Blogger Knows Best: Inside the Portland Trail Blazers
Team Name: Portland Trail Blazers
Blog Name: The Rip City Project
Blogger Name: Couper Moorhead and Steve Jones
1. Based on preseason expectations, how would you grade this season? Please list your team's top three accomplishments.
SJ: Based on preseason predictions, I would grade this season as an A++. I think the pre-season hype surrounding this team made for a lot of helter-skelter predictions. We were predicted anywhere from 4th to not making the playoffs. There was an odd mix of super-optimism and uber-pessimism.
Coup: Back in October, realistically it would have been a fight just for the Blazers to make the playoffs. Not because of the lack of talent but because the West was still so tough. I didn't see the Suns collapsing or see the Hornets and Jazz struggling. I also didn't think the Blazers would still be in the hunt for a division title or home-court advantage. So in that regards I will not take advantage of this season's success and will give it such a high grade. Biggest accomplishment to me is that this team has taken very few steps backwards all year. A very rare amount of consistency from such a young team.
2. How would you assess the competency of the team's current GM and scouting staff?
SJ: Very, very competent. I won't go around talking about how Kevin Pritchard has been Pritch-slapping people left and right. I will say that as long as he is the mastermind, I know that the Blazers are in great hands. A good and lengthy stretch from how I felt with his predecessors. Say what you want, but this is the guy behind the transformation. He was involved in us getting Brandon Roy and Aldridge. He managed to get something out of Zach Randolph and Jarrett Jack. He stole picks from the cash-hungry Suns that got us Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez. He snagged Jerryd Bayless. Not to mention finding a needle in a haystack in Nic Batum. Now that he's gotten us this far, my only thought is will he be able to make that one big move to propel us to title contender status? Thinking out loud here, will he be able to pull the trigger? Thinking about how that's my only qualm with the man reminds me of how spoiled Blazer fans are right now.
Coup: We don't need to praise Pritchard too much more in this space, but Larry Miller and Tom Penn, along with Nate McMillan and the scouting staff all deserve credit for building this machine. One of the more encouraging yet subtle things they've done is get guys like Outlaw, Webster (and Przybilla earlier) to sign for very affordable contracts. We've got big extensions coming up for the studs, but I'm very comfortable with how this team is going to handle this summer's cap-space and all future finances -- an area which you must succeed in to maintain long-term success (see the San Antonio Spurs).
3. Which young players (if any) can step to the forefront in the future?
SJ: Take a look at the Blazers rotation and you see that youth is everywhere. The Blazers have a buffet of good young talent to throw at the league. Brandon Roy is the superstar-in-training and LaMarcus Aldridge is right behind him. They are respectively 24 and 23. Travis Outlaw is the longest-tenured Blazer. He's 24. Batum, Rudy and Oden are all rookies. Long story short, there are only four players outside of the 20-25 year old range. I guess looking ahead I'll have to put the spotlight on Jerryd Bayless. He's a guy who will more than likely reach for the stars when he's given the chance. I believe that though everyone else has stepped into the forefront, his time will come. He's got the drive (unbelievable work ethic) and the passion. He just needs a little seasoning before he's ready to go in the oven.
Coup: All I've got to add here is Martell Webster. He's been one of "my guys" for a long time now and if he can catch a break and earn his lost minutes back, he's capable of being a major piece. He's also a better, and tougher defender on the perimeter than he's given credit for. He's the darkhorse candidate in what might be the NBA's most stocked stable.
4. Time to play fantasy GM: what move that was made the past few years would you undo and what move would you currently make for the team to assess immediate or long term needs?
SJ: This is a more difficult question than you can imagine because there are two different eras. I don't change one thing from the Pritchard era. I wish I could undo signing Darius Miles to that extension. But then again I wish I could undo the ridiculous Jermaine O'Neal for Dale Davis trade. Then again I'm hoping we got revenge by getting Bayless. I don't trade down in the 2005 Draft. Bless Martell Webster's heart...but Deron Williams and Chris Paul > Martell Webster. Speaking of which I'd probably just go ahead and erase all of the Blazers draft picks from 2000 to about 2004. Those draft days were about as painful as the movie Bride Wars.
Coup: The Darius Miles signing tops the list, but at least that was part of an offseason that included the Theo Ratliff extension, which turned into Brandon Roy (and LaFrentz' contract) and worked out fairly well for the Celtics as well. The Jermaine O'Neal trade that SJ mentioned has never bothered me that much, mostly because we know now what O'Neal turned into and because Davis offered some fairly solid, tough-guy years pre-Przybilla. No, the one move I take back, the one that probably brought me out of my youthful stage of illusion earlier than I would have liked, was the Brian Grant-for-Shawn Kemp move. That was when it became clear that former-GM Brian Whitsitt was running the franchise like a fantasy team. Not to mention Grant was my favorite player at the time, and his toe-to-toe series in 1999 with Karl Malone is an All-Time moment for me. Alas, Grant too succumbed to injuries too early.
SJ: Move No. 1 that would make to take this team to the next level? I think on the outside looking in a lot of people would scream POINT GUARD. Not I. For one, I want to see what Bayless can do with quarterback minutes. I like what Steve Blake brings to the table. Lastly, I'm not sure a player like Brandon Roy needs a great PG -- he has said the very same thing himself. I think it would hurt him more than people think. The move I would make? Trade for a stronger option at the 3. Ideally someone like Danny Granger or Caron Butler. Both are pipe dreams based on slight man-crushes...but hey. It's my fantasy. It would have to be a slam-dunk like one of those guys, not a Gerald Wallace or Richard Jefferson.
Coup: If you had asked at the trade deadline, it would have been Caron Butler, just because we had a realistic shot at him. The dream-get is easily Granger. By far. I'm also not convinced there's any move that must be made because of Batum and Bayless. Talent might not be at the forefront in the next few years' worth of moves, because of finances.
5. Best case scenario: where would you realistically like to see your team at this time next year?
Coup: Top Four seed in the Western Conference, home-court advantage through at least the first round and being taken seriously by the rest of the league as real players. Go big or go home, right? Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Portland is on the path to being the trendy pick for the Western or even NBA Finals next year, mostly because the experts aren't going to be able to make logical arguments that this team will regress or get worse (looking at you, Hollinger).
SJ: I would love to see this team in the Northwest Division lead at this time next year. I would love to see this Blazer team having cracked into that upper-tier in the Western Conference and having a real shot to contend next year. I'd also be happy with being in the same position as we are right now. Anything that keeps us in the playoffs.