Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blazers preseason: New places and faces

The summer is the only time of year when it's acceptable to get geeked out about the preseason. There's next to nothing going down in Portland sports, so I'm not going to feel bad about over analyzing a schedule of meaningless games. If you've got complaints, take 'em in the comments, but don't try to make your candle look brighter by blowing my candle out. Keep your breath off my candle.

So without further ado, here's the Trail Blazers 2008 preseason schedule.

Oct. 7 Sacramento Rose Garden Portland, OR 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 Golden State Rose Garden Portland, OR 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 Atlanta Spring Center Kansas City, MO 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 Utah Rose Garden Portland, OR 3 p.m.
Oct. 20 Sacramento ARCO Arena Sacramento 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 Clippers Staple Center Los Angeles 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 Utah Energy Solutions Arena Salt Lake City 7 p.m.

The first thing I noticed was that we drew quite a few teams who have gone through significant changes in the offseason, which, in my opinion, adds some excitement to games that at times can be a tad bit tedious.

First game is against Sacramento, now in full-blow rebuilding mode with the trade of Ron Artest. Is any team in the league going to have a bigger change of personality than the Kings without Ron-Ron? Kevin Martin is still a soon-to-be superstar, Beno Udrih is a nice (though not MLE worthy) point guard, Spencer Hawes and Fransisco Garcia can ball, but who strikes fear into the hearts of the Kings' opposition? No one, that's who. This team, for better or worse, has no identity with the departure of Artest.

Then there's game two against the now Baron Davis-less Warriors. Golden State still has dynamic personalities in Don Nelson and Stephen Jackson, but the transition into the Monta Ellis era in Oakland is going to be rough, at least at first. Can you really replace B-Diddy? Is Nelson's heart still into coaching? How fast can Corey Maggette, Ronny Turiaf, Marcus Williams and Anthony Randolph integrate into a system unlike any other in the NBA? That, my friends, is going to be interesting.

Then it's on to Kansas City (the Missouri version) to take on the Atlanta Hawks. Will Josh Smith reside in the ATL come October? Is this the year Marvin Williams puts it together? Does Mike Bibby still have anything left in the tank? Will Josh Childress be eating dolmas and sipping ouzo on a beach in Corfu? At present time, we only know the answer to one of those questions.

By the way, it's a nice touch to play this one in K.C. Teams should meet in the middle of the country more often. Unless, of course, those teams play in warm weather climates. I'm not swapping a road trip to Miami for a visit to Wichita.

Then it's Utah at the Rose Garden. Same old Jazz: Physical, dependable and utterly surprised every time a foul is called. Beside the additions of Brevin Knight and rookie Kosta Koufos, this is the same Utah squad you've come to know and despise. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer will probably be fresh off a plane from Beijing by time this one rolls around in mid-October, so I doubt we'll see much of those two.

After week long break it's off to Sacramento for another go round with the Kings. We'll get a chance to see if the folks in California's capital have taken care of that rat/hobo in the theater problem. My money is on more of the same.

Next stop: Los Angeles to take on the new-look Clippers. No Brand or Maggette, but more Davis' (be it the Baron or Ricky variety) and Marcus Camby. Again, we're talking about a serious change in personnel and playing style. They could be great; they could be terrible. The history of the Clippers franchise would indicate the latter as the most likely outcome, but they do possess a lot of talent, at least on paper.

Finally, the preseason ends with another game against the Jazz, this time in SLC. It's also the second night of a back-to-back, so don't expect to see the best the Blazers have to offer in that one.

So with the exception of the Jazz, you're looking at four opponents with a ton of changes. The Blazers have quite a few unknowns as well, so if you ask me, it's shaping up to be a rather exciting preseason. And how often do you get to say that?

Greg Oden keeps it low in Columbus

What a swinging bachelor pad Greg Oden and Mike Conley's rental in Columbus must be. Two NBA players, already legends at Ohio State, kicking it with coeds in hot Columbus summer sun. The all night parties and the sophomoric hijinks must be off the hook, right? Maybe not, at least according to Conley.
[Conley] is sharing a rental with Oden, who also returned to school while training for his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden missed last season after having knee surgery.

"He's the same dude, sleeping all the time and doing nothing," Conley joked of his former high school teammate and college roommate. "I'm like, 'Hey, let's go here,' and he's like, 'Aw, I just want to go to bed, Mike. I just want to relax.'

"That's him. He hasn't changed at all. But that's good to see because I know a lot of people can change with the different things that are thrown at us."

G.O. has stayed busy this summer, so it's no surprise he'd rather catch a nap than catch frisbee's in the quad. From hamming it up at the ESPYs to going geek at the San Diego Comic-Con to riding in the back of a pickup at the Junior Rose Festival Parade, Oden has keep his offseason steady moving.

So if you're visiting Ohio State this summer, keep it down. Greg's trying to sleep.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rudy Fernandez has no love for Latvia

The Spanish National Team, much like every other team preparing for the Olympics, have played a few exhibition matches in preparation for the big dance in Beijing. Today the fellows from Latvians were served up like so much paella, and the Spaniards straight ran through them 107-57.

How did Rudy do? Not to shabby. He's not starting (get use to that mi amigo), but he did finish with 14 points and 2 rebounds (this is the best scoreboard link I could find) in a little over 20 minutes. He nailed 4 of 6 from the FIBA three-point line, which is really the key to winning in international competition. If you can make teams pay for playing zone, you always have a chance of winning.

My Spanish is all but nonexistent so I'm not sure what's next for Team Spain, but I'm sure they have another tuneup or two before group play begins.

Update: Here's a better link for stats from Spain v. Latvia. Thanks Miguel.

07.30.08 Edition of the Podcast

It's a little slow in Rip City, but the we still managed to turn out 40 minutes of podcasty goodness in the the infamous Studio C at the Rose Garden. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of discuss Brandon Roy's offseason, the implications of the Ron Artest to Houston trade and Dawson's big promotion to mornings at The Game. Listen up players and playettes!

Download the podcast (19.3 MB).

Bayless on ESPN's First Take

Here's video of Jerryd Bayless saying all the right things during an interview with Sage Steele on ESPN's First Take.

You don't often hear a rookie say he brings "leadership" to a team. I think it's a bold statement, but that's Bayless in a nutshell.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jerryd Bayless at Rookie Photo Shoot Day

I don't know about you, but Rookie Photo Shoot Day is one of my favorite days of the offseason. Bright-eyed rookies, not yet beaten down by the rigors of an 82 game season, strike somewhat unnatural poses in front of equally unnatural backdrops. For what purpose? I'm not entirely sure. It's just a little taste of the hazing they'll soon be receiving from their veteran overlords. Welcome to the Association fellas!

Below are Jerryd Bayless' glamor shots, which are actually pretty decent. If you've always wanted to know what he would look like dribbling in a sky full of altocumulus clouds, then today is your lucky day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Leaving the awe in Las Vegas

Being asked to play on the USA Select Team is decidedly less impressive than making the USA Men's Senior National Team, but it's an honor nonetheless. Helping to train the Beijing-bound squad is probably second in importance to actually being on the team, so should "Team Redeem" bring home the gold the Select Team roster can take some pride in knowing they played a significant role in restoring America's basketball dominance.

But while love of country is a valid reason to do most anything, getting in some solid practice time with the best collection of players in the world might be a better reason to square up against Team USA. For that reason, both LaMarcus Aldridge and Jerryd Bayless were wise to accept invitations to play on the Select team.

Then again, what can you really get out of a week of practice? Maybe you pick up a few tricks here and there, but can you really emerge as a better player simply because the court is full of All-Stars and Hall of Famers? Probably not, but there's more to making it in the NBA than the ability to hit a jump shot.

"It’s obviously an adjustment playing against the best players in the world, but they’ve competed hard," said Kevin Pritchard, who was in Las Vegas to watch Aldridge and Bayless play on the Select team. "They’ve gotten better every day, so we’re excited about that experience, especially for Jerryd. Now when he goes into the league and he plays against the best players he’s not going to have that ‘awe factor.'

"The thing about Jerryd is we know he’s fearless. He’s not scared. He’s exhibiting those same characteristics going against the best guys in the world."

And therein benefit of playing on the Select team for a guy like Bayless. Players tend to react tentatively when going up for the first time against the superstars they idolized growing up. You get beat when that happens in the regular season. The stakes are not nearly as high on the Select team in a practice setting,

"I don’t think you could have set up a better experience, for Jerryd especially, than going through those couple of days because a lot of the time rookies have that ‘awe factor' you’ve got to get through coming into the NBA, playing against some of these superstars," said Blazers Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan, who was also on hand to watch the Team USA scrimmages. "He just faced all of them basically in one gym for two days and didn’t back down, so he’s going to come in ready to compete and not back down from anybody.

"The Olympic guys wanted to make sure that those younger guys knew that this was there league. They’re the Senior National Team and this is what [players on the Select team] are going to face on a nightly basis when they get to the NBA. They had a little bravado about them, were trying to send a message to those guys, and Jerryd did not back down one bit from any of those guys."

As for their actual performances, both Aldridge and Bayless exhibited their strengths (outside shooting and aggressiveness) while working on their weaknesses (low-post presences and point guard play).

Aldridge, matched up against guys like Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, utilized his outside game in an attempt to emulate the more perimeter-oriented bigs common place in international competition.

"LaMarcus does what he does well, which is shoot the basketball" Pritchard said. So he’s spreading the floor, shooting perimeter shots and making it difficult for guys to double team, which allows the other guys to drive because he’s opened up the floor."

"I thought LaMarcus looked a little nervous at first, which I think any guy would be going up head to head against some of those guys on that team" Buchanan said. "I thought he did what he does: He shoots the ball. He’s a face up big and that’s kind of how he got his looks in the three days I was there. The guards on the Olympic team were really, really physical with the guards that were playing with LaMarcus, so they had some trouble getting him the ball.

"I think it’s a good eye opener for LaMarcus, seeing where he needs to get to be at the level of some of those guys like a Dwight Howard. But I thought he got better every day, so that’s all you can ask for."

Bayless, who missed the end of his Select Team engagement due to a minor hand injury, continued to exhibit the same traits he became known for during the summer league, while working on his skills as a point guard.

"It is an adjustment period," Pritchard said. "[Bayless] is playing point guard and he’s really competed hard. The thing about Jerryd is we know he’s fearless. He’s not scared. He’s exhibiting those same characteristics going against the best guys in the world."

"I could tell [Bayless] wanted to put his head down and go to the basket, but that’s not what they wanted him to do" Buchanan said. "They wanted the Senior Team to work on defending some sets so he couldn’t really do that. But I thought Jerryd had a great showing."

A Roy for offseasons

It's probably unnecessary considering any true Trail Blazers fan who reads this blog is most likely already reading anything The Oregonian's Jason Quick is turning out, but I felt compelled to draw your attention to his article on Brandon Roy's offseason and the corresponding blog series that compliments the story (though I would argue the blog posts are complimented by the story, but that's just me). It's as good of a window into Brandon Roy's home life as you're going to get.

So much great information that I haven't seen anywhere else, from Roy's marriage proposal to his opinion on Jerryd Bayless. This is great Monday morning reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Q&A with Mike Born, Blazers Director of NBA Scouting

I had a few minutes last week to talk to Mike Born, Trail Blazers Director of NBA Scouting, who was in Las Vegas scouting the summer league. Born had been at the Orlando summer league before that and was leaving to attend the Rocky Mountain Review after Vegas. Here's what he had to say about the Trail Blazers' performance, his schedule and how it's easy to get a false impression of a player.

What are your goals in regards to scouting the teams at summer league?

I’m going to try to go through and see every team in the summer league, which is 29 of the 30. Boston is the only team, I think, that does have a summer league team. Trying to go through and see every team play two to three times if possible. You’re watching the progression of the players, whether it’s guys that just came into the draft this year, a Robin Lopez or a Brook Lopez, just to see how they’re doing. But also following some guys, like a Corey Brewer, that played last year, played in the NBA, just to kind of track their progress.

We’re looking at every player because we have to know all of them. If anybody comes up in a potential trade, we have to know who they are and how they’re developing and progressing. The biggest thing for me is to try and see every team a couple of times, that way I’m obviously seeing the players as much as I can.

From a scouting standpoint, what are the benefits of seeing players in a setting like the Orlando or Las Vegas summer leagues?

Most of these guys are coming out, and they’ve practiced for three or four days with their teams and they’ve put in some sets, so you’re getting a chance to see these guys run through some NBA stuff, seeing if they’re able to pick that stuff up, because you can kind of tell when guys are lost out there, not in the right position. It allows these guys to be relaxed and just play.

Another thing to is you’re getting a chance to see -- for example in this game, D.J. Strawberry -- some of these guys play significant minutes. Where if you go watch some of these guys play in an NBA game or a preseason game you’re not going to see them in the same situation.

We say this: The summer league is summer league. It’s nice to see guys play well but what happens here, whether it’s good or bad, isn’t really going to determine whether a guy is going to be a good NBA player. Marco Belinelli came in last year and was the talk of the summer league. He goes to Golden State and doesn’t hardly play.

But I also think that there are positives that can come out of watching these guys play. I still think Belinelli is a really good player even though he might not have played this past year. He’s playing well here again, so for some of these guys, they’re going to go and they may play really well here and they may go into a situation with their team where they just can’t get minutes. Maybe they’re going to play for Houston or San Antonio, and they’re a really good player here, but they’re going to go to their real team and they’re just not going to get the opportunity because there are better players there. But it’s still good to see those guys.

So if a Donte Green comes in here and plays pretty well, he maybe doesn’t get the minutes this year, and then next year you come back and watch him again and you’re like, ‘He’s really gotten better.’ We may not have seen that during the season because he just didn’t get the minutes. But we’re able to still track the progression of these guys. Some of these guys might be going into their third year in the NBA and you still try to follow their progress.

You can also do that with some of these minor league guys. I cover the minor leagues for us, so it’s a good chance to follow a Clay Tucker, a Will Conroy, some of these guys that have been in the D-League, just to see those guys making progress. Some of these guys you may watch for two or three summers and just be like, ‘They’re not good enough to play in the NBA.’ He’s a good player, he could be a good player in the D-League, he might be a good player in Europe, but he’s not going to be good enough for the NBA. Again, stuff comes up and if we want to make a call up for a 10 day contract, guys in the D-League, I can say, ‘I just don’t think he’s good enough, I would rather take this guy.’

Which players and performances were you impressed by during summer league?

There’s been a lot of guys that I’ve been impressed with. A lot of the lottery guys have been pretty good. I saw Westbrook, he played well. Michael Beasley played well. The Lopez twins have both been pretty good. Obviously Jerryd Bayless has been pretty good for us.

Because I did so much NBA stuff early on this year -- I did a lot of NBA stuff basically through the trade deadline -- so once I got into the college mode I was trying to catch up a little bit. There were some guys that I didn’t get a chance to see, like an Anthony Merrill that played at Georgia Tech. He played pretty well when I saw him down in Orlando and he’s a guy that I was like, “Man, he’s not a bad player.” I had seen him play -- he had a really good sophomore year -- but it’s good to kind of track those guys.

If all the sudden his name comes up or he’s in Golden State or he’s somewhere else and he’s in a vets camp and he’s playing well, you’re not surprised by it because you’ve seen him and you’ve seen him play pretty well in Orlando and you understand that the kid’s not a bad player. I think he’s a guy they had down in Orlando, I think he was with New Jersey, but he ended up having a pretty good showing in the three days I was there. He’s one of those guys that I’m sure has helped himself because there’s a lot of NBA teams watching those guys play. He’s maybe helped himself have a chance in the NBA this year, maybe getting into a vets camp. There’s six teams down there so they’ve all seen him play. And there’s a lot of international scouts that will come to these summer leagues looking for guys to add to their teams. So I think he’s helped himself in that capacity as well.

How satisfied have you been with the performances of Jerryd Bayless, Petteri Koponen and Nicolas Batum?

The whole summer league purpose for us is to help our guys get better. That’s the No. 1 thing. It’s also a chance for us to get a look at guys on our team that would be considered free agents, whether it’s a J.R. Pinnock or an Aleks Maric.

I think our three guys have all done a pretty good job. Koponen has played pretty well. Jerryd Bayless has been pretty darn good. And for Nicolas, he probably hasn’t played as well as he’d like to but for me, I’m o.k. with that because he’s a young kid. I’m sure he wants to come out here and do well. Are we all concerned about Batum? Not really, just because this could be an experience that he could come away from saying, ‘Man, I really understand now how difficult it is to play in the NBA. I understand I have to get stronger, more aggressive. I need to continue working on my shooting.’

I know when Tim Duncan came right out of school he had a terrible summer league. Obviously Tim Duncan turned out to be a pretty good player. Again, it’s nice for guys to play well but at the end of the day, we just want our guys to come out here and work really hard, make sure they’re being coachable with our guys. So far I think it’s gone pretty good.

Do you look for anything different during summer league than you would in, say, a college game?

Not really. Again, we try to follow the progress that these guys are making. We want to watch these guys. When you go to a summer league or an individual workout, these guys know they’re on a stage and they know there’s a ton of NBA people in here so they’re going to play their tails off. I think if you go to a college practice guys play pretty hard but if a player knows that he’s a practice and maybe there’s a chance that an NBA scout is in there watching them, they’re still going to practice pretty hard. But if you told them in advance that we’re going to practice today and there’s going to be 30 NBA teams in here, the level is going to rise on that particular practice just because they know there’s so much at stake.

I go through and I see the D-League games and I see a bunch of these guys playing the D-League games. Then I see them playing in summer league and for a lot of these guys you feel like the level is way up for them because you’ve seen them in a D-League environment. And again, it’s not that they’re not playing hard, but there’s just so much at stake for these guys here because, again, they know there are people in the building. And for some of these guys you feel like their level of so raised up, their intensity level and the focus level, and that one of the things that we have to be careful of. I’ll have people come through and they might say this particular guy is playing really well and I may have seen him in the D-League for the past two years, and I might think he is playing really well. But I still wouldn’t add him to our team and it would still be hard for me to recommend him to somebody else, maybe overseas or in the D-League, because I’ve seen him and I know he hasn’t been very good on a lot of night’s too.

You come out here and you have five games and you play pretty well in three of them and people might have a perception that, ‘This kid is a pretty good player.’ Obviously more times you see a player, the better feel you’re going to have for who they are. If I’ve seen a guy play twice and he plays well both times I may think that he’s a great player. But if you see him play eight times, and you see a couple really good games and a couple of really bad games and some games in the middle, you have a better barometer on who he really is. I think that’s real big for us: to see these guys as many times as we can because the more times you see guys, the better fell you have for who they are and it allows you to, hopefully, make less mistakes.

What’s next for you? Do you get some time off after the summer league ends?

This year I was doing all the NBA stuff through the trade deadline. As soon as the trade deadline hit at the end of February I kind of went right into draft mode. We do that through the end of June. As soon as that was done I went right into putting our summer league team together. Summer league team goes to practice, practice comes to (Las Vegas), so we’ll be done here on the 20th.

What I’ll try to do is take a couple weeks and go back to Iowa, just kind of be with my family. I run a youth basketball camp, I’m going to go back and do that. Then I’m actually going to go over the Olympics for about 10 days, go over and watch Rudy Fernandez play and also go over there just to keep following the international guys. That’s something we look to do as you see some of the international Europeans that are coming over here that are playing, that are pretty good players, so we want to have that covered as well.

So I come back from that on the 20th, then basically I’ll spend September back in Portland, kind of getting ready for vets camp. Hopefully a lot of our guys will come in like last year, first part of September, get our guys together and start playing in-house for the month of September. You don’t get a bunch of huge breaks in there. At least I get a little one, because I know that Kevin and Nate, they don’t get much of a break at all. Nate’s gone from our team to the draft to Team USA then in Beijing. It never really slows up, but that’s o.k. We like it that way.

There's only one Full House

While sorting through my Google Alerts this morning I noticed a link entitled "Channing Frye on Full House." Instantly my heart started to race. Channing on one of the preeminent shows of the late 80's and early 90's? Uncle Jesse, the Olsen twins, Kimmy, Bob Saget and the Buffet of Goodness? That's comedy gold.

But alas, it turns out the link didn't have anything to with that that "Full House." Instead it's audio from an interview Frye did with some Arizona radio show, who so brashly refer to themselves as "The Full House." It's still a good interview and worth a listen, but it's hardly a sitcom set in San Fransisco chronicling a single father raising three girls with the help of his brother-in-law and his comedian friend.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

07.23.08 Edition of the Podcast

After a brief hiatus, the podcast is back and in full effect. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of run down a shake out a whole host of topics, from performances at summer league to potential free agents and just about everything in between.

Download the podcast (19.0 MB).

Happy birthday Brandon Roy

It's July 23, which makes today the 24th birthday of Brandon Dawayne Roy. Congratulations to Brandon, but also a HUGE thank you to Tony and (especially) Gina Roy, Brandon's parents. The city of Portland owes you both, big time.

So from the Trail Blazers Center Court Blog, please enjoy this Travis Outlaw tiki-inspired e-card that I've repurposed as a birthday greeting, along with Sergio Rodriguez's stirring Spanish rendition of "Happy Birthday."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cap space 2009: Reporters spending already

One of Kevin Pritchard's primary goals since he took over as general manager has been to achieve salary cap flexibility. And if everything shakes out just so, KP will get his wish in the summer of 2009. The contracts of Raef LaFrentz and Steve Francis come off the books, giving the Blazers around $20 million in cap space (Dave's concerns notwithstanding). For the first time in some time, the Blazers could be players in the free agent market (though dreams of Chris Paul or Deron Williams, though always unrealistic, are now completely dashed).

Salary cap flexibility in '09 (which, by the way, would make a great presidential campaign promise) is no secret, which is why some reporters in Chicago, given the unresolved nature of Luol Deng's contract status, are already starting to spend Paul Allen's future cash. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Times writes ...
If no extension is reached, Deng's camp could offer the Bulls a window to execute a sign-and-trade so as not to lose their former lottery acquisition for nothing. The Charlotte Observer reported Monday that talks broke off between restricted free agent Emeka Okafor and the Bobcats, who could pursue sign-and-trade options.

In lieu of that, Deng would sign a one-year tender offer for $4.45 million, become an unrestricted free agent in 2009 and not negotiate with the Bulls.

Portland is one of several teams projected to have ample salary-cap space in 2009 where Deng would fit. This fact, along with a feeling the Bulls have had two summers to negotiate with Deng, is creating this urgency.
Mike McGraw of the Arlington Daily Herald gets even more specific (inasmuch as blind speculation can be "specific").
Deng will have some quality options if he decides to sign the one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. How does joining a Portland starting lineup of Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless sound?

The Blazers are a dangerous opponent for the Bulls right now, because they have an opening for Deng on the floor and will have cap room next year when Raef LaFrentz and Steve Francis come off the books.

Portland is one of several teams expected to have significant cap room in 2009. If Deng or fellow restricted free agent Ben Gordon take the qualifying offer, they are probably as good as gone after one more awkward, lame-duck season in Chicago.


There figures to be an avid trade market for Deng if it comes to that. Portland would probably be willing to give back Channing Frye and Travis Outlaw, which isn't a great option. It's conceivable Dallas would offer Josh Howard for Deng or Detroit might swap Tayshaun Prince.
It's an interesting notion, but I find it hard to think about bringing new players in until we get to see how the players we already have fit together. Sure, Deng is a nice piece, but if Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster continue to improve is it really necessary to add another small forward? And even if it's decided that neither Outlaw or Webster are the answer at SF, do you go out and get an offensive-minded 3 when you already have Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden eating up touches? Is Deng so good that you take him simply if he'll accept an offer? Is management in Chicago really considering what Portland might do in free agency a year from now when planning out their strategy of how to deal with Deng today? The answer to any or all of these questions might be "yes," but again, I find it hard to look that far ahead, especially with the current team.

Monday, July 21, 2008

G.O. at the ESPYS

I haven't had a chance to watch the ESPYs yet (thanks Comcast!) but I hear that our boy Greg Oden represented himself to the fullest (this photo would buttress that notion). I haven't found any non-pirated clips of Greg's appearance on stage, but here's his red carpet interview with Erin Andrews.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Give me Mo

Every team in the NBA, except for the Boston Celtics, has a Summer League team. Some play in Orlando, most play in Las Vegas and even a few travel to Salt Lake City. Teams consider these leagues a chance to get new and developing NBA roster players some early tick before training camp. Summer League also presents an opportunity to check out a number of players not currently under NBA contract. On the flip side, it's a great chance for guys trying to catch on in the NBA to show they've got the skills to play in the best league in the world. Morris "Mo" Finely is one of those guys.

Finley has already carved out a nice career for himself in Europe. Growing up in Lafayette ("We say 'La-Fette,'" Finley told me), Alabama, Finley played his college ball at UAB, then made the trip overseas to pursue a pro career. He was the No. 2 scorer last season in the top league in Italy, Serie A, averaging 20.3 points for Solsonica Rieti. His success last season netted him a new contract with two-time defending EuroLeague champion, Montepaschi Siena. So basically, Finley is playing for the best professional team in the world outside of the United States. Not too shabby.

It's obvious that Mo Finley has skills, though he hasn't had much of a chance to showcase those talents. Jerryd Bayless and Petteri Koponen have played almost all the available minutes at point guard, as the Blazers goal in Las Vegas is to get both players as many minutes as possible, but Finley, who would like to return someday to play in the United States, has nothing but good things to say about his Summer League experience.

"It’s been fun. This is my first year getting a chance to do Summer League so I’m very excited," Finley said. "I’ve very thankful that they asked me to come. A lot of time once guys go over to Europe, teams here tend to kind of forget about those guys a little bit."

Talking to Finley for a few minutes, it becomes easy to see why the Blazers invited him to play in Las Vegas despite already having at least two point guards on the roster. He's about the nicest guy you'll ever meet, so much so that he thanked me for interviewing him. That doesn't happen much in the NBA. Don't get me wrong, we've got a lot of great guys playing in Portland, but they would still rather not answer questions unless they absolutely have to. That's just the way it is.

Finley, along with fellow guard JR Pinnock, even sacrificed some of his free time, in Las Vegas of all places, to help out with a basketball camp for kids put on by the NBA.

"I think it's a good thing for the kids," Finley said, "because when I was a kid, no NBA player ever came to talk to me, Summer League roster or regular season roster. I didn't see NBA players."

If being a great guy won you a job in the NBA, Mo Finley would be a starter for a long time. But that ain't the way it works, and rightly so at that. Then again, having game while also displaying humility and character never hurt anyone.

Changing the point

When the Trail Blazers acquired Jerryd Bayless from the Indiana Pacers on draft night, many penciled his name in as Portland's point guard of the future. And starting Saturday, we'll get a better idea of whether or not he can truely fill that roll. After Thursday night's loss to the Timberwolves, coach Monty Williams stated that Bayless, not Petteri Koponen, would be the starting point guard against the Phoenix Suns in game 4 of the Blazers Summer League campaign.

"We want to see if he can run the team," Williams said of his expectations for Bayless. "A lot of time he gets the ball and he just kind of goes off on his own. Hopefully he can run the squad, get us in our stuff and hope that we can be a little more efficient than we were (against the Timberwolves)."

Bayless insists playing point guard is nothing new for him, at Summer League or otherwise.

"I’ve been running point a lot today and the last couple of games too," Bayless said. "Pete obviously starts at the 1, but throughout the game I periodically switch off, play 1. It’s not really that big of an adjustment for me. I know I can do it and I’m just looking forward to going out there and playing again."

Though Bayless has technically played the point periodically during Summer League, he hasn't had the same chance to show the skills and leadership associated with the position, particularity the ability to get other players involved on the offensive end. Bayless has tallied just four assists in three games in Las Vegas.

"Whatever (coach Williams) wants me to do, I’m going to do," Bayless said. "I’ve stressed that since I got to Portland. Whatever the coach wants me to do that’s best for the team, I’m going to do it."

As for where Petteri Koponen fits in, Williams said that he may rest the Finnish guard or play him at the two, much in the same way he was used last year while Sergio Rodriguez ran the point.

Coach Williams' decision to move Bayless to the point seems to be more about getting a chance to see what he can do at the position than an indictment of Koponen's performance.

"We’ve got to look at Jerryd at the point guard."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Timberwolves vs. Blazers: Second Quarter

I can't seem to keep my internet connection for more than a few minutes at a time, so I'm going to tap out on the live blog. Sean Meagher at OregonLive, who's internet connection is just peachy, is blogging, so go check him out if you have to follow the game online. I'll have a write-up, along with pictures and video after the game.

Timberwolves vs. Blazers: First Quarter

-- I'm having a heck of a time with the internet connection here in the Cox Pavilion. I'll try to update when I can.

-- Batum gets an easy bucket on a fastbreak, which is exactly what the kid needs to get his confidence back. Petteri knifes through three T-Wolves for another nice finish. He's have a great game so far with 6 points, 2 boards and an assist. Game tied at 12-12 with 2:30 to play in the first.

-- Both teams trade turnovers. Kevin Love gets a dunk thanks to the ball bouncing off the back of the rim. Nice little move by the Laker.

-- Timeout on the floor, which is a perfect time to note that there's a nice contingent of Trail Blazers fans in the house tonight. Lead as always by steadfast Blazers Boosters Larry and Georgia.

-- It's been all Koponen, Bayless and Love so far in this one. Both Bayless and Koponen have four points. Love has three, though he has had a few point-blank attempts rim out. Blazers 8, Timberwolves 5.

-- Petteri Koponen, playing in front of some family and his girlfriend, starts the game with a pull-up jumper and a fastbreak layin. Both nice plays, especially the layin. Corey Brewer, a player know for his defense and low body fat percentage, looked like he might end up with the block, but The Finnisher managed to live up to his new nickname.

It's the local boy verses the local team tonight as the Blazers take on Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Should be an interesting one.

Tongue and groove

There are a ton of scouts from the NBA and overseas here in Las Vegas trying to pick up any and every piece of information about current or potential players. Their tendencies, their work ethic, whether or not they're in shape, the way they receive coaching and so on. They see things most of us gloss right over.

But while I an certainly no scout, I do manage to notice a few things here and there. Case in point: While watching the Blazers during the summer league, I've noticed Petteri Koponen (or "Pete" as many of the players and coaches have started calling him) does something a little strange when shooting. Koponen sticks his tongue out, almost without fail, when he shoots.

"I have done that since I was a kid," Koponen said after practice today. "When I focus on something, I always put my tongue out like this (puts about a half inch of his tongue out of his mouth)."

Sticking out your tongue, while considered rude or immature by some, is no big deal for the average Joe, but for someone in Koponen's position, it draws an unwanted comparison.

"Everybody is like, 'You want to be like Michael Jordan,” but it’s not like that. It’s just when I focus, like if I’m drawing or writing, I was like that (sticks out tongue again) in school. I don’t know how it’s like that, but it is."

There are worse things than being compared to MJ, but it's not much of a compliment in this instance. And aside from the accusations of mimicking His Airness, Koponen's tongue wagging also presents a potential health risk.

"My coach in Finland use to tell me that you will get hurt someday if somebody hits you there," said Koponen. "There are like, lots of pictures from Finland when I take a shot, my tongue is like (sticks tongue out the side of his mouth)."

Koponen has played well so far in Las Vegas, showing an ability to drive, kick and shoot from long range even while sticking out his tongue, so maybe if it ain't broke, there's no point in fixing it.

"It’s funny but I can’t help it," lamented Koponen. "It’s natural."

Video: Monty Williams after practice

Monty Williams and the rest of the coaches conducted an 8 a.m. film session this morning after which the team ran through a few things in anticipations of tonight's game against the Timberwolves. A film session during summer league might sound like a strange thing to do, but as I previously mentioned, one of the goals of the coaching staff is to get the future roster players familiar with how things work during the NBA season. 23 turnovers in a game? You know you're going to watch film, probably early in the morning.

I should also note that Williams gave the team a bit of a talking to at the end of practice, reiterating that summer league is no joke. The gist was that the Blazers goal is to win an NBA championship and that more goes into accomplishing that than just what you see on the court during the regular season.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer League Practice Photos

The team ran through a real light practice today, mostly shooting around followed by lifting weights. There's not much point in running through a full-fledged practice in the middle of Summer League.

Here are some of the photos I took today at the Thomas & Mack Center. For more photos and videos, be sure to check out the Summer League Central page.

Highlights and replays

I got more than my fill of the Blazers loss to the Kings last night, but in case you're interested in re-living a game that featured 84 PERSONAL FOULS, you've got some options.

Here's the ESPN highlight reel. I wasn't aware Jerryd Bayless had a twin named Gerald who also plays for the Blazers, but according to the fellow commentating the highlight package, he does. Go figure. picked Bayless' double-clutch that should have been an And1 as the Play of the Day. That's the second day in a row the NBA picked a Bayless move as the day's best.

Finally, if you missed it last night, or can't watch the Comcast replays, or if you're currently at work and you want to watch three refs call one gem of a game, the NBA has made the entire replay available online. It's certainly one way to burn two hours, 23 minutes and 58 seconds.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kings vs. Trail Blazers: Halftime

We're all knotted up at 34-34 at the half here at the Cox Pavilion. Overall, the Blazers seem a bit more cohesive in tonight than they did yesterday. They cut down on the turnovers in the second quarter, which would tell me that guys are beginning to settle into the game.

The Blazers offensive attack is still top heavy, with Jerryd Bayless (14 points) and Petteri Koponen (9 points) doing the most damage. Koponen has already taken 10 shots, as he's show a willingness to look for his own offense a bit more tonight. Bayless is once again doing his damage from the free throw line, going 9-for-10 from the charity stripe.

Batum continues to struggle finding his rhythm on offense. He's looked solid on the defensive end, but his shot and ability to get into the lane to create easy opportunities haven't been there. I don't know if his ribs are bothering him or if he's just having a hard time finding his game.

Kings vs. Trail Blazers: First Quarter

-- At the end of the first quarter, it's Kings 19, Blazers 17. Jerryd Bayless is once again leading the charge for Portland with 11 points and 5 rebounds. Turnovers (9) and lack of assists (1) have been a problem, much like they were in the last game.

-- I'm going to be taking some pictures of tonight's game, so the blogging will be a little light. Just a few observations here and there, but feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Blazers start with Koponen, Bayless, Batum, Davis and Ellis. Kings come out with Ewing Jr., Hawes, Williams, Singletary and Douby. It'll be interesting to see what Hawes can accomplish against the Blazers' somewhat undersized lineup.

It's business time

For most players, a 28 point performance and a win in the first game of their professional career would be cause for celebration. Nate McMillan had nothing but good things to say about Jerryd Bayless' first game of the Las Vegas Summer League. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express described Bayless' performance as, "Probably the most impressive first-half performance by any rookie in the summer league so far." One of his many finishes at the rim was tabbed as the play of the day by Most players would consider that a great day's work.

But not Jerryd Bayless.

After signing hundreds of autographs and posing for pictures with fans who had just watched him embarrass the Wizards interior defense over and over again, Bayless packed up his belongings, made a quick stop off at the hotel, then proceeded to find an open gym at a Las Vegas 24 Hour Fitness to work on his shot. No night out on the town, no kicking it on the Strip with friends. Just more shots and a desire to prove his doubters, namely the ten teams who passed on him during the 2008 NBA Draft, wrong.

"It's business right now for me," Bayless said. "Basketball is obviously a team sport, but right now is the time for me to get better individually."

Sights and sounds of Vegas shootaround

The team huddled up today at the Cox Pavilion to do a short walk through in preparation for tonight's game against the Kings. Assistant coach Monty Williams (who is head coach Monty Williams here in Las Vegas) told the players that in an effort to get acclimated to the rigors of back-to-backs in the NBA, the practice would be similar to what they would see during the regular season. If the Blazers hold practice on the second night of a back-to-back, it's usually a short teaching session with an emphasis of rectifying the mistakes from the night before. In that respect, Summer League is all about teaching players the routines and common practices of life in the NBA. The games, while important, are almost secondary.

But back to practice. I noticed that Monty Williams and Jerryd Bayless talked for a few minutes at halfcourt before the start of practice. I asked Bayless what they talked about, but he declined to impart any particulars of the conversation. If I had to guess, I would venture that Coach Williams was congratulating Bayless on his performance while pointing out a few things, specifically while running the point, that he could have done differently.

After that, the team huddled up for a bit while Williams talked about the performances in the game the night before. He specifically told Chris Ellis and Josh Davis the screens they set against the Wizards were fine, regardless of whether or not the referees called.

Most of the instructional period of the practice focused on stressing timing coming off screens. Bayless, Koponen and Batum seemed to be the main targets of said instruction.

After Coach Williams walked the team through a few more basic offensive sets, Coach Joe Prunty stepped in to run the team through what they could expect tonight from the Sacramento Kings, from basic player tendencies to generic offensive themes. Paying attention to Spencer Hawes was basically the gist. Prunty noted numerous times that Hawes would be aggressive on offense from the get-go, noting his ability to score inside and out. It was enough information to help, but not so much that anyone would be able to soak it up in a short period of time.

Completing the coaching trifecta, Coach Dean Demopolis gave a fast and furious tutorial on his specialty, the zone defense. The team hasn't had a whole lot of time to practice switching into the zone, but everyone seemed to have a decent idea of where they were supposed to be. Nic Batum especially had a strong sense of where and when he was supposed to go in both the 2-3 and 3-2 zones.

Speaking of Batum, I spoke with Blazers' assistant trainer Geoff Clark after practice, and he said Batum is good to go for tonight's game. Batum didn't seem to be hindered after taking a shot from Vlad Veremeenko during yesterday's game.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trail Blazers 78, Wizards 73: Final

- Nick Young puts up a desperation 3, which he misses badly, but the stripes call Bernard Robinson for a foul. Three free shots, of which Young makes 2.

The Wizards, practicing their regular season scenarios, foul Bayless, sending him to the line. Makes one of two. That's Bayless' 23 free throw of the night.

Maric boards the miss, but he gets swatted going back up. Robinson gets the rebound and a trip to the line.

After the free throws, Nick Young puts up a meaningless 3, and like that, the Blazers have their first summer league win. Blazers 78, Wizards 73.

- Josh Davis, who's had a nice little game, gets a trip to the line, making both. Blazers up by 6. Wiz nail a 3, closing the gap to 3. Bayless is fouled in the backcourt, and he makes both. So after all of that, with 12.3 seconds to go, the Blazers lead 75-71. Bayless with 27, thanks in large part to 17 made free throws.

- Nick Young gets called for an offensive foul, and the Blazers have the ball up one with 30 seconds to play. Davis misses a layin, but Bayless is there for the rebound. He gets the bucket and the foul, though he missed the freebie. During the scrum for the rebound, the ball goes off the Wizards, though the ref calls it off the Blazers. Josh Davis argues the call, and the ref switches up the call. We're close enough to hear the ref say "My bad."

- Another three from Koponen and another set of free throw attempts for Bayless. The play of those two has been the story of this game, hands down. Koponen has 19, Bayless with 23. Blazers up 69-68 with 46 seconds to play. It's getting interesting.

- The Blazers keep the possession alive with 2 offensive rebounds, finally resulting in yet another Koponen three. And a tough shot at that. The Finnisher is starting to get hot. He's gotg 8 in the quarter and 16 in the game. Games is tied 64-64. Blazers ball.

- As per my request, Koponen hits a three to get the game to Wizards 64, Blazers 61. A Wizard turnover give the Blazers a chance to tie the score or even take the lead should a rare four point play occur.

Bayless gets called for carrying. To be honest, that call is probably a bit overdue.

- Just got the news from Blazers PR that Nicolas Batum will not return due to a case of bruised ribs.

- Pinnock, Maric, Bayless, Davis and Robinson take to the floor to start the final quarter. The Wiz take the first two buckets, and Petteri Koponen checks in for Pinnock. It'll be interesting to see who gets the lion's share of the point guard duties in crunch time.

Bayless gets UP to block Dee Brown's shot at the rim, but it's called goaltending. That's real close, at least it looked that way from my vantage point.

Koponen with a great move to get a layin. Need a little more of that, and right quick.

Wizards up 62-53 with 7 minutes to go. Time to make a move. Heck, making a three pointer would qualify as a run at this point.

Wizards vs. Trail Blazers: Third Quarter

- Everybody clears out for Jerryd Bayless with just a few seconds left in the quarter. He draws a foul (no surprise there), and makes both free throws. I don't know if the NBA keeps records for summer league games, but Bayless has to be getting close to making the list in the "most free-throws attempted" category.

End of the quarter with the score Wizards 53, Blazers 51. One more to go.

- Bayless with another trip to the charity stripe. His 11th and 12th free throws go down, and he's up to an even 20 for the night.

Batum gets a pass with some space to manuver, but Vlad Veremeenko steps in the way. Batum goes down hard, but he seems to be alright. He is grimacing a bit though.

Wizards have extended the lead to 53-47. 53-49 after Bernard Robinson finishes at the shot clock buzzer.

- Petteri hits a pull-up jumper. Maybe that will help out the confidence a little.

Bayless is getting into the lane almost at will. He's playing a nice game as a combo guard, but he hasn't showcased his point guard skills much, at least not yet.

- Starters back out on the floor to start the third. Wizards look like they're doing about the same.

Chris Ellis gets called for another illegal screen. Every screen from a guy that size looks illegal. Dude could run through a brick wall if he had to.

Wizards 40, Blazers 37 after Bayless makes the technical free throw. Hopefully everyone settles in now that they've got a half under their belts.

Wizards vs. Trail Blazers: Second Quarter

- The half ends with the scoreline Wizards 37, Blazers 36. Bayless leads all scorers with 17 points. He also has 3 boards.

Not much else out of anyone else. Koponen has 6 points and the team's only assist. Batum has 3 points and 3 assists. Josh Davis has 4 points and 6 rebounds.

- Josh Davis picks up his fourth personal foul of the half. Use 'em if you got 'em. Chris Ellis picks up his fourth as well. Nice work fellas.

Bayless takes the inbound, dribbles, drives and goes up with a baseline shot that finds the mark while drawing a foul. Bayless makes the And1, for his 17th point of the half.

- Bayless seems a little reluctant to pass the ball unless absolutely necessary. He finds Batum around the three point line. Batum, who as far as I can tell isn't the least bit shy about putting it up, misses the three.

Blazers get called for an illegal defense, which seems a tad unnecessary given the nature of the summer league. Then again, it's summer league for the new refs too.

- Dee Brown does a header into the television analyst table. Nice hustle, though the Blazers did end up with the ball.

Nic Batum makes his first jumper of the game, which is a good sign. If Batum can get just a bit closer to the rim before shooting, he's be doing himself a favor.

Bayless gets another trip to the free throw line. He's got 14 points, with 8 of those coming from the line.

- Bernard Robinson makes a mid-range jumper as the shot clock expires. Like I previously mentioned, the movement on offense just isn't producing. Bayless and Batum are back in with Hill, Robinson and Pinnock.

Illegal screen. Blazers turnover. Score Wizards 24, Blazers 23. Blazers shooting 35% with 8 turnovers.

- The second unit is in to start the second quarter. JR Pinnock, Steven Hill, Morris Finley and Josh Davis are on the floor. The Wizards look like they're also playing the second string.

Josh Davis makes his first two of the summer league, extending the Blazers lead to 21-17.

Wizards vs. Trail Blazers: First Quarter

- Quarter comes to a close with the Blazers leading 16-14. Jerryd Bayless has shot has shot 8 free throws, making 6. That's pretty much the highlight so far. There are worse things than earning trips to the line.

Not a whole lot of purposeful motion so far in his one. Lots of guys running around, but nothing seems to be coming of it.

- Bayless not so lucky this time, as his attempt at a charge ends up an And1.

Monty Williams calls Koponen and Bayless over during the free throw attempt, after which Bayless switches to the point. Nothing looks real smooth right now, which is about what you would expect from the first game of summer league.

- Bayless picks up Nick Young on defense, eventually drawing a charge on the second year guard out of USC. And it was a legit charge, not some janky flop.

- According to the Lenovo, the Blazers don't have an assist yet. The Wizards don't either, but that doesn't make it right.

Bayless continues to attack the basket, which is what coach Monty Williams is looking for from the rookie. He earns another trip to the line.

- Bayless with the bucket And1. He's got a knack for elevating quickly near the basket. He's got 7.

- A lazy pass by Bayless turns into a layin for Andre Blatche. No too good. Jerryd also drove the ball deep into the lane, but had a hard time finishing with three Wizards draped all over him. Wizards 8, Blazers 7 with 5:16 to play in the first quarter. Koponen has 5, Bayless has 2 and everyone else sits on a goose egg.

- Blazers offense looking a little shaky until Koponen nabs a steal, goes coast to coast and finishes with the layin. Nice little game so far for the Finnisher.

Jerryd Bayless finishes a nice tear drop in the lane, with Petteri Koponen nailing a three-pointer after screening off Dee Brown. Nice start for the Blazers up and comers.

- Bill Bayno's daughter sang the National Anthem. And that's how we start it out.

Blazers starting with Petteri Koponen, Jerryd Bayless, Nic Batum, Chris Ellis and Bernard Robinson. The Wiz come out with Nick Young, Andre Blatche, Dominic McGuire, JaVale McGee and Dee Brown.

Wizards vs. Trail Blazers: Pre-game

And so it begins. We're waiting for the Raptors v. Nuggets game to run it's course (Nugs up 84-72 with 2 minutes to play, Taurean Green with 16 points and 4 assists), but after that, it's the Washington Wizards vs. Portland Trail Blazers.

Quite the Trail Blazers media prescense here at the Cox Pavillion on the UNLV Campus. To my direct right sits Dave of Blazer's Edge. Next to him, The Oregonian's Jason Quick. Farther right sits his Oregonian compatriot Joe Freeman. And last but not least, Sean Meagher of That's a mean starting five, if any of us could actually ball.

We're not about 10 minutes away from the tip, so check back in a few minutes from updates of the first Trail Blazers game of Summer League.

Summer League 'Big Three'

There's around 14 players, give or take, on the Blazers Summer League Roster, but let's be honest, three of the 14 are the emphasis. Jerryd Bayless, Petteri Koponen and Nicolas Batum are the only guys with a legit chance of making the regular season roster. That's not to say the other players on the roster aren't skilled, but the combination of talent and numbers already residing on the Blazers payroll make it all but impossible at this point for anyone not drafted by Kevin Pritchard to see a regular season contract, guaranteed or otherwise.

So with that cruel fact in mind, here's what assistant coach Monty Williams, who's commanding Portland's Summer League ship, had to say about Bayless, Koponen and Batum.

On playing time for Bayless, Koponen and Batum:
"Our goal is to play those three guys. I think it’s 40 minute games down there, but I can play them 48 minutes down there, that would be great.

"I think the more we can put (Koponen, Bayless and Batum) in situations that they haven’t been in in college and put them in situations where they can look good, it’s going to help their confidence. At the same time, you almost have to put them in a situation where they might fail just so they can understand how tough this game is."

On Jerryd Bayless' strengths:
"He’s as strong as a bull. He’s big like Brandon, compact. Things come easy to him. He’s got to work on getting his shot off quicker or else longer 2’s are going to block that shot. The things that we’ve been impressed with him so far is that he just wants to be in the gym all day. We’re going to have to back him down some because we all know that this thing is too long of a race for him to try to push 150% every day.

"The thing that he does well is he keeps his man on his hip and he can come off screens and catch and get his shot off. Now, he’s going to have to get it off quicker. He’s strong like Brandon in that he can get you on his hip and finish in the hole."

On Koponen's preparation for Summer League and his improvement:

"I had him for a couple of week’s everyday. The thing I like about him is his size, he can shoot it a little bit, he’s quicker than most people give him credit for, and he works. A lot of the guys shy away from my workouts, just because I try to push guys to their limits, and he didn’t back down one bit. That says a lot about him. Travis was like that. The first couple of times that we worked out he wasn’t use to that kind of preparation. Petteri didn’t back down from the start.

"He’s done this and that (at the practice facility), cause this is comfortable. Once we get to Vegas and a guy from overseas or a guy that trying to get into the league punches him in the mouth, we’re going to see what he’s about. That kind of pressure 94 feet in Vegas is a different kind of beast, so we’ll see."

On Nicolas Batum's game:
"I’ve been surprised by Nicolas and his ability to score the ball coming off of screens.

"In this situation, we don’t have a lot of scorers. Lets just be honest. So what he was able to do stands out because he just did the little things. He came off screens. He offensive rebounded the ball. He can push it, but we’re not allowing him to right now.

His shot is not tight enough right now and he’s really narrow, so I don’t think he’s going to have three-point range yet."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

See you at Summer League

Ah, the Las Vegas Summer League. In this bloggers opinion, there's no better way to spend an otherwise uneventful week in mid-July. It's about as close up to the NBA as the average fan can get. Coaches, general managers and players hang out in the stands watching the neophytes of the Association attempt to carve out their spot in the league. Some participants in the Las Vegas Summer League could be the next NBA superstar, others could end up working civilian jobs come August.

If you're planning on attending any Blazers games in Las Vegas, be sure to give me a holler, as I'll be covering the action live in Sin City for I, along with a few other members of the Trail Blazers Communications Department, will be cranking out profiles of players on the summer league roster, interviews with said players, coaches and staff, live in-game blogs, videos, pictures, games recaps and practice reports. It should be fun and informative.

The first game is Monday (that's tomorrow) against the Wizards. I heard rumors that Gilbert Arenas was going to play solely for the purpose of fulfilling his promise to drop 50 on the Blazers, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.

After the Wizards on Monday, the Blazers boys of summer take on the Kings on Tuesday, Kevin Love and the Timberwolves on Thursday, the Phoenix Suns on Saturday and the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday. All of the games will be shown live on Comcast Channel 37 and on NBATV. The games will also be replayed twice on Comcast.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer League Roster

With all of the NBA Draft particulars put to bed, we're now able to put out the roster for the Trail Blazers Las Vegas Summer League squad.

# Name Pos Ht Wt Yrs Birthdate From
88 Nicolas Batum F/G 6-8 190 R 12/14/88 France
4 Jerryd Bayless G 6-3 200 R 8/20/88 Arizona
40 Josh Davis F 6-8 235 3 8/10/80 Wyoming
0 Chris Ellis F 6-9 280 R 3/5/84 Wake Forest
18 Morris Finley G 5-11 175 R 8/2/81 Alabama-Birmingham
42 Eddy Fobbs C 6-11 240 R 9/17/80 Sam Houston St.
51 Steven Hill C 7-0 245 R 11/14/85 Arkansas
28 Petteri Koponen G 6-4 195 R 4/13/88 Finland
30 David Lucas F 6-8 246 R 5/14/82 OregonSt.
50 Aleks Maric F 6-11 275 R 10/22/84 Nebraska
6 J.R. Pinnock G 6-5 207 R 12/11/83 George Washington
21 Bernard Robinson G/F 6-6 225 3 12/26/80 Michigan
31 Brandon Robinson F 6-8 215 R 4/15/81 Auburn
17 Jon Stefansson G 6-5 200 R 9/21/82 Iceland

*Monty Williams is the head coach of the Trail Blazers' 2008 NBA Summer League Team

Some old and new names on the list. Batum, Bayless and Koponen probably end up getting the most playing time. Chris Ellis has some serious post game and is a Blazers Summer League stalwart. Maurice Lucas' boy, David, is cut from the same mold as his dad and is another nice post option.

You have to figure Jon Stefansson will be the only Icelandic playing in Summer League, and we know Petteri Koponen is the only Finnish player whose rights are owned by an NBA team. Much international flavor.

I'll be learning more about these guys as I follow the team to Las Vegas, so be on the lookout for that.

Jerryd Bayless and Ike Diogu are Trail Blazers

It took a while, but it's finally official. Jerryd Bayless and Ike Diogu have been acquired from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts, the draft rights to Brandon Rush and cash considerations. Bayless and Diogu, along with Nicolas Batum, are in town for a press conference, which I'll be covering here in a little bit.

Between now and then, check out this Jerryd Bayless highlight reel put together ever so quickly by our fine video production folks.

Monday, July 7, 2008

On guard

Hopefully we'll have some new players to talk about this week, but until everything is finalized with the NBA, mum is the word. It's not an ideal situation, but such is life working within the constructs of the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement. And trust me, we'll have plenty of time during the offseason to discuss any new players who may or may not suit up for the Blazers in '08-'09.

One of those players who we're waiting on is probably a guard, and the Blazers probably had to give up a guard to get him. One in, one out.

But what about the guards, specifically point guards, that the Blazers already have? If you look at the roster, Steve Blake is the only "true" point guard who has seen any meaningful minutes in the NBA. Is he the starter, even with other heralded guards possibly joining the team? I think the answer to that question is a resounding "yes."

Oddly enough, Chris Duhon got me thinking about Steve Blake. Or to be more specific, the Knicks reportedly acquiring Duhon got me thinking about the Knicks reportedly attempting to acquire Blake.
But is Duhon enough? Does he make you better? Maybe you can argue that he makes you better because of the addition-by-subtraction rule. Marbury is a perpetual ticking timebomb. No matter how many times you want to believe he means it this time, at this point even his own teammates don't believe it. Stephon says all the right things at the start but he's always a mine buried in the locker room just waiting to be triggered. One false step and kaboom.

The players are tired of it. Several of them told me Marbury is mostly a loner in that room at this point. No one takes him seriously, but the distractions he can cause -- and perpetuate with his comments and actions -- are an annoyance.

So if a trade to acquire Steve Blake isn't something Portland is willing to do (I'm told they weren't) and Monta Ellis isn't something Golden State is willing to do (ditto) and just about any other potentially available PG either doesn't quite fit style-wise (Kyle Lowry) or doesn't fit financially (Baron Davis, pre-Clippers), then Duhon might have been the best option that still fit the Bigger Plan.
What I find interesting is the questions New York folks, in this case Alan Hanh of Newsday, have of Duhon are the same many in Portland have of Blake. Can he be the starting point guard for a playoff team? A championship team? Maybe, maybe not, but if the Knicks did ask about Blake and were rebuffed, then one would have to figure those in the Blazers front office value Blake-as-NBA-starter enough to turn down legit offers (and if the Knicks really did offer Duhon the MLE, then you have to figure they were willing to give up something decent).

I guess what I'm getting at is this: Steve Blake isn't going to give up his starting point guard duties simply because there may be a new ball handler in town.

Trail Blazers Homecourt Roundtable

Watch Mike Barrett, Mike Rice, Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey discuss the 2008 NBA Draft, rising expectations for next season, the amount of youth on the Blazers' roster, how Rudy Fernandez fits in and predictions for next season in this clip from Trail Blazers Homecourt Summer Report.

Tom Penn on Sports Business Radio

Welcome back to the internet Blazers fans. I trust everyone had a safe and satisfactory 4th of July weekend. And I'd like to extend a big thank you to everyone in my neighborhood for firing off a seemingly endless string of illegal fireworks on the 4th. No one houses burned down, so hooray for that.

If you were too busy this weekend celebrating and setting things on fire and you forgot to listen to Tom Penn, Blazers' Assistant General Manager, on Sports Business Radio with Brian Berger, I've got you covered. Mr. Penn discusses the draft, his background and why it's such a luxury to have an owner like Paul Allen.

Download the interview (6.0 MB). Audio provided courtesy of 95.5 The Game.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Trail Blazers Homecourt on Rudy Fernandez

Watch Kevin Pritchard, Nate McMillan and Monty Williams discuss what Rudy Fernandez could mean to the Trail Blazers during the summer update edition of Trail Blazers Homecourt.

07.02.08 Edition of the podcast

Gavin Dawson had some business to attend to, so Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of held it down for this this week's podcast. Aside from Dave hypothesizing on Davin's whereabouts, we discuss Rudy Fernandez, the quantity and quality of point guards on the roster, how the free agent signing of Baron Davis changes the Western Conference, and much, much more. Give it a listen.

Download the podcast (18.0 MB).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fernandez and Pritchard: Together again

If it weren't a Summer Olympics year, we'd be lobbing questions at Rudy Fernandez in person. But thanks to love of country, we had to settle for querying Rudy via conference call. Here's the audio for those of you who would like to hear your favorite members of the local media converse with Rudy.

You can also download the audio here.

I have to take my proverbial cap off to Rudy. Answering questions over the phone in a second language is a tough thing to do. He handled himself pretty well. A lot of guys might have relied solely on their translator. I know I would have.

Kevin Pritchard also spoke a bit before the conference call with some members of the television news media. Here's what he had to say.

On the post-draft events:
"Obviously there are some things that we still need to get ironed out with the draft, but I felt like we had a great draft. I’m excited about the summer, looking forward to Summer League, seeing some of these guys playing, but obviously the great news today is signing Rudy. It’s been long process involving many people including Mr. Allen, myself, Nate McMillan, our staff. It’s a great day for the organization."
On what Fernandez brings to the court:
"First of all, he’s a high energy player. I’m not sure if he’s going to be a starter but he has a chance to be. As we look at our team moving forward, we needed somebody to attack the basket and Rudy is really an attacker. He plays all out all the time. He’s exciting. He dives on balls. And he’s gotten better the last three years. When we got him at pick 25 last year we were so excited because we felt like he was a much better player than that. If you put him in this year’s draft, we think he was a top 10 player.

"He’s kind of a wild man out there. He’s willing to make a lot of plays. He takes chances. I call him an ‘X-factor.’ He can so some things that just not a lot of people can do in this league in making plays on both sides of the court. He makes shots and he’s got this really nice skill that he makes everybody around him better. You can never have too many of those."
On the perceived notion that European players struggle with defense:
"... if they don’t play any defense, I’m not sure how Spain is winning World Championships. They’re doing something right. Whether it’s offense or defense, they’re very effective. Rudy will have to improve in some areas, and I don’t want to put too much pressure on him early, but the thing I do know is he’s a talented kid. He’s absolutely what we’re about and this town is going to fall in love with him."
On the process of getting Rudy to sign with the Trail Blazers:
"Recruiting is normally though about in college, but it’s become more of an NBA program because a lot of times it’s the same money or the same process, so we’re excited. We did have to recruit Rudy. He had offers all over Europe for much more money. We know that he took a lesser deal to come play here in the NBA and that was his dream. But we still had to work through some things. Today is such a great day because it’s the culmination of a lot of people’s hard work."
On when Fernandez might make his first appearance in Portland:
"He’s started with the national team in the next week or so, then he goes to the Olympics to try and get the gold medal. And then I would imagine in early September we’ll see him in our practice facility. We can’t wait."

The Rudy wait is over

It's finally official. It has been alluded to many times that Rudy Fernandez would indeed sign on to play in Portland starting in '08-'09, but until there's a signature on the dotted line, nothing is for guaranteed.

Now it is.

On the first day new players were allowed to sign contracts, Spanish guard Rudy Fernandez, the 24th selection in the 2007 NBA Draft, agreed to terms with the Trail Blazers.

“I am so excited about joining the Trail Blazers and the NBA,” said Fernandez. “The whole staff did a tremendous job making me feel like a very important team member to them and made me forget about the economic issues because of the rookie scale.

“My dream has been to play in the NBA and Portland is giving me this opportunity. I was amazed about everything that Mr. Allen, Kevin Pritchard, Coach McMillan and the rest of the guys did to show me how much they wanted me. Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, I can't wait to play with them. We will do nice things!”

Nice things indeed.

Rodolfo, aka Rudy, will be wearing No. 5, the same number he wore with the Spanish National Team and DKV Joventut Badalona. If you're ready to declare your Rudy Ferandez fan-dom, you can already buy his adult jersey here and his youth jersey here. International shipping is available for all of you Spanish Fernandez fans.