Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NBA Draft Lottery probabilities

It's possible that you have already committed to memory the Blazers chances of getting the first, second or third pick in the draft, but if you haven't, here it is:
Team Odds/1000 1 2 3 13 14 Total
Portland 6 0.6% 0.71% 0.87% 96.03% 1.79% 100%

You'll notice that the chart only shows picks 1, 2, 3, 13 and 14. The reason being that we have no chance of getting picks 4-12. That's the way the Draft Lottery works. So when you're watching the Lottery on May 20 and the Blazers make it through picks 14 and 13 without being called, you'll know that they've secured either 1, 2 or 3.

Video: Shooting Coach John Townsend

Thanks to the video crew for this segment on John Townsend, the Trail Blazers' shooting coach.

Townsend's coaching seems to be having a positive effect. Field goal percentage and free throw percentage remained basically unchanged from the 2006-2007 to 2007-2008, but three point shooting percentage improved almost three percentage points this season (James Jones and Steve Blake might have had a part in that). Effective shooting percentage on jump shots, the area where a shooting coach would have his greatest influence, improved from 43.9% in '06-'07 to 45.5% in '07-'08.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Undisclosed European locations: An interview with Chad Buchanan

As mentioned a few days ago, General Manager Kevin Pritchard, Assistant General Manager Tom Penn, Director of NBA Scouting Mike Born and Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan embarked last week on a European tour with two purposes. First and foremost, the crew is traveling to Spain with the intention of convincing Rudy Fernandez to make the jump to the NBA. But before that, there's scouting of various international players to be done. In some ways, the future of the franchise could change dramatically depending on how successful they are in both tasks.

I had a chance to talk to Chad Buchanan today about the international game, the importance of seeing guys play in person and the whereabouts of Kevin Pritchard's luggage while he and the gang were driving "out in the middle of the country" from one undisclosed location to another. As I learned from talking to Buchanan, you can never be too careful when it comes to the draft.

So where are you at right now?

Buchanan: We’re scouting a couple of guys before we go to see Rudy tomorrow. I’d rather not tell you where we’re at just for confidentiality. We left on Friday and we’ve seen a couple of games already. Going to Barcelona tomorrow and we’ll be with Rudy for the next couple of days starting tomorrow.

Do you anticipate that he’s going to play while you’re there? He got a DNP in DKV Joventut's last game.

Buchanan: Jason Filippi, our international scout, said he’s got kind of a banged up shoulder. That may have been why he didn’t play. We’re hoping that he plays when we’re over here. If he doesn’t that’s alright. We’ve seen enough of him as a player to know we like him. We don’t need to see him anymore, but it’s more or less a chance for us to sit down with him and have him get comfortable with us and know what we’re about. That’s why we’re over here. We know he’s a player; we don’t need to see that.

Could you walk me through your first couple of days in Europe?

Buchanan: If I told you where we were at, people around the league would know who we’re seeing. With the draft getting closer, I’d rather teams not know who we’re scouting heavily. If I told you where we were at it would tip teams off. I’ll give you this: We’ve been in Western Europe, if that helps. That’s about as general as I can give you.

So in general, what have you thought about the quality of play that you've seen so far?

Buchanan: It’s been ok. European basketball is a little different than watching college or NBA basketball. It’s just a different style; a lot more motion and a lot more passing. I’d say the level of play is very comparable to a high level college team from what we’ve seen over here. We haven’t seen any of the high level European teams while we’ve been over here. You know, the American’s that are over here playing; there’s a reason there over here in Europe and not in the NBA.

I love the European game. The guys play together; they play hard. There’s not as many timeouts. There’s not as many media timeouts and the game has more flow to it. So it’s definitely an enjoyable game to watch. It’s a different taste and different flavor from what you watch over in the states, so it’s kind of a refreshing change watching how these guys play and how they’re coached. All the big guys can play out on the perimeter. Just very fundamentally sound players over here. They just don’t have the athleticism or quickness that the American players do, in general.

What have the crowds and reaction from the fans been like?

Buchanan: Soccer is always going to be the No. 1 sport over here, so basketball is kind of secondary. But the crowds are very … it would almost be like a college game. You’ve got like a student section that’s very rowdy. They’ve got their chants, they’re banging on drums. It’s a very vocal group. Even when you go to a game in one city, the opposing team usually brings a crowd of rowdy fans.

The fan reaction is a little different to the actual play than it is in the United States. In the United States there’s a momentum that builds as a team starts to make a run or has a couple good players. Whereas the European fans, they cheer individual plays and then the play is over. Like if a guy makes a free throw, that’s a big deal. If a team were to make five straight three-pointers, it’s not like you feel momentum building. They cheer each individual play. They don’t really argue about calls as much as American crowds to. I wouldn’t say that they’re not as educated about the game, they just appreciate different parts of the game than maybe American fans do. Like, you wouldn’t get a loud ovation when a guy makes a free throw like you would over here, for example.

Are you seeing other NBA people at games and do people recognize who you guys are when you’re over in Europe?

Buchanan: We do see other NBA people at games; other GMs, other scouts. The basketball world may be spread out a lot, but it’s really not as disconnected as people might think. The GMs of teams over here know who Kevin is and Kevin knows who they are. Kevin played over here, so he obviously knows a lot of people over here as it is. The fact that he’s general manager of the NBA team, people recognize him here at games. Even fans will recognize him.

Kevin Pritchard: I’m really big time!

Buchanan: Kevin says he’s really big time.

In most games, all the NBA people sit in the same section. Even the players know who most of us are and that we’re there to scout because we’re usually seated in the same section.

I'm assuming you don't have any direct contact with the players?

Buchanan: No, we can’t talk to the players at all. The NBA rules state you can’t have any contact with a player until he’s officially declared for the draft. We kind of save our contacts for when we get them into Portland. We’re just here to evaluate them as players right now in regular games. We met with a GM the other day, talk to coaches.

Another great contact is talking to American players over here about the European kids. They know the NBA. They’re playing with and against some of these European kids and their often a good source of information for us.

Do you have a sense of how many guys you’ve seen so far that you think might be in the NBA eventually?

Buchanan: Well, we’ve seen two games and I’d say there are two players. Very good chance they’ll be in the NBA.

Is there anything you’re looking for from players over there?

Buchanan: No different from what we’re looking for in the states. With our pick, we’re trying to draft the best player available. If it’s an American, if it’s an International, it really doesn’t impact how we evaluate a kid. We’re still looking at whether they can do the necessary things at their positions that they’re going to need to do at our level. Size, athleticism, all of that. And obviously skill level.

You know, the European players in general are very skilled because they’re kind of taught as a group rather than positionally growing up. Big kids aren’t clumped down at one end of the floor with guards at the other end of the floor. During skills work over here they all kind of work together. But no, we’re not looking for anything different from a European player than we are out of a college player or a minor league player or anything like that. There’s different styles of the game over here but it’s still the same game.

Is there anything you see in person that you feel like you couldn’t see on tape?

Buchanan: Absolutely. There are lots of things. When you watch a guy live you get a better feel for his size. Watching on tape it can sometimes be deceiving how big a kid is relative to the other guys on the floor. You can see him interact with his teammates, his coaches. You can see how he warms up. Is he the first kid out on the floor warming up before a game? After the game, how does he react to a win or a loss? And there’s lost of things that are very, very important to evaluating a player that you can’t pick up watching TV or a film.

Would it be possible to describe a player generally without stating his name or what team he’s on?

Buchanan: If I did that, I think that would kind of tip our hand. I’d prefer not to answer that one.

How are you guys getting around over there?

Buchanan: We’ve flown a little bit. Kevin actually lost his bag. We’re waiting on his bag still. He brought two bags. He’s got one bag with some clothes in it but his main bag is still trying to catch up to him.

We’ve been flying, we’ve been in taxis. We’re actually in a rental car right now. Tom is driving the rental car. We’re doing a little bit of everything. Jason Filippi takes a lot of trains around Europe. Some of these spots it’s easier to get around by train.

How are you getting by language-wise?

Buchanan: It’s obviously a barrier, some places more than others. Jason speaks a little of a lot of different languages, enough to get us by. Kevin played over here so knows a little bit. Tom and Mike and I have all been over here before so we know some of the basics that you need to know. But it’s hard to go somewhere were you don’t find people who know at least a little bit of English. It’s not as much of a barrier as you might think it is.

Are you guys having any fun or is it all business all the time?

Buchanan: We’re always talking basketball. When were going to watch basketball and around each other it’s always fun. We have fun together because we have good chemistry amongst us. We go to dinner at night but we’re not out partying or anything like that. We have good company around each other and we’re always talking about the team. Right now we’re kind of in draft mode so we’re talking a lot about the draft.

Nate McMillan finishes ninth in Coach of the Year voting

If the Blazers could have kept the mojo that they had during the 13-game winning streak rolling throughout the rest of the season, Nate McMillan would have been a near unanimous choice for the Red Auerbach trophy. But evidently finishing at 41-41 despite being the third-youngest team in NBA history in the most difficult conference in NBA history is only good enough for three third place votes in the Coach of the Year voting.

No one (except for the 55 people who didn't give him their first place vote) would argue with Bryon Scott being named COY. Taking that team from 39-43 last year to 56-26 this year is a stupendous feat for any coach (though having a healthy CP3 and Peja didn't hurt). Going from out of the playoffs to a legit championship contender in one year, with no substantive roster changes, is commendable.

However, I am surprised at how few votes Coach McMillan received. It's hard to argue with Doc Rivers (though seriously, I could coach that team to 50 wins), Rick Adelman or Maurice Cheeks and Jerry Sloan being above McMillan in the voting, but it gets a bit shady after that.

Phil Jackson? Did he convince the Grizzlies to give away Pau Gasol for next to nothing? Kobe may be a pain sometimes, but inflated ego or not, he's still the best player in the game. Was Jackson's performance from the high chair on the sidelines really that impressive this season? I think not.

Eddie Jordan did a commendable job with the Wizards without Gilbert Arenas, but they only won two more games than the Blazers, in the East, with Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler.

Stan Van Gundy I can live with. They're only going as far as Dwight Howard takes them, but Van Gundy has done a fine job integrating Rashard Lewis into the system. 52 wins is hard to argue with.

The COY race might have been as contentious as the MVP voting this season. So many great accomplishments, but I thought for sure Nate McMillan would finish further up the list.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Clips from the latest edition of Trail Blazers Courtside

In an effort to make the podcast from last week's edition of Trail Blazers Courtside a little easier to listen to, I've broken up the two hour show into smaller clips that, as a fan, I would be most interested in listening to.

Here's the clip in which Mike Barrett, Mike Rice, Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey discuss possible off-season trade scenarios (which included the names Richard Jefferson, Danny Granger, Kirk Hinrich, Jose Calderon and Shawn Marion). My favorite line, uttered while Mike Rice was listing the possible personnel moves Kevin Pritchard could make:
Mike Barrett: "You're trading away all our guys."

Mike Rice: "You have to!"
Sound advice from the Wild One.

Here's the clip of the Courtside crew revisiting the predictions they made before the start of the 2007-2008 season. Congrats to the guys for owning up.

Here's the clip of the Courtsiders giving their postseason predictions, which is much easier to do when the first round is more than halfway over.

• Finally, here's the segment with The Oregonian's Jason Quick. More trade speculation for those of you who enjoy that kind of thing.

And as always, you can listen to Trail Blazers Courtside in it's entirety by clicking here.

It's official: LaMarcus Aldridge is the third most improved

It's not the result that we were hoping for, but finishing third in the Most Improved Player Award voting is nothing to be ashamed of. As expected, Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu won the award by a handy margin.
Turkoglu received a total of 380 points, including 61 first-place votes, from a panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The Memphis Grizzlies’ Rudy Gay finished second with 167 points (23 first-place votes) followed by LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers with 128 points (nine first-place votes). Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third place vote received.
Along with Aldridge, both Travis Outlaw and Brandon Roy received votes for the award. Travis got a lone first-place vote (I figured he might have picked up a few second or third as well) to finish with five points. Roy managed two third-place votes for two total points.

New Orleans was the only other team to have three players garner votes.

Awards not won

Happy Monday morning. I trust you got out an enjoyed the sun this weekend. No worries if you didn't, it'll be back in two weeks.

Onto business. Unfortunately we've got some bad news for you this morning: Brandon Roy did not win the NBA Sportsmanship Award and LaMarcus Aldridge (reportedly) won't win the Most Improved Player Award. Bummer.

But then again, it's impressive that both Roy and Aldridge were in the running for each award. Roy finished third in the Sportsmanship voting behind winner Grant Hill and runner-up Shane Battier. And it's not a complete loss for Brandon either; the NBA is donating $10,000 in Roy's name to the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, whose goal is to provide access to quality healthcare and the opportunity to receive a competitive education.

As far as LaMarcus is concerned, not sure where he ended in the MIP voting, but I figure he has to be in the top three. Turkoglu's improvement this year has been undeniable, though some have questioned whether bestowing the honor to a veteran in his eighth year is really honoring the spirit of the award.

Congrats to both Brandon and LaMarcus for even being in the conversations regarding sportsmanship and improvement. You can't win them all.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Joel Przybilla takes charge

Flopping is the rage these days. Watching the NBA Playoffs, it seems to me that a player trying to draw a charge acts like he's been hit by a stun gun when an offensive player makes even the slightest amount of contact. It's a little ridiculous, but it's a part of the game (at least now it is).

But while flopping is one of the most ignoble parts of the game, sacrificing your body to take a legit charge is one of the most honorable things a player can do. Standing still and upright while a dribbling freight train is coming right at you is tough. What's more, it's unnatural. Our minds are trained from a young age to get the heck out of the way when something is coming directly at you at a high rate of speed, so learning to take a charge requires not only physical toughness but an ability to overcome your conscious and subconscious mind.

Joel Przybilla is not a flopper. Does he embellish occasionally in order to draw a foul? Maybe, but for the most part, when Przybilla commits to drawing a charge, he does it with nobility. He also does it quite often. Thanks to, we learn that Przybilla ended the season tied for fourth in the league with 47 charges drawn. Only Derek Fisher, Andrew Bogut and Mikki Moore took more charges (Kyle Lowry also took 47 offensive fouls).

The list somewhat dispels the notion that international players are to blame for the increase in flopping. Of the 30 players with the most charges drawn this season, seven originate from places outside the United States. Manu Ginobli, whom many consider the epitome of the international flopper, is 37th on the list with 27 charges (though he did draw four more offensive fouls categorized as "other").

Brandon Roy cames in second on the Blazers with 24 charges taken. After that it's Steve Blake (21), Jarrett Jack (16), James Jones (16), LaMarcus Aldridge (13), Martell Webster (13), Channing Frye (11), Travis Outlaw (11), Raef LaFrentz (5), Sergio Rodriguez (2) and (ex-Blazer) Taurean Green (1).

So here's to you Joel Przybilla. You represent what taking a charge is all about.

Rudy in the race for ACB MVP

The Trail Blazer European junket, which I've unofficially named the "Woo Rudy Fernandez World Tour", is set to depart any day now. I'll be getting updates from Kevin Pritchard and the rest of the gang as they travel overseas in search of the next diamond in the rough and I'll be sure to share that information with you as it becomes available.

While in Europe, the scouting staff is sure to see Rudy play with his ACB team, DKV Joventut Badalona, who current sit at second place in the table behind Real Madrid. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the ACB is considered by most to be the best basketball outside of the NBA.

From what I can gather with my rudimentary Spanish skills, Rudy is the odds-on favorite to win the league MVP this season, but he does have some competition from Akasvayu Girona's Marc Gasol (whose right are owned by the Memphis Grizzlies) and Real Madrid's Felipe Reyes. The first video is a highlight compilation from all three players in the hunt for the ACB MVP. My favorite Rudy highlight occurs at the 1:23 mark. Rudy pokes the ball away on defense, levels the guy whose pocket he just picked, then finishes by dishing a behind-the-back pass for a Jerome Moiso dunk.

And to give you a little better idea of what KP and the scouts might see while they're over in Spain, check out the highlights from DKV Joventut's 94-69 victory again Kalise Gran Canaria, which happens to be the team Joel Freeland, another Blazer draft pick, plays for in the ACB. Rudy finished with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting (4-of-6 from three), four rebounds and 4 assists. Freeland finished with two points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.

There's a nice baseline dunk by Rudy at the 1:25 mark. From what I can tell, there are no Freeland highlights.

Here is the highlight package from DKV Joventut's 101-93 victory against Real Madrid. In the matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the ACB, Rudy poured it on with 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting (8-of-11 from three), four assists and a rebound.

Fernandez mixes it up a little in this one. At the 1:35 mark, Rudy dishes out a hard and somewhat late foul. The fellow who was on the receiving end was none too happy about the contact, retaliating by drilling Rudy in the chest with his shoulder. Who says European players are soft?

Rudy also throws a nice inbounds pass to Ricky Rubio (a sure-fire NBAer when he's eligible) for an easy two at the 2:20 mark.

LaMarcus Aldridge's Top Plays has a great compilation of LaMarcus Aldridge highlights that you absolutely have to check out. The game winner, passes from the baseline to the cutter, alley-oop dunks, putback dunks, ridiculous blocks. They're all there.

I'm picking highlight No. 4 as my personal favorite. Which is yours?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You really like us

Anyone who has followed the Trail Blazers this year knows that things are looking up. You can feel it in the Rose Garden and in the community: People want to be a part of Blazermania again.

And now we've got proof to back up the claim that Rip City is truly rising. ESPN released their annual Fan Satisfaction Ratings of every pro franchise in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL. Our Portland Trail Blazers, a team that up until recently was considered less than fan friendly, is ranked a stellar 30th out of 122 franchises, a considerable improvement from 2007 when we were ranked 92nd.

But there's more! We're ranked eighth among NBA franchises, up ten spots from last year's ranking of 19th and WAY up from dead last in 2006.

The Blazers have a relatively low "Bang for the Buck" rating, primarily due to the lack of wins over the past three seasons, but make up for by being ranked third in all of professional sports in the players category, which gauges the team's "effort on the field; likability off it." We're also ranked highly in fan relations (9th) and coach/management (13th) categories. As a frame of reference, consider that in the past five years, the Blazers were ranked 81st, 92nd, 90th, 121st and 121st in player effort and likability (121st out of 121 is as bad as it gets). That's a drastic improvement.

It's all about culture and accountability. You asked for it and the front office has delivered.

(Hat tip to Sean at

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My game: James Jones

Instead of giving my opinion of players performances this season, I thought I'd ask the players themselves to assess particular areas of their game. Here is what James Jones had to say, along with some various pertinent quantifiables.

Defense: "Lacking. Not as good as I would like to and not as good as I’m capable of. That’s an area of improvement."

It's important to remember that James Jones battled nagging leg injuries all season. The negative effects of said injury probably hurt James most on the defensive end, but he still managed to get it done when he needed to. Timely blocks against the Bulls in double-overtime and on the road in Miami are evidence of that. What Jones lacked in explosiveness and lateral movement, he made up for (at least partially) with smarts.

Case in point: Jones has took 16 charges this season in 1276 minutes, putting him behind only Joel Przybilla (who does a helluva job drawing charges) in charges drawn per minute. Establishing position and sacrificing your body are things you can do on defense even when you're not 100 percent.

Three-point shooting: "Pretty good, except for the late-season collapse. Once again, it was pretty good, but not as well as I would like it to be and not as well as I think it should have."

A "pretty good" three-point shooting performance from Jones this season is better than anything we've seen in Portland since Steve Smith. Finishing with the third best three-point percentage in the NBA (44%), despite struggling at the end of the season, is something to be proud of.

Jones shot a ridiculous 55% from three during the month of December, contributing greatly to the 13-game winning streak. He cooled down a bit in January, though he still shot a respectable 44%.

Once again, injury was probably to blame for Jones' decrease in three-point shooting percentage. After sitting all of February, Jones' three-point percentages dipped to 37% in March followed by a 38% month in April.

"My body hasn’t been 100 percent all year and that’s not going to change," Jones said toward the end of the season, "especially going down the stretch. You compensate and you cope and at the end of the day, regardless of how you feel, you have to be able to make that shot. I just haven’t been doing that lately."

Rebounding: "Definitely need to improve on that and to me that ties into defense. Percentage wise, I kind of gauge rebounding on whether or not my guy gets the ball or if I get the ball. Rebounding for me might mean getting more rebounds because I’m putting a body on guys and just doing my part to make sure we’re securing rebounds. I could to a bit better in that, but I think every player could do better in that department."

He's right about that. The Blazers were 25th in rebounding this season. Greg Oden will help, but he's not going to solve the problem himself. Jones averaged 2.8 rebounds per game this season, which isn't exactly stellar, but it is statistically his second best rebounding season.

Worth noting that after a miss Jones' responsibility is to get down court to spot up for three, which partially explains his average rebounding numbers.

Ball handling/putting the ball on the floor: "I can do that stuff, but that’s not really something that I emphasize or work with because that’s not really my job here. If they open it up a little bit and tell me to handle the ball and be a little more aggressive, I can do that, but every team doesn’t need five ball handlers; they need guys who know their role and their position.

"For me, I can handle the ball and create off the dribble and do things like that, but if there’s a chance for me to get the ball back to Steve or back to Brandon, that’s their job so you give the ball and allow them to do their job. And hopefully they’ll respect your job, which is shooting, and they’ll find you and put you in a better situation to do what you do well."

James is right: Ball-handling isn't something Nate McMillan asks him to do. After rebounds, the Blazers get the ball to the point guard almost exclusively, regardless of situation. I have no idea whether that is by necessity or design.

Jones averages 0.6 assists per game, while also logging 0.5 turnovers per. Not great, but not horrible either.

Leadership: "It will definitely be different next year. I think I was o.k. this year, but being injured and not being in the midst of everything on a consistent basis, you give a lot of lip service. I’m not a big fan of lip service, so if I can’t get out there and physically lead these guys and prod and push these guys and carry them along, then I can’t really lead effectively or the way I want to.

"The challenge for me was to be able to have that on court time. I know I’ll be healthier next year. I mean, I’ll probably be in the best shape of my life because I felt like I was in really good shape this summer and I think that kind of carried me earlier in the season when I wasn’t practicing at all. So I’m going to get right and I think that will help everything in general."

Jones' calming presence on the court is undeniable. Rarely makes mistakes, never seems to get frustrated and is invaluable in helping other players understand the game when he's on or off the court. That's probable enough leadership for this team.

Today in links: April 22

Joel Przybilla's favorite Celtic, a Mr. Kevin Garnett, has been announced as Defensive Player of the Year. A well-deserved honor, though they might consider changing the name of the award to the "Defensive Player of the Year at the center/power forward position", as only 18 of the last 20 winners (the exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest) have been post players.

On to the Blazers ...

• Dave at Blazer's Edge has two great posts today: A breakdown of Brandon Roy's statistics from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008 and a defense of blogging.

• It's Jarrett Jack Day on OregonLive's "You Be the GM" series. Early results have the fans sending Jarrett packing by a 57-43 margin.

• Very nice piece by Jason Quick regarding Sergio Rodriguez's season.
After a promising rookie season, during which general manager Kevin Pritchard said NBA teams peppered the Blazers with trade requests, he's faded into anonymity.

"I was frustrated," Rodriguez said. "Not only because of how many minutes I played, but how I played in those minutes, and how I had to play in that time I was on the court. I was frustrated in myself, my game -- everything."

During the season, friends from Spain twice visited him for extended periods. During those times, Rodriguez said he and his friends would come to the Blazers' practice facility in Tualatin and play. They didn't play the game as much as they created their own version of basketball art, where court vision, improvisation and acrobatics came together as one.

"When my friends came here, we used to be here all day playing," Rodriguez said. "And that's what I need right now. I need to have fun. I know I have a lot to work on, and I still plan to work on everything, but I need to play with my friends and enjoy basketball, more so than (seeing it as) working."

• Dwight Jaynes makes the case for Bill Schonely's inclusion in the NBA Hall of Fame. Jaynes also thinks Schonley should add a Gowdy Award to his mantle.

Brandon Roy was on the selection committee that hired the head coach at Garfield High, his old stomping grounds in Seattle.

James Jones has options

I don't know if that many people realize it, but it's possible that James Jones has played his final game as a Trail Blazer. I don't think that's the case, but it's a possibility, and a very real one at that.

Jones has a player option for the 2008-2009 season, and as the name of the option would indicate, it's a decision that is exercised by the player. Here's how it works (to the best of my understanding): James has until July 1 to opt into his contract for next season. If he picks up the option, he plays for the Blazers next season at an already pre-determined salary, after which he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If he chooses not to pick up his option, he instantly becomes an unrestricted free agent, thus being free to play with whomever offers a contract in the 2008-2009 season. That team could very well be the Blazers, so even if Jones chooses not to exercise his player option, he could still end up playing for the Blazers next season, presumably with a new free agent contract.

So James Jones has options, though he's not approaching the decision as though it's all on him. Jones told The Oregonian's Joe Freeman that:
"I'm a pretty simple and easy guy. It's not complicated. It's no mystery that I like it here. I just want to be somewhere where I can be effective. It's not my decision -- it's our decision. Me and (Pritchard). There are conversations to be had. Things change and visions change. You just like to know what the future holds for you and the team."
Jones, in my opinion, isn't a guy who is out to break the bank. He just wants to be a valued member of a team that's moving in the right direction.

It's impossible to tell at this point what offers might be extended from other teams. If a playoff team gets bounced in the first round thanks to a lack of long-range shooting and veteran composure, maybe they take a look at James Jones. But then again, maybe Jones isn't interested. To hear him talk after his exit interview, that might be the case.
"I was on the plane (after the final game against Phoenix) and reality set in that hey, technically there’s a decision to be made. And you don’t make these decisions very often in your career if you’re lucky. So it’s something I have to think about, but all I know is how I feel right now. I love the guys here, I love the team. It’s been a great experience and evidently nothing is set in stone. I just have to think about it a little bit more. They already know I’m definitely open to coming back (to Portland)."
You ask any player in the NBA about contract issues, and invariably, over and over again, the reply will boil down to the same phrase: "It's a business." And in that respect, James Jones is a business man, but business isn't all about dollars. It's hard to put a price on stability, comfort and a being valued by your employer. Some players probably don't care about those things; signing on with the highest bidder out-weighs everything else. But I'm happy to say that I know James Jones a little bit, and I'd all but guarantee that he's looking at the big picture. That bodes well for Blazer fans.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blazers playoff picks

As I mentioned earlier, the first round playoff games this weekend were fantastic (aside from those split-screen face commercials, which I find off-putting). The NBA should really consider giving some kind of special honor to the team that comes out of the West. They're going to have to do a hell of a lot more than their Eastern Conference counterparts to get into the Finals.

I asked some of the Blazers who they thought would win it all, and here's what they had to say. By the way, they made these picks before the start of the first round.

James Jones: "I’m taking Phoenix. I think (the NBA Finals) will be Phoenix and Boston. That looks like the matchup. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Phoenix and Detroit though. I’ve always loved what Detroit’s been able to do because they’re a good executing team. In the playoffs it comes down to execution and matchups. (Detroit) was unlucky last year to play Cleveland because Cleveland matched up well with them. If they don’t have to face Cleveland this year, being a number two seed, they have a good chance to come out of the East.

"There are some teams and some players that some teams just have problems with. Even though Cleveland’s team is down those guys feel like they can beat Detroit. They might not feel like they can beat Boston but they believe they can beat Detroit. Anything is possible in the playoffs."

Channing Frye: "Detroit or I’d have to say San Antonio after watching them beat Utah. A Detroit/San Antonio Finals, again. I like how San Antonio just takes teams apart. It’s amazing. You’ve got to appreciate that."

Steve Blake: "I’d probably go with San Antonio playing Boston, with San Antonio probably winning it again."

Travis Outlaw: "It’s basically between Phoenix and the Spurs for the West. I think the Celtics versus Detroit is going to be a good game. But I can’t count them Spurs out like I want to. You can’t count them out. It depends on who wins the Spurs and the Suns series. That’s who it comes down to. But then it depends on who wins over there (in the East).

"For the first time I think the playoffs are going to feel like they used to feel. It don’t feel watered down. I don’t think it’s going to be a sweep in the Finals."

LaMarcus Aldridge: "I think San Antonio will probably win it all. I don’t know who’s going to come out the East but I think San Antonio is going to win it all. They know how to turn it on when they need to. They have the experience. They got the Tim Duncan. He’s one of the best, so I think they’ll win it all."

Nate McMillan: "I think there are great matchups, especially in the West, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of them. You look at the Lakers and you see Denver who’s eighth. It would be hard to pick that.

"New Orleans and Dallas. New Orleans has had a great season but Dallas is sitting there with no pressure -- well, not a lot of pressure – on them, or as much as they had last year. That’s a great series.

"San Antonio and Phoenix; think about that one. The fact that one of the two big teams starting the season will get knocked out in the first round. Who could pick that?

"Utah and Houston. Utah is a great home team and Houston wins 22 in a row. So I think there are some great matchups in these playoffs.

"So who could I pick? Maybe Detroit coming out the East. And the West … I’ve always said this; I think it will be the healthiest team. With the way the playoffs are set up now, it’s a seven game series. That’s a lot of games. You’ve got to be healthy, so I’ll take the easy way out and say the healthiest team."

Today in links: April 21

That was one fine weekend of basketball. Mo Cheeks and the Philly 76ers upset a smug Detroit Pistons squad on their home court. Tim Duncan cans a three, Steve Nash does the save, Manu Ginobilli wins the game. Pau Gasol and the Lakers prove once again that any team with a talented bigman can dominate the Denver Nuggets. Utah Jazz win on the road, signaling that another year will pass without Tracy McGrady winning a playoff series. And in case you were unaware, the Hornets are for real.

But back to the Blazers. Here's some of the best from the internets.

•'s "You Be the GM" feature continues today with Channing Frye. No one finished out the season better than Frye, so I'm expecting a positive outcome.

• More Channing. In his blog today, Frye hooks up some local business with free advertising by naming some of his favorite place to shop in Portland. By the looks of it, Channing doesn't make it over to the eastside (aka "the real Portland") very often.

• David Aldridge, one of the best NBA writers/media personalities out there, answers a question about Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge:
Q: Just how much of an impact will Greg Oden have on the NBA? And will Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge one day be as good or better than Olajuwon and Sampson?

Oden will be great because he won’t have to be a dominant player from minute one. They’ve got enough talent up there that he can ease himself into the league more slowly and adjust normally. All he has to do the first two years is rebound and play defense, and he’ll help them immensely. I don’t know that Olajuwon and Sampson are the comparison you’re looking for, since the Rockets didn’t win anything while they were together. Maybe Robinson and Duncan? The answer would be they’ll be very lucky if they reach that level.

Nice catch on the Ralph/Hakeem comparison. I hope the LaMarcus/Greg tandem doesn't end up like that.

• Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel declares the Trail Blazers as "the future colossus of the West":
For as much as has been made about the wild West, there well could be a new sheriff in town next season, one loaded with enough ammunition to shoot itself into contention, especially after making a 20-game gain in the standings over the past two seasons.

With expectations elevated, upgrades already are being evaluated.

At point guard, Steve Blake again was his efficient self. But he also appears to have plateaued. Then there are Jarrett Jack, who seemed to regress, and Sergio Rodriguez, who endured a season-long sophomore slump. There is a reason this team pursued Toronto's Jose Calderon at midseason.

At small forward, there is similar uncertainty, with Webster's game having yet to grow to championship level and with Outlaw often enjoying his best moments at power forward.

In each case, there are ample assets to address the shortcomings with not only the No. 13 seed in the lottery in play but also three second-round selections available, including two of the first five in that second round. Beyond that, there is a possibility of dangling Channing Frye, what with a power rotation that otherwise would feature Oden, Aldridge and Joel Przybilla.

Already, one leading Web site has the Blazers seeded to select Kevin Love with the No. 13 pick. And that's before the lottery, where beating the odds could make Portland an instant 2009 contender.

Jarrett Jack won't have to pay the fine for getting thrown out of the Phoenix game.
(Brian) Skinner had his ejection and accompanying $3,000 fine from the league rescinded on Friday. He and Portland's Jarrett Jack were kicked out in the second quarter Wednesday's season finale. Jack's ejection and fine was also rescinded.

Seems fair considering that he didn't deserve to get ejected in the first place.

•'s Paul Forrester writes about what went right and wrong for the Western Conference teams that didn't make the post-season. He also adds a prediction for next season.
What's next: Transforming potential into juggernaut. With Oden set to handle the low-post chores for the next decade or more, the Blazers need only make sure the players who improved so dramatically this year fit. Can Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack work as a combo point guard? Will Aldridge learn to mesh with Oden or struggle for shots? All important questions; all only answered with time on the floor together.

• Joe Freeman chronicles much of the feel-good events from this season.

• The Columbian's Brian Hendrickson looks at the Blazers who are on the roster bubble.

• My man Dave at Blazer's Edge has a nice breakdown of the statistical improvements or lack thereof from the 2006-2007 season to the 2007-2008 season.

• If anyone can read Spanish, here are two article from regarding Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez.

Outlaw, Jack get Sixth Man of the Year votes

No surprise that Manu Ginobili, a player who would start on basically any other team in the NBA, was announced as the winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award for the 2007-2008 season. Hats off to the Argentinian, who only helped his cause with a game-winning double-overtime bucket this weekend.

Travis Outlaw, who looked like a front-runner for sixth man at times this season, finished tied with Jason Maxiell for 9th in the voting. Outlaw garnered 11 third-place votes and nothing more.

Can't complain about too many of the guys who got more votes than Outlaw. No way James Posey deserves to be above Travis in the voting, but that's one of the by-products of playing in Boston. Kyle Korver, Jason Terry and JR Smith are all one-trick ponies, but they do that one trick well. I'd still take Outlaw over all three.

As the title of this post infers, Jarrett Jack also picked up a vote for sixth man, A lone second-place vote to be exact. No offense to Jack, but that surprises me a bit. I don't think even Jarrett would deny that Outlaw was the most valuable bench player for the Blazers.

Also notice that Ginobilli got all but one first place vote, but no second or third place votes, meaning that the guy/girl who voted Leandro Barbosa as first completely left Manu off his/her ballot. I guess you could justify that opinion in that Manu is a sixth man in name only. Still, hard to deny the guy his propers.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My game: Jarrett Jack

Instead of giving my opinion of players performances this season, I thought I'd ask the players themselves to assess particular areas of their game. Here is what Jarrett Jack had to say, along with some various pertinent quantifiables.

Three-point shooting

“I’m right at the same thing; I think I’m like a percentage point off from where I was last year. I think I’ve taken more attempts and I think I feel more comfortable when I’m shooting the ball on the perimeter.”

Jack’s three point percentage dipped ever so slightly in the ’07-’08 season, going from 35% last year to 34% this year. He took two more three’s this season (65) than he did last season in 422 fewer minutes, which speaks to his increased confidence from beyond the arc. It probably also says something the different way Nate McMillan used Jack this year.

Interesting note: Jarrett Jack shot considerably better from three while playing away from the Rose Garden. Jack shot 38% from beyond the arc in the 41 away games compared to 32% in home games. What's more, he shot significantly better from three (40% to be exact) in the fourth quarter.

Man defense

“Pretty solid. I think at times I rely on my hands a little too much, but I think for the most part, my man-on-man defense is pretty good.”

It’s doesn’t tell the whole story on defense, but Jack’s steal numbers stayed fairly consistent in ’07-’08. He did drop from 1.1 per game to 0.7, but that probably had more to do with a decrease in minutes played. His steals per 48 minutes dipped from 1.56 last season to 1.31 this season.

Help defense

“Help defense is probably the best thing I do on defense. I think I’m probably one of the best players on the team when it comes to being at the right spot at the right time so if we do have a breakdown, I can cover another guy’s mistake.”

Ball handling

“I really did a great job of that. It was something I worked on over the summer, especially when the smaller guards are pressuring me up the court.”

Jack had some troubles with turnovers this season, though maybe not to the extent that it you would imagine when reading message boards and blogs. Jack did finish 37th in the league in total turnovers (178) 38th in turnovers per game (2.17) and 17th in turnovers per 48 minutes (3.38). It probably also didn’t help his image among fans that 36% of his turnovers this season were committed in the fourth quarter or that he lead the team in fourth quarter turnovers with 62 (the next closest players had 32 TO’s in the fourth). The good news is that he finished 37th in assists per game (3.8), 39th in total assists (313) and 30th in assists per 48 minutes (6.7). Those are decent numbers when you consider Jack played a considerable about of minutes at the two-guard this season.

Free-throw shooting

“Pretty well, pretty much the same as I was last year, upper 80’s. Hopefully I can improve it next year into the 90 range.”

Jack excelled from the charity stripe this season, finishing 13th in the league in free-throw percentage (86.7%).

Field-goal shooting

“Pretty good. With me, I had to take on a new type of role this year, playing the two guard position. A lot of the shots at first I wasn’t comfortable with but now they’re starting to become comfortable so I’m knocking those down at a higher rate.”

Jack’s field-goal percentage when from 45% last year to 43% this year. You’d like to see it go the other direction, but 2 points isn’t a horrible drop.

Defending the fast break

‘That’s always tough. The numbers are always in the opponents favor, but you try to do the best job you can, try to force as many passes as possible and allow your teammates to rotate back on defense.”

Running the fast break

“I think we did a better job of that, playing a little bit more of an up-tempo style this year, for the most part. I think we’ve come a ways since last year.”


“I think in the NBA, it goes up and down. It’s a long season. You have those stretches where you feel good about it and some where you think you’re struggling. I think everybody goes up and down”

No one knows timeouts like Nate McMillan

It always puzzled me a bit when NBA analysts would praise a coach for calling a timeout. "That's a great timeout," Hubie Brown would say. As far as I could tell, a great timeout was one called when the momentum was swinging toward the other team. I guess it's not a bad observation, just a little unnecessary.

But it turns out there really is a difference when it comes to calling timeouts, and according to the Wall Street Journal, Nate McMillan is the top dog in the NBA when it comes to getting the most out of timeouts.
In the first two possessions after a timeout, Mr. McMillan's Blazers morphed into a different team. On defense, they held opponents to 38% shooting compared with nearly 45% overall. On offense, they were more accurate shooters (46% to 44%) and made a basket or a free throw about 10% more often on those possessions than during the rest of the game. Portland also turned the ball over less often. On the first possession after a timeout, the team committed turnovers just 12% of the time -- also a nice improvement.

This skill seems to have helped Portland prevail in tough situations. The Blazers won only half their games this season, but were 11-3 in games decided by four points or less and 5-2 in overtime games. In "clutch" situations (when neither team was ahead by more than five points in the final period) the Blazers also excelled -- hitting 48% of their field goals while holding opponents to 31%.

Given its achievements in this area, it's slightly surprising that Portland didn't make the playoffs. The nine other teams in the top 10 in post-timeout performance all did. The past four NBA champions have all ranked in the top 10 in this category, too.

How about that? I had thought that sometimes we were a bit unprepared out of timeouts, but turns out I was wrong, and I'm more than happy to admit it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Video: Nate McMillan post-game after the win against the Grizzlies

It's hard to think of a better way to end the home schedule than that. The Blazers got the win, the fans got chalupas, and Nate McMillan had the opportunity to give his players a curtain call due to the game being out of reach. Outside of being in the playoffs, there's no better way to say goodbye to a hometown crowd that has been so instrumental in the successes of the team this season.

We'll recap the season an full over the next couple of days. Until then, check out a satisfied Nate McMillan giving his post-game remarks.

Say goodbye to No. 1

Tonight is the last home game of the 2007-08 season. It's a chance to say goodbye and thank you for what turned out to be an exciting and often unexpected year. It's also Fan Appreciation Night, so if you're going to make the trip to the Rose Garden for the final go-round of the season, plan on being appreciated.

It's also the final time you're going to see Jarrett Jack in a white No. 1 jersey. And tomorrow's season finale will be the last time you'll see Jack in a black No. 1 jersey. No. 1 will be put to rest, as Jack is going back to lucky No. 3.

"It’s the number I wore in college and high school," Jack said. "I always wanted it when I was here but Juan Dixon had it. Now I can get my chance to go back to it."

Dixon, now wearing No. 8 with the Detroit Pistons, wasn't about to give up the number he wore at Maryland to a rookie, so Jack picked No. 1 and ran with it. After all, it's not a bad number for a point guard, but it didn't sit right with Jack.

So why did Jack go through the entire 2007-08 season with a number he didn't want? According to Jack, it's a rule.

"I heard the rule what you had to wait three years. You couldn’t change your number every year, so I’ll be going back to my number next year."

I was unable to verify if that's true or if someone was just pulling Jarrett's leg, but it sounds like the kind of rule the NBA would have.

Unfortunately for all of you Jack fans out there, you're going to have to buy new gear if you want to keep your fan-dom up to date. But unlike Kobe Bryant's marketing-based switch from No. 8 to No. 24, Jack's reasons for switching up are grounded in superstition.

"I’m definitely going to get my mojo back. I definitely feel more comfortable in (No. 3).

Monday, April 14, 2008

The phrase 'higher ceiling' must mean something different in Canadian

It's natural to develop an affinity for players you cover. As you spend time and get to know players better you discover sides of their personalities that few other people get to see. It's easily my favorite thing about this job.

But it can also be a bit of a curse. It's not really a big deal for me, as I work for the team and hence, no one really expects or assumes that I'm impartial. That's not to say that I don't call it as I see it, but I'm admittedly biased.

Having said all of that, I'm hardly qualified to throw stones when it comes to overvaluing skills or overlooking flaws of certain players, but throw stones I shall. While answering some fan mail, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star made a few statements regarding LaMarcus Aldridge and Andrea Bargnani that I found so patently flawed that they require rebuttal. First, the Q & A:
Q: Andrea Bargnani, 10.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 39% shooting
LaMarcus Aldridge, 17.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg 48.5% shooting

Are you still naive enough to believe that the Raps made the right decision in drafting Bargnani? How credible is the argument that Bargnani has a higher ceiling than Aldridge when Aldridge is already showing signs of becoming one of the best power forwards in the game at the age of 22.

How can you argue that "Aldridge and Bosh together would not work" when Bargnani and Bosh have yet to develop chemistry in almost 2 seasons together?

When will the Toronto media admit that drafting Bargnani was an ill-advised decision by Bryan Colangelo?

I think if the Raptors had Aldridge on their roster this season they would be at the very least a 45-win team with a lot more room for growth. They now find themselves on the brink of ending this season .500, without any contributions from the 2006 1st overall pick and with much uncertainty about Bargnani's future.

Kareem E, Toronto

A: Naïve? Moi? Come on.

The argument that Bargnani has a higher ceiling than Aldridge is not only credible, I’d suggest it’s obvious. While Bargnani has not nearly reached his potential yet (and he probably took a step back this year), he shoots the ball at range, has a better handle than Aldridge and is bigger and stronger.

Aldridge one of the best power forwards in the game? You’re kidding right. He’s okay for a 22-year, yes; one of the best in the game? Come on. How about: Duncan, Garnett, Stoudemire, Nowitzki, Boozer, Brand, Rasheed, Jamison, Bosh, Gasol. There’s 10 head and shoulders better than Aldridge right now.

Maybe when their careers are over, or maybe a year from now, we can revisit this debate. After two seasons, I’m not ready to give up on Bargnani, and to render this discussion even more moot, neither is Bryan Colangelo or Sam Mitchell and they’re the only two guys who really count.

Now the rebuttal. Might as well start from the top.

"The argument that Bargnani has a higher ceiling than Aldridge is not only credible, I’d suggest it’s obvious."

Uhh, really? Stating that Bargani has "a higher ceiling" than Aldridge is at best debatable, at worst false. There's no way it's obvious. Not even close. Granted, it's just about impossible to quantity "ceiling" but for the sake of argument, let's use admittedly flawed player-based comparisons to test out Smith's claim.

LaMarcus Aldridge's ceiling: Kevin Garnett.

Andrea Bargnani's ceiling: Dirk Nowitzki.

(If you've got better comparisons, I'd love to hear 'em.)

Between those two guys, who would you take? That's an easy one for me. Would anyone outside of Toronto and maybe Italy claim that it's "obvious" Bargnani has more upside than Aldridge if you accept that these "ceiling" comparisons are, at least on a cursory level, accurate? Heck, who outside of members of the Andrea Bargnani fan club would say he has a higher ceiling than Aldridge straight up?

Moreover, how many GM's, let alone fans of the game, would claim that Aldridge isn't all but certain to be a better player now and forever? My guess would be not that many.

Next claim.

"While Bargnani has not nearly reached his potential yet (and he probably took a step back this year), he shoots the ball at range, has a better handle than Aldridge and is bigger and stronger."

Oy vey. That's just ... I don't even know how to react to that. I mean, really? Honest and for true?

To say Bargnani "probably took a step back this year" is like saying the KG and Ray Allen probably improved the Celtics this year. From last season to the current, Bargani's stats decreased in (deep breath): minutes, field goal percentage (by a lot), three point percentage, steals, blocks, assists, points, PER and most likely a couple other categories that I'm too lazy to look up. At the risk of sounding unprofessional, he stunk. Big time.

But that's between Bargs and the Raptors; I'm here to defend LaMarcus Aldridge. To that end, Bargnani has (at least for now) better range than Aldridge and probably better handles. But "bigger and stronger"? That's specious on a good day.

I guess in the empirical sense Bargnani is technically larger, seeing how he's listed at 7-0, 250 lbs. to Aldridge's 6-11, 240 lbs., but in basketball terms, would anyone consider Bargnani "bigger"? Does it matter that you're 7-foot when your game is perimeter oriented? I'd answer a resounding "no" to both of those questions.

What's more, anyone who saw LaMarcus take his shirt off during the Laker game knows the dude is cut up. Straight stung. Swoll. Anyone want to make that claim about Bargnani? Anyone?

And Bargnani is stronger than Aldridge? Not a chance. That's so patently false that it almost doesn't warrant mentioning. In the weight room, on the court, on the playground, at a "World's Strongest Man" competition, in an arm wresting tournament. It doesn't matter. Mentally and physically, LaMarcus Aldridge is all day, every day stronger than Andrea Bargnani. Write that down on a piece of paper and mail it to five friends. Then tell them to mail it to five friends.

In regards to Smith's assertion that Aldridge isn't one of the best power forwards in the game, that's a straw man argument. Kareem E. from Toronto didn't claim L.A. is one of the best power forwards in the league, he stated that at 22, Aldridge is "showing signs of becoming one of the best power forwards in the game." What person who follows the NBA would argue that point?

In fact, Aldridge's sophomore stats compare well to the second year numbers of almost all the players Smith trots out as better than L.A. Can you say that at 22, Andrea Bargnani is showing signs of becoming anything other than a sub-par No. 1 pick? You can't. I'm guessing that players who get significantly worse in their second season, after the often cushy NBA life sets in, rarely end up becoming the player they had the potential to be.

This is what it boils down to: LaMarcus Aldridge took on a huge role in his second season. His team's record improved dramatically (in a historically tough Western Conference), as did his statistics. On the other hand, Andrea Bargnani reacted to increased expectations in his second season by slumping hard. His team's record worsened (in a historically bad Eastern Conference), as did his statistics. Neither player is wholly responsible for improvement or lack thereof of their respective teams, but give credit where credit is due.

And just so we're clear, that credit should go to LaMarcus.

Rudy Fernandez: 'I think that in a final, there is no such thing as pain'

You may or may not have heard that Rudy Fernandez's current team, DKV Joventut, defeated another Spanish team, Akasvayu Girona, 79-54 in the finals of the ULEB Cup. The win gave Joventut their second tourney win of year, having already taken the Copa Del Rey back in February. The ULEB title was the first ever for DKV Joventut.

Fernandez was named the MVP of the tournament (he was also the MVP of the Copa Del Rey) despite having a sub-par game (at least by his standards) in the final due to a shoulder injury. All of this is fine and good from a Blazer fan perspective, but Rudy's remarks and actions after the game are what should really send fans of the Red and Black to the moon.
At one point in the third quarter, Fernandez got fouled going to the basked and doubled over in pain. Nonetheless, he went to the foul line, swished both free throws, and then came back on the next possession to hit a triple. Akasvayu never recovered.

"I think that in a final, there is no such thing as pain," Fernandez said afterward.

Based on his overall performance in the tournament, after having scored 27 points in the semifinal, Fernandez was voted the MVP. When he received the trophy, however, he ran straight over and handed it to center Jerome Moiso, who had anchored Jovenut's defense all game.

"For me and for everyone, I am sure, Jerome Moiso has been the most determinant player tonight, not only on offense, but on defense," Fernandez explained afterwards. "He stood up to Marc Gasol, one of the top centers in Europe. I just wanted to give him thanks for all that he did in this game to make sure we won. I think he deserved it."

His coach said the gesture told a lot about Fernandez, a reigning world champion for Spain whose individual skills usally keep all eyes on him every time he's on the court. He, however, was keeping his eyes on his teammate, Moiso.

"I imagine that Rudy was thinking he has too many MVP awards," Garcia Reneses joked. "But I think it was a great gesture. This is a team sport, even when we know that people sometimes try to convert it into an individual one, talking about the success of Rudy, the success of Ricky, of Moiso or of Aito. And that's not true. It's always the success of the team, even though someone might be more visible on a given day. Rudy taking the MVP trophy to Moiso is a great gesture. As a friend said to me recently, some players play for the name on the back of their jersey, and some play on the name on the front. That gesture of Rudy's showed that for all the ambition he has, he knows to be always with the team."

That's like something out of a movie. Rudy, coming off the bench, ends up playing a team-high 26.5 minutes, scores 13 points, grabs seven rebounds, nabs three steals, dishes out two assists and gets a block, all with a bum shoulder. Then he finishes the tourney off by giving his MVP trophy to a teammate. That's simply unbelievable. What more could you ask for out of a player?

Keep your fingers crossed that Paul Allen, Kevin Pritchard, Nate McMillan and the rest of the Trail Blazers staff can convince Rudy to come to Portland next year. He could legitimately be the last piece of the puzzle.

Today in links: April 14

Just two games left in the season, so you'd better enjoy these Blazers-related stories while they last. Then again, once the draft buzz gets going there's enough content out there to waste weeks of productive work hours reading about potential new Blazers.

• Joel Przybilla gets some much-deserved props by way of a "Letter to the Editor" from Louis Pain, which would be a great name for a professional wrestler.
As a Blazer fan, I wanted to thank Joel Przybilla for saving this season.

Brandon Roy is the team leader and LaMarcus Aldridge his right-hand man, but Joel is the heart and soul of the Blazers.

Joel's 2006-07 season was a nightmare, but instead of licking his wounds during the offseason, he re-dedicated himself and reported to camp in the best shape of his career and with a revamped free throw shooting technique.

Had Joel not put in that offseason work and then sacrificed his body each and every night this season, can you imagine what this year would have looked like? The word "fiasco" comes to mind.

Instead, despite most predictions the Blazers improved upon last season's record -- even in the absence of Greg Oden and last season's top scorer and rebounder, Zach Randolph.

Next season, Oden will presumably start at center, but that won't really represent a demotion for Joel.

Likely his minutes won't diminish at all, and now both the first and second units will feature a dominant presence in the paint.

The Blazers and their fans are very fortunate to have Joel Przybilla; he's a gem.

• Brian Hendrickson answers some of the questions he posed at the beginning of the season.
4. Who is this team’s best fit as the starting point guard — Jarrett Jack or Steve Blake?

This question has evolved into a different quandary: Is there a point guard on this team that can lead it to the next level? Blake has been solid, but he has not convinced anyone in the organization that he can get a team over the hump to championship contention as the starter. Jack’s play, however, has reduced the organization’s confidence in him because of his soft defense and propensity for momentum-swinging turnovers. The Blazers will need to decide soon how much time they can afford to continue giving Jack time to develop. If they could keep only one point guard right now, you can bet Blake would be their hands-down selection.

I chose to highlight that question because it's the one I hear the most often.

• Hendrickson also conducted an informal poll of other beat writers regarding who they're picking for most improved player. According to Hendrickson, LaMarcus Aldridge comes in at a distant second to Hedo Turkoglu. Too bad. Maybe they can hand out another award to the most valuable player who hasn't been in the league for EIGHT YEARS and who isn't playing alongside the best center in the NBA. LaMarcus might have a shot at that one.

• Some people seemed to get a little bent out of shape after reading Brandon Roy's comments in Jason Quick's game story after the loss to the Kings. I guess I can understand that, but try to put yourself in Brandon's shoes. He just played one of this worst games of his career. He's sitting in the visitors locker room. He's in Sacramento, tired, probably a bit humiliated and definitely sore as hell. He just got done playing his 2,683 minute of the season, 667 more than last season. And now people are asking him about what there is to play for. Try to keep that in mind.

Part 2 of the Blazer's Edge interview with Chris Bowles, Director of Player Programs for the Trail Blazers. gives some love to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge for their super sophomore seasons.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Notes and Quotes: Blazers 108, Mavs 105

Blazers’ 58.7 FG percentage season high (old high 55.3% vs. Milwaukee Dec. 9) . . . 37 point-first quarter season high . . . 37 points also matches highest for any quarter this season . . . 64-point first half ties Blazers season-high for any half this season . . . All five Portland starters in double digits for second time in three games . . . 31 assists one shy of season high . . . Blazers split their four-game series with the Mavs for the first time since the 2002-03 season . . . Two victories over Dallas this season ended a 14-game losing streak that stretched back to December, 2003.


• Nate McMillan
“Tonight I loved the offense and I loved the crowd. It makes a big difference when you get that kind of fan support. These guys are playing off the crowd.

“The whole starting team played so well---31 assists for 41 field goals, that’s a great ratio. I thought the first quarter was one of the best we’ve had this year, triggered somewhat by our defense. I wanted to get Jack on the floor with Roy and Blake to give us three guards. By doing that I thought we could speed up the game some and not have the lulls we had last night at Sacramento.

“Getting 40 wins is big. I haven’t seen 40 since I’ve been here, and the fact that we bounced back from last night (Portland is 12-8 in the second of back-to-back games). I thought we should just send a message that we’re going to be a competitive team next year---maybe looking at 50 wins rather than 40. Its something to look forward to. For this season its good to get there because you need to be in the 40s or better to have any chance at the playoffs. I’m excited about this team. Its been a good year for us---to improve the way we have.

“Our resilience has been a trademark of this team. It’s never down too long. Tonight we had such good ball movement and execution with just nine turnovers. I don’t think this team will have any problems motivating themselves for Tuesday night’s last home game against Memphis. We still have a shot at a winning season.”

• Jarrett Jack
“Those clutch moments when need somebody to get to the line and get some free throws (talking about hitting the two clutch free throws with 19.6 seconds left), I pride myself in coming through for my teammates. That’s what I was able to do. If we get the ball out tonight (talking about playing ‘small ball’) we wanted to run and that’s what happened. We’re not giving up. We know how we end the season can definitely carry over to the next season. Hopefully the way we finish we can open up the next year on a good note as well.”

• Brandon Roy
“I didn’t do good last night. I told the guys that if we win, great. But at least we have to go out and play hard. When we play this kind of basketball, we’re a tough team to beat---like we did against LA. Everyone stepped up tonight; when everyone comes to play, we’re tough to beat.”

• Avery Johnson
“We weren’t in a good state of mind early in the game. They made every single shot. I wanted to say guys weren’t contesting shots, but the one’s we were contesting they were still making. We couldn’t get stops when we couldn’t get stops. They were on fire tonight. Early, I thought we had some breakdowns and made some mistakes and they made us pay. But even when we played good defense they still made us pay.

They were fired up and ready to go. It was a tail of two halves. We came out and got our defense set and were pretty solid defensively. They still made some shots. But to give up that many points in the first half, that’s not our defense. We don’t want to go into the playoffs starting the first quarter like we did tonight. We won’t be able to beat anybody.

The men are aware of it and they’ll come back out tomorrow night and hopefully come out to a better start. We’re not going to drop our heads over this loss. They played a terrific game and were ready to go. They’ve been pretty decent at home and I think we thought we were going to play the team who lost last night.”

• Jason Terry
“Give them credit, they hit a lot of shots. They shot almost 60 percent on us. That’s not how we play, that’s not our best defensive game at all. (On three–point look at end of game) “It was a good luck, but just short. AT the same time, we fought back, we got off to a horrible start. You get down 13 or 15 to this team and they’re confidence gets high and they start to hit shots and they continue to hit them all night long. We dug ourselves a hole, but we’ll bounce back tomorrow night.”

(On seed in playoffs)
“It doesn’t matter once you’re in. we just want to be playing well going in, it didn’t happen tonight but we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”

• Jason Kidd
“We can’t let a team shoot 67 percent in the first half and you’re not going to beat anybody. We gave ourselves a chance to win, with two minutes left we tied the game up and it’s anybody’s ball game and they make shots and we couldn’t stop them.”

Video: McMillan, Roy and Aldridge talk post-game

This one has to go down as one of the more fulfilling wins of the season. Getting to 40 wins really seemed to mean something to Nate McMillan, and it's really not hard to understand why. Finishing with a winning record is obviously the goal with just two games left, but even if that doesn't happen, you can't take anything away from this victory.

Incidentally, if the Blazers were to win their last two games, they'd finish 42-40, which would have tied them with Golden State for the eighth playoff spot last season. That says a lot about how far this team has come, and even more about how ridiculously tough the West has been this season.

The following are a portion of the post-game remarks from Nate McMillan, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Enjoy.

Photos: Blazers 108, Mavericks 105

Friday, April 11, 2008

Nike Hoop Summit Links

The Nike Hoop Summit is less that 24 hours away, and this is probably the last post I'm going to devote to the best collection of under-19 players from the States and abroad. Tickets are still available online for the insanely low price of $6, so if I haven't convinced you to check it out by now, then nothing is going to change your mind.

If for some reason you can't make it to the Rose Garden tomorrow, you can watch the game on Fox Sports Net starting at 1 p.m. What's even better is that Yahoo! is going to webcast the game live.

Here's the latests news from the Hoop Summit buildup.

• OPB's Andrew Theen filed an audio postcard from a basketball clinic the international team put on at the Self Enhancement Inc.

• Sean Meagher and Tim Brown at put together two great videos from the USA and World team practices.

• The Mike Schmidt from Draft Express has been breaking down the talent pool on both teams. here's the report from the first day of practices, and here's the report from the second day.

• USA Today asked Dirk Nowitzki, who lead the International team to a 104-99 victory back in 1998, about his experience playing in the Hoop Summit:
"I didn't know how big this game was going to be," Nowitzki said. "I had played the Euros (European championship) with my under-16 national team and there were a couple of colleges there. This game was broadcast live on ESPN2 — there were hundreds of scouts there. Without that game, my transition to the NBA wouldn't have been as easy."

• Angel Garcia, a Memphis commit who I imagine will start tomorrow for the Internationals, had a heck of a time even getting on the court last season after transferring. The ringer they put amateur athletes through is often ridiculous.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Emmanuel Negedu: 'I go hard whenever I'm on the court'

Emmanuel Negedu is a thick dude. Originally from Nigeria, Negedu has signed on to play next year for the Arizona Wildcats. Looking at Negedu it's easy to see why one of the top programs in the nation scooped him up: good height, wide, athletic body and a crazy motor. He reminds me a bit of Ike Diogu, who also happens to be of Nigerian descent.

In the following clip, Negedu talks about what he brings to the World Select Team, breaking the USA Team's winning streak and the strengths of the international side.

Tickets for the event are available online or by calling 877-789-ROSE.

Nike Hoop Summit team previews

The Nike Hoop Summit is just two days away and I'm telling you, you're not going to want to miss it. Lower bowl tickets are going for $6, which is the best deal you're going to find for this kind of quality basketball. When these guys are lottery picks in a few years you'll be able to impress all of your friends with your extensive knowledge thanks to seeing them live right out of high school.

To get preps for what you're going to see, check out the USA Team and World Team previews by Sean Meagher and Tim Brown. Both are authorities on all things high school sports over at

Today in links: April 10

Two days off at this point in the season feels like an eternity. Lots of solid links to fill the gap between now and tomorrow's game in Sacramento.

• Channing Frye breaks down his approach to the game and how it corresponds to playing time this season:
But it comes down to this: I’m 24 years old, this is my 3rd year in the NBA. I’m finally embracing the type of game that I’m going to need to have, and the type of work ethic that I’m going to need to have, to not only survive, but to thrive, in this league.

It’s a business, and sometimes you need a harsh reminder of the seriousness of that. For me to play more, is for me to continue to be a consistent worker. Not only in the weight room and practice court, but in the games. Also, for me to understand my role on this team and to find a way to help not only myself, but the team, to be a good as we can be. The complicated part is that it changes at times and I’m getting used to that.

• Revisiting the rumored Zach Randolph for Richard Jefferson trade.

• Most people usually point to Minnesota as the team that flubbed by not holding on to Brandon Roy on draft night. But as time goes on and the Roy-bot continues to improve, the second guessing increases. In regards to the trade that the Toronto Raptors made to acquire TJ Ford for Charlie Villanueva ...
Now that Jose (Calderon) is Jose and Brandon Roy is Brandon Roy and Ford is suspect for several reasons, there's no way Colangelo makes that deal again. Jose and Roy in the backcourt; Charlie as a sixth man; Rasho and Bosh up front and more money to spend on additional depth would have the Raptors further ahead than they are today. I wouldn't have said that last season; and if Bargnani can get his stuff together, maybe I won't next year and the years after. But hoping for that to happen is a gamble too.

• Here's an article from about the Blazers' turnaround. It's a nice little piece, but as an astute reader at Blazer's Edge points out, there are a couple mistakes.

• Making the case that the Blazers should ditch Blaze the Trail Cat for SuperSonic mascot Sasquatch. No comment.

• An interview with Chris Bowles, the Blazers Director of Player Programs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Up in Channing's kitchen

Channing Frye had his best game of the season last night, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two assists and five hard fouls. I don't know what he ate before last night's game, but whatever it was, he should eat it before every start.

Thanks to the folks at Edible Portland Magazine, we do have a rough idea of what Channing might have consumed before yesterday's victory. I don't think there's anything that Channing could have in his refrigerator that would surprise me.

Video: McMillan, Frye talk post-game

If we could play the Lakers 41 times a season at the Rose Garden, I guarantee we'd finish with no worse than a .500 overall on the year. Maybe guys get up to play Kobe Bryant or maybe they relish the idea of getting into scraps with Lamar Odom. Whatever the reason, it almost always seems to turn out well for the Red and Black.

Here's what Nate McMillan and super-stud Channing Frye had to say after the game.