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Moving Day

movingtruck_71_1

I knew this day was coming – the day the blog would relocate. WordPress was the perfect starter home. But as of today I’m making moves to a new look and feel at http://www.beyondthebeat.net/ .

Cruise on over when you have the chance.

And as always, thanks for reading.

W

 

Roy In A Word: Classy

broy

Brandon Roy is not your typical NBA star. In fact, he’ll tell you the word “star” doesn’t even apply. But for a writer, Roy is everything you want in an interview, let alone a player poised to lead a young team into the playoffs.

Classy.

One writer whispered the word as he passed by, with Roy genuinely taking his time answering questions after the Blazer lost at home a few games back to the Phileadelphia 76ers. Insert cliche’ here: it was a game they should have had.

Everyone knew it. Brandon – who had a non-typical Roy game – knew it. Yet there was no “both teams played hard”. No “we let this get away”. No “this is one we should have had.”

The loss hurt, but still.

No canned answers.

Classy.

Last week after putting the hurt on the Phoenix Suns on TNT, the word jumped to life with Roy.

I was busy working on a story for HOOPSWORLD about the changes going on out West with the playoffs approaching. A team like the Suns – who are always postseason shoe-ins – likely won’t make it. Portland though – a young team on the come-up – easily will.

Goodbye Shaq. Hello Brandon Roy.

Times, they are a changing.

After getting some timely words and razzing from Shaq, I wanted to snag Roy for the piece. As I ran down the hall to the Blazers locker room, I thought for sure Brandon was long gone. Game had been over about an hour at that point. But opening the door to a nearly empty locker room, there was Roy – humble and real – still talking to a couple writers. Pretty soon, it was one on one with Roy.

And as we stood there talking about his days in Seattle, his infant son Brandon Jr., and how he came to know Shaq at the All-Star Game, I couldn’t help but think of that one word.

Most of the players had bailed. Writers were off meeting deadlines. The Blazers communication team huddle in a corner making late night plans.

And Roy just smiled and talked about basketball and life.

Classy.

pic via: o-live

That First Quarter….

Trail Blazers Knicks Basketball

Remember earlier in the season when Portland’s intensity level was often in question? Well, the Blazers pretty much killed that theory within twelve minutes on Tuesday.

On a night when Portland desperately needed to show a division rival like the Utah Jazz how legit they are, the Blazers accomplished that and then some. They started aggressive, were active and efficient – essentially providing a glimpse of how good this team really is.

The Blazers 39 points in the first quarter was the most in the opening period this season and tied a team mark for the most in any quarter.

Intense. Exactly how Portland wants to play with the playoffs approaching.

And it went a little something like this….

10:53: Brandon Roy jumper

10:29: LaMarcus Aldridge alley-oop

10:01: Steve Blake three-pointer

9:03: LaMarcus Aldridge lay-up

8:24: Brandon Roy three-pointer

8:13: Steve Blake three-pointer

7:20: Brandon Roy fade away jumper

6:46: LaMarcus Aldridge jump shot

6:24 Brandon Roy dunk

5:49: Brandon Roy lay-up

5:03 Nicolas Batum dunk

4:47: LaMarcus Aldridge freethrows (2-2)

4:13: Greg Oden freethrows (1-2)

3:59: Brandon Roy jump shot

3:33: LaMarcus Aldridge freethrows (2-2)

1:42: Greg Oden freethrows (2-2)

1:02: Greg Oden dunk

0:05: Sergio Rodriguez three-pointer

Three quarters later, Portland finished off Utah with a 125-104 win – their third straight victory of 20 plus points.

Who would have thought Portland would be sitting a game and a half back of the number two spot out West? Crazy.

Now if the Blazers can only show up on the upcoming road trip to Oklahoma City, Houston, Memphis and San Antonio.

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The Latest: Oh, how the shameless plugs pile up….let me count the ways.

Plenty of Western Conference playoff talk go on over at HOOPSWORLD, and guess who has received those assignments?

 And finally….while the Phoenix Suns are quickly fading in the postseason picture behind Dallas, questions about the offseason are already taking place.

Will Grant Hill return? Will Alvin Gentry be back?

After speaking to both guys, it’s clear they want their journey in Phoenix to last.

 pic via: washington post

Shaq Speaks, I Listen

shaq

It’s tough to beat a good Shaquille O’Neal story. It really is. Even having covered the guy a number of times before, I’ve learned if Shaq is going to talk, then you better be around to listen.

After Portland put the hurt on Phoenix last night at the Rose Garden and on TNT, Shaq held court with a handful of us around in the Suns locker room.

He waxed poetic – in his signature mumbling fashion – and comical about the game for a few minutes and Portland center Joel Przybilla, whom he has history with. They’ve mixed it up before. Plenty. (check out HOOPSWORLD for his take on Joel and “flopping”.)

Somewhere in the middle, I asked what he thought of Greg Oden.

The kid’s been playing nice of late – the last two games that is.

Now, I knew Shaq would be Shaq with the reply. But you have to ask, just for the sake of getting the response from Mr. Quotatious himself. I mean, we are after all talking about Shaq here.

“I don’t,” he said when asked what he thinks of the Blazers young center.

Shaq didn’t even look my way, at least until he repeated himself first.

“I don’t.”

“I’m a Shogun. You can’t ask me about a low level ninja. I still have to worry about Yao Ming, Dwight Howard.”

Classic.

Minutes later Shaq wraps up the postgame interview and we all disperse. As I’m heading out of the Suns locker room, I hear this low, deep, mumbling voice right behind me.

“You can’t be asking me about no ninjas.”

Didn’t think he was talking to me until I turned around and there’s Shaq smiling. I turn around letting Shaq know I had to ask, even though I know full well the routine.

“Don’t be asking me about no ninjas,” Shaq said driving home the point, again with a smile.

Okay, I get it. But I had to ask. Now I know.

Don’t ask about no ninjas – and never miss the chance to speak with the Shogun.

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The Latest: With all the playoff talk floating around Portland, you have to think the Blazers could be one of those teams prepared to pull an upset once they do reach the postseason.

Got into this the other day at HOOPSWORLD – the key to shocking Rip City and actually advancing to the second round.

pic via: takegreatpics.com

Life After A Newspaper

paper

Chris Tomasson was busy covering another Denver Nuggets practice when he got the call: the newspaper was closing. Now after weeks of uncertainties, Tomasson and others from the defunct Rocky Mountain News are finding life after the newspaper.

A couple weeks back, Tomasson – along with fellow beat writer Aaron Lopez – was kind enough to recount his Rocky experiences about working a dead beat (The End Of A Rocky Road). Little did either of us know then that he’d find a place to call home so quickly in the same city.

He’s found it at InDenver Times – where the news is free, but a subscription fee is required to receive “analysis”; “insight, perspective, live blogging, live chatting, commenting, interactivity with writers and other readers.”

Chris recently spoke breifly about this new news model and his role at InDenver Times….

How did InDenver Times come about?

A little more than 30 former staffers from the Rocky Mountain News have banded together with three investors in an attempt to keep the 150-year-old spirit of the Rocky alive. If we get 50,000 subscriptions (at $60 a year, although shorter subscriptions are available) by April 23, the online venture will launch May 4.

Until then, we’re all working very hard to show potential subscribers what they can expect from InDenver Times.

I’ve already seen a couple headlines on the Nuggets attributed to you at InDenver Times. What will your contributions look like moving forward?

I’ll be providing a number of Denver Nuggets articles each week. For anyone who appreciated my Nuggets coverage in the Rocky Mountain News, feel free to take a look at http://www.indenvertimes.com. We’d love to have you come aboard as a subscriber.

With the state of the business, do you think we’ll see more paper – or at least staff members – use this model as a template?

I think everybody around the country will be looking to see how InDenver Times works out, and how the Seattle Post-Intelligencer does with its new online venture. Right now, the current newspaper model is broken. Too much money is being spent on production costs and distribution.

The online model is one solution to that. After observing what happens online, I wouldn’t be surprised if more newspapers follow suit.

pic via: nytimes.com

 

 

76076207HH017_PORTLAND_TRAI

I should be 10 dollars richer by now. “5 bucks the Blazers drop this one,” my text flashed to two other Portland media row writers about three minutes into the Blazers versus the Philadelphia 76ers game.

No takers.

We all agreed Portland had plenty of chances to win though. Even after the overtime results, no one could have predicted that kind of ending.

Chances are if you missed the game, then you have plenty in common with Steve Javie’s officiating crew.

But before I get into it here, just know this young Blazers team has to expect anything and everything on their way to the playoffs – even poor officiating.

It may be about as close to the “Montreal Screwjob” as you’re going to get – a bevy of close calls and near falls until the shaft in a matter of seconds. That’s one train of thought. Still, I’m not willing to bet – despite my earlier $5 gamble – that Portland can put this loss entirely on Javie, Leon Wood and Mark Lindsay.

You can easily go there. You can blame the refs. Plenty of blogs and chatrooms full of Blazers die hards on Tuesday morning will. Or you can assume these kinds of growing pains to casually occur over the next couple of months, perhaps not to this extent. If the Blazers are making postseason plans – and I believe we can all agree they are – then shoddy officiating is going to happen as often as a team going 10-34 from behind the three-point line.

Nate McMillan put it perfectly.

“Either they missed some calls or they are getting ready for playoff basketball.”

McMillan’s beginning of the quote is accurate enough. But if officials are really beginning to get into the postseason mood here in late March, Portland should too.

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The Latest: In the comings days I’ll be plugging this post from Monday every now and again. It’s a chance to gather some reader feedback for the upcoming re-launch of Beyond The Beat. Details inside….

piv via: daylife

Feedback Time

typewriter

When I first started this blog last June, I wasn’t sure how long it would last. But nearly a year and several posts later, the blog has taken on a life of its own thanks to those of you who frequent Beyond The Beat. So now I need your help.

BTB is in the early stages of a major facelift, and has been for the last month behind the scenes. A move away from WordPress – who has been a great blog format to work with – is coming hopefully by late April/early May. More to come on this.

The look will change – layout and advertising. Content will grow and morph as well. And this is where you come in….yeah, you.

My original plan was to use BTB as a one-stop-shop for all my writing, from HOOPSWORLD to the Northwest Examiner and any freelance writing gigs along the way. I also wanted to give a glimpse about covering the NBA in Portland and the league as a whole.

Hopefully I’ve done those aspects justice.

As a highlight, I’ve had some brief feature stories (in memory of Kevin Duckworth), occasional interviews with other beat writers (the latest with Chris Tommason and Aaron Lopez from the now defunct Rocky Mountain News), and plenty of additional very random thoughts on the Blazers (time for Martell Webster to really shut it down?) – and the NBA to boot (some Mexican food from Mo Williams actually sounds good right about now….).

And while I have a sense of how I want to proceed with in content going forward, your feedback is important to this process and is greatly appreciated.

If you are a faithful reader (all five of you) or simply stopping by for a quick blog fix, your comments are what help keep this adventure interesting.

So it’s feedback time.

What have you enjoyed? What has worked? What needs to be scrapped? What would you like more of? Story ideas you’d like to see come to life? Interviews you’d like to see? Other blog/website features you’d benefit from?

Speak up….

And thanks always for reading and writing.

W

What’s The Rush?

Spurs Trail Blazers Basketball

Rudy Fernandez probably didn’t understand the joke lobbed his way, but Martell Webster tossed the zinger nonetheless. It was last week. Right before Portland faced Dallas. Maybe now Webster will heed his own comedic advice.

Fernandez was wrapping up his brief pregame media session outside the Blazers locker room, fielding questions about his sore right chest and right hip-pointer courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers Trevor Ariza.

Just before the last question, Webster joined the crowd peering over shoulders giving Rudy some gag insight into life on the disabled list.

“Put some ice on it. Lots of ice.”

As Webster smiled and casually walked away, I couldn’t help but think about Webster and his own injury. This was well before Webster’s most recent comments saying the prognosis he’s received about his stress fracture in his left foot lately was merely that – a prediction – and that he’s targeting an April return.

Webster knows all about putting “some ice on it.”

The Blazers have essentially “iced him” like a big game kicker ever since they prematurely rushed him back from injury in Toronto in early December. Basically iced him with a walking boot for five months. Iced him again saying Webster would return around the All-Star break. Iced him yet again when they reportedly shut him down for the season once the NBA trade deadline passed.

Now it’s as if Martell is taking matters into his own hands.

Got talking family matters with Webster’s cousin – Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks – shortly after the Mavericks put the hurt on Portland last week. It was interesting. While Terry knows Martell can help Portland – as I detailed Wednesday over at HOOPSWORLD – he also knows it is best for Webster to get completely healthy and hit it hard this offseason.

Can’t help but feel the same way.

Yes, there is a need for Martell – as Terry explained. Portland knows the role he could fulfill on this roster – as Terry explained. But Portland’s managed to go this far without him and that goes without an explanation.

Will having Webster back mean the difference between the Blazers being a 4th or 8th seed out West? Does a possible Webster return extend Portland past the first round of the playoffs when the time comes?

Yes on the first one. No on the second. So what’s the rush?

Guess I’d much rather prefer Webster continue to sit this one out.

Put some ice on it. Lots of ice.

pic via: daylife

Meanwhile….In The E.R.

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The last place I thought I’d find myself on St. Patrick’s Day morning was the emergency room. Guess that’s what I get for not wearing green – or drinking enough liquids before and during working out at the gym: a little dehydration.

So after some dizzy spells, nausea, a little vomiting, almost passing out, a quick bumpy ride in the ambulance to the hospital, I found myself being pumped full of fluids during about two hours worth of steady contemplation.

My first thought – should have drank more water. Brilliant.

Second thought – hope I don’t worry my pregnant wife of seven months and two year old daughter too much.

Every thought while trying to get some rest went a little something like this:

Wonder if my brother Patrick is waiting for me to call him back to wish him a happy birthday…..

Will Greg Oden (who is now listed as a “game time decision”) play Wednesday at his homecoming in Indiana?

It’s freezing in here….

This is seriously cutting into my research time on a story I’m attempting to write for a sports magazine in Seattle…..

How much is that ambulance ride going to cost me exactly?

Do the beat writers in New Jersey ever get exhausted by the small Asian media horde that follows Nets forward Yi Jianlian from town to town?

Do I still have to paint my daughters bedroom pink today?

Should I even bother asking if I can move to a room with a TV….

When should I call to arrange an interview with that one pro wrestling icon….

Will I see Nicolas Batum have another career night the rest of this season….

Can a brother get some Jell-O?

Now I know what Rudy Fernandez felt like – minus the bruised right chest, right hip-pointer, staying the night in the hospital, and visits from Sergio Rodriguez….

Wonder what my dad thought about when he was in and out of hospitals when he was sick with cancer….

Wish I had a book…

Do I still need to meet those three deadlines I have waiting for me at HOOPSWORLD this week?

Can I leave now?

I am blessed with the best wife in the world.

pic via: wikipedia

Best In The Northwest?

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Knowing where Portland has come from the past few seasons, I can’t believe the Blazers winning the Northwest Division remains a possibility. Figured they’d make the postseason. Just didn’t imagine they could beat out Utah and Denver in the process.

So late last about midnight – after spending about a good five hours painting the master bedroom in my house – I had some work to do. The task: trying to figure out how Portland can get this done – win the Northwest.

The goods are running now over at HOOPSWORLD, and for me comes down to something the Blazers have played Jekyll and Hyde with all season long – winning on the road. Those two games in Texas – against Houston and then San Antonio – are going to be rough.

Think we all know what happened a couple weeks back.

With 18 games remaining (8 at home, 10 on the road), how will this race play out? Here’s the tale of the tape from here on out – with a little guessing game to boot:

Portland plays New Jersey, at Atlanta, at Memphis, at Indiana, at Cleveland, at Milwaukee, versus Philadelphia, Phoenix, Memphis, Utah, at Oklahoma City, at Houston, at Memphis, at San Antonio, versus the Lakers, at the Clippers, versus the Thunder and versus Denver.

Record: 10-8

The eight losses? I have Portland falling to Atlanta, Indiana, Cleveland, Phoenix, Utah, Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio.

That would give Portland a final record of 50-32. Is that enough to win the Northwest?

Discuss….

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The Latest: Know I am getting this update out late…..but it’s been one of those weeks. First, I think with Rudy Fernandez – who was pretty gimpy before the game – fully healthy, Portland would have beaten Dallas on Wednesday night. They missed his three-point shooting. I’m just saying.

But you still can’t argue with how the Mavericks always handle the Blazers. It’s pretty sick. Same goes with Dirk Nowitzki doing what Dirk Nowitzki does. Those two shots over LaMarcus Aldrige with a minute and under left in the game are as clutch as they come. You can’t stop that.

roy41It was one of those love-hate moments. For the past few months, I’ve been barking about the Portland Trail Blazers being devoid of physical emotion and toughness. The Blazers were forced to bark back on Monday night.

I loved seeing Portland take a stand against the Los Angeles Lakers – a series that is constantly chippy. I loved seeing Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw display some much needed chutzpah in the final seconds of the third quarter.

I just hated to see it come at the expense of Rudy Fernandez laying under the basket in pain and clutching his chest after taking a hard foul from Lakers Trevor Ariza. It was a scary time. You never want to see that happen to any player – a guy carted off on a stretcher with his neck and body stabilized.

It’s that time of season. Games will be physical from here on out.   

Roy said it best after the game (via HOOPSWORLD’s “Courtside Blog”). The foul was one thing. Ariza “bucking” (talking trash) was the final straw. That’s what got Roy and everyone else on the Blazers sidelines heated.

No need to see a fight. But I’ll take the Blazers getting fired up any day.

I’ve seen this happen before. So has Channing Frye – who was in the thick of the pushing and shoving between the Blazers and Lakers.  Sure he thought back to New York just as I did.

Back in December 2006, Frye was with New York when the Knicks and Denver Nuggets “brawled” at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks took exception to the Nuggets running up the score in a blowout when then-Knick Mardy Collins grabbed J.R. Smith around the neck on an open layup.

Soon players were shoving, posing, throwing punches and both benches got involved in the end. Frye was one of 10 players tossed, while avoiding a suspension. Seven others weren’t so fortunate.

It was a nasty incident. Didn’t have to go there. But it happens.

I’ll never forget watching from the pressbox at MSG as Carmelo Anthony threw a haymaker at Jared Jeffries only to backpedal all the way down to the other end of the court to hide behind his teammates.

A real tough guy.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed at the Rose Garden on Monday night.

Here’s the footage….getting fired up versus getting into a fight:

pic via: bleacher report

 

Getting Defensive….

Trail Blazers Nuggets Basketball

Nate McMillan talks about this a lot. His players are too offensive minded. Defense comes last. McMillan on the other hand believes defense should trigger your offense. So when the Blazers came out flat against the Denver Nuggets it didn’t come as a shock.

We’ve seen this charade before.

The defense wasn’t there – again. And when it was, it was far too late. But that wasn’t the only thing missing in Denver on Thursday night. Portland simply doesn’t have that physical chip on their shoulder that they so desperately need. I’ve gone down this road before. Plus, the Blazers inability to beat a Western Conference team bound for the playoffs is nonexistent. They are now 1-12 in that department.

Those two aspects – a lack of physical play and struggling to win away from the Rose Garden against the big boys out West– will mean an early exit from the postseason whenever Portland gets there.

TNT’s Doug Collins summed it up going to a commercial break minutes into the second quarter, after Kevin Harlan noted, “Nate McMillan would like the Blazers to be more physical.”

Really? You don’t say. Collins came correct though.

“I don’t think that is their make-up right now. Maybe as they get older they might be a team that takes some harder fouls,” Collins said. “But I don’t think Nate would mind that, especially the way to start a game tonight just to set the tone of the game. They did not do that.”

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The Latest: Portland has been there before – on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Earlier in the week at HOOPSWORLD, I took an early look at the seven teams who are probably wondering what the heck they are playing for right about now.

There is one losing team – perhaps the worst the league has to offer – that is playing for something: the Sacramento Kings. Not only will they make more moves this offseason, but they have a solid chance at landing the number one overall pick come June.

And lastly….make sure to check out Andrew Perna, RealGM’s Deputy Editor and his mission to raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis with his “NBA for MS” series. Andrew has really made an impact – both with his writing and forming lifelong relationships around the league – with his truly worthy cause. Nice work Andrew….

pic via: AP

nuggets

When I heard the Rocky Mountain News in Denver was running their final edition last Friday, the first thing I thought was: what about the guys on the Nuggets beat?

Where do they go from here? Chris Tomasson and Aaron Lopez are wondering the same thing.

Tomasson and Lopez, who started covering the team about a year apart from each other, were both kind enough to share their experiences about working a dead beat for a folding newspaper, the memories along the way, and what the future holds….

Yet, even with so much unknown, Tomasson and Lopez never stopped putting in work….even breaking news in the final hours of their time at the Rocky.

Has it started to sink in that the Rocky Mountain News has closed?

CT: It’s started to sink in a little. We had a farewell party Saturday night and you saw all the Rocky people there, and that’s when it started to sink in. Thursday was such a whirlwind trying to save all the emails and files before they came for our computers – and I was just running around, so it’s definitely started to sink in.

Can you just give a quick background on your time at the Rocky and on the beat with the Nuggets….

CT: It’s one in the same – six-and-a-half years and took over the beat in September 2002. Survived the infamous 17-65 Jeff Bzdelik season 2002-03, when they averaged fewer points than any team since the shot clock – excluding the lockout season –and I’ve been covering the playoffs ever since then.

What has it been like – knowing the paper had been for sale and would eventually shut down – heading to work with the writing on the wall?

CT: I still handled my work as professional. The harder you work, the more you took your mind off of it. So that wasn’t a problem. We knew from the start that it didn’t look good. There were periods of semi-optimism when we continued to linger because they initially set a deadline of mid-January and as that passed, we got into February we figured they must have done something to stay alive. So we tried to think positive thoughts. But in the last week or two, they said they would tell the Rocky their fate my March 31. It sounded like it was over, although we thought we would linger through March.

Where were you when you received the news the paper was closing?

CT: I was in a very appropriate place, where I’ve been much of my life: standing in the hallway waiting to interview players. I had my computer on – but not on the internet – I was transcribing audio and waiting for some players to come out after an off day. Somebody called me and gave me the news. They said, did you hear the news? I thought someone got waived or some big NBA news – because it was getting close to that March 1 date when players could be waived. But they were like, you better call your office. Then I knew what the news was.

On a beat- and as much as you see them – did you talk to George Karl, the players and management to let them know what was going on?

CT: They kind of knew it was coming. George offered some nice sentiments to me at one point. Several members of the front office gave me their best wishes and what have you. And when the news finally came down, they were very gracious. With the state of the newspaper biz – combined with a declining economy – it doesn’t sound like this will be the first we will hear of a major paper shutting their doors. We are trying our best to stay optimistic, but there is so much so much doom and gloom out there it is difficult.

Our situation was understandable, because of how many two newspaper cities are left. Most people thought one day Denver would be down to one paper. But I’m still in the ‘I’ll believe it when I see it mode’ when a city like San Francisco or San Diego – another newspaper that is trouble – that has no newspaper in their major city. If that day comes, that will be a very, very sad day.

How hard has this time been Chris?

CT: It’s been tough just with the uncertainty out there, but I’m just trying to stay positive. Most likely I will finish up the season going to some Nuggets game, getting into some freelance and certainly I want to stay in the business. I think I can be an asset to a printed publication or online situation – so I’m trying to hope for the best at this point.

Could the Rocky have survived? Did they cash in the chips too early?

CT: Not knowing all the financial situations – but we heard the rumblings that maybe we would have stuck it out, that the (Denver) Post would have folded. But I’m not wishing any ill will on them. If they would have folded, it would be the economic situation with one of the two having to go. Scripps (who owned the paper) had to answer to stock holders, so that is another difference between the two companies. It’s just unfortunate this whole thing happened, and what’s happening to newspapers in general.

What are you going to miss the most about working for the Rocky and being on the Nuggets beat?

CT: I will miss the daily adrenaline. Obviously with the trade deadline passing, just not as major. The March 1 cut down date, and it’s been an exciting season with the Nuggets and with Chauncey Billups changing things around. There seems to be much more positive energy hanging over the team this year. So you just miss the daily challenge. Every day is a challenge and you are wondering what you are going to put in the paper the next day. Now there is no next day.

Is there a story that epitomizes your time on the beat?

CT: Ah, I’m going to have to think about that one. Go on to the next one – I’ll have to think about that one.

What if I told you that was my last question….

CT: Okay, I’ll tell you what I’m going to remember. I wasn’t there for all the long suffering years of the Nuggets, but my first season on the beat was 2002-03 – which I talked about before when they went 17-65. Some people think that was the least talented team in the history of the NBA – and that is being extreme. But I remember that next year when they got Carmelo Anthony in 2003 – o4.

They played Sacramento and it was a night they clinched a playoff berth. And Michael Jordan was there watching Carmelo Anthony – Lionel Richie was there – there just happened to be all these stars coming out to watch him. And they finally clinched the game – and Bzdelik, the embattled coach who many thought if they didn’t clinch the playoffs he would be fired – he was running down press row yelling, ‘yes, yes, yes.’ It was that excitement at the time. The team – at that point – hadn’t made the playoffs in nine years. So there is a memory for you.

There is such a fine line between writer and player – and where those relationships land – but are there particular players you became close to that you will miss more than others?

CT: We’ve had a pretty good cast of characters – or cast of players I should say – overall in Denver. I kind of remember those guys were just like regular guys. Two kind of stick out – actually I’ll single out three guys.

One was Mark Pope. He was perhaps the best interview with my time with the Nuggets. The guy was just extremely witty. He rarely played in his years with Denver. One rare time, he got in and it was the first points he’d scored in a couple years. It was against the Bobcats. He was kind of holding court in front of his locker after scoring two points. The game was a route. Reporters were trying to latch onto something to write about. He said, ‘yeah, Emeka Okofur of Charlotte, I posterized him. Wait a minute, make that ‘Pope-sterized him’.

Another guy I’ll remember was Eduardo Najera (now in New Jersey). He was just a regular good guy and if something was on his mind, you could just sit and banter with him at his locker.

And then another guy I will put in that category – a current guy – is Anthony Carter. Real good guy. A guy who took the tough road to the NBA. He’s thankful for what he has. Like I said – a lot of good players, a lot of great interviews. I’ll remember those guys that are like regular guys.

So much was made of “blogs” and where they factor into pushing print media out the door. Now, the poor economy and lack of advertising is piling on – but what are your thoughts on “blogs” in general? Perhaps the difference of working for a paper, while also running a “blog” as part of you writing….and is that a forum you plan to explore to keep your name out there?

CT: It’s certainly a possibility. I’ll have to get some more computer expertise to see how that all works, but basically the name is “blog” but I differentiate between the people who are there, at the games, in the locker rooms talking to people. You can call it a “blog” you can call it being a reporter – whatever you want to call it.

I think people need to be there at the game in order to form an opinion, or at least talk to a few people before you make sure your opinion isn’t idiotic. Whatever you want to call it – I don’t have any problem with that. What I see is the perforation of the internet – people who are never at the games, they are just sitting in their study in their boxer shorts and just ripping on players or what have you.

Because the thing about me, if I write something critical I’m there in the locker room the next day. I’m not running and hiding from anybody. I have to be pretty careful that I have my facts straightened-up and in order. For “bloggers”, you’re not going to get that. You are going to have people taking shots from afar. And if it goes on the internet the way things do these days, it may not be accurate and that’s the impression that is out there.

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Aaron Lopez – who covered the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche since joining the paper in November 2001 – briefly shared his thoughts via email on his time at the Rocky Mountain News.

What’s your plan going forward now that the Rocky has officially closed its doors?

AL: I will try to freelance as much as possible. Thankfully I know a lot of people at Kroenke Sports [Enterprises] and in the Denver sports scene, so hopefully I can make a few bucks here and there while looking for permanent work.

Where were you when he got word?

AL: Heard about it today (Thursday) about noon while eating lunch with my 5-year-old son. One of my co-workers called me with the news.

What has it been like the past few months knowing where things would likely end up for the paper? Was it hard to work your beat?

AL: We’ve known this day was probably coming for some time, but I tried to stay professional and do my job as best I could on a daily basis.

I was looking forward to traveling to Indianapolis and Detroit with the Nuggets next week. I wanted to see how Chauncey Billups was welcomed back to the Palace after five months.

Oh well. I’m now like every other Joe Sports Fan. I’ll have to watch it on TV and read about it on the Detroit web sites. I won’t be reading about it in The (Denver) Post because I refuse to get a subscription.

Update: Be sure to check out Chris Tomasson in his debut over at Pro Basketball News….

Much thanks to Chris Tomasson and Aaron Lopez for their help and efforts with this interview during this difficult time….

pic via: edsport

I Have To Ask….

oden

Let’s just have the conversation shall we. No foul in that. For the sake of debate: could it be Portland is actually playing better without Greg Oden right now?

Come on now. I can’t be the only one having these thoughts, can I?

As I stayed up way too late on Saturday night writing about how Joel Przybilla really is an unsung hero for the Blazers and that this whole Oden knee-jerk isn’t going away any time soon, that’s the thought that ran through my mind: is Portland better without him right now?

Ran through my mind again after listening to Nate McMillan say that the healing process is “a lot slower than we expected” before the Blazers/Spurs game.

Let’s recap: better without him right now?

Blasphemy? Reality.

Who would think such a thought? Me, I guess. Anyone else?

Come to think of it, I was all for Przybilla staying in the starting five when Oden came back from his first injury. Thought Oden should have earned that spot – and that has nothing to do with him being fragile. Now I can’t help but think – if and when – Oden does return, will he once again be inserted into the starting lineup.

The kid has to get healthy first. Then, he has to earn it.

It’s a legit debate: right now, are they better without him?

You consider what Portland has been able to do without him this season – going 3-3 when Oden missed six games to open the season and now moving to 5-2 since Oden injured his left knee cap – and it’s not a farfetched conversation to have.

I pressed the issue with McMillan recently. Wondered if Portland could rely on what they endured last season without having Greg available. Could that experience – for better or worse – benefit the Blazers during another episode of “Life Without Greg”.

Nate wasn’t having it…..I get that.

But still, I have to ask: are they better – right now – without him?

pic via: daylife

GRIFFEY TRADE

Spring training got under way this week, and that can only mean one thing: the return of Ken Griffey, Jr. to the Seattle Mariners. And while Nate McMillan is busy preparing the Portland Trail Blazers for a postseason push, “Mr. Sonic” knows all about “The Kid”.

“I’m happy to see him go back to Seattle,” McMillan said of Griffey.

Junior was an instant fan favorite from his days as a 19-year-old rookie until his departure from Seattle after the 1999 season – leaving the then Sonics guard to keep tabs on Griffey and the Mariners.

“He was huge – him and (Jay) Buhner – we all came around that time, but my son (Jamelle) was a huge fan of his and he had the opportunity to go in the locker room and meet those guys. Griffey was the man – a great player. Things changed for the Mariners when he left. But they had some great runs with him and Randy (Johnson) and guys that were there in the early 90’s.”

But despite not making it to a playoff game in ’95 when the Mariners upset the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series, McMillan said he “became a huge Mariners fan”, something many will likely do with Griffey back in town after a ten year absence.

“Hopefully he has something left,” added McMillan, knowing the city of Seattle would benefit from a Mariners resurgence.

“He’s just been quiet since he left Seattle and hasn’t had that – he’s been injured since he’s been gone and I know he went back home – but hopefully he has something left to bring back. When he left, I think a lot of people wondered when he retired, would they retire his jersey as a Mariner.

“Now he gets to come back. I think that is good.”

pic via: full count pitch

Stick and Move….

82990649DCE_BLAZERS_SPURSSomewhere in the world Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje should feel pretty good about himself. Sure Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells ran the show, but everyone on that 2002 Blazers team can say they were around to last beat San Antonio on their home floor.

Seven years later, that unfortunate streak remains intact, as does Portland’s recent road woes. It’s now at five-straight losses on the road. 

No Tim Duncan. No Manu Ginobili. No worries.

Still, Portland can learn from the heartache….

Travis Outlaw: He went 6 for 8, finished with 13 off the bench. Loved to see Outlaw’s jumper falling, but would it kill the guy to drive to the rim every now and again? That’s when Travis is at his best – well, that and when he’s knocking down that corner three. For as much as he talks about playing more aggressive, you sure don’t get that from the sight of Travis’ constant fall away jump shot.

Channing Frye: Where did that come from? Frye went for 15 points – hasn’t dropped those numbers since late November in Miami when he finished with 17. Good for Channing. Maybe it was the increased playing time. Maybe it was the fact that Frye was close to losing whatever minutes he had left to Shavlik Randolph. Either way, the playing time should be there for Channing if Greg Oden continues to sit. But will Frye’s production be there?

Steve Blake: More of a professed pacifist myself, but I loved seeing Blake mix-it-up with Francisco Oberto in the third quarter. If only Portland showed more emotion like Blake flexed against Oberto, maybe the Blazers wouldn’t be so easily pushed around. Think about it. Who is quick to not back down from anyone – Joel Przybilla. Everyone after that is tied for a very distant second. Notice Joel was the first one to step to Blake’s aid?

If these guys plan on making their mark on the postseason, Portland has to be more physical. We saw that between Przybilla and Tyson Chandler. We saw it with Brandon Roy and David West. Guess Blake was sending that message in San Antonio.

On The Road Again: Thought for sure Portland could go 2-1 when they first embarked on this trip – perhaps beating Houston and Minnesota. But now the only thing the Blazers have going for them is meeting the Timberwolves who are 1-9 in their last 10 games and losers of four-straight on Friday.

pic via: yahoosports

Good For Brooks

82993701JF019_Houston_Rocke

Man, how times have changed. It used to be that when Brandon Roy and Aaron Brooks shared the court, Roy reaped the praise. On Tuesday night in Houston, these two Seattle natives did a little changing of the guard.

“He’s a mismatch problem for everyone who goes against him,” Brooks said of Brandon back when Aaron was at Oregon and Roy represented Washington.

“He’s quicker than most guards.”

It’s as if the Rockets diminutive guard was talking about himself.

Roy may be the two-time All-Star, but Brooks is starting to shine for Houston – a team who has won eight-straight at home. He finds himself the point man of the Rockets future, particularly after Rafer Alston was shipped to Orlando at the trade deadline last week. And to think there were actually some who cover the Rockets that disapproved of drafting Brooks 26th overall two summers ago.

How do you like him now?

The kid could still be a legit candidate for 6th Man of the Year. If nothing else, he’ll be one of the reasons Houston makes noise out West during their postseason run, sans Tracy McGrady. 

Roy may have finished with 24 points and 5 assists, but Brooks takes home the win. He went for 20 points and 5 assists over the Blazers, who couldn’t overcome an 18-point deficit despite a third quarter surge.

While Portland is tied for the most of any team in the NBA, winning eight games – including six on the road – when trailing at the start of the final period, they couldn’t make it nine on Tuesday night.

So what do they have to show for their efforts?

Nothing more than a quick trip to San Antonio, a restless night and a back-to-back against the Spurs on Wednesday night.

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The Latest: Pretty convenient having Ron Artest on the floor considering one of the topics I touched on in a “PM Report” for HOOPSWORLD late Tuesday.

Who is the “dirtiest player” in the game today? We all know Artest’s history, but I don’t think he takes the honors. For my money, Matt Barnes of the Phoenix Suns gets the nod. See the evidence here. Apparently everyone else and their grandmother – including many players around the league – votes for Bruce Bowen.

Discuss.

pic via: daylife

So Long Deadline….

ball

Thank the good Lord that is over with. Sorry, but in my five plus years covering the league, the weeks, days and hours leading up to the NBA trade deadline is my least favorite topic to address. Coaches don’t like to talk about it. Neither do players. And for some writers, it essentially complicates matters.

What typically ends up happening is pageviews and readership is exchanged for credibility.

But no one wants to talk about that. They want to talk about earning respect, while all along losing it.

Talk to any beat writer across the league and they will tell you what irritates them the most about this time of year is all the rumors loosely thrown around like a Chris Brown haymaker. Guys on the beat spend half of their day chasing dead end rumors. Then they spend the rest attempting to get confirmation from a general manager, someone in the front office or a team source on what – in most cases – results is mere speculation.

Somewhere in between they actually have time to write – that is – when they are not worried about the newspaper biz suffering.

Can’t help but think guys in my situation – who primarily deliver online content – are part of the problem during the ongoing hoopla in late January and early February.

But that’s not me. Has never been my angle – just to report rumor after rumor after rumor after rumor. That’s sloppy journalism.

Bushleague.

I find comfort in knowing I’m not a rumor monger. I find comfort in knowing I’ve established relationships and friendships with front offices, other beat writers and legit sources around the league who know what I’m about. And if anything, I’m about refuting a rumor instead of conjuring one up.

Have I reported about trade talks? Of course. Do I make it my goal 98% of the times I write? Hardly.

Trust me. Being told by an editor that you can’t run a story during the few days leading up to the trade deadline because it is not “rumor related” is simply infuriating. So it’s not only guys on the beat who have to deal with the winds of the rumor mill.

Such hot air is felt everywhere.

So forget the number of reasons I gave for Portland not trading Raef LaFrentz’s expiring contract….while many in the media – including some collegues at HOOPSWORLD – said that was one move the Blazers would make.

Forget how I assumed Brad Miller and Joe Smith would be on some GM’s shortlist…..and yes, Smith will not finish the season in Oklahoma City.

Forget Donnie Walsh telling me the New York Knicks didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver with trades….days before they move three guys out of town.

Forget me trusting both the Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls would make moves at the deadline…..boy, did they ever.

Forget all that noise.

Allow me to return to the stories of basketball and life for the love of God Shammgod.

pic via: empty the bench

Wizards Cavaliers Basketball

I’m going to make this one quick and painless. Because I was right and I was wrong – at least for the time being.

For the past few weeks, I’ve said the Portland Trail Blazers were not going to make a move. Well they did by shipping out Ike Diogu. I also said the Blazers would wait until the summer to make major moves. And they will, especially now with the team receiving $3 million in a trade exception along with Michael Ruffin (formerly of the Washington Wizards, above).

Ruffin has been injured. He hasn’t played this season with the Chicago Bulls. And who knows if he will even report – or even yet – is waived by Portland.

For the time being, Nate McMillan shared this thoughts on the trade and upcoming deadline….running now over at HOOPSWORLD.

With the trade deadline set for tomorrow afternoon, I’m sure to have another post or two.

Stay tuned.

pic via: daylife

U1926166

Not too long ago a former Portland Trail Blazer made headlines down in Memphis. You might have heard about it. It was somewhat controversial. But on Wednesday night when the Memphis Grizzlies take the floor at the Rose Garden no one will probably be looking at “that” man – or should I say “that” head coach.

All eyes will be on Darius Miles. Instead, they should be on his head coach.

When Lionel Hollins was named the 11th head coach in franchise history for the Grizzlies back on January 25, this former assistant with Memphis caught some flack. Major flack.

Not only was he returning to the sidelines for the Grizzlies – after posting a combined 18-44 in two prior stints – but some who cover the league didn’t even think Hollins – who was serving as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks this season – should have received the job in the first place.

With all the former head coaches looking for work, why Hollins? Is he just another short term solution? If that is the case, at least he’s getting the most out of team right now. Memphis is 4-6 since Hollins took over as head coach of the team. Not horrible for the Grizzlies who lost 12-straight before turning to grab four wins under Hollins. 

On Wednesday night, you won’t have to be a Grizzlies fan to cheer Hollins in Portland.  You just have to know something about how he helped bring a championship ring to Rip City.

Selected sixth overall in the first round of the 1975 NBA Draft by the Blazers, Hollins (sitting dead center in the above photo) earned a spot on the 1976 All-Rookie First Team and won an NBA Championship as a starter for the Trail Blazers in 1977, where he was a teammate of current Grizzlies assistant coach Johnny Davis (sitting second in on the left).

The next year, Hollins was an NBA All-Star who also named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team. In over 673 career games, he averaged 11.6 points, 4.5 assists and 1.56 steals with Portland, Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, Detroit Pistons and the Houston Rockets.

His number 14 hangs respectively from the Rose Garden rafters.

But Hollins and Davis aren’t the only former Blazers in Memphis. Hollins recently added Damon Stoudamire to his coaching staff. Stoudamire played with the Grizzlies from 2005 to 2008 and is now in his first NBA coaching position after serving as director of player development at Rice since December.

So let’s not make Wednesday night about Darius Miles’ return to Portland or the beef between Memphis and Portland’s front office. Why even go there?

Make this about Hollins. Make this about Davis.

Make this about Portland revisiting their lone championship season and the launch of Blazermania into the NBA vernacular.

pic via: pro.corbis

Where Does Roy Go From Here?

brandon

It’s a simple question: where does Brandon Roy go from here?After his second-straight impressive All-Star outing Sunday in Phoenix, you have to wonder if one day Roy will stand in front of his peers and raise that MVP Trophy.

Lost between the Shaq and Kobe Bryant lovefest and the fleeting minutes of the game – or the second edition of the ‘Slam Dunk Contest’ as I like to call it – was Roy’s performance. Not surprising. I’m sure there were a lot of people watching who don’t even know what Roy is capable of – let alone who he plays for.

Not only did he finish with 14 points on 7-8 shooting to go with five rebounds and five assists, but he led everyone in minutes with 31. I bet Nate McMillan will thank Phil Jackson for that later. Because the last thing McMillan and the Blazers want is an All-Star hangover from their true All-Star.

Roy has to be ready to really lead Portland during the second half of the season. We’re talking about building upon his first half performance, not duplicating it.

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The Latest: Man, Michael Beasley took a lot of HEAT (yes, pun intended) for jacking up too many shots on Friday night. What do you expect? It’s an exhibition contest, plus he was trying to exchange buckets with his boy Kevin Durant. I digress.

Here’s a quick story about Beasley and Durant’s childhood friendship and a shared dream…..along with the Atlanta Hawks Al Horford showing his true colors at All-Star weekend. Both stories ran Saturday over at HOOPSWORLD.

W

Brush It Off….

greg

Every time I see an ant hill, I can’t help but think back to when I was in high school. I was a sophomore. Maybe a junior. All I know is there must have been a couple hundred ants crawling all over me and I hated it.

It was in Nebraska. I was working with my dad trying to repair a driveway culvert at the feed and seed lot one of my older brothers and my dad ran. The culvert had a hole in it. I was selected to try and fix it. Had no choice actually. My dad – likely after a long day of work in the hot summer sun – asked me to lay down on the gravely driveway to see about a hole in the culvert.

I laid down, discovered the hole and stood up to tell my dad about it.

As I did, I got a tingly feeling all over me. I had rested right on top of ant hill. I was covered with ants. Covered with them. They were on my legs, my arms, my neck. I was freaking out.

I imagine news of Greg Oden’s latest gimpy knee problem has hit a lot of people in the same way. If nothing else it is part of his injury prone legacy.

Oden missed the NBA rookie-sophomore game last night after experiencing some swelling on his left knee. The MRI revealed a chip fracture on the patella. Now every Blazers die-hard or Oden fan across the league suddenly has this creepy crawly feeling all over them. It’s like every time you think this kid is healthy, you are swarmed with discomfort.

Makes it even worse after Kevin Durant did what Kevin Durant does.

I mean, forget the ants. The injury bug feeds on this guy like he was Old Country Buffet – the wrist, the knee, the ankle, the knee.

But let’s look at the big picture here. Had Oden played Friday night in Phoenix, it would have been the back end end of a back-to-back-to-back outing. If anyone needs a break in Portland it is this kid. What truly matters is that he get some rest and be healthy for the second half of the season, not go-down in an exhibition game that doesn’t count.

No need to freak out.

As I stood there covered with ants, I’ll never forget how calm my dad was. He simply walked over to me, told me to stand still and started brushing the ants off of me.  Felt like a lifetime. But it was over before I knew it.

That’s all Oden or his fans in Rip City can do right now.

Remain calm, brush it off and move on.

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The Latest: When All-Star weekend always rolls around, I can’t help but be envious of those other writers who take advantage of their three-day-weekend. No such luck for me. While I didn’t make the trip to Phoenix, we have a strong HOOPSWORLD contingent on the ground.

Luckily, they are spooning me some interviews.

Just didn’t know one of those clips would allow me to tell how happy Allen Iverson is about this coming summer. He’s got free agency on his mind – all while having one foot out the door in Detroit.

Stay tuned….will have a feature story on Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley, as well as one on Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford running later today.  

Enjoy the weekend.

pic via: brouser

About The Raef List….

raef

There is always a method to the madness – even when it comes down to compiling a top 10 list about an injured veteran center on the mend in Iowa. Heck, even Raef LaFrentz would probably admit he’s never been at the center of Portland’s world as much as he is right now.

Actually, the story idea – running today thanks in large part to fellow HOOPSWORLD writer Jason Fleming’s insight – came about pretty easily. It helps having fans and fellow writers tell us – two guys based in Portland – how the Blazers need to move LaFrentz’s contract.

They even took it a step further saying the Blazers should pull the trigger on the Amar’e Stoudemire trade proposal. I went there yesterday. And I don’t want to go back today….but I will.

What is amusing is the feedback we are getting on this “10 Reasons To Keep LaFrentz’s Contract” piece. If you have time, check out the comment section from the story. Love those who take time to comment. They truly make the debate lively. But I also love how funny it gets – not in a ‘ha-ha’ way, but more of a ‘are you friggin serious’ way – when people say Portland is stupid for not trading for Amar’e or not moving LaFrentz’s contract.

That’s along the comedy lines of David Letterman’s interview with Joaquin Phoenix last night.

Classic.

Now, I’m not typically a betting man, but I would bet a bag of Funyuns those same folks who say Portland is stupid for not trading LaMarcus Aldridge, Jerryd Bayless and Raef’s contract to the Suns reside outside the greater Portland metro area and even the state of Oregon.

Am I wrong here?

If so I would love to hear from you….

pic via: o-live

Let’s All Cool Down….

KOSZYKÓWKA NBA SPURS SUNS

What do Amar’e Stoudemire, Major League Baseball and a heavyweight championship fight all have in common? None are coming to Portland, so can we just get back to basketball please.

I get it. The trade deadline is upon us and we are bound to hear anything and everything over the next couple of days. But let’s just leave it at this: keeping Raef LeFrentz’s $12.7 million expiring contract is far better for the Blazers than making a move simply for the sake of change.

So after the mass emails from fans, other writers and needy editors I received today about this rumors…..here is the straight dope:

I have no doubt that Phoenix offered a package for Stoudemire, involving LaMarcus Aldridge, Jerryd Bayless, and LeFrentz’s expiring contract. If I learned anything from Ken Berger – formerly of Newsday, who reported the story over at CBSSports.com – from when we both covered the New York Knicks, it is this:

The guy can work a story and his sources are legit. Portland signing off on the deal however is not.

It’s surprising Phoenix didn’t ask for Brandon Roy in return too.

Good lord.

GM’s talk all the time. They talk shop all the time. Heck, some even text trade ideas to each other. ‘Tis the season.

And just as Portland isn’t buying this deal, neither do I believe that this whole talk got started on Portland’s end. Aldridge is the second best player on the team. Bayless is a kid many in the organization see as a future point guard for Portland. As for LeFrentz, that contract isn’t going anywhere until this summer once it has expired.

To be honest, I’m not sure Stoudemire is on his way out of Phoenix just yet. Not Chicago, not Miami and certainly not Portland. If anything, the Suns are putting him on ice.

So let’s everyone cool down from this rumor.

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The Latest: Since I won’t be making the trip to the All-Star Game this weekend, I knocked out a quick story on someone who will be – adidas.

Let me explain. If you haven’t heard, adidas constructed the jerseys that will be worn at the All-Star Game on Sunday and the product is pretty insane. Spoke with an adidas rep yesterday, who endured sleepless nights the past two years to help get this high-tech uniform done.

I will let the story tell the story….”The Perfect Fit At All-Star”….via HOOPSWORLD of course.

And of course, here is the poster child for the product. None other than Superman himself….

pic via: nba noise

The New Old School

Knicks President Walsh

There is old school and then there is Donnie Walsh. But it’s that old school styling that earns him so much respect around the league, even in this new school NBA.

He’s a New Yorker to the fullest – straight from the Bronx – who practiced Tar Heel traditions at North Carolina, before being selected by the Philadelphia Warriors but never playing. Walsh opted for coaching at UNC instead, then South Carolina, then as an assistant coach for Larry Brown with the Denver Nuggets.

A storied career with the Indiana Pacers soon followed, where he rebuilt the team through Reggie Miller. And man, was Miller ever a Knicks killer.

Now Walsh aims to do the same with New York (minus Miller).

It’s only fitting – after talking to Walsh and getting to know his thoughts on the state of the Knicks – that his first change in New York was eliminating the strict and paranoid media policy that had been no doubt hurting the franchise.

Had that policy remained in place, I’m not sure Walsh would have signed-on to help reform the Knicks in the first place. Under the old regime, we certainly wouldn’t have been able to chat courtside without a team representative present, that’s for sure.

He knows the press isn’t the enemy.

Walsh may be getting up there, but he’s as new school as he is old school.

At 68-years-old, he stays up late to watch games on NBA TV, is attached at the hip to his BlackBerry – even if he would rather not be at times – and makes the cross country treks and long road trips to keep tabs on the team and staff.

Is he a miracle worker though?

We’ll find out in the summer of 2010.

pic via: cbc

 

Gone Mental….

roy

The NBA All-Star weekend is nearly upon us, but I’m getting the feeling the Portland Trail Blazers – with still two more games before the break against Oklahoma City and Golden State – have taken their leave a bit early.

Mentally, they are already on vacation.

If Sunday’s near loss to the New York Knicks said anything, it said that. In fact, that truth was spoken last Friday night in Oklahoma City. Loud and clear.

This is in no way taking away from the shocking comeback win and late game heroics of Brandon Roy. Amazing wears number seven. This much we know. Guess Jared Jeffries ignored the scouting report about Roy’s trademark sweet lefthand scoop to the hoop– even if Jeffries did get caught on a switch.

But as I got into after the game during a postgame HOOPSWORLD blog entry, the Blazers nearly gave that one away….a few times.

I know Nate McMillan said afterwards he’ll take the win. But there is no way he takes blowing a 17 point lead, turning the ball over 14 times and letting the Knicks basically run amuck in the second half.

You can’t take that, not when the real season starts after the All-Star break.

Portland can’t afford the same costly mental lapses during the second half of the season.

pic via: o-live

The Knicks: Then And Now

knicks

It’s been two seasons since I’ve seen the New York Knicks up close and personal. I missed their trip through Portland last season due to the flu, but having covered the Knicks for three seasons prior I was used to being sick.

The Knicks now are nothing like the Knicks then.

Slowly but surely the organization is starting to turn things around. Okay, it’s not the glory days of Frazier, Ewing or Houston. The wins aren’t there. But it sure beats the charade New York endured during the Isiah Thomas era – or error as those in the know prefer to call it.

Here’s some quick hits on the Knicks then – as I saw them for three seasons, versus the Knicks now:

Then: The Garden Gestapo tried to muzzle Larry Brown from speaking openly to the press. When Thomas took over on the sidelines, he opted for a “just tell them what they need to know” approach with the media. And even that was hard for him to do

Now: Head coach Mike D’Antoni can speak his mind and freely interact with the media….as it should be.

Then: David Lee could barely get a start.

Now: Lee is the man.

Then: Beat writers typically had their conversations with players transcribed by media relations staff members into handheld devices, where they were then sent on to upper management.

Now: All beat writers have to worry about looking over their shoulder at are the constant layoffs in the newspaper biz.

Then: Larry Brown heralded Eddy Curry as the Knicks next big man. To Thomas, Curry was an All-Star in the making.

Now: Basketball is the furthest thing from Curry’s mind.

Then: The Knicks brawled against the Denver Nuggets.

Now: They are fighting for the eight spot back East….21 wins and all.

Then: Channing Frye was part of the Knicks foundation.

Now: He can’t get off the Blazers bench.

Then: Stephon Marbury was a locker room cancer.

Now: The Knicks are close to being cured with Marbury out of the picture.

Then: Marbury said he was the best point guard in the league.

Now: He’s teamless.

Then: Nate Robinson was an out of control point guard.

Now: Robinson makes the Knicks go.

Then: Thomas hoped veterans like Steve Francis, Jalen Rose and Kelvin Cato would help lead the Knicks.

Now: D’Antoni has all the faith in the world with a youngster like Wilson Chandler.

Then: Jerome James was known as “Big Snacks”.

Now: Well, some things just don’t change.

pic via: nymag

No Streaking

will1Well, that was fun for Portland while it lasted. The five-game win streak is over after losing to Dallas. So why is closing the book on a win-streak actually a good thing?

That’s easy.

It puts life out West in perspective for the Blazers.

The last thing Portland needs right now is to rattle off 10-straight like the Boston Celtics, then have everyone gunning for them to fall on their faces. Forget that. The Blazers are better off flying under the radar and sneaking up on teams. That’s why they are sitting fourth out West in the first place.

It’s not that Portland has to win every game. Certainly helps, but it isn’t a must. Because right now, the Blazers are sitting right where they want to be while teams around them are beginning to hit the skids.

Tt’s more important to get and stay healthy than it is to win six, seven or eight games in a row. Wins will soon follow.

Steve Blake is preparing to return after Portland’s current road trip – hopefully Martell Webster before too long. New Orleans has lost four-straight and will be without Chris Paul. Utah is banged up missing both Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. The Los Angeles Lakers – while not immediately fazed by the loss of Andrew Bynum – is missing a cog in their machine.

Houston is always a team with an injury waiting to happen.

Tis the season.

Forget the streak.

It’s too early for Portland to peak.

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The Latest: Hard too not think about the upcoming trade deadline these days. And what better way to get a debate going then talk about some players who should be on a general manager’s shortlist…..or at least a topic of converstation between a few front offices.

Check out “10 Players GM’s Should Call About” over at HOOPSWORLD too see who made the cut.

pic via: photobucket

Waiting On An All-Star

la2Two years ago when LaMarcus Aldridge was snubbed from the Rookie-Sophomore All-Star game in Las Vegas he used it as motivation towards the second half of his rookie season and leading into the summer. It paid off.

He made the trip to New Orleans last year as a sophomore. So does this mean Aldridge will be an All-Star for the West next year?

Motivation is the key.

Okay, so his numbers are just below career-highs he posted last season. And he is buried behind the fan favorites, leaving him to receive the eleventh most votes at his position out West.

That’s what prompted my talk with Kevin Pritchard, asking if Aldridge will ever be an All-Star knowing who he is running up against. I’m more inclined – not to debate that stance – but take it a few steps further and wonder when his time will come?

Look who Aldridge finished behind in voting: Tim Duncan, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Ron Artest and Pau Gasol. I get that. Those are some impressive names.

But from there down the door is wide open: Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, Josh Howard and Luis Scola. Aldridge finished behind them all.

I get the first six. I don’t get the other four.

Bowen – while a defensive stud – has seen his minutes slip, along with his production. Battier and Howard have been injury prone much of the season, and Scola is solid but not to the point where he is better than Aldridge in the post or on the perimeter.

Nevertheless, it’s going to take a big year from Aldridge – whenever that is – for him to represent the West at an All-Star game.

pic via: espn

Speak Up

oldmicsAs the youngest of eleven children, a lot of things went unsaid when I was growing up. My Dad – a workaholic and at times very stern man – wasn’t big on touchy feely communication. All these years later I’m starting to realize that upbringing comes in handy covering the NBA.

There was no such thing as an “allowance” in my family. The roof over your head, food on the table and clothes on you back – many times hand-me-downs – was the stipend.

So if I wanted some spending money, my mother typically told me to “ask your father.”

Great. I knew a “no” was on the way before even thinking of asking. Why even bother? Money was not a topic I approached my Dad with. After working a graveyard shift, sometimes picking up an overtime shift on top of that to help ends meet, all he wanted to do was rest…..or work around the house.

I grew up afraid to ask him for anything, let alone money.

So I kept to myself, learning quickly to unwant.

You can’t get away with that in this league.

Front offices, coaches, players, agents, scouts and “sources” are the heart of your information, regardless if it is a life feature story to tell or emerging news to report. Without that, this job is irrelevant. If you want to know, you have to go ask.

Sitting on your hands isn’t an option.

It’s a death sentence.

No one else is going to ask your questions, write your story or build a relationship for you. That’s on you. Regardless what someone tells everyone else, all you can really truthfully bank on is what you hear first hand from the person you are conversing with.

In this case Kevin Pritchard.

Yesterday afternoon I ran a story over at HOOPSWORLD discussing Pritchard’s thoughts on the Blazers and the upcoming NBA trade deadline – and more specifically, Portland’s place in making moves. A good hour or so later, I received comments and emails about the story, refuting Portland’s decision to make a trade in the coming weeks.

All I can say is this: if I want to know something, I don’t have a problem inquiring. What I can’t control however is what “said person” tells someone else. It happens. The last thing any GM is going to do right now is show their hand, regardless if they have a full house or are bluffing.

It’s all about the poker face.

So what do you do? You take the person for their word.

All I can do is speak up and ask.

pic via: sme-blog.net

Six Degrees Of Larry Brown

coach-brownI had a feeling it would go like this when Larry Brown came to Portland. I’m not talking about the Blazers steamrolling a hobbled Charlotte Bobcats either. It’s more about Brown leaving a lasting impression.

Call it “Six Degrees of Larry Brown” if you will.

There was a reason Brown held his pregame availability at 5:00 at the Rose Garden. Whereas most visiting coaches tend to hold a typical intimate press conference closer to 5:45 outside their locker room, Brown opted for the early bird special.

He had places to go; people to see. Actually, now in his 28th year in the NBA, it was more like people coming to see him.

I gotta go talk to Coach Brown….

That phrase was heard plenty around the Rose Garden on Wednesday.

First it was assistant Blazers Monty Williams who grabbed a seat courtside next to Brown. Williams played under Coach Brown at Philadelphia in 2002-03, a time Williams has told me before he will always cherish. It was in Philly where Monty came to appreciate Brown, his work ethic and also where he got to know Brown’s family.

Minutes later – as Williams and Brown parted ways – General Manager Kevin Pritchard sidled up alongside his former head coach. Pritchard won an NCAA title in 1988 thanks to Coach Brown while at Kansas, and his gratitude extends all the way back to those early days in Lawrence when Brown used to ride Pritchard in practice.

See, Brown tends to be hard on his point guards. It’s always been that way. Ask Rod Strickland, Mark Jackson, Allan Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Stephon Marbury, Raymond Felton – and of course, Kevin Pritchard – about that.

“Oh man, was he,” Pritchard said when I asked if that was the case.

“If not, I’d like to meet someone who is harder.”

But looking back, Pritchard also knows it was all for the better.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Coach Brown.”

That’s why it was refreshing – knowing the paternal relationships involved – to hear Brown heap praise on the Blazers after the Bobcats loss. He knows how far they have come and likes where they are going.

Next up is Channing Frye.

While it’s uncertain if Frye had a chance to swap “hellos” with his first coach in the league, there remains a reason in my mind why Frye’s rookie season in New York was his best yet: Coach Brown. He knew how to use “Channin” (as Brown always mispronounces Frye’s first name) and “Channin” fit well into his Brown’s system.

Poor “Channin”.

Heck, even Nate McMillan recalled before the game how he took-in one of Coach Brown’s annual summer coaching seminars a few years back and spoke fondly about what he learned from the coaching legend.

As for me, the “Six Degrees” has come full circle with Coach Brown – from one coast to the other.

My first year covering the NBA in New York, the Knicks brought in Larry Brown to help right the ship. And while the Knicks season – and Coach Brown’s tenure in New York – sunk like the Titanic, I will never forget being able to listen and talk the game with Coach Brown during pregame and post game interviews and at practice. 

It was amazing.

It was crazy.

It was truly a blessing.

pic via: upi

To The Point

jerryd_490_080719Just when you thought Portland’s point guard rotation was back to normal with Steve Blake returning to the floor, along comes a Brian Skinner pick.

When the Los Angeles Clippers big man put a body on Blake with about five minutes left before half, a yelp and cringe by Blake said it all. Not sure what hurt more – Blake’s right shoulder or the two air balls he launched during his ten minute stint.

Actually, I’m wondering what he was doing out there in the first place. Obviously it was his call to play, but it was Nate McMillan’s decision to start him. Would Blake have re-injured his shoulder if he came off the bench? Perhaps.

But right now, the tag team of Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless are self sufficient enough to hold down the fort for a few more games. If McMillan is going to put faith in his two backup point guards, it might as well be during this stretch.

Take Sergio for example. Rodriguez passed up a wide-open three early to find Joel Przybilla all alone under the basket, and his over-the-head-no-look-pass to Greg Oden two quarters later was about as sick as a dish comes. A little stylin’ and profilin’. He played smart. Maybe Sergio’s numbers aren’t going to blow you away (7 points and 5 assists in roughly 17 minutes), but combined with Bayless’ performance the two are holding down the point.

Chances are Jerryd started the game thinking he’d be lucky to even sniff the court. But as we all know about the NBA, injuries and opportunities go hand-in-hand. Much like Sergio, his final stat line isn’t All-Star worthy either (5 points and 6 assists in just over 22 minutes), but the fact is the two point guards only combined for two turnovers, and that is solid.

Very solid.

And while so much is made of Bayless’ aggressiveness and his barking after a bucket, what about his on-court chemistry with Oden? It seems at least once a game, the two rookies are in sync with an alleyoop or quick dish for a dunk. They have good chemistry together.

It’s nice to see both Sergio and Jerryd taking some ownership at the point.

In other words, take your time Steve. Take your time.

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Shameless Plug: Couple more weeks to go to the trade deadline is officially upon us. So as we wait to see what takes place in Portland, teams like Cleveland prepare for another postseason run.

But will they make a move?  I caught up with Cavs head coach Mike Brown last week – along with Ben Wallace – and was curious what the approach is when names float around in the rumors, as they are prone to do this time of the season.

The story is running in full over at HOOPSWORLD.

pic via: nba.com

A Little Bit Mo….

NBA/Rarely do I take handouts from multi-million dollar ball players like that, but the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room was in good spirits and so was I.

Besides, when Mo Williams offers you a postgame quesadilla, you take it.

How could I not? He caught me off guard as I came around the corner and into the locker room. Plus, the guy just shot lights out against Portland. I wasn’t telling him “no”. But let the record show I gently sat the boxed Mexican meal down on a nearby folding chair when Mo wasn’t looking, as not to hurt his feelings.

It was one of his rare misses of the night.

Rule of thumb: messing with a player is okay. Chowing down on his postgame meal in the locker room is forbidden, even if you are starving.

Luckily Wally Szczerbiak asked for some of the quesadilla, so it didn’t go to complete waste.

The Blazers on the other hand, wasted one against the Cavs. Basically, they were left in awe of LeBron James as I touched on after the game over at HOOPSWORLD.

While James held court at his corner locker with the press pressing in, I caught up with Ben Wallace feet away from the flock for a feature story running Friday on Cavs rookie J.J. Hickson. Yet as I stood there with James’ media moshpit overflowing and finishing up with Wallace, a couple things struck me:

First, James – in all his glory and humanity – lives up to the hype every time I see him play. Covered him when he would come through New Jersey; covered him when he would come through New York; cover him now when he rolls through Portland. He never disappoints. Never. And while Cavs fans will hate me for saying this, there is no doubt in my mind that he belongs in New York when and if he opts for free agency in 2010.

He was made for the stage at Madison Square Garden.

That’s the beauty of a site like Countdown2LeBron. It’s essentially a one-stop-shop on your way to the James-Knicks marriage.

And second, Portland is going to have a hard time making the postseason if they continue to falter against physical superior teams like Cleveland. Denver and Utah come to mind out West; they both play in that Cavs gritty mold. They get after it. They scrap. They put in work. And they actually rebound.

Portland best rub on a little elbow grease before it gets too late.

pic via: daylife

The Real Redd

mikereddIt was well after midnight when I heard the voice in my head scold me: you just buried the lede!

The story was filed. A re-write was not in the works. Neither was on-the-fly editing.

Sleep.

After a fresh six hours, it was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind this morning – burying the lede. That is downright scary. Must have been the guilt speaking to me. It happens. Thankfully the drone of “daddy-daaaddy-daaaaaaddy” broke that spell.

Given the task of writing a feature story on the Milwaukee Bucks Michael Redd – a true class act -, I grabbed some time with Redd after the Bucks dropped a tough one at the Rose Garden on Monday night.

The feature is running in full today at HOOPSWORLD.

As we talked about his play this season, his amazing trip to the Olympics, and the Bucks postseason prayer in general, the interview moved towards a matter very close and personal to Redd: his faith.

As a rule of thumb with my current employer, editors prefer you avoid discussing politics and religion. But this was neither of those topics – this was about Redd’s faith, his belief – and yes, there is a difference between faith and religion. So Redd and I went there. Had this been an opinion piece, I wouldn’t have gone there. But because the story was truly to be about Redd, then I had to ask about Redd the player and Redd the person.

I wanted to inquire about the real Redd.

In the story however, that topic – Redd’s faith and how it plays out in his life – closed the story.

And in this case – at least for me writing about Redd – it was okay to bury the lede. I wanted to leave the impression of what really matters at the end of the day. So I did.

Goodbye journalism 101.

Goodbye guilt.

pic via: nike.com

The Writing On The Wall

clepor_080130_4It’s not a story I looked forward to writing. But the conversation had to take place: Channing Frye’s future in Portland.

For those of you who have taken the time to read this blog over the past six-seven months, you know my take on Frye. After arriving in New York around the same time and both beginning our careers with the Knicks – Channing play, me writing – we landed in Portland the same summer.

It just happens that our paths have intersected more than once.

For me, he’s one of the great guys in this league. Always a good quote. Don’t feel bad about calling him goofy either. He calls himself goofy.

I’ve pretty much come to this conclusion though: if Frye were a cliché, he’d be “good guys finish last.”

It was that way in New York. It appears it will be that way in Portland – hence me digging into the idea of his future with the Blazers, courtesy of HOOPSWORLD.

Right before the Blazers embarked on their recent road trip back to Chicago, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Charlotte, I grabbed some time with Channing at the Rose Garden. Wanted to get his thoughts on his current predicament. Know it’s not an easy time for him. Also know his play has reverted back to when he first arrived in Portland.

Many will agree. When Frye is on the court, you almost forget he is.

Let me say this – the guy isn’t jaded. He’s not complaining. He’s not sulking.

If anything, Frye has read the writing on the wall and doesn’t like what it says.

pic via: nba.com

Which Way Will They Go?

which-way1This time of year is never easy around the league: the NBA trade deadline. It’s basically a guessing game in some instances, and that’s even if your sources launch or can confirm a so called “done deal.”

Case in point: As a news service, HOOPSWORLD takes a lot of heat about the rumors they discuss, typically rumors that are already detailed by beat writers or in particular scenarios, debated with front office types or legit sources.

“Legit” being the keyword here.

Then there are those writers who simply throw a name against the wall and hope it sticks. Unfortunately, HOOPSWORLD – at times – falls prey to this beast. And the beast eats that garbage up. Swapping readership for credibility isn’t worth it.

Personally, I’m not big on that style.

But there are times – and with the trade deadline approaching, this is one of those times – that you have to seriously look at a situation and say, “okay, this team needs help. They have a desperate need. Or they have pieces to work with. Why wouldn’t they make a move?”

That was at the heart of a HOOPSWORLD piece – “5 Trade Deadline Teams” – running today, a quick list of a handful of teams that might have a hectic next couple of weeks.

Trust me; it was tough to keep it to five teams. Could have easily been seven or ten teams. Should be a busy deadline; that’s a given.

So where does Portland fall into this category? They didn’t make the list. Would they have if it were longer? I’m still not sure. According to Kevin Pritchard, Portland will “stand pat.” Knowing the situation at the point and small forward positions however, something has to eventually give though. We know far too well Pritchard isn’t a big in-season-trade-guy, unless you count Taurean Green for Von Wafer from last year.

So apparently the Blazers won’t budge.

Surely Raef LaFrentz is sitting comfortably somewhere on his Iowa farm with a different opinion.

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Shameless Plug: You know you’ve been busy if someone else plugs your work before you can shamelessly do it.

Thanks to Dwight Jaynes for spreading the word on the Portland Indians – Portland’s first pro basketball team in his recent blog post.

After much research on and a gift of an interview from a surviving member of the Indians – an interview that would not have happened without Jaynes’ help – the Northwest Examiner ran the feature story on their front page this month.

That never sucks.

Much like Dwight, I am not a fan of the PDF. But what is a writer to do….

pic via: streetsigns

New Knicks, Old Tricks

eddyClick-click-click-click-click. That’s the sound of a New York Knicks media relations lackey typing your conversation with a player or coach into their BlackBerry, only to send it on to upper management. Maybe it’s not that way right now. But that was the reality not too long ago.

You may think these shenanigans about a certain Memphis Grizzlies forward (told you I wasn’t going to use his name again), is a flashback to a Bob Whitsett era in Portland, and they may easily be. But I’m not sure it is nearly as bad as the never ending circus that is the New York Knicks.

Now with Eddy Curry making ugly headlines, I dove into this today over at HOOPSWORLD in a story titled, “When Can The Knicks Move On?”. I wonder if the Knicks will ever get back to basketball instead of dealing with these typical distractions. 

(As a side note, it’s really hard to believe these Curry allegations. It’s just unfortunate when bad things happen to really good people. I smell a rat on this one.)

What I saw, read and wrote about in my three seasons covering the Knicks will forever be branded into my memory. Let me count the ways. I need only mention the usual suspects – James Dolan, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury – and the story starts to tell itself.

I’ve got stories. Man, I’ve got stories. Stories too long to detail in this simply blog post. I’ll save it for the book one day.

Know this though: it got so bad between the team and media – a tangible paranoia that trickled down from Dolan from day one – that some writers couldn’t do a single interview without a team media relations representative present and transcribing the entire conversation into their handheld device.

This happened everyday. Everyday.

It could even be as simple as, “Hey bro, nice game last night. How are the wife and kids?”

Click-click-click-click-click.

Such Gestapo tactics at the Garden led one beat writer to seriously joke he’d better look under his car or check the breaks in his ride on his way home from the arena.

Only in New York.

pic via: newsday

Deal Or No Deal?

dealThis blog post isn’t about Darius Miles. I promise. But it is about how wallowing in the Miles mire now is an obstacle Portland must overcome quickly.

That first big hurdle could arrive in the coming weeks with the NBA trade deadline fresh on everyone’s mind. You think the rumors going around the league are bad right now, just wait another 15-25-35 days when it gets real crazy.

As someone who covers the league, I couldn’t but help think about Portland’s position in all of this the past few days – well, at least since Friday.

How hard will it be now for Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard to work the phones – knowing what has transpired regarding Darius Miles (that’s the last time you will hear Miles’ name mentioned, I swear) – and not feel that will play a factor into how other front offices respond? He won’t be communicating via e-mail. This much we know.

After talking to a trusted league executive – with the scoop detailed over at HOOPSWORLD titled, “Has Portland Hurt Trade Chances” – I have a better understanding of the bigger picture. And I mentioned this in the piece, but the NBA is so “relationship” and “contact” driven.

All sports is that way. Heck, sportswriting is that way.

In his book Falling Hard, a must-read boxing book by Chris Jones that recounts his rookie year covering the fight game, Jones says it perfectly:

“The meeting represented my first lesson as a would-be reporter: journalism is founded almost exclusively on contacts.”

I buy that. I also believe building “relationships” is the key to any success – business, marriage and even in basketball. And just as any team in the NBA hopes for success, that accomplishment is largely predicated on those “relationships” and your ability to establish common ground with others or your “contacts.”

I’m just not sure how far such rapport goes under Portland’s recent off court circumstances.

pic via:criadvantage

What A Day….

darius-milesYou think you know, but you have no idea. Covering the NBA when drama strikes on or off the court often means nothing but a full day, and Friday was no exception. It went a little something like this….

2am: My two-year old daughter decides it’s time to wake-up…..good times. She must have sensed the drama.

4am: After some hanging out and an episode of Sesame Street, it’s time for bed. Let’s try this again…..for me too.

7:30am: Awake to a few emails and a Sports Illustrated report about Portland Trail Blazers team president Larry Miller’s emailed memo to the rest of the league. It was the line in the sand. Stood slack jawed after reading. Twice.

7:31-8am: Swapped “what-the-hell-is-going-on-around-here” emails to fellow confused writers, sources and friends. Cursed SI’s Ian Thomsen for breaking the story.

8-9:00am: Awaited email and phone call from Blazers front office regarding the published Yahoo report that launched the whole “some-team-could-sign-Darius-Miles-just-to-mess-with-Portland’s-money” story from Thursday. Was told Thursday “meetings” delayed a response. Realized what “meetings” those actually were…..very interesting.

9:30-11:30am: Did some research. Ran errands. Avoided the Blazers practice facility and the media moshpit. After covering the whole Larry Brown – Isiah Thomas saga while in New York back in the day, I learned a quick lesson: the last thing any coach or General Manager wants is one more writer around with a voice recorder in their face. The story could wait. Like in life, avoid the drama.

Noon: A man has to eat….fed my daughter and put her down for a nap too. Caught up on emails and chuckled at the email response from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to Miller’s email memo. You can’t make this stuff up….

12:30pm: Contemplated updating Facebook status to “Wendell got the memo”…..Facebook IM fellow writers about the fall out soon to hit the Blazers.

1:15pm: Swapped a dozen emails/texts to editors explaining I was working on the story….or at least was thinking about working on the story.

2pm: Called and spoke with Blazers media relations team. Wondered if a comment or press release was forth coming from Miller and the organization – it was, just didn’t know when. Stay tuned.

2:05pm: More emails/texts to editors. No replies. Some replies. Wanted to take a nap but worked the phones instead.

3:45pm: Caught Larry Miller on John Canzano’s Bald Face Truth on 95.5 The Game….still had questions of my own.

4:05pm: Received call from Blazers media relations member informing of a 5pm conference call with Larry Miller.

5:03pm: Conference call gets underway. Know it’s a national story when writers from the New York Times, CBS Sports and TNT join myself and three other beat writers on the call. Asked Miller if he would change anything about the way the memo situation was handled. Said he wouldn’t.

5:15pm: Get word the NBAPA filed a grievance against the Blazers. Isn’t that what Portland should have done in the first place – filed their own to the league office about their concerns?

5:25pm: Processed Miller’s comments, thoughts from the conference call. Originally thought Portland was wrong for taking the low road. After the call, I came to appreciate the Blazers strong arm tactics. Wondered if the guys on the court dared to be that tough against Golden State come Saturday.

8-8:30pm: Got killed by my wife in Mario Kart.

8:45pm: Time to get to work. Knocked out 700 word feature to run Saturday morning over at HOOPSWORLD. We had a couple updates on the situation today, so my input wasn’t in dire need on Friday. Saturday is a different story….

9:35pm: Get ready to file story. Checked to see if any breaking news hit on the topic. It did. Report: Grizzlies re-sign Miles. Sat slack jawed. Sent mad texts. Cursed Ron Tillery at the Memphis Commercial Appeal for breaking the story.

9:40pm: Re-wrote my story.

10:15pm: Finished and filed story….again.

10:30-11pm: Catch up on texts and emails about Memphis signing Miles. Still can’t believe it. Brian Hendrickson from the Vancouver Columbian and I ponder the same thought via text: wonder if this day will ever end.

11:30pm: Decide to make this day even longer by writing a blog post about what the day in the life of a NBA writer/reporter looks like when a story hits…and hits….and hits.

12am: Slowly fade into the night…..with thoughts of David Stern vetoing Miles’ 10-day contract with Memphis. The story continues.

pic via: bodoglife.com

All Over Aldridge

aldridgeI wasn’t buying it then and I’m not buying it now. Just last week a local sportswriter in Portland refuted the fact LaMarcus Aldridge is as good as he really is. I’m sure that writer changed his tune after Portland beat Detroit on Wednesday night thanks to Aldridge.

Yes, Travis Outlaw flexed bigger than his 6’9, 207 pound frame displays with regained confidence and shooting touch late in the fourth quarter. Yes, rookie Jerryd Bayless howled at the moon and for one night maybe showed he could see minutes once Brandon Roy eventually returns.

But without Aldridge, the Blazers bandwagon might be a little lighter today. Sure it took him 21 shots to get his 26 points – essentially mirroring Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince (13 for 21, 26 points) – but you have to pick your poison.

Do you want an Aldridge – who took a nasty shot to the ear in the win – outing like he had against the Pistons? Or do you want the LaMarcus who looked lost against New Orleans last week when he made a whole five shots in 18 attempts?

He may not be “the man” – we know who owns that title in Portland. Folks may not obsess over him the way they do Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Bayless. You know who you are. But we all know who runs the floor and finishes better than anyone on the Blazers. And we all know that if Portland is going to get where they want to go that L.A. will have to help get them there.

Sorry, but right now LaMarcus Aldridge is that good.

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Shameless Plug:  That’s not the outing I thought Allen Iverson was going to have. He finished with 14 points. Thought for sure he’d put up more than 19 shots too, especially after he had Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez matched-up against him.

Think Detroit missed the boat there.

But come playoff time you just know the Pistons will be clicking on all cylinders. As I found out, the whole “Detroit and Iverson won’t be able to adjust to each other” argument simply doesn’t hold weight. You can read more about that today over at HOOPSWORLD.

pic via: o-live.com

Nobody Asked Me But….

iceRemember when Queen and David Bowie accused Vanilla Ice of sampling “Under Pressure” for “Ice Ice Baby” and he denied it – and they were right? If not then chances are you won’t recall sportswriters Jimmy Cannon or Jim Murray either.

Both had their version of a feature column titled “Nobody Asked Me But”, but unlike Ice I know a little something about respect. So thanks to Cannon and Murray’s inspiration before me, here goes:

Nobody Asked Me But….

1. It looks like DUI’s are the new black around the NBA. First Sir Charles, then Antoine Walker and now Jason Richardson of the Phoenix Suns – allegedly. Seriously. Guys. Leave the Benz in the lot. Call a cab already.

2. With all the All-Star injuries out West – Brandon Roy, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony – the Northwest Division will eventually come down to who has the best supporting cast.

3. Yes, I did see “Marly and Me” – and yes, I teared-up.

4. Isn’t it time Greg Oden got his shot at being an offensive option for the Blazers? (You knew I couldn’t go long without slipping in a shameless plug. I’m surprised I made it this far).

5. I don’t think Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics should take a gamble on signing Stephon Marbury if he becomes available.

6.  I still think David Lee would fit lovely in Portland. Maybe this summer?

7. Editors really have no clue what their writers go through.

8. A real throwback night in the NBA would kill. I’m talking no shot clock, no three point line, no music – except an occasional organ, no ear-drum-breaking noises, no astronomical charge for tickets or concessions. But we can keep the long shorts.

9. The world needs an Eric B. and Rakim reunion album right about now.

10. I wonder if Martell Webster’s foot injury is far worse than what anyone in Portland is letting on – like done for the season worse.

11. The last thing I want to see is the New York Yankees buying any more marquee pitchers or big bats this offseason.

12. Brett Favre should come back for one more year with the Jets. What the heck.

13.  I think it’s stupid Lil Wayne has his own blog on ESPN while Chuck D deserves the job. God forbid he might have something intelligent to say.

14.  Mike Brown in Cleveland should take home “Coach of the Year” honors.

15.  Spending everyday raising a two-year-old really puts life in perspective. Trust me.

pic via: mega-prod

The Bright Spot

83006021SD004_PORTLAND_TRAIEvery kid in this league hits their rookie wall at one time or another. On Sunday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Nicolas Batum broke through his.

In a game where Portland ran the table in the first half, only to return lackadaisical in the second half against the Lakers, Batum was the bright spot through 48 minutes for the Blazers. He did all the things – and more – that endeared him to the Blazer faithful the first few games of the season or even back in late November in wins over Miami at New Orleans at the Rose Garden.

He went for 15 and 12 points respectively in those two games. Sunday night he posted a career-high 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, grabbed a steal and went 6-6 from the field.

His defense on Kobe Bryant was trademark. Would have made Ruben Patterson proud. Real proud. Hustle, aggressiveness; the court savvy; the timing of it all.

With no Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw struggling for his second-straight game, Batum did his part two-fold. And in Roy’s absence for the next 7 to 10 days – maybe more in the end – Portland is going to need everyone at their best, even Batum. This was his best.

It almost makes you forget Nicolas going “0-for” in eight of his 30 starts this season.

It’s normal for both Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez to get their due praise, but you can’t pass up the chance to rain a little love down on Batum when it is well deserved. Despite another Portland loss, it’s games like Sunday where you see why the organization is so high on this kid. His name will get around the league before too long.

Then again, I think Pau Gasol knows his name already….

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Update on David Lee: If you’ve read this blog before, or happened to catch Friday’s Talkin’ Ball on Comcast SportsNet Northwest, you’ve heard me talk about the Blazers and their need for the play of the New York Knicks David Lee.

Now – after reaching out to sources close to the teams and one league source – it appears the two teams have hit a dead end. Touched on that today over at HOOPSWORLD….

Could getting a third team involved be the u-turn for Portland acquiring Lee? That’s being floated out there too, but the bottom line is this: the Knicks may not be ready to part with their double-double machine after all.

pic via: daylife

Hurry Up And Wait

Heat Trail Blazers BasketballIf there is one thing I’ve learned the most from covering the NBA the past five years, it is this: it’s a constant waiting game. Take the Boston versus Portland game at the Rose Garden this past Tuesday for example.

Driving to the arena I knew I had a looming Celtics story deadline for Wednesday afternoon. I typically arrive with a couple storylines in mind, sometimes more. But it was one of those nights. The two pregame storylines I planned didn’t come to fruition.  It happens.

I went the postgame story angle route instead – obviously storylines develop after two hours of game time.

It paid off, but only after waiting patiently out for Ray Allen in the visitor’s locker room. The guy is a smooth criminal. He was one of the very few left to address the media and had some interesting takes on the Celtics play of late (jump over to HOOPSWORLD for that story – “Physical Play Hurts Celtics”).

Planned on lasting for a good Kevin Garnett – who preferred to dress in the trainer’s room – quote too but the duration exceeded a point of ridiculousness.

As far as I know, he’s still in there.

With that story in the bag, I went for a Portland scoop knowing I can always count on one Blazer to typically be the last man standing in the locker room – Travis Outlaw. Usually, one needs only to wait for Outlaw to finish his postgame ritual in the weight room. But it’s always well worth the wait.

Shy-country boy combined with rare honesty, Outlaw makes for great interview – as long as the topic is about something other than himself. Go there and you get modesty. Give praise and you get awkward silence. Switch gears and it’s on.

But I had to go there. I’ve wondered about it – the trade talks we’ve all heard and read about – including Travis – involving Travis. The end result was “Outlaw Plays Through The Rumors” running today on HOOPSWORLD. It was worth waiting to ask the question, but only once the chitter-chatter had ceased.

I can’t help thinking though – with Nicolas Batum’s stock high and Martell Webster inked to a contract extension back in late October – what Outlaw’s future in Portland really looks like at this juncture.

Guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

pic via: daylife

teamDoc Rivers sat in his office in the visitor’s locker room at the Rose Garden staring at the sheet of paper. It was hard to tell if he couldn’t believe the black ink popping off the page or if he was trying to memorize it. Either way, Doc wasn’t happy.

Rivers was quick to credit a Brandon Roy-less Portland after the Blazers beat his struggling Celtics team of late. But Doc still couldn’t get over a call the refs blew (or called brilliantly depending on the team you represent) right before the half on Tuesday night.

I detailed the 10.3 seconds remaining right before the half here after the game courtesy of HOOPSWORLD’s “Courtside Blog.” Tough break Doc.

Here’s the thing: Had that call gone against Boston; had the Celtics scored with six men on the court; had Boston been on the receiving end of that bucket, Portland would shut down like another snow storm hit the city.

Bedlam.

No, that’s not how the Blazers beat the Celtics. But let’s be real.

Portland showed up to play while Boston arrived and failed at playing their typical brand head games Kevin Garnett style. The Beantown jawing in early December when the Celtics manhandled the Blazers may have worked then, but Greg Oden – and particularly LaMarcus Aldridge – weren’t having it in Rip City with or without Brandon Roy. And in this case it was “without” Brandon Roy.

A huge win – the last of 2008. 

What a way to go out.

(Portland’s “six-on-the-floor” :48 seconds into the highlight.)

pic via: si.com

Not Getting Garnett….

kk1If there was ever a time for the Portland Trail Blazers to “sweep the leg”, it is tonight against Boston with the “Cobra” in town. Don’t tell me you don’t know about the “Cobra.”

Ask Jerryd Bayless about the “Cobra.” He’ll tell you. Or maybe he won’t. Ask Toronto’s Jose Calderon about the venom. He tasted it.

Kevin Garnett may not have his own dojo, but the move – or at least the name – is fresh from the Karate Kid minus sensei John Kreese’s “Kai.”

I don’t get it. Pressuring full-court and wagging your finger at Calderon is one thing. Getting down on all-fours and getting after Bayless is a whole different story, a tale where the plot stinks of unprofessionalism from an alleged “All-Star.” Surprised Bill Russell didn’t try the move back in his day. Guess he was too busy going about his business collecting rings and acting like he’s been there before.

That’s just me though. I don’t get it. So I reached out to someone who might.  

Jessica Camerato, formerly of HOOPSWORLD, now covers the Celtics for WEEI Radio in Boston and schooled me when I asked what gives with Garnett.

“That’s just KG,” Camerato said.

“Yes, playing defense on all fours against pint-sized guards seems eccentric, but this is coming from the same guy who slams his head into the goalpost while talking to himself before every game. Last season when Garnett got into the “Cobra” position – as he dubbed it – he said after the game that he didn’t even realize what he was doing.

“So while opponents may call it intimidating or a scare tactic, it’s just KG keeping his head — or losing it – in the game.”

Apparently it’s just not a point guard thing. New Orleans’ David West saw the “Cobra” up close, something I hope the Rose Garden faithful won’t have to endure.

In the end – at least for me – Garnett going to the “Cobra” diminishes who the Celtics really are: the best team in the NBA.

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Shameless Plug: Staying with Boston….Sean Williams of the New Jersey Nets – who played his college ball at Boston College – is quickly becoming known as a draft day bust. After a solid rookie season in 2007, Williams is lost in New Jersey. Hours after I ran a feature on Williams at HOOPSWORLD yesterday (“Searching For Sean Williams”), the Nets shipped him to the NBDL – a move I professed to be wise for both sides.

Besides, the next move Williams could see after a short stint in the D-League is being dealt at the trade deadline in February.

pic via: wordpress blog

The Show Must Go On….

basnowI’m not sure when it hit me. Could have been when I was digging around the snow drift to my car. Or maybe as I was chaining up, eager to break the family bout of cabin fever with a trip to Target. Then I got the text message– that’s when I knew.

The show must go on.

“The Trail Blazers have boarded a bus enroute to Eugene where they will fly out later this afternoon for their Monday night game at Denver.”

It’s come to this.

Just what Nate McMillan and his team need: more snow, complete with elevation. But after a nice full week – and even fuller weekend of the fluffy stuff  in Portland – it was time to get back to work. I’m sure the last thing McMillan and especially Brandon Roy wanted to do was move on from his 52-point performance against the Phoenix Suns and the “M-V-P” chants echoing from last Thursday at the Rose Garden.

There are no rain outs – or snow outs in this case – in the NBA. The show must go on. That goes for Portland, who has to play Denver on Monday before traveling back to Portland to play the Nuggets on Tuesday, and that goes for me too.

I’ve got my own agenda to keep.

Family is coming to town for the holiday, where a gripping adventure to Central Oregon waits. But not before my wife and I head to the hospital in the morning to see if we’re having a little boy or little girl come May. Either way I’ll be teaching the pick-and-roll at some point in the next 10 years….

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Shameless plug: What is a guy to do when he’s surrounded by ten inches of snow outside and a continuous loop of “Finding Nemo” inside?

After a few emails on Friday and Saturday from a person close to the Indiana Pacers, it became clear Jamaal Tinsley is in for a long season. It’s a topic I launched into – “Will Tinsley Play Again?” at HOOPSWORLD – knowing there’s a chance Tinsley will be back on the court, just not any time soon.

In staying with the “point guard” theme….the Phoenix Suns are holding a workout Monday to fill a roster spot to find a suitable back-up point guard (“New Point Guard For Suns?”), with six free agents vying for the job. A quick teaser…..two former Blazers round out the participants.

pic via: hidden-london

A Word On Outlaw….

Trail Blazers Suns BasketballCompared to Brandon Roy’s historical night, Travis Outlaw will be back page news come Friday morning. But he should at least get a sidebar mention in the win over Phoenix on national television.

As Roy stood with the game ball under his arm after finishing with a career-high 52 points, Outlaw slowly slipped into the tunnel towards the Blazers locker room. Portland sure needed this one. But Outlaw needed it even more.

He hasn’t been himself lately, even before the sore tailbone which has hampered Travis since Utah. Heck, even the trade rumors probably took their toll. No newsflash here: last year’s “Mr. 4th Quarter” has been – shall we say – a bit M.I. A.

On Thursday night though, Outlaw inched back towards outstanding. Not only did he provide the only scoring spark (14 points) in the second unit, but he remained aggressive throughout (6 rebounds). Then there was “the play.”

Outlaws ability to battle Jason Richardson for a rebound with 12.2 seconds left and Portland up by three points could have been the play of the game. Blazers ball. After fourth quarter collapses to Orlando and the Los Angeles Clippers last week, it certainly was the Blazers saving grace.

Portland has shown they can beat the dregs of the league like Sacramento. The way the Blazers make noise in the NBA though is by beating upper echelon teams like the Suns. Okay, so it’s not those Phoenix Suns, but nevertheless a difficult match-up coming off three days rest against a young team like Portland who has endured some growing pains of late.

Luckily along with Roy, Steve Blake (22 points and 10 assists) and LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points on 8 for 12), Travis Outlaw came to play.

pic via: daylife

Inside The Waive

brownIt was a shady situation. After a year selling used cars in my early twenties, my sales numbers slipped. And in the car biz you are only as good as your last deal. So I was “let go”; fired; given my walking papers. But in the NBA it’s different. Guys get “waived” all the time for countless reasons.

I dove into some of those reasons –without getting too soaked in the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) – today over at HOOPSWORLD with “The Way Of The Waive”.

It’s a tricky business pro basketball. That’s true if you are covering it, and even more so if you are actually participating in the business. And let’s not forget it is a business at the end of the day.

Let’s look at this in a Portland Trail Blazers light….total hypothetical situation here.  

Say Shavlik Randolph is waived at some point this season. Sorry Shavlik. You were the first guy that came to mind. For Kevin Pritchard or Nate McMillan to have that talk with Randolph is probably about us fun as going to the dentist. But for Shavlik, it’s almost like getting your wisdom teeth yanked out without any Novocain.

Chances are you’d feel bad for Shavlik. No one wants to see a guy get waived; to see a guy lose his job. That’s one side of the story though. The other has to do with bringing in a guy that essentially helped usher out the 15th man but will actually help your club immediately.

Does it cushion the blow any if Portland were to bring in an available free agent like Robert Horry or P.J. Brown – you know a veteran who can add some swagger or muscle – to help round out the roster?

That’s one of those tricky parts about the NBA.

Just thinking out loud here….

pic via: wordpress blog

Off The Wall

83010322JJ006_PORTLAND_TRAIOn a night when Terry Porter’s number 30 was raised to the Rose Garden rafters and Brandon Roy nearly continued his 30-plus consecutive scoring streak, Nicolas Batum decided to show-up and join the party.

The 19-year-old from Lisieux, France – who has struggled of late after a brilliant start to the season – finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal and went 2 for 5 from beyond the arc in roughly 24 minutes.

Nicolas needed that game. Every rookie slumps at some point in the season. Maybe this was his slump buster.

It was Batum’s best game since November 28 against New Orleans when he finished with 12 points in 20 minutes. His outings that followed have been a combination of nondescript (Boston and Los Angeles Clippers) and scoreless (5 of the last 8 games) performance. It became glaringly clear Nicolas had run smackdab into a rookie wall.

On Tuesday night Batum ran right through that wall thanks to a regained stroke and his trademark defense. Thanks to Nicolas, the Blazers bench actually snapped out of their mini-funk with with all seven members in the second unit scoring in Portland’s 32-point win over the Sacramento Kings. 

pic via: daylife

Getting The Point

sergeSergio Rodriguez apparently is a wanted man….again. For the second time in three weeks, Rodriguez has been the topic of conversation with at least one New York Knicks beat writer who believes the Knicks should take a look at the Portland Trail Blazers reserve point guard.

More on that blog blurb here from good friend Alan Hahn at Newsday. It’s a quick ploy, but a ploy none the less from over the weekend.

It raises the question again: if Rodriguez is eventually moved, does Portland get a point guard in return knowing Jerryd Bayless is waiting in the wings?

Besides, the Knicks had their chance at rebuilding their backcourt back in June at the NBA Draft. Back then, Eric Gordon – who is now starting for the Los Angeles Clippers – was on the board when New York opted for Danilo Gallinari – he of injured reserve fame – instead with the 6th overall pick.

Once again, the Knicks missed the boat.

Gordon is quietly having a nice season for the Clips. Caught up with him last weekend to talk about adjusting to the NBA and where his game is at right now. The feature on Gordon – “The Rise of Eric Gordon” – is running now over at HOOPSWORLD.

Quick take on Gordon: the kid just gets it. He knows his role. He’s not one of these rookies who feels the need to take on the world like some young guards in this league.

Gordon just goes about his business.

What the Knicks would give for him right now….

pic via: elmundo

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