A Blazers Tug of War
Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner have nothing on Portland’s civil ‘War of the Roses.’
by Sandy Dover
Over the weekend, John Canzano wrote a column that was speaking exactly of what I’ve been thinking all along about the Portland Trail Blazers management, coaching, and players situation. It was fair, it was straight-forward and I agreed with it wholeheartedly (except for the whole “Andre Miller was a bad fit” thing). Then I watched the Cleveland Cavaliers go to the Rose Garden on Sunday and the teams played an exciting game. The best game I’ve watched in the year, actually, but it did nothing to change my mind about how the Trail Blazers have followed through on certain decisions regarding the issues concerning Andre Miller, Nate McMillan, Brandon Roy, Steve Blake and the general manager Kevin Pritchard.
I’ve been mentioning it throughout the past several months in my Timeouts and 21 Questions columns, but now, I’ve been inspired by the subtle chicanery and less-than-obvious nonsense that has come forth from the organization in about the same amount of time, so here I go.
One, like Canzano said, Pritchard is significantly responsible for the pseudo-mess that’s been laying on the Rose Garden floor since the fall, but I don’t think the issue lies solely with him. The issue, according to me, is how the team is coached, and for that I blame Nate McMillan squarely. I know he’s a good guy. I can see that he has a great wealth of common sense and projects an aura that can lead most people to come to the decision that he’s at least a decent human being…but he’s a flawed head coach for the Trail Blazers as is. I know his reputation as being “Mr. Sonic” precedes him, and so from that, he gets the benefit of the doubt, but let me say this: His contributions to the game as a player don’t mean a whole lot now. I don’t really care if he was Mr. Sonic or whether he was Mr. Freeze from the “Batman” comic, he’s one of the reasons that the Blazers aren’t maximizing their potential.
Injuries aside (and for which he can absolutely not be blamed), my main criticism about him is that he doesn’t take advantage of his players’ strengths. The team could potentially be the next coming of the Spurs if they actually ran the floor. There’s no reason why Portland is jogging down or walking down the court on most of their possessions. The Trail Blazers have the athleticism to sprint down and get buckets, so do it why don’t they?! I think having an integrated offense where you can be half-court and full-court is most efficient for teams respecting their strengths. Their bigs are mobile, the wings have great speed and savvy in the open court, and Portland has the guards to run such an offense, so what’s the problem?
Also, McMillan and Brandon Roy have this thing about Steve Blake that I can’t shake, and it’s getting annoying because it ultimately hurts the team’s potential as well. Andre Miller, one of the top point guards of the past decade, whose sage and ability to run an efficient offense and take advantage of most other players at his position, is a better, more talented player, a superior guard in terms of leading a team and overall play, and will help the team win more games in the long run (all in comparison to Blake)–the whole point of playing basketball, just in case the coaching staff has forgotten. Steve is a good player, but is at best, an above-average guard. He’s a very good backup to have and he’d be particularly special as a reserve guard on a championship team, but being fair, he’s above-average. He can shoot good, he passes well and he’s fit, which are all good things. Meanwhile, McSonic took too long to play Jerryd Bayless and had the audacity to bench Miller several times in the aftermath. It makes me sick.
Sure, Andre’s not so smiley and silly like some of his Blazer brethren. He’s quite quiet and private, but does that make him a bad guy? He’s 33…if he’s not crackin’ jokes with Roy or Martell Webster or anyone like that, it’s because he has eight to 12 years on many of his teammates; speaking of Roy, he’s sort of been lame in the way that he’s kind of let Andre go by the wayside in several interviews with the media since the season’s start, in letting on how he favors Blake as the starting guard because he’s more “comfortable”. The thing about it is that Andre’s newer, so of course he’s less comfortable with him, but that he’d pass up the ability to lead a stronger team with Andre in the backcourt seems a little selfish and shortsighted. It’s aggravating. Being a leader is all about embracing what is better for the team, and if I’m Roy, I’d be doing my due diligence to see what all I can do with Andre on the floor before I diplomatically let on that Andre might be better off of the bench–Blake is a career backup.
(Also, too, McMillan’s used to running a team of young guys that are still college-aged, more or less. Andre’s an accomplished player who’s truly grown, so maybe that he can be mercurial is something that hasn’t been so endearing, to be fair to the coach and players.)
In a way, Portland should be grateful for the injuries that they have had to incur in the ’09-10 season. The heightened expectations were not being met early and with all of the confusion about rotations and such, it showed, but it won’t exempt them in the following year. They’ll still have to deal with the obvious questions if nothing changes. Beyond Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge getting paid (in LA’s case, prematurely, in my opinion), the Trail Blazers still have to address those issues. My auspicious solutions for all of these silly dilemmas? Here they go:
1. Coach McMillan should expand the offense.
2. Trade Blake.
3. Promote Andre as a starting guard on a permanent basis; there is no reason he should have to compete with backups to merit why he’s so important (that was the first offense in signing Andre, by telling him that he’s not a “first team” player yet on Portland).
4. If Bayless emerges, make him the sixth man or make him the starting guard; if he is to be the starting guard, trade Andre.
5. If Portland was smart, they’d know that Roy is probably the superior point guard of the bunch and trade Andre and Blake both, promote Rudy Fernandez and/or Webster, and let the backcourt be set.
6. Hold McMillan and the rest of the coaching staff more accountable for issues related to overall talent and depth. (Because the acquisitions haven’t been bad, the decisions in playing Andre, Fernandez, Blake and even Nicolas Batum and Greg Oden have been.)
Hopefully, most of these issues will be sorted out and I can enjoy the Blazers playing to their full potential very soon when everyone’s healthy and the player order is fully resolved and stable.
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist and fitness enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (for real). You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline.