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Quick Chat Recap March 15, 2007

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Here's our weekly 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 is up first.

Q:  Any news from the team today?

A:  They had a really light practice...film watching, shooting around.  They'll prepare for the Lakers tomorrow in L.A.  They looked relaxed.

Q:  Your impressions of last night's game?  Nate looked more resigned than upset.

A:  The Blazers are caught in a middle ground right now.  They're not horrible like they were last year but they're not good enough to beat the upper echelon teams like the Pistons, Spurs, and Nuggets.  They're just muddling through the rest of the season.  To me it's a little boring because there's not too much they can prove.  They're better than last year.  Brandon Roy is the Rookie of the Year.  Lamarcus Aldridge is about the only emerging story.  To me he's laying the groundwork to be the starting center next year.  He's been challenged to improve his rebounding and he's doing it.  They wanted to see him get tougher, grit his teeth a little.

I guess I have a couple observations here:

  1.  I don't think we're good or consistent enough to be in a middle ground yet.  The Golden State Warriors are the kings of the middle ground.  That's been their domain for years.  If you stacked the two teams against each other in a playoff-like series between their veteran presence and proven talent and our night-to-night inconsistency I'd favor the Warriors heavily.  There may come a day when we can crow about being mediocre but we're not there...or if you must we're barely there and certainly can't take it for granted.  As Jarrett Jack said, just being better than last season is not much to hang your hat on.  ANY team should be better than that.
  2.  I think there's a lot to prove...namely that we can keep getting better, that we can put more than just 1-2 decent games together in a row, and that we can play through rough stretches without giving up or being blindingly foolish.  Those are small signs in the long run but when they're not being shown they seem awfully big.  I believe this last 18 games or so will show more than the first 60-some did.
Q:  Lamarcus seems like the one player out there who's having a good time.

A:   That's kind of his nature.  He's an easy-going, happy-go-lucky type guy.  Also the other players are worn out whereas Lamarcus didn't play as much earlier and is ready to go.

Q:  It seemed like Brandon Roy was a little annoyed last night, saying some guys weren't playing as hard as they could.  Is this an issue?

A:  I see it more as the team being worn down.  Ime is worn out.  He's played a lot of basketball the last two years.  Jarrett Jack has played a lot of minutes.  Zach has been getting bumped and bruised.  Travis Outlaw too.  This is a tired team.  They're hitting a wall.  It's mentally exhausting as well as physically.  Their minds are telling them to do things but their bodies aren't following.  That translates into mediocrity out there.

Q:  Jarrett Jack was also despondent.  Are the losses affecting him?

A:  Jarrett cares so much.  The problem is that he shows it.  Coach McMillan has talked to him about that.  He told him that a point guard leader can't be seen as "down".  Last night was the second most frustrated I've seen him, second only to the game at Indiana.  Last night you could tell he was going to unload some feelings and was biting his lip.  He was frustrated.  Part of it was that he's been compared to Chauncey Billups and he got outclassed by him last night.  Part of it is that he just hates to lose.

Hopefully the young guys can use whatever is going on as a cautionary example if nothing else.  These last couple games HAVE been lacking energy.  Of course the best remedy for that is always to go out and give everything you have (and more) yourself.  At worst you show up the people who aren't.  At best you inspire them to do so also.

Q:  None of the point guards had much success last night.  Sergio struggled early on and didn't get back in during the second half.  Any story there?

A:  I asked Nate about Sergio today...why he hasn't played much in the last two games.  Nate was very curt about it.  He said, "I didn't like the matchup with Iverson and I didn't like the matchup with Billups.  You look at who he's guarding and what he's doing in the game.  He's had no effect on the game lately.  Some would argue that you're giving up basket after basket.  I would say to them, `Come to me and let's watch film.'"  So basically he's saying it's about defense. Then I asked if the season was about developing, isn't the best way to put him out there and let him learn by his mistakes?  He said, "Sergio is not the only one we're developing.  So allowing a guy to sit out there and there's a bad matchup and allowing them to punish him, then you're punishing the team.  And I don't agree with that kind of development."  It's a sensitive subject with Nate.  He doesn't like being asked or being questioned about who he's playing and for how many minutes.  It's a tough deal because Sergio is the future, he needs to play, he's exciting, the fans like him, and he's worth buying a ticket to watch.  But a lot of fans don't watch the other end of the court and how badly he is getting beat.  Nate is a defensive-minded coach.  He can't sit there and rail on Zach and Travis and Martell about their defense and then just let it slide with Sergio.  Everyone's treated the same to some degree.  If Sergio's not going to play defense he's not going to play.

 

I don't blame Nate for having a little chip on his shoulder about this.  I'm starting to roll my eyes a little myself.  Even if you don't buy all the other reasons we've talked about, the one Jason stated here is good enough on its own.  If you ask me if I want to see Sergio play I will say, "Yes!"  But if you asked me if I wanted to see Sergio play in a season that doesn't matter at the expense of undercutting everything Nate has been trying to teach Zach and the others about hard work, defense, and helping the team out unselfishly, I would say, "No."  Pretty much everybody concedes Nate has done wonders with Zach this year, but that only works because Zach believes in Nate.  If the coach loses credibility, we're back to square one.  

If ANYONE has a justified claim to being the exception who should be able to play despite his deficiencies, it's Zach.  Somehow Nate has communicated that it's not going to happen that way and that Zach is expected to put out at least a marginal effort at playing right.  If Nate just throws Sergio out there and makes him the exception after telling Zach he can't be, Zach has every right to throw a fit, to not believe another word the coach says, and to take his (then) rightful place as the guy that gets to play however he wants.

Q:  With those matchups you mentioned against Iverson and Billups, would Jack's or Dickau's defense have made a difference?

A:  No.  In fact I think Jarrett Jack's defense has been brutal.  When you watch film Jarrett is the king of the "Ole!"  He's just lets his man go by him.  Some of that is designed into the help defense but it's something this team as a whole, especially the perimeter defenders, needs to get better at.  It's a glaring weakness on this team.

This is certainly one of the most disappointing aspects of the season.  I really, really wanted this to be better.  And it has been...marginally.  (I mean, you'd have to work really hard to find a more porous pair than Telfair and Webster were.)   But marginally better than really, really crappy is still really crappy.

Q:  Zach's defensive effort against Denver is about the worst I've seen him play.  Is he putting in the effort he was earlier?

A:  Zach's defense is directly related to his offense.  If he's having a poor offensive night he's so concerned with it that he isn't alert on the other end.  Nate has called the team out on that in the past few years, saying exactly that this is a team that is more concerned about offense than defense.  The answer is that most great players, if their shot is not on, find a way to affect the game, especially on the defensive end.  That just hasn't translated to Zach.

The thing is, it HAS...sometimes.  I saw it!  I swear I saw it!  Tell me I didn't imagine those games last week when I heaped praises upon praises all over him precisely because he wasn't scoring or dominating the ball yet helped the team win.  But why does it go on and off like a light switch?  You win not only with talent, but with consistency.  It doesn't matter what you do on one night if you can't bring it the next couple also.  You can't win in the long run with players who don't bring it every night.

Q:  As we get into the stretch run will Ime's minutes be reduced in favor of the younger Martell and Travis?

A:  I don't think so.  Nate has made it clear that the best players are going to play.  You could argue that didn't happen with Jamaal and Lamarcus earlier, but you'd have to ask Nate about that.  Ime is still playing for something though...his contract.  And frankly Martell and Travis have taken a step backward in the last two or three weeks.  Travis seems to be forcing shots.  Martell has been on a roller coaster all year with mostly down-turns.  Rarely has his shot been on.  The only positive thing you'd really say is that he's shown he can be a good rebounder for his position.  That's one way he can make a contribution and impact and he's seemed to grasp that.  If his shot's not falling he still gets rebounds.  He can set himself apart that way.  If you want to liken him to Ray Allen, Ray's a great shooter but not a good rebounder.  Martell can be both and he can distinguish himself that way.

Q:  Have the coaches asked Travis to shoot more?  Don't they want him farther down in the paint?

A:  The fact that he's playing power forward doesn't necessarily mean post-ups.  The idea is to stretch the floor.  Early on in the year Nate said he'd given Travis the green light.  Throughout his career everyone's dogged him for being so passive.  Now it's hammered into his head to be more aggressive and shooting is the way he shows it.  I don't think the Blazers mind it so much but lately it seems like he's forcing a bit.  Open shots are fine but lately it's been with a defender in his face or with awkward hesitations.  Right now he's not in a good rhythm.

And herein lies the rub with both of these guys too.  Flashes of brilliance followed by a ton of inconsistency doesn't get it done.  They're both young but Travis is more experienced than that.  They have a lot of growing to do and we're in for some headaches in the meantime.

If you think about it, what impresses us about Brandon Roy is not just that he's good, but that he's consistently good.  It's been so long since we've had a consistent young guy around here that we probably tend to overrate his talent just because it looks so good night after night compared to so many others we've seen.  I guess I'm semi-impatient for our other young guys to develop into something more consistent, good or bad.  At least then we'd know what we can depend on and what we need.

Q:  Long-term who will be better...Brandon Roy or Lamarcus Aldridge?

A:  They'll both be great.  They'll both be All-Stars.  But long term I'd say Brandon will be.  What sets him apart is that he does so many things.  He scores, passes, rebounds, gets steals.  You could say the same thing about Lamarcus but I just think Brandon is a game-changing type guy and he does it in so many different ways.  They'll both be wonderful players, All-Stars many times over, but I think Brandon will have the most impact on this franchise.

I think that race is too close to call.  But the rule is when it's too close to call bet on the big guy.

Q:  What's Raef's mindset now about how the season has gone?

A:  He calls it a non-season this year with four injuries, all to the same spot.  He's trying to get back.  He plans to accompany the team on next week's road trip.  He doesn't have aspirations of playing but he wants to get back to being a practice player.  That will alleviate the team's need for these 10-day contracts.  He's frustrated.  He wishes things would have worked out better and feels he let the team down, but he also says he was healthy and in shape for two months and never got the call.  He doesn't know if Nate was holding something against him for missing the time or whether he just doesn't fit in the team's plans or what.  The bottom line is he's still under contract for two years after this one and he makes a lot of money.  He can still shoot and he can still play and fill a role on this team.  It's not going to happen this year.  I'd be surprised if he entered another game this season.  But this guy is a professional and he's cognizant of how his teammates are perceiving him.  He sits right next to Lamarcus Aldridge in the locker room.  He says with such a young team it's important to be a good role model.  He doesn't want to be that guy who's negative or who's just picking up his check.  I asked Lamarcus his impressions of Raef and Lamarcus said, "Every time I see the guy he's working...in the pool, in the weight room...right now."  That's great for guys like Lamarcus.  It's important for these young guys to see how to do it.  It's not like Darius Miles who isn't even around.  I think Raef is good for this team.  I'm curious to see what's going to happen next year.  They're paying him a ton of money and it would be nice to get some return on that.

Yeah...it's a really expensive object lesson.  But if we have him it's nice to get that much out of him at least.  Not all players would take that approach in his situation.

Kevin Pritchard joins the show.

Q:  Where are you right now?

A:.I'm watching tournament games from Portland.  I like watching the first round on TV because there are so many games.  The second round is so good that I go in person.  I haven't decided where.  It depends on which teams succeed.  I want to watch the best players I can.
Q:  How hard is it for you to watch the games with an academic eye with all the pageantry?

A:  You have to separate it a little bit.  We all as scouts try to identify strengths and weaknesses.  About 2-3 games in a day is about the max I can watch and still stay focused.  But right now the games are so good and important that it's gut check time for us.  We have our target guys though.  It's not like the beginning of the year when you're watching 5-6 players in a game and writing reports on 10.  Right now it's 2-3 guys in a game.  Plus if a player is a target for us we'll go back and watch every action play from him in every game.  We take his 35 games, cut them down to 4-5 hours of film, and watch.  But I'm a big believer in being there.  That's our philosophy:  eyes, ears, and numbers.  If eyes are important to you, you have to be there.

Q:  At what point do you move from the obvious picks to the diamonds in the rough?

A:  You're always looking at all the possibilities.  We do a mid-season review of our top 75-80 (this year 90) players and we write our own reports on them.  It's a couple paragraphs, intel, injury reports, statistics, comparative and quantitative analysis on every player.  That sets us in motion for where we should go for the rest of the year.  Right now I'm focused on making the right decision with our top pick but after the season we'll start drilling down.  The scouts will pull me in and tell me to watch certain guys.  That's where we find the Sergio Rodriguez types.

Last year--at least based on current returns--set the bar pretty darn high.  That's tough when there's only a one year sample.  I think we should be overwhelmingly happy if we get our top pick correct.  That's the most important one.  Everything else is gravy.  We've just seen so many people (including us) blow that top selection over the years...that's all I'm hoping for right now.

Q:  With the turnover in the front office are you feeling more stretched?

A:  Yes.  Everybody has to step up.  There's a lot of work to be done.  But the great thing is that we've had this staff together for three years.  I've trained them myself, maybe even to be better than I am because they have their own ideas and views.  Also we were taught at Kansas to give guys opportunities.  If I do get the GM job and we all move up I'm hoping that some of these guys who helped get our great picks become directors of player personnel for other teams.  My goal is to get them where they want to be.  We have a young, talented group and that was my purpose.  Paul wanted to bring in the best, young, talented scouts he could and grow with this team just like with the actual team.  That's what we're doing.  We put a lot of emphasis into this process and make it better each year.

Q:  How far are your Jayhawks going in the tournament?

A:  Every year, number one.  I'm loyal.  If there were a pool for the NBA I'd put the Blazers #1 every year too.

Q:  What kind of rules govern what you can say about kids still in college?  There was a quote from Michael Jordan today talking about "That kid from Texas."  Is that allowed?  When you have Michael Jordan mentioning your name isn't that teetering on the line?

A:  There's some grey area there.  I'm going to abstain from answering because I don't want to incriminate myself! [laughs] The league is probably looking into it.  

Yeah...I'd guess they should look into it.  If Jordan were the GM of the Spurs or Pistons and didn't have a possible top pick coming would he have said the same thing?

Q:  If you pick Kansas #1 every year would you then pick a Kansas guy over someone else, all other things being equal?

A:  No.  That's where the line doesn't cross.  We've had opportunities to draft Kansas guys but it's about making the right fit for this organization.  The most important thing is to get the best player available regardless of position.  If that's a Kansas guy, great.  If not it's about making the Trailblazers better.  Right now I am a Trailblazer, not a Jayhawk.  I I bleed it,  I love it, we've put in a couple very hard years here to get where we are and we're making progress.

Q:  Did you ever get to the tournament as a player?

A:   Yes, I went three of my four years.  Kansas not making it to the tournament is like...death.  I was fortunate enough to play with a team that won the championship.  I was the starting point guard.  During the year we lost eight straight and nobody thought we had a chance.  But Coach Brown made some adjustments and we started clicking at the right time and overachieved and had a lot of fun.  I was fortunate to be on that team.

Q:  Do you ever bust out that ring?

A.  I never wear it.  Everybody says you want a ring but once you actually get it you realize that you don't have to tell the world.  It's not about that.  It's about the struggle you go through and staying together as a team.  You learn more when things are tough than when things are rosy.  I learned a lot about myself and my teammates.  When we were going through some tough times in that tournament I felt like we were going to win every time because we had stuck together through our losing streak.

He's got it right there, I think.  Everybody focuses on the results but in the end the process is far more meaningful.  Good results are a side effect of a great process.  Championship rings are a side effect of championship preparation.  Once you've been there and understand that you realize that the bling-bling is about on a par with the garter belt throwing at a wedding.  It's a nice enough tradition, probably memorable, and a great moment on film but it's not really the first thing you'd highlight when talking about a marriage.

Q:  The team is going through a rough patch.  What are you looking for to end the season?

A:  The biggest thing is that they stay together, continue to improve, and that they do everything they can on and off the court to keep the culture intact.  It's easy to do when you're winning.  But you're really under the microscope when things are tough.  Nate does a great job with practice and guys are practicing as hard as they ever have.  It's important for our young guys to fight through the wall but it's also important for them to learn in other ways besides physically in practice...watching film and working on your skills and weaknesses.  There's still time to improve.  Then after the season they'll take a couple weeks off.  But players are made during the summers.  Hopefully we'll have a good summer program and good summer league and get better.

And guess who will be there watching and reporting from Summer League once again?  I'm already excited.

Q:  The fans are chanting "KP for GM" in the chat room again.

A:  We're all just fans here.  We want this team to be great.  Last night was tough but that Detroit Piston team was a juggernaut.  Every time we caught up they'd call a timeout and just go into a new mode which was incredible.  They're the best team in the East and there's a reason why.

Hmmmm...  "We're all just fans here" may be laying it on a bit thick.  One of us isn't just a fan here.  One of us is the next General Manager of the Portland Trailblazers.  Just be a great one, so we can love you.  We're fine rooting 90% for you and only 10% alongside you.  We've all read each others' wonderful ideas about improving the club and believe me when I say that if those are any indication we'd prefer you NOT to be one of us!  (Be a lot smarter and let us ooh and aah when we look up to you.  Fans dig that.)

Good call on the Detroit thing too.  One of your more brilliant fans said something similar last night.  We won't mention names...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)