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Know thy enemy: Portland Trail Blazers

Last Season: 54-28, First in Northwest, Fourth in the Western Conference.
Key Additions: Andre Miller, Juwan Howard
Key Subtractions: Sergio Rodriguez, Channing Frye

During our most recent 710 ESPN PodKast, BK and I analyzed the Western Conference with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Palmer, and arrived at the same conclusion.  Of all the teams gunning to take out the Lakers, the best equipped, at least on paper, would be the Portland Trail Blazers.  No team has as much length to counter the Lakers' length.  No team has as much depth to match the Lakers' depth.  Had Kobe Bryant been traded to Chicago back in '07, Brandon Roy (one of my biggest NBA man crushes) would be the Western Conference's best shooting guard, hands down.  Throw in an arena that continually brings out the worst in the Lakers and Portland's fearless attitude while dueling the formidable champs, and you have a team theoretically ready to take a serious stand.  (For that matter, when it comes to being built to compete now and down the road, the Blazers also match up very well against the Lakers.  This could shape into quite the rivalry over the impending decade.)

Having said that, like most things in life, there are uncertainties.  The Blazers just wrapped up a middling preseason and Andre Miller, their "splash" acquisition of the summer, isn't immediately gelling with Roy and may be cool with a role off the bench, but he doesn't seem to like it.  And collectively, the squad is playing D that's making Coach Nate McMillan rather perturbed.  The only downside to big expectations is having to meet them.  Could the bar have been set too high?  The question is so daunting, it required not just a second but a third opinion, co-courtesy of co-writers/co-editors Steve Jones and Couper Moorhead of Rip City Project.  Check out the discussion below.  

Andrew Kamenetzky: I really liked the signing of Andre Miller, among the NBA's more underrated players.   However, it hasn't been very smooth sailing since arriving.  The failed conditioning test (of sorts).  Claiming to have been told he'd definitely start and if he knew that wasn't necessarily the case, he wouldn't have signed.  Not blending immediately with Roy.   It's still early, but this likely not what Kevin Pritchard had in mind.  A) Did you like the signing?  B) How concerned are you, if at all, and what do you see as the main on-court issues?



        Steve Jones: I was vehemently against signing Andre Miller. Numerous times I wrote that if that was "the move" Andre Miller passes of the summer I would be disappointed. It took me a long time to swallow it after the Hedo/Millsap mishaps (ha), but I've accepted that Andre Miller was a good move for this team. Whether he starts or he comes off  the bench, he's infinitely better than Sergio Rodriguez and I cannot stress that enough.  On paper he seems to be exactly what the Blazers need. He brings a veteran presence to a young team. His ability to create not only for himself and for others should be huge as he can take some of the offensive load off of Roy.



         All that said, I'm still concerned. It's going to take time for the chemistry to get there, but beyond that I'm worried. Andre Miller has tended to have success in a fast, up-tempo type game. If Miller can run, watch out. The problem is Coach Nate doesn't really run at that kind of pace. I cringe when I think of what happened when Mike Dunleavy and Baron Davis mismatched last year and pray this won't be the case this year. And sometimes I wonder, "Will he dribble too much?" Do we really want him taking the ball out of Roy's (our primary playmaker) hand that much? I just want to see it with my own eyes -- in the regular season -- before I declare any semblance of gloom and doom. 



        Couper Moorhead: At the time of the signing my response was, essentially, that all of Miller's skills will make up for his poor shooting, but that judgment must be reserved until we see what other move the Blazers make. They've got nearly $9 million in expiring contracts between Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake to play with this year and while Kevin Pritchard isn't known for in-season trades, this is the last of the major cards the Blazers will have since the "Raef LaFrentz Expiring Contract" days. 

On a scale of 1-10, I'm about a 4 on "how worried I am about Roy and Miller playing together," but that's the only thing that has given me pause. Word is that Steve Blake is going to be the starter, which I don't entirely agree with, but if Miller is finishing games and gets plenty of time on the court with Greg Oden, it's a moot point.

 

        I will say this, however. As much as I like Miller -- who is very, very good -- if all you get from all that cap space is 2-3 years of Andre Miller and that's it, then that will be a missed opportunity on a monumental scale. Sure, championships could make that irrelevant, but at this point that's putting something that hasn't happened up against something you could have done to make things happen.



Miller's also a pretty big loner, which makes him a potential outsider on a team noted for its closeness.  This has always been Miller's rep (and full disclosure, something I forgot about when giving the deal my thumbs up).  Obviously, the roster needn't be 12-15 BFF's, but is there any hint of chemistry problems growing?  Especially with a point guard at the center, when that position is always assumed to be a leader? 

        SJ: I think the whole "Andre Miller is a Sour Patch Kid" was one of the more overrated stories I've ever 301-Sour-Patch-Kids.a.zoom heard. I'm not concerned about that at all. He's a veteran who has been starting longer than some people have been alive; Of course he's going to want to start. Marc Spears article aside, he's consistently said all the right things about playing whatever role is given to him. No teammate has complained about him and it seems as if he's getting the job done on the floor so to me it's a dead issue. He just happens to be a private person on a team not known for having too many of those so he sticks out like a sore thumb, particularly to the media.



        I don't think PT/shots will be an issue. Essentially we're bringing back the same team from last year so guys are pretty clear on their roles. On a team with so much talent the main issue is making sure that everyone buys into the team concept. Nate didn't have much of a problem doing it last year and I don't anticipate him having trouble this year. Why? Because I don't think there is a guy on this team who can afford to not buy in and cost themselves a chance at PT. I'm sure there will be grumbles here and there but nothing that would be deemed unprofessional. 


On the positive side, I've read great preseason reports on Greg Oden, both on the court and learning to relax a little more.  What have you seen from him and do you think he can make bigger strides this season?



        Coup: Since none of the games were televised, all I've seen of Oden this preseason has been in highlight packages and practice videos. But almost everything I've seen and read has been very positive. As a rule I don't base analysis on short clips of a player, but we have seen a relatively smooth face-up jumper, a more balanced jump-hook that last season's iteration and a number of quick spin moves on the block. He's always had a soft touch around the bucket, but Oden's body last year just never let him get his balance and footwork to where it should be.

  Being in better shape will help all of that, just as it will his well-chronicled foul troubles (mostly good news on that front in the box scores). Based on what we saw last year -- which was one of the very best rebounders in the league -- a quicker, stronger, more confident version of that is going to surprise a ton of people that didn't, or refused to, pay close attention to the success he has had.



        SJ: I avoid Oden preseason news like the plague. I want to see it with my own eyes before I believe it, because we've been here before. It's great to see that he's found his sense of humor, though. His mental state of mind was half of the battle.

It's easy to forget Martell Webster after he missed all of last season, but he's expected to provide solid contributions.  How much does his presence make Portland a better team, and why?

        SJ: I'm halfway tempted to leave this answer for Coup since he's the President and CEO of the Martell Webster Fan Club, but I won't. He can only make this team better. When you look at this team's offense his skill-set is what you could call the 'prototype'. He can stroke it and he has the ability to attack so he's not completely dependent on others. The big question has always been, "Can he put it together?" At times he's shown flashes of brilliance and at other times he faded into just being a spot-up shooter. If he shows an ability to attack the basket and create his own shots he could be help the Blazers in a big way. The great thing about it is we have a ton of talent at the 3 so we're not completely depending on him to breakout.



        Coup: It's true, I have a soft spot and its name is "Martellus Websterus". That hardest thing to swallow about Webster's injury last year is that he looked fantastic in the preseason and appeared to be making a concerted effort to get to the rim and the line more. Now we just don't know if that perfect timing of offseason-work and in-season results is going happen again in order to give Martell the "What He Needs" to maximize his potential, but even if he develops into a role player he can be very useful. His shot is a thing of beauty, but he's never shot 40% from beyond the arc and his defense has sometimes been very good, but never consistent. Basically, we could get anything from a 5 to a 10 version of what Webster could be, but with his talent anything in the top half of the scale will have value.



Brandon Roy defends Shane Battier Brandon Roy said he wants to focus on D (which works out well, since Nate called him out to be a better defender).  Have you seen an uptick along those lines and do you think that mindset will spread throughout the team?


        SJ: Well, that defensive mindset needs to be spread throughout the team. If the Blazers don't improve defensively it's going to be tough to make the kind of noise in the spring that people are expecting. Nate has clearly put an emphasis on this going into the season. Its great to see Roy embrace it for two reasons. 1.) He knows he needs to be better on that end. 2.) It's a trickle-down effect. How can you not want to play D when your star does?


        Coup: So far, the defense hasn't been anywhere near where it needs to be, but nothing in general has been up to par for Portland. Any defensive improvement is going to start with Oden not only protecting the rim, but fouling less and being a quicker defender on pick-and-rolls. If he can do that he'll affect how everyone is playing their man, allow McMillan to devise schemes that funnel attackers to Oden and give perimeter players the necessary room for error to take some risks and score more with their D. We know the offense is there, and I'm sure that 75% of my early season notes are going come from defensive analysis.



Is there any Blazer you expect to see break out this season?  Rudy Fernandez?  Nicolas Batum?  Oden?  Webster?  Outlaw (who took it on the chin during the playoffs)?  Even Roy (if you think he's not quite yet truly "elite" or can just be "elite-r")?

        Coup: Oden is the easy choice, but Rudy Fernandez seems to have earned the trust of his coach and will be handed the playmaking duties that come with that trust. While most Rudy plays last year began with him running baseline-to-baseline off staggered screens and ended with a three, I wouldn't be surprised to see him initiate more pick-and-rolls and attack the basket with more regularity. Plus, if you look at the numbers of many European guards -- Ginobili and Calderon among them -- they tend to have their biggest jumps in PER between their first and second seasons.

        SJ: I'd point towards LaMarcus Aldridge taking another big step in the right direction. Assuming Roy continues his ascension to the elite, I think the Blazers will be as good as he is for them. I refuse to do any sort of predictions on Greg Oden for obvious reasons. It's hard to look at anyone and envision them taking a step backwards. At least it is in October.


Are there any particular weaknesses to this team that haven't been addressed or could be a recurring issue?

        SJ: I'm only concerned about the chemistry issues (that will be fine with time) and defense. Some people may wonder about the toughness of this team, as do I at times. We've got to be better on the road and in adverse situations. We can't play down to our opponent's level as we did at times last year.

        Coup: Any weaknesses this team shows are weaknesses they bring on themselves, not weaknesses brought on by the makeup of the roster. They have the size, talent and depth to match up with any sort of lineup and any shortcomings, particularly on defense, are on them. Like the Lakers, some teams can do anything they want because they have that ability but some teams, like the current Kings, will probably have weaknesses regardless of play.

I thought the Blazers would take a big step last season (they did) and assuming everyone is on the Oden holds a basketball same page, I think another step forward is coming.  What are your expectations for the season?

        Coup: My expectations are that they will either remain very good or climb somewhere closer to great. I'm done setting goals like "Make the Playoffs" or "Win a Series". It's time to be done with being an up-and-coming contender and just be a contender. That doesn't mean they have to win a championship this season, but like Boston or Cleveland last year or Utah or New Orleans the year before -- and on down the list -- I want them to be a team we can say, "If a few more things go there way, that team was good enough to win it all." And once they get there, I expect them to get quite comfortable.

Good stuff, Maynard.  I happen to be of the opinion- and not simply because I'm predicting a Lakers-Blazers Western Conference Finals- that any kinks currently experienced will get smoothed out.  This crew has gotten a taste of winning and understands how good they can be (as I noted in last season's KTE, Roy and Aldridge seemed quite aware even before they broke the playoff drought).  It's a collectively young crew, but the group mind appears to reside inside a head well screwed on, so I imagine the October's slow start isn't an omen.  Particularly with an opening month and change largely pitted against inferior competition, an ideal scenario for tuneups on the fly.  I'd be very surprised to see the Blazers failt to take a very big step this season.

PREDICTION: 56-26.  Tied for first in the Northwest.  Second in the Western Conference.


AK


As a reference point, here are all the KTE's together on one page: Spurs.  NuggetsMavericks.  Rockets.  Hornets.  JazzSunsWarriors.  GrizzliesThunderClippersKings.                     

Photo: Andre Miller throws a pass.  Credit: Brent Wojahn/The Oregonian
Photo: Brandon Roy defends Shane Battier.  Credit: AP
Photo: Greg Oden palms a basketball.  Credit: AP

 
Comments () | Archives (22)

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One of the things that I (and a lot of people) will be looking at this year in LA-Portland games will be the Bynum - Oden duel. Over-all, I think Oden is even more raw than Drew but he is definitely more defensive minded than our young hotshot. In their short battles last year, one thing that concerned me was that Oden relatively had it easy putting his weight on Drew and bodying Drew out of position in the low block. (Dampier had the same effect on Bynum too.)
So, we'll be able to see if Drew has strengthened his base and improved his footwork, stance and upper body strength for low post battles against the most physical centers in the league like Oden.
I think Portland has a chance to have the 2nd best or even best record in the WC regular season this year. They're talented, young and athletic, and deep, and yet are experienced enough to not be too inconsistent. Their coach might be the third best coach in the WC behind 10 rings and Survivor beard.
Their coach won't be trying to save the legs of any of their young players in the regular season, in the same way that PJ will do w/Fish and Pop w/Manu, Tim. With the Blazers' young players, they'll still be strong on the 2nd game of back2backs. So i think they have an outside chance of finishing ahead of the Lakers and Spurs in terms of a regular season record especially if LA and SA's older players have any injuries in the regular season.
Yet, I still can't put the Blazers winning a playoff series versus the Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets or even Mavericks this playoff season. Still too much youth. Roy is still their only go to player in crunch time. Blazers can blow out many teams including LA but their ability to win close, important games is still doubtful. I'm pretty sure that's what they got the experienced Miller for.
Lakers best game plan versus Blazers is to run the transition game with Bynum and Gasol beating their big men down the court. Also, Roy will be facing Artest and Kobe all game long w/c is bound to wear him out.

AK,
-
And the pick for first is …
-
Like last year and the year before, all of the improvements by other West teams will all be for naught. The Lakers will win by 10+ games again. From opening day, even Portland and San Antonio will only be fighting for second place and nobody cares or remembers who finished second or third or fourth.
-
Tom

One hates to be picayune, but Ginobili is not a European guard. Otherwise, good analysis.

AK,

Thanks for your response to my earlier post regarding the Lakers not drafting Blair and the Lakers past drafts the last few years. I understand where you're coming from as far as who the Lakers picked so low in the draft. You make great points about who they drafted with those late picks compared to who else was drafted late. I also understand how playing time would've been difficult to come by with Andrew, Pau, LO and even Artest playing the 4 at times, but still believe that Blair could've possibly cracked the rotation(I know, PJ doesn't really play rookies all that much, another reason we could've drafted him). Also, I wasn't trying to say that we could have EVERY player and that I understood the Lakers financial situation, but still we had the 29th pick which we used on someone else that we didn't keep while Blair was available and didn't go to the Spurs until the 37th pick. My contention is that even with the above mentioned players in their primes, there's no guarantee that they will remain healthy(knock on wood)year in and year out. We've already seen what has happened with Andrew, LO and now Pau that past few seasons when it comes to injuries.

Anyways, I do believe in the bigs that we have, but it sure would've been nice to have some more physicality off our bench. Go Lakers!!!

By watching Oden, i feel like he is a better defender and a monster rebounder than Bynum. I hope Bynum will prove me wrong though.

Hey, when do we have a piece called -
"Know thy enemy - thyself?"

Is it out of the realm of possibility to suggest the lakers may implode this season?
Artest, Odom, Fisher in a contract year, Farmar, Morrison - a bunch of head cases!!!

This has nothing to do with Portland but I was perusing threads from yesterday and read the following from a blogger:


"K-Bro & Lakers fan,

Question, Is it correct that every team in the NBA allowed to waive a player and the salary will not be counted for the luxury tax (like Brian Grant)? why don't the Lakers waive Luke Walton?

cumi

Posted by: imeg | October 25, 2009 at 03:44 AM"

Imeg -

This was actually a one time amnesty that each team was allowed, sometime back (I think two summers ago?). It came under the last six-year collective bargaining agreement and was referred to as the "Allan Houston rule". I don't believe there are any future plans to revisit it.

I'm not too worried about the chemistry thing. The fact that Miller has not been very good alongside Roy so far is negated due to the fact that he is now indicating a willingness to lead the second unit. The last preseason game had last year's starters plus Oden - and they looked great together. The second unit should be significantly improved with Miller posting up. That's what they lacked last year. And a couple of months into the season, Miller may work his way back into that starting lineup anyway.

Oden? I HAVE seen him a couple times so far. He does look great. He still won't get 20 and 10, but he'll be a consistent double double machine and change the game defensively for the Blazers.

Defense? Yeah. That's my concern. So far, it doesn't look much better than last year.

man, i know way more about the blazers than i want to. They are probably the only team in the west that actually scares me. I think that if everybody is healthy, they aren't as good as the spurs, nuggets, or probably the mavs. But they match up with us way better. When it comes to the Lakers, they (as they say) can beat theirn with oursn and oursn with theirn. But experience means way more than matchups in the playoffs, so unless we have to play them in the first round, i'm not that worried. Just more worried, relatively.

And I would like it if every game we play against Portland this season, Drew tries to dunk on Oden as often as possible. Just for the psychological edge.

You mean like Rondo and lets say maybe that other guy Rasheed...

You mean that type of head case....You know the type that rocks up a half hour later than the rest of the team for playoff games...Or Rasheed that would walk away from time outs when the coach would start talking to players.......

Its probably a good idea to look at ones own team first before you start throwing rocks......Or maybe thinking may help as well.....

Sorry,i dont mean to be a school teacher or anything.....

Seems to me Oden is what PJackson wants Bynum to be- a defensive center.

A pleasantly civil discussion with infamously crazy Trailblazers homers. Nice.

That much said, no way that the Trailblazers will be second in the Western Conference.

Fourth. Behind the Spurs and Nuggetts.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

Miller has always been a favourite of mine for some reason.

I don't see the blazers being a real threat in the playoffs because historically it doesn't happen like that.

We are a championship team now and they still have a learning curve - you saw what happened to them in the playoffs last year? well they still haven't got any experience going deeper into the playoffs...if they make the conference finals this season then they might be something to really get concerned about next year...but they are still a team of the future rather than serious cotender at this stage no matter how many playoff games they win...think Hornets in '08.I'd pick them to go out against the spurs or nuggets in the second round.

I'm way more concerned about the spurs.

Portland is going to be one of those teams that will destroy some very good teams and create some trepidation in the league. They will crush the team they play in the first round of the playoffs and then problems will start. Portland is one of those teams (like previous generations of the Kings) that relies so much on home court advantage. Once they lose that, they start to fall apart.

This is a well-built team with some potentially Great players and a decent coach, but they just seem to lack that special focus and/or call to destiny that a team like the Lakers, Spurs, and (I hate to say it) Celtics seem to have.

Hell, even the Thuggets seem more driven by the prize than this team.

An extremely good season is enough for this team... and that's the problem.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!!

When do we get to "Know Thy Enemy: Milwaukee Bucks"?

When?

When?

The wait is KILLING me and I'm sure everyone else, right?

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!!

Portland's got that nasty home court crowd too. Yikes.

Thirty 2 - if I admit Rondo and Wallace are powder kegs, do you admit Lamar not in a contract year, surrounded by Ron (I have never played nicely with others) Artest, and Derek (last year of my contract) Fisher COULD disrupt the lakers? Rondo wants to get paid!! Wallace, well he gets a lot of T's, but everyone says he is a great teammate. Artest? Not so much -
c'mon, you can do it, you are just a little worried right? I examined my team, now it's your turn.......

Stillhavethose balloons....

Ok...This is how i see it....I dont think Fisher will be a problem.Simply because the guy has is a leader and its not his style...

I will admit that right in the very far corner of my brain a scene plays out from time to time were Atrest is throwing chairs and punches at fans .....

But for the best part,i think at least this season he will be fine....

As for Farmar and Amo.....Im not a Farmar fan and Amo is not the Paris Hilton type.....

What does seem to slip not just Boston Fans but other NBA fans by is the fact that Wallace is no sleeping beauty.....Yes he will be a great fit for your team but the scene that plays out in my head with him is....KG having to have one of those Glen Davis moments with him...But Wallace not breaking out in tears...

stillhavethoseballoons

No, I don't worry about Fisher being a chemisty killer, Lamar has always been a good teammate and plenty of guys have said Ron Artest is a good teammate. Sure, they're guys like Stephon Jackson, but it's not like you hear crickets chirping (maybe you hear crickets because you're still waiting for those balloons to drop at the Forum. The Lakers play in Staples now, it's Purple and Gold confetti). I'll wager the list of ex-teamies that 'rant and rave about how glorius it is to play with them' for Paul Pierce and Ron Artest is about equally long. I've actually heard more players and coaches say that Artest is agreat teammate, just a bit eccentric than I've ever heard said about Pierce. Maybe you could 'enlighten us'?

Balloons, 32 - I really don't think either of those teams will have issues...theres simply way too much at stake for anything to actually eat them up...Kobe and Garnett are way too scary,the coaches are way to persuasive, and theres way too many sensible players for anything to take hold.

Its Garnetts last chance,Artest and Wallace's chance to change perceptions of their careers,Kobe's assault on Michael Jordan's legacy,Another chance to stick it to the other in thebattle of NBA franchises...

Theres some other great teams after this summers arms race but health permitting, these are the finalists.

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