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Archive for January, 2009

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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