Prior to today's pre-season matchup with the TrailBlazers, the fine fellas at the Rip City Project and I swap questions about the upcoming season and the potential for a Jazz./Blazers rivalry. Check at my answers to their questions here. And here's what I wanted to know about the Blazers. (Also, make sure to check out True Blue Jazz's swap with BlazersEdge).
Game thread coming in a couple hours.
Coup: 46-36. As early as a week ago I would have said 48-50 but Martell Webster's injury (stress fracture in his foot) will hurt more than people are realizing. Martell is one of our two best shooters and without him, either Travis Outlaw (who I like but not as a starter) or Rudy Fernandez (looks great in preseason, but he might need some time to gel with our half-court first unit). Couple some early chemistry issues with our B-R-U-T-A-L October – our first five games are Lakers, Spurs, Suns, Jazz, Rockets – and I think this team is going to go through a month-long warm up period.
Everyone remembers that 13-win streak of last year, though, and I expect some runs in December and January to get us back into the playoff race. They will look great some nights against good teams but will also play down the level of lower talent, not because of "youth", though, as we have a great collection of mature young players, but that's just the pattern they established last year. Oden will be able to bail them out of some Spring games simply by being bigger than smaller centers, but the season will largely depend on how we perform against the middle-run Western Conference teams. If we are winning our series with the Clippers, Warriors, Nuggets and Mavericks (or Suns, depending on who you think dropped off) and avoid any sweeps (which our home crowd does a great job helping with) then we should be in good shape.
Coup: Short answer: he's big, he's smart, he's agile and he wants to win. As much as I dislike making comparisons to other players to determine another player's value, Oden is the closest thing to Shaq I've seen since the big guy starting taking half seasons off in 2002. The reason I didn't say Dwight Howard is because Dwight has skinnier legs than most people think and Greg's lower body, by all account, could move a bus Flintstones style.
With center prospects the first thing I always want to know is do they want to work? Greg does. Then I want to know if they can play the game outside of dunking? Well, Greg's hook shot has a ways to go, but already in preseason games he's showing willingness to pass out of double teams for open three's, and just the threat of that changes the floor. This first month of the season is going to be the most rusty and out of shape we ever see Oden, and it is already clear that he cannot be contained within four feet of the basket. Being a great center is largely about attitude, Shaq had it for awhile, David Robinson had it, Duncan has it (he qualifies at C) and Russell most certainly had it. Greg, for however much he improves his offense in the next decade, strikes me as the type that means what he says when he says he wants to win.
Coup: Injuries, injuries, injuries. Watching him play can feel a bit like waiting for a blood test, you know it should be perfectly fine, but you've got that nagging feeling of dread swirling in your head. But the injury bug has been beaten to death in the last year by every member of the media, ever. My only other concern is him actually turning into Shaq. I'm not overly worried about it, but Greg's weight will be always be an issue for him, and it's up him motivating himself to show up to camp in shape every season. That said, all reports say he's got a great work ethic.
Do you want a redo on the 2005 draft?
Coup: No. I know plenty of Blazers fans who cry about 2005 anytime CP3 is on ESPN, and they have good reason for it. But if we don't trade down for Webster, maybe Chris Paul saves John Nash and Steve Patterson (our former GM and President during the Jail Blazer days) their jobs, Kevin Pritchard never becomes GM, and a few years later we've made some questionable free-agent signings and have an unhappy All-Star looking for a true No. 2 like LeBron. It was torture being a Blazer fan for a few years there, but I'll take the way things worked out any day of the week. And no, I'm not comparing their talent levels in any way, but I'm a big Webster fan.
Would you have rather had Paul or Williams?
Coup: I'm sure you could tell me about Jerry Sloan all day, but Deron just seems like his sort of guy, and the right fit for the team (which I know was repeated ad naseum). If I'm starting a team from scratch, though, then I'm taking Paul. That's hardly a knock on Williams, but if Deron has "it", then Paul was injected with a few more does of "it" when he was younger, that's all. Paul also seems a little more versatile in terms of what kind of talent he is surrounded with and what he can do with it.
What scares you most about the Jazz?
Coup: Last year I would have said your toughness. We got pushed around in the middle last year and far too often didn't do enough about it. Oden alleviates that this year, so Williams steps into the limelight in terms of the first thing I'm trying to stop when we play. Frankly, I'm a little worried about the Jazz losing all their free agents this summer, considering some of their track records. My favorite basketball related memory is being at the clinching Game 6 when Portland topped Utah in the Second Round of 1999. I wasn't old enough to remember the glory days of Drexler/Porter/Williams etc, so that was the series that made me fall in love with the team. The NBA is a better league when Portland and Utah are duking it out for the division.
Why will the Blazers be better than the Jazz this season?
Coup: They won't be. They could beat them three times out of four if Oden shakes off the rust quick enough, but that wouldn't make them the better team. The Jazz have an established identity while Portland is still figuring what kind of team it is and how best to utilize the crazy amount of talent it has. Most importantly, our defense is still finding itself.
Who wins in a 7-game series?
Coup: That's a first-round battle I'm crossing my fingers for. If the Blazers are peaking around the right time, given Boozer's track record in the playoffs, then our front-line could make things very difficult. With Joel Pryzbilla coming off the bench now, we won't be seeing Millsap grabbing 47 offensive rebounds per game anymore, and I think our firepower in the second unit could be a big advantage against any team in the postseason. I still say Jazz, 4-2, because winning in SLC in the playoffs is a man's task, but I wouldn't expect any blowouts in there. This is all assuming Brian Grant's knee doesn't repair itself and he rolls into town with 2 foots dreads and a band aid over his eye. That would be Game Over.
Who are your starting five and 6th man for the Blazers all-time team?
Coup: We could go on all day with this, so I'm going with my gut.
PG: Terry Porter
SG: Clyde Drexler
SF: Scottie Pippen
PF: Jerome Kersey
C: Bill Walton
6th: Rasheed Wallace.
For some reason 6th men are almost always guards on these lists, but I think if Sheed can get some minutes with these starters and not have to be the primary offensive option. I will say it pains me not to include Arvydas Sabonis on this list, since I'm already assuming general health. In terms of other 6th men options, a sane J.R. Rider or Larry Steel/Danny Ainge would be also considerations.
Deron Williams and Karl Malone or John Stockton and Carlos Boozer? (And yes, I meant to swap them)
Coup: That question melted a little piece of my brain away. For starters, we have to determine whether it's Jheri Curl Malone, Rogaine Malone or I'm Desperate for a Title Malone. I'll assume he's lost the curls but still has hair. I'm still going Stockton-to-Boozer. You don't need to be told that Malone had his fair share of postseason hiccups (not that Boozer is excused there), and in today's game I think point guard is a much harder position to replace than PF, and that's where I'd like my Hall of Fame commodity to play.