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Open Mikes Night

Blazer television broadcast duo Mike Barrett and Mike Rice sat down with us during their long day off in Miami to answer a few questions.  Among them are many you asked.  You submitted well over 50 questions and paring them down was difficult.  Basically I chose questions that would be of broad interest that Mike and Mike could answer.  A lot of folks asked about cutting certain players, for instance.  Since that is management's decision, since management sometimes reads this blog, and since Mike and Mike spend multiple hours in the relatively small space of an airplane with the very players they'd be suggesting we cut, I didn't figure it would be fair (or productive) to ask them such things.  Nobody likes angry phone calls from the front office and fat lips delivered on the way to the restroom.  That doesn't mean we gave them softball questions, though, as you will see.

Since we've talked with Mike Barrett a couple of times before he decided to let Coach Rice have the floor for much of the interview.

Blazersedge:  We've seen a couple of effective offensive schemes from the Blazers:  the Roy-oriented high screen/drive/dish sets and the Martell-oriented curl screen and pop sets.  But we've seldom seen them at the same time.  Are those offenses mutually exclusive?  If so what can we do to take better advantage of Martell's gifts in the normal offense?

Mike Rice:  I agree that the Blazers need to incorporate both offenses in the same game.  I think Nate will come to see that getting Martell involved, along with Brandon, will help the half-court offense.  We'll see more of this in the future.  Both should work against a defense like Miami plays.  At this time Martell's offensive skills are limited because of his lack of ball-handling skills.  As he progresses in that skill he'll be able to do more in the offense.

Blazersedge:  Many folks have suggested that one of the obstacles facing Sergio in his growth with this team is that both he and Brandon are most effective when they control the ball.  (That doesn't mean either is selfish, rather than both like to initiate plays.)  Do you see this as a concern?  Can they co-exist and be effective?

Mike Rice:  Good question.  I think in order to use Brandon to his fullest, someone like Sergio is important in order to get him the ball in different places.  I think we'll see more of the two of them, at the same time, in the future.  Before the season is over, I think the two of them may be the best backcourt the Blazers have, as far as offense goes.  Sergio needs to grow physically on the defensive end.  As he gets more physical, his playing time will increase.  At this time, I think Nate sees more in Jarrett Jack, Brandon, and Steve Blake.  It's up to Sergio to improve his defensive skills in order to show he can be effective in Nate's system.

Blazersedge:  The tempo of the half-court offense seems quicker this year than in years past and the ball movement is certainly better but the Blazers have yet to show a true running game.  They almost never fast break.  Do they need more easy buckets in order to flourish?  If so, how do we get them?

Mike Rice:  Nate has not trusted his defense to be aggressive, like he did with his teams in Seattle.  Until the defense gets more aggressive, fast-break points will be difficult to come by.  Right now, they are not the aggressor, therefore the opposing team usually sets the tempo in these games.  For example, Boston, Denver, and Utah, have aggressive defenses, not necessarily good defenses, but they all lead to a faster-tempo game.  Until they are forcing more turnovers, easy baskets will be difficult to come by.  That's why we're seeing the Blazers play in so many close games.  We kind of sit back, and don't ever foul a lot and don't get many steals.  We always want to make sure the opponent is taking difficult shots, and generally in the NBA that doesn't lead to easy baskets.  It's a defense that doesn't gamble and doesn't take many chances.  That's why Ray Allen scored a lot in the Boston game, because the Celtics executed to get him shots.  When the Blazers execute defensively, it results in easy shots.

Blazersedge:  A lot of NBA teams throw in occasional zone defenses but for the Blazers it seems like their bread and butter.  What makes the Blazer zone more effective than other teams'?

Mike Rice:  I think the second unit, the "white unit", believes it is one of their strengths, and because most NBA teams don't practice against the zone much, it's become an effective weapon.  There's an old saying, "you are what you practice," and because the Blazers practice so much zone, it has been very successful for the second unit.  Because the second unit has a lot of perimeter shooters, their skill level is pointed towards that, and not a man-to-man, physical defense.  To make up for that, they cover for each other much more in a zone, rather than a man to man.  James Jones, Sergio, Channing Frye, are good examples of players like this.  They cover for each other much better in a zone than in a man to man.

Blazersedge:  Blazer fans seem to miss a lot of what Jarrett Jack does.  What makes him valuable on the court?  We can see his ability to drive, pick up the foul, and finish but what else does he bring that's distinctive?

Mike Rice:  Jarrett makes a non-aggressive, outside-shooting unit more of an aggressive, penetrating unit with him in the game.  He brings what no one else has in the white unit- he has the ability to attack the rim.  Frye and Jones rely on Jarrett to get them the ball and to be aggressive.  Jarrett is good at drawing the defense and kicking to the open man.  When you have Sergio and Jarrett in the game at the same time, the defense has trouble stopping penetration from both of them.  Jarrett is tough, and becomes a little more physical with guards that try and muscle him and post him up, like Baron Davis.  With his improved shooting, Jarrett can also play with someone like Brandon, to give the Blazers a physical defensive combo, and one that allows Brandon to be a facilitator and not just a scorer.  That's why they play at the same time so much late in games.  They can make stops late in games, score, and get to the foul line.

Blazersedge:  At certain points during the year we've heard that the Blazers have a logjam of talent and need to pare down, especially considering the guys we have stashed overseas.  Other times we've heard that we need to add a free agent or two.  In two years will the rotation looked thinned out, thickened up, or both?  What positions will see the most change?

Mike Rice:  I think Nate has found success, unlike when he was in Seattle and had an 8-man rotation, with keeping everyone fresh by using 10 men.  This will be his philosophy for the next two or three years.  Greg Oden will be in charge of a fast-breaking, highly-competitive defensive unit, and the Blazers will have enough fire power to have an offensive unit also.  Nate has always had a philosophy that competition wins positions and playing time, and we'll have tremendous competition for positions next year, with new players like Rudy Fernandez, James Jones, and Martell Webster at the shooting positions, and Petteri Kopenen, Steve Blake, and Jarrett Jack at the point position.  Once again, that all must be ironed out by October when the pre-season starts.  Of course, all of this is contingent on the Blazers re-signing Jones (once he opts out), and bringing players over like Kopenen and Fernandez.

Blazersedge:  Andrew Bynum is getting a ton of ink as one of the next big centers.  How will he and Oden compare?  What does each do well and which will end up better?

Mike Rice:  Oden's development should happen a lot quicker than Bynum's because of the year of college ball he played at Ohio State.  Greg is already ahead of Bynum on the defensive end in terms of rebounding and blocking shots.  But, maybe he's behind Bynum in the half-court offensive sets.  What Oden should give the Blazers is a physical presence they don't have now, at both ends.  I believe it's the old tale of who helps a team win more, Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain?  The last time I checked, Russell helped his team to more titles, and I've never heard anyone compare Bynum with Russell.  But, I have heard people compare Oden to Russell.

Blazersedge:  How do you see Rudy Fernandez fitting in with this team?  How long will it take him to become a key contributor?

Mike Rice:  Because of the closeness of this Blazer team, and it is the reason they've been so successful this year, one of the most interesting things to watch is how the talented Fernandez will be adopted by his new teammates.  He has skills that can help the Blazers win.  It will be up to Nate and the coaches to make sure the whole team understands that.  Shooters help teams in different ways, and it will be interesting to see how both Oden and Rudy change the type of game the Blazers play.  Nate will have a busy summer trying to figure that out.

Blazersedge:  Do you ever get a chance to be "Coach Rice" with the players and do they listen?

Mike Rice:  I try not to, and very few times do I ever infringe on the Blazer coaching staff, in telling a player what they're doing right and wrong.  I try to instill maybe an attitude, and remind them of what's at stake, but very few times do I ever tell a player what I think he's doing right or wrong.  You can lose a lot of friends that way.  Sometimes players listen to too many people.  I'm sure my advice could be better than what they're hearing from friends and family, but I think the advice should come from the Blazer coaches.  

Blazersedge:  Which Blazers on the current team do you think might make good coaches someday?

Mike Rice:  I think number one would be Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake.  I think point guards do understand the game a little more.  Sometimes leadership is forced upon them.  The ones that can accept it and do something with it are the ones who usually make good coaches.  I really see great potential in assistant coach Monty Williams, even though he wasn't a point guard.  I think he'll make an excellent head coach.  I also see this in Jarrett and Steve.  I think Brandon fits into a category like maybe Michael Jordan.  I don't believe they'd be great coaches, but they are great natural leaders who people seem to listen to and follow.  When they lead the right way, usually you have a winning team.

Blazersedge:  Did either of you do anything superstitious during the winning streak?

Mike Rice:  I was in so much shock during the streak, because at that time I didn't think this team really was that good.  Each game, rather than do the same thing I did last game, I was pessimistic enough to think the streak would never last.  This team made me a believer, only after about the 10th game of the streak.  So, I never really had any time to develop, or apply any superstitions.  I wasn't really ever superstitious as a coach.

Mike Barrett:   My answer is kind of the same, in that I didn't even want to think about the streak, because it was so shocking.  As people have pointed out to me, most of the time on the air I'm holding on to a pen in my left hand.  I didn't even realize it until someone said it last year.  Just a security blanket I guess.  The only thing I keep consistent, when we're winning, is I use the same pen.  I had this very girly pink pen during the streak, and kept it until we lost.  I still have it, but it's now at the back of the rotation.  Strangely enough, and totally by accident, is the fact that Kevin Pritchard was wearing a pink tie during every game on the streak.  I broke out the pink pen again for the Boston game, but obviously it's now down in the batting order again.  

Blazersedge:  One of our readers noticed that not only does Mike Barrett seem taller when he stands, his stool and/or chair appears taller than the Mike Rice's.  Is this true?  If so is it a question of leg room or does Barrett really have to have the upper hand at all times?

Mike Rice:  I have the shortest body, and longest legs.  When I sit down, I look like I'm 5'8", but I'm really 6'2".  I've been cursed with this short little body.  A good team never has the upper hand over each other.  A good team always works together, like we do.

Mike Barrett:    Rice can say this isn't a big deal, but his wife always tells him that he looks short, compared to me, on the broadcasts.  When the wife talks, you listen.  We are really about the same height.  I'm mostly body, and he's all legs.  Rice has even taken to sitting on a cushion at home games when we're at the table, so he'll look taller than me.  When he walks off before games, I'll hide the cushion, and that gets him all out of whack.  

Even though I wanted this interview to be all Rice (I typed for him), I just want to add a couple of things.  Many fans don't know how successful he was as a college coach, and a college player.  Back east, they know, and he's very well respected.  The question about whether or not he coaches members of this Blazers team was interesting, and I loved his response.  He keeps his distance.  But, I will say the Blazer coaches, especially Nate, respect Mike's opinion a great deal.  Rice was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1962, if you didn't know.  On these road trips back east, members of the media, and old coaches, always approach him and want to talk basketball.  In New Jersey the other night, Nets coach Lawrence Frank made a point to stop by to chat with him.  This isn't unusual.  He's best known back here for playing for, and later coaching, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  He took them to the NCAA Tournament.  His son, Mike Rice, Jr., is the head coach at Robert Morris.  He is one of the top college recruiters in the east, and helped put together the team at Pitt when he was the lead assistant there last year.  He's going to continue moving up the ranks, and will have a major program someday soon.  I always tell Junior to come out west, and perhaps shoot for a Pac-10 program, like Oregon State perhaps.  He's a hot, young coaching prospect with a ton of potential.    
As for my partner, he's the best.  We spend a ton of time together on the road, and I can't imagine having a better relationship with a broadcast partner.  My dad was a long-time coach, so I've spent most of my life around coaches.  In my opinion, he's the best analyst in the game, and is certainly entertaining.

Thanks again to Messieurs Barrett and Rice for taking the time to talk with us.  I'm sure you'll agree that we'd have to look far and wide to find two broadcasters as knowledgeable, accessible, and accommodating.   Thanks to all of you, also, for being the type of readers people want to talk to.  The Mikes do read your responses.  Your positive, intelligent comments have made it possible for interviews like this to happen.

And on that last point...if your question didn't get answered, do not fear.  I have been informed that both Mikes enjoy this process enough to make it a semi-regular deal.  We're not going to impose on their time too much but on long road trips we'll get the chance to run some things by them again.

Don't forget to check out Mike Barrett's blog on a daily basis.  It's in the links in the right sidebar as well.

--Dave (