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.
A: No, the 2001 team that was the best team in the Western Conference on March 5th and ended 7th. That was confusing. What we're seeing here is the inconsistency of youth. The potential of certain guys can be realized on any given night but on other nights they're not performing up to par. Last night was about the effort. They played hard. They haven't been doing that in a while. Part of it was the four days off. But guys were playing with urgency. Jarrett Jack realized that he could lose his starting job. Travis Outlaw realized that with Zach and Lamarcus out he had an opportunity for big minutes and maybe some stat padding for that new contract. Jamaal Magloire had 12 rebounds and he's been playing well when given the chance. It's a renewed effort and that's what Nate has been looking for.
First of all, good call on the 2001 team. They were having a great season (though even when winning there was something oddly flat about that squad), then Rod Strickland is brought back in, we have a roster of 12 former starters, Clyde Drexler night against the woe-begotten Grizzlies...bam! It was like cruising at 30,000 feet in a 747 and having every single engine cut out simultaneously. We flew through the rest of the season like a brick tied to an anvil. Sad.
Second, this team has an emotional pattern, more or less. They come out with a wholly unexpected great game or two and everybody's enthusiastic. But just when you're ready to stop being surprised and start expecting good play they come out flatter than they need to be and usually lose. You wonder if they're going to bounce back but they get gradually worse, flatter and flatter. Finally you're ready to give up and say they're going to get blown out then they perk up and play about half a game well (as with the Clippers the other night). Then the next game...surprise! Here comes that unexpected win again and the cycle starts all over. It's like they can't handle being very bad or very good. They've got too much grit to stink for long, I suppose, but too young and inexperienced to shine for long either.
A: I don't think the 30th carried any significance. There was relief in the locker room though. Let's get real. This season will go down as a success even if they lose the rest of their games. It will be a success because of, as Kevin Pritchard says, the culture. It's changed...it's a winning culture. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel finally for the first time in four years. You can see hope. You know Brandon Roy is going to be a stud in this league for years to come. You know Lamarcus Aldridge is a future All-Star. There's promise with Sergio Rodriguez. Zach Randolph has made some positive strides. I was talking with Nate about this last night. This season has gone as predicted. I thought there would be 32 wins this year. Nate had it in between 30 and 35. Any time they come close to realizing those predictions--and this is the first time in five years they've met or exceeded expectations--it shouldn't be taken lightly. This team didn't disappoint. It gave people inspiration. Nate says that Brandon Roy has exceeded his expectations. Lamarcus Aldridge has exceeded his expectations. Sergio has exceeded his expectations. Jarrett has met his expectations. Martell is probably a little bit below but Nate has seen improvement, especially in his defense and rebounding. Zach has made some positive strides. You can go 6 or 7 deep on this team with guys who met or exceeded expectations. Maybe the record isn't great but enormous strides happened this year and that's a success.
Oooooh...this may be the best point anybody has made about the Blazers all year. I like the exceeding expectations angle. It's not that they're good yet, let alone significant, but they're over where they were expected instead of being under, and that's a great sign. Winning teams all do that. And it's probably better to be a bad team trending towards winning and exceeding expectations than a good team trending towards losing and not meeting them. You can hope that the first will grow. Where is the second one going? (See also: Portland circa 2002)
A: He's a black hole! Let's cut to the chase. I got on him before the game last night and I said, "Am I ever going to see you pass?" He said, "Nah...it's not in my game." And he is dead serious. After the game I went up to him and asked him how many passes he made. He guessed 15. Then he guessed 20. It was 3. I'm going to chart this for the rest of the season. Every time he touches it he shoots it. It's not necessarily a bad thing because Nate is comfortable with Travis getting shots off. There are some times when he forces it though. Any time you get a player like this--we've seen this from Zach when he was younger and playing with veterans--and they don't pass, pretty soon his teammates stop passing the ball to him because they know it's not coming back out. Travis has to be wary of that. He's got people getting in his ear telling him he needs to get that new contract, he needs to score 20 a night. I'm torn on that. I like seeing the aggression, as that's long been a deficiency. But he needs to find a better balance.
Q: Even when Zach or Lamarcus or Brandon are in he's still jacking up those shots...
A: Keep in mind, though, that a lot of that confidence and those shots are coming because Nate is calling plays for him. Travis has said it and Nate has confirmed that he's calling a lot of plays for Travis. A lot of it is him just assuming that responsibility. Now just because a play's called for you doesn't mean you have to shoot it but Travis is trying to make the most out of his opportunity.
Yah...this worries me some also. You can't tell what Travis is, let alone what he will become. But the games that give you the most hope are usually also the games that he hogs the ball most. I would prefer he learn to get better along other routes. If being a non-factor or being a ball hog are the only two options I don't think you're that helpful.
A: No. One of the areas of concern in Martell's game is creating his own shot off the dribble. He can't do it with regularity. Travis can because he can jump over people. Martell is still more of a spot, step-up shooter. We've seen him getting better at driving but he's not there yet.
This has also been an area of concern, as I've mentioned. The games Martell shines in are the ones in which plays are being called for him...or at least the ball is going to him first and often. Part of his "setback" this year has come because that hasn't happened much. It did last season in the last 20 games and look at his production. But I have more faith in Martell's ability to grow than in Travis' so far.
A: I'm not even going to pretend to know. I don't think Kevin knows what he wants to do yet. I have a feeling the Blazers are going to be very dynamic again. I think Kevin will try to be as creative as he can. He'll shop the pick no matter what it is just to see what he can get. It's hard to tell now though because you don't know where the Blazers are going to be picking.
Q: Did you talk to Nate about the technical last night? Was he trying to fire up the team?
A: No. I just think he lost his temper.
Q: What do you know about the Lamarcus Aldridge situation?
A: What I know and what I can say are two different things. But it looks like he's going to come out of this OK. They're very close to pinpointing exactly what it is. On one hand I'd be very surprised if he comes back and plays this season. If this were earlier in the season he'd come back but by the time all this gets cleared up and a course of action is taken there will only be one or two games left. So it appears he's lost for the season. But it's not something that's a chronic or life-threatening issue. But it is something. It won't be something where they say the tests are done and they've found nothing. They did find something but we can't say what it is or what course of action they'll take. It looks like he's going to be fine. I just don't think they're going to risk playing him this season. He could come back but after talking to people my gut says I'd be very surprised if he came back this year.
If there's any doubt he doesn't need to come back this year. Come back for what? To make us feel better? I'll feel better in three years when he's readying for the playoffs. I can skip the next two weeks just fine.
A: They've been doing that for the last three weeks. We've seen Jamaal get more looks and Travis get extended minutes. That being said, they're still out to win. Brandon Roy said he's going to try and hurt their lottery position every night. You love to hear that. They play to win. This talk around the league about tanking is ridiculous. No team ever has done it or ever will do it. These guys are athletes. They have a lot of pride. Anybody who's played sports knows that nobody goes out there to lose. There's no point in even talking about it. But I do think there's a lot of work left in the season for Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan. They want to see if Jarrett Jack is a player in their future. They want to see whether Travis Outlaw will be a starter or a bench player down the line. Can Martell get over the hump or is he going to ride the bench the rest of his time? All those type of questions you can get a better feel for in these final eight games.
Thank you for the tanking comment. Wholly agreed. I think the closer you get to the actual NBA people the more obvious the point becomes.
A: I think they're to that point with Zach. I think the latest incident really didn't sit well with the team. It epitomized the polarization of Zach and this team. This team is so good from a character standpoint and Zach is so questionable. There's a lot of mental anguish over that questionable judgment. You never know when it's going to bite you. Last year it was in the pre-draft camp with the drag racing. This year it was training camp and the Hotel Vintage Plaza. You never know when it's going to hit you. Out of the blue Zach does something stupid. That is exhausting for a team. I think they want to make a clean break. Honestly I think they will look to trade him this summer.
I know this is a controversial take from Jason, but I'll tell you this...I was talking with some people months ago about the Zach situation, pre-Strippergate, at the height of his production. They asked me what I thought about management's take on Zach. I have no inside knowledge. I have not asked any Blazer Official about the situation. But when pressed for an answer I said, "If I had to guess I'd say..." and then laid out exactly what Jason just said almost word for word. That doesn't make it accurate, but it does mean that even folks without inside knowledge are coming to this conclusion, and if the guy who does see the team every single day has come to this conclusion, it probably shouldn't be dismissed offhand.
If he does get traded there will be some saying, "It's only for this one little thing! That didn't justify trading him!" Folks, it isn't for just one little thing. Strippergate or drag racing or whatever are not trade-worthy or firing-worthy offenses. But things add up, and add up, and add up. And it's not so much the badness of them as the seeming lack of sense they make coupled with the seeming lack of learning. Like Jason said, Zach's just random in that way. And bottom line, you have to trust the people you're going to war with, especially if you're investing 25% or more of your budget in them. If the Blazers don't feel they can trust Zach then I wouldn't be surprised if they moved Zach. Would I make the same decision? I can't say because I don't deal with Zach the same way they do. But I wouldn't call them on the carpet for it if that's the way they went. You've got to assume there are reasons, on and/or off the court.
A: No, I'm not. Even with what I said he's made strides and should be given credit. Granted he had a long way to go. But I think Zach cares. He cares about this team and wants to win. I don't think there's any question about that. It's just the stupid things he does that make him a liability. He's a decent teammate in terms of being supportive and well-liked.
This makes me wonder...how often do you hear about teammates that AREN'T well-liked? I know they're out there, but it seems like "But he's well-liked" is a pretty standard coda to the "He's less than ideal" song.
A: They're going to need superhuman play out of Jamaal Magloire. He'll be going against Duncan, Yao, and Erick Dampier. He's going to have to rebound his butt off, otherwise the Blazers are going to get killed on second chance points. This has potential to be three huge, huge losses. These are three of the four best teams in the West, with Phoenix. It's a daunting task. Brandon is going to have to play out of his mind and Jarrett will need to be mistake-free but I still think the key is Jamaal will have to be a huge presence. This is where Lamarcus will really be missed. Having Jamaal and Lamarcus in there gives them a chance against these bigger teams.
If they do win one game, it'll have to be Houston without McGrady. You could bowl me over with a feather if they even come close on either of the other two.
Kevin Pritchard joins the show.
A: Thank you very much.
Q: What does this mean to you? How does it feel?
A: I was asked the other day whether I felt like an overnight success. I guess if you consider 7 or 8 years an overnight success then I'm an overnight success. I worked my way up from the minor leagues and then through the Spurs and here and I feel fortunate. I think we've changed our direction. I love our young guys and the way this team is molding together. We've got a lot of growth left and I wanted to be a part of it. Mr. Allen and Tod Leiweke thought I was a good person to be at the helm along with Nate and the assistant coaches and other management. I look forward to putting a great management team together. I think we can create something special and hopefully have some fun along the way.
Q: What did you see in the game last night?
A: The biggest thing was that Utah was playing sharp. This isn't a game they took lightly. It felt like they were playing hard and trying to get fired up. The end of the first half we stayed close when they played well. Travis carried us through the first half. Then I felt like Brandon got this look in his eye. Sometimes he gets it and here he goes. What people don't realize is that as good and nice of a guy as Brandon is, he's as competitive as heck. He's got that eye of the tiger and wants to win. When he gets scored on he wants to score on you. He wanted to shoulder the responsibility in the last game and say, "You know what? This is my team tonight and I'm going to take advantage of it." The coaches...we beg him to shoot more...just beg him. We want him to take 20 shots. But his personality is that he wants to make sure everyone else is taken care of first and then he'll get his. But last night I felt like he looked for his shot more than ever. He only took 15 shots but he got some calls and got to the line. It was good to see that. I thought Magloire played well and Jarrett came out of his shell and got aggressive early. He made some shots and played as hard as he's played in a long time. I think this shows you that we're not out to throw games. The lottery will happen like it's going to happen. Even Brandon after the game said, "I'm not out there to get you more ping-pong balls." I'm not after more ping-pong balls. We'll make a good pick. I promise you that. Whether it's at 5 or at 8 we'll make a good pick. Go out and do what you have to do to make our culture even more of a winning culture.
Q: So it's not better to lose and get higher in the lottery?
A: I don't subscribe to the theory that you throw games ever. I think it's bad message to your team, to your coach, to the rest of the league, to the fans. I don't believe in that. I think things happen for a reason. Last night was as fun of a game as I've been to. I was into it, the crowd was into it. It was an exciting game from start to finish. I was rooting for us to win. I've never one time rooted for us not to win. We want to win. We want to win as many games as we can. Nate and I will figure this out along with Mr. Allen and Tod. We'll figure out how to bring in better players and upgrade talent down the line. We've got some talent. I'm glad guys are playing well who are coming off the bench. It's a hard season as it is. To tell a team to shut it down? Huh-uh. I'm not going to be that kind of General Manager.
OK, now can we put the "tanking as strategy" talk to bed? You've heard from the guy covering the team. You've heard from the guy leading the basketball management of the team. And I'd like to see you ask Nate whether he thinks losing games intentionally is a good idea while still emerging from that conversation with the lips you asked the question with attached. For teams in our position every dark cloud loss has a silver lining. That's a given. But that doesn't mean you do Chief Lelooska's rain dance just to get the lining! (That dude told a mean story, by the way. He also had a great bubble blower.) If you have a choice you pick sunshine.
A: It's both. He's playing the four and not many fours can guard him. Sometimes he has trouble on the defensive end with those strong, beefed fours too. We want to run and we got some easier buckets last night because he was playing the four. We're going to continue to play him and give him an opportunity to show what he can do. His whole thing is simple: Can he be consistent? It's tough to take a 22 year old kid, play him against 28-30 year old men, and expect him to be consistent. It's putting a high expectation on him. We want him to do it but we have to grow with these kids too. You have to play that delicate balance of not getting too high on him and not getting too down on him. That's what I tell the team...we're going to stay in the middle. We'll be happy when we win and when we lose we'll stay positive. Travis played a good game. Now let's see if he can be effective against the next team and the next and the next.
Travis ought to run more. A personal best is great but it doesn't mean diddly if you can't sustain a level somewhat close to it over time.
A: You have to remember he's a 19 year old kid...a sophomore in college. There are not a lot of sophomores in college that come in and make an impact at that level. College is getting younger but think back 15 years ago when there were true seniors...would Martell be playing a lot at the University of Washington? He'd be playing some, but not a lot. I think the key is...it's hard to be patient. Everybody wants a player to make an immediate impact like Brandon and Lamarcus have. With Martell it's not only about consistency but does he have the physical tools and does he approach the game the same way? He's trying but it's difficult because you're throwing a kid who's normally playing 25-30 games a year into 82 plus pre-season and hopefully soon post-season. It makes it difficult. Martell's a young kid. He's got some physical tools. We'll expect a lot more out of him next year. We're going to continue to put good, young, solid talent with tough-nosed veterans like Ime that have some leadership and have a balance. Balance is the key. With Martell he has to grow as a person and a player or he'll fail in this league. And I don't mean to put it that harshly because I think he's got too many things going for him and I don't think he's failing now. He's made some very athletic plays at the bucket and gotten hot from three. His defense is a ton better. We're so much more happy with where his defense is now than we were last year. But he's got to continue to grow and affect this team in a positive way.
Q: Do you sit down at the end of the year with Nate and evaluate the season and look forward to next year?
A: With Nate it's not at the end of the year. It's ongoing. We talk every day and bounce ideas back and forth off each other. He'll be involved with the draft. But Nate and I are partners. I don't look at it as any other thing other than I'm going to try and help him do what he does best and I'm going to take as much off his plate as possible to let him focus in on the team and be the best coach that he can be. As a General Manager if I can take a lot of those responsibilities we're going to get where we want to go. It's not so much evaluating him on a day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year...he's my partner, how can I help him?
(sigh) Kevin Pritchard is the kind of GM I always dreamed about being if I were ever to be GM.
A: I think Sergio will benefit if he does play. He plays a lot for his national team so he may not be there. Martell will definitely benefit. We're going to play those guys a lot. Lamarcus will play. Joel Freeland will play. Those guys who didn't get the on-court time that some of the other guys have during the regular season...that's what Summer League is for. It's to work on your game, expand your game, push your envelope, to make mistakes and learn from your mistakes.
Q: When you're looking at a player in the draft, what do you need to see? Size, athleticism, smarts? What do you look for first?
A. I don't know if I can quantify it down to that small because basketball is a complex game. I can use examples. With Lamarcus it was close with a couple players and him. We were impressed with his workout. We liked what he did during the season. We saw he competed at a high level on the road against the top teams. That attracted us. But with Lamarcus it was sitting down at dinner and listening to him. We ask questions and we try to get the guys talking. He was articulate and felt like a mature kid. We knew he came from a big program and played in big games. He just felt like he was the kind of guy we could grow with. Is he the most talented? Maybe, maybe not. (He's awfully talented!) But I felt like his maturity would help this team. Brandon, on the other hand, we knew he was a mature guy who had gone through four years of college. But I loved his ability to affect the game on so many levels. He affected it scoring, on the defensive end, in making the right play at the right time. He had a very competitive edge to him and that was it. With Sergio I saw lightning in a bottle. He had the ability to make very crafty plays at a very young age against men. So it would be wrong to say, "This is the one thing we're going for." That absolves what we're really about taking an encompassing look at every player and what they do. Sometimes things just pop up like with these last three and I could do that with every player we've drafted in the last two years. Something perked up that got my attention and made us excited about that kid.
Q: At what point do you actually get to sit down with the draftees?
A: There are new rules. We cannot have workouts before Orlando pre-draft camp. After Orlando we have guys come up here and do workouts either by themselves or with other people. I really believe it's important to take these guys out and have lunch or dinner and spend time with them. I don't feel comfortable saying we're going to pick a guy and he's going to fit our culture without looking at him face to face. Yes we do the other work and find out as much as we can but until I can sit there face to face and understand what he's about...they can fool you but face to face that's a lot harder. So we'll do that after the pre-draft camp.
The Blazers ought to give away one dinner with Kevin Pritchard as a prize in a contest or something. They could do it after his draft season was over...like in August or September. What a fascinating experience that would be picking his brain and/or talking with him like the draftees do. He could explain the things he asks them and such. I'd do whatever is necessary to win that contest! (Please make it wordy blogging! Please make it wordy blogging!)
A: Guys move up and down in our rankings, absolutely. We try not to make any one game that much more important. Guys change in the rankings and in our perception but you can get in trouble if a guy goes from the fifth best point guard to the best point guard in two games. That's not the way I like to evaluate. Does that happen? Maybe. But I prefer to take the long-term approach and make sure we understand a player and his full body of work.
Q: In these pre-draft workouts when the GMs and scouts get together do you ever feel like there are guys being pumped up to throw other people off the trail? How much manipulation goes on?
A: I would say it's a chess game. There are guys who are very, very good at it and some not so good. Hopefully we understand that. It's a chess game and you don't ever want to show your move before it happens because guys can take advantage of that. We do everything we can to know what the rest of the league is doing but it's a filtering system. It's very fluid and dynamic because it is a game. That's what makes it fun for me. Sometimes, like last year, it falls into place perfectly for us. We were lucky. We had trading partners and players we really liked fell into places where we could get them. It is definitely a chess game and it starts well before a month before the draft.
Not chess. Too logical. It seems more like poker. You've got to know the math but also read your opponent. And there's a ton at stake.
A: I'm going to plead the fifth on that one!
Q: What can you tell us about Lamarcus Aldridge's condition?
A: Let me answer by giving you some background on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We can talk about injuries that are directly basketball related. If a guy turns his ankle during the game we can talk about that. There's a fine line with Lamarcus about whether that happened during a game and whether it's basketball-related. So I can't give specific details. To be perfectly honest we're still in that elimination phase. There are a lot of things it could be. We feel like we're getting closer but I don't want to get out in front of myself and speculate. I want to know and feel comfortable with what it is. Once we know we can treat it or cure it and get him back on the court. We take care of the player as a human first. Lamarcus is a great kid and we love him and we're going to treat him as part of our family first and a player second. That's really, really critical. We're going to do what's right for him personally. He has had tests and a comfort level with a Portland doctor. He's also seeing his own doctor. We're going to find out what this is. It may not be on a timetable fast enough for all of us, even me since I'm a hard-charging guy, but with dizziness and a rapid heartbeat there's a lot of things it could be and we want to make sure we get it right.
See? You learn something new every day. I did not know that about the Collective Bargaining Agreement but now that I hear it that makes total sense. And it would be an especially sensitive area after the whole Eddy Curry thing.
Stuff like this is why you need to listen to Casey Holdahl presents Jason Quick's Chat featuring Kevin Pritchard every week. Or I suppose in this case this is why you read Blazersedge transcribes Casey Holdahl's presentation of...well...you get it.
A: That's a tough timetable. With a knee injury it takes time. He's working hard, probably harder than he ever has in his life because this is a tough injury. We want him to get healthy and be at full speed but we have no idea when that's going to be. We hope to have him by next October but you just don't know.
A: It's very simple: play hard, play smart, play together. If they do those three things, win or lose, I'm going to be happy. Sometimes we want to make it more complex than it is. If we play hard, smart, and unselfishly I'll be happy. It's easy to fall into the trap as evaluators of, "Wow he played a great game!" when all he did was make a couple extra shots than he normally does. A big part of basketball is shooting but you have to evaluate the whole game. A guy can go 10-10 but have 12 turnovers and even though everybody's going crazy he may have hurt his team. It's simple...if we play harder, smarter, and together we have a chance to win and will improve and become a better team.
Q: Will you be with the team on this road trip?
A: There's a Hoops Summit in Memphis and I'll be there.
Q: You've mentioned before that the team is a business but also a family. Do you ever find yourself getting defensive when people are criticizing the team?
A: Sure, I'm human. I take offense when I don't think things are being said right. Right after the draft all the pundits and experts were saying, "What the heck is Portland doing? They don't know what they're talking about or doing." I was thinking how they could be so judgmental when we got the players we wanted at #1 and #2 and they haven't played a game yet? Another example is that I don't think we get the same respect as a West Coast team in a small market in the NBA overall. That gets me upset. If you want to press my buttons, press that one because it gets me. When people were talking about, "It might be a really great debate between Brandon Roy and somebody else for Rookie of the Year" I was thinking how could that be? Then you don't see Brandon Roy every day. You don't respect what he does every day. Do I get upset? Sure. Do I defend my guys? Yes. I'm in the trenches with them every day.
Stuff like this makes fans' toes curl. And it also probably cements Pritchard in Portland for a while. You don't want to leave early without having accomplished your goals and prove the nay-sayers right. I hope that trickles down to the players too. Intentionally or not Kevin is tapping into exactly what makes Portland special (and being a Trailblazer special). It seems so popular to jump ship nowadays to get your ring. It's even popular to move on to a bigger stage somewhere. And sure, bigger stages make some players seem bigger. But if you're really a big player you make wherever you are a big stage by your mere presence. That's what the guys need to concentrate on. Make Portland a team to remember. Make it so you can't talk NBA basketball without mentioning the Blazers. What the heck challenge or accomplishment is there in getting people to talk about you if you're the Lakers? You could pick your nose at the top of the key for 48 minutes straight in purple and gold and it would probably still make Sportscenter's top ten. That doesn't make you big, it just makes you Hollywood. You make Portland a big stage and you are the MAN.
Another great chat today but I do have a bone to pick with KP. I'm not the fastest typist in the world but I can follow Jason Quick pretty well for a paragraph or two without having to stop and listen again because his delivery is modestly paced. Pritchard talks fast! I can do 20 minutes of Quick in about 25 minutes of typing. 20 minutes of KP takes an hour because I have to keep rewinding as he gets so far ahead of me. I promise to brush up my "skillz", Mr. Pritchard Sir, if you promise to take a breath every three sentences or so. Deal?