Archive for September, 2008

The Skinny On Shavlik Randolph

There is a new player in town and his name is not Shaun Livingston.

While Portland opted to pass on Livingston, they did invite former Philadelphia 76ers postplayer and free agent Shavlik Randolph to camp to battle for the final roster spot.

And since the only thing I know about Randolph – who is listed at 6-10 and 240 pounds – is he’s injury prone (broken ankle) having only played 79 games in three years since leaving Duke, I figured I’d hit up a few guys who could give me the low-down.

Enter Marc Narducci, Phil Jasner and Librado Wright.

Narducci has been at the Philadelphia Inquirer for now 25 years and has done it all as a sports reporter, including working the Sixers beat last season. He now works as an assigning editor and columnist for the Inquirer covering New Jersey high schools, as well as contributing to HoopsHype.com and knocking out the Atlantic Division preview for the Sporting News.

His take on Randolph: Shavlik is an “energy player” who puts “the team first”….

He kept saying that he was fine physically last year but that all he needed was game action to get the rust off. I’m not sure about that because it was a really difficult injury, but I know that if he makes the team, the Blazers players couldn’t have a better teammate.

He is somebody who is an energy player, not the most skilled, but he is relentless in going after rebounds and never stops hustling. What was impressive about him is that he rarely played last season but he’d be there hours before each game working on something.

Sometimes he would work up such a sweat that you would have thought he had played in an NBA game. And he was always cheering for his teammates. Seeing limited playing time was frustrating for him as if would be for anybody but he always put the team first.

And I think this year in which he will be two years removed from the injury, that he will be much better physically. I think he’s the perfect end of the bench guy who will make others work hard in practice, and will do anything for the betterment of the team.

Jasner is an icon in Philly, having been on the beat for the Philadelphia Daily News since 1981 (not to mention being at the paper since ’72). According to Jasner, Randolph has been putting in work this summer, but there is still some concern over Randolph’s ankle….

He worked on his game in North Carolina during the summer.

He thought he was ready to play toward the end of last season, but the coaches didn’t feel he had the same explosiveness after his fractured and dislocated ankle.  Before the injury, he had been making real progress.

Wright enters his fourth season covering Philadelphia for HOOPSWORLD and has a similar outlook to Narducci’s on Randolph’s situation….

Randolph’s a good guy in the locker room and every one of his teammates loved him.

He’s a hard worker at practice and if it wasn’t for his injury he would definitely have played some big minutes for Maurice Cheeks. Randolph since being drafted has worked his way from being the last man on the roster to significant playing time in his rookie season. With Elton Brand and Theo Ratliff being signed this summer, this left Randolph looking in from the outside.

But the Blazers are getting a solid player that should help Greg Oden get better as a player.

This much we know coming out of Philly: Shavlik is coming to work and work diligently. Sure Randolph has been bitten by the injury bug but you have to give it to him for battling back. Apparently when he suffered his broken ankle during a Sixers’ November practice in 2006, it was straight gnarly. And after appearing only in nine games last season, you can only hope Randolph’s days on the IR list are a thing of a past.

Hopefully he can punch the clock in Portland, even if it as the 15th man on the roster.

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Jumping For Rudy

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

It all happened so fast. Travis Outlaw took about five to six steps backwards, ran forwards and jumped in the air.

Over a dude.

No basketball. No hoop. Just an NBA player jumping over a dude.

The dude had to be about 6-2….just a guess….but an accurate guess. But still, Travis got up there real quick, glided through the air and stuck the landing. He left the dude in awe. That made two of us. Outlaw had just finished another intense core workout with Martell Webster and a personal trainer and two other fellas getting their workout on at Club Sport in Tualatin on Tuesday morning.

And here you thought Rudy Fernandez’s arrival in Portland was crazy. Oh, wait. It was.

You haven’t seen anything yet.

Just wait until this kid – okay, he’s 23 – gets on the court and runs the floor with Brandon Roy and Greg Oden and finishes on the break at the Rose Garden. That’s when craziness ensues. This isn’t a knock on Rudy’s fellow countrymen – Pau and Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon and the rest of the Spanish National team – it’s just that Spain is the past and Portland is the present. And the present is looking pretty sweet right about now with training camp set to open on September 30.

Like Kevin Pritchard said yesterday, Rudy is ready. He’s been ready.

Pritchard and the Blazers’ scouting staff (who should receive a nice round of applause for their dedication in getting Rudy on-board)  took-in one of Fernandez’s games during a scouting trip in Europe last year, and they all left thinking the exact same thought:

“This kid is ready for the NBA right now,” Pritchard said yesterday at Rudy’s press conference. 

But still, once the regular season – or even preseason for that matter – gets underway, there will be an adjustment period for Fernandez on the court as I touched on today over at HOOPSWORLD. Rule changes will be an obstacle. We all know that. Officiating and the physicality of play in the NBA will also take some adjusting. Heck, it’s that way for guys who’ve been in the league for five-plus years.

Nonetheless, that’s the reality – the Rudy reality.

Much like Greg Oden, it’s going to take Rudy a little time to get acclimated in the offense and his role in the second unit. We know what Oden can do in practice, but game situations are completely different. The same goes for Rudy. The one difference is, we’ve already seen this summer what Rudy is capable of. Right, Dwight Howard? It’s no wonder Rudy calls himself a complete player. Whereas Greg’s freshmen year at Ohio State seems like forever ago. The Blazers can only hope his game is complete.

So now that Rudy is officially in town, the waiting game starts again.

We wait for Rudy to talk at Media Day this coming Monday about the journey ahead. We wait for Rudy updates from training camp. We wait to see Rudy in the preseason starting Tuesday, October 7 and of course, the season opener at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers. We wait for Rudy to roll with the second unit with Jerryd Bayless, Travis Outlaw, Ike Diogu and Joel Przybilla.

And we wait for Travis to jump over a dude in a game.

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A Bounty Of Blazers

You can always tell when the NBA season is drawing close.

That’s when you start fielding the most questions – at least in Portland – about the home team’s chances of making the postseason. And this year, that question actually holds a lot of weight after going for 41 wins last season and with a host of offseason additions. But before I get to my prediction about the Blazers playoff prayers, let me just say it has been a busy last few newsworthy weeks in Portland.

It’s all about injuries, camp invites and gym rats. 

To bring you up to speed on the walking wounded: Greg Oden says he is ready to go this season, expectations and all; Brandon Roy’s rehab is right on track and is steadily working on getting his legs underhim, and regaining his soft touch after knee surgery; both Channing Frye and Raef LaFrentz went under the knife. Frye has about seven to eight more weeks before he’s back on the court. As for Raef – stay tuned.

He could miss the entire season after shoulder surgery and don’t be surprised if the Blazers waive him. I don’t think it is going to happen, but talk is circulating. Gotta put that out there.

Training camp opens in just under two weeks, and time will tell if Shaun Livingston will attend camp in for the Blazers. The brass watched him workout out in Tucson, Arizona late last week and if general manager Kevin Pritchard does bring him it, it could make for a very interesting setting at camp. It’s uncertain where Livingston fits into the big picture, particularly with his rehabbed knee still not near 100% (word is it’s about 75-80%).

I touched on the Blazers’ great debate heading into camp last week over at HOOPSWORLD. Then, center Steven Hill and swingman Luke Jackson were slated to go head-to-head (so to speak) as Portland’s 15th man on the roster. Some competition for camp. But now with LaFrentz’ injury and Livingston’s invite lingering, anything is possible.

Even still, where does Livingston fit on the roster if he actually makes the club? The Blazers backcourt is stacked the way it is (Steve Blake, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez). Livingston can play the three if need be, but even then there is a logjam of sorts with Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez, when he’s not at the two. Anyone know how this one is going to go?

Speaking of Rudy, he’s due to land in Portland this weekend….Sunday if all goes according to schedule.

Bienvenido a Rudy de Portland.

Now, it’s time for a little detail work.

Yesterday morning I covered the “Morning Report” for HOOPSWORLD – a brief rundown of newsworthy topics happening around the league. In it, I touched on how Martell Webster has been putting in his time with a personal trainer at Club Sport across the street from the Blazers practice facility. The workouts – which have included some shadow boxing, glove work, core building techniques and the like – usually last a few hours in the morning. Hard to tell how many days a week though. Anyway, let me just say, Webster is busting his hump in these workouts. It’s no joke. From the looks of it, it’s a pretty intense workout and Webster is all-in. It’s the kind of workout that makes you tired just watching. Both Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake have also partaken (as have Steven Hill, Jamaal Tatum and assistant coach Monty Williams – who looks as if he could still play) in these sessions sporadically, yet it is the work ethic of Webster that is most noticeable.

I’m not saying Blake and Outlaw aren’t going all out, although it’s clear Travis isn’t even close to being in the same condition as Blake and Webster right now. You can tell those two guys have invested the time this summer. You can tell just by watching these guys go through the various drills. Travis seems a step or two behind Steve and Martell. Again, that’s not a knock on Outlaw or anything.

It’s merely to explain how far Webster has come condition wise from the end of last season to right now. I know he is listed at 229, but that weight is pretty deceiving if that is the case. It’s not like he’s bulked up a ton or anything. But his definition has surely improved. Can’t wait to see how it translates to the court….

Now for the prediction: a 50-win season and Portland makes the playoffs. Not sure if it will be for the seventh or eight spot out West yet, but you can officially put me down for 50 wins and a trip to the postseason.

Anyone else for a glass of Kool-Aid? 





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Third And Long

This is a first, and likely a last until next year around this time: time to talk a little football.

Don’t get me wrong. I like football. I don’t spend my entire Saturday or Sunday in front of the T.V. like some other guys I know, but if there is a game on and I don’t have a good book begging to be read or I’m hanging with my family or friends, then sure; I’m down for some football. 

It’s not like I’m oblivious to what’s going on in college or the NFL. Ohio State almost got beat by Ohio. Tom Brady is out for the season.

See. I watch SportsCenter and read the New York Times.

I’m just not one to write a blog entry about the gridiron every other time out.

Let me explain. Baseball and basketball were my first loves growing up, but I actually played football while in high school in Nebraska.

One year.

My Senior year. Eight man football. Eighty-yard field. Roughly sixteen guys on the team, give or take a few. Played both sides of the ball. Offensive and defensive end. Played on special teams too. But with that size of our team, we all took a shot on special teams.

See, I hadn’t planned on going out for football. Never even crossed my mind until my buddies talked me into it. And even then I wasn’t sure. Had always been worried before that. Worried an injury would sideline by chances of turning pro in baseball (that is a blog post for another day and time). But what I remember vividly is deciding I wanted to go out for the team before the start of the season, heading home to tell my parents and both of them voted heavily against me playing.

Their concern: I’d get hurt. Having nearly all of my older brothers (six, if you are keeping score at home)  play the game, many of them had sustained injuries. Concussions and the like. Guess my parents didn’t want to endure another ambulance ride. Then again, I didn’t stick around to hear their side of the argument. I heard the “no” part and bolted out of youthful immaturity and frustration shortly afterwards.

Can’t say for certain where I went or what I did. I only remember leaving.

I went out for football anyway. My parents didn’t like it much. But being the youngest of 11 kids has its perks. The track records of some older siblings isn’t exactly sparkling. If the worst I wanted to do was play football, apparently that was a battle they opted not to fight too hard. But they told me if my grades slipped (it went from “fear of injury” to “grades” overnight) they said I’d have to stop playing.

Fair enough.

In the end, they were happy I went out.

The Village of Beemer, Nebraska at that time was just over 600 people deep – one stop light, three bars, seven churches, you get the picture – and the whole town turned out for games. Typical Midwest community support. Gotta love it. And my parents did. When I became a starter, made a tackle, caught a pass or was named Homecoming King at halftime of a game, they beemed with pride even if the true happiness went unspoken by my Dad. I’m sure had he been around (guy was a work-a-holic) to hear my football coach say I could have been all-state had I played all four-years, he might have enjoyed that moment.

But this weekend, my Dad and football are on my mind again.

My Dad – Wendell Sr.- passed away from cancer on Father’s Day back in 2005. Hard to believe it has been that long. Seems like yesterday, a sad yesterday. Yet every year since, a couple of my brothers have gotten together the weekend following the commemoration of his birthday (September 10th) to honor his spirit, impersonate his unique mannerisms and embrace at the thought of his passing by attending an Oregon State Beavers football game together.

It’s the third annual. Four of us brothers will be making the trek to Corvallis.

It’s a blast in endless ways: a chance for brotherly love, some football, the gift of keeping my Dad’s memory alive and to remember that life is not promised for tomorrow.

It’s now a large part why I like football.

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