Regarding Travis Outlaw

What do to with Travis Outlaw?

Most people have decided that Outlaw — a special kind of specialist — is not a starting-caliber player for the Blazers at the SF spot, where they need defense, shooting and off-the-ball play. He’s gotten votes for the Sixth Man of the Year award in the past, and rightfully so as Outlaw can make shots that even other professional players wouldn’t hit rim on. The moves are limited, but the one or two dribble pull-up jumper is one of few moves in the league that can accurately be described as unstoppable. He’s also got a valuable expiring contract at $3.6 million a year coming off the books that could net something very useful this season. You could also argue that Outlaw IS that something useful. Either way, the situation isn’t going to change. Either Outlaw makes a good percentage of his leaning fourth-quarter jumpers or he doesn’t. Either he gets moved or he stays. Either he walks or he re-signs.

There’s just not a ton left for discussion about Outlaw in 2009-10. There will be room for speculation and exclamation, but they’re all variations on the same questions. What we really should be discussing is Outlaw in 2003-2007.

It’s a great NBA story. No, it doesn’t have the drama of a player beating a drug addiction (Chris Andersen) or a high draft pick coming off a huge injury (Greg Oden) or players just being on the court at all (Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning), but that doesn’t make it any less worth writing about.

So let’s appreciate what Travis Outlaw has done in six seasons. In 2003 he was drafted to a team that would begin a stretch of three losing seasons bookended by 41 win years and zero playoff appearances. Not to mention he was drafted by a franchise that, at the time, rivaled the Oakland Raiders in terms of dysfunction, discord and overall dismal-everything. They’re only All-Stars were only All-Stars on “All-Mugshot” fantasy basketball teams. We’ve even heard stories about local writers being warned about getting sucker punched in the locker room. So comes along an unheralded, unassuming 19-year old from Starkville, MS (of around 20,000 people) and…how the hell was he supposed to succeed in that environment?

Well, he did. He could have easily fallen in with the wrong players with the wrong habits, he could have easily fallen out of the league. But he found things he could work on and be good at, professional skills. More than anything, he simply survived the worst situation a player drafted out of high school could be in. That took someone with a good deal of integrity, and no matter how the questions around Travis Outlaw get answered, his journey is worth celebrating.

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