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Behind the Eight Ball

Prognostication is everything in sportscasting nowadays.  It's no longer good enough to be an expert in the field, to be able to break down plays, or even to give an air of excitement to the proceedings.  Everybody hangs their jock on how good their forecasting is.  We are treated daily to a parade of talking heads and their fancy versions of, "I told you so!"   What are you going to do?

Well, here at Blazersedge we do it RIGHT.  If we want visions of the future we go straight to the source!  You can have your Barkleys and Kerrs and all of those folks.  After rummaging around the attic for a while, I found Old Faithful itself...the MAGIC 8-BALL...wise and wonderful and surprisingly intact.  And after all the years of neglect it was MORE than ready to opine on all things Blazer-related. the long interim since its last tour of duty old 8-B had developed a Jeopardy addiction, so it insisted on giving me the answers first and making me reply in the form of a question.  But other than that little quirk it was a fine interview.  Plus it makes WAY more sense than Barkley (and given a decent push with the right trajectory could beat Dick Bavetta down the court as well).

Here's the interview.  My comments on 8-B's answers follow each question.

A: Signs point to yes.
Q: Will Kevin Pritchard be hired as the new GM?

I started out with an easy one.  You can bring up all the big names you want but even if Portland could attract them (and remember the organization is still trying to cut costs) they wouldn't get the title that Kevin Pritchard covets and has probably earned.  He's young, he's fresh, he's bright, and if you believe Jason Quick he's got a straight pipeline to the Big Guy himself.  With Red Sox executive Theo Epstein still fresh in everyone's memory and the decisions over purse strings and overall administration in someone else's control, giving Pritchard the keys to the car is hardly a stretch.  Besides this team is hardly a Rolls Royce by NBA standards.  Most would consider it a training vehicle.  Even if things went imperfectly while KP was learning the job a few more dings would hardly show unless they're accompanied by flagrant reckless driving and a distain for common decency, which is hardly his style.  

The guys in charge won't want to face the same kind of public relations fiasco the San Diego Chargers experienced after letting young genius Cam Cameron walk and then firing Marty Schottenheimer.  In an odd way, the safest move right now is to keep their genius and let him grow with the team.

A: Yes.
Q: Is Nate McMillan the long-term coach for this team?

The Blazers aren't sorry they paid for him now, and they won't be sorry to pay more for him later.  The National Team coaching stint, the respect he gets around the league, the positive public service stories, even his reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense guy...all of these add up to a big bonus in the image department.  Besides that he's coaxing more wins out of the youngsters than they thought possible.  Plus you don't want to change coaches when half the players on your team are in their third year or less, which will still be the case for a couple years.  Nobody in the organization has said, or even hinted at, a bad word about him since he's been here.  His contract won't even make it to the last season.  He'll be offered an extension plenty early.

A: Reply hazy, try again.
Q: Will Travis Outlaw be re-signed?

Of course a great deal will depend on the General Manager hiring, but in all the times I've heard Kevin Pritchard talk personnel, Travis' name has come up the least (at least among semi-significant players).  That may mean he likes him or hates him or just doesn't think about him much...we don't know.  Travis has shown flashes of developing into a real threat on offense this year, but he's also shown a definite need for more time to learn.  The problem is that time is going to get expensive, especially if he has other suitors.  And if this is really the best that Travis can put out (and you'd think it would be in a contract year) that's not necessarily promising.  Is being tantalizing enough to make the Blazers bite on another 3-4 years at a higher price?  And what do they do if he never develops or simply disappears outright?  But then you can't completely discount the steps he has made.  Ugh...  I'm glad I'm not making this decision.

A: Without a doubt.
Q: Will the Blazers get more media attention next year?

Yes.  In fact with the buzz Brandon Roy will generate from the Rookie of the Year Contest and a few flashy passes from Sergio and flying dunks from Lamarcus in Summer League, the Blazers are going to be many folks' sexy darkhorse pick to sneak into the least at the beginning of the season.  With every team but Utah in the Northwest Division under-performing (and Utah being a sexy pick for nobody..EVER) most every commentator will have Portland on their list of potential teams to watch.

A: My sources say no.
Q: Will this year's draft be as deep and strong as predicted?

There will be two phenomenal names at the top.  There will be three or four more that receive a ton of hype.  (Second bananas always look better when their names are continually thrown into the same sentences as superstars.)  But the real near-superstar potential guys outside of Oden and Durant are going to look at the crop and the hype, decide there's no way they're cracking the top two (and maybe not even the top eight) and are going to follow in the fashionable footsteps of Matt Leinart and Joakim Noah and stay in school another year.  The pay scale difference between the top three and the teens in the draft is semi-significant, but the difference in hype and endorsement potential is enormous.

A: As I see it, yes.
Q: Will Zach be an all-star within the next two years?

As long as he keeps his nose mostly clean and plays to this general level, this is a shoo-in.  He's in a no-lose situation.  If he's still a Blazer the team's going to get better and somebody has to get blamed for that.  The leading scorer is always the prime candidate.  If he gets moved...well...he could hardly go to a place with less publicity or fewer wins than we've had here, both of which will work to his good.

A: You may rely on it.
Q: Will Jarrett Jack get another year at point guard?

A point guard's first year in the league is spent learning the league.  He doesn't really begin to learn the position until the second year.  For all intents and purposes Jack is a rookie this season.  And for a rookie he's doing a fantastic job.  His offensive aggressiveness, when shown, has been impressive.  His scoring outbursts have been fantastic.  He's not made bad decisions with the ball for a young guy and when we've gotten away from the "pound it to Zach and watch" offense he's started to shine more.  Yes, there are holes in his game, but the Blazers will want to make sure how much and how many he's going to fill before letting him go or switching his position.

A: Concentrate and ask again.
Q: Does Zach have as much management support as it seems?

This is where having had a divided management structure leaves you in the dark.  Steve Patterson was pretty adamant about Zach's good performances and high standing this year.  In fact he almost dared anybody to gainsay him.  Kevin Pritchard has been generally positive about Zach, but has qualified his comments much more than Patterson.  Of course Pritchard will support his player publicly 100%, as is the job of every good executive.  But is he willing to hitch his rising star to Zach's performance on and off the court?  The last we heard he was pretty passionate that the organization was trying to teach Zach some things.  The answer will probably depend on Pritchard's and McMillan's assessments of his capability and willingness to learn them.  I don't think the Blazers will even come close to giving Zach away, but I don't think Patterson's resignation necessarily left Zach in a stronger position within the organization either.

A: Outlook not so good.
Q: Can the Blazers really make a run at a playoff seed next year?

Depends on what you mean by "run at".  Can they repeat what they did this year?  Sure.  They can probably even be a few games better.  But teams like New Orleans, Denver, and probably the Clippers figure to be better too and all of those teams are more experienced and have a considerably better statistical track record behind them than the Blazers do.  Few if any of the current contenders in the West look to make a one-year precipitous drop.  That means a lot of teams crowding into too few spots.  Odds are the Blazers will again be on the outside looking in for one more year yet before they're good enough to think about taking one of those spots away from somebody.

A: It is decidedly so.
Q: Is the Oregonian/Blazer feud done? can stick a fork in it.  Whitsitt and Patterson, the two lightning rods, have both moved on.  The media guys have been pretty strong in their praise of the candidates presumed to be on the runway.  And since the team has improved many of the articles have also been more positive.  It's unlikely that the Blazers will give the paper cause to write much bad anymore and it's equally unlikely that the writers would make something up just to continue the fray.

A: Better not tell you now.
Q: Is Martell Webster a player?

We all want him to be.  He certainly has some tools.  The questions about his ability to use those tools steadily and efficiently remain in spades though.  He takes a lot of time getting his shot or move off and moving his feet on defense.  Being skilled and slow is just as bad as being unskilled and fast.  The latter guy will miss a lot of shots and goof things up, but the former guy will get his shot blocked and his moves stymied.  It's hard to tell anything right now but it still looks like Martell is far more effective when plays are run for him than he is fitting into an offense that's going elsewhere and doing things besides getting him the ball.  But if he's not going to make it, I don't want to know now.  Let me dream for a while yet.

A: Very doubtful.
Q: Is Lamarcus Aldridge a center?

You can talk about the quick offenses all you want to, but to be a center a guy still has to rebound pretty well and be able to push other huge guys out of the post, if not stop them altogether.  Neither one of those appear to play to the strengths of Lamarcus' game.  Jermaine O'Neal was the prototype of the Lamarcus-type player:  fast, tall, lots of hops, and way more built than LMA as well.  Indiana wanted badly to play him at center.  That experiment lasted about two years before Jermaine himself said, "No mas!"

This may also shed some more light on that "Zach support" question above.  If the management thing goes like it's supposed to and eventually it comes down to a question of which forward will get the most support, there's no way it's going to be Zach.

A: Yes - definitely.
Q: Will Ime Udoka get a new contract?

And the Blazers are going to keep him too.  This will be one of their feel-good stories for the office as well as the public.  Also with a host of other small forwards available through free agency and the draft, the competition for Ime's services won't be as high as it might otherwise be.  I doubt Ime will be rich by NBA standards, but he should get enough to support himself and his family in style for the rest of his life.

A: It is certain.
Q: Will Roy be R.O.Y.?

This is even more of a sure thing than the Pritchard deal.  It's done.  Brandon could get run over by a dump truck and spend the rest of the season in traction and he'd still have that award sitting on his hospital tray.

A: Cannot predict now.
Q: Will Sergio be a starter?

He won't be to begin next year.  If they did trade Jack they'd bring in a veteran or experiment with Roy there before they'd give Sergio the nod.  The question is more open long-term.  His shot needs to fall a little more from range, he needs to play a lot better defense, and he needs to show he can make a play without dribbling over every square inch of the court first.  That's not going to be determined in the next 20 games, and maybe not even in the next 50 or 100.  How much time he'll get at all next year will be greatly determined by his effort in the next two months and in Summer League, including what kind of shape he checks in with in the fall and how much he's worked on his shot.

A: Most likely.
Q: Will we see Darius Miles in a Blazer uniform again?

I think the Blazers would just as soon have the answer be no.  But the reality is nobody's going to take him off our hands unless we include major young talent alongside him, which we can't afford to do.  They won't buy him out and let his contract sit on the salary cap either...not in this cost-conscious era and not without giving him one more chance.  Plus we only have one major pick in this year's draft and the general plan is to have as few in the future as possible (by virtue of a better record).  Considering the state of our center situation that probably means they're going to go big if they get the chance.  Travis isn't ready to take over the small forward position.  Martell is even less ready.  And I think everybody would be more comfortable if Ime didn't have to play 37 minutes a game...including Ime.  (He's approaching 30 after all.)  All that adds up to Darius getting one more look.

A: Ask again later.
Q: Will Joel be a Blazer this time next year?

Certainly that was the plan originally.  But not only has that train derailed, it's now dangling over a bridge spilling toxic waste onto innocent sheep and small schoolchildren.  The Joel of 2005 was a good buy at the price we're paying.  But I'm pretty sure the team figures they could get 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 huggy fouls out of Raef LaFrentz in 16 minutes per game if they need to next year (since they have to pay Raef anyway).  In fact they might be able to sign a journeyman center to do that.  If they do draft big and high, if Joel can prove he's recovered from injury and in shape, and if the interest shown around the league this summer remains, they just might look at packaging Joel with someone else for either a decent talent (no stars coming that way) or at least someone with a bigger, but shorter, contract.

A: My reply is no.
Q: Is the Rose Garden drama done?

Come on...after all the crap that's flown back and forth you can't really believe there won't be one more little whimper, can you?  Or at least one more shocking twist?  And even after the sale goes through (which I think it will anyway) hold onto your hats, because I'm not sure the talk of public funding for the arena is over.  I suspect you're going to hear words like "old" and "obsolete" and "in need of upgrades to keep up with the modern market".

A: Outlook good.
Q: Will Blazermania return soon? sweat.  People are already going to be excited about next year.  Even more so if we get lucky again and move up in the draft.  The year after that we'll probably make a run at the playoffs and that's all we're going to need.  By Brandon Roy's third year everybody will be acquainted with these guys and everybody will be rooting for them.  It may take a while for Garden attendance to jump all the way back but your T.V. ratings, news coverage, advertising revenue, and general buzz about town are all going to go up.

A: Don't count on it.
Q: Will Gilbert Arenas make good on his amended promise to score 50 in the second game against the Blazers on the 20th of this month?

Fauxstradamus ain't got nothing on the 8-Ball.  Old Roundie was dropping the prognostication when Agent Zero was still going 4-for-16 on his nerf hoop.  Don't even bring that stuff into this hizzouse!

--Dave (