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Channing Frye: Might Be Time to Break Up the Trail Blazers

The former Blazers center turned analyst talks Carmelo, Lillard, and whether the Brandon Roy Blazers could have won it all.

Portland Trail Blazers vs Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

After the New York Knicks selected him 8th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, Channing Frye played 13 seasons in the league, including two with the Portland Trail Blazers. Today Frye has moved on to broadcasting, working with Turner Sports as an NBA analyst. In addition to appearing regularly on NBA TV’s The Warmup NBA news and analysis show, he co-hosts the network’s newest program #Handles, airing each Wednesday at 10 p.m. Pacific time.

Affectionately known as “The Buffet of Goodness” to long-time Blazer’s Edge Readers, Frye was good enough to sit down with us in advance of the Blazers’ tilt with the Milwaukee Bucks tonight on TNT, talking about newly-acquired forward Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, Brandon Roy, and much more.

Blazer’s Edge: The Blazers acquiring Carmelo Anthony is the latest buzz in Portland. You played alongside him. What comes to mind first when you think of him and his game?

Channing Frye: I think of a Hall of Famer. He is one of the best scorers I ever played against. He’s competitive, aggressive, I think he’s physical and he plays the game with tenacity. For where the Trail Blazers are right now, I think [Anthony] was a good pickup.

BE: Predictions for what kind of impact he’ll have in Portland? Do you think he’ll last out the year?

CF: I don’t have any predictions in the sense of, ‘oh, is [Anthony] going to change [the direction the team is heading]?’ I think the Trail Blazers’ problems are bigger than just adding Carmelo Anthony. The biggest question I have is can [Anthony] accept his role – can he do the things that this team needs? Is he going to do the things this team needs him to do so that they can collectively win? If he can do that, it would be amazing because he has the talent and the hard-working attitude.

We’re all watching. My strongest feeling about Carmelo is that he does deserve to continue playing. I just don’t know what my expectations are of him on this Trail Blazer team. The proverbial boat is sinking with that franchise, so it is going to be tough for him to come in and make a huge impact over the long run.

BE: What factors in Portland will be most critical to Anthony’s success?

CF: The team just needs to find the right lineup for him. They have a nice mix of both veterans and young guys, but they will need to find the right on-court group for him to ease his way onto the team and get comfortable again. He hasn’t played in a long time, it’s a new system – and when that happens to any player, they tend to go back to who they are and what they know. For Carmelo, that is scoring on the block. I don’t know if he still has his first step at age 35 – considering he has not played in an NBA game in over a year – but I do think that he is the best available option for their team right now. It’s all about finding where he can be successful. That includes defensively, which was an area where he had some challenges in Oklahoma City and Houston.

BE: You played for the Blazers just as Brandon Roy was coming into his own. What memories do you have of Brandon? Did you know he was going to blossom into the dominating player he became?

CF: Brandon Roy was one of the best players I ever played with. That [list] includes LeBron [James], Vince [Carter], Grant [Hill], Steve [Nash], Stephon Marbury – I played with a lot of really great, hall of fame players. Brandon Roy was up there with them. He was one of the best scorers I have ever played with, if not the best, certainly one of the most unstoppable guys. He was an even better person and a great team leader. It was unfortunate that his career ended so quickly. I remember playing against him in his last game when he was with the Trail Blazers and I was with [the Suns]. He got his knee drained and then went out there and sacrificed for his team and played. I think that is a great example of the type of person he is. I remember seeing flashes of greatness with him. Unfortunately, he always had to battle his injuries in addition to the guys he faced on the court. Considering that, what he accomplished was pretty amazing.

BE: Had everyone remained healthy, do you believe the Roy-Aldridge-Oden (and Frye?) Blazers would have won a championship before Golden State and the three-point era took over?

CF: I don’t know if we would have won a championship. If that team had stayed together and maybe added a few pieces here or there, I feel like it would have been in the Western Conference Finals a lot. Greg [Oden] was one of the most underrated skilled big men who was shooting free throws at a high percentage with his off hand in college, which is almost unheard of for big men. He could pass, he could block shots. When you look at him and LaMarcus [Aldridge] and Brandon [Roy], they all came down with a lot of injuries early on in their careers. At the end of the day, you can put the best players out there, but if they are not playing at 100%, it’s hard to judge them on what they could or couldn’t have done. But those guys were amazing and I’m confident we could have accomplished a lot together.

BE: What do you see from this year’s Blazers squad that concerns you? Anything that gives you hope?

CF: The biggest positive for the Trail Blazers this year is obviously how well Damian Lillard is playing. He is an absolute savage and deserves the utmost respect. Also, I’m really optimistic after seeing the way some of their newer guys are contributing, specifically Nassir Little and Skal [Labissiére]. With that said, my biggest concern – and I’m not saying this to bash on any one individual player – but it might be time to break up the roster and go in a different direction, based on the way the Trail Blazers play. I think there are a lot of good trade pieces out there. This is a big man’s league now, and it’s hard to rely on Lillard so much. You saw Oklahoma City do that with Russell Westbrook. Lillard was able to be the superhero last year, but those flashy plays covered up the fact that Portland was actually very tall defensively as well. You look at that team and you compare it to this year’s squad, and you say: Well, now you’ve got Hassan Whiteside. But he is a different type of big – he doesn’t switch on the guard, instead he is more of an old school center. I don’t see Portland having longevity as they are currently constructed, because the smaller players like Lillard get exhausted by the fourth quarter. They are physically just not big enough to keep pace with the way the league is going, not to mention the Western Conference. They need to take the pressure off of guys like Dame and CJ, who are expected to guard those big bodies all night long.

BE: How crucial is a mid-season trade for the Blazers this year, given their talent deficit at forward and their expiring salaries? Who would be their best targets for a mid-season move?

CF: Number one would be to see if Portland can’t get a healthy Blake Griffin. He would change the game. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t a bad look either. Kevin Love and Danilo Gallinari are both names that come to mind as good potential fits and who could become available around the trade deadline. A guy who would help them out a lot as well is Tristan Thompson. He’s in the last year of his deal, he’s 28 years old, he’s playing his butt off this year. He’s a defender, a champion and a winner, and I think Portland needs to surround Damian and CJ with more winners. They need to add guys who have played big minutes in important games and understand the science of longevity in an NBA season.

BE: Tonight’s Blazers-Bucks game will feature two of the best individual players in the league in Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. [ed. Lillard will not play versus the Bucks due to back spasms.] What players do you compare Dame and Giannis to in talent or impact on the game?

CF: Dame is a jack of all trades. He is really hard to compare to a single past player. I think Dame is a combination between Tim Hardaway and Steve Kerr. I am only say Kerr because of the way they both shoot and how consistent they both are. And Hardaway comes to mind because of his ability to be explosive, get to the rack, finish – and neither of them have ever been afraid of the big moment. Meanwhile, Giannis is like a mixture of Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O’Neal. Giannis is an MVP, but he also air-balls free throws [laughs]. He’s the best parts of a big man, you know – seven feet tall, a seven-foot-plus wingspan, not really looking to shoot a lot from the outside, but able to as well.

This matchup is going to be amazing, but in the end I think Milwaukee [wins because they are] just too big. They have three seven-footers, plus guys like Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Kyle Korver, Eric Bledsoe. That’s a big, big team. And that’s been the Trail Blazers’ achilles heel: getting beaten not only on the boards but also physically and being exhausted throughout games.

BE: You were one of the pioneers for big men who could shoot the long ball. How do you feel about the evolution of NBA offenses over the last decade? Do you miss the days when centers posted down low and their guards fed them? Do you see the pendulum ever swinging back?

CF: I think that style [of post basketball] is coming back. You look at some of the top teams in the NBA right now – Philadelphia, the Lakers, Denver – those teams post up all the time. I think people even underestimate how much Golden State would post up when they were winning. They would feed Draymond Green a lot.

I love that the game is evolving. It means all players need to be highly skilled. If you don’t have three skills at an elite level – if you can’t do at least three of these things at an elite level: defend, pass, shoot, make dunks – you’re not viable in today’s NBA. It’s just what is necessary in the league today, and it is a great product that’s very exciting to watch.

BE: What are you looking forward to most about your new role as an analyst, commentator, and podcaster? What are your aspirations in the broadcast field?

CF: My aspirations are to continue to be real with fans; to be critical, but fair. I think I bring a different perspective on the game. I like to see winning plays; I’m not really into stats, unless they are describing a phenomenon – for example the streak of 40-point games that James Harden had achieved. I’m just excited to be able to stay close to the game while it is changing and improving so much. I’m really excited to have my own show in #Handles, which in a way matches the conversation on social media with a television presentation, and I think that is an awesome opportunity for a guy like me who is fresh out of the league. I want to continue to give fans something new, something fresh, and something that they like to watch.

Thanks to Channing Frye for taking time with us!

The NBA on TNT will feature the Trail Blazers and the newly-signed Carmelo Anthony against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, Thursday, Nov. 21, at 5 p.m. pacific time. Kevin Harlan will call the game alongside Reggie Miller and reporter Kristen Ledlow.