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Quick Chat, Part One

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Mr. Holdahl and the folks at O-Live got an .mp3 of last week's Quick Chat up, so here's our recap.  As always this is a paraphrase of the questions and responses.  You can listen to the entire chat here.  

Second-year Blazer star-in-the-making Lamarcus Aldridge joins the chat.

Q:  Catch us up.  What have you been doing in the off-season?

A:  I went home to Dallas, did a lot of weight training, worked on my basketball skills and now I'm back in Portland ready to play.

Q:  What skills are you working on?

A:  More of a face-up game.  More getting to the basket and trying to get to the free throw line more.  Being more aggressive and versatile, not just playing with my back to the basket.

Q:  Have you been working on your outside jumper?  How's that coming?

A:  Last year I showed I'm pretty good from 18 feet and in.  This year I'm trying to stretch it out to the three.   It's going well but you know how it is when you first start something.  You have good days and bad days.  I'm working on it and by mid-season I should be pretty consistent at it.

Q:  Will you open your game up inside with that shot?

A:  They have to play me more honestly.  They can't sag off of me if I spread it out to the three.  They have to play me close and I can get to the basket more.

It will be interesting because with Greg Oden out Lamarcus will really be called upon to score from everywhere.  He's our most credible low post threat right now.  But all of these things he's been talking about have been tailor-made to fit alongside Greg.  Which way his offensive game goes this year will be one of the major storylines of the season.  It's entirely possible that without Oden the Blazers simply run more of a fluid offense without a ton of deep posts and stationary plays.  On the other hand you do need some easy scores in the halfcourt and the post is one of the better places to find them.

Q:  With Zach Randolph and Jamaal Magloire gone and Oden injured is there added pressure on you to be the man at two positions?

A:  I don't feel any pressure.  I do have to play more this year and I think I will.  I've worked hard this summer so I can go out and have a good year.  The main thing is to play hard and let the rest take care of itself.

Q:  What does it mean to you that the Blazers had enough trust that they traded their number one option this summer?

A:  It meant a lot.  I think that shows that they have faith in me...and not just in me but in Greg and Joel Przybilla.  They have faith in their bigs.  They have faith that everybody went home this summer and got better...Travis Outlaw.  They believe everyone is getting better and everyone is going to come back and play hard this year.  We all take it as a honor that they're willing to put this much trust in us.

Reading a little bit between the lines here I don't see much regret over losing Zach.  I'm sure if asked directly Lamarcus would give a proper response about liking and respecting Zach, which I'm also sure he does.  On the other hand you just haven't heard a lot of remorse expressed about that trade from anyone...or even anybody saying it's going to be more of a challenge because the team is missing Zach.

Q:  Will you start at the four or five this year?

A:  (Laughs)  Now I don't know!  It doesn't matter to me.  I think my natural position is the four but I can play either or.  Joel's back healthy.  We've been playing five-on-five and he has been looking good so right now it looks like I'm going to start at the four.  But we'll have to wait and see.

It's always diplomatic to compliment the guy who's likely to be guarding you in practice.  Can't you just see Joel?  "Don't mention my name in that starting mix, eh?"  [ELBOW TO KIDNEY]  But it is encouraging to hear somebody assess his recovery/comeback positively.

Q:  What team do you play on in those scrimmages?  Is it consistent?

A:  We don't have a lineup.  We just do open gym.  Two point guards pick so no team is ever the same.  Everybody plays against everybody.  I don't think anybody has a team they're on every time.  

Q:  Have you ever been the last guy picked?

A:  I've never been in there when they're picking!  I'm always stretching and getting ready to play.  Maybe I have been last a time or two...you never know.

LOL...props to Casey for asking if Lamarcus ever got the future-nerd-who's-going-to-rule-the-world spot.  Funny stuff.

Q:   Talk about your heel injury this summer.  What is the status?

A:  It's good.  I guess it is considered an "injury" but I just had some soreness in my heel from a fall I took in Summer League.  It was tender and sore.  I got it looked at and I had a bruise.  I tried to stay off of it for two weeks but I started working out before the two weeks was up.  It got sore again and that's when I got invited to USA basketball.  I had to take two more weeks off and I actually waited.  After then I didn't have any problems with it and I'm good to go.

Q:  Are you trying hard to stay healthy with the team depending on you so much?

A:  I've always tried to stay healthy but I'm really trying now because we lost a big piece of the puzzle in Greg.  Everybody has to take care of themselves a little bit more and do a little bit more.  I have been training and trying to eat a little better.

On the face of it that last question may have been a little silly.  One assumes that a player would try to stay healthy anyway.  (Though there have been notable exceptions...)  But Casey really gets to the heart of what a lot of Blazer fans are feeling now, which is, "Please Lamarcus, don't YOU get hurt too!"

Q:  Take us through that day when you found out about Greg.

A:  Coach called us in and said they didn't know how serious it was but that Greg had said he had some pain.  They told us at morning workouts.  I don't think anybody thought it would be this serious.  We were thinking it would be 4-6 weeks.  We were down but we said, "OK, he'll get this done and be back in four weeks."  When I found out it would be eight months I was like, "Geez!"  That was a big blow.  It was also a motivation though.  A lot of people are talking that we're not going to be as good.  We have to work harder to show we're going to be a good team and with Greg we'll be an even better team.

Q:  What would you say to people that think the season is a throw-away without Greg?

A:  I think that's a compliment for Oden because he is a good player and he brings things to the court that we're going to miss this year.  But on the other hand we have a great coach and players who are working hard to get better.  We don't accept losing.  None of the players think that since we lost Greg we'll have a losing season.  Everyone thinks we're going to work hard, get better, and still win games.  To the people who think we're going to have a losing season, that's not the case.

Q:  Do you ever think, "Everybody's talking about Greg but I had a good season last year.  Why isn't anybody talking about me?"

A:  Naw...I don't ever think that.  I don't have to have people talking about me.  As long as the coach knows he can count on me and my teammates know what I can do that's fine with me.  My ultimate goal is to win games.

And obviously Lamarcus has the good taste to read Blazersedge, where we've been talking about him as The Man on this team since early summer...even before the Oden injury.

Q:  I know you have some guys on the team who have been here longer but are you trying to assume more of a leadership position in the locker room?

A:  Yeah, I try to, but I don't try to lead by talking or yelling.  I've never been that kind of player.  I try to lead by example:  always going hard, always being on time, doing the little thing that shows my teammates that I want to be one of the leaders.  I focused on those things this summer when I was working out.

That's got to be music to people's ears after some of the habits of leaders (or at least most talented players) we've had in recent years.

Q:  Is it an attainable goal for you to be a 20 and 10 guy this year with less than 3 turnovers a night?

A:  I put more pressure on myself but anyone.  I think I can do that but I'm not going to go out and say, "I need 20 and 10."  I'm going to go out and play hard and if I do that I could end up with 20 and 10 or 18 and something.  I could do it but I'm not going to get that in my head.  You might get 10 and 3 but somebody else might be on and we win the game.  I could do it but I won't put pressure on myself or tell myself I have to do that.

Q:  What are your defensive goals?

A:  I've gotten better at defense.  With playing in the post comes strength and I've put on weight and gotten stronger.  I think my defensive skills will be better this year.  I want to be able to go at anybody...the Tim Duncans, the Kevin Garnetts, the guys that rebound all the time...I want to be as versatile on defense as I am on offense.  I tried to focus this summer so that I could guard threes if we're playing somebody that plays a 6'9" or 6'10" three.  I think if I keep working on it I'll be able to do it.

That quote about wanted to be as versatile on defense as on offense has to be the best thing I've heard in...well almost forever.  If Lamarcus even attains 75% of that he'll be one of the scariest players in the league.  And not to bring up old things again, but this whole section beats the heck out of Zach Randolph's annual, "My goal is to be an All-Star" proclamation.  You have to feel that this team is moving in a different direction now and I really believe it's for the better.

Q:  Is there any part of your game that people don't know about?

A:  Yeah. I think my teammates know because in practice if there's a three hurt I play that spot.  I don't think other people realize I have the ability to play the three.  But that's fine.  I think as I keep working on it and getting better I'll be put in and show I can do it.

He's already tabbed as a starting four and emergency five and now he wants to be a regular at small forward too.  They're going to have to extend to 60-minute games to accommodate this kid's dreams.

Q:  How do you feel about playing with Channing Frye, whose skills are similar to yours?

A:  It makes us more versatile and spreads the defense out having two guys who can shoot.  The defense has to play more honestly.  They can't gamble and cheat as much...they have to stick close to one of us.  That brings us more versatility with what we can do down low.

Q:  Who has impressed you so far in practices?

A:  Everyone worked harder this summer and got better.  I think Martell Webster's shot is a lot more consistent.  He's having a good (what I call) "pre-pre-season".  He shot it well and went to the basket more.  Travis Outlaw worked on his dribbling because he put it on the floor better and he's shooting better two.  Everybody got better but those two stand out.

There you go, Martell-and-Travis-o-philes.  He did give the obligatory nod to everyone but he singled those two out.  Maybe that's a tangible sign that our small forward position might be closer to getting filled?

Q:  We have five new guys on the team this year.  I'm going to give you a name and you tell me what they can bring.  Starting from the top...Steve Blake.

A:  Oh man...a good point guard that's very patient.  He can push the ball.  We want to go more up-tempo so I think either he or Jarrett Jack can push the ball.  He can shoot the three.  He brings a lot of things we can use as far as having a veteran who can push the ball, run the offense, and execute.

Q:  Channing Frye.

A:  A good big that can shoot, put it on the floor and get to the basket, and help us stretch defenses so we can work down low.

Q:  Taurean Green.

A:  A good point guard who won two championships and led his team in points and assists.  That's pretty good to me!   He can help us get into our offense and tell people where to go.  He brings the up-tempo game we need.

Q:  James Jones.

A:  Great teammate, great shooter.  I think people know him as a great shooter, but if they don't...if you leave him an inch it's going in.  You need that.  Last year...Martell is a great shooter but when he's not on we need someone else who can come in and shoot it for us.  He gets to the basket and when he drives he gets it to the bigs.  He makes things happen because he shoots so well.

Q:  Josh McRoberts.

A:  Any player that plays at Duke plays hard.  He's a big, high-energy guy.  He crashes the boards hard.  He's an incredible passer.  I don't think people understand how good of a passer he is until they see it but he does these things every day in practice.  We're like, "How did he do that?"   Great energy guy, incredible passer, more of a 3-4, can put it on the floor, he can shoot.  He brings us a lot of versatility.

Q:  Do you guys bust his chops for dating that girl from "The Hills"?

A:  Naw, he told me about it but I didn't say anything to him about it.

Q:  Last but not least...Greg Oden.

A:  A big, dominant force down low.  He demands a double team and sagging defense.  He's a big that can get other bigs in foul trouble.  If he gets the ball down low 9 out of 10 times he'll dunk it.  Defensively a good space-take-up guy.  If you mess up on your own guy he can clean it up.  Great shot blocker.  There are so many things with him that make him good defensively and offensively.  Offensively I don't think people know he can shoot to 18 feet.  He used moves this season I didn't know he had because in college he was bigger than everybody and just dunked.   Very, very skilled offensively and defensively blocking shots help-side and defending individually.

The more I listen to Lamarcus the more I hear an eventual coach in the making.  Anybody else get that feeling?

Also the McRoberts section made me think...this may be another "silver lining" to hold onto with the Oden injury.  Despite the protestations of wanting to open the offense more and inject some variety it's entirely possible that with Lamarcus and Greg on the floor at once the team simply would have reverted to tossing the ball inside and waiting for them to score.  No matter what the intentions gravity takes hold in a situation like that.  You know who the main guys are.  Oden being out could give the team a chance to get used to a more open offense first.  Then he can meld in when it's already off the ground.

Q:  Have you talked to Greg since the surgery?

A:  Yeah...he's doing well.  I don't think anyone wants to start off their career like this but we keep talking to him and keeping him positive.

Q:  You and Sergio are friends.  Have you talked to him since his team lost in the European championships?

A:  Yeah.  He was down because of what they did last year...how they played well and won.  He's excited to come back.  He'll be back the end of this week or early next week.  He's been asking how everybody has been looking.  He wanted to talk to Greg.  He's looking forward to getting back in here.

Q:  Do you think the team will play a faster pace this year, especially with Oden out?

A:  I do.  I'm not a coach and I'm not the coach but I do think he will go to more pace play where we push the ball more and run.

Correction:  I'm not a coach yet.

Q:  How's your bulldog doing?

A:  She's doing good.  I actually had to give her away to a family.  I was feeling bad because I was busy and traveling and wasn't home that much.  I was flying too much.  It's a family that has three bulldogs already and they know how to take care of them.  I stopped by last week and she's doing great.

And we end with a positive, responsible athlete/animal story.  Could you want anything more?  Great interview as always.

Actually you'll be getting more tomorrow as we do the second half of the chat, starring Oregonian beat writer Jason Quick.  This was already seven pages long so I figured splitting it up might save eye strain.  Stay tuned.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)