TNT will showcase a blockbuster Western Conference showdown Thursday at 7:30 p.m. PST, as Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers visit Kawhi Leonard’s LA Clippers. In the preview process for the matchup, analyst (and former Trail Blazers guard) Greg Anthony sat down for a little Q&A about the Blazers, their hopes for the season, and their future.
Blazer’s Edge: What do you think of the new look Blazers?
Greg Anthony: They are a work in progress. Obviously, there are a lot of new parts and they are trying to integrate the group that they have. Guys are going to be asked to play some roles on the court that maybe they aren’t quite comfortable with yet. I do think that this team – big picture – could be a factor in that Western Conference.
BE: What stars, past or present, would you compare Damian Lillard to now that he’s in his prime?
GA: The game has evolved so much and is played so differently. He is going to be a first-ballot hall of famer, he has the clutch gene, he is a winner. There are a lot of guys you could compare him to in terms of how they impact the game. But there is not anyone in particular who I think of when I think of him. He has carved out his own niche in terms of how the game is played. It has been impressive to watch.
BE: What are Portland’s greatest strengths and needs right now?
GA: The backcourt is far and away their biggest strength. They are going to obviously have to figure some things out until [Jusuf] Nurkic gets back, so that front line is probably a bit of an issue at the moment. They are going to have to get a bit better at the center position, and get some more help from their supporting cast. I think guys like [Kent] Bazemore and Rodney Hood are still in a position where they need to get more comfortable. Not having Nurkic is a big loss for them, because he gives them more of a versatile scorer at that position than they get with [Hassan] Whiteside. As the season progresses and guys get more comfortable playing off Lillard and C.J. [McCollum], they are going to be fine.
BE: On a scale of 1-10, how necessary is a mid-season trade for the Blazers and why?
GA: I would say zero. I don’t think we have gotten far enough into the season to figure out who the Blazers are. You can’t really be thinking along those lines because you don’t really know what steps your young players are going to take. You still have to figure some of that stuff out – especially with guys like [Mario] Hezonja and Anfernee Simons, who has been really good for them. I don’t think this is about anything with a trade. I think this is about chemistry development, player development and figuring out who [Portland] is. By the time we get closer to the trade deadline and into the new calendar year, I think we will have a better sense of where they are in relation to everybody else in the league and in the Western Conference, and what they need to get over the hump.
BE: What potential do you see in Anfernee Simons and what does he still need to work on?
GA: He just has to get more experience and mature physically. I think he has a great situation [in Portland], playing off of C.J. and Dame because he is kind of a combo guy as well. He does in a lot of ways mirror what those guys bring to the table. I just think it’s about opportunity and experience for him.
BE: How hard is it to adapt when you move to a new team? What aspects are hardest and how long does adjusting truly take?
GA: A lot of it depends on how long you’ve been [a professional player]. There is no set formula. It’s also based on your role – are you asked to do different things than you did somewhere else? Are you asked to play to your strengths as opposed to your weaknesses? It’s not about looking at the individual, it’s about looking at what the team needs from that individual as they progress. It all takes time – when you have as much turnover as some of these Western Conference teams have had, it can be until December or January when you have a sense of who you are. It’s a question of whether you can win games consistently while you’re going through that process.
BE: You can put one of the following star forwards on the team long-term: Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge. Which do you pick?
GA: They all would help in different ways. In terms of the style that Portland plays, I think that Kevin Love would probably be the best fit. Then, I think Aldridge would be a good fit. They’d all work, but it would be easiest for Love just because he has had great experience playing with ball-dominant perimeter players – going back to when he played with Kyrie [Irving] and LeBron [James]. Of those four, he’s [would] have the easiest time fitting in.
BE: Do you see Lillard and McCollum lasting into their 30’s together or do the Blazers need to make a move, especially with Simons coming up?
GA: It’s really too early to tell whether this is about a trade. The top priority right now is for Portland to find their identity and develop their young stars.
BE: “Load Management” is a new catchphrase in the NBA, yet some—including your former teammate Damon Stoudamire—have advocated just letting the young guys play like they did back in the day. What’s changed to make Load Management more important now, or is it just empty buzzwords?
GA: I think we need to stop assuming we know what the circumstances are for each individual and each team. [Load Management] is just something for people to talk about. The reality is that the investments that we are making in these athletes is so significant that it would behoove us to do everything we can to prolong their careers as much as possible and help them be efficient and productive. I don’t have a philosophy one way or the other – and for anybody who has a blanket philosophy, I think they’re doing a disservice to the game. You need to know the inner workings of the individual, and for that matter what their situation is physically and mentally. You have to acknowledge that these kids are coming [into the league] a lot younger in many cases. They’re not coming in at 21 or 22, often they’re coming in at 18 and 19. So, the NBA season is a huge adjustment [for them]. They’re going from playing 40 minutes to 48, and playing more possessions. The skill set is [more advanced], so they’re thinking more. There’s just a lot involved in this discussion. Some guys make that transition [from college to the NBA] better than others, so I think it’s a situation where you look at the team, the individual and what the overall objectives are.
BE: Your son Cole is a top recruit headed to Chapel Hill. What advice have you given him about his play and especially about managing expectations as a budding star presumed headed for the NBA?
GA: We just talk about enjoying the moment and focusing on today. That’s really what’s most important. Your preparation will have a lot to do with your success rate, and he understands that. That’s what we talk about; learning how to prepare to be successful, whether that’s watching film, body maintenance. All the things that sometimes has nothing to do with what goes on on the court. He’s a great listener, and he’s a kid who does want to be great, so it’s been a pleasure to be a part of his journey.
Thanks to Greg Anthony for taking the time to share with us! Greg is a 10-year NBA veteran who currently works as an NBA analyst for Turner Sports. During his three seasons as a Trail Blazer, he played nearly 200 games for Portland and averaged 6 PTS / 2 AST / 1 STL per game while shooting over 40 percent from the field.
Marv Albert will call Thursday’s Trail Blazers game on TNT with Chris Webber as analyst. Kristen Ledlow will report from the sidelines.