We'll check in with general manager Kevin Pritchard periodically throughout the season to get his thoughts on the Trail Blazers and the NBA in general.
How satisfied are you with how the team has played so far this season?
KP: "Our whole thing is that we don’t want to get caught up in the day-to-day. We want to take a long-term approach to this, and for us, our goals are still the same: get to the playoffs. We want to see what this team can do in the playoffs. The Rose Garden is such a special place, so if we can get into the playoffs we can win some games, I think. Have some fun in the playoffs. This city is desperate to have that. They’re hungry for it, as we are.
"I feel very good being where we are after 26 games. We need to stay healthy, and we want to get better. Our whole thing is, how can we keep getting better? We’re a young team going through some bumps and bruises, going through some learning curves, that’s natural in this league. We’re so young that we’re going through so many new emotions for some of these guys. Rudy, Greg, Batum, Bayless, they’re all going through a bunch of new things. They bring some energy but everything is new to them. Once they get into 40, 50 games it’s like, now I’ve done it. You’re still a rookie but you sort of know what to expect. I’m excited for the next 15, 16 games so they can get more comfortable. Everybody talks about the ‘rookie wall’ and whether they’ll hit it, but we’re going to try and help them as much as we can."
Would you expect the improvement from increased playing time to exceed the declination that might occur due to fatigue?
KP: "The theory in this league is as the veterans get more comfortable, they start playing a lot better. That does happen, so there’s a catch-up from the veteran’s standpoint because they don’t work quite as hard in the offseason. They work, but they know it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Right now we’re sort of sprinting, so we need to make sure we can continually get better."
Do you feel like too much has been made of the early season schedule? It seems like every team seems to think they’ve got it tougher than someone else.
KP: "You’ve got to play 82 games. Playing 16 on the road in our first 24 games, that was tough. Not from the physical part. I think Nate did a great job of giving off-days and rest and really looked at recuperation time, but mentally I thought we were really drained a couple of games here at home, didn’t have that freshness."
I think you mentioned last year before the draft that the team needed to get more athletic at the guard positions. I’m wondering if you feel the say way 26 games into the season.
KP: "I think I said in the backcourt and that includes our small forward. I think Nicolas is as athletic as they get. He’s sort of sneaky smooth. He brings another dimension of shot blocking to that position with Travis. With Martell out, Nic has done an admirable job. We need him to grow. For us to grow, he has to grow.
"Sergio and Blake, their strengths aren’t their athletic ability. But Blake is as tough as they get. He’s a tough kid. As we get better, that position becomes more important because if you elevate your point guard play, the rest of the play improves. Blake has been terrific this year. Sergio has shown that he is that creative offensive weapon off the bench and he’s done a fantastic job as well."
Brandon Roy has really come into his own this season. Part of that he seems to be that he’s looking for his own shot more often. Can you speak to his evolution as a player this season?
KP: "He’s terrific. He’s a high level player in this league. What makes Brandon special for me is he understands that delicate balance of taking too many shots, taking the right amount of shots and not taking enough. He sort of finds that sweet spot. We want him taking a lot of shots. There have been times in games where I want him to get up five, six more shots. But it’s not in his persona. I wouldn’t say he’s a scorer; he’s a basketball player. That’s a special talent."
It seems like the team is doing a better job of closing out games this season. Is that an indication of this team’s growth?
KP: "I think Nate does a great job of managing that. I think that shows that he’s a very good coach in this league. And then our guys are comfortable with each other. It trickles down from LaMarcus and Brandon. They’ve been in a lot of close games, they know what they have to do. We’re going to win our fair share, but we’re going to have some tough losses, too."
How do you think the league has changed in the last year?
KP: "We’re a league of mimics. We see what’s working and we try to mimic it. You see Boston with their great defense and then everybody wants to be a great defensive team. I come from a background where defense is very important. Right now every team is trying to figure out how they can put the best defensive players out there. I think that’s important.
"It’s amazing because for us in the West, I don’t feel like it’s changed at all. You’re going to have to get in the high 40’s to get in the playoffs. You can’t just win fifty percent of your games and expect to make it to the playoffs. Now the East, maybe you can, but not in the West. There are too many good teams. So in that instance, I don’t think anything has changed. You’ve got to be an upper-echelon team to get into the playoffs. And again, that’s our goal, so we know we’re going to have to get up there. "
Has there been an increased emphasis for franchises to get set up for free-agency two and three years down the road? It seems like only recently you’ve started to hear about teams making moves to position themselves vis-a-vi free-agency years in advance.
KP: "It’s interesting. From a management perspective, we plan out three, four, five years. I think most teams do it. I just think that 2010 class is very special, so everybody is going to compete. But quite frankly, sometimes it’s important to zig when everybody else is zagging. "
Do you feel like you’re in a position where you don’t need to make any of those big moves?
KP: "What I don’t want to do is limit any of our thinking. Are we definite players in 2010? Who knows? A lot has to be done between now and then. What I do know is that I really like our team. I like our youth. You project out some of our guys like Nicolas, Bayless, Sergio, Rudy, Oden. What are they going to be in two or three years? They’re just cutting their teeth right now. I believe we have a chance to be pretty good for a long time. And that’s what we wanted. We want to have a chance to have a crack at the big games, the big playoff games down the line in two, three, four, five years. An elongated success. Hopefully we can do that."
Have you been surprised at the turnover regarding coaches this season?
KP: "It’s an interesting thing. I was thinking the other day: are there going to be interim coaches after the interim coaches? It’s been so early, so are they going to fire the interim and bring in another guy to were there are multiple coaching changes in one year for one team?
"I’ve said this and I’ve told this to Nate -- I didn’t come up with it, it’s from Coach Roy Williams -- coaches get too much blame and they get too much credit. And because of that it feels like everybody is pointing the finger. I believe truly in this -- Nate and I and Mr. Allen have talked about this -- it’s a collective responsibility. The players, the coaches, the general manager, the owner; it’s all of our responsibility. If we all shoulder that responsibility, it doesn’t fall on one person."