HoopsHype.com Bloggers Corner

"Oden's injury trashed the morale of the city"
by HoopsHype/ September 17, 2007

How heartbreaking is the loss of Greg Oden and how much does the outlook of the season change for the team now?

Casey Holdahl (Oregonian's Blazers Blog): To say that the city has been somewhat deflated after the news of Greg Oden's injury and subsequent season-ending surgery would be an understatement. It's certainly a blow to the franchise and its fans, but I think people are still optimistic with what the team is going to do in the future.

Part of the reason why people, while upset, are taking the news of Oden's injury relatively well is that most fans, at least those who follow the team closely, realized that adding Oden to the mix in the '07-'08 season was going to make the Blazers more fun to watch, but not necessarily a
playoff contender. Are the Blazers a better team with Oden? Certainly, but they probably weren't going to be that much better, at least not this year.

Brian Hendrickson (Columbian's Blazers Banter): I don't think even devastating is a strong enough word, and that's from a couple different angles. For one, it trashed the morale of the city. Oden had become the embodiment of the new Blazers and made people forget the Jail Blazers era overnight. The positive reaction around the town the moment Portland won the lottery was incredible, and you could get a glimpse of what Blazermania was once like. As positive as that reaction was, the news of his injury was almost equally as deflating. People started panicking even before the news of microfracture came out. Just the possibility of a knee injury was enough to make the fan base reflexively throw out Sam Bowie's name. They started questioning whether the franchise is snake-bit, and suddenly the memories of the Jail Blazers vanquished for four months was back. It was unfortunate, because the franchise thought it had finally distanced itself from the last few frustrating years, and in one negative moment they got yanked back.

From another angle, the publicity did nothing but squash the wave of positive momentum the team had experienced. After Brandon Roy won Rookie of the Year, the team won 32 games 11 more than the previous year and won the draft lottery, Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan were being hailed as geniuses bound for a championship. There were 19 Blazers games this season that were slotted for national broadcasts, and for the first time in the franchise's history all 82 regular-season games were going to be broadcast. This from a team that had the NBA's worst record a year ago and were viewed as a bunch of bumbling nincompoops. But once Oden had surgery, the publicity turned to unending second-guessing, suggestions that the Blazers ignored warning signs of health problems, Sam Bowie comparisons, suggestions that they missed out on drafting Michael Jordan for a second time, reminders of how many times the franchise has stubbed its toe, and now possibly losing some of those nationally televised games.

And finally, they lost a guy that they were structuring the team around. If the Blazers don't draft Greg Oden, there's a strong possibility that Zach Randolph would still be a Blazer (though I think they would have explored trading him anyway to clear room for Aldridge, but landing the No. 1 pick clearly sealed that deal). And that fact alone should tell you how much Oden's loss has affected their plans. Portland was planning changes in playing style and defensive schemes around Oden's ability to defend the basket and draw attention on offense. Now, the Blazers don't have anybody that can replace many of those things. LaMarcus Aldridge would have benefited greatly from having Oden on the other side of the lane, because no matter how raw his offensive skills may be, defenses would have had to pay attention to him at all times, and probably throw some double teams at him just because of his size. Now Aldridge will have to find a way, in his second year, to be the offensive focal point in the post while teams put their full focus on him. And there's one more change with Aldridge: With Oden guarding the basket, McMillan wanted to release Aldridge for use in trapping and pressure defenses. Now Aldridge will likely see a good bit of time at center, which everyone last season seemed to agree was his weaker position compared to power forward. That could give the Blazers fewer options for utilizing his versatility and shooting skills. Portland will also have to find a way to cover up their lack of size in the post particularly if Joel Przybilla gets hurt, which is always a concern perhaps by running more zones. That one loss starts a domino effect that changes a lot of things.

Before Oden's injury, I thought the Blazers would make a run at a playoff spot, but be one of the last teams getting eliminated. Maybe the 10th or 11th team in the West. I thought they'd be good, but not quite ready to get into the playoffs, then become one of those teams that surprises everyone the next year. Now, I think winning as many games as they did last year would be a reasonable goal.

Rob Houston (The Inferno): For a lot of Blazer fans, this is devastating. But it's far and away the most heartbreaking for Oden. He is a great kid, and it's sad to hear about how sorry he was about this injury. As Pritchard said in the news conference on Thursday, Oden is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, and it's on the Blazers now to help him through this and the grueling rehab he faces over the next year or two.

That said, I honestly don't feel that this drastically changes the outlook for this season. I think the Blazers will finish with a record as good or better than last year's 32-50. Brandon Roy missed 27 games last year. LaMarcus Aldridge missed 19 games (and only started 22 of the 63 he played). I have felt all along that Oden would be interesting to watch as he found his way through his first season, but that the real story would be the development of Roy and Aldridge as the lead players for the Blazers. I think that since Oden's injury, the coverage has overstated was expected of Oden next year to play up the devastation angle. Make no mistake this is Brandon Roy's team.

Matt (BlazersBlog): For the short-term, it's devastating. Blazer fans rightfully or not legitimately thought that with Oden, this team had a shot at the 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs this year, and I think we all know that's out the window. The team has been so bad for the past three seasons; and prior to that so full of conflict, that we are desperate for a decent team of good guys, and we thought we had it.

Long-term, it's not that bad. The team is at least two years away from legitimate contention, and it's quite possible that not having Oden will allow LaMarcus Aldridge's offensive game to blossom a bit more than it would have otherwise. We still have Brandon Roy to enjoy. Who knows what will happen with Jarrett Jack, Martell Webster, and Travis Outlaw this year. There's still a lot to like about this team; it's just too bad that we'll have to wait another year to make a run at the playoffs because that's all we really want.

Dave Deckard (BlazersEdge.com): Those are two separate issues. The blow is enormous mentally and emotionally. It’s like getting that new bike (the good one!) you’ve always dreamed of for Christmas and then before you can ride it your dad backs over it in the garage. The season won’t carry the same level of thrill without him. But realistically this was a season of growth and exploration for the Blazers anyway. They’re starting new players in at least three, maybe four, positions. Of the guys who will see decent playing time Steve Blake is by far the most experienced veteran. He’s 27, barely into his prime. With all those young guys brand new to major roles I don’t think Oden’s presence would have meant a transformational increase in wins this year. We’ll still see two of the main storylines the development of Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge play out just as expected this season… maybe more strongly than we would have with Oden present. Where it’s going to hurt is next year and the year after when Oden should have been growing into his position and the team should have been making noise. Now those will be his years of acclimation instead of the beginning of his domination.

What kind of season were you expecting from Oden?

CH: I was expecting Oden to be shaky for the first 25 games, an NBA starting quality center for the next 30 games, and finally finishing the season a little worn out for the remaining 27 games. I was also expecting him to go down with some kind of injury for at least 8-10 games.

As far as numbers go, I thought Oden would average somewhere around 10 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.5 assists and 5 fouls per game in his rookie season.

BH: I thought he would make a noticeable impact, but maybe not in the ways the casual fan would notice. I did not expect him to be Rookie of the Year, because I didn't think he would put up the numbers that would grab the attention of a lot of voters, particularly next to what I figured Kevin Durant would do. I figured he would be prone to foul trouble (as many young big men playing a lot of minutes will be prone to do) while he figured out the pro game, and those lost minutes would keep his numbers down. I thought he could be in enough to have a double-digit scoring average and grab at least six to seven rebounds. But I figured his biggest impact would be felt in the areas that don't show up in a stat sheet. I expected that he would be the type of player that, no matter how young or inexperienced, could alter the flow of a game simply with his presence in the paint. I think he's the kind of guy that pushes the center of gravity in an opponent's offense away from the basket, making them work the ball on the perimeter more and use more ball reverses to get entry passes into the post rather than dribble or pass in directly as Portland's defenses have been prone in the last couple years.

I think he would have made LaMarcus Aldridge more effective because teams would be more reluctant to pull a man off Oden to double-team Aldridge. Those are the types of things that wouldn't be evident in a box score, but could make a big difference in the Blazers' season, and possibly get them the five or six extra wins that would separate them from being a playoff contender or a No. 6 pick in the draft.

RH: As I said before, I don't think I was expecting Oden to be as strong next year as most people did. His presence would have allowed Nate to do some interesting things defensively. But I felt Oden's high end was somewhere around 15 ppg, 8 or 9 rpg, and a couple blocks. Summer league doesn't say much, but I think Oden was sure to deal with enough foul trouble next year to limit the minutes he would end up playing. I also think he has a lot of development to go through on the offensive end, so getting 15 points on dunks, alley-oops, and garbage would have been tough to do consistently. Overall, I thought we'd see him struggle with the transition to the NBA and show flashes of what we can expect in the future. But to think he would have been the focus for the Blazers next year is going too far especially with Aldridge and Roy finding their strides in year 2.

M: Frankly, I was a bit concerned going into the season that McMillan might overuse him a little. Oden has played a grand total of, what, 30 games outside of high school? A few of us were secretly hoping that Oden wouldn't start right out of the gate so we could delay the inevitable rookie wall that's waiting in Oden's path. But statistically, 20-25 minutes, 8-10 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks is about the bar for his rookie season. I'm not expecting a ton on offense, but he'll change the complexity of the entire team on defense everybody knows this.

DD: His presence would have transformed the team defensively. That’s the biggest loss. When you have an intimidator in the middle everybody can play a little more confidently on defense, take more risks, and help out a little more. It doesn’t hurt if your guards are a little more porous. As long as your forwards channel people the right way you can live with them being a little slower of foot. Without the big guy in the middle protecting their backs you have to ask more questions about the defense of Roy, Jack, Blake, Outlaw, Frye, and company. With their speed and athleticism LaMarcus Aldridge and Oden would have made a scary tandem on the defensive end. The Portland paint would have been a dangerous place. Not so much with Aldridge and Frye. I was also expecting Oden to learn how to rebound in this league. I don’t think he would have provided much offensively in his first year that Aldridge cannot also provide.

With Oden out, who will be The Man for Portland? Roy, Aldridge...?

CH: It'll be both. Roy was already playing at a high level at the end of the '06-'07 season, and while he'll continue to improve, he's not going to sneak up on anybody. Aldridge, on the other hand, is going to turn some heads. With both Zach Randolph and out of the picture, Aldridge is going to be the key guy on both ends of the floor. If Channing Frye, Joel Przybilla and Raef LaFrentz can keep opposing teams honest enough to keep Aldridge
from drawing double teams, he could be a force inside and out. I think he's a shoe-in to win Most Improved this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if he lead the team in average points, rebounds, blocks and free throw
attempts.

BH: The funny thing about the Oden news is that people seem to have forgotten how good of a young tandem Roy and Aldridge were. They were both first-team All-Rookies, and I think each can do enough to keep the Blazers from taking a significant step backwards despite the trade of Randolph and loss of Oden. I think the argument can be made that each is "the man" for Portland, though for different reasons.

First, I don't think anybody would argue that this is Roy's team. He is the unquestioned leader in the locker room, and has been almost since the beginning of last season. Players were showing him an unusual amount of respect for a rookie way back in training camp. He's a difference maker and is extremely comfortable with the ball in his hands at the end of a game. I think he'll hit a lot of game-winning shots before his career is over. And the thing that people don't talk about enough with Brandon is the fact that he improved his numbers in each month of his rookie season, which is very unusual. Most rookies will level off. He kept getting better, and it'll be interesting to see how much he has improved in the offseason. So from a leadership and overall floor-general standpoint, I think you can say Roy is "the man."

But on the other hand, I think LaMarcus Aldridge could lead the Blazers in scoring and rebounding this year. He finished last season very strong (14.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in his final month) and was just about to get the chance to show what he could do as a full-time starting power forward what everyone agreed was his natural position when he had his heart ailment. Now that he'll be the starting power forward (though he'll play some center because of Oden's loss), I think Aldridge will eventually hold a 20-and-10 average if he can stay healthy. It may not happen this year without someone like Oden to take some pressure off him (the Blazers' efforts to improve their perimeter shooting will now be a key in that regard), but I think you'll at least see that potential. So from a pure production standpoint, you can say Aldridge is the man.

RH: Even if Oden had been healthy, my prediction has been (and continues to be) that Aldridge will lead this team in scoring and probably rebounding, and that Roy will be the do-it-all guy as the second scorer, end-game ballhandler and leader of the team. I also think Oden's injury will actually open the door for Travis Outlaw to play a bigger role. With Oden, Aldridge and Channing Frye, the Blazers center and power forward playing time would have been locked up. With Oden out, I think we'll see more of Outlaw playing the 4 next to Frye or Aldridge at the 5 a lineup Outlaw thrived in at the end of last season.

M: Brandon Roy is already The Man for Portland; and I'm not even sure Oden would have changed that this year. From the minute he came back from his foot problems last season, Brandon changed the team and took over. He's the floor leader, the offense runs through him, he organizes off-court team activities, he convinced everyone on the team to show up early this offseason and start working together it's his club. Aldridge may challenge him for high-scorer on the team, but Roy's personality has taken over Portland.

DD: Both of those will shoulder the burden, but then even with Oden in that was the plan offensively. Both are more than capable. The real question will be which third scorer will emerge (if any). Between Travis Outlaw, Martell Webster, Jarrett Jack, Sergio Rodriguez, and Steve Blake Portland has a ton of questions as the point and small forward positions. There will be room this year for somebody to snag those spots for the future.

Do you think the point guard of the future for the Blazers is inside the team now?

CH: Could be? Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake can get the job done if you have a team that simply needs a guy to distribute the ball and hit open shots. If the team is constructed in such a way that the point has to average in
upwards of 12 points a game, then I think you have to assume that the PG that's going to get the Blazers deep into the playoffs currently plays ball somewhere else.

Sergio Rodriguez could be the guy, but I don't know if he'll ever play the way that will allow him to stay on the floor with Nate McMillan walking the sidelines. If you don't lock-down on defense and play in control, then you're never going to see meaningful time playing for Mac-10. I get the feeling that the front office considers Sergio Rodriguez to be the point of the future, but I don't think McMillan is sold on that just yet.

BH: I'm not convinced it is. They have four options (five if you include Taurean Green, but he's too far down the depth chart to consider at this point), and there are things I like about each. But I can't say I look at any of them and think unequivocally, "Yes, that is a champion's point guard."

Steve Blake earned a lot of respect from me when he was with the Blazers two years ago. He's very solid, and will probably run the offense better than anyone else on the team this year. He is a solid perimeter shooter, plays intelligently and is a good defender. So I like a lot of things he does. My question is, how much better does he make a team? When you see great point guards run their teams Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Tony Parker the heartbeat of the offense changes when they leave the game. When they're in, things flows better, plays are executed more sharply, and they get their team over the top in key moments. I think I've seen Steve do that to a degree. I don't think there's any doubt that he made a difference for the Blazers two years ago (though it wasn't evident in the win column, obviously). And I think Denver ran better with Steve at the helm last year. Now, can he make the difference in a team getting to a championship level? That I'm still waiting to see.

I think Jarrett Jack has a higher ceiling than many people give him credit for because he can do several things. His perimeter shooting improved tremendously last season, he had a nice assists average (5.3 apg) for a player starting at point guard in only his second year, an assist-to-turnover average of better than 2-to-1, has a good physique for an NBA guard, and has shown that he can penetrate and score effectively. The questions with Jarrett come down to two things. First, can he run an up-tempo offense, like the one the Blazers are trying to develop? While Jarrett was solid last year, Nate McMillan questioned whether he would fit in an up-tempo system. He ran one at Georgia Tech and took that team to the Final Four, and has looked good at times on fast breaks. But he hasn't had many chances to run an up-tempo game in Portland, and certainly hasn't wowed anybody when they've gotten into fast-paced games. The other question is, can he consistently make good decisions? There were many examples last year of plays breaking down or the offense mucking up because of Jarrett's playmaking decisions, particularly during the middle of the season. And by the end of the year, McMillan was using Brandon Roy at point guard at the ends of tight games, letting him handle the ball even at times even when Jarrett was in the game. It said a lot about McMillan's confidence in Jarrett's decision making. Now, it was only his first year as a starting point and he should get better. I think if he can become a steady decision maker like Blake or Roy, when you consider the other things he can do, it could make Jack an elite-level point guard. But it's a big hump he needs to clear.

A lot of fans would like to see Sergio Rodriguez be the point guard of the future. But if that happens, I think it'll be at least a couple years away. Sergio has phenomenal court vision and an ability to see a play develop well before it starts. I remember a game in the preseason last year when he hit Joel Przybilla in the head with a pass because he saw the play develop so long before Joel, who wasn't even looking to receive the pass yet. Sometimes he'll make a move to the baseline and you'll wonder what the heck he's thinking, and in the next instant somebody is getting a dunk. So, those are reasons to get excited. But he's still really young, very thin and is a terrible defender. If he's going to be the point guard of the future, he's going to need to get stronger to compete against physical NBA guards, improve his defense on and off the ball and learn that he doesn't need to make a spectacular, show-stopping play every time he passes the ball.

The final option is Brandon Roy, who I think is still an option the Blazers are toying with rather than actively considering as their future full-time point guard. I like how they use Brandon at the point because of how he changes the look of the offense and gives the Blazers a true triple threat in that position. He's steady, has good court vision and always makes good decisions. But I like it best when the Blazers use him in that position in spot situations to throw a different look at an opponent, force mismatches and allow him to post up smaller point guards. I think it becomes a good disruption technique. I don't know if that could happen as much if he were a full-time point guard. Brandon will always see time at point guard, but I'm not convinced that it should be his permanent position.

RH: I'm totally at a loss on this one. There is a ton of potential, but I think its also clear that Pritchard has managed his contracts in a way to potentially address this situation in free agency in two years. I don't believe Steve Blake is the long-term solution as the starter. He's a good guy to have at the position now, while we develop so many other young players like Roy, Aldridge, Webster, Outlaw, Frye, (Oden), etc. Jarrett Jack reminds me so much of Chauncey Billups and Terry Porter he's 6'3" and solid, he can shoot, and has a great attitude to be a point guard (even if he does struggle with his confidence). He needs to develop as a floor general and as a guy who can lead the break. I think we'll see him play some 2 next year as well. As for Sergio Rodriguez, it's easy to see why so many Blazer fans love to dream on his potential. He's exciting as hell to watch, had a great assist-to-turnover ratio last year, and at just 21 has a bright future ahead of him. However, with a versatile 2-guard like Brandon Roy, the prototype Blazer point guard won't be required to handle the ball
at all times, and will need to be a solid shooter and good defender. These are the two primary areas that Sergio needs to work on. And don't forget Petteri Koponen, who doesn't turn 20 until next April and, by some accounts, would be a household name if he had been an American high school player playing his freshman year of college last year.

So, the Blazers have three good candidates for the job and no pressing need to answer the question in the short term. These guys have two years to win the job, or Pritchard will aggressively pursue Deron Williams or Chris Paul (Paul was the guy KP wanted to draft two years ago over Martell Webster).

M: That's a great question, and yes I do believe this. Here's why: Brandon Roy plays as much point as he does 2, even when Portland has a PG on the floor. If Portland does make a title run with this current crop of youngsters, I believe it'll be with Sergio Rodriguez playing point guard but make no mistake, the offense goes through Brandon.

DD: If anybody knew this definitively they’d be the next assistant GM. My guess is that both Rodriguez and Jack will have careers in this league. Before we know whether they fit the Blazers we have to know more about who the Blazers will become, which won’t really happen until next year now. With the apple cart upset in the middle this year we’ll probably see a lot more of Steve Blake’s steady hand than we otherwise might have. If one of those young guys really is the man of the future that future might be a couple years off yet.

What are Nate McMillan's strengths and flaws as a coach, in your opinion?

CH: You're not going to find a coach with more integrity than Nate McMillan, period. He isn't the least bit afraid to made the hard decision if his team isn't playing the right way.

I think McMillan will be considered the best coach in the NBA in five years. It'll help that he'll have some of the best players in the league at that time, but he'll be greatly integral to that maturation.

To me, McMillan's strengths and weaknesses are largely one in the same. He's a great defensive-minded coach, but the Blazers difficulty in scoring over the last few years would seem to indicate that he might want to devote
more time to the offensive side of the ball. He's one of the great taskmasters in the NBA coaching ranks, and that's what a young team needs, but it's a style that is going to turn off a lot of established players (though that might not always be a bad thing). He can't stand mistakes and that makes him quick with the hook, which some might view as detrimental to a team trying to cultivate young talent. I think that's especially true with his point guards. Having been a PG himself, Nate knows exactly the way he wants his guards to play, and if they waver from his strict regiment, they're on the bench.

What's important to remember about McMillan is that he's taking the long view with his team. A lot of people questioned his decision to leave Seattle, but I think he could see where each franchise was going and made
his choice accordingly. To me, it seems obvious that many of the decisions he makes as a coach go more toward laying the groundwork for a title contender in the future rather than a win in the here and now. It takes a
patient man to do such a thing.

BH: Some people may strongly disagree with me for saying this, but I don't think a fair assessment can be given at this point. I know it sounds like I'm dodging the question, so I'll explain.

We've seen a lot of things that are signs of coaching strengths. Young players, such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Jarrett Jack, have developed into starters early in their careers, which suggests McMillan is a good teacher of the game and develops talent well. I think it's safe to say the Blazers exceeded expectations last year, which can be partly attributed to McMillan's teaching and management of a very young team. And he's definitely a smart coach who understands the game well one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a beat writer is being able to talk hoops with him. I've learned a lot about the NBA game in those moments when we bounce hypothetical ideas around. But his knowledge of the game is, at times, intimidating. So I would say those are definitely strengths.

But his weaknesses? Well, at least in Portland I think it's difficult to assess because of what he's had to work with. Portland was a team with several undisciplined young stars when he arrived. The franchise was going through a major makeover. And his first two seasons were largely about evaluation, deciding which players to shed and which to build around, and teaching that young group to win while experiencing severe growing pains.

Along the way questions have been raised about some odd substitution and rotation patterns, which led to criticisms of his game management. For instance, Joel Przybilla started 43 games at center, but was rarely seen in the fourth quarter one example of the odd substitution patterns and inconsistent rotations. Sometimes key players would sit for long stretches sometimes the entire fourth quarter with little explanation. Those were areas that McMillan was consistently criticized for last year, and understandably so. But at the same time, I agreed when he said his rotations can't be forced, but that his players needed to dictate the rotation and their roles through their play. So what seemed like weak management, I felt, was balanced out with good reasoning that, in turn, showed good coaching. So I find it hard to give a fair assessment because of the circumstances. Some of his rotation shakeups have come in an effort to try new combinations, or to adjust to key injuries (Zach Randolph, Brandon Roy, Darius Miles and Joel Przybilla all missed a significant amount of time in his two seasons). Nate at times had to break the team down in terms of on and off-court discipline and build it back up. And he had to play a half-court oriented system while Zach Randolph was in Portland when he admittedly prefers the up-tempo game.

That's why I find it hard to fairly assess his overall coaching at this time. I don't think many of the things he's done in Portland offer the clearest picture of his strengths and weaknesses because it's hard to separate what decisions were made from his coaching philosophies and which where forced by a difficult situation. I think the clear picture will come in the next couple years now that Portland has its core firmly established and McMillan will be able to play his system with players that better fit his style of coaching.

RH: Mac-10 seems like the perfect guy to be managing all of these kids and teaching them how to be professional basketball players. With most of the disruptive players finally removed from the locker room (Darius Miles is the last remnant but is now irrelevant with Roy's ascent as team leader), Nate has willing students who he can impress his experience as a player on. I didn't like his hiring two years ago (I thought it was a trophy-hire for a team that needed to be blown up), but I think he's the right guy for this group.

Now, I do think he has weaknesses. Some criticize his lack of a consistent playing rotation, and while this concerns me I don't think it has hindered his teams here yet. He uses playing time as motivation to play his way, and with young players that will result in inconsistent rotations. I am also not sure he has the chops to implement an efficient offensive system that will help minimize the scoring lulls the Blazers experience. I've always thought Nate was a pressure-defense type of coach, and if the Blazers are going to develop as a top-flight team he'll need to develop the offense as successfully as the defense. Lastly, and this is a style thing only fans here want to see this team run. Nate has slowed the offense because of Zach the last two years. I think the personnel is in place to loosen the reins on the offense the question now is, will Nate do it?

M: Nate's initial goal when he took this team over two years ago was not about wins and losses for the first few seasons it was to change the culture and the attitude of the team. As corney as that sounds, it was 100 percent true. All of the "bad" characters on Portland's team have been jettisoned, and a new crop of leaders has emerged. Guys like Brandon, LaMarcus, Joel Pryzbilla, and hopefully eventually Greg Oden, are a much different breed of guy than Portland's stars of the past (Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, Zach Randolph, Damon Stoudamire, etc.) So in that respect, Nate's done a fantastic job changing the culture of this team and GM Kevin Pritchard deserves credit for this as well.

As far as on-court, Nate has emphasized defense heavily, and it's tough to say how much success he's had. The team appears to be playing very hard for Nate but the statistics don't necessarily reflect that the team has made much progress; though the talent simply hasn't been there. But my only real complaint with Nate is that last season, Portland has several question marks on the roster in terms of what kind of players they had and Nate didn't get a few of those questions answered. For example, guys like Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw ... are they core pieces for the future, or assets to unload before they're exposed as busts? Or, can anyone really answer who our PG of the future are? There are a few areas that a little more playing time structure could have answered that we didn't find out the answers to.

DD: Having talked face-to-face with him, my opinion is that I’m smart enough to begin this answer saying I’m not qualified to judge him. That said, he’ll install discipline and make sure all of these young players know the right way to do things. He’s fairly clear in his expectations and he’s not afraid to pull you if you’re not following, no matter who you are. He will be an amazing example of how to conduct yourself on and off the floor for the young guys. Also he won’t hang his head for a second because of the Oden setback. Both he and the team will come out and fight even harder now. With those strengths probably comes the flaw of being a little slower to change and adapt. But really, who has he had on this team since he’s been here to change for? Are you going to let Zach Randolph or Sebastian Telfair change your approach to the game? The same can be said when people complain about substitutions or game strategies. The team has been downright bad for a few years now. You can’t execute a multi-pronged war plan with chewing gum and a pop gun. I think we’ll find out more about Nate in the next three or four years than we’ve seen in his whole career prior to this. The judgments will be more accurate then.

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