The Other Side: Portland Trail Blazers


I'm going up and growing up. (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

While the Washington Wizards were getting trounced in Los Angeles on Thursday night, Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy was in a much more celebratory mood back home in Seattle, where the Washington Huskies retired his No. 3 jersey. Roy is a long way from having his No. 7 jersey retired by the Trail Blazers, but the 2007 rookie of the year and 2008 (and likely 2009) all-star is certainly moving in the right direction. He is averaging a career-high 22.3 points and has the young Blazers (25-17) in the thick of tightly-contested race in the Western Conference.

Wizards fans are familiar with Roy after he scored 12 of his 22 points in the final eight minutes of Portland's 98-92 win in Washington on Dec. 3. Former Wizard and Maryland standout Steve Blake scored made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 13.2 seconds to secure the win. Blake is averaging career-highs 11.6 points and 43.4 percent three-point shooting (82 of 189), but he won't be around for the rematch because has missed the past four games with a separated right shoulder and is expected to miss another one-to-three weeks.

The Trail Blazers are 2-2 without Blake, with Sergio Rodriguez replacing him in the starting lineup. They are 15-5 at Rose Garden this season, and they are coming off a 104-98 home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. Here is what else you should know about the Trail Blazers before they host the Wizards on Saturday night:

1. The Blazers Are Still Taking Hits Over Miles Mess
Portland didn't completely apply a blow torch to all of the good will it had established over the past few years, but the despicable manner in which the franchise handled the whole Darius Miles fiasco has provided a serious blemish to a season that should end with its first playoff appearance in six years.

You might recall that the Trail Blazers attempted to block Miles's comeback from a serious knee injury because it would add more than $18 million to their salary cap and result in a luxury tax penalty for billionaire owner Paul Allen. Portland threatened the other 29 teams with litigation for if any signed Miles and allowed him to play the 10th game needed to legitimize his comeback.

It even tried to sign him and stash him. Miles is playing relatively well in Memphis, forcing General Manager Kevin Pritchard to be more creative in how he will improve the team in the future. No matter what Pritchard does, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that the incident forever tarnishes his reputation. Oregonian columnist John Canzano wrote that while Pritchard is disliked by many league executives, he wasn't to blame for the whole debacle.

2. LaMarcus Aldridge Is Arguably The Difference Maker
Brandon Roy is the all-star. Greg Oden is the franchise center. But several league executives contend that 6-foot-11, third-year forward LaMarcus Aldridge is the player with the most potential. Portland Coach Nate McMillan compares Aldridge to Rasheed Wallace and said he could someday dominate the game on both ends of the floor. McMillan often pushes Aldridge to be better, and ESPN's Rick Bucher has an awesome profile looking into what makes the soft-spoken, often-overlooked talent tick. Aldridge is averaging 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, and has scored at least 20 points in four consecutive games.

3. Greg Oden Is Getting Older
While some like to joke that Greg Oden is aging in reverse like Brad Pitt's new Oscar-nominated, "Mork & Mindy" inspired, film, he actually is getting older like everybody else. Oden turned 21 on Thursday, but he actually showed tremendous growth earlier in the week when he had a career-high 24 points and career-high tying 15 rebounds in a 102-85 win over Milwaukee. Oden is averaging 8.4 points, 7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in his rookie season, but he hasn't been having much fun. Reports out of Portland say that Oden has been surly, grumpy and distant all season - and that the Blazers have been overprotective. Oden hasn't been a disappointment - big men take a longer time to develop - but how good would Portland be if it drafted Kevin Durant instead?

By Michael Lee |  January 24, 2009; 8:14 AM ET
Previous: McGee Gets a Chance | Next: Wizards (9-33) at Portland (25-17)

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Mike Lee: Nice work on the Pritchard article; seems as if he is incinerating bridges as he crosses them not smart on his part, same people you meet going up the ladder you will meet going down that ladder yeah Pritchard,Coangelo,and those Billy Beanne,Theo Epstien types all think they're the smartest guy's in the room but time will tell and if they don't win they all will be an afterthought.

Posted by: dargregmag | January 24, 2009 9:27 AM

Oden and Aldrige. Two young big men with promise. And they start?! For a division leader?

Wait a minute. Don't we have two young big men with promise?

PERS

Centers:

Oden 16.4
McGee 17.0

Tall skinny forwards:

Aldridge 18.8
Blatche 17.0 (starts at center)

But this is Washington and Taps is our coach. We can't play JM and AB against these guys because:

1) we already have an established starting five,
2) the vets wouldn't have anything to do,
3) we would take rookie shots,
4) we would make rookie mistakes, and
5) Taps didn't come up with the idea.

And, of course, something no one wants to admit or let the cat out of the bag, but our best 5 man unit right now is Crit, Young, Mac, Blatche and McGee.

But then again the knowledgeable basketball experts are clamoring to see James, Dixon, Butler, Jamison, and Songalia play together to see if they will be ready for next year.

Posted by: Izman | January 24, 2009 9:43 AM

Back to the Lakers game for a second... I just watched the matchup between McGee and Pau starting from the end of the 1st quarter to a few minutes through the second just to see how JM performed against a former all star center.

In that span, JM had 6 points and 2 rebounds (both offensive). Pau had 3 points and ZERO rebounds on one basket and one free throw. The basket was a dunk because the weakside help (AJ) didn't get there in time. Even Reggie Miller said that AJ came over late. The foul that Gasol got was AJ doubling down and fouling him trying to help JM.

For everyone here saying that JM did his dirt against weak competition, watch the game. The minute JM came out, Pau pushed AB to within 3 inches of the basket and drew a foul.

If we're looking for defense at the C position, JM is CLEARLY our best option. It's not even close. You can even see Kobe telling Gasol to 'Get him the f*** off of you' and gesturing with his elbow as if to tell Pau to elbow JM to keep him off.

Looking at box scores does not tell the story. While JM isn't the beast that I hope he will become, he's much much much better at defending/deterring than AB will ever be.

Posted by: original_mark | January 24, 2009 10:17 AM

IZMAN,

Can I have your blog. Its positve, good, and makes a whole lot sense.

Wish Ed was that smart.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | January 24, 2009 10:30 AM

Note to Izman& Larry in Clint.MD: Before we replace Grunfeld with Izman(Izz would be an improvement) As most of you know i'm not a big AB fan(ya think?) and i think NY performs well against lesser opponents while struggling with upper eschelon teams but i like McGee a lot and McGuire makes me smile with his hustle, I think Critt came out too early and is still a mystery, that being stated the vets probably feel the season is lost and the youngin's want to prove to whomever that they are the future, somewhere in these observation's lies the truth i must admit its fustrating watching the season play itself out with no hope of playoff basketball and we still have the second half to go, man this is depressing.

Posted by: dargregmag | January 24, 2009 11:27 AM

The basket was a dunk because the weakside help (AJ) didn't get there in time. Even Reggie Miller said that AJ came over late. The foul that Gasol got was AJ doubling down and fouling him trying to help JM.

That basket was a dunk because JM let Pau Gasol muscle him into a position where the only way to have a chance at stopping him was for the weakside help to foul him. The weakside help couldn't come over the top and block the shot, or double down and force Gasol to pass to the wing (which are the other options for weakside help down low) because Gasol was 3 inches from the rim.

If JM had played solid defense and held his position, then there's no need for the weakside help to foul. Its a HUGE stretch to blame that play on AJ, whether or not he was late rotating.

As for the rest of your argument, there's no reason to think you can extrapolate that performance (over a few minutes of PT when the starters were resting) over a complete game, and much less so over a stretch of games. If Gasol muscled him so easily, what would Bynum have done?

The minute JM came out, Pau pushed AB to within 3 inches of the basket and drew a foul.

So he did the same to both JM and AB. I don't see how that helps your argument.

You can even see Kobe telling Gasol to 'Get him the f*** off of you' and gesturing with his elbow as if to tell Pau to elbow JM to keep him off.

Kobe telling Gasol to muscle JM out of the way. Wonder why?

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 11:45 AM

Ed Tapscott likes to put a lot of emphasis on mistakes. He even makes a lot of his decisions based upon perceived bad mistakes.

The other game he was seen telling Crit, "The Lakers are a running Team so when you run the offense you cannot get hung up down low, because once they get the ball they are off and running."

The commentators gave Tapps props for the tactful way he explained this to Crit. I have always said that Tapps has good sideline demeanor with his players, buts thats as far as it goes.

Getting caught down low is not a mistake, but a part of playing the game. Where I come from, once the ball goes up the positioning of the players on the court determines who has fastbreak responsibility.

If Crit had fastbreak responsibility then he should never run the offense down low and in all cases he should pass down low and always shoot from outside. Never go below the top of the Key.

It appears that Tapscott gives defensive fastbreak responsibility to the guards. That is terrible strategy. Here is why.

1) Guards that must guard to stop the fastbreak cannot fully run their offense.
2) They never help your rebounding.
3) There is really only three guys playing offense.
4) Three guys on offense must have a high rate of efficiency.
5) Its easier to run a fastbreak against two guards.
6) There scoring decisions are always hampered by there defensive responsibility.
7) They can never hang out for open shots in the offense below the key. excetera.

Stopping a fastbreak is a positioning responsibility. In that, the top 2 of 3 players the furthest out on the court always are the first back on defense.

Thats where running and guts comes in. You cannot stop fast breaks by designating it to your guards. You must give your guards the full opportunity to run the offense from anywhere on the floor.

This strategy is also indicative of why we are a poor offensive rebounding Team. Once we shoot the ball, we are already playing defense before the ball even hits the rim. Along with the guards, there are way too many times from a set when we shoot no one is under the rim. The whole team is already bailing to play defense.

Bad strategy will always hamper any and all good intent and thereby keep your Team from achieving and will always sabotage winning.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | January 24, 2009 11:49 AM

Great analysis Larry.

I am so sick of seeing our guys giving up on rebounds as soon as the shot goes up. Fast breaks happen. But they can't happen if we get an offensive rebound. We're so concerned with defending the fast break that we give up the rebound, and hence more fast breaks.

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 12:01 PM

our best 5 man unit right now is Crit, Young, Mac, Blatche and McGee.

No way. Our best 5 man unit is Critt, CB, DMac, AJ and AB. And that's only when Critt is playing well.

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 12:06 PM

Jones-y,

Don't take me literally. In the context of that line-up, best meant "most fun to watch", "best to determine the keepers", "best for developing as many players as possible given the dismal season", etc.

I'm not sure what the best 5 man unit is in the normal definition. As a mentioned elsewhere, Crit, Young, Butler, Jamison and either Blatche or Song are 9-0 and winning by 1 point per minute. But I guess we'll never know which one is best (not that it matters anymore).

BTW everybody, I converse with people from other teams and many teams have much more sophisticated statistical analysis of performance than the Wiz. I suspect that's part of the Wiz' rotation doldrums.

Posted by: Izman | January 24, 2009 12:29 PM

Izman,

lol I gotcha! The 5 you posted is definitely fun to watch, almost as much for the mistakes as for the highlight plays.

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 3:21 PM

no squad that wants to win can have jamison log 40 a night at pf, he should be a top flight 6th man 1.crit 2.ny 3.cb 4.ab 5.jm
dom gets thirty off the pine

Posted by: bford1kb | January 24, 2009 5:05 PM

Interesting idea: would Portland be better today if they'd drafted Kevin Durant?

He'd certainly have appeared in more games. But Oden was definitely a need pick. With Roy and Aldridge, Portland didn't necessarily hunger for another scorer. They were looking for a horse down low. Had gone so far as to tell everybody that the only reason they weren't already marching through the playoffs was because they didn't have one.

And Durant hasn't been an unqualified success. In spite of the glossy averages, he's not the greatest athlete, and struggles mightily against some more agile players like Rudy Gay. Of course, they had him out of position at SG for the first part of the season, so that's not his fault. Still, he's looking like a one trick pony -- although that particular trick, scoring, will put a lot of money in your bank account.

Somebody also brought up the question of McGee and Blatche compared to Oden and Aldridge. Setting aside the question of whether you can compare the relative PERS of players who get very different minutes on very different teams -- ask yourself, which pair would an NBA coach rather have out on the court versus the Celtics, Lakers, or Magic?

I'm betting it's not close.

Posted by: Samson151 | January 24, 2009 5:44 PM

From Ivan's Story in today's post:

"The unique thing about the Wizards' roster is that it is almost evenly split between experienced veterans familiar with what it takes to play at a high level in the NBA and inexperienced young players who are learning as they go"

And, despite all of the positive things he's done in captaining the Wizards' return from oblivion, that is far-and-away Grunfeld's biggest failure as GM and a major reason why, the injuries notwithstanding, the team is in the situation it's in right now.

Posted by: kalo_rama | January 24, 2009 6:01 PM

And for those who question the significance of the PER stats, this year's PER leaders thus far are:

Lebron James 31.6
Chris Paul 30.0
Dwayne Wade 28.6
Dwight Howard 24.6
Tim Duncan 24.3

Not a perfect tool, but a good indicator of performance (particularly when used in combination with other stats and factors).

Posted by: Izman | January 24, 2009 6:32 PM

One stat that the Wiz will never track:

Who makes more rookie mistakes, the rookies or the veterans?

Posted by: Izman | January 24, 2009 6:34 PM

It's a useful tool if your goal is to prove that five of the best players in the NBA are, in fact, five of the best players in the NBA. But beyond quantifying the already blindingly obvious, however, it remains wildly speculative and generally not very meaningful when dealing with measures and judgments that aren't self-evident on their faces.

Posted by: kalo_rama | January 24, 2009 7:06 PM

And, despite all of the positive things he's done in captaining the Wizards' return from oblivion, that is far-and-away Grunfeld's biggest failure as GM and a major reason why, the injuries notwithstanding, the team is in the situation it's in right now.

Posted by: kalo_rama | January 24, 2009 6:01 PM

But how can you say injuries notwithstanding, when we're down 3 starters (GA, BTH, DSteve) and a 4th rotation guy (ET)? All vets. Those four injuries essentially pushed 4 young guys (AB, NY, DM, and DBrown - now JCritt) way high into the rotation.

The only veteran loss from last year's team that's attributable to EG (really ABE) is RMason. And he was eventually replaced with JD (a downgrade I agree, but at least a veteran) and NY, who ostensibly could've been considered ready for 4th/5th backcourt player duty. I'm not sure how you can put this year's situation on EG's shoulders. Should he not have had six young developing players on the bench (with 4 of them at the END of the bench)? Maybe not, if we're gunning for a championship this year...

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 7:28 PM

Its not like JM and DBrown (now JCritt) knocked vets off the roster by their mere presence. We had two open spots, as we only carried 13 players last year.

So one offseason roster change (lose RM and add JD) and one midseason change (losing AD and DBrown, gaining MJames and JCritt - after the season was toast), and a slew of injuries, constitutes Grunfeld's biggest failure? If so, I'll take it.

But I wouldn't rate any of his personnel moves this year worse than signing ET.

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 7:43 PM

"But how can you say injuries notwithstanding, when we're down 3 starters (GA, BTH, DSteve) and a 4th rotation guy (ET)? All vets. Those four injuries essentially pushed 4 young guys (AB, NY, DM, and DBrown - now JCritt) way high into the rotation."

Exactly my point. If the roster had been constructed with more balance, the loss of those players wouldn't have been quite as devastating because there'd be some other players in the intermediate phase of their careers ready to step up. They likely still would have been out of the playoff picture, but they wouldn't be the worst team in the conference and a league wide laughing stock.

Grunfeld's been in charge here for 6 years, yet aside from Blatche (a late second round pick) all of the young talent he's acquired is in its second year in the NBA. Where's all of the talent he should have been developing in the intermediate years? If he hadn't wasted time, resources, draft picks, and roster spaces on the likes of Donnell Taylor, Peter John Ramos, James Lang, Pecherov, et al, perhaps there would have been more of a cushion to fall back on when Arenas and Haywood went down, and they wouldn't have been in such dire straits.

Posted by: kalo_rama | January 24, 2009 7:49 PM

EG is not a miracle worker. Intermediate players cost money. Money that he didn't and doesn't have to spend.

So for example he may have wanted to bring in some quality 4th or 5th year guys to fill roster spots 14 and 15, but could he?

(or maybe his mistake as you're reading it was wasting the 06 draft on euro tweener centers/forwards OP and VV, because dirk had made them a hot commodity at that moment - but that's balanced by excellent 2005 (AB), 2007 (NY/DM), and 2008 (JM - steal of the draft) draft picks, and the 2004 draft pick (DHarris) which turned into AJ. He didn't conduct the 2003 draft, or did he? That was JHayes (didn't pan out) and SBlake (we obviously couldn't have spent 3-4 years developing him - he just started producing last year))

Maybe if he'd went to Abe and said "hey we have a good shot at a ring this year, we gotta spend this lux tax money, we're gonna get it back anyway." Other than that, you gotta chalk it up to the lux tax, and Abe's unwillingness to cross it.

Ramos didn't pan out. Taylor didn't pan out. Dharis could've been that guy, but EG turned him into AJ. And the fact that players like Taylor and Lang were on the roster is almost certainly attributable to Abe.

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 8:10 PM

izman wrote: "And for those who question the significance of the PER stats, this year's PER leaders thus far are:
Lebron James 31.6 Chris Paul 30.0 Dwayne Wade 28.6 Dwight Howard 24.6 Tim Duncan 24.3
Not a perfect tool, but a good indicator of performance..."

Not to argue, but isn't that the classic logic error, mistaking correlation for causation? Just because these great players have the best PERs, we can't assume it's an accurate reflection of performance for, say, a second-tier player like Javale McGee or Andray Blatche.

I don't have any particular feeling one way or another about PER, I'm just saying the point hasn't been demonstrated, or even close.
Or maybe it would be

Posted by: Samson151 | January 24, 2009 8:32 PM

"EG is not a miracle worker. Intermediate players cost money. Money that he didn't and doesn't have to spend.

So for example he may have wanted to bring in some quality 4th or 5th year guys to fill roster spots 14 and 15, but could he?"

Absolutely missing the point.

I'm not talking about going out and signing ready to wear 4th or 5th year vets (although that would have been nice), nor did I say or imply anything about going over the tax ceiling (my stance on the idea that the more a team spends the better they are is already on record).

It's not a money issue, it's a planning and development issue.

Grunfeld spent money, draft picks, time, and resources on the likes of Ramos, Lang, Pecherov, Taylor, et al. He just spent them poorly. During the same period he was wasting roster space on those losers, other teams (almost all of them) were finding hidden gems and surprises in the second round and the lower rungs of free agency. Where are the Wizards' versions of Boozer, Millsap, Turiaf, Ellis, Maxiell, Gibson, Farmar, Rondo, Varajao, Duhon, Ariza, (C.J.) Miles, Bass, Kapono, Walton, Pachulia, etc.?

And don't say "Blatche," because he's in his 4th year and still shows signs of not having a clue many nights. Most of those other guys have been contributing at a higher level than Blatche is right now for a couple of years or more. And many of them were still on the draft board when the Wizards made their picks or were up for grabs cheaply in trades or free agency after the teams that actually drafted them moved them on (in some cases without even signing them). And, to add insult to injury, the one guy Grunfeld did manage to find (Mason) he let go so he could re-sign an inferior player at a greatly inflated price.

Other teams have spent the last 6 years beating the bushes finding low price options to shore up the middle of their rosters and had them quickly develop into regular contributors. The Wizards haven't. That's Grunfeld's fault and it's hurt this team greatly.

Posted by: kalo_rama | January 24, 2009 8:47 PM

Grunfeld spent money, draft picks, time, and resources on the likes of Ramos, Lang, Pecherov, Taylor, et al. He just spent them poorly. During the same period he was wasting roster space on those losers, other teams (almost all of them) were finding hidden gems and surprises in the second round and the lower rungs of free agency. Where are the Wizards' versions of Boozer, Millsap, Turiaf, Ellis, Maxiell, Gibson, Farmar, Rondo, Varajao, Duhon, Ariza, (C.J.) Miles, Bass, Kapono, Walton, Pachulia, etc.?

Fair enough. Hindsight is 20/20, and EG has his fair share of gems over his career (and a few of them here). But you have a point, so fair enough. It just sounds to me like your point is that he's short of perfect.

I mean All 32 teams passed on Millsap (even Utah), and half of them passed on him twice!

I'd nominate AB and DM as his recent 2nd round gems, (you and I differ in opinion on AB, but hey...) and of course he'll always have Michael Redd in his back pocket, and Steve Blake was a nice 2nd round pick (if indeed that was EG's pick) who took a little extra time to pan out.

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 8:59 PM

the one guy Grunfeld did manage to find (Mason) he let go so he could re-sign an inferior player at a greatly inflated price.

No he let Mason go because of the lux tax, and you know it. Mason played himself out of our budget.

Posted by: jones-y | January 24, 2009 9:01 PM

And, along with a drum roll, some PERs at the bottom of the barrel:

DeShawn Stevenson 7.2
JJ Redick 9.8
The fearsome (to Taps) Aaron Gray 12.4
Nzar Mohammed 6.9
Desmond Mason 7.3

I think it's fair to say that these players fit Kallie's collar for Blatche in that only 2 or 3 teams in the league would want them.

Posted by: Izman | January 24, 2009 9:57 PM

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