Friday night. October. Preseason basketball. Suns vs. Blazers. #NextStartsNow
When I was approached with the prospect of exchanging information about the Suns and our upcoming opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers, I jumped at the opportunity. No time like the present to get an inside perspective on a Western Conference adversary that has undergone wholesale changes. No better person to provide that perspective than someone who is eminently qualified as an authoritative source on all things Blazers, but since I couldn't track that person down I settled for Dave from Blazer's Edge. I jest, I jest.
We may not share the most cordial relationship with Portland fans and we may take a special satisfaction in plotting the team's demise, but everyone loves Dave. We each answered the same set of questions, with Dave's thoughtful responses listed below. My
astute analysis blithering flummery can be viewed over at Blazer's Edge. Thanks again for investing the time in this collaborated effort, Dave. Enjoy Brightsiders.
What were the major moves for Portland this off-season?
There's been plenty of turnover in the Valley of the Rain this year, a situation familiar to Phoenix fans. You guys picked up Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O'Neal...solid to semi-solid middle class acquisitions. General Manager Lance Blanks was like a nice dad to you. It's not like you got a Lamborghini but, you know, he outfitted the family with iPods over the summer and you'll have fun with them.
Facing similar circumstances, Portland General Manager Neil Olshey played cheap dad. When the two teams meet tonight Phoenix fans are going to show off your nice Apple products while Blazers fans sport their barely-functional, off-brand tablets. Adam Morrison, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, a used Jarred Jeffries, a used Ronnie Price...say hello to our Magnavorx SuperTab. Ooooh! 320x200 resolution! Wait, I didn't know you could have dial-up on a tablet. Where do you plug in the...oh. Right there. I see. As long as we stay within 20 feet of a phone jack, we're good. Thanks, dad!
To be fair, there's something to be said for not chasing the 8th seed. If you're not ready to contend, disposable guys on $1-2 million contracts are the way to go. Check that...a way to go. And that's the way the Blazers went.
On the bright side, Portland also got a couple of potentially-nifty pieces on rookie contracts through the draft. Damian Lillard is as poised as I've seen an expectation-laden rookie point guard. He's light years ahead of where he should be, especially since he has a reputation as a scorer first. He can do that, but he sees and runs the floor well. His shot is confident and well-timed. Aside from defense, Blazers fans will love everything about this kid.
Illinois center Meyers Leonard has incredible lateral and vertical floor quickness. This guy can scoot. He needs work on fundamentals on both ends, especially in the paint. But he's going to be a versatile 5 someday...not earth-shaking but nice.
Import Brit Joel Freeland is Portland's other new big man. The jury is out on his skill set but he's mobile and active at least.
It'll be fun watching these guys develop...mostly. Portland fans aren't expecting wins as much as a new start.
How do the early returns look after the first preseason game?
As much as one can judge from a single pre-season outing, good. Coach Terry Stotts' new schemes suit his players. The Blazers want to spread the floor with distance shooting (the one area in which most of these players excel) and use the extra real estate to free LaMarcus Aldridge in single coverage or some combination of wings working off screens, diving, and receiving passes. Portland's bigs will also take advantage of their speed to finish on the break. In the first game we saw a fair number of layups, dunks, and made threes...a far cry from the Brandon-Roy-heavy matchup-based offense of the past.
Defensively the Blazers have changed how they deal with screens, long a sore spot. Those mobile forward and centers show and assist their guards in slowing the dribbler instead of just switching.
As far as individuals, Lillard and Meyers looked impressive in Game 1. Jeffries, Price, and Morrison also shone. It was a positive outing.
What are you looking for from the team and/or specific players during the remainder of the preseason?
Execution, mostly. When your offense depends on fast breaks, cuts away from the ball, and three-pointers you have to stay committed and run it right. The Blazers no longer have the luxury of unstoppable matchups on either side of the floor. Aldridge is still money but he can't score 100. If the Blazers hustle, keep moving, and make sure the ball goes inside before it's kicked back out for the long shot they will succeed. As soon as they get lazy and start holding the ball those long jumpers after 0-1 passes become awful shots.
Realistically a skilled, motivated defense will still be able to take away what the Blazers want to do, so there will be plenty of ugly games this season. But we all need to see the Blazers keep their heads instead of just driving straight into the inevitable potholes. Make other teams take the game from you. Don't just give it to them.
What are the goals for this year and the long term direction?
Survive with confidence intact and positive momentum as a team. Also develop the young players, particularly those first-round picks. That's the agenda for 2012-13.
After that look for the Blazers to add talent via the draft and eventually free agency. Their eventual starting lineup would look decent in a couple years even without any changes. It could look great if the right move came along at shooting guard, small forward, or center. But Portland's bench is a stinky-awful eyesore right now. That's not meant to disrespect the players involved. Any of them could be a contributor in the right circumstances. But realistically you're looking at a huge swath of 10th-15th men populating Portland's pines. Having one 11th man with the potential to step up is great. Fielding 7 11th men and needed 5 of them to step up is not going to work. Adding talent will be high on Portland's priority list once this season closes.
Dave -- Blazer'sEdge