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Quick Chat June 21st, 2007

Here's 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.  

Oregonian Beat Writer Jason Quick joins the chat.

Q:  What is the news?

A:  The Blazers got the results back from Greg Oden's physical yesterday.  It's very good news for Blazer fans who want the team to draft him.  Kevin Pritchard said, "We are getting very comfortable with his physical.  I'm not going to comment on each individual thing we looked at but I've talked with the doctors and with [team trainer] Jay Jensen and we are getting very comfortable that those are not long-term, serious things for us.  It's one less worry."  I think that answers a lot of questions/concerns over whether Oden's back, knees, or wrist will prevent the Blazers from drafting him.  It doesn't look like the injury potential will be a factor in the Blazers deciding between Durant and Oden.

Q:  So there are some injuries but they're not long term?

A:  Yes.  In particular in the report it said one leg is longer than the other.  That's fairly common with big men and Pritchard said it's only half an inch difference and you're really only concerned if it's an inch and a half.  No big concerns, basically.

Whew!  To tell you the truth all of the talk about Oden's injuries in the Durant thread yesterday was starting to scare me.  Just about every Blazer fan probably has a little voice lurking in the back of their mind saying, "What if we blow this?"  Chronic injuries to Oden would be one of the more obvious ways of that happening.  It's good to hear that the Blazers, at least, aren't too concerned.  That means if they do draft him they don't foresee any issues.

Q:   Let's talk about yesterday's workout.  What did you see?  How did he look?  What was the response?

A:  We didn't get to see squat. I was fairly disappointed in that.  We basically got to see him dunk a couple times and make some free throws.  Obviously Greg was unhappy with his performance during and after.  During the workout he apologized several times to the evaluation staff and afterwards he said he could have done a lot better.  Pretty much everyone acknowledged that--his agent, Pritchard, even Nate.  I think they saw enough there that they're not overly concerned.  They know what he can do.  It's really hard to showcase yourself in that setting when you're all alone and you're not working out against somebody.  Like Kevin and Nate have said all along, the workout was not going to be a deciding factor.  They wanted to get to know the kid.  What they were able to glean from him during the workout and later at dinner was that he's a great kid.  They're in love with his personality.  Kevin said that during dinner he had the whole table cracking up including Paul Allen.  The thing that Kevin likes about him is that there's no filter with him.  Whatever is on his mind, whatever is happening, he'll say it.  That's refreshing.  As you heard if you listened to the audio from yesterday they talk a lot about his humility.  That's pretty consistent with how he's been in six or seven interviews I've had with him.  He's a really likeable kid...very engaging...a guy that people can relate to and get behind.  From a personality standpoint he's a slam dunk.

Q:  Do you think Oden was being overly critical of himself or was the workout that subpar?

A:  He was probably being overly critical.  Just watching the video on of some of the stuff we weren't able to see he displayed a nice jumper.  He's obviously got nice touch.  I saw that in Orlando and it surprised me.  He can hit a 15 foot jumper.  He can stand at the elbow and hit his shot.  Nate said a great part of Greg's displeasure came early on.  That was obviously because of much so that Nate stopped the drills to calm him down.  He said after that his shot began to fall.  Another thing that Greg wasn't happy about was his stamina but that was by design.  The Blazers wanted to push him and tire him out and see how he responded.  And they were pleased with how he responded.  But Greg being the guy he is he didn't want to get tired.  He was ashamed of himself that he was and he felt he wasn't as prepared as he should have been.  That will be good motivation for Greg once he does report to summer league and training camp.  He will be prepared for a Nate McMillan practice.  Those are well known as hard practices.

At least the kid will have something to live up to.  I'm semi-relieved to hear Jason talk about the stamina in these terms also as that seemed like something of a red flag for me when I read it yesterday.  You have one--count it, ONE--workout in the whole process and you get gassed?  That's not a good sign.  But I forgot about the torture chamber the Blazers run their candidates through.

Q:  Do you have any other information about the dinner?  Any random stuff?

A:  No, I didn't ask that.  Nate didn't want to talk about the questions that Greg asked but he said they were pretty predictable.  Talking with Lamarcus and Brandon I asked them what kind of questions he asked.  They said he wanted to know about style of play, the practices, and stuff like that--day to day routine and how it happens.  I'm sure he asked some of the same questions to Kevin and Nate.

Q:  I was surprised at how many team members were at the workout.  Did that surprise you?  Does it mean anything?

A:  Obviously this is a huge national story and the players are as excited and intrigued as Blazer fans are.  They wanted to get a first-hand look at this guy.  It was a lot.  I've never been to a workout with that many players.  In fact I can only remember one player at a workout before and that was Zach Randolph for Martell's workout a couple of years ago.  I remember Zach being wowed by Martell, saying, "Hey the guy can shoot!  That's what we need."  If you remember Martell's workout with the Blazers was phenomenal.  He shot lights out and that's when Paul Allen fell in love with him.  But yes, it is very uncommon for that many players to show up for a workout.  I think that shows the magnitude of how big this decision with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant is.  It's a national story.  I thought it was neat.  It was a good thing.

Q:  After Greg Oden's workout and the media had cleared out Zach Randolph, Ime Udoka, Brandon Roy, Dan Dickau, and even Lamarcus Aldridge ran drills together with Bill Bayno.  It's good to see those guys putting in the work.

A:  Ime Udoka continues to be there every day at the practice facility working his butt off.  He's worked so hard that trainer Jay Jensen has lost fifteen pounds trying to keep up with him on bike rides and resistance training and all that.  Darius Miles has been there every day and is working out twice a day.  He has just been cleared to run but he is not cleared for contact so his progress is inching along.

Q:  He was there?

A:  He was there but he left before the media got in.

Q:  So he's interested in getting back into playing shape?  Is there any reality to that?  Are the Blazers responding to him?

A:  It's a little too early to say he has an improved work ethic.  He is under contract and obligated to rehab himself.  The Blazers have spent a lot of money hiring a personal trainer for him.  I don't know that this is the time to feel encouraged.  He's only been cleared to run.  He hasn't been cleared for full contact drills or anything that makes you think he'd be ready by October 1st.  I still think it's a long shot that he'll be able to contribute right away from this team.

Nice to hear that about Ime.  That's true about Darius too although I rather share Jason's skepticism.  Darius doesn't have a great track record of going above and beyond in the blue-collar working department.  Suffice it to say if he ever does come back in any shape resembling his old self it might be a sign that he has learned something.  I am not holding my breath, however.

Q:   Let's talk a little bit about Kevin Durant.  He appears to have gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit.

A:  Not if you listen to Kevin Pritchard!

Q:  Talk about that a little bit.

A:  I think they're excited.  They want to see what Durant has in store for them.  I have a feeling he's going to come out and really want to impress.  I think he wants to make his case that he's the #1 pick.  I think he's taking this a little personally.  He won't ever say that because he's not that kind of kid.  We've talked so much about what a great guy Oden is.  Durant is also a really pleasant, respectful, nice guy.  He's not as flashy as Oden.  He's not going to make you laugh out loud and smile.  He'll say all the right things. He's also pretty humble.  He's not going to come in and talk about I'm the best player or I should be number one.  There won't be any of that.  He's almost cliché.  He'll talk about hard work.  It's going to be interesting.  I'm hoping that the team will allow us to watch more of Durant's workout than they did with Oden.  It's still debatable.  I don't think it's a slam dunk.  Personally I think you've got to go with Oden.  But Kevin Pritchard has long been a Durant guy.  Durant would fit from a basketball standpoint--small forward, scoring.  But I don't see how you can go against Oden.

Q:  Any revision of your 99.9% sure prediction that the Blazers are going with Oden?

A:  I'm sticking with it.

Q:  Will there be any benefit or drawback to Durant working out after Oden?

A:  I don't think there's any.

Q:  Not even with the poor workout for Oden?

A:  No, because I don't think it's going to come down to the basketball standpoint.  I mean I don't think a workout is going to change the Blazers' decision.  The Blazers have watched enough film and scouted enough games to know what they have basketball-wise.  They just want to get face to face with these guys and get a feel for who they are and how they would fit in the locker room.

Q:  What are you looking forward to out of Durant's workout?  Will Paul Allen and the players be involved again?

A:  Yes, Lamarcus and Brandon are picking him up at the airport tonight at 5:15.  Paul will be there.  He was also there for today's workouts, which we'll get to in a minute.  The Blazers were very, very impressed with the people who worked out today, particularly Daequan Cook.  I'm going to be curious to see if there's as much media and as many players there for this workout.  My sense is there will be a little less media but the same amount of players.

An interesting thing that I haven't gotten around to mentioning yet...everybody knows Greg Oden's mom came with him to Portland.  While he was working out she was looking for houses.  I think that's pretty interesting she went so far as to do that.  I don't know if that's a tell.

That's probably half of why mom came along.  I imagine she'll do the same in Seattle.  He's going to end up in one of those two places so you might as well scope them out.

Q:  Talk about today's workouts.  You said the Blazers were excited...

A:  Daequan Cook played with Greg Oden at Ohio State.  He's a 6'5" shooting guard with a nice body.  He shot very well today and they were impressed with him.  Seibutis was a shooting guard, high energy, tenacious defensive shooting guard and they loved him.  I saw him in Orlando and I liked his shot.  I think what stood out today to the Blazers was his defense.  He was very scrappy...a Nate McMillan type player.  Tolliver was good as well.  He got a cut under his chin from Siebus.  Trey Johnson was also in the workout but he got injured and had to withdraw.  But still Pritchard said no question that all three of these guys will be in the NBA next year.  It was very impressive.  Daequan Cook is one of those tweener guys.  A lot of drafts have him going in the second round and others have him going around 20 or 23.  If he's there at 37 the Blazers will certainly take him.

Q:  Do you have any new trade rumors to speak of?

A:  I don't.

Q:  The Zach Randolph talk dominates things.  Are the Blazers having trouble getting reasonable offers because of his reputation?

A:  I don't think the Blazers are having trouble getting offers for him.  There are viable options out there. They aren't close to making decisions though.  They want to wait until the draft comes and weigh their options and see how things fit.  The first decision they need to make is whether to select Oden or Durant.  Once they come to that decision then one piece of their puzzle has been filled and they can go to the next piece.  As far as Zach's reputation it's not as bad as the media in some places says.  Basketball-wise he's great.  He works his butt off, he wants to win, he likes his teammates and his teammates like him.  The only hiccup with Zach is the gray area when he leaves the arena.  The people he hangs out with and the things he likes to do gets him in trouble or puts him at the scene of trouble and that's where the questions are raised.  As far as effort and all of that he's great.  Now on the court as far as style of play you can get debate.  Do the Blazers want to continue to play the style where they dump it in to him and wait while he decides to shoot, pass, or whatever.  My sense is that they're going to get away from that.  They want to start Lamarcus at power forward.  The way to do that is to trade Zach and try to get some value at small forward for him.

There's been a lot of talk around here about whether Zach's trade value is high enough now or whether it will get higher.  I suppose that's a whole `nother post but in general I'd say if you can get value for him now and you intend to move him eventually anyway you probably ought to pull the trigger.  I don't know exactly how his on-court reputation will fare if he's not the center of the offense anymore, both from a production and attitude standpoint.

Q:  Is there a possibility of Portland and Seattle swapping picks if the Blazers want Durant?

A:  It's a possibility.  My sense is they won't do that but it's a possibility.

Q:  Between the new president, Paul Allen, and Vulcan how much control does Kevin Pritchard really have?

A:  A lot.  Paul trusts him.  Paul feels that Kevin is a very bright general manager. I concur.  Kevin is a real up-and-comer.  I like the way his mind thinks.  He's very thorough, daring, and creative.  Paul sees that too.  These two have had a great line of communication for years.  That shows a real trust level from Paul's standpoint.  I'm going to sit down with Paul one-on-one tomorrow after the Durant workout.  That's one of the questions I'm going to ask him.  If they get into the war room and Paul Allen says, "I want Greg Oden" and it gets to Kevin and he says, "I'm going for Durant" does Paul Allen let him make that pick or put his fist down?

Now THAT is a great question.  Mr. Allen is universally touted by his employees as "the best owner in pro sports".  I hope that's true from more than just a pocketbook standpoint.  I love that he's involved and passionate but as we've learned from Al Davis and George Steinbrenner over the years it's not really great to have your involved, passionate owner crossing the line and making sports decisions.  Let's put it this way:  I would guess I'm one of the more thoughtful (and possibly informed) lay-persons out there when it comes to the Blazers.  I spend a whole lot of time thinking about and researching this team.  But even with all of that I probably have one-thousandth of the knowledge and skill that Kevin Pritchard does...and that's being generous.  Now Paul Allen obviously has access to much better information than I do.  He's the best informed lay-person in the world when it comes to the Blazers so lets say he's 50 times the decision maker I would be.  That still leaves KP about 20 times better.  In fact you could stuff every one of us lay-people in a room and poll our collective brains and we still couldn't outthink Mr. Pritchard.  (I know...I take surveys regularly.)  The long and short of it is, the owner should have input but the basketball decisions belong to the basketball guys...if you want to win.

Q:  Talk about new president Larry Miller.  What difference will it make?  Will the public notice?

A:  I don't know.  I don't know Larry at all.  I don't have a good feel for him.  I've heard nothing but good things about him.  I think one of the things the Vulcanites wanted to improve was the relations between the front office and the community.  Larry is probably better equipped to execute that than Steve was.  But I think already the atmosphere and feel around the team has changed for the positive.  It is such a better environment.  Even the employees talk about it.  There is no paranoia or animosity.  They have an open way of dealing with things.  It's refreshing.  It's a fun organization to cover again.  They're doing the right things.  They're handling things the right way.  There are really a lot of plusses.  This will be a story next week.  I was sitting down with Nate McMillan after the workouts yesterday and he was marveling at the change between two years ago and now.  He said, "When I came here there was so much negativity inside, outside, how we were perceived.  Look where we are now.  I look over there at Brandon and Lamarcus and I've got the big guy out there working.  You start to think about where we can go, what we can be, how different that is."  He even mentioned Sherri Hanson, the new VP of communications who has tons of respect around the league.  The way she ran things yesterday was flawless.  She's a pro.  And that's important for the organization and how it's viewed.  They're going to get a lot more national coverage now.  It's a better environment now.

Q:  Nate McMillan has to feel pretty validated about his decision to come to Portland now, especially since how things are going in Seattle.  It's almost reversed now.

A:  To expound on that...two years ago to now:  now they have a great TV deal, the arena back, the Rookie of the Year, the #1 pick, a new VP of Communications who gets it...all the negative has been pushed to the side.  It's a really positive time for the organization.

Just about everybody I've talked to who has any contact with the organization has said the exact same thing.  And yes, many of them were using words like "animosity" and "paranoia" in the old days.  There really has been a sea change around here and you can feel it everywhere.

Q:  Any new news on Steve Blake coming back to Portland?

A:  You can't even begin that discussion until July 1 or even approach Steve.  But he just bought a new house in West Linn.  He loves the area.  He and Kevin have a pretty tight relationship.  Kevin was one of the first people to call Steve when he was traded and Kevin was unhappy.  It hurt him that the Blazers had to trade Blake.  I can say with confidence that Steve Blake will be on the Blazers' radar come July 1.

Q:  So tell us what's upcoming in the paper in the next week.

A:  I'll have a Q+A with Paul Allen in Sunday's paper.  I'll be doing a story on the transition the Blazers have gone through in the last two years.  Tuesday I'll be flying to New York.  On Wednesday I'll be attending the press conference they do with the top picks every year.  Then Thursday is the big day!  We're going to find out just how much moving and shaking Kevin Pritchard has working.   A side note:  Kevin said that his aspirations of getting guys like Al Thornton, Corey Brewer, and Jeff Green in just isn't going to happen.  That's kind of disappointing from his end but they don't necessarily have to see a guy or work him out to draft him.  They didn't work out Sergio Rodriguez before they drafted him.  They didn't work out Jarrett Jack.  It just doesn't matter all that much.

Q:  So do you think their hopes of getting that extra pick are still alive?

A:  I would be shocked if Kevin doesn't come out with another first round pick.  I think he would view the draft as a disappointment if he couldn't land  another first rounder.

And that is why we'll be live-blogging the draft from top to bottom next Thursday, both breaking news for those who can't get to a TV and taking comments on all of the moves.  We'll also reprint our mock draft to see how close we got.

Another nice chat by Casey and Jason.  The energy in these is so good nowadays.  It's a pleasure to hear them and type them up.  

--Dave (