In anticipation of tonight's matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Blazer's Edge spoke with former CSNNW.com writer Chris Haynes. Haynes now writes for the Northeast Ohio Media Group, covering the Cavaliers for Cleveland.com and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We talked about his move and the differences in atmosphere between Portland and Cleveland right now.
Blazer's Edge: What are the differences in expectation between Cleveland and Portland?
Chris Haynes: You can feel the buzz here from the fan base plus national media. Mos of the national media picked Cleveland to win it all this year. There's pressure on the players to deliver.
With a team of this magnitude there's going to be a circus around them wherever they go. As a reporter this elevates you. People will be tuning in. There's pressure on everyone: the guys on the court, the front office, and the media covering them. That's the difference. Portland's a team on the rise but there aren't eyeballs glued to them like that.
BE: How does the atmosphere around LeBron James compare to that around a star like LaMarcus Aldridge or a budding star in Damian Lillard?
CH: It's not in the same category. Damian Lillard is a rising star, Aldridge is a star, but James is a star beyond basketball. Dame is reaching that point but LeBron James...he's something else.
In Portland I may talk to Damian about non-basketball things and he'll give me an answer but it's not going to reach the headlines. Whenever LeBron talks about politics, poverty, the school system, or going to see a new movie, that will be a huge story in Cleveland, just because he said it. When he says something, it speaks volumes. Not even Michael Jordan had this kind of impact from what I've seen. Jordan didn't speak on a lot of these things. LeBron will go there. When he gives a statement, it's THE headline. That's the difference in gravity.
One executive said James was this generation's version of Muhammad Ali. Whenever he talks you have to listen. Everything he says is newsworthy. It affects how I cover the team as a whole.
BE: What's the biggest concern or question facing the Cavaliers in the early season? We know what kind of things worry the Blazers. what worries a team like Cleveland?
CH: I wouldn't say anything is worrying them. The expectations might be a little high at this point. LeBron has done all he can to lower those expectations. He's called the Bulls the team to beat with their chemistry, structure, continuity. He cited the new faces in Cleveland. He's been cautious. He wants to make sure they fly under the radar because he understands what it takes to win.
The defensive end is the focus, especially during training camp. If they sustain quality defense they'll succeed. They have players not known for defense. They're focusing on re-shaping that mindset. They can score no matter what. If they don't get the defense fixed they're not going to reach the level that everybody placed on them.
BE: Most Portland fans would grudgingly admit that moving to a team like the Cavaliers is a step up, for all the reasons you just cited. (LeBron James, title expectations) But most Portland fans would also say you're paying a price for that, leaving the Pacific Northwest for...well...Cleveland. We know you haven't been there too long and we don't want to get you in trouble, but how do the cities compare?
CH: It's definitely different. They couldn't be any more different. Portland is very weird. The fan base is passionate, they love their Blazers. But they're intellectual. They're in tune with the salary cap, how much players are making, when contracts are up. Cleveland has a passionate fan base as well but it's different.
Portland it rains; Cleveland it snows. I haven't experience that yet but I know it's coming.
One of the things I do like about Cleveland there's more diversity. There's soul food and comfort food on every corner. In Portland I got used to uniqueness...I'm a food guy, so this is how I see things. Portland has the "now" restaurants but they have home-cooked Southern food in Cleveland. I like that. Then again, Portland has the variety.
There are similarities too. Both fan bases are dying for a championship. They've both been through their troubles, their struggles. I love the fact that I've covered two fan bases that are hungry like that. It makes it easy to write about the teams.
I miss Portland because it's home. I'm from southern California but I established myself here. Comcast Sports Northwest gave me a chance when I had relatively no experience. The Blazers took me in with open arms even though I was an aggressive reporter and would get on their nerves, but they also helped me. We had our ups and downs...lots of downs because of the way I reported. But we had ups too. I miss the fan base and the players. I still get e-mails from fans saying they like what I do. Dwight Jaynes is my guy and I hope he gets well soon. He put my name out there. I'll miss everything about Portland. If I don't make the move there, I probably wouldn't be here in Cleveland. I'll miss it.
BE: We'll put you on the spot to close. Who wins this game, Portland or Cleveland?
CH: I think Portland gets this game. They're not playing their best but can't see them dropping back-to-back at home. Cleveland still trying to find its way. I predict a score of 110-107 for the Blazers.
You can follow Chris Haynes on Twitter @ChrisBHaynes. We thank him for taking time to share his thoughts with us!