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Quick Chat Recap 5/31/07 Part 2

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Here's the second part our 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.  

I'm having you click the "read more" thing so it doesn't completely bury the other posts today.

Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick joins the chat.

Q:  Any news from the Orlando Pre-Draft Camp?

A:  Today was media availability for the projected lottery pick.  I've been doing this four years now and the media contingent was 3-4 times larger than previous years.  Everyone wanted to talk to Oden and Durant.  It was my first meeting with Durant.  He's a cool guy.  He's very humble and soft spoken...much more reserved than Greg Oden.  Greg Oden has a personality that takes over the room.  They anticipated the media rush this year so they did it differently...bringing in Durant for 30 minutes and Oden for 30 minutes.  At the other tables were other guys like Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Mike Conley, and all that.  Oden owned the room with his personality.  Durant is much more serious...basketball is his world.  That's all he really talks about.  Durant is 6'10"--6'9+1/2" without shoes--and he said he weighed himself this morning and it's 219.  You'll see him listed mostly at 225 but he says he's never been that big.  He would like to improve his upper body strength.  One thing I noticed about Durant is he has absolutely HUGE hands, the biggest I've ever seen.  They're really long.

Greg Oden revealed he'll be coming to Portland for interviews and workouts on June 19-20.  Durant didn't know when he was scheduled.  I know he'll be in there that week but I don't know whether it will be before or after.  My guess would be after but I don't know that for sure.

These lottery picks haven't done their testing yet so we don't know how they did on the bench press or vertical leap or any of that stuff.  They're going to do that tomorrow.  I hope to have a report on that.  I am really curious to see what Durant can do on the bench press.  I think they have them bench press 185 pounds and see how many times they can do it.  Last year I think Lamarcus only did it 8 or 9 times and that was a question mark.  I'm curious to get those results.

Whoever they pick Portland will grow to like both of these guys.  They're likeable guys and good kids.  I don't think you'll hear about them getting in trouble.  I don't think Portland can go wrong in this.  But I think they'll pick Oden. I think he's just too impressive.  From the workouts I've heard he's been doing in Indianapolis he's just a monster.  He's been working a lot on his explosion and on his dribbling.  He says he's probably worked most on his dribbling and he says, "I have to get a new shirt once I complete my dribbling drills because I'm working so hard and producing so much sweat."  Both guys are still working out hard.  It's going to be interesting but I think Oden will be the pick.

Q:  How much does Greg Oden weigh?  The lottery sites have about a 50 pound discrepancy from site to site.

A:  I asked Durant straight up but I forgot to ask Oden.  They'll be measured and weighed tomorrow so I hope to have something then at the blog.

Q:   How much stock do NBA types put in measurables and how much do Kevin Pritchard and the Blazers' staff put in them?

A:  I think not much.  It didn't affect them with Lamarcus even though his bench press was among the lowest for people his size.  As it turns out Lamarcus is one of the best Blazers in the weight room and he's improved greatly in that area.  I don't think they'll be worried because both of these guys have great reputations for work-ethic.  I don't think they'll put much stock in it.  They've done enough homework and they have huge books on both of these guys.  I really think it will come down to the interviews...what Kevin will be able to glean when he meets them face to face and looks them in the eye.  That's another thing I've taken from both of these guys.  When they ask you a question they look you straight in the eye.  There were 20-30 people around each of these players and every time someone would ask a question both of these guys would look them in the eye.  That's the kind of thing that Kevin Pritchard likes.  Brandon Roy is very much like that.  I would love to be in those interviews and hear what Kevin Pritchard will ask both of these players.

Q:  How much stock will they put into the interviews?  If Kevin Durant has a much better interview than Greg Oden would that change the course of the pick?

A:  I think it could.  I think the interviews will be the most important factor in this.  Kevin Pritchard has gone as far as to say that.  That being said I think the physical talents of Greg Oden are too great.  I don't think the Blazers can pass up a guy like this. I think Nate McMillan is firmly in the Oden camp.  Even though Kevin Pritchard has in the past been a Durant guy I think he's coming to an understanding that this is too special of a talent to pass up on.

Of course almost every player gets pre-draft hype (remember Pervis Ellison and Kwame Brown?) but it's just hard not to get a tingly spine when you hear stuff like this.

Q:   Of the other players at camp has anyone stood out to you?

A:  It's hard because to be honest I didn't go to any of the games today.  They're playing the last two games right now and I spent all day at the media availability.  However I saw two of the three games yesterday.  The kid from Clemson, James Mays, who is a small power forward or small forward (he's about 6'9"), was very impressive.  He was quick jumping and getting back to his feet.  He's like a pogo stick.  I think there are players here who are going to be possible picks for the Blazers in the second round.  That's the great mystery right now...what the Blazers are going to do with the second round picks.  I think they're going to trade them or draft Europeans.  I don't see them bring in five rookies to camp.  Obviously Kevin Pritchard is getting a lot of play from other general managers.  He's holding different discussions with different teams--Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago.  Paxson was adamant about talking to Pritchard before he left last night.  I haven't touched base with Kevin since that talk and I don't expect him to tell me anyway.  But certainly they're getting a lot of interest.  I think they plan to be active.  Kevin gave a little hint that they're going into this draft planning to get multiple picks in the first round.  That tells you that he plans to be active.  I would fully expect the Blazers to pull something on draft night.

Q:  Will that move involve Blazer personnel already?

A:  Yes.  They'll look to get something high--3 to 11.  They'll look to fill a need:  small forward or point guard.  Conley is a potential.  Brewer is a potential.  It's something to keep your eye on.

It's going to take something special to move up into the top six.  Somehow I don't see that happening.  When you start getting near double digits I think people start asking whether they guy they're going to get will be able to develop into what Zach Randolph (and a young Zach Randolph at that) already is.  How many of those guys chosen 8-11 will score 24 points per game ever in their careers?  Such a deal seems doable.

Q:  Greg Oden mentioned wanting to play with Conley...

A:  I talked to Conley today.  He's being represented by his dad as well.  I asked him if he's told his dad to try and make that happen.  He said, "Yes, we've talked about it but I've kind of left it up to him.  But I've let him know that I think it would be neat."  I don't think the Blazers are putting too much stock in that.  It's been misrepresented that Greg Oden has been trying to force the Blazers' hand by getting them to try and get Conley.  It's not that situation at all.  Both players have simply said it would be nice to play together because they've shown they have a winning track record.  I don't think either player is trying to force anybody's hand.  I think the Blazers are trying to take it seriously and to explore whether it can happen.  Conley is a talented point guard.  I'm not so sure he has the NBA-ready jump shot but he can get by anybody.  I'm not sure that's where the Blazers are trying to go with that position.  They would probably like to have a veteran presence because ever since they've had Sebastian they've had young, inexperienced point guards.  I don't know that they'd want to go through that again. I think they want some stability at that position. I think the Blazers will pursue Steve Blake on the free agent market this year.  He'd be the perfect fit for this team.  He still lives in Portland and he wants to come back.  Obviously Kevin and Nate love him.  He'd fit what they could afford financially.  I think the Blazers will make a strong play to get Steve Blake.  And here's where winning the draft lottery comes into play.  You don't think he wants to play with Greg Oden?  That will be a great influence on his decision.  He's going to get a lot of offers.  Denver wants him.  Miami has been rumored to want him.  If he looks at Portland's situation the chances of him coming just increased.  They're going to be a better team and he'll get to play with the big guy.  That's where the Blazers become a more active destination for free agents.

I don't see anything wrong with what Oden and Conley said.  Any two friends would pretty much think wishfully about being able to stick together.  I'm sure they'll handle it if it doesn't happen.  I'm in the camp that thinks it probably shouldn't.  It's not so much because of contract issues or an assessment of Conley's talent but rather, "What happens if Conley is only good enough to be a practice squad player?  How does that friendship dynamic (or the locker room dynamic) change?"  There's no risk if they're on different teams.

Q:  Do you think the Blazers consider point guard a position of need even if they get a veteran?  What are the prospects for Conley?

A:  They're looking for experience at that position.  There are still doubts in the front office as to whether Jarrett Jack is a starting point guard.  Don't get me wrong, they like Jarrett and the progression he's made. Last season was solid--wasn't great, wasn't bad.  There are still questions in some people's minds as to whether Jarrett is ready to lead a team as a point guard.

Q:  What is the opinion of Jarrett's value around the league?

A:  He's well-regarded.  I don't think anyone would sell the farm to get him.  I don't want to plant any seed in people's minds that the Blazers are unhappy with him.  They're not...not even close.  What the Blazers are thinking is, "Is he ready right now to take on what has become added responsibility?"  They're going to be a greatly improved team next year.  Is Jarrett ready to step up and take that next step of leading that winning team?  It's a lot easier to be a point guard on a losing team.  The games aren't as close.  Jarrett is well regarded.  12.5 points and 5 assists is pretty decent for a second-year point guard.  If you look at the history of NBA point guards their greatest improvement is usually between the third and fourth years.  Gary Payton, John Stockton, and Steve Nash all struggled in their first two years.  Point guard is a very tough position to play as a youngster.  They're taking all that into consideration in his development.  He played pretty well but the stakes are raised now because the Blazers are going to be a better team.  Do you still want to risk having a guy growing in a position that's so important with the ball in his hands so much?  That's why they want to get a stabilizing, veteran force there.

This is where philosophy comes into play, and we've talked about this extensively here.  In my view you're in this game for one, overriding reason:  to win a championship.  Even if you're not there yet you're always building with an eye towards that.  It doesn't matter if you're on step 999 of 1000 or still on step 2, you make decisions based on that goal.  Therefore to my way of thinking as long as you think he has a chance to develop you don't worry as much about how Jarrett's growing pains are going to affect the bottom line this coming season (assuming he's not completely incompetent and ruining team development).  We'll be better but we're not going to win a championship this year no matter what point guard we bring in.  You want to worry about what kind of player Jarrett is going to be 2-3 years down the road when we start expecting to go deep in the playoffs.  You want to take the risk now when the consequences are the difference between the #6 and #9 spots in the West.  You don't want to take risks later when the consequences are falling short in a legitimate championship run.  This might allow a little more patience for Jarrett.  That "biggest leaps for young point guards come in seasons 3 and 4" thing that Jason mentioned really factors in.  I think you're willing to take less than optimum production this year if you think it could turn into optimum production when it matters most.

On the other hand some would say that winning the maximum number of games right now and making the playoffs again right now are the most important things.  I don't get that because I think you open yourself up to making a move that looks good right now but could cause regret later.  But if that's your thing, moving Jarrett becomes more of a viable prospect.

To me, yes...the stakes are raised somewhat this year.  But not that much.

Q:   What's Jarrett Jack's opinion on all of this?  Does he want to be a Blazer?

A:  No question.  He loves this team, his role, and his teammates.  Jarrett's pretty sensitive though.  He never let on last year but it bothered him a bit how gaga people were over Sergio.  Him being involved in these trade rumors bugged him also and I think Kevin Pritchard sensed that and that's why he called him recently.  But that being said, Jarrett is willing to take on competition.  He's a competitor.  He played in the ACC and that's a big matchup every night.  He's used to competition and he's welcome if they did bring in another guy like Conley or Blake.  He wouldn't back down or crawl into a shell.  But at the same time he's one of the more sensitive guys about how he's perceived.

I can almost guarantee you Jarrett is going to be fine no matter where he ends up.  He is not going to bust out of this league.  I see a 10-year plus career for him.  It's just a matter of where and in what capacity.

Q:   How about Zach's response to trade rumors?

A:  Zach understands it and realizes the talent level of Lamarcus Aldridge.  He understands the direction the Blazers want to go building around youth.  But he still thinks it could work and he's adamant about not wanting to be traded.  He likes it here in Portland and likes his teammates.  But at the same time he's very interested in trade rumors.  I think he would love to be traded to Chicago.  He brings it up all the time when I talk to him.  "What do you hear about Chicago?  I could do well there."  I don't think Zach is as sensitive as Jarrett.  I don't think this bugs him that much.  I think what does bug Zach is that he's not included in the glowing talk about the direction of the team.  If you listen Nate and Kevin rarely, if ever, mention Zach when they talk about the core.  It's always Brandon, Lamarcus, Jarrett, the number one pick.  I brought that up to Kevin and he says he knows.  He's tried to catch himself and bring up Zach more.  On ESPN the other day he purposely brought up Zach.  But Zach is very aware of that.  Zach points out how the team has never given him a bobblehead.  Towards the end of the year he was featured on the cover of Atomic Dog magazine.  He came and gave me a copy and some people from the PR department were there.  He said, "Look, I had to do that all myself.  Heaven forbid that the Blazers' PR department would promote me."  He's sensitive to how this team views him but at the same time I don't think he frets about his standing because he's confident about his standing and views himself as an elite player in the NBA.  And he probably should.  Those numbers...we can talk all we want about his poor defense and his less than desirable passing skills but the guy puts up numbers that very few players do.  Still the Blazers are a better team when Lamarcus starts at power forward.  When he started there he averaged around 21 and 9 which is comparable to Zach.  As a whole the team is better with Lamarcus than Zach.

I don't think there's any way you can enter next season with Lamarcus coming off the bench.  He's far too talented.  The longer you keep him from starting the more you stunt his growth and progression.  I think the Blazers will look to deal Zach.  Whether or not they'll find a suitor remains to be seen.  That's my biggest question seeing Kevin talk to John Paxson.  Chicago desperately needs somebody like Zach.  Zach has expressed interest and wouldn't mind playing for Chicago.   That was my first thought when I saw those two GM's talking together.  Keep in mind that Chicago has the #9 pick and that's one the Blazers would desire.

Q:  Let's say Pritchard and McMillan agree that Lamarcus should start.  Is there any way Zach comes off the bench?

A:  No...no way.

Q:  So he wants to be a Blazer but only as a starter?

A:  We've never broached the subject but that would just be...ridiculous.  If it happened that Zach, Lamarcus, and Greg Oden were on the same team they'd have Zach as the starting power forward and Oden as the center with Lamarcus backing them both.  They would find a way to get Lamarcus on the court for 25-30 minutes.  In the long run that would stunt his growth.  If you look back to past years any time that situation has happened--with Rasheed and Zach or Darius Miles and Shareef Adbur-Rahim--it doesn't bode well for the chemistry of the team.  Somebody's going to be unhappy.  Some players will think one guy should be playing, others the other one.  It's just a recipe for discontent.  It's happened so many times during my years covering this team:  Bonzi Wells and Steve Smith, Pippen and Bonzi, Derek Anderson and Bonzi, Ruben and DA and Bonzi.  It's happened so many times and it's never worked out.  That's something they have to consider.

That's an interesting point and one of the valuable things about having someone of Jason's perspective.  I've said before that if we have all three big guys the clock is ticking and it's a year, tops, before somebody moves.

One of the big pitfalls of starting Zach and Oden together is that Oden won't get much chance to show off his offense.

I don't know if Jason was mistaking Zach for Darius with the bobblehead thing above or not.  If not, apparently this is a very touchy subject for NBA players!

Also I understand Zach's feelings on the team promoting him but it's really a chicken-and-egg problem.  They can't promote him as the face of the franchise right now because of all the history--his and the team's.  Remember the year they did commercials with Ruben and DA?  Those were pretty much crapped on by the public at large and only served to confirm the team's poor image.  "This is the best they have to show us?"  Of course the Blazers were eager to re-brand with fresh, new faces when they came along.

Q:  So is there any urgency to moving Zach?

A:  Not right now.  Kevin has made that quite clear.  The only thing they're focusing on right now is the draft.  Once they figure out who to pick then they can start to devise their plan.  I still don't think they've decided.  I think they're leaning one way but I don't think they've decided.  Once they make that decision then they can move on and decided other moves.

Q:  Have you heard any scuttlebutt from other reporters about whether the Blazers should take Oden or Durant?

A:  Just about every beat writer comes up to me and says there's no way they're not taking Oden and they wonder why Portland's not just saying they're picking Oden.  I say they're not decided and they say, "Come on!"  It's unanimous they should select Oden.  That's the scuttlebutt.  Everyone in basketball circles believes that the Blazers are going to take and should take Oden.

Just a guess, but I'm thinking they're not saying they're taking Oden because then nobody else, including Durant, would give them the time of day after they did.

Q:  What was the response to the Kobe statements at the camp?

A:  It sent ripples throughout the whole camp.  Every respective beat writer went to their coach or GM and asked, "Would you be interested in Kobe?"  Some chose to answer, some did not.  Kevin Pritchard said he wasn't going to answer that because he has respect for Mitch Kupchak.  It certainly sent a ripple through the arena.

Q:  Do the Blazers have any interest?

A:  No.  I don't think he fits this culture.  It would change the whole dynamic of the team.  He plays the same position as Brandon Roy.  He wouldn't fit because then the Blazers would become about one player.  What they're trying to build is a team culture where it's not about one guy but about how the team operates as one.

Q:  What's on the horizon for you?

A:  I'll write a story on Durant for tomorrow's paper.  I'll watch all the games tomorrow and talk to Oregon's Aaron Brooks...get a recap of his draft camp.  I'll talk to his coach, Mark Aguirre, and try to get a sense of whether he'll be drafted.  If he does it'll be in the second round.  I talked to a few reporters who saw today's game and they said that Brooks had a hard time with his shot and he got his shot blocked three times in the lane.  When you get into this type of environment you really notice how small Aaron Brooks is.  You just wonder if he can make it at this level because of his size.  Small guys have made it in the league but they are few and far between.  That will be in Saturday's paper.

On Monday I'm going to write a story about the early years of Greg Oden.  He didn't start playing basketball until 4th grade and he was awful at first.  His AAU coach said it was like teaching a kindergartener to play basketball.  Oden told me that when he first started he didn't even know how many people were on a team.  He was very raw.  I talked to him and Conley about his early years and how he grew to be this player.  Conley said that people made fun of Oden early on because he was very tall and couldn't play.  But around his freshman year he started to blossom.  That will come out Tuesday.

My hopes are to go back to Indianapolis and watch Greg Oden do his workouts.  He's working with Ed Schilling who's a big-man coach.  I want to see his explosiveness and ball-handling skills.  I still have to clear that through his camp.  Greg is like, "You can come down...I'd love it!"  I hope to get more insight.  Early on I've tried to reveal what kind of person Greg is but now I want to get more into what kind of player he is and his skills and development.  From everything I've heard he's a different player than he was in college just because his wrist has healed.  Another thing he told me today was that the injury forced him to use his left hand a lot.  He shot free throws and even shot in games left-handed.  He said it's turned out to be a great skill.  He has an array of shots that he can get off with both hands.  Not a lot of big men can do that.  Another thing he's been working on is his Tim Duncan bank shot.  He watched Duncan on TV and he likes that shot.  He's been working on it.  He says his next few weeks will focus on his shot almost exclusively.  A lot of it early on was ball-handling and spin moves and explosiveness.  Now it will be his shot.

Also on June 8th the Blazers will bring in guys to work out.  It will mostly be second round type guys.  Kevin Pritchard has said that he can't get a lot of lottery players to come in because they're so booked with workouts.  They know Portland won't pick them number one.  That's a disadvantage because I still think they're intent on getting a second first round pick and they'd like to see guys like Brewer, Conley, Green, and Horford in person.  We'll cover those workouts.  They happen every day...only a couple of off days between June 8th and the draft.

Another interesting note:  Nate McMillan has been absent the entire week.  He stayed in Seattle to attend his son's graduation.  He has not seen any of these pre-draft workouts.

By the way...it's an interesting thing about the Blazers now.  If you step back and look a their front office:  Kevin Pritchard, youngest GM in the league, 39.  His assistant, Tom Penn, 39.  Michael Borne, the director of NBA scouting, 41.  Chad Buchanan, director of college scouting, 34.  Jason Phillipe, international scouting director, 37.  This has to be the youngest collection of front office personnel and scouting in the NBA.  It really fits the Blazers.  They're a young, growing group.  These guys all have new ideas with the computer database, the simulators they use.  It's a fresh-thinking, hip kind of group.  That's a neat thing for Portland.  They're a new age front office.  I don't think a lot of teams have a cap expert like Tom Penn.  Believe me, he's going to make an impact on this franchise because he is so sharp on all of those little loopholes and conditions in the Collective Bargaining Agreement which is a mass of legalese.  He is very adept at that.  It's a vibrant and creative front office.

Exciting times indeed.  Great chat as always!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)