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Quick Chat Recap 7/19/07

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.  

Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard is the guest today.

Q:  The news today is that Steve Francis has accepted a deal with the Houston Rockets for two years at $6 million total.  We haven't talked to you since the draft.  Talk about the Randolph trade and the Francis buyout.

A:  Well there were a lot of moving parts that happened during the draft.  A lot of times during the draft things become chaotic.  We were able to pull off a trade of Zach for Francis and Frye.  That trade gave us a trade exception which we used to get James Jones and Rudy Fernandez in a draft-day deal.  Trading Zach actually got us Frye, Fernandez, and Jones.

Q:  If the Francis deal is for two years and six million do you know what the savings will be for the Blazers?

A:  I do but unfortunately I can't share that information.

Q:  In the press conference after the draft you said you'd bring Francis in and talk to him but when the news of the buyout was announced it sounded like that was the plan all along.  Which was it?

A:  The buyout was negotiated pre-trade.  It was one of the first of its kind and something we were wanting to do before a trade was put in place so there wouldn't be any doubt with Steve.  It was put into place beforehand.

Might have made us all feel better had we known that...but I suppose we guessed soon enough anyway.

Q:  How will the team do without Zach this year?  More or fewer wins?

A:  I'm not sure about that.  We've made so many changes.  It's very difficult to win in this league with a young team.  We were one of the youngest last year and I'm pretty sure we're the youngest now.  Zach was a big piece for us offensively.  But this deal made sense because it could clear up some of our salaries and in two years make us a major player in free agency if we choose to.  A deal could come along beforehand that we like and we could do that too.  It also allowed us to obtain Channing Frye who I believe is going to be a great player for us.  He'll challenge for a starting position and is a great cultural fit.  It was a win for them and I think it was a win for us.

Q:  What makes a player suitable for a buyout or not?

A:  That's hard to answer with a blanket statement.  There are so many variables with any trade.  Does a player fit with you positionally, culturally, and is he on the same timetable?  Is he a leader in the locker room?  It's hard to pin one or two things down.  You just have to go through your decision-making process and see if that guy makes sense.

One of the...hmmmm...interesting things about fandom is that as soon as something happens once we all start assuming it will happen as a matter of course.  The trades in the draft are a good example, the Phoenix draft pick purchases another.  These are isolated occurrences at a particular moment in time caused by a particular conjunction of events and needs.  They cannot and will not happen on a regular basis.  You're not going to see 92 draft trades every year.  You're not going to see the Suns sell us their first round pick forever.  And you're not going to see a ton of buyouts.  This Steve Francis thing was very, very expensive.  You're paying a guy $30 million over two years and taking up that much cap space also and he's not playing a minute for you.  In fact he's helping someone else win (theoretically anyway).  That's crazy.  The only thing that made it feasible was that Zach's contract was even MORE expensive and this is what it took to get that massive contract mistake off the books.  If you don't make those kind of mistakes again you won't need to buy out that kind of contract again.  Small-change contracts?  Sure.  But you can't consider paying people left and right to play for someone else a good business practice or a good basketball practice.

Q:  Let's talk about Summer League.  What did you see that you liked or didn't?

A:  We wanted to see Lamarcus and Greg play together.  They got to play together a couple of times.  I wanted to see Lamarcus just get out on the floor.  He hadn't been in a competitive position in a while because of his heart condition.  It was great to see him out.  The future is so bright for that kid.  He's one of our hardest workers.  He's committed to being a better player and I think he's going to fit with us for a long time.  With Greg getting sick before Summer League even started we didn't know what he was.  We saw signs but for him...he was in a bad position health-wise for a long time.  It was amazing he was able to get through Summer League as much as he did.  His tonsils were really, really bad.  I thought Josh McRoberts had some good moments.  Taurean Green had some good moments.  Martell got better as the week went on.  There were some really bright spots for us.  Summer League isn't as much about winning as it is about expanding your game, pushing your game, and putting guys in a position where they can improve.  We improved as the week went on and I think coach Monty Williams did a great job in that position.

Q:  Are you satisfied with your roster or do you need to make another move?  

A:  I'd like to see this team in training camp and let Nate coach.  We'll identify then where our strength and weaknesses are.  In the last couple of years we've made so many changes.  There has to come a time where I say, "Look, we have enough pieces to the puzzle.  You just have to let it grow."  You have to let time pass and let these guys get better and get a feel for each other.  I don't think we've had that in the past.  I think we're getting a lot closer.  It's not in my nature to be done but there's going to be a time where you won't see as much activity.  It'll be about growing the team instead of adding the pieces we like.

Amen.  Another thing about fans is we get addicted like crack to the rush of trades and moves.  I think most of us ended up disliking that aspect at the end of the Bob Whitsitt era.  Personally I am looking forward to things being more settled even if it means there's less breaking news surrounding the team on a monthly basis.

Q:  What is the likelihood of Joel Freeland or Petteri Koponen staying in the United States?

A:  Both of those guys are young.  We're very high on both of them.  I'm not going to put a timetable on them.  I want to see how they progress and if they're getting better.  Koponen just turned 19 and we have time.  We like what we see in him and Joel.  But there's no specific timetable.  We're going to make decisions based on how they're playing and what our needs are at that time.  We like them and we're willing to be patient.

Q:  Koponen will almost certainly play in Europe but Joel didn't play much last year.  How do you deal with that if a guy doesn't get playing time in Europe?

A:  Tough question.  The big thing for him is playing time.  We know he has physical tools we like.  The big thing for him is getting out on the court and making mistakes and learning.  He isn't in an optimal position for us.  We're trying to help any way we can but since the team in Spain owns his rights it makes for a difficult situation.  He's frustrated with his playing time and frankly we are too.  We want him to play and get better.  He has an opportunity to become a pretty good NBA player but it's difficult because you don't see him in games and competing.  That's what he needs, especially since he didn't start playing basketball until later in his life.

Q:   Talk about why you decided to go after Steve Blake again and how he fits on a team that already has three other point guards under contract.

A:  Nate and I are both point guards and our philosophy is you can never have too many.  I say that a little bit jokingly but point guards have value in this league.  They hold their value in trades.  That's not why we have four point guards though.  Steve Blake comes in at a position where we need competition.  More importantly we know Steve and he's a solid player and a good leader.  You look at the leaders on this team and they're 26 or 27.  It's very difficult to win when your leaders are that young.  We know what he is.  We're lucky to have him back.  He's made Portland his home and we felt that was important.  We feel like he's exactly what we need at this time:  an experienced player who's played in playoff games who can teach our young guys what it takes.  We're excited about having him.  He's definitely a big part of our future.

Q:  Why give Taurean Green a contract when you're bringing in Steve Blake and have Jarrett Jack?

A:  That's a good question.  Unfortunately we didn't know we were going to sign Steve Blake.  We wanted Taurean Green in our Summer League.  We think he's got an NBA future.  He's played at a high level.  And our commitment is so small at that point in time that it's more important to show that this player is important to you, that you want to keep him, that you want to see if he's ready to take the next step.  It was important for us to do that.  It may seem like a small thing but he knows now he has a one-year guarantee.  He can relax and be himself.  He knows we've made a small commitment to him.  This isn't one of those $80 million deals.  It's a small deal that in my opinion culturally helps you rather than hurts you.

OK...I'll buy this for now. (Though I don't buy the "We didn't know about Blake" part.  You had to at least know you were making him an offer.  Also you had Green's rights through the summer anyway and could have waited for Blake's response without risk or penalty.) I like Green and McRoberts and it doesn't break my heart giving them contracts.  But I think it could have unintended consequences down the road when second-round picks NEXT year (and their agents) start asking why they're not getting similar deals.  You don't have the same confidence in them?  You don't like them as much?  I guess I would have preferred the contracts be issued in the normal way after training camp when we were sure we weren't just going to cut these guys, especially since we just came out of an era where budgets all over the organization were slashed.  $400,000 may not seem like a huge loss on the court but how much would that add to your public relations budget or community service budget?  Those impact the culture too.  Again...I'm not arguing with the particular signings.  Rather I'm saying that the argument for them only goes so far and probably isn't a sustainable way to do things.

Q:  What's keeping Sergio from breaking through?  Is there still a language barrier?

A:   I think there's a little bit of a language barrier.  But we think very highly of Sergio.  We have to be patient with him.  I've talked to other GM's around the league.  Right now we have a lot of young talent and we have to be patient.  Patience and confidence are the two things we're going to preach this year.  We can be patient with Sergio.  We don't have to throw him into the fire.  Last year we did and he came in and had some good games and good moments.  He will still see the floor.  This doesn't change the way we look at Sergio but we thought having an experienced point guard was something we needed with a young team.  That was Steve Blake.

That's an important and telling quote I think.  The Blake signing may not have been as much of a referendum on Jack as it was on Sergio.  Not that it was intended to be particularly damning of either, but everybody went, "Oooop!  What does this say about Jarrett?"  Maybe nothing.  Maybe Jarrett and Steve were meant to duke it out over the starting job knowing that the other would be a great backup, which Sergio is not ready to be yet.

Q:  Is there a danger of coming into the season with too much young talent?  Can they all develop and get playing time?

A:  I've always wanted a good, young team that is willing to work and put the team first along with some flexibility down the line so you can be patient and not be forced into big-time moves in order to grow.  I think we have that now.  We've made a bunch of moves.  It's kind of like baking a cake.  We now have the ingredients.  It's time for Nate to put it in the oven and bake it.  At some point we're going to have to put the icing on the cake and that may be two years from now when we have some flexibility.

Q:  Do you think this roster will turn into a championship team 3-5 years down the road?

A:  I don't know that.  I don't think anybody does.  That's why you evaluate on a monthly, weekly, daily basis.  I think this is a little bit biased but I've heard around the league we have one of the best young teams in the league.  I like that position.  I like that we have good people and good talent on our team.  Ultimately you can win but you have to be patient.  It's hard to do because you want to make moves to win now.  We want to wake up in a couple years and be competing at a high level.  I don't know if this is the team that gets us there but I feel better about this team than about the teams we've had in the past.

Obviously the team will be preaching caution as much as excitement this season.  I don't know about you, but I'm not going to be completely crushed if we have another so-so or even slightly bad year this year.  It's only Year One of a long and hopefully sustained upward rise.  So you give me another lottery pick?  I'll take it.  I bet we're still laughing all the way to the bank in a few years.  The timetable was always set for 2008-09 to be the start of the upswing.  If that doesn't get accelerated, so be it.  I'm a lot surer we'll make it on time than I was this time last year.

Q:  What kind of style will this roster play?  What will be the differences this year?

A:  The biggest thing is that we have flexibility at various positions.  Brandon can play three positions, Martell two, Jack two, Blake two, Jones and Frye maybe three, Lamarcus maybe three...there's just so much flexibility in how we play.  I'm a proponent of playing fast.  We have some point guards and bigs who can push us and run.  I would expect to be faster.  But that all depends on how our players grow as a team and individuals. is where I get off the bus.  I think I've said before that flexibility is generally a byword for, "We're not good enough to have a definitive winning style yet."  It sounds more exciting than it ends up being on the court.  Absolutely the best teams can play in a halfcourt game or running game when needed.  But that's because they have players at every position who can play either way, not because they have a lot of different players who play one or the other or because they have tons of players who play different positions.  We had a lot of flexible players in the last few years.  That didn't help much.  I don't want to be flexible.  I want to be definitely good at something.  I want to make other teams have to conform to our style of play instead of being a chameleon that can play a little of everybody else's.  I'm not exactly arguing with Pritchard descriptively.  We do have some flexible guys.  I'm saying that's not near as exciting of an asset as it seems on paper.

Q:  Assuming Rudy Fernandez can come next year how does he fit in?

A:  He's been on our radar for more than four years.  I saw him four years ago and fell in love with his game.  He's a high-energy guy who can run and his shooting has become better.  We think very highly of him.  We hope to have him over next year.  He's set up contractually to do that.  We'll monitor him closely to see how he progresses.

Q:  What about Ime Udoka?  What is the thought process with signing him?  Is he a priority?

A:  That's a hard question.  First of all Travis is one of our highest priorities.  We have developed him.  He's young.  He's in our timeline more than Ime.  I've talked to Ime's agent.  He was aggressive in terms of his asking price.  We were able to get Travis at a much lower deal than what we were able to look at Ime for.  With all that being said there's nobody who's a bigger fan of Ime than I am.  I pushed for him last year.  I was happy for him.  I know he's local.  He did help us win a ton of games.  He brought a lot to the table and we will miss him.  There's no doubt about that.  But with his age, him coming off of surgery, and where we want to be in 3-5 years we felt that Travis was a better fit.

We knew that was coming, and it sounds like the door is closed on Ime now.  I have a hard time believing he was really insisting on THAT much more than Outlaw got though.  I do believe he wouldn't agree to a third option year like Travis would because Ime and his agent have to look at this like his last contract.  That could have been a sticking point.  But I bet when he signs it's not for an out-of-this-world amount.  Realistically the Travis being a high priority and more on our timeline was probably the deciding factor.

Q:  What are your expectations for Travis now as a veteran?

A:  It's scary calling him a veteran at 22.  But we expect big things out of him.  He's moving in the right direction.  He's on an up tick.  The challenge will be to take it to the next level.  I know that our coaches are excited about him and working with him.  He's shown progress every year but this will be his biggest year.  The good thing is he's on a short deal.  It's a three year deal and potentially could be shorter for us.  He has incentives to play well and continue his progress.

Q:  How interested were other teams in Travis?  It seems like three years at reportedly $12 million was a pretty reasonable price.

A:  We feel good where we're at.  One of the big factors is that people want to play here.  Travis wanted to play here.  That's something that Nate and Greg Oden and our young players were able to do.  For the first time since I've been here we have that...players who want to be here.  That's a great feeling and something we'll use to our advantage in the future.

It was a brilliant contract.  And it's a great point about people wanting to play here.  People make a big deal about what Portland itself is or isn't but it's always been about the team and organization, not the surroundings.  In the heyday of the 90's very good players were trying to come here.  It would be great to get back to those days again.

Q:  Give us an update on Oden if you're keeping in contact.

A:  I talk to him every day.  He's doing much better.  The older you get the worse it is to have your tonsils out.  He's having pain but he's doing better.  It's just a lot of ice cream and liquid diet.  He continues to feel better.  We think he'll be out on the court in the next two weeks.

Tons of ice cream?  Otherwise a liquid diet?  Throw in the stripper tipping and it sounds like the Darius Miles regimen.

(Bah-dum-BUM! :::cymbal crash:::)  Thank you.  Thank you.  I'll be here all week.

Q:  Will he be able to participate with Team USA or is that off the table?

A:  That will be up to him and his agent.  My gut feeling is that he probably won't play this year.  What he went through over the last two months has taken a toll.  He was sick all through camp and Summer League.  It's more important for him to get healthy.  You have to take the long-term view.  We're going to have him for 10, 12, 15 years.

Q:  Folks are asking why no press conference to introduce Channing Frye as with James Jones?

A:  You can expect one in the next couple of weeks or so.

Q:  Where do you see him fitting in?  Will he be a bench player with Lamarcus on the team?

A:  I never assume that kind of thing.  I let it play out in training camp.  If both of them play great maybe we can get them on the floor at the same time.  Maybe Greg plays better with one than the other.  It's premature to assume that guys are starting or coming off the bench.  We want it so there's competition at every position and let the players determine who plays.

Also keep in mind that unless we start winning a ton it's likely the starting lineups and minutes allotted will be somewhat fluid throughout the season.  The guy who starts on opening night might not be starting by the all-star break, particularly at the more volatile positions.

Q:  Where does Darius Miles fit in?  Will he be healthy enough to play?

A:  We have to take a long-term view with him.  He went through a serious injury and he's working hard to get back.  We're going to do everything we can to get him back.

Translation:  No.

Q:  So right now Darius Miles is in the long-term plans of the Blazers according to you?

A:  We have to take the long-term approach on him.  We hope that he can come back and we're going to do everything we can to get him back.

Translation:  I said no!  (But I liked seeing Casey go after an answer.  I don't think that's a bad thing.)

Q:  Let's talk about Brandon Roy.  We haven't talked much about him with Greg Oden around.  Have you talked to him?  Is his foot completely taken care of?

A:  It wasn't a chronic injury.  It was a one-time event.  It has completely healed up.  Brandon will be with us for a long time.  We wanted to make sure that he took some time off in the off-season.  But he came in and practiced with the Summer League team for a couple of days and he picked up right where he left off.  He was without a doubt the best player on the floor.  He'll have to take up a lot of scoring slack and have responsibility on his shoulders because of the loss of (tape unclear here...presumably Zach.)  He's healthy and feels good.  He's working out in Seattle.  I talk to him every week.

Q:  The shooting guard spot behind Brandon is pretty thin.  Do you feel comfortable with that position?  Where does Martell fit in, as a shooting guard or small forward?

A:  It's funny...when you have 3-4 players at a position everybody says you have too many guys at that position.  When you have 2-3 players at a position everybody says you don't have enough.  It's always a balance.  We have a sliding rule for every position and how many people we think can play it.  Take the 2-guard position for example.  I know Brandon can play it.  I know Martell can play it.  I know Blake can play it.  I know Jack can play it.  I think Travis can play it sometimes...his ball-handling skills are better.  Could James Jones in a pinch?  You betcha.  I just named a handful of players who can play the 2-position.  That's what I mean in terms of flexibility and the option to play a lot of different lineups.  That's why I'm not worried about the 2 or the 3...we have 5-6 guys who can play those positions.

And this is what I mean about flexibility and it being a hopeful word for a semi-bad team but not a great word for an established one.  Go over that list again and ask if those guys can play shooting guard for a good, winning team.  Brandon?  You bet.  Martell...jury is out but so far he hasn't shown the ball handling or defensive abilities so leaning towards no.  Blake?  No...too short to defend it or get his shot up consistently.  Jack?  Could be...don't know yet.  I tend to lean towards yes.  Travis?  Not enough defense.  James Jones?  Don't know.  It doesn't look as rosy now.  Or, put another way, if you have to pencil in five or six guys who could play a position for you it probably means you're in trouble at that position, as we might be at backup shooting guard.  (Or at least unsure, as we definitely are.)  But that doesn't sound positive, so instead you say you're "flexible".

Obviously there are a handful of great players--a young Cliff Robinson and an aging Danny Ainge were fine examples from Blazer history--who can legitimately come in and play at an extremely high level at a couple of positions.  Those guys are great, especially off the bench.  But that's not what we're talking about with any of the guys mentioned above.  Also look at Rasheed Wallace.  He could play three positions, but in practical terms--on a great team where he was a great contributor--he played one.  That's the way it almost always settles out.  Look at the really good teams of today, no matter what style they play you pretty much know who's coming in, what role they'll play, and what position they man.

Again, Kevin's description is 100% accurate and very apt.  We do have a lot of guys that we're not sure of position-wise.  Maybe they could settle into a lot of places.  I'm just arguing that this is not something to hang your hat on but rather a sign that we're still young and in the process of shuffling.  We don't know if a lot of those guys will even play one position on an established, winning team, let alone two.

There...for those who might think I'm a Kevin Pritchard sycophant because I agree with almost everything he says and like him personally...there you go.  I'm arguing with something he said.  At least halfway.

Q:  Do you plan to utilize the D-League team this year?

A:  We could.  We did it with Martell.  It can be a useful tool in developing players.  I wouldn't rule it out but I wouldn't rule it in.  It just depends on who plays well in the pre-season.  I like having our core team together.  My gut instinct says we won't but I wouldn't rule it out.

Q:  Will Joel Przybilla fit in this year?

A:  There's no doubt he means a lot to us.  Joel didn't have the year that he expected or that we expected.  We were honest with him about that and I think he's been honest.  He's a great person.  We expect him to have a good year this year.  You can never have too many quality bigs and he's definitely a quality big.  Because of that we feel like he's part of our future.

Q:  Just do I don't get yelled at I have to ask you this...who is the next player to be traded and when will that happen?  (C=

A:  We like our team right now.  If I ever said who I was going to trade next that player would go ballistic, his agent would go ballistic, and I think Nate would be upset as well.  I think that would be counter-cultural.  Right now there are no plans for any trades.

A cynic would say he just answered that question definitively by that last "we feel like he's a part of our future" quote about Przybilla. (C=   But my gut instinct says he's shooting straight here and that we probably won't see another move until after we've seen what we have in training camp.

It was a fantastic chat today.  Casey asked all the right questions and Pritchard gave some thought-provoking answers.  Thanks as always to Casey and O-Live.  When you think about it, nobody else gives us this kind of public access to Blazer management on a consistent basis.  Serious tips of the hat are in order.

--Dave (