Monday, July 30, 2007

Back from the abyss

I'm blogging from Bend again, since I stopped here to see my friend Mindy on my way to Roseburg. I just got off the phone with U-Haul trying to figure out my move down to California. Compton is covering the cost for my truck with a purchase order, which is good for me since I don't have enough money to do it myself. But that means I have to make sure things will work out with the timing of getting the paperwork through and picking the truck up and beginning the long trek southbound on I-5. All of the stress I'm going through right now as I figure this stuff out is a relief after being in Arlington with my family for a month. I was so happy to leave this morning, and although I'll miss my brother, my excitement level is really high. That level could be related to my imminent move south, but I think it has a lot to do with getting a break from my family too. So that's what is going on right now.

What else is going on right now is the Kevin Garnett to Boston trade. If it really happens then things are going crazy. As much as I think Minnesota will be even worse next year without Garnett, it would be a great move to continue the rebuilding process they started with Foye last year and continued in earnest with Corey Brewer in the draft this year. Foye, Brewer, and Jefferson will be three young guys who can grow together in the next few years. Sure, the Wolves would still have some work to do, but this is a step in the right direction, and with two first round picks coming over in the deal they can continue the process in the next two drafts. This would make the third incredibly young--but potentially talented--team in the Northwest division. What an interesting group of teams to watch with Portland, Seattle, Minnesota, and then Utah and Denver. I mean, this is supposed to be the weak division in the west. (I know it still is, but in a couple of years I don't think it will be.)

Also, I'm still holding out slight hope that Ime Udoka won't get a big enough offer from any other teams so that he and his agent come back to Portland and admit their mistake and ask if they can re-sign. At that point, we'd be getting him for the rest of the Mid-Level exception, or we'd be using the full Bi-Annual exception. We would then have 16 guaranteed contracts, which would most likely mean we'd cut Taurean Green and he'd get paid by us to play for someone else this year. Bringing Udoka back would definitely address one of the biggest issues being discussed right now: the lack of depth at shooting guard. It would also do a lot for the attitude of the team, I think. Just one more tough-minded hard-working player who does a great job on defense. I know it's just wishful thinking, but I've been thinking it none the less.

I know that I haven't actually mentioned Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on here yet. If you haven't read the book, this could be some kind of spoiler, so don't read any more.

Seriously, if you care at all about little things, then don't read the next part. I'll make it a block within the text so you can just look past it.
I really enjoyed the finale in the Harry Potter series. I thought the way things tied together with Snape was fantastic. He was one of my favorite characters throughout the story. When I say "story" I mean the whole story encompassed by all seven books. I wasn't smart enough to see the Lily Potter love interest coming, but it made a ton of sense because of how much animosity he had for James Potter and his friends. It was also comforting to know that Dumbledore really did know what he was doing. The other things I learned about Dumbledore in this book actually made me appreciate his character more, too, because it was good to see the depth to his character and the complexity that was behind everything we read in the first six books. I wouldn't say that either of these developments were huge surprises, but thy were a bit unexpected. That can't be said about my other favorite development, which was Neville really growing into the hero I hoped he would be. After the sixth book I thought Neville might end up saving the day in the end. It wasn't quite that dramatic, but he was a huge player in the final battle, and I really appreciated that.

My friend Jacob summed up the one problem I had with the book when he said this. Since I can't remember it verbatim I'll paraphrase: it would have been good to put the book down before the epilogue and after the final chapter to just enjoy how the story ended.

I agree with that. The epilogue was pretty schmaltzy. It felt like Rowling was trying to make people happy by having Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny end up as a big group of adults sending their kids off to Hogwarts. Ugh. The names of the kids were pretty ridiculous as well, although I got goosebumps when I read the full name of Harry's second son. I won't write it here, just in case anyone who cares did read this far, but it ties to other parts of the book that I thought were fantastic.

This is the second book I've bought and read this summer, the first being The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. I'll try to write a little about that one later this week.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Another car-post

The post right under this makes me proud for several reasons:
  1. I wrote that entire post while riding in the car on the way to Portland yesterday afternoon. (Actually, you might notice a few things missing, since I didn’t have access to the internet when I wrote it to check a few names and facts about which I was a little unsure. I’ll fix those when I have real access again.)

  2. I wrote it in pages, and then I posted it while sitting at a gas station filling up our car on the way to a family reunion. Yeah, I found a wireless connection, got online, and posted in about five minutes.

  3. Because I wrote it in pages and then transferred it over, all the html codes I used--not that there were too many, but still--were correct and worked well. This is most evident in my use of lists. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of myself.

Since I wrote that post I read an article in the Oregonian by Jason Quick confirming that Blake has in fact signed with Portland. The deal is for three years, with a team option to terminate the contract after the second year. It is reportedly for about $12 million over the course of the contract. If this is true, and if it gets higher as the deal goes on, that means we have a little over $2 million of the mid-level exception still to re-sign Ime Udoka if he wants to be back. I’m still holding out hope, but we’ll see.

Since reading that article this morning I’ve been thinking more about what Blake can do for this team and what types of things he’ll get to do on this team. In doing so, I couldn’t help but compare him to another point guard who has thrived playing in an up-tempo offense with a bunch of great athletes. I know that comparing Blake to Steve Nash is a stretch, but it’s what my delusional fan mind does. Blake is a better defender than Nash is now, and he is probably a worse free throw shooter than Nash has ever been. Other than that, though, when we look at what Nash did in his first four years and what Blake has done, I think the comparison might be okay. I still don’t think that Nash is one of the greatest point guards ever. I think he is a great floor general who was put in a perfect situation. When he came into the league most scouts thought that he wasn’t fast enough or athletic enough to be a solid NBA player, and that his shot wasn’t good enough. Blake is a better shooter than Nash was at this point in his career, and has already shown himself to do the other things well (as I mentioned in the earlier post). As much as I think Sergio Rodriguez could be a great PG in the future, Steve Blake is actually pretty young still and could turn out to be better than Rodriguez. I don’t expect that Steve Blake will be a two-time MVP. Then again, I don’t think Nash should have won it either of those two years. But I do think that he could end up leading a team the way Nash has led the Suns. Of course, I think that in the end Portland will show themselves to have a more balanced team with a better core of players. Also, San Antonio should eventually lose some of their dominance and Portland should be more like them in their ability to play several different styles instead of just the run-you-to-death Suns style.

I really do expect the Blazers to make another move in the next few days or weeks to move one of their point guards. The move I’d most like to see? Jarrett Jack to shooting guard. He showed last year that he’s a pretty good combo guard, and right now Portland is lacking a little depth at the two. I don’t think he would be really excited about this, but I wonder if he would rather stay part of this team and it’s huge promise by being a back-up for a year before becoming a free agent next summer. Otherwise he should be traded somewhere so he can be an important part of their point guard rotation. If they are unable to sign either of their free agent point guards I see Milwaukee as a good landing point for Jack. I think Atlanta would still be a decent spot for him. Otherwise I’m not too sure. I don’t know what I’d want Portland to get in either of those deals. I think they could do a non-simultaneous trade with Milwaukee that creates another trade exception, or they might be able to trade him to Atlanta for someone like Josh Childress Salim Stoudamire. I don’t remember what Stoudamire’s contract looks like, and can’t check since once again I’m writing this from a car. I don’t think Atlanta has the cap space to create the trade exception like we could with Milwaukee, but I could be wrong. If that’s true, that might make more sense because then it would clear the roster spot to re-sign both Outlaw and Udoka.

Alright, time to put my computer away and just enjoy the rest of my car ride. Writing posts for my blog is one of the best ways I’ve found to make rides go by faster, and that’s pretty fantastic.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Steve Blake is back

Well, Kevin Pritchard made a move I expected but didn’t want: he signed Steve Blake to a new deal. It isn’t official yet, and Pritchard wouldn’t comment on it, but I think it’s basically done. It sounds like the deal will be for two years with a team option on the third. That is the perfect length considering the personnel, roster, and financial considerations we should be taking into account. Everything I’ve read--which hasn’t been too much yet--makes it sound like this deal was for less than the full mid-level exception, which is about the right price, too. I like what Blake brings back to Portland for several reasons.
  1. Even though Blake has only been in the league four years (he was drafted out of Maryland by Washington in 2003), his time in college and the pros have shown him to be a serviceable starting point guard who provides leadership and consistency. This is a step up from even the best option the Blazers already had at the point, Jarrett Jack.

  2. One of the biggest needs for the Blazers next year will be consistent outside shooting, which is another skill Blake has shown he has. With Roy committing his offseason to improving his own outside shooting--a part of his game many said was weak coming into last season which he improved as the games went on--and the addition of a solid three-point shooting point guard, the Aldridge-Oden focused offense should be even better.

  3. It sounds like Ime Udoka will not be back with Portland next year because he might sign somewhere else. It also sounds like Joel Przybilla could be traded in a deal for Hedo Terkoglu (something I might talk about soon). If both of these guys are gone, Portland will really need one more guy at least to bring some intensity and grit to the team. I think Blake does that.

  4. There is also talk amongst some Blazer experts (i.e. Jason Quick, Henry Abbot, Dave Deckard, and Casey Holdahl) that Pritchard has been hoping to make Portland into more of a running team than it has been. He and McMillan have “butted heads” about this a little bit, which just means that Nate is unwilling to play a style that he doesn’t think his players can play well. He has said he would love to run, but that he won’t do it until the pieces fit. All the other guys that Portland brought in fit that style. As much as I like Jarrett Jack, which is a lot, he doesn’t run the break very well. Steve Blake does run the break very well. He’s also proven, for a short period of time, that he can play well on a team when he isn’t expected to get his own shot much. On this Blazers team he’ll only be getting his own shot on a few pick and rolls or pick and pops or when it gets kicked out to him from one of the big two down low.

  5. This might give Sergio a little more confidence in his place on this team, since it signals that we really do view him as the PG of the future for this team, with Blake being the stop-gap who will help Oden and Aldridge develop while working with Rodriguez in practice to help him develop his NBA chops.

As I’ve said before, I really do trust what Kevin Pritchard does with this team. I still would like to re-sign Udoka, would love to keep Jarrett Jack, and want to continue with the core that was in place before we made our great draft-day additions. But the moves he has made and has been rumored to be making still fit the timeline and address our needs as we try to build a dominant force in this league. Even with this deal we will be about 20 million under the cap for 2009 free agency. I took a look at who might be available then, and there are quite a few big name possibilities. There are plenty of small forwards in that group--right now, I know that they could be taken care of before then--who could be that “closer” Pritchard has talked about. At the same time, by then we should be really confident about how good these players are and are going to be, including the first three guys who we already think are going to be great pros:
  1. Greg Oden

  2. LaMarcus Aldridge

  3. Brandon Roy

  4. Channing Frye

  5. Travis Outlaw

  6. Martell Webseter

  7. Sergio Rodriguez

  8. James Jones

  9. Taurean Green

In addition to them, we should have a good idea--maybe even closer to the confidence about those first guys with a few of them--about how good these players are and are going to be:
  1. Rudy Fernández

  2. Josh McRoberts

  3. Joel Freeland

That only leaves a few guys from the team right now: Joel Przybilla (if he stays), Jarrett Jack (if he stays), Raef LaFrentz, Darius Miles, Petteri Koponen, Steve Blake (if he really is a Blazer again), and Hedo Terkoglu (if the rumors turn out to be true). Of those guys, we basically know what we’re getting from Przybilla, LaFrentz, Blake, and Terkoglu. Each of those guys brings a veteran presence and a defined set of skills that help him fill a role. Petteri Koponen is probably in the second group of players I listed above, but we might not be that sure even then of what his capabilities are. I think we’ll have a good idea, but not as good an idea as we will about those other three guys. Darius Miles is too much of an enigma to categorize. He could be retired by then, he could make a miraculous comeback and be the “closer” Pritchard was talking about, or he could just stay in this weird purgatory in which he’s lived since he first had his blow-out with Mo Cheeks. I would love to see the miraculous comeback, but I think that’s highly unlikely. I can only think of three of those guys who will be locked up for sure past that free agent period in 2009, and those guys are at the top of my first list.

All this is just to put one more reminder out there about how well the Blazers are building a contender. There is certainly a possibility that it won’t work out, but all signs point the other way. Even though I’ll be said if we trade Jack, I like Blake and trust Pritchard to continue making the right moves toward the long-term goal.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Some loose ends

Last night I was going to watch the Blazers summer league opener on, but the friends with whom I was staying took us out to miniature golf instead. I did catch Oden's monster dunk in the second quarter, and I saw enough of him and Aldridge together to get pretty excited. I know that Oden didn't play that well, but I'm not terribly worried about it. It's disappointing to lose, since our team seems like it should be so superior to all of the other teams from a talent perspective, but oh well. Most teams have all their first and second year players on the roster, and we left off our best guy. I have very little doubt that with Brandon Roy out there we would have been steadier and taken care of business against the Celtics much better. Hopefully Martell Webster and Sergio Rodriguez start performing a lot better, but we'll see.

I also read that Ime Udoka was there, since he'll be talking to other teams as a free agent. I think he's actually pretty important for the Blazers to keep, and because of the intangibles he brings to the team is worth over-paying a little. Granted, over-paying for him wouldn't be that high, but the toughness, the work ethic, and the poise he brings to a young team is vital to our development.

In case anyone is having trouble watching the webcasts of summer league games--if you want to, that is--let me know and I'll help you out.

I don't write about the Oregon Ducks very much, but this story was on today. It's about the Ducks' starting quarterback, Dennis Dixon, and his decision to play for the Braves lowest affiliate this summer instead of working out with the team in Eugene. As a Braves fan I have a little anticipation of the sort of things he could bring to the team eventually, since he's a really great athlete. He's fast, has a huge arm, and shows a knack for making spectacularly athletic plays. But as a Duck fan I'm a little concerned, since he was my choice to be the starting QB again this year. Even though I like him to start, he had a lot of things he needed to work on after last year. Hopefully that works out for both of my teams. We'll see.

I am in Bend right now, having stayed with some friends last night. I came over yesterday to hang out with Gregg Guerin, a really great guy--to quote David Yates, I'm sure--and friend of mine from Wheaton. He was in town visiting his girlfriend, which is a little weird. I had a really late breakfast with them around one o'clock at a great restaurant in Bend, and then we hung out for a few more hours. It was really fun to see Gregg, and quite enjoyable to tell his girlfriend stories from our time at Wheaton before the two of them met. It was also fantastic to get a chance to talk just a little bit about the Knicks and Blazers and the Mets and Braves, since Gregg is from Long Island. I told him my great idea--which is being put out here for the first time--to do some round table NBA discussions with a few representative fans of some of the up-and-coming teams in the league. I know the Knicks aren't really in that group, but Gregg would be a good addition anyway. He would represent the Knicks, my friend Ek would represent the pre-2007 draft sexiest team in the league Bulls, my friend J-Lew would represent the starting-five-forwards Atlanta hawks, and I would represent the post-2007 draft sexiest team in the league Blazers. I would love to find a way to use iChat or something like that to do a sort of around-the-horn video blog, using Final Cut to edit and put our conversation into one video, but I'm not sure if it's possible from each individual's computer capabilities, let alone my software abilities. It's something I want to look into, and since J-Lew and Ek are two of my few readers, I'm sure this will at least bring about a response as to what they think.
The last thing to mention is that my mom called me last night from Arlington, where they just moved, to tell me that there was a big fire. They were preparing, but hadn't had to go yet. As of this morning it sounded like things were more under control, but it made me think about just staying in Bend for another day so I wouldn't have to deal with a big fire.