I had a chance to catch up with Mike Born, Trail Blazers' Director of NBA Scouting, after he got back from the Rudy Fernandez fact finding mission with Kevin Pritchard, Tom Penn and Chad Buchanan. Here's what he had to say after returning from the other side of the pond
What did you see since last I talked to you?
Born: Overall the trip was terrific. We had a chance to see numerous guys who will be in this year’s draft. I had a chance to see Rudy and say hi to him. And then we had a chance to see the Euroleague final four and kind of lock in on some guys that we’ve talked about in reference to summer league guys, American vets playing overseas, European vets, numerous guys over there like David Andersen, Eliyahu from Houston, David Lewis -- guys that have their rights owned by NBA teams. It gave us the chance to see a lot of different guys. There were also a couple of kids in the draft at the final four. One kid played a little bit and the other one didn’t play at all. But overall the final four was terrific. The entire trip was great.
What did you comeback with from this trip that you didn’t have when you left?
Born: I think the main thing for us was going over there for Rudy. Just to have a chance to see him and get bearings on where that was at. But we also did our work on a few European players that are in the draft that we think have a chance of being pretty high picks. So we had a chance to see those guys again in person.
For me personally, I wasn’t over in Europe a lot because I was so locked in with the NBA this season and especially right up until trade deadline. Then once trade deadline passed at the end of February, then I was locked in on trying to do my due diligence and catch up a little bit on the college scene. So I spent a lot of March and April locked in on the college conference tournaments, the NCAA tournament, trying to kind of get my thumb back on that. For me it was nice to be able to go over there and lock in on some of the international kids. Again, for what I’m trying to do, I’m sure Chad Buchanan would give you a different answer than maybe Kevin or Tom would just because I’m the one putting the summer league team together. I’m also the one that tracks the D-League, so it’s good for me to get a barometer of how I can compare guys in the minor leagues to some of the super high-level European players.
There’s plenty of players that are good enough over there that are European professionals (the top ones at least) that could very easily be playing in the NBA. It’s good to go see those guys and how they’re progressing and getting the draft rights and all that stuff. I don’t know if I could pinpoint one particular thing. Obviously the main thing for us was to see Rudy and catch up with some of the draft guys. So it was draft preparation as much as anything. It was really beneficial for all of us to go over there and see those guys.
What’s next for you between now and the draft?
Born: There’s a couple of things. Obviously following the NBA playoffs series, being that I’m in charge of a lot of the NBA stuff, it’s always good to see, whether it’s a free agent player this summer, a free agent player the following summer and just players in general. The more you can see them the better feel you have for them and the book you’re trying to build. So I still watch a lot of the NBA playoffs.
But the secondary duty is to keep preparing for the NBA draft. Chad Buchanan, our Director of College Scouting, does a terrific job in making sure that not only is he prepared, but making sure that we’re prepared. So kind of just following his lead a little bit there on what he’s got going. He’s doing a lot of work so he’s passing that information along to us to kind of help us collectively form an opinion individually on guys who we like and then come together on a particular player that we might look at picking. Doing that and also getting ready for summer league. I put our summer league team together so, just trying to basically touch base with a lot of agents right now. Making phone calls on guys that we’ve like or I’ve liked over the last couple of years. Maybe guys from last year’s draft who are playing overseas.
So you’re trying to add in guys to your summer league team that you’d like to take a look at and put your coaches around and the management team around so we can see not only what they’re like as players on the floor and how they perform but also what kind of practice habits they have. Are they coachable? Are they on time? Those things that we get to see when we put them under our roof for a couple of weeks.
There’s never really a down time. I think there’s times when it’s slower than others but the one thing that Kevin is great about doing is that, even though I’m Director of NBA Scouting, it’s not like that’s all I do. He allows us to be involved in all the different facets so you never really get a chance to say ‘Oh man, the trade deadline has passed and now the draft is coming up and I don’t have to worry about that’ because he wants the opinion of all the guys at all times. You’re always trying to be prepared for the next event happening to help our team become even better.
Has a decision been made regarding who is going to coach the summer league team yet?
Born: I don’t know what they decided. I think Billy Bayno was going to do it, but I think it might be Dean. I know he’s coached it in the past so I don’t know if he’ll coach it. Monty took it last year so I don’t know if they’ll give it to Dean or Luc. But I would think maybe Dean will do it this summer.
Did you get to see the junior game you mentioned last time we talked?
Born: I did. It’s a junior tournament that coincides with the Euroleague final four. Essentially it’s eight of the top junior teams, not necessary tied directly to the Euroleague teams. They basically just collect the top eight teams. I think this year they had qualifying tournaments to get in. I don’t think it was a selections process, so teams had to play well in junior qualifying tournaments to be able to play in the main tournament.
I actually saw about a game and a half while I was there but I had a chance to see basically the top – and this is just coming from an international scout – but the two teams I saw player were probably the two top teams. It was a chance to see a couple of teams that had some pretty good young talent. Again, it’s a chance to start building a book on some of those guys. Instead of seeing them on DVD or hearing about what somebody else thought of him or reading about something on the internet, you get a chance to go in there an see them on your own merits. So it was good. Like I said, I only saw the one full game but if I had to pick a day where I could go watch two team specifically, those are the two teams that I probably would have picked. It’s an added bonus that I had a chance to see that game.
For you, what are the benefits of seeing guys in person?
Born: I think if you talked to most people, you always want to have a combination of seeing both. There are certain things you can pick up by watching guys on DVD and there are other things you can pick up by watching them in person. Just being there in person, you get a chance to get a good feel for their size, their weight, their body, their body shape, their body definition, those kinds of things. A lot of times if you up and your shooting from the second level you don’t have a great feel for individuals because you kind of get a broad perspective of the floor and guy’s spacing and their basketball feel.
But when you’re there in person, I’ll go down 90 minutes to two hours before the game and sit right on the floor and watch guys shoot and handle the ball. You get a chance to compare this guy and that guy on the floor because sometimes listed heights can be misleading. When you’re there in person you can get a really good feel. I’ll stand right up on the sideline. If there’s a guard that’s over there who might be listed at 6-3 and he comes over, I might just stand up to get a gauge. There are little things like that. I think once you get into the course of the game, we can watch a guy on TV or DVD, but it’s nice for us to go to a game in person, there may be a couple of guys that I want to see matched up, like two small forwards against each other. If the camera is following the ball or maybe there’s a press going on in the front and two small forwards are farther down the floor.
It’s the same thing when you get to timeouts. I can watch a guy go to the huddle. They break away for a commercial and I can see how the coaches and the player talk. Maybe free throw is going on and I can watch a player go over and talk to a head coach to see what kind of body language he has. Does he look coachable? Does he look receptive to what the coach is giving him? Is he giving him bad body language? So I think there’s a lot of things that go on that allow you in person to refocus. But we also have to use video, DVD, ect. simply because we can’t be in Europe and see every single game or see a particular guy play like you can do in the NBA or college. I can sit down and watch a particular kid in the states for the draft six or seven times. If the kid plays in Europe, maybe I saw him last summer and then I’ll go over and see him in May so you still get a chance to follow his progress. Even though I’ve only seen him live back in the summer – maybe I haven’t seen him live in seven, eight, nine months – I can still watch him play six to ten games here and still watch his progress and feel. Then maybe when I go there I can specifically be looking for particular areas of his game. I imagine it’s probably a little different with everybody but I know for me I like having the combination of being able to see guys in person and also being able to watch on DVD.
If I had to pick one or the other I’d probably say it’s better to see games in person. In our time here, where we’re at with technology, it’s great because you get a chance to sit down and watch almost every game their playing now. Whether it’s college or NBA or even international, we can get a lot of access to that stuff. I know I go back to this a lot, but you’re constantly trying to build that book and add pages to that book so you feel really comfortable for who guys are as players.
Do you think there are some players who have the talent to play in the NBA but just choose to stay in Europe?
Born: No doubt. There are numerous guys who are definitely good enough to be in the states playing in the NBA but for a lot of those guys, they’re leaving their country, their families, their friends, they might be leaving a team that they wanted to play for all their lives to play in the NBA. For some of those guys, they’re making one to three million Euros net a year, so they might end up making more money playing for CSKA for Sienna or Real Madrid or Maccabi, some of those elite teams. Those guys may not be making quite as much money as they could here, but some of them probably are, and they’re getting to stay in their home country.
For some of those guys maybe it’s not about the NBA. Maybe the NBA isn’t where they wanted to be at. They may just enjoy being in their home country. If you’re making $3 million dollars in the United States or $3 million dollars in Moscow and you’re from there and your family is over there, you’re taking a chance of giving up a lot of things to come to the state just to be in the NBA. I think for some of those guys, with the success that some of the international teams have had, it may not be as important to come to the NBA and prove something as it is for some guys who view the NBA as the best league.