Monday, January 31, 2005

Blazer Roster Movement

Back on January 10, I was pretty happy to see the team sign James Thomas to a 10-day contract. Granted, it's hard to get too happy over a 12th man, but Thomas was the last guy cut during the roster cuts before the season. He was all over the court, played very physical, and swallowed up rebounds like Oprah at a buffet table. The best comparison I can think of would be Seattle's Reggie Evans. That contract was followed up by another 10-day contract, which was the third 10-day contract that Portland had signed him to this season -- which means that at its conclusion they had to either cut him again or sign him for the remainder of the year. The team opted to release James, and he's now back with the Roanoke Dazzle of the NBDL. Thomas played in nine games, starting twice and averaging just under 3 points and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes-per-game. His career eclipse was a 15-rebound performance against Cleveand two weeks ago. Good luck, James.

Reader Email

One of our readers, Andrew, sent in the following email:

This season is a wash for the Blazers. Although it may happen, firing Cheeks probably isn't the answer unless you can convince Phil Jackson to return to thebench. Probably not going to happen. I support thejob that GM John Nash has done. True, he hasn't mademany spectacular moves, but he has been admirably patient despite the circumstances.

What do you think? Personally, I think Nash has dropped the ball in not making some kind of move in dealing Shareef and allowing Anderson to stick around this long as the team's starting two-guard. At the time, I liked the Rasheed - Shareef/Ratliff deal, and until we find out what Shareef lands us, it's too early to make a final decision. I also think you've got to give Nash at least until this year's trading deadline.
The question is, whatnow? Cheeks has clearly lost the respect of his team. The Miles incident is merely the latest in a longstring of incidents that point to Cheeks losing control . So, do you fire Cheeks now? What sort of message does that send to the players? I think it's obvious that a trade has to happen soonerrather than later. Fortunately we are quicklyapproaching the trade deadline and Nash does not havemuch more time to be patient. Damonand NVE have been playing well of late and their contracts are attractive. One or both of them need togo for a solid (decent, even) 2 guard and backup powerforward. The bottom line is, Portland needs to forget aboutbuilding this team on the fly and seriously start there-building process.

Interesting thoughts from Andrew. Has Cheeks lost the respect of this team? Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that we aren't of the highest opinion of Mo -- but to say he's lost the team implies two things: 1. That he ever had them (debatable given the cast of characters that have come in and out since his arrival), and 2. That most of the current team doesn't respect him. I'm not sure that #2 is true. Regardless, one thing we can all agree on is that something with this team needs to change. Including the "big win" over the clips, the team has now lost 13 of its last 17, can't shoot the ball, and looks awful at times on offense. Considering the trade assets that the club has got to work with (Shareef, Damon, and Nick VE to name a few), I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be able to address some of these needs very quickly.

Blazers knock off Clippers

Portland won a basketball game. That's good to see, especially since its second-best player was suspended for the game (and now apparently doesn't care if Portland loses 20 games in a row according to a quote Friday). The Blazers did a nice job in the second-half, overcoming a 26-and-13 performance from Elton Brand and turning a 12-point third quarter deficit into a win. The Clips did their best Blazer impression, launching wide-open jumpshots that repeatedly bricked for most of the second half.

Stoudamire led the team with 22 points and 6 assists, Joel Pryzbilla turned in another very solid all around performance (10 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks in 28 minutes), and Ruben Patterson filled up the box score with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. In one nice side note, our man Sebastian Telfair played 14 minutes and had 2 assists and 11 points. He shot 5 of 8 and made his only three pointer. He's been doing a nice job lately of putting the "he can't shoot" knock to rest.

Darius Miles will sit one more game and then return from his suspension.

More thoughts on Portland later today...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Miles screams at Cheeks

Hey! Some more fantastic news out of Blazerland. Apparently, Darius Miles "belittled" coach Cheeks in practice, going on a tirade and using racial slurs. I'm sure this one will be good for a game or two suspension for D-Miles. We've all seen how well the team plays when Darius and Zach aren't in the lineup, which is piss-poor. With Zach not all the way back yet and Darius just having come back from injury, this was a stupid thing for Miles to do.

Sidenote: Not that I can really blame him; I know that I've gone on many a tirade against Mo Mo the Clown while sitting on my couch at home. But you can't treat your coach that way.

UPDATE: Portland has announced that they've suspended Darius Miles two games, for "conduct detrimental to the team and insubordination".

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Qyntel Woods Update

It's official -- the Miami Heat have signed Qyntel Woods. I think it's a nice pickup for a team with very little bench. It's too bad Portland had backed themselves into a corner with their own hypocrisy with that issue. Qyntel won't ever be an all-star, but he's got the talent to play in the NBA.

Another Night, Another Loss

I have three things to say about the Mavericks' dismantling of Portland last night.

1. Damon Stoudamire: 44 minutes. Nick Van Exel: 40 minutes. Sebastian Telfair: 4 minutes.

2. Portland is now nine games under .500 for the second time this season. When was the last time that happened once in a season?

3. The Blazers are now 2-11 in its last 13 games. That's the worst in the NBA, for those of you who are counting.

The team shot 40% for the game, and 31% from three. How many more of these brick-fests are we going to have to watch until the team acquires a legitimate 2-guard?

Last night's starting lineup:

PG - Stoudamire
SG - Van Exel
SF - Ruben Patterson
PF - Theo Ratliff
C - Joel Pryzbilla

Where's the passing? No wonder the team only had 23 assists for the game. That's ugly.

Mid-Season Grades

I've never been a fan of using injuries as an excuse for a team's poor performance.

I do, however, believe in holding coaches responsible for their faults. As a matter of fact, that's a pretty good place to start.

Coaching: D+

I grade coach Cheeks with this caveat: that he's got power of who to put on the court. That may seem like an obvious element, but there are rumors that the front office is telling Maurice who to play and who to start -- largely because they want to showcase certain players such as Damon, Nick VE, and Shareef to up their trade value.

Given that this team probably isn't winning a championship anyways, is that necessarily a bad strategy? In and of itself, no. However, when it comes at the expense of developing young players (such as Sebastian Telfair and Travis Outlaw), then I believe it's a mistake.

My main issues with Mo Mo the Clown are this: 1. He doesn't play Telfair enough. 2. He plays Derek Anderson far too much. 3. It took him 30 games to realize that Ruben Patterson and Darius Miles should be starting over DA and Shareef.

Say what you will ... I don't believe that this team would be a title contender with another coach; however, I don't think Mo is the man for the job.

Point Guard: C-

Nick Van Exel and Damon Stoudamire have been exactly what we thought they would be this year: streaky shooters who don't distribute as well as a point guard should. Between the two of them, they positively affect about one out of every three or four games with some hot shooting and otherwise don't provide much. Both average less than 6 assists per game, both are defensive liabilities, and both are in the final year of their contract. Stoudamire has played better of late, but still is not the long-term solution that the Blazers need. Portland's best point guard is Sebastian Telfair; I'd give him a B+ based on his limited minutes so far this year; it's a real shame he isn't getting more PT.

Shooting Guard: D

Derek Anderson is awful. He's arguably the worst starting 2 in the league considering his contract (if you can think of a worse one, email me and I'll be happy to post other ideas.) Ruben Patterson brings rebounding, defense and hustle off of the bench but he's not a long-term solution, is out of position, and much like the rest of the team, can't shoot.

Small Forward: B

Darius Miles is a fantastic player, and I believe he'll be an all-star within 2 years. He's not at that level yet, but still probably the second-best player on the team. D-Miles is underrated defensively, great in the open court and in transition, and can get to the rim. He's been hurt and missed almost half the season due to injuries, which he's just now making his way back from. I believe he's one of the players on the team who would severely benefit from playing more with Telfair.

Power Forward: B+

Zach Randolph gets a lot of the attention on this team, both negatively and positively. He is one of five players in the NBA to average 20 and 10. He's been roasted lately for being selfish, acquiring the nickname "Stat-Bo". Yes, he could learn to pass out of double teams more frequently -- but I think we all know what the result of that would likely be: a missed jumper. He's one of the team leaders in points-per-shot and continues to produce at a very young age.

Center: C+

Theo Ratliff has been a big disappointment this year. He's been hurt, dragged down by nagging injuries, and clearly the effect can be seen on defense. His blocks-per-game are slightly more than half of what they were last year; and averaging about 3 fewer rebounds per game. Joel Pryzbilla on the other hand, who is now starting, has been playing wonderful basketball as of late, averaging 12.4 points and 12.8 rebounds over the past two weeks. Whether that's an aberration or whether he's coming into his own as a legitimate center remains to be seen, but it's a very good sign.

Bench: C

It seems that every starter aside from Zach Randolph has come off the bench at some point, so this is a tough position to grade. Let's assume that the team's starting 5 are Damon, DA, Miles, Zach, and Ratliff. That means we'll assume the "bench" is Shareef, Ruben, Van Exel, Pryzbilla, Outlaw, and Telfair. Shareef is a starter trapped behind Z-bo, so he's going to be much better than your average forward coming off the bench. He's quietly been very effective this season, averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds in about 35 minutes per game. Unfortunately, he's injured, and will likely stay injured until right around trading deadline time. Ruben has been his typical self, coming off the bench to make a few plays, add a defensive spark, and for the most part looking lost on offense. Van Exel and Pryzbilla we've already covered, so let's talk about the hot topic: Telfair and Outlaw should be getting more playing time. Now, I'm willing to accept that for now the team needs to showcase it's possible trade bait. However, if after the trading deadline we're still seeing both young players (each has shown very positive signs in their own limited PT) rack up the "DNP - Coach's Decision", I think we've got a legitimate reason to gripe.

Overall, it's been a very disappointing year for the TrailBlazers. They're playing at a .390 winning %, are six games behind a playoff spot and reside among the bottom of the Western Conference. They don't appear to have given us any reason to think they can make a playoff run.

I do think, however, that all is not lost. Between Zbo, Darius Miles, and Sebastian Telfair, they've got a potentially-fabulous young threesome to build around. If they can either make a big deadline deal for a two-guard and have Theo get healthy, this is a team that could be very exciting to watch next year. They will have a very nice draft pick -- likely in the top 7 -- and some genuine assets. Don't give up hope yet, Blazer fans -- just have a little patience.

Thoughts on my grades? E-mail me and I'll post some of the better critiques.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Halfway Point ...

16-24. 12th place in the conference, 6 games behind a playoff spot. That's what the season has boiled down to so far. Forgetting last night's win, this season has been a failure.

Although I suppose that's subjective based on your opinion. There are two schools of thought regarding Portland right now ... with one of them being, "this team wasn't going to win it all anyways -- might as well not make the playoffs and get a better draft pick anyways." The second school of thought is more along the lines of "you should always do everything you can to win every game, so don't settle for not making the playoffs."

If you're a part of the first school of thought, you are probably thinking that where Portland stands now may end up doing itself some good, for several reasons. 1. If the season ended today, Portland would have the 8th pick in the draft. Given their glaring need for a shooting guard, that may put them in a position to grab an impact player. 2. The team is spiraling downward into the toilet faster than you can say "Zach Randolph's bruised knee". Perhaps this will force Nash to make a move? It's clear that something needs to be done.

I would counter with this argument, however. Suppose for a minute the front office had resigned itself to this being a lost season, without a chance for the playoffs. Looking towards the future, you've got a very nice young nucleus of Zach Randolph, Darius Miles, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and the #8 pick to build around. So then I would ask, why in the name of God is Sebastian Telfair not getting more playing time? Damon Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel are both free agents after this coming season, leaving Telfair as the only point guard on the team. Assuming neither return, Portland will undoubtedly sign a veteran presence this coming offseason to take the pressure off of Sebastian. As well as the offense has flowed with Telfair in the game, you can't expect a player -- especially one out of high school -- to go from playing 7 minutes per game to full-time starter duty. So you've got to know what kind of minutes this kid will be able to handle.

Something for you blazer fans to ponder today. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the team and grade out the first half of the season, position-by-position.