According to published reports, Martell Webster and Portland agreed on a four-year extension today.
pic via: ptb.com
The San Antonio Spurs (0-1) come into the Rose Garden tonight for Portland’s home opener 31-13 all-time against the Blazers (0-1). Regardless if it has been a visit from Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood or Tim Duncan, the Spurs have always had Portland’s number. And four NBA titles never hurts the argument that San Antonio remains one of the elite teams to beat out West.
No doubt they are banged up. San Antonio will be without their two Argentineans in Manu Ginobili (ankle) and Fabricio Oberto (heart). Those guys keep the Spurs feisty (and Bruce Bowen) in what is usually a vanilla filled squad – nothing too flashy, no bruisers; just straight-up results.
Hence the .705 winning percentage against Portland.
We know all about Duncan and Tony Parker. But the new addition to the Spurs – and a guy the Blazers should be mindful of tonight is Roger Mason, Jr.. Very interesting journey to the NBA: drafted by Chicago in 2002 (31st overall), traded and released by Toronto, played over in Greece and Israel, before latching on with his hometown Washington Wizards (where he averaged 9.1 points per game last season in place of an injured Gilbert Arenas and former Blazer Antonio Daniels). He signed a two-year free-agent contract with the Spurs this past offseason. Mason is one of those cats you have to keep your eye on.
He’s been around – is always moving without the ball. Lose him and he’ll make Portland pay.
And then there is Gregg Popovich (insert Grizzly Adams and Z.Z. Top reference here).
How can you not like Pop (think surly grandfather and cool uncle rolled into one)?
Just ask Shaq. You probably know this story by now. Shaq recently referred to San Antonio’s “hack-a-Shaq” tactics in the playoffs last year as “cowardly”. Here’s Pop’s rebuttal courtesy of YouTube….
pic via: washington times
Like many of us that cover the NBA – and specifically the Portland Trail Blazers – I swapped mass amounts of text messages and emails today about Oden’s status, which we all know now is out 2-4 weeks with the gimpy right foot. But it wasn’t until probably the last text I sent to a buddy around 8ish on Wednesday night that something struck me:
Despite being almost 35-years-old, white, 6-2 and 195 pounds and a millionaire (okay, maybe not monetarily speaking…but I know I’ve got at least a million baseball cards stashed in a footlocker in my garage), G.O. and I are the same – we are both trying to make it through life one day at a time. That’s the only way to live.
Tomorrow isn’t promised. Neither are days spent playing a game.
It was a long “24 hours of Greg Oden” in Portland – note the shameless plug via HOOPSWORLD – but today is a new day.
Here’s what I appreciated about this whole Oden ordeal. It puts life in perspective for everyone involved – the fans, the Blazers organization, Kevin Pritchard, Nate McMillan, Greg, the team, the media and even those casual fans sprinkled around the league and throughout Oregon.
Perhaps Pritchard (seen above in his Jayhawk best) put it perfectly talking with the Oregonian’s own John Canzano (who does a bang-up job by the way on the Bald-Face Truth) on 95.5 The Game:
“I talk about this all the time. As important as Greg is, so is Shavlik Randolph. Believe it or not, I believe that. It may sound a little backwards but we have important players. I’m not saying they aren’t important. But we are a team. We can’t put the onus of a winning season or the playoffs on Greg Oden.”
Well said. That’s real talk. If words could heal, maybe Greg will be back sooner than we know.
pic via: k.u. media
By the time I finished doing a radio spot for ESPN AM1420 in Honolulu just past tip-off, the Los Angeles Lakers had already built a favorable lead, Oden had just picked up his second foul and now all Greg has to show for his NBA debut is an injured foot.
“I don’t know. I’m trying to get some information right now,” Nate McMillan said after the game.
“At halftime he tried to run on it and it was a little too sore for him to return. He might have stepped on someone’s foot. I didn’t see the play. I did see him hobbling down the floor after the play.”
Portland is calling it a mid-foot sprain on his right foot. The X-Rays came back inconclusive and Oden’s scheduled to have an MRI done Wednesday morning. (update: the Blazers will have an announcement today after 5 o’clock)
Ouch. Not good. Not good at all.
When asked how afraid he is that it might be serious, McMillan said “I hope not. He’s worked so hard to get himself back. Here we are the first game and it’s a tweeked ankle. Hopefully it’s not anything serious and hopefully in a couple days he’ll be back.”
Greg said he wanted to play. He was running, trying to get ready to go. Said it happened during the third play of the game when he stepped on Derek Fisher’s foot. Said he tried to play on and right now it’s a “little tender”.
“It sucks. Just gotta keep on working,” Oden admitted. “It’s just a little set back. It happens.”
First the knee, then the ankle, now the foot.
Aside from Oden’s injury, Portland’s bandwagon may be a little lighter today thanks to some blatant nervousness at the Staples Center. That’s certainly not the Blazers we’ve come to know during the preseason, but let’s be honest – this is the Lakers and they weren’t in the Finals last season for nothing. Such baptism by fire is actually a good thing.
So what positives can McMillan and the Blazers take from this painful loss?
There aren’t a lot, but here’s worth mentioning….
– Rudy Fernandez (16 points) made a legit debut. It was devoid of his “Pistol Pete-esque” stylings, but he kept the turnovers to a minimum (zero actually) which is always a good thing. He was active but not crazy. Rudy also looked like a natural fit when McMillan went to the Roy, Rudy, Outlaw, Aldridge and Oden combination during the middle of the second quarter.
– While Jerryd Bayless appeared the odd man out in the backcourt, he certainly played decent when he was on the court (14:36). With the game over early, it was wise for McMillan to get the kid out there in the second half. Same goes for Nicolas Batum (3:32) late in the fourth quarter.
– Joel Przybilla and the Kobe Bryant battle lives. These two had a heated run-in at the Rose Garden last season. Back then, when I asked Bryant about it afterwards, he said that’s what Joel gets paid to do. Przybilla earned a bit of that keep (11 rebounds) when he planted a shoulder into Kobe during the third quarter. Joel kept it real, kept it physical – unfortunately Kobe went off soon after. When asked afterwards if that got him going Kobe laughed it off, “Maybe a little bit.”
– Travis Outlaw – despite Portland’s slow start – finished strong (18 points). Maybe that was due to getting a start. Maybe that was enough to light Outlaw’s fire. Maybe he’ll keep this up come Portland’s home opener versus the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.
– Brandon Roy had a little hibachi (14 points) going once the game got into the final two quarters. As the leader of this team, you know it had to eat Roy up to come out flat. But he bounced back. That says a lot about his perseverance.
pic via: getty images
Right on George.
It’s one of the thoughts that crossed my mind late last night as I knocked out HOOPSWORLD’s annual NBA award prediction list. See, I’m not big into lists. I’m not big into predicting awards. Yes it draws a readership and plenty of comments – some harsh, some smart – but I’d rather pen a story. What was I going to do? The job demands it – so does an Editor.
But since I ventured to pick and choose awards for around the league, allow me to play Nostradamus – using the same criteria and some new categories – Portland Trail Blazers style :
Sixth Man of the Year – Rudy Fernandez: Last year the award easily went to Travis Outlaw, but now with Rudy in the mix it’s hard to vote against him. Plus, had Outlaw actually been prepared to step-up into the starting lineup (how was Travis not ready?) the debate might have been between Rudy and Nicolas Batum. Even in that discussion, Rudy will be the man holding the “white unit” together and contributing the most to the starting five.
Most Improved Player– Sergio Rodriguez: Who would have thought the addition of Rudy Fernandez would have improved Sergio’s game this much? He looks so much more comfortable out there. The shot. Smart passing. Still needs to work on the “D”. Working on his shot this summer was the perfect move though. So was bringing over his fellow Spanish countryman. Those two combined help Sergio take home MIP honors.
Coach of the Year – Monty Williams: In an upset, Williams comes out of nowhere to take Nate McMillan’s given award. Not only has Monty been working diligently with Nicolas Batum on his shot – as he has done with Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster in the past – but Coach Williams can also be found working out Greg Oden in pregame drills. Batum is now in the starting lineup and G.O. is growing into game time shape. It’s the full Monty.
MVP – Brandon Roy: You just don’t mess with a good thing.
Rookie of the Year – Greg Oden: A couple weeks ago, my vote was for Rudy Fernandez. Then it moved to Nicolas Batum. But it’s just plain stupid to bet against G.O. on this one, so I’m not going to. If he can earn ROY honors around the league, surely he’s the best rookie on his own team.
Defensive Player of the Year – Greg Oden: This was another tough call. Had Martell Webster been healthy, his name would be in bold type here instead of the big fella. Also Joel Przybilla is going to give Greg a run for his money, but I’m still betting on Greg to have the most direct impact on the defensive end of things in Portland. Block party anyone?
Total Wins – 47: I’m totally flip-flopping here. The magic number has been 50, especially out West. But you take Martell Webster out of the lineup with a jacked-up foot and his absence is going to hurt Portland immensely – and their win total. A slow start – on the road and against the West – could drop the Blazers like Kimbo Slice throwing a fight. I’m going for 47. That’s my final answer.
Playoff Seed – 8th: See above. If Portland can stay healthy – now dubbed the Martell factor – the Blazers could sneak into the 7th spot out West. But with a core of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden – tossing in the addition of Rudy Fernandez and the trusty veteran leadership of Steve Blake and Joel Przybilla – Portland should return to the postseason this year. Plus it helps that the likes of Denver, Dallas, and maybe even Phoenix will have slipped this season.
You gotta like those odds.
pic via: msnvideo.uk
I have a confession: I wasn’t that impressed by Nicolas Batum as I watched him at the Las Vegas Summer League for the first time – I’ve told that story before. But the kid has proved me wrong during the preseason and I hope during the regular season too (as it’s just been reported he will start Tuesday night against the Lakers).
Speaking of which, Jason Filippi, the Blazers international scout whom helped discover Nicolas (and Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez as well) is a solid guy who was kind enough to share some insight on the whole scouting mentality.
Based out of Italy- where the Michigan native moved when he was 10 – Filippi and I spoke by phone as he was on a scouting trip in Slovenia. It was just before midnight there – 3 in the afternoon here in Portland. The 38-year-old has been in the scouting game for nine years, five of those with the Blazers. As we talked about Nicolas – who he is on the court and off and the story of his late father– we drifted to some particulars about searching for talent as a professional scout.
Filippi considers himself a veteran of the business, but he admitted the Blazers – particularly their front office and scouting directors – are different than his past clients. Different in a good way. Different in a great way.
Before, he said he was just going to games, tracking players, shooting video and taking notes. But since scouting for Portland, the focus has become finding out as much about the guys off the court as people. He credits Kevin Pritchard with enforcing that motto – a guy may be a good guy but if he doesn’t fit the Blazers mentality, it’s not going to work. If he’s a little bit selfish and only cares about numbers, it’s not going to work.
Filippi confessed he gets almost scared because everyone can see “this kid” is talented, but he can’t leave any stones unturned. He said it’s been a learning experience. Before it was about how a player played and what he did on the court.
Now it’s about so much more.
pic via: portland tribune
Back in the day when Tommy Beer – of HOOPSWORLD fame – and I covered the New York Knicks, we spent many nights at Madison Square Garden ranting about anything and everything. Now 2,895 miles between Portland and NYC- and courtesy of an afternoon email exchange – the “Rant” continues….
WM: After watching Kobe hyperextend his knee the other night against the Bobcats, I got to thinking: maybe LeBron was right implying he doesn’t need to play in preseason games. You know Deron Williams (it’s Deron!) wants a sip of that Kool-Aid.
TB: Eh, I can’t get too fired-up about it or jump on that bandwagon. Is there a greater chance of LeBron spraining his ankle in preseason game than an intra-squad scrimmage? Some teams/players need to practice more than others. LeBron, as result of the Cavs playoff run and Olympic competition, has played non-stop for what seems like 365 days straight.
WM: So what you’re saying then is cats that played in the Olympics don’t need to play in the preseason? Or just superstars don’t? Aren’t the fans getting shortchanged in both cases?
TB: Everybody needs to be 100% prepared when the ball is tipped on opening night. How they get there is between their coaching staff and themselves. All any professional sports organization owes its fans is to do everything within their power to win a championship. If that means playing LeBron James just 7 minutes in a meaningless preseason game – so be it.
WM: Here’s all I know: the NBA players today couldn’t hack playing 15 preseason games like they did back in the day. Those guys were real men. And another thing- the Sports Illustrated curse lives on . Kobe’s on the cover of the NBA Preview issue and he hyperextends his knee in the preseason thanks to Josh Powell….hmmm – but apparently it’s nothing an icebag can’t fix.
TB: Players today are bigger, stronger, faster, and quicker. That is a fact. And don’t get me started on Kobe. Last summer he is whining and bitching and demanding a trade because Mitch Kupchak can’t surround him with players worthy of his enormous talent. Fast-forward eight months and the Lakers are in the Finals with Pau Gasol starting up front. And now they start this season with Pau and Andrew Bynum down low. Hey Kobe, you still want to trade Bynum for Jason Kidd?!??! Does it bother anyone else that he never apologized (at least publicly) to Kupchak, the Lakers, and his teammates.
“I don’t believe in curses. Wake up the Bambino and I’ll face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass.”
WM: Good one…..but why would Kobe recant anything? That’s not his style. You have to believe in his mind he did nothing wrong. Back in the day Shaq was the problem, then Phil. Then it was Bynum and his youth or the lack of having a player of Kobe’s choosing. But once the Lakers returned to the Finals and Kobe can’t get it done by himself, I’m guessing he’s really buying into the team concept now. He’s better off staying hush. Here you thought this rant was about LeBron and it becomes all about Kobe. It’s always about Kobe.
pic via: zimbio