  That's pretty old for a big man like that.  Another key matchup will be Wade and B-Roy.  Wade tore up Roy last year I think.  He had a big first half and they switched Ime on him and he got shut down.  I think Brandon was playing.  I think Wade showed him up.

Q:  What's going on for next week?

A:  Not much.  I'm just getting reacquainted with the team.  It's funny...being away that long was odd.  Yesterday's practice was odd too.  Usually when we're let into the gym we get to see the players finish a drill or shoot free throws.  Almost everybody was off the court.  I didn't get to see many of the guys and B.S. with them.  So I don't have much.  Joe Freeman is going write for our Sunday Blazer page...I think either about James Jones or Raef LaFrentz.  I'm taking Sunday off because my Steelers are playing the Patriots.  Joe Freeman will cover the Milwaukee tilt with you.  I'm going to Utah next week.  As people think about the Blazers become a power in the West, as they add Greg Oden and another possible lottery pick, the team the Blazers need to keep their eyes on is the Jazz.  It's not Dallas, San Antonio, or Phoenix.  By the time the Blazers get good those teams will be on the downside of their success windows.  The team that's built for the future is the Jazz.  That's the team the Blazers executives have targeted.  They're scheming how to make the club competitive with Utah.  As you watch next Tuesday keep in mind that Deron Williams is going to be there forever.  So will Carlos Boozer, Kirilenko, Okur, Ronnie Brewer, Millsap.  All of these guys are pretty young and they have the core of a good team.  That is the team the Blazers' executives have targeted to beat.  It's a game the Blazers' higher ups will be watching with interest.

Q:  Have you watched much college hoops this year?  Any ideas who the Blazers would target?

A:  I caught a little bit of the Kansas State-Notre Dame game.  I don't know though.  All I know is that Kevin Pritchard scouted the Maui Invitational a couple weeks ago.  He can't mention who he likes, of course.  That Kansas State freshman--Beasley--he's good.  He's for real.

Q:  Anything else?

A: this...?

Q:  No.  There will be an announcement next chat.  Tune in.

A:  Kleenex boxes will be in order next Thursday during the Quick Chat!  Big news next Thursday!

And so ends another Quick Chat.  Thanks to Casey and Jason for the fine job as always.

--Dave (