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Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

I invoke that title with due apologies to Cary Grant, even though fewer than 10% of readers will get the reference.  Nevertheless, among the more popular subjects in my inbox is, of course, Rudy Fernandez.  45% of people have suggestions about what to do with him, 5% of people are empathizing with him ("Hola!" to all of you), and a good 50% of folks just want the issue to go away, away, AWAY!  (And why are we writing about it and aren't there 1000 other things going on and what in the world is the world coming to anyway?!?!?!?)

In an attempt to please all parties and answer a bunch of mail all at once, here's my take.

Do I understand Rudy's point of view?  Does he even have a justifiable point of view?  Yes on the second, but that doesn't change the "yes and no" on the first.

I started out as a Blazer fan and I remain one to this day.  I don't think I have to turn in my media card just because I say I hope the Blazers do well.  When I have to step outside of my normal fan comfort zone to say something I have no problem doing so, but that core of passion for the team remains and won't ever die no matter how jaded I get or how objective real life forces me to be.  In that passionate sense, of course I don't understand what's going through Rudy's head.  How many of us would give anything we own to be able to wear an NBA uniform--no, THAT NBA uniform--the way the Blazers are paying him to do?  Shut up and play, man!  Realize what you've got!  You don't want it?  I'd be a lifetime's worth of ecstatic for the Blazers to put "Deckard" on the back of a uniform at 1/10 of your salary!  You, dear readers, know exactly what I mean.  You feel that way too.

It's vogue for professionals to look down on that kind of abandon.  Rightly so, perhaps.  Feeling like that means that you can't play and that you don't have the skills, talent, and lifetime of dedication to be a part of their fraternity.  But it's understandable that people feel that way.  The impulse isn't wrong.  People with that kind of passion fund the salaries of the guys who can play.  If you eliminated that "What the heck are you DOING, Mr. Silent Holdout Protest?!?" feeling from the equation you wouldn't have any reason for games to be played.  We cannot discount the "be a mensch" reaction to this story.  In many ways it's the right answer...perhaps the only answer that ultimately brings satisfaction.  Even though Rudy's satisfaction might be limited in the short term, it would certainly be to his long-term benefit to listen to some of that non-professional wisdom.  Even if it hurts today, it's the kind of advice that allows you to stand tall and claim the righteous road taken when you're 70 and explaining your life to your grandchildren.

On the other hand, it's not difficult to step precisely in Rudy's shoes.  In said sneakers you and I would be unhappy too.  There's no need to belabor the reasons why:  buyout payments, rookie-scale salary, ignominy on the bench, languishing promise, breaking dreams, sullied reputation.  For fans the passion of playing for the Home Team might overcome all of these obstacles.  But when you really do have the capability of playing in the league this is more than a passion, it's a career.  Even fans acknowledge it so.  We claim that we love these players.  We want them to be family.  We want to consider them family, bound as tightly as blood to the franchise, its uniform, and its supporters.  As soon as an advantageous trade is available, though, we're more than willing to break those bonds.  Give the Blazers Devin Harris for Rudy and Joel Przybilla (both beloved players but yeah, this trade actually works under the cap) and the majority of fans will applaud, saying, "See ya, beloved brothers!" as they pack their bags.  We're at ease with the limits of our passion and attachment but we gripe about the limits players have regarding same.

In a way I can relate to what Rudy is going through.  I've used this comparison before.  As the pastor of a church I am part of a large, passionate, extended family.  People are seriously invested in the bond between family members, sometimes to an extreme level.  They want the pastor to belong, to be one of them.  They want this to be home, for you to never leave.  But no matter how bonded they feel, there are limits.  Sometimes those limits are reached when you preach a sermon somebody disagrees with.  Sometimes shifts in the church family or in a person's own life can expose the bond's limits.  Even if none of that happens, the congregation still depends on you standing apart, having the singular voice that can bring them to focus, remaining above petty disagreements, speaking against the bad habits of the family when necessary instead of falling prey to them blindly.  You're part of the family but you're the professional member.  People wouldn't appreciate you abandoning that distinction any more than a Blazer fan would appreciate Rudy leaving the bench and showing up on their couch drinking a beer during a crucial game.  There's a bond, but it's bounded.

Most congregation members are instinctively familiar, and comfortable, with their own limits on the family bond with their pastor.  It's far more uncomfortable for them when the pastor needs to invoke those bonds for him- or herself.  We do it quietly every day.  Once you've served for a while you realize how quickly relationships can turn.  I've had people I considered close, nearly dear, friends leave church within six months because of policy changes or perceived slights.  You're always wondering how much you can or should let your hair down in people's homes, even over adult drinks and pretzels.  Maybe that joke you're thinking of will ruin someone's perception of your pastoral authority for good.  This isn't paranoia as much as an acknowledgement of the limitations of your relationship because of your relative positions and the expectations inherent in each.  With that process comes the realization that even the best of relationships has to be considered temporary, at least in its current incarnation.  You may be called to serve this congregation and these people for the rest of your life.  On the other hand you may be called to shake the dust off of your sandals and move on even as some of them do.  As the professional member of the family that reality, and the options inherent in it, never really leaves your mind.

Another set of boundaries involves the church itself, which in this case is akin to the sports franchise.  The congregation loves the church, believes in the church, can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to be a part of their church...much like the bond a fan feels for their team.  The hymns, the order of service, the cookies and coffee afterwards, the role of the church in the community...all of these things are ritualized and revered.  Sometimes, as the in-house professional, you are called to point out that the world is bigger than what the congregation is currently experiencing.  Sometimes you're called to speak against the church and its ways.  This is almost like a player mentioning there are other uniforms in the league besides the one you love.   In those moments one of the first questions people ask is, "Why aren't you as passionate about church (meaning THIS church) as we are?"  On its heels comes the suggestion from some quarters that you just shut up and do your job, which is defined de facto as serving the organization no matter what.  But is that really the right thing to do for you or them?

All of this is made much more complex when you perceive from your professional perch that the church is not fulfilling its side of the bargain.  Maybe they're not supporting your ministry.  Maybe they can't come up with the money for your check.  Maybe they said they wanted X, Y, and Z when they called you to serve and in reality they only care about Q and P.  Whatever the stimulus, shortcomings like this shine a spotlight on the limits of your relationship.  You are you.  Your abilities and your ministry are your lifeblood and your trade.  If those aren't being respected or utilized you have to think like a professional and consider moving on to another call.  In those moments all of the passion people display for that particular congregation just seems like so many iron bars on your cell.  "Just shut up and take it because you love the team" isn't a viable answer when you don't perceive the team functioning for good, or at least not for the kind of good you were meant to do.

So do I empathize with Rudy's situation and what he's going through?  Yeah, I think I do.  He's hit every one of these limitations:  personal, systemic, and tragic.  Money won't rectify that.  Other people's passion won't rectify that.  I'd like to think that were I in his shoes the contract and my professional reputation would weigh heavier than my desire to go.  But then again if I perceived a church screwing me the way Rudy probably perceives the Blazers screwing him I'd be looking for every way out too, even if that meant just flat quitting and doing something else for a couple years, in effect telling everybody to stick it.

Therefore I'm at war over this internally.  The personal, passionate me hates Rudy's role in this situation.  The professional me understands it.  I don't think there's a clear way forward that satisfies both parts.  The best I can say is that the professional part will wince for Rudy if he gives it all anyway while at the same time admiring him for it and the personal part will loathe it if he checks out while at the same time understanding it.  That's just the kind of mess we're in.

All of that aside, the real power isn't in Rudy's hands right now.  The organization still holds all the cards.  I believe it's smart of them to keep him away from the media and the limelight.  He's not going to say anything that will resolve the situation or even make it more palatable.  The only thing he can do by talking is bury himself further and distract from the coverage of training camp.  That's their first move and it's probably a good one.

Beyond that, should or will the Blazers cut bait with Rudy, just releasing him or otherwise giving up?  No, I don't believe so.  Who would it benefit?  They'd be rid of a headache in Rudy and he'd be happy.  The headache isn't that big though. If this were Brandon Roy they'd be in trouble, but Rudy can be swept under the rug on and off the court without much penalty at this point.  They'd rather have him but they'll live without him.  All of his protests will get buried under an avalanche of excitement for the start of the season.  The angst won't be resurrected unless two shooting guards get injured and every other teammate goes 0-fer from beyond the arc for a month.  Nor do I think appeasing Fernandez personally is high on the Blazers' to-do list at this point.

Releasing Rudy to resolve the situation would also give the impression that they had been strong-armed.  They'd have to be wary of every international player they brought in and every agent they dealt with after that.  And losing assets for nothing is not appealing in any case.  I could see them saving face by collecting a draft pick or by accepting money for a buyout but I'm comfortably sure they'd suspend him and watch him rot before they'd cut him for nothing, or even for charitable reasons.

And that, as they say, is that.  It's perfectly predictable--though far from optimal--that the Blazers and Fernandez are in this situation.  It's among the likely subset of outcomes that could flow from the events which have so far transpired.  There are several ways of breaking the impasse but each involves a cost, either to Fernandez, the team, or both.  Eventually the cost-benefit analysis will run its course and we'll see Rudy on Portland's bench, traded, or bought out.  Until then the team will try to keep him quiet and promote the things that are going well and Rudy will try to keep the pressure on by whatever means he deems most effective. In the meantime it would behoove everyone involved, including fans, to try to walk a mile in the other person's sneakers.  It won't solve the dilemma but it might make us go a little less crazy chasing our tails looking for the magic resolution that only exists when you look at this multi-layered mess from a single perspective.

--Dave (