It was reported during the NBA Free Agent Moratorium that the Blazers had come to a verbal agreement with center Chris Kaman. The Trail Blazers also reached an agreement this morning with point guard Steve Blake. The signings were made official on Thursday and both Kaman and Blake spoke to the media this afternoon.
The following is a transcript, with comments from Blazers GM Neil Olshey, coach Terry Stotts, Kaman and Blake.
Neil, maybe you can just speak generally about how these two guys improve the roster.
First of all, I think it's like reunion weekend. [Chris Kaman] and I started with the Clippers together. [Steve Blake] and I were with LA together. [Terry Stotts] was with [Blake] in Milwaukee. Clearly, we have a real comfort level with these guys. We know what they can bring to the table -- not just in terms of skill set, but in terms of culture, which we keep harping on, but it really is important to us that guys we bring here want to be here. They want to play in the kind of system [Stotts]'s instilled.
They're both gamers. They're about winning. Beyond depth, just their experience level and their ability to impact wins -- like we said, we're kind of out of the business of just projection. We want to bring guys in here that we know can deliver in high-pressure, high-level environments. This is a team that was in the second round of the playoffs last year and you've got to target certain types of players to be able to compete at that level, and both these guys are in that category.
Chris, at this point in your career, why was Portland the right fit for you?
Having played 11 years already, I've experienced the ups and the downs and I wanted to go somewhere where I felt like I would fit and be able to actually help a team and not go to a kind of a team where they were trying to build or not build or get stuck at the end of the bench or play a small, small role. I want to go somewhere where I feel like I'm going to help a team.
I just felt like last year, I tried to get here. I had the buyout time and it just wasn't working out. I've known [Neil Olshey] for some years, coach [Kim Hughes] as well. I kind of talked to Kim a little bit about how everything was going and the direction it was heading. With the success they had last year, I just felt like it was a great opportunity for myself and I think I have a little bit of work still left to do. I'm excited about the opportunity.
Steve, kind of the same question: why did you want to come back to Portland for a third trip. Reportedly, you were rather excited to do it, maybe had some other offers that you passed on to take the Portland offer.
It's no secret I've been living here for quite a while, so it was only natural to come back here. The same as [Kaman], I wanted to go some place where I knew we would win. I don't think I could've gone to a team that wasn't playing for the playoffs or playing for the championship and that's what I expect to have here. It's another place to play basketball. I love it here. I'm excited to have a house here. I have my kids here, so it's a great place to be. Great city, great fan base, and I love the way coach has the team playing. I think it's a good fit.
(To Steve) In coming back to Portland, these past few years, what do you think you've learned about your game since leaving and coming back?
I've just continued to mature as a player mentally. Understanding the game. I've played for a lot of coaches, a lot of systems, a lot of styles, and I've tried to take that all in and use it to grow as a player every year so no matter what system I go into, I feel like I can fit in because I've experienced almost all of it. Whatever role coach wants to use me in is fine by me so I'm excited about it.
Coach, you got these guys to the right of you here. How do you feel about getting them and how do you expect to fit them in?
I'm thrilled to get both of them. At this stage of their careers, they're both very established, they both know their game, they both know what they can contribute. They fit perfectly into not only our roster, how we want to play. They're about winning. They came here because of the year that we had last year. We made it to the second round, we have higher ambitions for next season, and I think they will both be instrumental in getting that success.
They're versatile players. I think the fact that [Kaman] can play with [Robin Lopez] and [LaMarcus Aldridge], the fact that [Blake] can run the show without [Damian Lillard], he can play with [Lillard]. I think both of them will be very good mentors for our young players, the bigs and the guards. I think they'll both fit in very well with the city -- solid play -- and as [Olshey] mentioned, the culture that we're establishing here. Like I said, it's a perfect fit for both of them and for us.
Neil, can you talk at all about how you feel free agency progressed for the team and just how that process played out over the moratorium?
I think this year was pretty much inside-the-box thinking. We had the Mid-Level [Exception], we had the Bi-Annual [Exception], we didn't want to touch our core, but we knew we needed to upgrade some areas on the floor. I think the youth of our bench last year was an issue. I think we'll see a lot of progression from those guys but when you're in a win-now mode, you need to get guys you know you can put on the floor and they can get it done at a high level.
These are both guys we targeted early in the process. We spoke with them and their agents very early in the process. We explored other opportunities throughout the moratorium because that's my job from a due-diligence stand point. We couldn't have come away with two guys that fit what we're trying to do better given the tools we had at our disposal. More than anything -- look, I'm a big believer in talking to players. 99% of the time, I think they know more than I do and guys that walk around in their suits, and all I knew is that both [Kaman] and [Blake] resonated with [Lillard], [Nicolas Batum], [Aldridge], [Lopez], [Wesley Matthews]. They were all on board and knew what these guys could bring to the table and they're the ones that share the floor with them.
They know what they need to help compete and how guys are going to fit into how we play. Like I said, the text messages and the information I got back and [Stotts] got back from current roster guys just really reinforced that this was the right path for us to take.
Chris, you had a week or so to let the signing process. How do you think basketball-wise, skill-wise you fit in with this roster and what you can bring in that regard?
I think first of all, they already had pretty good success with their two bigs they played a lot with: [Lopez] and [Aldridge]. I think everybody knows it's no secret that LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best power forwards in the game right now. You already got him going.
I just felt like [Lopez] is a great defender, plays hard, gives his whole attention to the game when he plays. I watched him play a lot, and obviously played against him four times last year. For me, I felt like they have some young guys on the roster who still need a little more time to develop, like [Meyers Leonard] and [Joel Freeland]. I think I can help both those guys as well as the other older guys to develop, but more than anything, I feel like I can develop both defensively and offensively.
I would say that I can help [Aldridge] when he goes out. I can help kind of keep up the scoring. When [Lopez] goes out, I can help keep up some of the defense. I think I got a little bit of both sides. I just feel like I would fit in pretty good with the city as well. I enjoy the outdoors. Being born and raised in Michigan, going hunting and fishing. I just enjoy the city and I've heard a lot of good things about it as well, and like I said, I'm just excited to be able to have the opportunity to play again for another year professionally and also to be able to play in Portland with the winning and success they had last year.
Steve, there's not a lot of guys that play for a team twice. Here you are again. Does it feel weird, kind of surreal almost, to be back or does it feel natural to just be back with the Blazers again?
Both of those. It's still a little surreal that I'm back here, but at the same time, it's amazing. It's a great fit for me, so I'm just excited. Like you said, it's impressive for somebody to come back three times. Three different general managers, I think we were talking about, but hopefully I can finish my career here and help bring change to Portland.
Steve, what was the reaction from your family and your wife when they found you were staying and you'd signed?
This was definitely a family decision. My wife was very involved in the process and making the decision. We talked about it a lot last night and this morning and we both felt this was the best place for me and our family. When I told my parents, I think my mom almost started crying and my dad was extremely happy, so definitely a great fit, family wise, besides basketball.
Chris, you had taken to Twitter after it was reported that you were going to sign with the team. What was the response that you've been getting from fans in Portland to the signing?
The crazy thing is I was on the phone with [Olshey] and my agent, Rob Pelinka, and I'm good buddies with a couple of the bigger reporters, especially Marc Stein. Before I literally put down the phone, I had a text come through my phone from him saying "You signing with Dallas? Why didn't you tell me?" I said "I'm still on the phone with the general manager right now. How do you know this stuff?"
The social media nowadays is just amazing -- how quickly stuff gets out there. It actually blows my mind sometimes, but like I said, I just wanted to throw something out there because everybody is going to know before I almost know. I think I've gotten a pretty good response. Like I said, I'm just trying to keep my head down and do my job.
I've gotten myself into different situations on different teams over the last four years, where it's just kind of been an up-and-down struggle. I thought I was going to come somewhere where I thought they would make the playoffs, but I kind of gambled with Dallas with [Dirk Nowitzki] being out, and then last year with the Lakers, we had a lot of injuries. It's been a tough three years for me. I'm just ready to be a part of a team where I have a great opportunity to have great success. I think I'm getting some pretty good feedback from a lot of fans.
Neil, would you say you're done now or are you still looking to be opportunistic?
Unless they give us a 16th roster spot, I'm done. I'd like to be done. Look, I think [Stotts] and I are both really comfortable with where the roster is right now. It doesn't mean we're not going to explore opportunities to upgrade other areas if they come up. That's our job.
I think we went into this off season knowing where we had some gaps to fill. We think these guys really fill both those gaps. Look, all we want to keep doing is keep moving the ball forward, and I think last summer, our team got better. This summer, our team got better. We're going to keep moving in a positive direction and adding guys, but look. There's a patience factor to this, too. People point to certain teams around the league and describe that as the model small market teams should follow, but nobody wants to have the patience to let the process unfold. You can see we've accelerated a little bit based on some of the success of our existing players.
Last year, we took a huge jump. From a competitive standpoint, we want to take another jump this year. We're always going to keep our eyes open, but I think we're comfortable with where the roster is right now. I think if we had any deficiencies in terms of veteran leadership, stability, and experience off the bench against a team like San Antonio in the playoffs, I think [Blake] and [Kaman] help answer those questions.
Like I said, we're still anticipating a big jump from our younger guys. They're in here working. They've been here since early June. When talent meets opportunity, you've got a great situation and I think these guys are going to have to, like last year, earn an opportunity. Our young guys are going to have to earn the opportunity to get on the floor because when you play for a winning team with high aspirations, things aren't given to you. I think it's important that our young guys' development will be better as a result of earning it, not given to them.
Terry, how would you describe your collection of bigs, the options you have. How nice is it to have such depth?
As I mentioned earlier, the versatility [Kaman] gives us, I feel comfortable he can play with [Aldridge], he can play with [Lopez], or with another one. He's a proven talent as far as big guys. It'll be a challenge for the young guys coming back, [Leonard], [Freeland], and [Thomas Robinson], because [Kaman] is going to play. He's going to be an integral part of what we do next season.
It's going to be a challenge, but as Neil mentioned, it just puts a little bit more onus on the young guys to push themselves and win their opportunity. We were very fortunate with our health last season and the one thing about having a deep roster is that in the eventuality that there are injuries or games missed due to injury, then you're able to get through that. For me, like I said, these two guys fill a lot of holes, and again, with their versatility, they're not one-position players. I enjoy that part of it -- to be able to put different people in different spots and create opportunities out on the court. They both do that for us.
For Steve and Chris, how much did the offensive style of play play in your decision to come here?
Blake: It wasn't the main factor but it was definitely a factor. I like the way they play defensively. Pushing the ball into the bigs. Offensively, they shoot a lot of threes. I like to pass to guys when I penetrate, kick the ball out for threes. I like to shoot threes, and just the movement. There's not a lot of standing around and playing 1-on-1 basketball. There's a lot of movement going on, a lot of actions, and I think that's a big key to their success.
Kaman: I just felt comfortable on both ends of the court. I wasn't generally one side or the other. When you win, you win. It's plain and simple. The Trail Blazers lost to the champions and there's something to be excited about that. I thought they played them pretty well. I just felt like they're winners and that's what you need. If you can tag along a winner anytime and try to do the best you can to help them, it's a great opportunity. I think myself and [Blake] included just want to do what we can to help make the team successful.