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So the Blazers signed Dante Cunningham?  No surprise there.  Here's what ESPN's David Thorpe's (insider) rookie rankings (originally posted about a month ago but still on ESPN's main NBA page today) has to say about Dante:

Dante Cunningham, Blazers
I'm not sure he'll make Portland's roster this year, but not because of how he played in Vegas. He was a standout there.    

Oops. Maybe he meant "rotation" instead of "roster"?

Brian T. Smith with a nice Martell feature.

Some young NBA players forced to deal with a season-ending injury would sulk and slink away. Not Webster. He not only watched and dissected games, he stayed around the Blazers throughout the season, making a strong, positive impression on his teammates.

"I think the thing about this team is, Martell is immediately going to fit back in," Roy said. "You know, even (last) season, he missed a few games, and then he came to the trip to Toronto, and he's automatically welcomed back."

Webster also honored a commitment to Beulah Walker, his great aunt and the person who raised him, by enrolling at Portland State and taking his first-ever college course. Webster started and finished an entry-level business class, and proudly stated that he scored a 98 on his final.

"He was terrific. A wonderful young man," said Brenda Eichelberger, a PSU management instructor who taught Webster this summer.     

Brian T. Smith is on twitter here.

Kelly Dwyer includes the 99-00 Blazers in his 10 best teams of the last decade never to win at title.

A notorious also-ran that managed to lose a trip to the Finals (and probably title) not with an injury or ref-addled series of bum calls but with a miserable meltdown in the fourth quarter of a Game 7 that handed the Los Angeles Lakers a comeback win and rendered a promising team absolutely frazzled for three seasons following. Worse, with a big win on February 29th of that season (Portland was 45-11 entering the game, they finished the season 14-12), the Lakers sent the Blazers reeling twice in one season.

Things started out promising. A late offseason trade netted the Trail Blazers Scottie Pippen for all sorts of what were thought to be superfluous parts, after a summer that saw the team acquire Steve Smith and Detlef Schrempf in order to round out an already-fearsome and deep roster. Coach Mike Dunleavy was never able to foster a group that was greater than the sum of its parts, and the team had no fallback option once the jumpers stopped falling in Game 7. And one of the "superfluous parts" listed above, Laker guard Brian Shaw, ended up contributing a huge three-pointer in Los Angeles' Game 7 comeback.

Holly MacKenzie previews the Northwest Division, doling out theme songs for each team.

"Want to believe my own hype but it's too untrue/ 
The world brought me to my knees/
What have you brung you?
"

Superstar - Lupe Fiasco

Of course, the emergence of Brandon "Mr. Smooth" Roy should have been the story here. As I was writing this evening, my iTunes settled upon Lupe's Superstar and I immediately thought of Greg Oden. Imagine being Oden. You're on your way to the NBA gracing the cover of every sports magazine on the newsstand, you are on top of the world. Taken with the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, it's time to start proving your team made the right choice. Before you know it, the season is almost over, you're in a suit sitting on the bench and haven't played a single second of NBA basketball. The haters come quickly and they come even harder when they have hitched their bragging rights onto your rookie season. While Kevin Durant and Al Horford are making jaws drop and people fall in love, you sit there, your mind wandering. Refusing to let it go to that dark place where you question the hype that was. While the DNP-Injury's stack up, and the critics make it seem as though your career is written off, you stumble across Lupe Fiasco's "Superstar" From the first time you heard the opening lines, you knew you'd found your anthem. Playing in 61 games last season, Oden averaged 8.9 points and seven rebounds per game. Doesn't really stack up to what KD is doing, but as he continues to take heed to Lupe's lyrics, "if you are what you say you are/ are superstar/ then have no fear" maybe he will laugh last.

Dwight Jaynes with a nice look back at "Scrappy Syndrome."

You remember "Scrappy Syndrome" - the sort of puppy love that media, fans and even coaches can fall into when they see an undertalented guy with a magnetic personality playing hard, busting his tail and doing everything he possibly can to help his team. In the face of all the effort, people tend to lose track that he's playing so hard because he's short on talent. Everyone roots for such people - but in the long run, a lot of them end up selling insurance for a living.

But you don't often see "Scrappy Syndrome" translate into such bold and frankly, hard-to-explain predictions as the ones that were made by the Portland Trail Blazer coach.

Wendell Maxey lists the top 5 small forwards in the NBA. But he does so grudgingly. Travis Outlaw gets the short end here, haha.

Compiling "Top 5", "Top 10", or "The Best _____In the League" angles that I often get assigned are not my favorite piece to write in the least. Employing the word "loathe" would suffice.

In this case, it was a debate about "Top 5 Small Forwards" currently running over at HOOPSWORLD.

Funny thing is, I contemplated mentioning Travis Outlaw's name in the opening graph - and what do you know; someone out there actually believes he'd be the same type of player as Kevin Durant if Travis played for the Thunder.

Nope. Not even close.

Not one of Portland's 3s made Pro Basketball News' Top 20 small forwards list.

Wendell Maxey with an impressive start to his new "NBA Flashback" series.

The NBA had seen nothing like it before.

Back in 1987 the Phoenix Suns were rocked by the biggest drug scandal ever to hit a professional sports franchise at that time.

It was simply known as "Waltergate."

On April 18, 1987 the Maricopa County Attorney's Office indicted 13 people including three members of the Suns on charges of possessing and trafficking in cocaine or marijuana. The two month investigation showed the players were frequenting a local establishment and obtaining cocaine.

Yet in the end, their downfall came at the hands of one of their own in front of a grand jury.

Phoenix Stan did a great interview with the WNBA commissioner.  

I've yet to meet one person however, from this crossover target audience (male NBA fans) who has given the current version of the game a fair chance and not walked away either impressed with the quality of play or simply entertained by the experience. Often both.

Naturally then, I was curious to see how the chief executive viewed my demographic as part of the league's growth plans. I asked her about where she sees the league growing and what she felt the fan base would look like in 5 or 10 years.

"I've been to every single arena now and what I'm seeing are families. I'm seeing a lot of young girls but I'm also seeing a lot of young boys and I see a lot more men," explained Orender who continued, 

"I think that the quality of the game has grown exponentially and I think that's being recognized and that's bringing a lot more of the traditional basketball fan."

Bustabucket.com is out of the gates early with a win total prediction for next season.

Based on all of the summer activity around the league and even our own solid additions and subtractions, I believe we can match last years output. But I'll go one better.

The Blazers will win 55 games.

But is that a successful season to you?

Rip City Project with some thoughts on Outlaw.

So Blazer fans, we face the prospects of having Travis Outlaw in his contract year with diminished minutes. Am I the only one a bit scared by these prospects? Outlaw loves to shoot. In his career, nearly every year his average of FGA's is up and around his average of PPG. It's going to be hard to pencil him in for 26-27 minutes a game this year. In my opinion, it's clear he can't start on this team. He can play in the 4th quarter with B-Roy and LMA, but it's clear he's just not a starter for this organization. Coming into this season, will he still be the #3 scoring option? Or will someone emerge?    

Casey Holdahl has been keeping tabs on EuroBasket over at Blazers.com.

More on scouts being cut around the league from Steve Aschburner.

"I just think that the recent economic plight fast-forwarded things," said one NBA assistant coach, who preferred to remain anonymous for job security reasons. "If you are an owner and you start to look at your expenses and you see that you have four assistant coaches, perhaps a couple of 'development coaches' or 'workout guys,' advance scouts, video staff, etc., etc., you see that the number gets up there pretty quickly, especially if you have a head coach that is well-paid -- say in the $4 million to $5 million range. Then you look in your front office and you see a full executive staff and a lot of scouts. Plus, you have travel expenses for everyone. All of a sudden this number can really start to get out of control."

Adrian Wojnarowski looks at Lance Allred.

One more summer league training camp, one more round of false promises and exaggerated hope, and Lance Allred found himself on the Orlando Magic's bench honoring the final days of a useless July commitment. As the deaf son of a polygamist colony, the most improbable 7-foot prospect, an NBA front office had once more underestimated his abilities.

"I will just say this about the end in Orlando: Some people don't understand that because my hearing is impaired, I'm really, really good at reading lips from even across the gym," Allred said. "With some of these [team executives], it's just like you're in high school again with all the cliques, the way that they talk about you. I've seen this all before, except now the kids have millions of dollars."

Have you been following all the various takes regarding the New York Times' decision to use fewer general-interest sports columnists?  It's been fascinating.

First, here's John Koblin of the New York Observer quoting the New York Times on its decision.

"The Sports of the Times is a great brand, and I hate to see that brand disappear, but it clearly is changing," Mr. Jolly said.

He explained that The Times' sports page will use fewer general-interest writers to generate columns, and will instead rely more on beat writers to provide expertise. He wants them to blog, he wants them to use Twitter and he wants them to write analysis pieces.

"In a world filled with blogs and opinion on talk radio and on cable television, there does seem to be a pretty good craving for expert analysis-the real insight of someone who is there," he said.

Then, here's the always astute Spencer Hall with some ether.

Good ingredients work no matter the treatment, something that may not be true of generalist columnists who learned that single sentence paragraphs and easy moralizing about athletics and their place in society were a great way to stuff column space for paychecks.

The problem for them is that the audience is no longer captive. They can roam the internet looking for whatever they like, and if they're under 40, they're not waiting for it to come to them on their doorstep. They are still prisoner to one constant, however: the hunger for quality. If the general columnist dies out, it's not because the audience lost the taste for something necessary. It is because they were making do all along with what they had, and left the instant they got a better offer.

Dan Shanoff with a classic line on the same subject.

As soon as you start building a column around the number of inches your editor needs to fill a newspaper page, you are going to pad it with too much -- or not back up your argument enough.

Finally, Greg Wyshynski weighs in regarding what this means for Hockey Fan.

Generations of fans have already tuned out, of course, which led to the booming blogosphere and the niche journalism we've seen grow on sites like Yahoo! Sports and ESPN. Once the monolithic model of the newspaper was undermined by new media, consumers were able to seek out the content they desired; not only whenever they wanted it, but in the proper dosages and structures (and sometimes with scantily clad women).

For hockey fans, that meant no longer having to wait until the general columnist was assigned (or decided) to offer an opinion about the local hockey team or the NHL; fans could find more informed analysis (if less flowery prose) on their computers every day. For many U.S. hockey fans, finding reporting on the game in the local paper was hard enough; why twiddle the thumbs waiting for analysis when 20 bloggers are ready to provide it hours after the game?

But since we're talking about general columnists, let's hit The Big Picture of it all, shall we?

Hockey fans in the U.S. should be thrilled with the death of this form of sports journalism.

Neil Paine looks at exactly how much Desmond Mason sucks.

In other words, if there's a statistical category out there (at least in terms of the box score), odds are that it showed Desmond Mason to be a really bad player last season. Not just mediocre, not just below-average, but legitimately terrible.    

Did Michael Beasley really post a picture of himself posing with weed on Twitter? Did he also enter a rehab center?  Eek.

Oregonlive.com has all sorts of footage from the Trail Blazer theme song tryouts.

Arvydas Sabonis starring in "You Got Dunked On."

Another Nugget gets busted.

Will someone find a way to turn this into a Greg Oden joke?

As always, drop any links I missed in the comments and be sure to frequent the Fanshots.

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)