Training camp starts Friday, preseason is two weeks away. You know what that means? More press conferences. This time it wasn’t just Larry Miller flying solo in the face of the Portland media who no doubt is already over Cliff Harris, isn’t nearly as stoked about the Rose Bowl as they were about the National Championship game, and have a lot of important questions.
OK, let me rephrase that. They’ve got ONE important questions, and a lot of other, not so important questions. Flanked by Interim General Manager Chad Buchanan and Head Coach Nate McMillan, Miller confirmed one more time that yes, Brandon Roy would be in camp on Friday, and that no they didn’t have any immediate plans to use the new CBA’s Amnesty Clause on the face of their franchise. And then Buchanan concurred, and then Nate concurred, and then Miller concurred again, and then Nate concurred on Larry’s concurrence, ad nauseaum.
Of course they did give themselves an out, saying that what needs to happen now is for Brandon to play, and they’ll make a decision depending on how that goes. But for those of you that remember a presser at the end of last season when Nate talked about the future of the team and Brandon’s name never came up, one of the overriding sentiments from Monday’s press conference was that Brandon is for now a major part of the team, and will be for the foreseeable future.
We all know talk is cheap–and Brandon isn’t–so anything can still happen between now and December 19th or the day after Christmas. But just imagine the firestorm of hate that would be brought down on every one of the brass should they go back on what they’ve said these last few days and dismiss Brandon without giving him a second look. I know that’s what they’re doing. I’m not saving the fans alone or keeping Brandon in Portland, or that they even should have a big role in what will eventually happen, but Paul Allen has to at least be the slightest bit aware that it’s Portlanders coming through the gates that will help ease the pain of the lockout. Boycotts work. A boycott would be the least of PA’s worries if he went over his GM, President, and Coach’s head at this point, and cut Brandon prematurely.
So for now, let’s do the honorable thing, and put the Brandon Roy debate to bed, or at least on a bit of a hiatus.
Moving on. Once again, Ben over at Blazersedge has a great rundown of the bullet points of the presser along with a transcript, so I won’t go into detail about the who said what about which stuff. Again, some of us have to work, so I wasn’t in attendance at the press conference but I did watch it live. Here are a few thoughts that I have on some of the major points that came up, and also one thought about a point that wasn’t brought up but probably should have been.
Greg Oden: As we know, Greg Oden will not be playing in Portland’s preseason games against Utah, and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be ready by the first few regular season games. Greg has a qualifying offer on the table, it’s not much (Grantland about halfway down) but there’s a better than good chance he takes it. Otherwise, there is a lot of interest out there in him, and there should be. Seven footers are a rarity. You can’t teach height–they don’t call it a truism for nothing. Sure he’s untested and he’s had a lot of injuries, but that’s the first few lines of a the bio of a lot of successful post players in the NBA. If you’re a team with money to spend, why not use it on Oden? If he proves out you win, if he doesn’t at least you don’t have to carry the ignominy of being the team that passed on Jordan twice.
Nate and company extended the good will and kind words for Brandon onto Greg, which is probably one of the most positive take-aways of the whole thing. The guys that matter are behind Greg in the same way they are behind Brandon. They want Brandon to get back to All-Star form, and they want to help GO achieve his goals and meet all those expectations he brought with him to Portland. That support is good for a number of reason, but chief among them, these dudes probably have nearly shattered egos. If they didn’t have the support of the franchise I would say there is almost a zero percent chance they do well this coming season. Of course, there’s the chance some team does throw big bucks, and more importantly years, at Greg Oden. The choice is his to stay or go. Portland probably doesn’t match a multi-year deal. It will be interesting to see how the fans react should GO make the decision to take the money and run.
Nicolas Batum: Nicolas came up as a kind of after thought, after the Roy and Oden rain-on-your-parade questions. Anybody that watched Eurobasket, or follows Wendell Maxey’s twitter or his excellent work from across the pond knows that Nic spent the summer and the lockout working on his game and continuing to grow into the superstar that he very likely could become. It was made abundantly clear that everyone who matters thinks that Nicolas Batum is going to be a major part of this team. His contract is up at the end of the season, and to give you an idea of what Portland is looking at as far as what they are going to have to pay to keep him check Storytellerscontracts.com. If you’re too lazy to do that, here’s something interesting. Nic is set to make $2.2 mil in the final year of his deal. Luke Babbitt will make $1.8 mil in the second year of his deal. It’s mean to ask which player is more valuable, but ask yourself this: how much more valuable is Nicolas Batum than Luke Babbitt? Two or three times more is a conservative estimate. Nic’s not a max-level player, but there will be a lot of teams interested in him if he hits the free agent market.
Nic will have to make the adjustment to playing behind Gerald Wallace full-time. I think he will be able to. He’s a mature player, and he cares about helping the team any way he can. Add to that, here’s something that should get Blazer fans pretty excited. If all the positive spin is true, and Brandon gets back into the starting lineup, Portland’s second unit might be Nic, Wesley Matthews, Greg Oden, and young guns Nolan Smith, Elliott Williams, and maybe even Armon Johnson. That would be a fun group to watch with a lot of scorers and a well established defensive personality.
Free Agent Big Man: Portland needs one. They might even get one by Friday. It’s looking like a mini mid-level type or a minimum guy. But that might be OK with Portland carrying Marcus Camby, a potentially healthy Greg Oden, and a beefed-up and ready to bring it Chris Johnson.
LaMarcus Aldridge: LaMarcus is back in town. Apparently he looks good once again, and per Jason Quick has made some dietary changes that might improve his stamina and overall health. That’s great. LA had a HUGE season last year, there’s almost no way to emphasis enough what LA’s season meant to Portland and to his career. He might have to do it all over again, should all the bad things that might happen actually happen. He will at least have to avoid a slump if the Blazers want to do better record and playoff-finish wise in 2011-12. Getting him help would be a big step to making that happen. Getting him out on the court so he can gel with Raymond Felton will be just as important.
Young Guys: Portland has a lot of young guys. I don’t have much of an opinion on this. I think Nolan Smith will probably emerge as the leader of this group if not on the court than off it (he went to Duke after all where they bred leaders of men). Elliott Williams will be fun to watch. Armon Johnson will always be Armon Johnson for better or for worse. I hope Luke Babbitt gets traded.
Back to Back to Backs: The short season means a lot of games in a short period of time. Back to back to backs are going to kill Portland, especially should they have another injury epidemic. One thing Nate said that I thought was interesting was that this season will be a lot more like pro baseball, where games are almost every night of the week. I took that to mean that there might be some fluctuation in the lineups to make room for guys to rest. That could be interesting. My first thought when I heard there were going to be back-to-back-to-back games was that older teams would suffer, and you might see a younger team (Sacramento maybe OKC or Memphis if a team can be considered young for two or more seasons) win a couple games just on fitness and youth alone. Portland’s in a good spot in that regard. They’ve got a fair amount of young guys that can burn up minutes when Uncle Cam can’t stand up on the third night of a back-to-back-to-backer.
Chad Buchanan: OK so this was the thing that didn’t come up. Portland has essentially called off the search for a GM. Meaning that Buchanan is the GM for the near future. To me, the smart move would be to promote him from interim to full-time ASAP. It would show that Paul Allen is finally getting serious about replacing Rich Cho, it would give the fans the sense that somebody is in charge and has some kind of autonomy, and it would end the stupid talk about hidden puppet masters pulling the strings with the intention of purposefully running the Blazers into the ground. Beyond all that, though, making Buchanan the GM is a good move because he is the right guy for the job. He knows the organization, he knows basketball, he’s as smart as they come, and he’s a big time assessor of talent. Not to mention the fact that he’s up front, well spoken, and easy to talk to. More than anything that happened Monday–more than the news that Brandon was in town, sat down with Miller, McMillan, and Buchanan and said all the right things–listening to Buchanan talk about the team was the best part of the whole presser. He knows what’s going on, he’s on top of the free agent, amnesty, and GO situations, and most of all, he’s willing to talk directly about all those issues. Transparency hasn’t been Portland’s management style in the past. With Buchanan maybe that will change. And that might be what this team really needs to take the next step.
There are still some missing pieces, that’s a given, but in a 66-game season, there shouldn’t be any reason that with a healthy roster Portland can’t compete at or near the top of the league.
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Topics: Armon Johnson, Brandon Roy, Chad Buchanan, Chris Johnson, Elliot Williams, Free Agents, Gerald Wallace, Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Larry Miller, Luke Babbitt, Marcus Camby, Nate McMillan, Nicolas Batum, Nolan Smith, Preseason, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews