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Quick Chat Recap March 22nd

Quick Chat 3/22/07

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 word from practice today?

A:  They ended their shootaround early before I got there.  But they did announce today the date of the funeral that Zach is supposedly attending and it's Saturday at 1:00.  That will rule him out for tonight's game and tomorrow night's game against Atlanta.  They're hoping that he'll be back Sunday against Minnesota.

Hmmmm...I don't supposed anyone failed to catch that supposedly.  I think that semi-questioning is happening all around the league.  The New York guys said something tonight about his "bereavement leave" for his "girlfriend's cousin" and their tone of voice made their skepticism clear.  I'm not in a position to make a judgment but I think it's fair to wonder if the Blazers were angling for a playoff spot right now (or hypothetically in position to make noise in the playoffs) if this leave would have been granted so glibly.  I'm not saying we're fact we're winning so that argument's out the window.  But I do understand people questioning a little bit.  After all there have been guys who got grief for missing games while attending the birth of their children.

Q:  How much is the team missing Zach?  Are they looking at it as a chance to show what they can do without him?

A:  I think they're intrigued by it but it's not like they're excited or doing jumping jacks.  I think everyone from top to bottom realizes that even though Zach has flaws he's still the franchise player and the guy who gives them the best chance to win every night.  But that said there is a level of intrigue from Nate and the players just to see what the team would look like when it's not so reliant on Zach's post play and shots.  I think it's a more entertaining brand of basketball without Zach in there.  Lamarcus Aldridge is so athletic and fluid.  He has more weapons and options than Zach. As a whole the team plays looser and more free-wheeling.  As a whole it's a better brand of basketball to watch.

Maybe so, but we still haven't seen the league catch up to us without Zach.  There's a world of difference between surprising someone with a change in your style of play and actually being able to sustain it while winning.

Q:  What will Sergio's increased minutes do to the team and Jarrett Jack?

A:   It's a good decision.  Nate says Sergio is not playing because of his defense.  He challenges anyone to call him up and watch tape with him if they want it pointed out.  My argument is that Jarrett Jack isn't that much better and we just put up with a year and a half of watching Juan Dixon play zero defense and still get playing time.  Then Nate extends it saying he's not only having trouble hearing and understanding the defensive sets but calling out the offensive sets so the players can hear and understand him.  He says by the time he gets the play called out there's nine seconds left on the clock.  Also opposing teams have studied tape on Sergio and they're playing a zone to force him to run a set offense and make those calls.  It results in a jumbled mess.  Also it forces Sergio to take jumpers and he had 11 straight misses during one stretch.  Those are Nate's justifications.  Even so Nate realizes that the kid has to play and that this season is about development.  He also says he's not just developing Sergio.  He's also developing players like Jarrett Jack.  He wants to see what Jarrett Jack can do at the end of the game in a close situation.  He needs to know whether he can handle the ball and make the plays to help us win in tight situations.  But Nate has relented some.  He realizes he was stifling Sergio's flair by being so tough on him.  He's giving him more leash and we saw the results on Tuesday.  It was an entertaining and successful game.

Q:  Is Jarrett Jack more of a Nate McMillan-type point guard or is he the best point guard.  Which one determines why he starts?

A:  Right now Jarrett Jack is the best point guard on this team.  Nate values experience.  This poor stretch of play notwithstanding Jarrett's had a very solid season, especially when you consider he's a second-year point guard.  This is his second lull of the season.  He had one right around New Year's when he wasn't playing in the fourth quarter.  Nate said that's to be expected and you don't get concerned unless the slump extends longer than a week.  We're just about to get there.  These are two big games for Jarrett against New York and Atlanta.  If he doesn't do well there that's a string of 7-8 games where he's played poor basketball.  Anyone who's watching these games and is familiar with this team can tell that Jarrett has lost his confidence.  He's passing up numerous outside shots...two in the fourth quarter of the Seattle game and again against Washington.  He's just very tentative.  Everyone expects him to shoot it and he doesn't.  That's deflating to his teammates because they can see he's struggling with his confidence.  But he's a very smart and strong kid and I expect him to work through this.  I'm not really concerned about Jarrett Jack right now.

Once again folks I got two words for you:  Martell Webster.  Martell got a lot of playing time at the end of last season and looked great.  He was hands-down the player with the most fan optimism and goodwill surrounding him last year, at least pre-draft.  What happened?  That playing time didn't do all that much for him apparently.  Who knows what it will do (or not do) for Sergio or Jarrett?   Will it help Sergio any or just encourage habits that should be broken?  Will it allow Jarrett a rest and some reflection or make him angry or just ruin his confidence?  Only one guy's really in a position to answer those questions best.  If you've got a coach, let that coach do what he thinks is best and bring along the players the way he thinks will work.

Q:  There's a perception out there that Lamarcus Aldridge is starting to get a mean streak.  He got in Lamar Odom's face in the Lakers game and he's been playing with more intensity.  What's changed?

A:  Nate has challenged him to be more gritty, tougher, more physical.  His game was outside shooting jumpers and getting long rebounds.  Ever since Nate challenged him we've seen a 17 rebound game, a 25-point, 8-rebound game, some blocks.  He's gotten his nose dirty and gotten in there.  He's banged around.  That's encouraging.  The sky's the limit for him.  He's getting better.  He'll probably be Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March. He's averaging 17 and 8.  I'm excited to see what kind of player he is when he comes back after a summer of lifting weights and working on his post game.  Bobby Medina has identified him as the best guy in the weight room as far as work ethic and doing extra work and wanting to learn more.  With those credentials, his work ethic, and his God-given talent he's going to get better and better.  All players do but I think his improvement will be well above the normal player.

There's all this optimism and assumption that everyone will progress and keep getting better.  I wonder what will happen if somebody hits a sophomore slump (again like Martell right now)?  I'm willing to be a little more patient I guess.  It wouldn't surprise me at all to see one or more of our rookies experience a lull next year as extra burdens are placed on them and as they become more of a focus around the league.  On the other hand it wouldn't surprise me to see Martell bust out with a great season either.

Q:  If Lamarcus comes back that strong would they then move Zach?

A:  The immediate, short-term play is to have him play center alongside Zach.  That works out because Zach is a post player and Lamarcus plays more outside.  But long term Lamarcus is a true power forward.  That's the position he likes and wants to play.  For a year or two they're going to go with this approach and see where it takes them.  I still think Zach will come back to this team.  I don't think the Blazers can trade him because of his salary.  But as the years pass and more years come off of his salary that makes him easier to trade.  They'll have to ask which one of those two is their future.  My guess is they'll lean towards Lamarcus Aldridge.


My guess is they'll be listening to offers for Zach from this point on but not necessarily looking to move him.

Q:  What do you foresee for this road trip and how important is it?

A:  Every Blazer fan should look and see if the team continues to try.  That was being seriously question prior to the Washington game, with the exception of the Lakers game.    This team had tanked it.  Some of the players even admitted it.  Nate wasn't willing to go that far.  But that's the main component.  Is this team trying and playing hard?  In addition I'd like to see how Brandon handles being the go-to player and how Lamarcus handles the extra attention and how Sergio balances the entertainment value of his game versus the precision that Nate demands.  I also want to see whether Nate is able to live up to his word and give Sergio more leash.  Nate is a very stubborn guy sometimes and it's hard for him to give freedom to players.  All of those components add intrigue to the season.  Last week at this time I had become bored with this team.  Now it's got some subtle storylines that will make these final fifteen games interesting.

I'm glad Jason has had this renaissance of hope.  I was beginning to worry...

Kevin Pritchard joins the show.

Q:  Are you watching college basketball?

A:  Yes...heading out today.

Q:  Which region?

A:  I'd rather not say.  We're getting so team and region-specific that I'd rather not tip off the competition.

Eventually he'll hear about them all anyway.

Q:  How do you think the team looked without Zach against the Wizards?

A:  I thought we played well and we got the win.  I think that was important for our young guys to get some confidence that they can win against top-notch teams.  I think we over-played in terms of our energy and effort.  Nate and I have strong feelings about how basketball should be played:  harder, smarter, and unselfish.  If we do that even though we're young we have a chance to win and more importantly a chance to improve.  It was an exciting game.  I wrote to Paul Allen it was one of the most exciting games I've seen in the Rose Garden since I've been here.  We played the right way.  We played unselfish.  It was a very gratifying win for us.

I agree that it was a nice game.  I like the New York one tonight just as well.

Q:  What about the road trip?  What are you looking for?

A:  I think it'll be a big challenge for Jamaal Magloire and Lamarcus.  In the West Lamarcus can be a running "five" and make the game a lot faster and be involved in a lot of plays.  The East is different.  They have the banger fives.  It's a little slower game and more physical.  It'll be a good test for Lamarcus and Jamaal.  Handling Eddy will be a good test.  In our place Eddy had a good game and we struggled guarding him.  Once we doubled that left their shooters open and they hit some shots.  I think it'll be a challenge.  This league is funny.  Whether you win or lose there's a game coming right behind.  We can't rest on our laurels.  We have to be ready for a Knick team that's improved and has some young, exciting players also.

Apparently we were.  Now can we pull the Atlanta hat trick?

Q:  Do you ever consult players when considering your draft choices?

A:  Absolutely.  Sergio is a Euro-player and he and I have talked some.  Raef LaFrentz is from Kansas and they have some prospects.  Jarrett Jack and Brandon, Lamarcus, they all have opinions on players and why not tap into that?  We may not agree and there may be biases to be filtered but we talk to everybody.  Even more importantly when we bring guys in to work out we ask them and sometimes you can find a lot of information from teammates or players in the conference.  We try to dig deep and find the information that helps you make the decision.

Does Kevin Pritchard really need Raef LaFrentz to tell him about Kansas players?  Why do I think Kevin already knows them by heart?

Q:  How deep is the 2007 draft really?  Is it over-hyped?

A:  It's hard to tell because the declarations haven't come yet.  If a lot of the guys that we think are coming actually come in it could be very deep, even into the second round.  It's a draft that's obviously top-heavy but you still can get some good players later.

Q:  Sam Smith says that if the Bulls had the Lamarcus/Tyrus Thomas trade to do over again they'd do it.  What do you think?

A:  You'd have to ask Chicago that.  I can tell you this:  we're very happy with Lamarcus.  I think Tyrus is going to be a really good player in this league.  He has a chance to be like Kirilenko and affect the game on the defensive end.  But Lamarcus was what we needed.  He fit the culture.  We knew he was going to be a very hard worker and that was going to be a catalyst for him to become a good player faster than many people expected, including us.  Right now Lamarcus is playing at a very, very high level.  The question is as he grows and gets better can he play 50, 60, or 70 games well instead of one in every three.    That's a challenge every rookie has.  This league is very smart and they take away your strengths immediately.  He's going to have to adapt and he has.  This month has been a heck of a month.  He's been very good, some say even better than Brandon.  We're just very happy to have both of them and if we had a chance to do that trade again we'd be very happy.

That part in the middle about 50, 60, 70 games is why I wonder about the post-rookie learning curve and how steep it will be.  Right now the guys are getting praise from playing anywhere from 1 in 4 to 2 in 3 games well.  Very soon they'll be panned for doing the exact same thing.  In four years botching every third game will be considered poor play.  It's like when your child is doing well in first grade.  That's great, but you're still a long way from Harvard.

Q:  If Sergio gets more time what are you looking for?  I know you're a Sergio fan.

A:  I'm a fan of all our guys, first of all.  I do like Sergio.  I went overseas to look at other players and found myself watching him the whole time.  That's usually a good sign that someone has a chance to be a player.  He's got tendencies that are good and instincts you can't teach.  It's tempting to bridle him down and say, "Stick with the program".  He's a wild pony though.  He wants to pass and wants to run.  Nate's trying to teach him to play the NBA game.  There's the delicate balance of letting him go and making sure he doesn't make mistakes.  There were a couple of times against Washington he made some mental errors.  I love what he does and I think everyone would say they love playing with him.  He's still got a ways to learn.  But he's a hard worker and it's fun to see the guys grow together and play together.  I think you'll see a lot of these guys in the future.

See point above.

Q:  Will Sergio play with the Blazers' Summer League team or will he be in Spain?

A:  As of now he'll be playing with us to start with.  His national team training camp dates haven't been announced yet and we'll adjust the schedule from there.  I think it'll be important for Sergio to be in Summer League.  It'll allow him to run the team and have it on his own.  He's never had that.  Nobody's said, "Here's your team, go run it the way you want it.  Go make things happen."  The thing is, he does make things happen.  They may be good or bad but he's always making things happen.

I hope Sergio does play in Summer League.  We'll have to get a lot of pictures of him close up to post on the site.

Q:  Has there been any movement on the executive hirings?

A:  I don't know.  Right now I'm so busy getting ready for the draft and ending the season strong.  I don't want to take my eye off the ball.  This is my busy season and I've been cramming for this huge draft test.  I've been doing my due diligence up until now and we'll be as prepared or more prepared next year.

I wonder how important this really is on the scale of things right now.  Also I wonder which position will be filled first.  My gut says they hire a president and let Kevin handle the GM stuff as long as necessary until they're comfortable making an announcement.  But then what do I know?

--Dave (