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Quick Chat Part Two

Here is the second part of our recap of last week's Oregonlive 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 did you do over the break?  Are you stoked to be back?

A:  Yeah, I'm excited for this season.  I think it's going to be fun.  Even with the Oden news I think it's going to be an improved team.  I went to Ann Arbor, played a lot of golf, and had a lot of fun.

Q:  Let's jump right into it.  How many wins will the Oden loss cost the team?

A:  It's hard to say.  If they had Oden I'd project the team would be fighting for a playoff spot.  Now I don't think you quite put them in that category.  Four or five victories maybe...but it's hard to tell because you don't know how he was going to translate into the NBA game...if he was immediately going to be a force or a role player, a defensive guy who didn't help out much on the offensive end.  That said I think this is a better team because of some of the additions.  Blake adds stability at point guard.  Channing Frye will be an asset.  Lamarcus, Brandon, and Jarrett will be better because they have experience under their belt.  I expect Lamarcus will be a huge factor and lead the team in scoring.

There's a philosophical caveat here that is in this case technical but it's important for the pre-season.  The assessment that Jason just gave is pretty much the assessment that everyone gives of their team before the season starts.  We've got a couple of new guys that look promising and of course our returning players will improve because of their experience.  The reality is that new guys don't always pan out as well as pre-season hopes would promise and often guys don't improve from just more experience.  How many careers flat-line?  (Answer:  a bunch, and it happens to promising young stars as well as role players.)  However we're going to give Jason a pass because in this case I believe he's essentially correct.  I think Blake will be a significant addition.  Frye I wonder about more, mainly because it will depend on how he's used.  He could be significant or he could have a really rough season.  Lamarcus already is much better than he was last year.  I think more court time will help Jarrett too, though I don't know if he'll make an exponential leap if he's splitting time with Blake.  Brandon might not necessarily get better (he'd be the one I'd pick for staying about the same if I had to pick one), but then he was darn good last year.  So Jason's point holds exactly.  Sometimes the standard answer really is the right one.

Q:  How will not having Oden affect Lamarcus' game on each end of the court?

A:  Oden's injury didn't affect anyone more than it did Lamarcus.  One factor of that was that going into training camp Nate and Kevin Pritchard were really high on trying Lamarcus out at the three.  We've heard reports from Mike Barrett at the practice facility that Lamarcus has been hitting threes with regularity.  They felt going into training camp that that was one of their options for a dynamic team with Lamarcus, Channing Frye, and Oden comprising their front line.  Now that's going to be scrapped because Lamarcus will have to fill in at center and play the bulk of the minutes at power forward.  You know, actually I'm getting ahead of myself there.  We could be looking at Lamarcus Aldridge as our starting center.  If he beats Joel out...they're two different players.  If Nate decides the team needs more offense, which it historically has under him, we might be looking at Lamarcus Aldridge at center and Channing Frye at the power forward.  I think where the Oden injury affected this team is that it eliminated some of their options for playing Lamarcus or Channing Frye at the three.

Jason has hit this right on the head.  I don't know about playing the three.  I suspect that experiment would have been scrapped early on, at least until the team got more settled.  However there's no doubt that Lamarcus' game was going to be as much mid-range and motion-oriented as inside.  Now that has changed.  If he has to play center I think he's going to get a rough education.  My gut feeling is that this guy is going to be one of the guys we'll depend on heavily down the road.  It also says that when we do depend on him down the road it'll be as a power forward, not a center or a small forward.  My bias is to just put him at power forward, let him learn (and hopefully start to dominate at) that position, even if we think we can get a little more short-term gain by switching him around.  I don't really want to have to wait another year after this for him to get accustomed to the position he should have been playing all along.  Besides power forward gives him the best chance to use his natural ability to create matchup problems for the opponent.

Q:  Is Martell turning a corner with his attitude?

A:  I think so.  The first indication of his maturation was him reporting fifteen pounds lighter.  I could see that in Summer League and he's lost even more since then.  That to me shows a commitment and an understanding that he has to change some of the things he was doing.  Also just in talking to him at the end of Summer League it seemed like the coaches were finally starting to get through to him.  They were pleading for him to work with them on separate areas.  Sometimes he did before but he'd get frustrated and act like he knew it all.  That was the book on him:  a know-it-all.  We all know that as a 19-year-old breaking into the NBA you don't know it all.  You have a lot to learn.  I think finally Martell is changing the mindset to, "I do need to learn, help me.  I'm willing to do the work."  That is the bright spot for him.  Now whether he can translate that instruction and make it happen on the floor will be one of the compelling story lines come training camp.

I've always been willing to give Martell a little slack on the attitude thing.  I can't imagine the pressure of going into the NBA as (essentially) the third pick in the draft at the age of 18.  I do know that when you're that young and a lot of pressure comes upon you your instinctive response is almost always going to be, "I can handle it!"  Inside you're afraid that if you admit you can't--even in the smallest way--it will all fall apart.  What does that end up looking like?  It looks like you think you know it all.  Employers have been complaining about overconfident college brats for years.  The NBA is different only in scale.  Eventually you learn a little more, feel less pressure, and stop having to deny that you might have something to learn.  At that point you're calmer, more focused, ask better questions, and you're generally much easier to work with.  Maybe Martell is reaching that point.

Q:  Who is going to be the starting small forward when the season starts?

A:  That's probably the position that's the most up in the air.  You can throw point guard in there too.  That will be competitive between Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake.  But small forward is hard because you really don't know what the Blazers have in James Jones.  I don't think Nate McMillan knows.  Just off the top of my head I think Jones probably has an edge going into training camp.  He was somebody they identified and were lucky to get in the Zach Randolph trade.  He provides something the team has sorely missed in the last six years:  a deadly outside shooter.  Martell has that skill but he hasn't been able to do the other things to stay on the floor for long periods of time.  Jones should be more seasoned than Martell.  I haven't seen him live one-on-one.  I've seen him in games but just in bit roles.  I really want to get eyes on him.  From everything I've heard he has a great work ethic and will be a leader in the locker room.  He has a good head on his shoulders.  That will be priority one in our coverage:  identifying who is taking the lead in that small forward role.

Q:  What is your sense on these other GM's talking about Oden's pre-draft reports?

A:  The things that were revealed in the Orlando pre-draft physical were all things that the Blazers were aware of.  One of his legs was longer than the other.  Kevin Pritchard and the Blazer doctors looked it over and it wasn't cause for concern.  The stuff that was red-flagged in Orlando was so minor and surface compared to the things the Blazers put him through.  They got several MRI's.  That is rare.  Most agents won't let their clients have an MRI taken on them.  Oden's agents were open about that.  They said, "Whatever you want to get an MRI on, you do it."  The Blazers got one on his hip, his wrist, both of his knees.  The Blazers did their homework.  There's no question about that.  Were there some concerns?  Yes.  But none with the knees.  That's what Kevin Pritchard says and I believe him.  Anyone who was around the team or Kevin Pritchard leading up to the draft, there's no way they can say he missed something.  The guy had a hard time keeping his eyes open.  He was exhaustive in his research and analysis.  I don't think the Blazers missed anything.  This was just kind of a freak thing.  We still don't know how it happened.  That's a little bit fishy.  We've heard some reports...even Kevin Pritchard said he's getting e-mails that are absurd and even borderline obscene, all theorizing how Greg Oden got hurt.  I don't think we'll know until we ask him.  That was supposed to happen this week but it doesn't look like it's going to.  Hopefully next week.

I've talked to a fair number of media people about these very issues and there seems to be no clear consensus.  Some believe that the Blazers are being completely honest when they say there were no red flags on the knee.  Others are saying they knew the potential was there and they're just not admitting it.   Others ask the question that Jason posed:  if there really were no indications then what exactly happened between the physicals and the surgery to cause the damage?  The only thing that seems certain is that there will be more to this story.  The only question is will it come out this year or ten years down the road in somebody's autobiography?

Q:  With Oden out is there a roster spot to pull in Freeland or somebody?

A:  The only way that can happen is if the Blazers cut or waive one of their guys.  But let's be honest, that could happen.  Taurean Green is only signed for the minimum, about $400,000.  That's peanuts in NBA salary terms.  If Green comes to camp and doesn't perform well or if they see a glaring need for something else it's feasible to think the Blazers could cut him and sign somebody else.  Right now I don't think that is the plan.  They'll go into camp with these fourteen players.  They have fifteen guaranteed contracts.  You can't have any more than that.  Josh McRoberts, I don't think there's any way they cut him.  He's got a lot of promise.  I think he's going to surprise some people.  That's another thing.  Oden's injury opened up opportunity for Josh McRoberts at the three because it doesn't look as if they'll be experimenting with Lamarcus and Channing there.

Q:  Is there any possibility that Josh McRoberts starts at the three?

A:  I don't think so.  You're talking about leapfrogging James Jones who's been in the league several years, Travis Outlaw who's emerging, and Martell Webster who is very talented.  I don't think Josh McRoberts has what it takes to come in and start as a rookie.  That would be phenomenal.  I like his game a lot but let's be real.  I don't think he can be a starter right now.

McRoberts shouldn't surprise anybody who reads here, at least if the offense opens up.  I agree with Jason that if he is to contribute it will probably be a couple years down the road.  It'll be interesting to see if he ends up as a three, a four, as both, or one of those notorious "tweeners" that never finds a comfortable niche.

Q:  Are you expecting any style of play change now that guys like Zach Randolph and Jamaal Magloire are gone?  Will they open up?

A:  Absolutely.  Nate has been very adamant about that.  You know, people dog on Nate claiming he always says he wants to run but never does.  That's because Zach Randolph was their best offensive player and that bogs things down so much.  If you remember last year at the end of the season when the Blazers starting playing well with Zach out it was a very entertaining kind of basketball.  It was much more fluid, team-oriented, they shared the ball, even on defense they scrambled and trapped.  Everyone is asking where they're going to get offense with Zach gone.  They're going to be a lot better as a team.  We saw that last year.  We heard Nate rave about it.  He didn't mention Zach by name but you knew what he was referring to when he said, "We're playing the right way."  I'd have to go back and check my stats but I believe Lamarcus averaged around 21 points and 9 rebounds when he started in Zach's absence.  He's going to fill that void quickly and it'll be a better brand of team basketball.

We've been saying the same thing about the Nate complaints also.  What could you do if Zach's the guy?  However I don't think the transition to eye-pleasing basketball will be as easy as it sounds in Jason's description.  There's a big difference between basketball in April with guys you've been playing with all year and basketball in November with a bunch of new guys on your team.  Also keep in mind we surprised a lot of people late last year.  Everybody was game-planned for Zach.  This year they'll be planning for exactly what we're trying to do.  That probably means some stops, starts, and growing pains before we look really good.

Q:   What are the Blazers looking to get out of Joel this year?

A:  I think Joel is an X-factor on this team.  They hope to get more out of him than they did last year, that's for sure.  Even when he wasn't injured he wasn't very good.  He's been better.  Were they ever looking to trade him?  No...because the team knew Greg Oden was going to be in foul trouble.  They needed a reliable backup center for those games when Greg got two quick fouls and they felt very comfortable with Joel in that role.  Now the X-factor will come if Joel has improved.  Reading Mike Barrett's blog it appears he has a new jumper and other stuff.  I'd like to see it first.  But if he can even give them a little bit of offense...  You just can't have your starting center averaging 2 points and 4 rebounds.  He needs to get up around 8-9 points per game and 10 rebounds.  If he can do that they can use Lamarcus at power forward.  He's a power forward by nature.  He's going to get bullied by some centers.  Joel could really be a huge asset to this team if he has improved and if he stays healthy.  I don't think they'll ever trade him as long as Greg Oden is on this team because they need a backup center.  And really (no disrespect to Joel because I love him to death) he's a backup center.  He's your prototypical NBA backup center.  Asking him to start and give you big numbers is a little unrealistic.  I think Joel is more comfortable as a backup.  He stressed himself out last year.  He signed a huge contract and wanted to justify it.  He knew he would be the starter.  He was just a little uneasy with him.  Greg would have helped him out by letting him be the backup.  But now he's going to answer the call.

Nobody talks about him much but Joel may make the difference in a lot of wins or losses this year.  I know a tandem of Aldridge and Fyre makes intuitive sense in that they might be your two most talented frontcourt guys.  But I think there's a decent chance they don't team well together because they have similar strengths and weaknesses.  Also Frye hasn't shown himself to be a great defender yet and you can't have guys blitzing in while Lamarcus holds the fort all game without him getting in foul trouble.  A healthy, motivated Joel fixes a lot of those problems.

About the improved jumper?  We'll give it some credibility because Lamarcus himself backed up the assessment of Joel's improved play.  But remember what we said the other day about the only way to tell if someone has brought it is to see them in a real game.

Q:  Let's talk about point guards.  Both Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake will battle for the position.  Jarrett was the starter last year.  I assume Blake thinks he was brought in to be the starter.  Will either of them be comfortable coming off the bench?

A:  It's going to be a hotly-contested battle.  I think for Jarrett it's probably a little bit personal.  I think he felt he had a solid sophomore season as a starter and they went out and got a veteran.  I think that chapped him a little bit.  He'll never say that publicly but he's coming into this training camp on a mission, with a chip on his shoulder.  Steve Blake, I don't think he thinks that he's the starter.  That's just not in his nature.  His entire NBA career has been in this setting where he enters training camp having to fight for a job.  Every place he's gone he's never been the clear-cut starter.  In fact he's been the underdog.  He's entering this camp with that same mindset, that it's time to fight for his job and get after it.  That's where he's at his best.  He's a grinder, a bulldog.  He's strong, tough, in shape, and he's going to work his butt off.  It's going to be an awesome competition and I'm curious to see how it turns out.

At this point the audio cut off but we'll assume that there wasn't much left besides the closing pleasantries.

It was an interesting chat.  It's great to have Casey and Jason back in the saddle again.  Here's to many more.

--Dave (