'Twas a mighty long chat today. I'm going to have to talk to Casey about co-payments for my inevitable carpal tunnel surgery plus the hours of my life I'll never get back. He owes me a drink with at least one of the scads of available women that dog his every step, don't you think?
Anyway...here's our weekly recap of Oregonlive's Quick Chat hosted by notorious chick magnet 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.
A: Nate is using this time to re-energize the team. Ime has been so worn down he hasn't practiced. Nate gave them two days in a row and he never does that outside of the All-Star break. He originally was going to practice on Wednesday but after the Monday practice he told them only the rookies and young guys had to come in Wednesday. It was an informal meeting. I don't know if he was frustrated or saw fatigue but this was an unprecedented move.
And an important one, I think. People think of Nate as a Drill Sergeant, but that's not the whole story. Nate's not a Drill Sergeant, he's a Drill Sergeant when you screw up, and there's a difference. If you're going to be young and stupid and stubborn and keep making the same mistakes over and over--or worse not care--he's going to butt against you until either you drop or he does...and if his coaching is anything like his playing was it's unlikely to be him. But if you give your all, show some improvement or you're just legitimately at the end of your physical rope--all three of which may have been true at the beginning of this week--I bet you'll find less of the Drill Sergeant evident.
A: I thought that was one of the best games the Blazers played all year. They were very, very sharp. There are only three or four teams in the NBA that can make the kind of plays the Spurs made...big shot after big shot after big shot. They had six straight shots there, four for three pointers. Not a lot of teams can do that and get defensive stops. It's discouraging that they lost because they were in control from the start. But the team doesn't give up, it gets better, it gives fan hope. They're not going to make the playoffs so you can actually argue that losses like that help them because in theory they get a better draft pick. I wasn't as discouraged as everyone else. The Spurs just won that game. If the Blazers had done the reverse to the Spurs everyone would be talking about what a great effort the team put forth. So I think you have to give credit to the Spurs. The plays meant something in this game. Travis Outlaw and Sergio Rodriguez had some big plays. The only downsides were the disappearance of Zach and Martell. But other than that I thought it was encouraging up and down the board.
That makes it pretty much unanimous among the media people that this was a really good game despite the loss. The only part where I'd quibble here is the Zach disappearing thing. I really don't think Zach disappeared! He did a lot of little things that helped the team score, especially on offense, including where he set up, how he decoyed, and how he moved the ball. When he wasn't doing good things it was because he was on the bench, and that wasn't his fault. It's hard to contribute from there. You can't bag on him for totally disrupting the offense with selfish, blinders-on play (the criticism of which has been merited at times) and then also bag on him because he doesn't score 30 on 32 shots when he stops it and becomes more of a team player. That was probably the best team game of the year out there when you consider the level of the competition and Zach was a big part of it. In fact had Zach played his other style of game that specifically would not have happened and the game would not have gone as it did.
A: I haven't heard anything that it was disciplinary or anything like that. I just think Nate liked what they had going, which was Brandon Roy with pick and rolls. I argue that the reason that was working earlier in the game was Bruce Bowen was forced to guard Zach and that left Brandon alone running pick and rolls against their other guards. But then with Zach out that let Popovich put Bowen on Roy and Brandon had a decidedly tougher time executing that play with Bowen on him. Even though they weren't going to Zach on that play his presence helped it run well.
A prime example of the argument in the last paragraph.
A: I think we're seeing improvement because he's playing more. It's hard to improve just in practice. He's basically been told that it's his starting job for the rest of the season and I think he'll catapult into a starting role next year through these last 20 games. I'll bet he's the opening night starting center next year. The thing they want to see from Lamarcus is for him to get a little tougher. Nate says, "I want to see him grit his teeth. I've never seen him grit his teeth." They want to see him get a little mad, get a little nasty in there, bump and grind a little bit. They feel he's a little too much of a finesse player. They like his finesse game but they'd like him to be multi-faceted, including some post play with his back to the basket.
This is a problem for the whole team. That's why it was sort of refreshing to see Ime crack Duncan in the giblets. I'm not sure you can exactly convert a guy's personality like that, but I wouldn't mind seeing us get somebody on the team who was just a high-energy, blitz-chucking, knock-your-block-off monster to kind of lead the charge and let the other players follow in his wake to a little more toughness and energy than they naturally exhibit.
A: I don't know. It's curious. I asked Nate before the game if there were going to be any changes and he mentioned he had thought about starting Jamaal instead of Lamarcus and that he was going to go with Dickau as the second point guard. I asked him why and he said [Sergio's] not taking advantage of opportunities. But then he goes out and sits Dickau and plays Sergio. I think Nate is struggling right now with his confidence in Sergio. In Nate's eyes Sergio is only 80-90% healthy but I think Nate will have more confidence now after that Spurs game.
Every time I see Martell Webster or Sebastian Telfair play I get extremely comfortable letting Nate bring Sergio along exactly as slowly as he wants to. More minutes, especially unbounded minutes given for their own sake, do not necessarily make a player better.
A: Darius is rehabbing in Portland. They've assigned a personal trainer to him but I'm getting reports that he's badly out of shape at 255 pounds. His playing weight is 215. To me that's not a good sign about how he's pursuing his rehabilitation. That's one of the first questions that popped into everybody's mind when they heard he was going to have microfracture surgery: Does he have the work ethic to come back from that? Zach Randolph is known for his work ethic and he said it was one of the hardest things he had to do in his life. Zach's work ethic and Darius' work ethic are on opposite sides of the spectrum. I think people have realized that about Darius. The early returns say he's not going to be able to rehab from this well.
Q: Will the club re-sign Travis then? Who else might be interested?
A: I think they're still undecided. I expect them to tender a qualifying offer for him--around the $2 million range--and then wait and see what else is offered him. They have the two week window to match whatever is offered. I don't think the Blazers are wanting to go much over the $4 million mark for him. Just based on his up and down performance this year I would expect Travis to be in the $3 million a year range. I think Travis wants to stay here. He has expressed a little bit of a desire to play closer to his home in Mississippi. But he's comfortable here. He's waiting to see if he is re-signed to build a house. He says if he stays here he'll get right to work on building and settling here. That's still undecided.
Backtracking a little bit...there is a silver lining for the Blazers. If Darius comes back and has nothing left, he sits out a full second year, and he agrees to sign a document for the Blazers that he will not play again in the NBA, the rest of his contract doesn't count against the cap. He'll still be paid but it's a provision in the CBA that after two years and a retirement statement his salary comes off the cap.
Q: Is Darius allowed around the team? There are rumors he's been banned.
A: That's not true at all. He still frequents the practice facility. He's there at the Rose Garden before games in the weight room saying hi to the team. He's around.
I don't know why, but I bet Darius comes back. I don't see him just walking off into oblivion.
As for Travis...if we can get him for $3 million a year plus raises I say that's a complete no-brainer. That salary's equal to two trade-filler players. It'd easily be worth that just to see if Travis develops.
A: Yes, he has the pulse of the team, including the coaches and players. He's very interactive with the players. He's a presence at practice. He told the story where he got on Zach Randolph very hard in front of the team early last week and you don't do that unless you know it'll be accepted and processed. The fact that Kevin feels that comfort level with these players is a great sign. That would be terrible for this franchise to lose. I think he has to be the next general manager. I think he's earned it. I talked to a couple of the other candidates out there, both former general managers, and they both said they were interested but they think it's Kevin's to lose. I think that's the general feeling. The Blazers will do the window dressing, maybe conduct a couple of interviews, but this is Kevin Pritchard's job.
Q: Do those candidates have Portland ties?
A: I'd rather not talk about it.
Yeah...we can't lose Pritchard at this point. I think almost everyone agrees on that...the only people we're not 100% sure of being the people who count. I don't know how his career will develop but you have at least the potential to get a guy who could be one of those GMs that runs your franchise for life basically. (And for him that's three decades or so.) If that's a possibility you don't let that go until you know.
A: He had a conversation with Nate before the Charlotte game where Nate told him, "Just play basketball. Be a 20-year old. Be a kid. Have fun." Nate felt that Martell was taking everything too seriously. That's good to a point to be professional and care about your job but don't let it get to the point where it's all-consuming and you've lost the joy of the game. That's what Nate saw in Martell and he told him to relax and play. I think we saw a pretty loose Martell Webster for the two games after.
Q: What's the situation with Jarrett Jack?
A: I'm not going to be hard on Jarrett Jack. He's had a really solid year. With a second year guy playing point guard there's going to be some down times. In January he had a down stretch but he rebounded from it. We're in another one of those lulls. But the Blazers have to be ecstatic about his overall play. Don't misinterpret what I've said about him being moved. I think the Blazers have to look at that possibility because he has value and because the Blazers realize they have something special in Sergio and also with the possibility of Brandon playing that point position. In essence they have three point guards and Jarrett's the most likely of those three to be moved. I don't think they're out there trying to move him but it's a viable scenario.
I think most sane people do, and should, love both of these players still. Believe me if they haven't improved any when they get to Zach's level of experience I'll be as hard on them as I sometimes am on him, but now's not the time. Just celebrate everything they do well and trust that they're working on the gaps.
A:. No. Not at all. It's a cliché but you hear it said a lot about Joel...there's so much more to what he brings this team than just his stats. So many of his contributions don't show up on the stat sheet: changing shots, good rotations, setting screens, plus he's a heart and soul guy with a lot of respect in the locker room. Talking to some of the Blazer coaches they felt Joel was having a good defensive year. They were just confused about what happened on the offensive end. We've all debated whether it's Nate not using him or Joel not taking advantage of the plays or Joel not looking to score. I think it's combination of all three. For whatever reason Joel just wasn't himself this year. He'll never admit it but I think it's a case of a young guy trying too hard to prove that he's worth that new contract. He's not the type of guy who would get the contract then put his feet up. It's the exact opposite. I think next year we'll see him more relaxed.
It's amazing how quickly perception can change. When we signed that contract this summer we got a great deal for a starting center and still not a bad one if Joel ended up a reasonably accomplished back-up. If because of conditioning, talent, injury, or whatever Joel's level of play remains as it was this year that same contract becomes yet another long-term millstone around the neck of this franchise. If we've learned nothing else in the past three years it's that a contract is only worth what the player brings to it.
And you know, it doesn't have to be a talent or health issue either. If Joel's not compatible with Nate and Nate never gets comfortable playing him more than 16 minutes a game that was a bad deal also. A player has to fit in order to be worth something.
A: Don't know yet but it doesn't look good. The first injury was below his calf muscle but this one is in his calf. If you look at it there's a gully in the middle of his calf...a gap where his muscle has torn. I've never seen anything like it. He's afraid maybe it happened because he was unconsciously favoring it due to his other injury. Now he's worried about favoring it the other way and aggravating the first injury near his Achilles' tendon. If he blows out his Achilles at his age and his size that's probably a career-ender. He's really trying to be cautious with it. I'd say there's maybe a 4% chance he plays again this season.
Why would he play again this season? Isn't it telling that even with our starting center out those minutes were going to two other guys before they got to Raef? The only way I see him contributing is if we lose Jamaal without getting anyone to fill that spot while at the same time Joel remains down or unproductive.
A: I think so. At this point he's not going to become a distraction. He's resigned to the situation here. I don't think they're going to offer him a contract and I'm not sure he would accept one if they did. So basically it's now the last 21 games of the Jamaal Magloire era, which will go down as a disappointment.
Much like Nick Van Exel's a couple years ago, Jamaal's acquisition was no harm, no foul. We weren't going to keep Brian Skinner. If there are now mutterings that Jarrett Jack might be moved to make room for Sergio and Brandon at the point that means we weren't going to keep Steve Blake either. His contract expires the same season we acquired it. What did we lose? We risked nothing so the worst that could happen was that we broke even and got nothing in return. He's probably given us slightly more than nothing, so it's good. Not the right fit, but no hard feelings.
Kevin Pritchard joins the show.
A: You're taking on a championship team. I was really proud of the way we controlled the game. We win that game 7 or 8 times out of 10 if we just defend the perimeter... You've got to give San Antonio credit though. I like what we did. Personally I was disappointed though. Coach Pop and I have a good relationship and it would have been fun to go up to him after the game if we had won. So there was a little bit more of the personal competition in there for me just because I want to play up to those guys. They've been in the championship area. I do believe we played a very good game. You take the last three minutes out of the game and we did control it. It's a good learning experience for our players. When you play a team of that high of a caliber you can't let up for one minute or two minutes. I was proud of Lamarcus. We decided not to double Tim Duncan in the post. I talked to Tim after the game and he said he can't remember when a rookie has guarded him and there hasn't been an immediate double. Tim did a great job but Lamarcus made him take tough shots, which is all you can ask against a superstar like that.
Again, we wrung everything we could out of that game except a victory. It's like a high school wrestler who fought his heart out, was way ahead on points, and then got pinned at the last second by a great opponent pulling out his signature move. What can you say? Good effort...you'll get them next time.
A: Nothing has changed. I've taken over some extra duties. Right now every general manager and assistant general manager is out here looking for the next Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Sergio Rodriguez. We're out seeing all the games. This is my favorite time of the year. I love the next three or four weeks. You get to see a lot of high-intensity games. There's nothing like NCAA tournament time. You get to see what I call "great context". Everybody's playing hard and talent should shine. Sometimes it doesn't happen. Sometimes there are anomalies. But talent should shine because everybody's playing hard. I hate to travel. You're in and out of cities and all over the place but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Q: So you're in New York for the Big East tournament?
Oh boy. Here come all of the posts about who exactly Kevin's looking at and how many picks and players we have to trade to get him. Thanks Casey.
A: It'd be stupid to not read it. I know Chad Ford and the mock draft things. The reality is we've been out seeing these guys multiple, multiple times. We have at least 25 scouting reports and 10 intel reports and 25 media reports and a couple injury reports on every potential first round pick. We have so many more assets, eyeballs, and so much more information than any individual. Chad and other guys a very nice job. But we don't even know when we're picking yet, for one thing. And as we've said before you build a book on a player and the book isn't done yet. The book is done when a guy declares for the draft and then stays in the draft. A lot of these guys the book's not done yet. It's hard for me to even say who I want to draft right now. I have tendencies but we have heated debates in the draft room. That's the kind of culture I wanted. I want guys who can speak their mind no matter the situation without judgment. And we haven't always agreed on every draft but I know when it comes down to it that I'll be pulling the trigger and I have to listen to my guys.
Q: How much has the style of drafting changed since you've been in the league? Has it always been this heavily information-driven or did it used to be more about your gut feeling?
A: I think it's becoming more quantitative. Although I can give you a personal example. I felt in my gut that with Brandon his charisma and passion and maturity was really going to translate. And I was excited about that and that's what it came down to for me on our sixth pick. It starts with a huge pool of players and we start narrowing it down and narrowing it down until it becomes a selection between a few different players. Then we start drilling as deep as we can into them. Do they fit our culture? Will they put the team first? Do they fit what Nate wants? Can they handle Nate when he's getting tough? Do they fit his style and the style we want to play in the future. All of those things go into a checklist and then the debate starts. That's when it gets exciting. We all get a room and we all have our guys that we're excited about. We analyze everything we can about these guys from shooting percentage to points per minute to steals per minutes to efficiency ratings...anything we can analyze. Then we process it all and hopefully make good decisions.
Whoa...Kevin goes way out on a limb here saying he had a gut feeling Brandon would be good. If he doesn't watch out he'll impugn his credibility!
Just teasing a little...I'm sure it's exactly true. It's just funny it turns out his example is the most popular player since Clyde Drexler. It would have been more interesting to hear him say Joel Freeland or something. As it is that's kind of like doing a NASCAR chat and saying, "Yeah...I'm the guy who came up with the idea of putting an engine in one of those puppies." Nobody's going to argue with you about that!
A: For me it works like this. You start out the process with what you want...from your culture, from your style of play, from your ethos of what you're about. That should trickle down and help you make your decision. Does it happen always in that way? No. But in a perfect world it should. If you're Phoenix, for example, you have to be big at the position, you have to shoot the ball, and you have to run. That's it, because they've got Steve Nash. They know that their style of play precipitates them to select people by that criteria. We have our own criteria which I'd rather not talk about because I don't want to tip other teams off but there are certainly things we value more than another team would.
OK...that just BEGS us to take our shot at their criteria, doesn't it? Here's my guess: We value defense, running, the ability to pass, unselfishness, percentage shooting, and if possible size. It's kind of like the Sacramento Kings in their good years but with extra defense added.
A. Our public relations department works on that every day. It's hard because we're a West Coast team and we used to be the "Jailblazers". I do think we have some traction. Everybody in our league including the Jerry Wests and the Mitch Kupchaks love what we're doing. It hasn't rolled out into the national media. We need to get the news out that we're not the "Jailblazers" anymore, that we've got good guys, that we've got guys who are committed to bringing back a championship to this city that is so hungry for it.
My advice, as always...work on the grassroots local recognition first and let the other part come. You can't make it any quicker than it is nationally because it never has come quick for Portland and never will. But national media guys don't buy tickets and don't watch your local broadcasts and their advertisements. In fact the only times we became a juggernaut (or close) nationally was precisely because people were entranced with Blazermania and the fanatical local support. It wasn't the team, it was the atmosphere that surrounded it. And that's STILL what everybody talks about when they mention the Blazers nationally. Cultivate that and people will think you're worth mentioning.
Please...I'm begging you...hear that.
A: I don't think so. He's 25-26 and bigs usually reach their full potential around 30, 31, 32. There are things he can improve on. The one we felt was really important was that he get in shape during the offseason last year. He's done a great job of that and we'll continue with the summer programs. I don't think he has...we're going to still push him to become better. It'll be up to him whether he becomes better.
The thing is, Zach's a small big. He plays a post game but it's almost like a small man's overall offensive game with varied shots and ways of scoring. I don't doubt he'll get better in many ways but since he's such an odd duck for a big man I bet he peaks before his 30's.
A: It's hard to say. Zach is a 23 and 10 guy which is pretty darn good in this league. But he also has some limitations...his size, his athletic ability. His skill set is off the charts. He has the knack for putting the ball in the hole and rebounding. Lamarcus is going to be able to run. Not many fives in this league will be able to run and have some of the athletic ability that he does. The sky is the limit for Lamarcus. He's going to be as good as he wants to be. His weakness is...you know, we talk about guys being good for our culture--maybe we over-talk it sometimes--but he is perfect in that way. He gets more workouts... There's a standing competition in the weight room between him and Sergio. Sergio won last month and he was gloating about it a little. I don't think Lamarcus liked that much. The sky's the limit. He's a little too nice and he's got to get tougher. This league is intimidating and they'll go right at you. I saw something in Lamarcus last game though that gives me incredible hope that he can be a very special player.
Q: What was that?
A: He bodied Tim Duncan up and played more physical than I have seen him. The weight training is helping. Bobby Medina does a great job in there. His body is going to keep getting better. You just get the feeling with some guys that their bodies are going to keep getting better and his has. I don't know many rookies who can score 30 points in a game at the age of 20. There's the LeBrons and those kind of guys. But that gives us a lot of hope. It puts the bar way up high for him and our expectations for him. And I tell him that. I tell him, "You're showing me stuff that we expect now." And he understand that. I talk to Lamarcus all the time about him being the tough guy and the intimidator. Maurice Lucas is going to be good for him, teaching him to compete at a high level every game.
Hard questions, and well-answered. If I had to bet I'd say Lamarcus is his horse were it to come down to a choice.
A: The league is getting faster, not slower. Every team is figuring out who your five best are and you put them out there. You hope you have size at each position but if not, so what? Nellie had some success earlier in the year--not so much lately--and they play really small ball and were very effective. If you can play a center that has the ability to guard the post and run up and down and can keep up with the flow and not just run free-throw line to free-throw line and never get close to the goal and be able to spread the defense for Brandon and Zach and block some shots then I think you have a chance. Now can he guard Shaq right now? I think he would struggle. I think we'd probably call an early double team. But as he gets stronger...and the league is trending away from the big, strong centers into a flowing, up and down, graceful game and he fits that really well.
At the same time I'm trying to think of the most successful teams in the league and it seems to me that aside from an occasional switch like Dwyane Wade's from point guard to shooting guard, they have pretty well defined positions. Granted teams like Phoenix have semi-unorthodox players at those positions and play them differently than others, but there aren't a lot of questions there. Why do I see position questions hanging over Lamarcus as long as he's at the five-spot?
A: He's not being judged on the short term, I'll tell you that. Freddie and I have talked. I think he's worried and he wants to play more. But he's respectful and positive about it. He's a great kid. He was in our gym all summer and will be next summer, which is part of the foundation we want. He's made some great plays and been really unselfish. I told him when he first came here, "You're not going to be judged on the short term. We need somebody at that position who will play unselfish, who will defend, who will get after it and turn up the tempo with Sergio" and he loves that. He may not be scoring as much but he's trying to fit in. For me that's as important as a 20-point game. He'll get there...the scoring and big plays will come. His talent is there. What I like about him--and Nate agrees--is that he becomes a secondary or tertiary pick and roll guy out there. Some of the better teams like the Spurs run that and three men have a hard time defending the pick and roll. If we can get him as the third pick and roll guy in the second unit it makes us very difficult to guard. He can handle the ball very well. I can see him playing some point guard in a pinch. The league has turned so much into a ball-handling, pick-and-roll, get to the basket, force double teams, suck somebody in, get an open shot, draw and kick, draw and layups...it makes it fun. And he fits right into that.
Maybe it's just me, but I love it when he talks technical with us. And he uses words like "tertiary". Be still my beating heart!
A: There's no way there would be more pressure externally than I put upon myself internally. I understand the responsibility that comes with being an Assistant GM or a General Manager or being with this organization. I felt it from the beginning. I take a lot of pride in outworking everybody in the league. I will put our staff up against anybody in the league in terms of our output and what we do and how we prepare. It's something I'm lucky to have learned with the Spurs and when I set my staff up I told them under no circumstances will we be outworked. So that's number one and we'll be out there working this draft and doing everything we can to make this team better.
Secondly, I'm glad that I'm a candidate. I do believe I've proven myself. I am a young 39 and I love what I do. I know I'm going to work at this business until I'm the best I can possibly be. That's what my focus is. I'm going to do everything I can to make this team better, whether that be changing our culture, implementing summer programs, working for the draft, calling up guys on 10-days...and that's not going to change whether I'm an Assistant General Manager or a potential candidate for General Manager.
Q: Good luck Kevin. Keep up the hard scouting.
A: We'll be prepared for this draft. We're going to have some fun with it. We look at it like we study all year and then we get one big test. So we're cranking it out right now getting ready for that big test.
If nothing else, the guy oozes calm confidence. That's got to work in his favor.