Rip City Mystery

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A week of training camp is hardly enough time to form any lasting impressions about most teams in the NBA, let alone one with as many question marks surrounding it as the Portland Trail Blazers.

Is Greg Oden ready? Will he ever be?

“I wish I could honestly say there’s a timeline, but there’s not,” Oden said at media day. “There’s good days and bad days.”

What’s up with Rudy Fernandez? Why hasn’t he been traded already?

“I prefer the style of European competition,” he said. “I feel better in Europe.”

The Trail Blazers have already announced that Oden won’t be ready for opening night. And Fernandez has made clear his desire to be free of Portland, the NBA and the Trail Blazers, in at least two different languages.

This isn’t exactly the kind of stuff that inspires confidence during the opening stages of the marathon that is the NBA season. Hearing this sort of talk from and about two players that could prove crucial to the Trail Blazers’ postseason fate is what makes this team arguably the league’s biggest mystery heading into the regular season.

On paper, you’ve got to love this team. At their best, they’re capable of manhandling any team in the league. But the reality is their margin for error (due to injury or any other drama) is paper-thin, like several other teams not named the Lakers in the Western Conference this season.

Granted, Paul Allen‘s crew has already endured enough pain and suffering to last four or five years. Surely, you remember last season’s injury parade that claimed everyone from Oden and Joel Pryzbilla to coach Nate McMillan and All-Star Brandon Roy, at one time or another.

But there’s so much to like about this team, provided they stay healthy long enough to show off just how deep and talented they really are — they won 50 games in spite of all the tumult of last season.

Start with the Roy-Andre Miller backcourt and their improving relationship. They are as dangerous as any combo in the Western Conference, and the league for that matter, this season. And Marcus Camby is sure to deliver his usual double-digit rebounds and two or three blocks a night. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the league’s most productive power forwards. Nicolas Batum was an instant fave here at the hideout for his quality work on both ends of the floor and McMillan is easily one of the league top 10 coaches. There’s fresh new blood in the form of the fearless Wesley Matthews, the prize of the Trail Blazers’ relatively quiet summer, and rookies Luke Babbit and Elliot Williams.

In fact, it was Matthews that served as the true show stopper during the team’s first public showing before the Rip City faithful Friday night, per Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:

The Blazers’ prized offseason acquisition, best known for his in-your-face defense, scored a game-high 17 points and earned MVP honors before 11,525 at the Rose Garden during the team’s annual Fan Fest, a free scrimmage that offers fans a sneak peek at the team.

“When you’re looked at as a defender, of course your offense is going to be overlooked,” Matthews said. “I’m just going out there and taking the shots they’re giving me. I worked hard in the offseason to fine-tune my offense and I was able to showcase it a little bit tonight.”

Friday’s event was mostly about putting on a show for the fans, so it’s hard to put too much stock into an individual performance that came in a split-squad scrimmage. But, even so, it was hard to over look the newest Blazer.

Matthews scored his first bucket early in the first quarter, when he swished a tough baseline jumper over Brandon Roy, and that was but a taste of things to come. Matthews would go on to sink his first three field goals and make three three-pointers in the first half. By the time his night was over, Matthews had made 7 of 11 field goals, including 3 of 4 three-pointers.

Most of his damage came from the outside, but Matthews also mixed in some crowd-pleasing dunks, including a fast-break alley-oop of a lob pass from Jerryd Bayless. Matthews’ performance seemed to catch the crowd off guard — and perhaps even some of his teammates. After he hit his third three of the first half over Roy, the Blazers’ All-Star headed down the court shaking his head and laughing.

“I hope he didn’t leave it out there,” said coach Nate McMillan, laughing, after the game. “He’s been playing that way in training camp. You didn’t see a lot of that in Utah and it may be the style of play. But he’s been doing that. He’s been handling the ball, he’s been running the breaks. He does a good job of moving without the ball and he’s knocking down his shot. I want him to be aggressive.”

It’s probably foolish to assume Matthews, and not an inspired and healthy Oden, will make the difference in Portland this season. But with a team shrouded in as much mystery as these Trail Blazers are, at least to those of us watching from a distance, it’s hard to know what to go on here.

After slotting them far too low, according to so many, in our mid-summer rankings (hey, we’re thick-headed around here but we do listen) we have seen the light.

Surely, the Trail Blazers belong among the West’s top five teams. Now all they have to do solve a couple of these mysteries before the start of the regular season and everybody will get on board.

***

37 Comments

  1. daSixer says:

    Im afraid Oden will end up as Olowokandi or Okafor. Even if he is in his best health (let’s assume that) he is far too bad offensively and far too dependent on good PG. Something like Tyson Chandler. Too bad, I really like this Blazers team, but again they’re an upper-mid level of the NBA.

  2. mwj says:

    Has anybody noticed how portland has quietly ushered kevin prichard out the back door , after seeing how DURANT has been making a name for himself and the thunder, I wonder how Nate Mcmillan felt watching DURANT this summer , if portland would have chosen durant they would been unstoppable , NO KNOCK ON GREG , quiet there,s an under current of pain in portland that,s not being discussed , lets talk about it .

    • Az says:

      I would love to know whats so funny, about being a top 10 coach. Who would you have top 10? He pulled the team together to get 6th in the west, after loosing both his centers, along with a ton of games to injuries.. do you really, in your tiny little brain think most of the other coaches could do that? I bet you would nominate coaches from teams like Miami, or Boston, or Orlando.. why? because they win more games? With their rosters, they are expected to do so.

  3. elpizzysofresh says:

    I love the Blazers tho, LOVE them, but seriously

  4. elpizzysofresh says:

    McMillan a top 10 coach? hahah…ahahaha…AHAHAHAHAH, let me take a breath, ahahahahahAHAHA

    whew, I didn’t know this blog was so funny!

  5. six6heat says:

    Oden will never be more than a servicible 7 footer. That’s not a bad thing, it will keep him in the league for another 5-7 years coming off the bench providing size in this guard driven league. Portland is going to be going through nightmares for the next 10 years seeing the 3rd best player now, and in the next 2 years becoming the best player in the game Mr. Durant…aka..too skinny to play in the league was the knock on him coming out of Texas. It looks like it don’t takes muscle to put the ball in the hole and a city on your back.

  6. Jesus Cries says:

    Portland blazers is a good team.
    I like Roy,Albridge,Fernandez,Oden…..
    Go Blazers,I know they can do it.

  7. dee says:

    like oden but clearly durant is looking like he should b number 1. oden if health can b a difference maker to the tune of possibly challenging the lake show for the west conference crown. oden is agressive defense force but is a little uncoordinated and needs to improve lateral post movement

  8. KGM says:

    Ok ok ok! My departure from this site has been long awaited. Seriously, if Greg Oden is “Portland’s only way to win a championship” then all of you have brain problems. Greg Oden is not only going to be a bust but wont last in the league for no more than 3 full years of a career before something sidelines him forever. Remember Michael Olowokandi? The big man that was supposed to change the league………lol yeah! Portland’s only way to a championship leads through BRANDON ROY who was injured in the playoffs last year mind you all……..so saying Portland is a top 4 team in the West to ME is not far fetched. Carmelo has proven to me that he can not lead a team to the promise land. Leaving Denver, in my mid-card of the West (TRADE MELO WHILE YOU CAN!). The Mavericks are not young so I dont view them as a threat because they are weak minded ever since Avery Johnson’s release. SO…….my top 4 team in the West are the Jazz, Thunder, Lakers and Trail Blazers in chronological order. The teams with the best floor leaders and weapons to push deep into the playoffs. Mark my words, the Lakers are getting older. The Jazz added the best power forward they have had since Karl Malone. Al Jefferson is a beast and I’m glad he regained that weight that he used to have when he was in Boston averaging a solidfied double-double. So if the Lakers are not watching over their shoulders looking at this Carmelo situation, then they have got to be fools! I think Kobe can teach Melo like no one in NBA history has ever done with such a superstar to become better. Anywhere else will hinder Melo’s legacy because the Knicks are still to ME the worse general managed franchise in the NBA. Due to the Clippers slight potential this year and choice of not blowing major money on busts but becoming a bust in the process. The Knicks spent 100 million on Amare’ Stoudemire? Like Urs-her OMG! That will be the worst option ever because Amare’s dream of targetting Paul to the Knicks deminished when the Knicks acquired PG Raymond Felton in free agency for multiple years in a pretty sizeable contract. Need I say more? Amare’ never averaged double digit rebounds in any year of his career. D’Antonio already shown he can not train Stoudemire to be better. Just a horrible fit for Knick fans. Hope for the best but prepare for the worse, It could happen but if Anthony goes to “the MECCA” it will be the saddest day in sports history. Even if Anthony has to go to management and say trade Billups for Paul, I would rather that then to make the dreaded mishap of signing with the Knicks. ALSO NBA REALIZE THIS LEAGUE IS FULL OF GUARDS AND FORWARDS NOW!!!!! Or they will lose all of their fans. Shaq was a ONCE IN A LIFETIME kind of player. He got to learn and perfect his craft from the GREATEST ERA of Centers in NBA history. Olajuwon, Ewing, Robinson, M. Malone, etc. just to name a few of the classical Centers that taught the young Shaquille O’Neal. When O’Neal arrived to L.A., he knew who to win and told Kobe this is what it tastes like! Champaigne and Championship rings, then taught Wade the same thing! See how both went out and got their teams to COME TO THEM! Not like LeBron, they decided to stay home and let the stallions come to them. Shaq deserves everything he has! So everyone please end all of his anti-Shaq movement! He does whats best for the LEAGUE but most importantly for HIMSELF! Sad to see Allen Iverson done so dirty by his country’s sport. Willing to ship him overseas, rather than offer him an important spot on a championship team. My words to Iverson “Only the Strong Survive” GO TO JAPAN AND GET THAT $$$$$$! AMERICA DOESNT WANT TO APPRECIATE YOUR GAME THEN TAKE YOU AND YOUR CITIZENSHIP ELSEWHERE! Also TURNER SPORTS IM IN GEORGIA! Give me a spot man! Whats going on Sekou??? Lol jk have an awesome discussion and until next time, peace KGM!

  9. Slim says:

    I didnt know my cousin was named MVP.. wow, I guess he’ll bring alil bit more to portland than he was able to bring in Utah.. But, the game speaks for itself, if he didnt have it in him, he wouldnt have gotten that contract w/ portland.. theres way more to come, this is just a taste..

  10. pdigandi says:

    baller . . .u must be out of ur mind thinking oden can be better than howard . . .goes to show how much u really now about basketball . . .howard is a 15 foot jumper away from being unstoppable in the league . . .oden can’t even make a post move . . . he was drafted to be the next dikembe mutombo now he’ s the next sam bowie . . .first the blazers passed up on michael jordan who became the best ever . . . now they passed up on durant who possibly might become the best offensive player in the history of the game . . . blazers y don’t u guys just pick the best player available next time instead of trying to draft for position . . .hope u finally learned ur lesson . . .don’t even compare oden to kobe and lebron baller . . . not even on the same league

    • me says:

      I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING U SAID, except the DWIGHT with the jump shot, If u watch dwights game, he has only 1 post move, if or when he learns multiple post moves and better foot work then he’d be unstoppable

    • kenny says:

      “blazers y don’t u guys just pick the best player available next time”

      THEY DID.

  11. qahar says:

    Greg Oden will help the blazers reach their potential. Just stay healthy and shut down all the haters Greg.

  12. mwj says:

    why are we baby sitting the trail blazers does anybody other than me have the courage to say that portlands number one pick is playing in oklahoma city , did they not learn anything from the jordan/ bowie mistake , there brain trust keeps looking at size instead of the best player / ok im saying it portland is paying for the choice they made / ahhhh i feel better.

    • Jordan says:

      Totally agree. First Bowie over Jordan and now Oden over Durant. That being said, Oden might break out and become and all star this season. But as of now, overlooking Durant was a big mistake.

      • kenny says:

        Hindsight is 20/20.

        Yeah, Durant is the obvious choice NOW. At the time, without knowing Oden would be injury-riddled and Durant would become such a baller, ODEN WAS THE OBVIOUS CHOICE. Any team in Portland’s position would have taken Oden.

        Too bad Portland couldn’t predict the future like you guys, eh? Give me a break.

    • bunbury says:

      they did not learned abviously. the blazers selected bowie over jordan cause they had drexler. again they selected oden cause they had roy. the gap on these players are so huge that it’s even funny. bowie averaged what, 10 points per game ccmpared to jordan. with oden, is still early but again they selected an injury prone player while durant led the league in scoring at 21. ouch

      • Kenny says:

        NO. They chose Oden becauseHE WAS THE BEST CHOICE AT THE TIME, period. What was there to learn from the Jordan/Bowie deal? You people act like you have a crystal ball, or even worse, that Portland should suffer for NOT having a crystal ball.

        Lets face it: 1) nobody predicted Durant would be as good as he is currently, and 2) nobody predicts when/if injuries are going to occur. If you guys think you did, maybe you should be applying for GM positions instead of trying to talk the talk on internet discussion boards.

  13. Az says:

    Everyone beats up on Oden like its his laziness or lack of wanting to be on the top that has made him miss all the games. He was drafted first because in collage he was the top big man, played amazing. If he got injured after his pick, you can’t come down on him for it. The fans in Portland still cheer him on, and while having him health 82 games and post season would improve the Blazers chances of advancing greatly, I am still willing to bet of most all the other players stay in good health they can advance far with Canby, and Prizbilla.

    • bunbury says:

      yeah you can blame it on injuries. but this is the fact, durant is alreay one of the top players in the league. we are not talking potential, maybe’s, if’s. it is what it is, and at this point, it’s been the bowie/jordan story. is not about being a hater, it’s just saying what your seeing. nothing more nothing less!

  14. ju ju says:

    who is Greg Oden??? LOL

  15. Baller says:

    The only way Portland can become a championship caliber team is on the shoulders of Greg Oden. I for one do not want to see him having an injury infected career because in my eyes, Oden can be the best center in the league. I would probably say as of now, he is one of the top 5 if you dont include injuries for so many reasons. He has the potential (and height and wingspan) to become one of the most worrysome players in the league. If healthy, he could be more dangerous than a Dwight Howard, and dare I say it more dominant than the likes of a Kobe or LeBron? Hopefully, he will break out of the shell of injuries he is in and bring the Rose Garden a couple championships :)

    • me says:

      I love odens poterntial but ur confused, TOP 5 CENTER no way. He’s not a top ten center right now. AND HIS POTENTIAL IS DEFENSE, No one predicted that he would avg 25 ppg. He never had the potential to be better than dwight and Im not gonna even comment on the KOBE OR LEBRON THING, thats just crazy. But I like ur opptimism

  16. thejerr says:

    If Oden doesnt produce like hes close to producing by the all star break, please ship this guy out. been waiting to long to get over the hump….. or you can get a lil quick fix going…. bring back zabonis…. and pipen

  17. gatez says:

    It really is now or never for Oden. Or wait has that always been the case?

  18. Amused says:

    Of course, even being “among the West’s top five teams” doesn’t mean much these days. Let’s see. The Nuggets and Mavericks have already proven that they’re hardly contenders, each showing remarkable mediocrity in the postseason. The Spurs are elderly, the Suns are without Amare, the Jazz are without Boozer, and Chris Paul is without a supporting cast. Oh wait! Looks like that pretty much leaves the Lakers, doesn’t it? Surprise, surprise…

    • dan says:

      and okc? what can u say about them??? they proved they belong in the playoffs as a youg team and durant has 1 heck of a supporting cast, don’t leave them out of the mix

    • ju ju says:

      the NBA is fixed. Everything was set up so Kobe and his Fakers would have smooth sailing all the way to the finals so they can have another chance at a 3-peat and Kobe can be that much more like Jordan. Too bad Shaq won Kobe’s first three championships for him and has the Finals MVP trophies to prove it.

      I hope Denver’s team stays healthy and punishes the Lakers. Were getting tired of seeing purple and yellow. Denver is a team with all the talent and ability. They just need an injury free season and a few players need to get into the right mindset. J.R. Smith has the potential to be a superstar but he cant keep his head on straight in a game. Mabye if he could mature a little bit the Nuggets could own the west with a healthy K-Mart, Nene and Birdman.

      P.S. Don’t trade Melo.

      • royi says:

        yeah right it’s all fixed… the big names moving from the west are all Jerry Buss’ work. The west was far stronger than the east for about a deceda and last summer a few stars moved but generally, the western teams are still better

      • bunbury says:

        jr smith has the potential to be a superstar? please dont make me laugh. denver haa a good team, al harrington will help them. but they wont beat the lakers. unbelievable! the nba is fixed now that kobe is winning championships. i bet you’re a micheal jordan fan. and i bet you did not said the nba was fixed when mj was winning.

  19. Blazers fan says:

    cant wait till their champs

  20. Hasib says:

    He’s a sophomore maybe he’ll be worth the money this season or the next

  21. Snika says:

    If Rudy Fernandez doesn’t figure his situation out quickly, Wes Matthews will quickly fill that role. I still think it all depends on Oden. If he is a borderline all-star… defensively intimidating, than this team should advance in the playoffs. If not, they will be the 5-6-7 seed and finish dissappointed. As simple as that.

  22. iLL wiL says:

    Greg Oden has not been able 2 live up 2 his High draft pick coz he can’t stay healthy,i say try 2 get rid of him and move on it’s not like dey need him 2 get 2 da playoffs.

  23. Jadm14 says:

    I can see Wes Matthews putting up better numbers in Portland than what he put up in Utah. The playing style of the Blazers is way more active than the one in Utah and that will let Matthews develop his offensive (not saying that he has a lot of potential on offense but he will be better) and stay tune up with his defense. This was a costly good move for the Blazers and Wes Matthews.