Blazers Preview

by Marcel Mutoni

Training camps across the League start next week (Oct.3), so it’s probably time to start previewing the 2006-2007 NBA season. With the help of some of the most prominent hoop writers on the web (bloggers and newspaper columnists), we’ll be taking an in-depth look at each one of the 30 teams.

True Hoop’s Henry Abbott starts things off by previewing his favorite team, the Portland Trail Blazers.

SLAM: You’re one of the few people on the planet who refuses to call this team the Jailblazers, and have admonished others for continuing to do so. How disappointed were you to see Zach Randolph in the news again for the wrong reasons?

HA: Well, I love the team, and I support Randolph as a player. But if I had a quiet moment with Zach, I can’t promise I wouldn’t start my speech with “Look, idiot…”And as for the Jail Blazers thing, the more I think about it, the more I’m positive it’s bone-headed to call them the Jail Blazers. Let’s pretend the team was ridiculed for being too small, then made a bunch of trades and became one of the tallest teams in the NBA. You can prove that with statistics. Once you can, you just don’t get to call them “short” anymore, and still be considered any kind of aficionado. Who cares if they had that reputation? Those players are gone. Look at the roster, and tally the arrests. I did it a while ago on TrueHoop. I think maybe we had a DUI? (Remember, Randolph wasn’t charged.) This team, quite frankly, has just about the cleanest collective record in the NBA. And when people call them the “Jail Blazers,” they’re insulting stellar characters like Jarrett Jack, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, Juan Dixon, Joel Przybilla, and LaMarcus Aldridge… I could keep going.

The Blazers made a couple of key acquisitions this summer by drafting the talented La Marcus Aldridge, and by signing former all-star Jamal Magloire. How well do you think those guys will fit into the system and what kind of contribution can we expect from them?

The Blazers had the worst record in the NBA last year. I kind of hope these new guys don’t really fit into that system. I expect a ton from Aldridge in the long run, but almost nothing this year. He’s coming off surgery to begin with, and as a skinny dude he was scheduled to get knocked around a lot anyway. But he has all the right tools and says all the right things. Strength is one thing the NBA can really teach players. He’ll be great, in say, 2009-2010. Magloire? I don’t know what’ll happen. I hope he comes in angry, fighting to start ahead of Joel Przybilla, and ready to use that size to punish the whole rest of the NBA. If he does, Portland will be able to really dominate the paint with some of those lineups. Even if Magloire’s not inspired to play at new levels, he’s insurance, backup plan, trade bait, and cap relief all rolled into one.

Everyone seems to be really high on Brandon Roy’s potential. How excited should Blazer fans be that they’ll get to watch this guy every day?

Very. Roy could be the one who uses his skill and smarts to convert promising parts into a productive whole. He hasn’t even played in the NBA yet, but I think everyone already trusts him to do smart things with the ball at money time. For years being a Blazer fan has been not about cheering victories or team accomplishments, but about isolating players who you would like to still have on the team when it’s a real team again. (All those Jarrett Jack-or-Sebastian Telfair conversations.) But soon, as the team progresses through the stages of development, it’ll be time to actually do the things, as a team, that they need to do to win. For instance, if we’re going to win our next title–and there will be a next title–by playing big, well, let’s get working on playing big. Or if we’re going to win by playing pressure D, well let’s start doing that. More practice, less theory. Starting now. I think Brandon Roy, being the first real rock of a player in a Portland uniform in years, might bump the team forward a few years.

Is Nate McMillan the right coach for this team? Can he get all of these youngsters to play together and help them build a team that can contend for a title?

Not something I can answer. In fact, I don’t think anyone who isn’t watching him work day in and day out can really answer it. But I’ll say this: I like that he brings a tough attitude, has won a bit in the NBA as a player and a coach, and is clearly a leader. (I also like that a lot of the personnel moves seem to reflect his tastes.) He’s no pansy, but he’s also a good guy. This was a big step up over Maurice Cheeks, and I sure don’t want a coaching change. I think we give Nate the next several years regardless of performance.

Alright, enough foreplay, how will the Blazers fare this season?

Oh, not all that well, I imagine. They’re still marinating. Win total somewhere in the thirties sounds about right to me. Either they’ll surprise everyone and make the playoffs, or they’ll be in one of the best lotteries in recent memory. Not the worst predicament, after what we Portland fans have been through. A little patience, the shedding of a problematic contract or two, Paul Allen doesn’t move the team to some other city or shut it down, and we’ll be golden.