Friday, August 29, 2008

Over there: Mike Born talks Beijing

On the heels of Jason Quick's stories about Nate McMillan's impressions of Rudy Fernandez (see here, here and here) I thought it might be interesting for you superfans out there to read what Mike Born, our Director of NBA Scouting, had to say about Rudy, along with his thoughts on Team USA.

Born was in Beijing for the majority of the tournament, seeing 20 of the 22 games live. What's more, Mike has probably seen Rudy play in person as many times as anyone on this side of the pond, so I'd consider him the foremost Fernandez authority in the United States. No offense Coach.

Here's what he had to say.

Center Court: What were your general thoughts on the quality of play in the Olympics?

Mike Born: I think the first thing is -- there were 12 teams over there -- I’ve seen the international teams play before like Greece, Lithuanian, Russia and it’s really high-level basketball. The teams really do a good job of passing the ball, really playing unselfish. I think one of the biggest things you notice is that all the players from the point guards to the centers -- and this is just European basketball in general -- are all very skilled. They can all pass it. They can all handle it. They can all shoot it. Obviously the guards shoot it better than the centers, but most of the centers are pretty capable of scoring the ball from the perimeter. So it’s basically like you have five real versatile players that are able to do things on both ends of the floor.

I really enjoy how the international teams play, especially the really good ones. They really play the right way. Again, especially when you talk about teams like Lithuania, Russia, Greece -- the teams that are real strong over there. Spain obviously is another real good team in that regard. Just really fun basketball to watch.

Center Court: How did you think Team USA performed?

Mike Born: They were really good. I saw them play four times live. I saw three preliminary games. So I saw Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5 of the prelims and then I saw the quarterfinals, and yeah, they played at a really high level. You could tell that they were a dominate team when it came to the size and athleticism.

They did a couple of things. One, I really felt like they guarded well. I know that was kind of their big push this year: really trying to get up into people and really trying to pressure them.

And I think the second thing they did; I thought they really did a good job of playing unselfish and guy’s kind of buying into maybe a little different role than they have during the NBA season. I think they had some spurts where they kind of regressed a little bit back into holding the ball. I think all of those guys on Team USA are all very capable and confident players and I think every now and then they kind of get into the mindset that, “I’m playing against a particular player and I know I can take this guy one-on-one and basically just beat him on my own.” So I think you got into that a little bit in spurts sometimes but it just kind of seemed like they eventually worked their way back into playing good team basketball, really trying to move the ball. I think overall they were really, really good. I thought they really had a strong tournament and was really happy to see them win the gold.

Center Court: So the question on everyone wants to know: What did you think of Rudy?

Mike Born: I think, when you look at the games -- again, I saw four games live and I did see the semis and finals on TV back in the states -- I saw him six times total. His last game against Team USA in the championship was his best game. When you look at what he did, 22 points in 17 minutes, the game that it was, Team USA playing at their highest level and for him to perform like he did, obviously we were very excited for him to play that well and excited for Team USA to still win the game.

All the games leading up to that, I felt like he played pretty well in every game. He had some games -- I think it was against Angola -- he played 15 minutes and had 9 points, but he was pretty efficient in all the games. I think that’s the thing that, for me, I was pretty happy about. He played pretty efficient in the four games plus the two I saw back here. So in the six games I saw, he had one game where he didn’t play maybe as well as I hoped, but the other five he was pretty good. He played pretty good against Team USA the first time and obviously he was really good in the championship game.

He’s going to be able to provide some things for our team that people are really going to be excited to watch. I know as a management team and I know Coach Nate is fired up to see him and how he’s progressed this season. He’ll be able to bring some nice things to our team. He’s a really good passer. Obviously he’s a pretty good scorer. He plays real unselfish and I think defensively he more than held his own against some pretty good players over there.

He’s 23. He’s got some things he definitely needs to continue to work on to help us and even become a better player, but I think he knows that. That’s part of the reason he wants to come to the NBA: to be challenged and be pushed. Hopefully he can be a big component of what we’re trying to do moving forward.

Center Court: Elaborate on a few of the things he could continue to work on.

Mike Born: I think continuing to get stronger is one. He’s got a thin build and I don’t think he’s ever going to be a player that’s going to overpower anybody, but that’s also part of what makes him successful is that he’s a slasher. He’s a guy that wants to quick curl to the basket. He’s a runner in transition where he can kind of knife in between lanes that maybe a bigger player couldn’t get into. I think just continuing to mature and get stronger. He doesn’t need to come in and add 15 pounds for next year. He needs to come in and get on our weight program and continue to grow stronger.

Rudy’s a good shooter right now. I think he shot 40% from the three-point line in the Olympics over eight games. If you look at what he shot this last year I think he was close to 50% from the field, over 40% from the three-point line and over 90% from the free-throw line, so he’s more than capable, obviously, of being a really, really good shooter. But if he can become a stone-cold, knockdown perimeter shooter it’s just going to make him that much tougher because when you’re playing guys like that you can’t give them open looks so you end up really trying to get out on those guys and that really falls into allowing him to attack the basket, which is something he does really well.

There are a few other things he can continue to clean up on. I think maybe the third thing would be defensively. Just getting with Nate and getting with our team and try to clean up a few things he does. He tends to maybe stab a little bit and gamble a little too much at times. But again, I think that’s stuff that Coach McMillan and the staff will kind of help him with. Again, he’s got a lot of things that can really help up this season.

Center Court: You mentioned his passing. What makes him a good passer? What skills does he have that allows him to initiate some of those exciting assists?

Mike Born: I think its two things. Actually, three things.

One is he’s a good passer. Two is he’s got a really high basketball IQ. And I think he sees things on the floor; he understands where players are going to move to, either towards the basket or away from the basket. He understands defensively where people are at. Being a good passer isn’t just about knowing where your guys are at, it’s also understanding how defenses are going to play the position. If you see a certain guy rotate then maybe a guy that is diving to the basket then you might know that another guy is going to fill his spot. If you see two defenders underneath the basket then you know that guy on top is there so he’s able to find that guy and I think, again, that just comes from his knowledge of the game.

I think the third thing that you see with really good passers -- Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, John Stockton, some of those guys -- is their confidence and their ability to make a pass that an average person would look at and be like “How does he even think about throwing that ball?” Jason Kidd -- I just remember following Jason Kidd the last couple of years really closely -- he throws balls out there sometimes, you can’t believe that he would even take a chance throwing that ball and it just lands right on the money to a guy. I think you have to have confidence in your ability to complete a pass because you don’t want to be turning the ball over all the time. So I think it’s a combination of all those things. I definitely think his passing is one of his strengths that going to help us and also make him a guy that fans are going to appreciate and like. But I also think it’s going to be something where the guys are really going to enjoy playing with him because he’s a good passer and he plays very unselfish as well.

Center Court: A lot of people were impressed by Rudy’s fearlessness against guys like Kobe, LeBron, Dwight Howard. Did you see anything in that game that you hadn’t seen before?

Mike Born: Not really. If you think about what he’s done, he just turned 23, he’s playing at the highest level of basketball in Europe for the last five years. It’s one of those things were you’re looking at him, you say he’s 23 but he’s playing against grown men.

When he was 20, 21, 22 years old when typically he would be in college in the United States playing against a bunch of people his own age, but he’s playing in Europe, he’s in there as a 21, 22 year old player playing against Diamantidis and Papaloukas from Greece, playing against Jasikevicius. So he’s playing against guys who are 30-plus years old at the age of a sophomore or junior in college. So I think there’s carryover from that experience because I think what experiences does is it gives you confidence that you have the ability to perform against those types of players. Rudy’s played the last four or five years at the international level, the highest level. If it’s the World Championships or the Olympics or whatever, he’s played against those guys. So I think the fear factor is different for him.

We look at Rudy and we look at him coming to the NBA next year, we definitely know there’s going to be an adjustment period for him just because he’ll be playing against guys in the NBA every night. But I also think when you look at him performing against people in the NBA, he’s played against those types of players all the time. So that fear factor, that intimidation factor isn’t there for him like it might be for some other players his age that are just coming into the NBA.

Center Court: What was your take away from Beijing? What’s going to stick with you?

Mike Born: Just being at the Olympics was an awesome experience. I saw 20 games in four days. They played six games a day in the prelims with a day off in between, so there was a chance to see 22 games and I saw 20 of them.

I love the international play and their style, their unselfishness. It was also terrific watching Team USA and the talent we had on the floor there, how hard they played and how unselfish they played. Again, just the bond that those guys had. So from the basketball standpoint it was great.

Just being over there. It was the first time I’ve been to the Olympics. Beijing is a huge city but it was a first-class deal in the eight days I was there. I had a chance to go see Michael Phelps win his eighth gold. I had a chance to go to the Bird’s Nest and watch some track and field. I got to see the Great Wall of China. Just overall the experience for me was fabulous. The Chinese people were great and I thought they did a great job of running the event.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

08.28.08 Edition of the Podcast

It's podcast time yet again. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of discuss Rudy Fernandez's performance against Team USA, the early training campers, crazy Travis Outlaw-themed trade rumors and the untimely passing of Kevin Duckworth. Give it a listen.

Download the podcast (31.3 MB).

I tried something different this week for you ITunes subscribers, so hopefully the problems you've been experiencing are fixed. I'm sure you'll let me know if they're not.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A sad day in Rip City

Kevin Duckworth, one of all-time most beloved members of the Trail Blazers and a key player in the playoff runs of the early 90's, passed away yesterday at the age of 44. In fitting fashion, Duck was on the Oregon coast representing the team as an alumni ambassador on the Make It Better Summer Tour. He will be sorely missed.

After Brandon Roy was named to the All-Star team last season, I did an interview with Duck regarding his two appearances in the All-Star game. We talked in a suite at the Rose Garden, Duck standing behind the bar and me sitting on a stool, like a couple of guys shooting the bull in a tavern. It's one of my favorite memories during my short tenure with the team and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to spend some time with such a kind man.

Reading over this interview this morning, I came to a realization about the person Duckworth was. Working in the NBA, you quickly find that some players are more than happy to make you feel small, so it's ironic that a man of Duck's stature had exactly the opposite effect with a nobody like me.

Here are a few excerpts from that interview.

Casey Holdahl: Which was your favorite All-Star game you played in, the first or the second?

Kevin Duckworth:
They’re about the same really. One year I did learn that being in an All-Star game with Michael Jordan -- you an All-Star but he’s a superstar -- so it’s a whole different level of the way they treat you. Of course you’re an All-Star, but they treat him at a whole different level. And I realized that hey, you just an All-Star.

But just being there. When you’re in the locker room and you look around, my first one I saw Kareem. I was very overwhelmed because I was a Bruce Lee fan growing up as a kid. Then to see Kareem next to me, he did that movie with Bruce Lee and they became friends. That’s the only opportunity I ever had to talk to someone who actually knew Bruce Lee. So I was actually questioning him about Bruce Lee, I didn’t think about basketball. That was a great thing. Then to play with Moses Malone and guys that you always looked up to who had always been the elite guys in the league. You sit there among them, shooting crap with them, talking crap. Man I tell you what, that is the All-Star game.


Casey Holdahl: Where do your All-Star appearances stack up in regards to your other accomplishments as an NBA player?

Kevin Duckworth: It’s not up there as much as you might think. It’s a great accomplishment, but it’s not like the highlight of my career. If I was playing tennis it would be the most accomplished thing, but I’m not, I’m playing a sport with other teammates. When we all do well together, that’s when we all get the credit. So if I go out there and have a great year and we only win 20 games a season and I’ve averaging 25 points, that don’t look good to me. I look like just somebody out there just shooting every time I get the ball to score when my other teammates are playing like crap.

So to me, the highlight of my career was the success we had on the court as a team, especially when we went to the playoffs. We went to the Finals twice. We should have had two rings by far, in my heart. And to me, those are the most memorable moments in my career.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rudy Fernandez is crazy photogenic

I know a few of you out there are sick of hearing about Rudy Fernandez. I can understand the sentiment. I don't agree with it, but I can understand it. We're still months away from the season and Rudy has never played a second in the NBA yet the hype continues to grow. I suppose that could be annoying for some.

But I care not for your feelings. I'm all about Casey, and Casey likes pictures of Rudy Fernandez playing in the Olympics. So with my own gratification in mind, here are the best photos of Rudy Fernandez since the last time I did this exercise.

You can click on any of these images for larger versions.

Here's Rudy elevating over some Lithuanian fellow trying his best to play something akin to defense.

Sometimes the group hug can get a little over the top. So Rudy, who presumably has had his fill of sweaty dude smell, walks away from the huddle with two tickets to the gun show. Yeah!

This one is my personal favorite. No word on whether Rudy had a chance to talk Red Sox with the kind fellow who cushioned his fall.

I'm fairly certain this is the reverse angle of the first image. If not, Rudy really did a number on ol' Šarūnas Jasikevičius.

Another Lithuanian fellow trying to keep up with Rudy on the dribble drive. Once Fernandez turns the corner, you're done.

Rudy attempting to block some dude sporting a flat top. Check out the elevation. The perspective of the shot probably skews the image a bit, but that's ups.

You already know about this one. I'm guessing Dwight Howard wasn't expecting to get posterized when he signed on to play for Team USA three years ago. Here's what Baron Davis had to say about this dunk:
Spain balled their asses off - can't wait till Rubio makes it to the league. He's a gem. Portland should be nice too, with Oden AND Rudy Fernandez coming in (did you see that nasty one-hand over Dwight Howard, are you kidding???)
By the way, I would love to see a reaction shot of Nate McMillan after that dunk.

Fernandez out-hustling Dwight Howard for a loose ball. I'm willing to bet Howard will be looking for an opportunity to drop the hammer on Rudy the first time they meet in the NBA.

Rudy attempting to slow down Kobe by clocking him in the head. We've tried that. It doesn't work.

And who exactly is LeBron waving to?

Rudy leaves a flummoxed King James in his wake after nailing one of his five three-pointers.

Rudy displays the international sign for "What am I supposed to do about that?" while Kobe tells the overwhelmingly pro-USA crowd to quite down. Go figure.

On the podium during the medal ceremony. Anyone think Rudy looks satisfied with being second best? Me either.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The best possible outcome

First off, congratulations to both the USA and Spanish teams on a game well played. Spain probably played the better game but the United States had the talent to make up for a lack of cohesion on offense and a predilection to gamble on defense.

Personally, I've very proud of the way Nate McMillan represented the United States and the Portland Trail Blazers. I couldn't be happier for Coach.

But Rudy Fernandez was the story. Just ridiculous. His performance throughout the Olympics, capped off by last night's stellar game against Team USA, is going to make the wait for his arrival all the more difficult. The dead-eye shooting from long range. The visionary alley-oops and assists. Dunking on Dwight Howard's dome. The constant motion on offense. The straight fearlessness against Kobe Bryant. His play was nearly flawless, save fouling out while giving up a four-point play to the Mamba.

Check the line. 22 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal with just one turnover in under 18 minutes against the greatest collection of basketball talent in the world. That's hooping. But shooting 54% from the field and 56% from three? Wow. Just ... wow.

In the end, it was a great night for Trail Blazers fans. As Americans, we get to celebrate our nation's return to basketball supremacy. As admirers of Nate McMillan, we get to see a great coach rewarded for years of hard work. And as Trail Blazers fans, we get a glimpse what Rudy Fernandez can bring to the court in Portland. From my perspective, that's the best we could have hoped for.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Trail Blazers medal count

Team USA (including our very own Nate McMillan) takes on Team Spain (including our soon-to-be very own Rudy Fernandez) tonight (or tomorrow?) in the gold medal game. The USA Basketball site says the game is on at 2:30 a.m. Eastern, which is 11:30 p.m. Pacific, but there's no telling whether the fine, fine folks at NBC will be tape-delaying it for us West Coasters. You're either staying up late or getting up early if you want to see the premier event of the Olympic games. Once every four years folks.

I know at this point you're saying to yourself, "But Casey, I don't care when the game is on. I've got a DVR! What I want to know is how many former Trail Blazers have Olympic medals?"

Funny you should ask! Thanks to Kyle "The Nibbler" Nibblett, a recent graduate of the Trail Blazers summer internship program, we now know the answer. Fourteen former Blazers have collected 20 total medals. Check out the breakdown.


Terry Dischinger, 1960
Darrall Imhoff, 1960
Walter Davis, 1976
Kenny Carr, 1976
Arvydas Sabonis, 1980 (USSR)
Arvydas Sabonis, 1988 (USSR)
Clyde Drexler, 1992
Scottie Pippen, 1992
Scottie Pippen, 1996
Shareef Abdur-Raheem, 2000
Steve Smith, 2000


Jim Brewer, 1972
Drazen Petrovic, 1984 (Yugoslavia)
Drazen Petrovic, 1988 (Yugoslavia)
Drazen Petrovic, 1992 (Croatia)
Aleksandar Djordjevic, 1996 (Yugoslavia)


Fernando Martin, 1984 (Spain)
Stacey Augmon, 1988
Arvydas Sabonis, 1992 (Lithuania)
Arvydas Sabonis, 1996 (Lithuania)


Arvydas Sabonis 4
Drazen Petrovic 3
Scottie Pippen 2
Terry Dischinger 1
Darrall Imhoff 1
Walter Davis 1
Kenny Carr 1
Clyde Drexler 1
Shareef Abdur-Raheem 1
Steve Smith 1
Jim Brewer 1
Aleksandar Djordjevic 1
Fernando Martin 1
Stacy Augmon 1

Total Medals 20

So there you go. With Rudy guaranteed no worse than a silver, we'll soon have 21. Hopefully we'll be able to watch that happen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

08.21.08 Edition of the Podcast

The news of Brandon Roy's arthroscopic surgery not only stopped your hearts, it also postponed our weekly podcast. But we're back with it a day late, though hopefully not a dollar short. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of discuss Brandon Roy's meniscus, Steve Blake's toughness, Rudy Fernandez's defense and the tough road facing the training camp invitees. Listen and learn.

Download the podcast (19.6 MB).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Video: Roy addresses the media

Brandon Roy addressed the media today for the first time since having a partial meniscusectomy on his left knee. Roy was moving around easily and was more than affable during what turned out to be an extended media availability.

I got a look at Roy's knee after the media scrum and it looked, at least superficially, that it was almost healed. If everything goes as planned, I would expect Brandon to be back on the floor well within the six to eight week timetable.

(The audio is a bit low, especially at the beginning. Sorry about that.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nothing but love for Nate

Basketball in Beijing gets serious tomorrow, with Team USA taking on the Australians in the quarterfinals. You're smarter than I if you can say with 100% certainty when and on what channel we'll be able to watch USA vs. Australia, but I think it's 8 a.m. (which would be tape delayed three hours) on USA. At least that's what USA Basketball says.

KGW, which as far as I can tell is the only local station that sent a crew to Beijing, asked some of the members of Team USA for their opinions of Nate McMillan. Bring on the praise Redeem Team.

Kobe Bryant: “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve seen. He’s no nonsense. He’s straight to the point. He’s a defensive minded coach. I think the fans up in Portland should feel very confident about the team they have up there, because they have a coach who’s not going to let them slip. And they’re going to be dangerous.”

Jason Kidd: “Nate’s strength when he played was defense. And this team definitely has his characteristics of playing defense and having fun playing defense.”

LeBron James: “The Trail Blazers definitely have a great coach in Nate, and they have a very good team, and Nate is a catalyst for it. I’m happy I’m able to play this whole summer with him.”

Kobe, the most eloquent of the three, easily gives the best soundbite. I wonder if he actually thinks the Trail Blazers are going to be "dangerous," or if he's just being nice.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Coach McMillan, meet Michael Phelps

I had a chance to interview Nate McMillan over the phone last week before Team USA's game against Greece (you can read that interview here). During the discussion Coach McMillan noted that while the players on the "Redeem Team" field constant requests for pictures and autographs, the coaches, himself included, weren't asked nearly as often.

But if the picture above is any indication, maybe Nate was being a little modest. Michael Phelps, the record-breaking, gold medal-hogging swimmer from Baltimore who, by some accounts, is the "greatest Olympian of all time," poses with Nate after Team USA thumped Germany 106-57 in the last game of group play. That's a whole lot of American domination in one building.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Video: Pritchard discusses Roy's surgery

To complete the full multimedia experience, he's video of Kevin Pritchard's remarks regarding Brandon Roy's surgery. Thanks to cameraman Jeff Curtin and executive producer Scott Zachary for the quality work.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Audio: Pritchard discusses Roy's surgery

Kevin Pritchard, a very relieved general manager, discussed Brandon Roy's successful meniscectomy today with the media at the practice facility. According to Pritchard, Roy was in good spirits after the surgery. A full recovery is expected. Give it a listen.

Download the audio (674 KB).

UPDATE: Here's the transcript for those of you who dislike audio for one reason or another.

Pritchard: Today Brandon came out of surgery and obviously there were a lot of things that could have happened. We know from being in this position before that you go in with a great attitude but you prepare for a lot of things. Brandon just had a partial meniscusectomy. Should be out four to eight weeks. We’re very relieved today and Brandon is in a great mood. He’s heading back to Seattle and he’ll be back here on Monday to start his physical therapy.

I think we all kind of have a collective sigh of relief today because with these knee injuries there’s a lot that can happen. You’re talking about the career of a young man who has put his face on this organization and who we care deeply about. We are going to take our time in bringing him back. We will not rush. We’ll do what we did with Oden. But today is a good day. We found out about it. Dr. Roberts did a great job and we’re in a position now that he can be ready by close to the regular season.

Q: When were you aware that he was going to require surgery?

Pritchard: Yesterday.

Q: Did Dr. Roberts say how long the procedure was?

Pritchard: You know, I don’t want to get into all that because I’m not a doctor, but it was a very short surgery. Very, very clean. Very successful. Thank goodness.

Q: Were you able to talk to Brandon afterwards and is he in good spirits?

Pritchard: Absolutely. It’s fun because as soon as he got out of the procedure the first thing he asked was, “How long was I in there?” because he knows if he’s in there a long time, it could be other things. But since he was up in there such a short amount of time he knew it was good news.

He’s in great spirits. Matter fact, he’s on whatever he was on so he’s feeling pretty good. As was I.

Q: What’s the schedule for him now? How soon can he start working on that knee?

Pritchard: You know, it’s hard when you get down to actual weeks because you don’t know how a guy is going to react to physical therapy and to the medicine. But it’s four to eight weeks. I want to be very conservative in that. You guys know how I am: we always put that athlete and the person ahead of anything else. So we’re going to take this and do it right.

Q: Have you had a chance to talk to Nate? Does he know and what’s his reaction, if any?

Pritchard: He does know. Obviously we’re all walking on egg shells around here. It was a nervous time. Again, we’re all in that collective sigh of relief, and it sounds like the whole town is. But I can tell you think: I didn’t sleep a whole lot last night and I feel very, very good about where we are today. We’re in a great position to have him ready by the regular season.

Q: How long did you know about this before we found out. In other words, how many other sleepless night’s did you have before last night?

Pritchard: 48 hours, so this came quick. Dr. Roberts looks at it. You know, Dr. Roberts has had so much success that we trust his evaluation. He got a second opinion. I don’t want to go into all that. I’ll I want to talk about is that it was very success. Very successful. This could have been a lot of things and just a partial meniscusectomy this size, that’s something that we can get over very quickly.

Q: And again, it wasn’t a result of a particular injury or something? Maybe something that he had been dealing with? Just wear and tear, that type of thing?

Pritchard: Yeah, it is a wear and tear. What’s really strange is just all these injuries, they’re not high-impact things that guys come down on a knee wrong. It’s where they say, “You know, I’m kind of sore.” And so we want to take a look at it. Came down and got an MRI then we did the procedure.

Q: A different feeling than it was about a year ago this time.

Pritchard: Yeah. You know, you feel for these guys. These guys are family. They’re our guys. I saw his face yesterday and how he felt and we were very thankful the way it came out.

Q: What about some of the players, Greg in particular? He was just talking a couple of days ago about his connection with Brandon and aspiring to be like Brandon. What was his reaction when he heard about this?

Greg and I talked about it yesterday and said, you know, it could be a lot of things. I remember looking at Greg’s face going, geez, I don’t want that on anybody, especially Brandon because he looks up to him. But the good thing is he told me just know he’s going to go text Brandon and call Brandon. The one thing we’ve got is good guys on this team and they care about each other, which is hopefully the start of something special.

Q: Kevin there are so many things that you can worry about with the team, so many players. How do you get through each week without worrying too much?

Pritchard: Oh man. You know I’m a worrier at heart. You want this team to be successful and there are some many things out of your control. But I feel like we’ve got a great team. I think we’ve got great doctors. A great organization; this organization has turned around so much and we believe in each other and we communicate and we trust. We’re going to get through hard times, and today could have been a hard time and it’s not. We’re going to get through this.

Q: Did you say you had a chance to talk to Nate or was it an email?

Pritchard: I emailed Nate, and last night I talked to Nate.

Q: Did you get a sense of what kind of time he’s having over there? He’s got to be enjoying it.

Pritchard: He beat Greece today, so I’m sure he’s doing pretty good. But if you were to ask him would you rather beat Greece or have Brandon healthy, I’d like to hear that answer, you know? But he’s doing good.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What Joel Freeland is up to

The blog has taken on a decidedly international flavor since the start of the Olympics, and this Q&A with Joel Freeland, a Trail Blazers draft pick in 2006 now playing in Spain, only adds to the worldliness.

Regarding his missing the Las Vegas Summer League ...
24/7: Why were you not in Summer League with the Blazers this year?

JF: That's Gran Canaria! I had a little bit of a problem the first year when I went to Summer League. They were saying there was mis-communication between me, my agent and the club. Supposedly, I didn't tell them I was going to Summer League so they took sanctions.

This year they said due to the risk of injury they didn't want me to play in Summer League so there wasn't much I could do about it. Portland got in contact with them and the answer was still no.

There wasn't much I could say or do to change that decision. I would have loved to have been there because it would have given me another edge ready for GB camp.

So there's that.

As far as his plans for the future ...
24/7: Portland keep telling us they are keeping a close watch on you. Do you get that impression?

JF: I speak to my agent quite a lot and he tells me they're saying I'm a big part of their future and when the time is right, they'll bring me over. But I'm in no rush. I'm 21-years-old!

For me, I'd probably prefer to stay in Europe, make a name for myself, get a lot more experience under my belt then go over and try and make an impact instead of going over there when I'm still learning and trying to fight my way onto an NBA team, which is hard enough as it is, especially a team with such good young players.

I'm not bothered about staying in Europe, I think it's my best option.

And thus concludes this year's Joel Freeland update.

08.13.08 Edition of the Podcast

No shortage of topics talk over in today's podcast. Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge and myself, Casey Holdahl, of run down the latest news on Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Team USA and the 2008-2009 schedule. You thought there was nothing new to say on any of those topics? Think again sucka!

Download the podcast (20.2 MB).

Great moments in media availability

Hosting a small army of media at the practice facility can make for a complex affair for my friends in the Trail Blazers PR Department. But all their hard work is worth it for me when I see quotes like the one below.
The 7-footer from Ohio State showed no signs of problems in two-on-two work with teammates Steve Blake and Channing Frye and former Arkansas star Steven Hill, a 7-footer invited to practice with Portland. Oden isn't allowed to go five-on-five until next month.

"I'm feeling good," Oden said. "I do not have any pain or soreness in my knee."

Asked whether he noticed Oden favoring his right knee, Frye dismissed it entirely.

"He favors dunking on your head, that's what he favors," Frye said after giving up his share to Oden in the workout.
Priceless. I wish I could come up with off the cuff quips like that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Video: Offseason workout

I'm going to squeeze all of these clips together to enhance your viewing pleasure, but in the interim, I'll provide all four as separate clips. It's raw, but I think you'll enjoy it.

By the way, the alley-oop in the third clip is filthy.

Summertime in the gym

As you've probably heard since just about every member of the working media in Portland/SW Washington was in attendance, Greg Oden, Channing Frye, Steve Blake, Steven Hill and David Lucas worked out at the practice facility this morning. The main attraction was obviously Oden, as this was the first time the media at large wer allowed to watch the big man participate in full contact drills. It was mostly two on two and one on two drills proctored by assistant coach Dean Demopoulos, and I've got to say, everyone looked pretty damn good.

It goes a little something like this. To start the workout, Oden, Frye and Blake are on one side of the court while Hill and Lucas are on the other (to be honest, I focused primarily on the side with the guys who are currently under contract). The first drill has the post, usually Oden, setting a screen just below the three-point line for Blake. Blake curls off the screen, while Oden rolls toward the basket for the alley-oop.

Next up, the double screen and roll. Oden and Frye set screens in the lane, while Blake comes from the baseline. After Blake clears the screens, Frye leaks out to the baseline three, after which Oden rolls to the middle. Blake hits Frye with a pass, Frye finds Oden around the hoop for the lob.

It gets a little more interesting after that. In the next drill, the post sets a screen at the top the the key, then rolls to the basket for a dunk. After that, it's a sprint to the top of the key, then back to position to defend a two-on-one. Back to the top of the key, back to the post to defend a guard at the hoop. Back to the key, back to the hoop to defend another two-on-one.

After that, it was two on two with various pairings. Oden and Frye vs. Lucas and Hill with Blake playing guard for both teams. Greg and Frye vs. Blake and Hill. Greg and Blake vs. Channing and Hill. Ect. Ect.

After that, some free throws, then it's time to address the hordes of media who showed up to watch. All in all, it lasted for about an hour and a half. Also worth noting that each guy had another workout, be it boxing, pilates, weight lifting or more on-court drills scheduled for the afternoon.

As far as performance, we'll start with G.O. Just about a week into contact drill, the man is still a beast. His explosiveness probably wasn't what it eventually will be, but when it comes to Greg you realized fairly quickly that, at least in a practice setting, it doesn't much matter. If he gets position anywhere in the post, that's a dunk. Around the foul line (on the rare occasions that he goes out that far), he'll back you down and finish with a dunk. Receiving a lob anywhere near the basket? You know that's a dunk.

Steven Hill, along with Channing Frye and David Lucas, came hard at Greg, but he's just so difficult to move. And holding your position against him is just as vexing. He contests everything. You can really see his ability to cover ground in the quicker drills. His post moves are serviceable, and his baby hook is dialed in.

And he throws it down, vicious-like. Soft hands but he's throw it though the hoop at almost every opportunity. His conditioning also seems to be getting better.

As for Channing, he's probably in the best shape of his life. Where Greg has mass, Channing has definition. The combination of pilates, boxing, basketball workouts and a change in diet has left Frye cut up. It makes it a bit more difficult to guard Oden, but he'll be much better prepared to guard NBA power forwards. His quickness and elevation seem improved. His stamina is off the charts. He's also got a decent handle.

His long range shot is dialed in. Frye has been talking about improving his range out to the three-point line, and the work is paying off. He's always been a solid mid-range shooter, but teams are now going to have to respect him out to the three, especially around the baseline. That opens up room for Oden, Przybilla, Roy, Bayless, Rudy and anyone else willing to camp in the post or attack the rim.

Today's workout was geared toward the big men, but Blake managed to hold his own. Blake is the kind of guy who's always in shape, but he seems to have a bit more bounce in his step. Case in point: Blake went up and dunked the ball during one of the drills, something I'm not sure I've ever seen him do. He's probably been able to throw it down since junior high, but this was the first time I remember seeing him actually do it. I'm sure Blake hears all the talk about the point guard position and I'm guessing it's provided plenty of motivation.

Blake had to occasionally guard Frye during drill, and he actually did a pretty good job all things considered. The defense consisted of a lot of grabbing, but hey, whatever works.

All in all, a great workout. Still far too early to draw too many conclusions, but if everyone, not just Oden, keeps progressing, it's on.

Photos: Oden, Frye, Blake, Hill and Lucas workout

Today at the practice facility Greg Oden, Channing Frye, Steve Blake, Steven Hill and David Lucas went through a workout ran by assistant coach Dean Demopoulos. I'll have a write up of that shortly, but here are some images from Tualatin.

Everything you need to know about Rudy Fernandez in four pictures

We don't get too many pictures from the the festivities in Beijing, but there are a couple of images of Rudy Fernandez from the last two games that say a lot about the kind of player he is. Observe.

Rudy taking the ball to the hole against 6-10, 250 lbs. Greek center Yiannis Bourousis (5) while Antonis Fotsis (9) gets the heck out of the way. Rudy initiates contact, keeps the ball to the his left side, allowing for an And1 opportunity.

Rudy celebrating with his teammates and countrymen. Everybody knows the international language of the high five.

Rudy taking the ball to the hole, this time with his right hand, straight at 7-0, 238 lbs. Chinese forward Yi Jianlian. Again drawing contact while keeping the ball away from the defender and in a position for a relatively easy score.

Rudy driving the lane against 7-6, 310 lbs. Chinese center Yao Ming. Again drawing contact. Again keeping the ball away from the defender, who also happens to be a preeminent shot blocker. Rudy's in position to get up an attempt, but this one looks a little more difficult than the first two.

So what can we derive from these four pictures? A few things.

First, he loves to get in the lane. And what's more, he likes to initiate contact when he gets in the lane.

He's fearless. He can finish with either hand.

By the way, any of this sound like someone you know?

It could be the zone defense, but in none of these pictures do you see Rudy's man defender. Which means opposing teams are trying to corral him into the lane (which would seem like a mistake) or that he's shaking his man on the way to the rim.

Oh, and he likes to slap hands.

That's so Rudy

I'll be honest: I haven't had a chance to watch this morning's game between Spain and China. I set my alarm, but only managed to stay awake for about five minutes before falling asleep again. I've always been one of those "early to bed, early to rise" types, so staying up past midnight (or sleeping in past 7 a.m.) is a struggle for yours truly.

But enough about my sleep patterns. The powerhouse that is the Spanish National Team took on Yao Ming at the Chinese in the second preliminary round. If you're still waiting to watch the game don't read on.


The Spaniards defeated the Chinese 85-75 in overtime after being down by 14 in the fourth quarter. Our boy Rudy Fernandez when buck wild, scoring 21 points on 50% shooting. He also grabbed eight boards, dished six assists, nabbed two steals and swatted a shot. That, my friends, is the definition of a yeoman effort.

The eight rebounds are especially impressive, considering that Carlos Boozer, the leading rebounder in the USA's victory against China, also had eight boards. Sure, Rudy had an overtime period to grab a few extra, but he's also not a 6-9 All-Star power forward. Bottom line is that against a rather large Chinese squad, Rudy boarded hard. The man loves to attack the rim, be it on offense or defense.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the folks at FIBA had to say.
Led by the incredible Rudy Fernandez and 17-year-old Ricky Rubio, the world champions fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half but never quit fighting and were ultimately rewarded with their second win in Beijing.

The Chinese, beaten by the United States in their opener, are now 0-2.

Pau Gasol had 29 points to lead all scorers but it was the end-to-end intensity provided by a pair of players who led Spanish side DKV Joventut to Copa del Rey and ULEB Cup glory last season that won the game for the Spanish.

Fernandez, who is going to the NBA next season to play with the Portland Trail Blazers, had 21 points, eight assists and nine rebounds while Rubio only scored one point but was such a menace on defense that he sparked the comeback and also prevented the Chinese from getting off a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation.

Rubio finished with a game-high five steals while also dishing out four assists and grabbing four rebounds.

"It has been a very difficult game,” Fernandez said to, “especially in the first half.

“We didn't play the way we are used to playing. China have been very effective and in the third and fourth quarter, when we put pressure and we defended better, we posed more problems for them and that's when we started running and won the game. I thought China played a great game."

I'll post the highlight reel as soon as I can find it.

UPDATE: My main man Dave at Blazer's Edge has a great recap, as always.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Photos: Brandon Roy at the Clark County Fair

In between bike rides, proposing to his longtime girlfriend and overseeing the Rose Festival Parade, Brandon Roy still makes time to swoop into the Clark County Fair to sign autographs, ride the Gravitron and take in a monster truck rally. That's how all-stars treat a day at the fair.

(Brandon may or may not have ridden the Gravitron or watched large trucks drive over smaller trucks. All photos provided courtesy of the Clark County Fair.)

What Nate has to say

The United States did what they needed to do in their first game of the Summer Olympics, dispatching Team China 101-70. The plan to wear opponents down by utilizing relentless full-court pressure, a strategy implemented, according to many, by Nate McMillan, seems to be working. Finishing the game with 14 steals and 18 forced turnovers while holding the Chinese to 34% shooting is a great way for Team USA to start their tournament defensively. And a great deal of the credit should go to Coach McMillan.

I'm working on getting in touch with Nate to get his thoughts on the experience so far, but in the meantime, I've collected some of his quotes from the last week along with a few images from Beijing.

As Olympics open, US men stressing defense
“We’re not a big team, and we have to take advantage of our speed and our athletic ability, so we’re going to attack,” assistant coach Nate McMillan said. “With our guys, we have extended our defense. That’s a style that we feel is necessary, and we’ve tried to put a team together that’s capable of doing that.”

But the Americans may still be vulnerable against teams that excel in the pick-and-roll. In closed practices leading up to the Olympics, the U.S. has been working on different schemes to limit the damage.

If the Americans can figure out a way to stop that tricky play, they may win their first Olympic gold medal since 2000. If they don’t, it could mean another disappointing finish.

“It’s the oldest play in basketball, and it’s still the most effective play,” McMillan said. “And if you have two players that can run it, and run it well, it’s almost impossible to stop. What we feel we needed to put together is a defensive package. So there won’t be one way of covering that pick and roll. There’ll be packages as far as what we can do to defend the pick and roll.”

Getting on the defensive
Said U.S. assistant coach Nate McMillan: "We know we're small, but we're quick - we have speed. We want to try and take advantage of our speed. As opposed to having a bulky, big unit, we have a very athletic unit with players that are versatile and can play a number of different positions."

Boozer said the international officiating, which allows for more physical play, benefits the Americans.

"We can be a lot more physical," he said. "We can do things we can't do in our league - we can play physical off the ball and really check them without any consequences.

In the NBA, the contact is called. Being more physical is exciting for us."

For the last three summers, during which every U.S. player appeared at least once, the coaching staff has tried different defenses and combinations to prepare for the Olympics. The end result is likely a big problem for opponents.

"We've tried some things that we like and some things we didn't like," McMillan said.

"We can play a lot of different combinations that will force teams to make adjustments."

It's gold or bust for Kobe Bryant
"After we lost in '04, everyone has pride and took that to the heart," said Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade. "We want to show that our game is still the best. We're the founders of this game."

Krzyzewski's assistant coach Nate McMillan insisted the Americans were better prepared this time.

"They're more connected," McMillan told Reuters. "We feel that family chemistry other countries have over the last few years.

"But the bottom line is we can't talk about being the best -- we've got to show it."

China blockbuster to test US nerve
"We knew we weren't ready for the 2004 Olympics," U.S. assistant coach Nate McMillan told Reuters. "We had to make changes. In the past we've spent two to three weeks getting ready for the Games. This time we've spent three years.

"I can't even imagine what (former Olympic coaches) Chuck Daly and Larry Brown had to go through years ago. I wouldn't say we haven't taken it seriously but in the past we have been able to do that and win. But other countries are better now."

Friday, August 8, 2008

08.07.08 Edition of Trail Blazers Courtside

Here's the latest edition of Trail Blazers Courtside with Mike Barrett and Mike Rice. It's a one hour show (as it will be for the next few weeks), so there's only one guest, Assistant General Manager Tom Penn.

Download the podcast (39.8 MB).

You'll notice that the podcast comes in at a rather hefty 39.8 MB. ITunes users had been complaining about the times on the podcasts being inaccurate, so I tried something different this week, which made the size about double of what it usually is. So let me know if the problem is corrected this week, and if not, please let me know what problems you're having.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Nike Global Challenge: The Mini Bejing

UPDATE: To kick off the Nike Global Challenge, the Ballers Network will be sponsoring an open run at Liberty High School starting at 11:30 am Friday for anyone who thinks they have the game to go up against some of the best pro, college and high school players from around the northwest.

There's been a lot of discussion lately regarding the United States' place in the international basketball scene. With the start of the Beijing games just a few days away we'll soon find out if the USA, once the class of basketball the world over, can reclaim the stature befitting the country that invented the game.

Most of us don't have the means or desire to travel to China to see the "Redeem Team's" attempt at gold, but starting Friday, there'll be plenty of international basketball to watch right in our own backyard. The Nike Global Challenge, an eight team, 12 game U-19 tournament pitting three USA teams (rosters here, here and here) against squads from Canada, Puerto Rico, Lithuania, Senegal and Serbia is set to take place starting August 8th at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. It's yet another chance to see the best and brightest basketballers from around the world before they get a crack at the NBA.

The Nike Global Challenge, though a standalone tournament, is actually the culmination of a host of other events. Nike holds skills camps throughout the year, with the best performers from those clinics moving on to the LeBron James Skills Academy. Out of the 80 high school players in attendance at the LJSA, 30 are chosen to participate on behalf of the United States at the Global Challenge. It's a fierce gauntlet, one that is meant to aid in the development of Team USA's next generation.

That next generation also includes two PIL products. Mike Moser, a talented wing out out of Grant High School and Terrance Jones from Jefferson High have both been selected to represent Portland and the United States in the Global Challenge.

So even though you probably won't be able to see Team USA's quest to regain their pride and the gold medal in person, you can see the future of USA Basketball right here in Oregon. Tickets are still available at the Liberty High School box office.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Get ready to schedule

It's almost here. Tomorrow morning the Trail Blazers 2008-2009 schedule will be released. Are all those rumors you've been hearing true? We'll know soon enough.

There will be tough stretches, there will be easy stretches (as "easy" as anything is in the Western Conference, that is), but my question to you is: Does it matter? Is it better to have a more difficult schedule early? Late? Can things like the number of back-to-back's can change the dynamic of a season? What about the extra travel now that the Sonics reside in Oklahoma City? Do playoff teams simply overcome those hurdles, or are playoff teams made thanks to beneficial scheduling? I've got my own thoughts that I'll share tomorrow, but I'd like to get your opinions first.