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Reaction to the Outlaw Article

Since all of the buzz yesterday surrounded Jason Quick's Travis Outlaw article I thought I’d add my two cents today.


First, some generalities:


--We should take a moment to remember what a fine writer Jason Quick is.  He’s been well-acclaimed as a straight beat writer, of course, but stories like this reveal his strongest suit.  He is, above all things, a teller of stories.  The human touch is his best.


--Obviously the story wasn’t going to be unflattering to Travis, but even so it’s nice that Travis’ unaffected “just folks” outlook fits in so well not only with the people he grew up among but with Portland as well.  How many guys in similar situations would head right back to town with far more than an Escalade to show off in?  How many would immediately proclaim themselves king of their burgh?  How many wouldn’t even go back at all?  It’s hard not to like Travis, and that’s a good thing.


--It seems you can take your pick of Blazer players to do this kind of story about.  At this point it’s pretty close to every one of them.  Contrast that to where we used to be.  I don’t know if the greater miracle is how sympathetic our players are in this generation or how horribly unsympathetic previous generations were.  Whatever you think of the reasons for that sympathy (or lack thereof) you have to admit it makes them a heck of a lot easier to write and read about nowadays.


Now a couple responses to specifics about Travis from the article:


--One of the points that stood out was Travis’ comparison between his situation and that of Carmelo Anthony.

The conversation starts with Outlaw asking how close he was to being traded to Memphis for Mike Miller, but quickly veers to Denver's Carmelo Anthony, who the table feels was asking for a trade.

"I don't understand why you would want to be traded when you have the green light to shoot from half court?" Outlaw says. "You give me that type of leeway boy, I be there ... I'm going to retire there. Give me the green light: 'Trav, you get to shoot whenever you want to, there ain't no such thing as a bad shot...'"

He shakes his head at the thought.

Outlaw averaged 11.8 shots per game last season -- third highest on the Blazers behind Roy and Aldridge -- and he was given free rein to create his own shot, particularly in the fourth quarter. But he says he would like to average 15 shots this season -- the amount Roy and Aldridge averaged last season -- and disputes the notion that he had the green light with the Blazers.

"Noooo. Noooo," Outlaw says about the green light, prompting his imitation of Blazers coach Nate McMillan. "'Now Travis, that shot, you can get something better than that.'"

There are a variety of ways to interpret this, most of them probably putting too much weight on Travis’ role and Coach McMillan’s game plan.  I read it fairly simply.  If you had a Ferrari, you’d want to drive it fast sometimes.  You may understand the need for a speed limit.  You may agree with it.  But when most of your life is spent driving 65 it’s hard not to envy a guy in Germany who can drive 120 whenever he wants.  I mean, it’s a Ferrari, dude.  Travis is pretty sure he’s a Ferrari.  And looking at some of the things he’s able to do on the court it’s hard to disagree.  That doesn’t mean the Blazers or Travis himself would be better off if he could take any shot at any time.  But boy, wouldn’t it be fun to have an open road and nobody else to worry about?  Who wouldn’t have that dream?

The second possible controversial part read so:

...[Travis] ponders his place with the franchise's upswing. He has experienced enough success -- last season hitting game-winning shots at Memphis and Atlanta and finishing ninth in the sixth man of the year voting -- that he thinks he could one day be an All-Star. But he wonders whether that potential will be stifled on a team built around Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden.

And all of that feeds his apprehension of how the team perceives him as he enters what could be a contract year.

"We have a really good team," Outlaw says. "But I don't know if they are going to be able to keep us together."

Anyone who has read this blog at all this summer shouldn’t be surprised by this.  Travis is not the only one who is going to be having these feelings and questions.  It’s inevitable on a team that’s sure to be dominated by a small cadre of (super)stars and is also populated with young players on their way up.

Back in the day I remember the Blazer broadcasters telling us of a plane conversation between Danny Ainge and Drazen Petrovic.  Drazen was disgruntled at the time, lacking playing time behind Clyde Drexler.  Danny was the grizzled veteran acquired for the deep playoff runs.  Danny argued that it was better to be on a great team with depth even though it meant less personal playing time.  Drazen argued the opposite.  If you don’t play much what does it matter which team you’re on?

Each of these perspectives is true in its way.  How you see it depends on where you are in your career arc.  Guys like Travis who are early in their careers will agree more with Drazen on the whole.  Talented players want a chance to find out who they are in this league.  What good is it being a Ferrari if you’re stuck in traffic the same as a Honda?  That’s not selfish.  That’s trying to do what you are meant to do.  Older guys, on the other hand, already know who they are.  They want a chance to accomplish something.  Winning teams usually have a mix of both.

As far as Travis in particular, I doubt he has much to worry about right now.  Going into the season he’s still the primary player off the bench and the third or fourth most important offensive guy on a fifteen-man roster.  He may not be starting but he’ll be on the shortest list of guys you want in on critical offensive possessions due to his ability to score and draw attention.  His position is his to lose.  If he did get traded at this point it wouldn’t be because the Blazers didn’t value him, rather because another team valued him to the extreme and made Portland an offer it couldn’t refuse.  Travis is probably correct about the Blazers not being able to keep everyone together, but if he continues to progress at least moderately he’s likely to be one of the guys they do want to keep.

Travis’ caution does reinforce one of the basic lessons of being a Blazer fan this season.  If you want to delineate the heart of the team (and invest your own heart reasonably safely) you look at three players:  Oden, Aldridge, Roy.  They are the key.  Put those three on any team in the league and that team has a chance to do well no matter who else is around them.  Remove those three from the Blazers and this is a lottery team for sure.  It’s not that the other guys are chopped liver…far from it.  But there are times to let the 6th, 7th, and 8th men be the 6th, 7th, and 8th men (and the 12th-14th as well).  This is one of them.  If Travis wants to be the top guy on his team, or even one of the top three, it’s doubtful that will happen in Portland.  I’m not entirely sure about his All-Star prospects either.  But if he just wants to score 16+ and contribute to deep playoff runs he can do that here to his heart’s content.  I could see him being rewarded handsomely for it as well, which never hurts.

And then finally:

"I look at myself and I might be that floating piece, you know?" Outlaw says. "When you need something, you be like, we just put him in right there. Maybe that's it. I feel like I'm that guy that if they need anything -- a spark or something -- they will call on me. I feel like I can change the game sometimes."

He says he is not exactly cool with that role, but he says he wants to do whatever helps the team win, noting that he has never been on a winning team in Portland.

It's a struggle that Outlaw figures he won't win any time soon. Because what is best for the Blazers right now isn't necessarily best for Outlaw, who is trying this season to persuade the Blazers to pick up an option on his contract. ..

"I don't want people to think I'm satisfied with coming off the bench all the time," Outlaw says. "I want to start ... I feel like I have earned it. But it makes sense for me to come off the bench."

These will be the keys to Outlaw’s success with the Blazers as much as anything:  How well does he play small forward, how many of the shots he takes does he actually put down, and how flexible is he about the situations in which he plays?  Balking in any of those three areas will severely inhibit his role with this team.  It sounds like he understands this, which is half the battle (and more than you can say for a lot of players).    Whether he starts or comes off the bench is not the issue.  How much he’s able to influence the game in the minutes he is allotted will be.  Even with the high-powered company Travis has the potential to be one of the most pivotal players on the team.  He showed that repeatedly in the fourth quarter last year.  He also has the potential to play himself onto the trading block.  How well he answers the above questions (which is the same as saying how well he adapts to his role) will determine his path as much as his talent will.

--Dave (