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Quick Chat Recap April 19th, 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:  Was last night a good way to end the season?  What's the sense of the team going into the off-season?

A:  As I'm writing my season wrap-up this is the message I'm trying to get across:  this is the season where the Blazers found their way.  The team found its direction, its leadership, its future.  They finally took to Nate McMillan's direction in how to play right.  Nate said that really became apparent to him when Zach Randolph and Lamarcus Aldridge were lost for the season but the team showed that if it played hard and together it could still win and be in ball games.  The tone was set in preparation, in practice, in in-game effort.  I think we all saw the progress on the court.   They didn't always play well but they played hard for the majority of the time.  Also they found their leadership in Kevin Pritchard.  For the first time I can remember there is a uniting between management and the basketball people.  Kevin and Nate are on the same page.  Nate can't stop gushing that he's excited about this summer because he feels he's on the same page with Kevin.  In years past this is a franchise that's had Shaquille O'Neal offered, Jason Kidd offered, Vince Carter offered, this year Mike Dunleavy and Ike Diogu offered, but in every instance those trades were turned down for financial reasons.  The people in charge were wary of taking on those contracts.  You're not going to see that with Kevin Pritchard.  He's going to make decisions based on whether this makes the Blazers a better basketball team.  He feels if the product is better the finances will take care of themselves.  As a coach, as fans, that's great to hear.  That will set the franchise on a new course.  Also this year the team found its future.  Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Jarrett Jack, Sergio Rodriguez...great beacons of hope.  This season was a great season for all of them--particularly Roy--and you can only expect them to get better and that bodes well for the franchise.  For the first time in four years the fans and the organization can enter the off-season with optimism and hope for the future.  If you throw out the 50 losses this season was really a season of progress, taking a step forward, having a direction.  I think that's really encouraging.

Ugh.  I agree with Jason's assessment of the season but does it make anybody else just a little bit queasy reading about those potential trades?  Doubly so if the reasons really were financial.  I have a hard time imagining Paul Allen keeping his mitts of Shaq just to save a few bucks though.

Q:  You mentioned the money aspect of it under Kevin Pritchard.  What was the financial situation like under Steve Patterson?  Was he in control of the finances and the moves or was it a Paul Allen decision?

A:  The key thing there is communication.  Bob Whitsitt talked about this with Paul Allen.  You can't go to him and say, "This is going to cost us this much money..."  You have to convince him that this is going to make us better, get us X amount of wins, get us in a championship window.  I don't think the previous regime of Steve Patterson and John Nash went to Paul with that approach. I think it was more of a financial approach.  But to be fair to Steve and John part of their edict when they came in was that they had to cut payroll and watch the bottom line.  It's just a difference in approach.  Kevin feels like Bob Whitsitt--you make the product better and then the finances take care of themselves through fans and sponsors.  That's the approach you want the management to take if you're a fan.  Also it shouldn't go unnoticed that Kevin and Paul have a great line of communication.  I've said before that Paul text messages Kevin during games and they talk.  As we've heard in these chats and other interviews with Kevin they guy is the best PR machine the organization has.  You can become energized just listening to him.  He has a way of finding the bright side of things and getting you focused on the bigger picture.  I think that's going to rejuvenate Paul Allen too.  We already saw that in last year's draft when he got Paul to spend a lot of money and make a lot of deals.  Look at the benefits of that already.

Patterson and Nash did their jobs, which was to tear down that old team to make way for a new one.  The fire got a little bit out of control and scorched some of the fields as well as the old barn but it was still probably a necessary process.

Q:  Let's talk free agents this summer, starting with Travis Outlaw.  Is he a new Travis?  Can he perform like this when the team is completely healthy?  Will he be a Blazer next year?

A:   I think he will.  A lot of it depends on what other teams offer him.  I don't see the Blazers going any higher than four million dollars a year for him.  I know San Antonio is interested, Charlotte has shown interest, Milwaukee has shown interest.  The Blazers nearly dealt Travis two years ago at the trading deadline but decided to hold onto him.  It's really going to depend on what other teams offer him.  The Blazers will have the chance to match any offer made.  I can't imagine any team going too high for him.  My sense is that the Blazers will keep him.  Nate McMillan loves him and his versatility of playing power forward in the small lineup.  He fits the Blazers' long-term goal of being quicker and running.  As to whether he will put up 36 and 10...I doubt it.  I don't think he'll be in the role of getting 15 to 20 shots.  But he'll be a nice role player for this team.  You can tell they have more confidence in him.  Nate has called more plays for him and doesn't mind him shooting every time he touches it, which is what he's become.  Nate has said before that if he calls play for you it's the ultimate sign of respect.  Nate game that to Travis as early as December this year.  He's a part of this team's future--maybe not as a starter but as a nice sixth or seventh man.

Q:  Are the expectations for Travis going to be higher next year than for the younger guys?  And will he be able to handle them?

A:  I think so.  You want your players to get better each year and he has.  Certainly if they give him a new contract they'd like to see more improvement.  But he's cleared the biggest hurdle which is his confidence.  A lot of that is because Nate has given him confidence.  He's becoming an everyday pro.  The upside for him is still huge.  I don't think we've seen the best basketball that Travis can play which is the reason they're going to try and lock him down.

Why do I get the feeling that if we keep him he'll turn out to be so-so but if we deal him he'll rock the universe?  I suppose that would just be Blazer neurosis setting in.  If Quick is right about the four million thing I think it's a no-brainer.  At that price he'll always be tradable even if we don't like him anymore.  When you start getting into the 6-7 million range it becomes more problematic.

Q:  If they re-sign him I still worry about the glut at small forward, still without a starter.  Who's the odd man out there?

A:  Travis played 80-85% of his time at power forward.  They will make a huge push to re-sign Ime Udoka but as a role player, and he's fine with that.  He's the perfect role player, the kind of guy you win championships with in that role.  I think the number one push will be to sign Rashard Lewis.  A lot of people say it can't be done.  It'll probably have to involve a third team.  But I'm being told that's the number one priority.  I wouldn't be surprised if Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan are knocking on Rashard Lewis' door at midnight on July 1, which is the first day you can talk to free agents.  This team has to and will look to explore every way possible to get Rashard Lewis in a Blazer uniform next year.  It's that much of a priority.  He's the perfect fit for this team.  He's long.  He's a proven scorer.  Nate McMillan feels like he's ready to be the number one option on a team.  The relationship between Nate and Rashard is very strong and runs deep.  That will play a big role for Rashard.  He's looking for maximum money which the Blazers can't give that to him without a trade.  It'll have to involve a third team and probably involve Zach Randolph.  The Blazers are willing to move Zach Randolph if it means getting a player the caliber of Rashard Lewis because they're more than confident that Lamarcus Aldridge is ready to be a starting power forward in this league.

Well, there it is...if not exactly from the horse's mouth at least from the mouth of the guy who handicaps the horses.  If Lamarcus turns out to be a really good defender that could be a very positive move.  We just need to make sure the defense is solid around Rashard.

Q:  So the expectation is that Lamarcus will be the number one guy at power forward?

A:  The expectation is that Lamarcus Aldridge will start.  The only question is whether he'll be at power forward or center.  That will depend on whether Zach Randolph is still on the team.  But either way Lamarcus will start.

Q:  Talk about Martell Webster.  He's probably had the most disappointing season of any Blazer this year.  What does the future hold for him?

A:  I think we've seen the last game of Martell Webster in a Blazer uniform.  He is one of the few players on the team who doesn't fit the culture.  He's become moody, surly, and uncoachable.  The word is that he's become a know-it-all, that when people try and tell him something he says, "Yeah, yeah, I know."  Every pre-game I go out to see who is working with what.  Travis Outlaw works tirelessly, Dan Dickau works tirelessly, Jarrett Jack is out there, Lamarcus Aldridge is out there...all of them have a twenty minute individual session with coaches.  Martell Webster does not have that.  When I brought it up with Nate he said, "That's Martell.  He's a loner."  That's part of the reason he's not playing much or developing as fast.  In that respect he doesn't fit the culture.  He's not very coachable.  Over the course of the year his attitude has become more negative.  It's gotten to the point where Brandon Roy has pulled him aside and said, "Martell, what's wrong with you?  You have to come out of your shell.  Don't you remember when this game was fun?  You need to start playing like you did when I saw you smiling out there as a kid."  It's just not there with Martell anymore.  He's still an incredible talent and will carry some weight on the market.  He'd be a player the Blazers would include in a package deal.  

Wow.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that.  What a night and day change from the report after last year...not only with the attitude but with the work thing.  Martell was tabbed consistently last year as among the hardest workers on the team.  Was that just PR or has he given up?

A couple of days ago Casey wrote and asked me to do a preview for Martell day on the "You Be the GM" feature over at O-Live.   Here are the preliminary notes I jotted down (before I heard Quick's assessment):

--His form is still there but his confidence is not.
--He came into the season expecting to be a key cog and perhaps charismatic leader, he leaves it in limbo, almost an afterthought.
--Not every approach works for everyone.  Perhaps a combination of Nate's traditional criticism (justified, but still) and the loss of stature is wearing on him.
--If I were Brandon or Jarrett I would step in and try to work with him plus make a special effort to get him involved on the court.  He could make a big difference.

I guess I still believe that last part.  Right now he's almost insignificant but I don't think there's another player on the team with the potential for such huge impact if he got right.  That outside shot opens up so much on offense.  I want this to work with Martell.  If he scored 18 a game this would be a happy, happy place.

Q:  Is there animosity on Martell's part over Brandon Roy and the rookies taking over the limelight?

A:  Not at all.  But it has reinforced in Martell's head that he's not progressing as fast as the other guys.  Jarrett Jack is starting and flourishing while Martell is getting bit pieces and doesn't have a central role.  I don't think there's animosity but it has played into his psyche.  After the games Martell has the unfortunate position of having the locker in between Jarrett Jack and Brandon Roy who are besieged nightly by the press corps.  Nobody talks to Martell.  So he sits there like, "Everyone talks to Brandon and Jarrett...I haven't done enough to be talked to."  Let me clarify that I think there's a great kid in there.  I really like Martell.  I just wish he'd break out of the funk he's in.  The problem is he refuses to admit he's in a funk.  Maybe he's still young and trying to find himself.  I just wish we could see that kid out there on the court.  He has one of the most beautiful jumpers I've ever seen. Someday in the right situation he might be able to become the great player everybody thinks he is.  I just think the Blazers would be willing to move on if it means getting a better player.

Q:   I remember what I was like when I was 19 and 20 and I was an idiot.  These guys aren't supermen, they're just people.  Anyway...what are the summer plans for the players?

A:  Brandon is on a team-mandated vacation from basketball for three weeks.  After that he's going to be in Seattle with his child.  He'll start playing at the UW.  He won't be required to go to summer league but he says he's going anyway.  He probably won't play but he wants to practice with the team and get oriented with the new teammates.  He just wants to be around.  That underscores what a great teammate, person, and professional Brandon Roy is.  I can't stop gushing about the guy.  He's the most impressive professional athlete I've ever been around. I've dealt with the Mariners, Seahawks, and Blazers for eight years now.  He is by far the most impressive human, not to mention athlete, I've ever been around.  I think his presence at summer league will be huge.

Lamarcus was on hand at the Rose Garden the other night.  He looked great.  He says he feels great.  But right now he's under doctor's orders not to run.  But true to his reputation he's been lifting weights every day.  He says he'll be running in a couple weeks.  He will be playing at summer league.  I think that's good news.  Again what a great thing to hear from such a young player that even though he can't run he's in the weight room every day.  Bobby Medina has said this guy's the leader in the weight room with a work ethic similar to Jermaine O'Neal when he was a youngster.  We've seen how Jermaine's body changed from the kid in high school to what he is now.  I don't know if Lamarcus will ever get that big but he has the work ethic to build his core to the point strength will not be an issue for him anymore.

Sergio is a question mark this summer.  He's got requirements with the Spanish national team.  They don't know yet whether he'll be in summer league but it looks like he probably won't.  Fred Jones left for Houston today.  He's going to be with his AAU team.  He sponsors a Portland AAU team called Team Jones.  It's one of the elite AAU teams in the nation.  They've already won two prestigious tournaments and have another one in Houston. He's going to be on hand to support them financially and in person.  The big thing for him this summer is Nate wants him to lose 15 pounds. He is a little chunky for his build.  Fred will once again be a regular at the Blazers' open gym--another subtle move by Kevin Pritchard last summer to change the culture.  They now have an open gym for NBA players.  Desmond Mason takes part, Jermaine O'Neal takes part, Freddie does too.  Fred will be a mainstay there and that will help his conditioning and acclamation to teammates.  I think we'll see a better Freddie Jones come training camp.

Q:  How do players view the off-season?  Anticipation?  Regrets?

A:  I think this year was different from last year.  Last year was so bad that when the final buzzer sounded people couldn't wait to pack up their bags and get out of Dodge.  This year there was nothing close to that.  Everyone felt good.  There was a tinge of sentiment about not seeing everybody for a while.  This was a very close team, a family.  Nate has gone to great lengths to foster that.  He had a Christmas party this year where everybody showed up.  They had an Easter brunch on the road.  They had Thanksgiving in Orlando.  He had a bowling get-together.  The more recent events he's had 100% participation and that's really encouraging.  They're developing a family atmosphere and this team was really strong in that aspect.  They liked each other and got along.  That's why at the end there was a hint of sadness that a fun season was over.  That's in direct contrast to last year where everyone couldn't wait to go their own way.

This is nice to hear.  You'd like to think that was true every season.  I don't think it's necessary to winning--plenty of teams have won a lot of games being grumpy with each other--but it does make it nicer (and easier) to get through those non-winning times.

Q:  Dan Dickau got a fair amount of play in the last couple of weeks but it seemed like he was acting more like a shooting guard than a point guard.  What that intentional or just Dan's decision?  Does he have a future with the Blazers?

A:  I don't.  Look for him to be traded this summer.  They need to weed out some of their point guards.  His contract will be easy to move and I don't think he fits in the Blazers' long term plans.  They have high hopes for Sergio and Brandon Roy will play a bigger role at point guard.  At the top of the Blazers' wish list this off-season is to find a more proven point guard.  Kevin Pritchard says the biggest priorities are to find a small forward and a big man, but point guard is in the top three.  I love Dan as a person and I think he can play in this league but I don't see him fitting in the long-term plans with this team.

I noticed the same thing Casey did.  When Dan was excelling he was usually shooting.  That's nice, but I'm not sure we need more of that in the long run.

Q:  A fan question:  Would Charlotte trade Raymond Felton and Sean May for Zach Randolph?

A:  No.  I don't think the Blazers would do that.  They need more high-level players than that.  Plus Raymond Felton is not a Nate McMillan-type of point guard.  He's a shoot-first point guard.

Q:   What are Luke Schenscher's prospects with the Blazers?

A:   Not good.  He might be a training camp invitee but I don't think they have any long-term plans for Luke.  If Luke Schenscher is the Blazers' back-up or even third string center next year then they haven't done as well as they wanted to in the off-season.

Wow...nicely put.

Q:  Kevin Pritchard pulled off some high-profile deals (and Steve Patterson too) on draft day.  Will that make teams more reluctant to do deals since they had such success?

A. I think it's about the intriguing assets the Blazers have to deal.  That's what will make them a player.  They have young components that will interest other teams.  If they see fair value there that will make the deal.  I don't think they'll look back and say, "Portland did well, stay away from them."  Travis Outlaw, Martell Webster, Jarrett Jack...those are players teams will be interested in.   I talked to Jarrett Jack and asked him whether he thought he'd be here next year and he said anything can happen.  I said I'd heard Atlanta was interested and he said he'd heard that and also Miami, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.  If Jarrett's hearing that then it underscores that the Blazers have components other teams are interested in.

Yah...I'm pretty sure Kevin will have some good potential deals come draft time.  If nothing else our pick should garner attention.  The only part of the whole thing I'd question was his comments to expect a lot of pizzazz come draft day.  He probably ought to keep that on the down low.  You never know what will influence these guys.  Some folks like to be high-profile GMs.  Others are more behind the scenes and conservative.  They don't like to get shown up.  I suspect it will be better for Kevin to adopt the more conservative-type persona at first even if he's not conservative at all in his moves.  I can see a couple guys squirming a little if they think the brash young guy is trying to make them part of his Spectacular Draft Extravaganza.  Also I won't be disappointed at all if we just make straight picks and don't move anybody or anything.  If that's the right move it's the right move.  Flashy doesn't mean better.  Ask Isiah.

Q:   Who do you think the starting five will be come next season?

A:  That's impossible to say.  Will Zach Randolph be traded?  Will Jarrett Jack be traded?  Who will they draft?  I'll tell you this:  I think the roster will be changed dramatically over the summer.  How I can't say.  I don't think even Kevin Pritchard can say at this point.  I think at least one of the five starters from this year will be dealt.  At least.

Q:   Are the playoffs a reasonable expectation next year?

A:  I think realistically they're still one year away but I think we'll see them flirt with those 40-win plateau and a playoff spot.  The best-case scenario has them making it next year but I think it's two years down the road.  Again we'll see improvement though.  The 11-win improvement this year was the third best in the NBA.  Toronto had 20 and Houston had 18.  It's also the third best increase in Blazer history.  The best was the 1990 team which had a 20-game increase and they went to the NBA finals.  The second best was 12 wins by the '77 team that won the NBA championship.  This is pretty heady territory that the Blazers are headed into as far as improvement.  I think this team is going to improve upon 32 wins next year.  This franchise is headed in the right direction.  They've got the right leadership.  They've got the right coach.  They've got the right core with Brandon, Lamarcus, Jarrett, Sergio, even Zach.  Of course I think some of those components could or will be traded, but without question this franchise is headed in the right direction.

I second that!  Nice chat, even in the absence of KP.  Jason and Casey did a great job all year.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)