Did everybody out there enjoy their week off? Did you all have The Artist in your Oscar pool? Or LaMarcus Aldridge in your Western Conference All-Stars who would play the least pool?
Good thing there hasn’t been much news in Blazer-land. Only the return of Joel Pryzbilla, the potential end of Greg Oden (although that may have happened prior to the break), the definite end of Armon Johnson, the potential return of Brandon Roy, and tons of Linsanity (here’s a good one, here’s a kind of silly one, here’s a pretty stupid one).
I decided to take full advantage of the break, in an effort to steel myself for what will undoubtedly be an absolutely nuts stretch run. So, as a way to both maximize the time I have left before the season starts up once again for Portland and minimize my lack of comment on the stuff that has happened in the first half of the season and the last few days, here’s a pretty generalized, catch-all type of post that I hope covers a lot of ground.
Monday night I attended my second RAW taping at the Rose Garden—I recommend it even if you’re not a wrestling fan—and being on the scene naturally the conversation I was having with my fellow attendee (a friend who with yours truly served as co-president of Corvallis High School’s Pro Wrestling Club) turned to the Blazers.
This friend made an astute observation, one I think he stole from somebody he heard on the radio or saw on television. The Blazers ended the opening 34-game run in eighth place in the Western Conference, but in that eight spot, they are a meager three and a half games out of third. Over the course of those first 34 games, Portland lost to Detroit, Washington, and Sacramento, all bad teams that the Blazers should never lose to. They also lost that crazy OKC game that they should have won, which carried over to that Houston game they also should have won. They also lost at least three close games on the road against good teams in which they led in the fourth quarter. This was my friend’s observation: but for the inability to close games, win tight games, or get over untimely loses, Portland would be in the conversation for home court advantage in the Playoffs.
The first half for the Blazers was all about missed chances. They won enough games to make those missed chances not matter all that much, but in the second half they won’t have the same luxury. Currently the Western Conference race is about as tight as it can get. One run of consecutive wins—three or more—and a team jumps from eighth to third, one run of equal or greater length of losses, and a team risks falling from contention to out of it completely.
In my opinion there are either nine or ten teams with a legit shot at the eight spots in the West, depending on how you feel about Utah. One team is going to have to fall off. Denver will get Danilo Gallinari back at some point, and very easily could regain the steam that carried them to number two in the West early in the season. Houston could start losing. Those are the two teams to keep an eye on.
The Blazers don’t want to be the team that drops off and drops out of the race. If they want to avoid that fate, they’ll have to take advantage of the chances they missed during the start of this campaign.
LA’s All-Star Experience
I DVR’d the All-Star Game. I went with the Oscars live. I usually don’t watch the All-Star Game. (I like it when the games mean something, otherwise we’re just a bunch of suckers watching millionaires get a little exercise, and please don’t get me wrong I think having the All-Star Game count for something like home court advantage in the Finals is one of the worst ideas ever. Keep your All-Star Game. People seem to like it. I just don’t have to watch it.) But when there’s a Blazer involved I feel an obligation.
So I recorded the game, with the intention of watching it Monday and writing something about LaMarcus’s big break out on a national stage with everybody watching, a la Brandon Roy’s first ASG. As it became clear through three quarters that LA wasn’t going to get anywhere near the 28 minutes Brandon got his first time out, I was kind of relieved that I wasn’t going to have to watch the game after all.
I also should say that I was just a bit confused. It doesn’t really make sense that some guys play a lot in an All-Star Game and some play hardly at all. The game is meaningless, the statistics don’t count, the fans/TV audience is there/tuning in to watch all the best players in the league, not just some of them. I get that the West is deep in the power forward position, but still, 10 minutes for LA, come on Scott Brooks, LaMarcus deserves better than that.
On the other hand, he didn’t get hurt, he’s well rested, and maybe he’ll use his minutes snub this season like he used his selection snub last season: as motivation to get better. I think LA has made some serious progress towards becoming the leader this team needs, but he still has a ways to go before he’s all the way to super star level, all the way to the point where he gets All-Star minutes over Blake Griffin, or Kevin Love, or Dirk Nowitzki, or Kevin Durant at the four.
The End of Greg Oden
I know this happened before the break, but I haven’t talked about it, so I’ll take a minute to address it. I think we all saw this coming, but not quite in the way it came. By that I mean, only the brightest optimists thought we’d see Oden on the floor this year, but nobody expected he’d need another micro-fracture surgery and 12 more months of rehab. How does a guy sustain a season ending injury when he hasn’t played in a season and a half? GO is some kind of miracle.
In the wake of the news, a lot of people had stuff to say about Greg (Hardwood Paroxysm’s Portland desk was well represented by Scott Leedy and Sean Highkin). Most empathized with the big man’s plight, and said that this has gone beyond a basketball story and become a human story. I agree. I’m sad for Greg as a human and not as a basketball player. Being hurt sucks. Not getting to do the thing you love to do sucks too.
The only thing I feel like I can add to story is that I think Portland should retain Greg after his one-year deal for this season expires. Not for a lot of money, but for some money. This is the NBA. The Knicks paid Eddy Curry, and he wasn’t even injured, just fat. Somebody will pay Greg Oden. If he plays for that team and does ANYTHING, the Blazers will look foolish for letting their number one draft pick go.
Right now, GO is not part of the game plan for this season. He isn’t part of the game plan for next season. He isn’t part of the game plan for any season. You know what that means? If he comes back, everything you get from him is gravy. His value is near the floor. Ben Golliver will tell you this if you ask him: you always always always buy low and sell high.
Welcome Back Joel Pryzbilla (and Happy Trails Armon Johnson)
Joel comes back. Everybody’s happy about that. Armon Johnson is cut. Nobody’s “happy” about somebody’s NBA career ending—or if not ending, then being over for now—but the reaction to AJ getting cut was practically non-existent. I’ll miss Armon. He was a funny guy to watch both on the court and off. I only talked to him a couple of times, mostly at the beginning of last season when his preseason performances hastened the end of the Jerryd Bayless era, but he seemed like the kind of dude that could carve out a place for himself in the league if his game could ever catch up with his personality.
I don’t know if we’ve seen the last of Armon in the NBA, but it seems to me that it makes more sense for a team to draft a project guard than take one off waivers. AJ needs work, lots of work. He needs time to play and adjust to the NBA game. That’s the description of probably a good 25% of guards picked in the second round. If a team grabs one for cheap through the draft they have the chance to mold them to their system from day one. Something that’s probably a lot easier than fixing a player of the same caliber that another team has tossed off to make room for a 15th man.
And speaking of that 15th man, Joel will get a Brandon Roy sized ovation when he is introduced at the Rose Garden. Maybe that’s why management brought him back. Maybe they brought him back because they thought he could play. Maybe they brought him back because he owns a home in Portland and he was going to be here in the spring anyway.
I hope he can still play. I imagine he can. The question is, how much will he play. There have been a few games already this season when a healthy Marcus Camby had his minutes limited because coach Nate McMillan went to a smaller lineup. Joel is a lot like Camby, but not quite as mobile, not as good at passing, and not nearly as good at shooting.
However, a second team that includes Joel and Kurt Thomas will get every rebound in the key. My guess is that Joel will be limited to around 10ish minutes to start, with that number bumping up if he proves he can hang for longer. Ten or so minutes for Joel means Kurt slides over to the four position for at least one of his shifts, which is good because that’s his natural position. It also means Craig Smith probably has seen the last of his regular minutes. It will be disappointing to see Rhino relegated to garbage time, but there’s still a chance that that special game rolls around when LA and Kurt Thomas get into early foul trouble and Craig steps in to dominate with his power lay-ups.
Also, we probably won’t see Chris Johnson in uniform for the rest of the season. Let’s see if that guaranteed money allowed him to step up his suit game.
The Brandon Roy Rumors
Matt Calkins, in his open letter to Brandon to show his face at the Rose Garden, made the bold statement that Number Seven would get a standing O if he came to Portland and dropped 50 in a Clippers jersey.
If Brandon comes back sooner than later it won’t be in a Blazer jersey. And I think I would be crying too hard to cheer should he drop half a century in the RG against his old team. They wouldn’t be tears of joy.
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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject