Everyone hands out grades to the Trail Blazers ’round the half-season mark for players’ on-court performances. At this year’s All-Star break, other media outlets have generally given the team high marks, and why not?
The Greg Oden-less Blazers are thus far pulling a feat very few pundits thought they had in them: a winning season. But since we all know that, WW decided to broaden the scope a little bit by giving report cards to the team’s management, its media coverage and its entertainment. And yeah, we also assess three players who have big roles to play in the team’s success.
General Manager Kevin Pritchard: Is this the same Kevin Pritchard who set trade records on draft day this summer? Sticking with his guys at the season’s midway point even as the Blazers slide out of the playoffs? Looks that way as of press time. This year’s squad has shown promise, and with guys like No. 1 pick Greg Oden and pass master Petteri Koponen sitting on the back burner until next year, why not stick with your horse(s) on this young and improving team? Buying out Darius Miles’ huge contract would earn K-Pritch an A.
Coach Nate McMillan: It’s infuriating for fans at times, but like President Bush, McMillan is a stay-the-course kind of guy. Unlike Bush, there’s reason to believe McMillan’s strategy—slowly coddling the Blazers into a more uptempo style and rewarding scrappy play—might just work out. Besides, McMillan is never stupid enough to say “Mission Accomplished.”
Oregonian Columnist John Canzano: Putting Canzano on Blazer owner Paul Allen’s payroll by hiring him for a nicely paying gig as a talk-show host at the Allen-owned KXL radio (“Bald-Faced Conflict,” WW, Aug. 15, 2007) was a fantastic move to try and quell the bald bulldog’s print criticisms. And it may have worked. Canzano’s last biting criticism of Allen (once a favorite target) in The Oregonian appearedon Aug. 10, when he wrote that Allen had a reputation as a “lousy businessman.” That sentiment, shortly following the announcement of Canzano’s deal with KXL, has been replaced recently: Canzano has urged readers to “give Paul Allen credit” and describing Blazer players cheering one of Allen’s short-but-sweet postgame victory speeches, among other sunny descriptions. Is Allen really a changed billionaire, or is Canzano going soft? Canzano bites back, citing a winning season: “There have been no arrests, no dog fighting, no yellow Hummers, no drama, and the franchise is mostly making smart, shrewd business decisions off the court,” Canzano tells WW via email. He adds that he has been critical of Allen on his KXL show multiple times. (He also points to Oregonian columns sympathetic to Allen from well before the KXL deal took place as proof of his consistency.
Color Commentator Mike Rice: Not all is well in Blazer Broadcasting: It’s shameful that Allen still hasn’t demanded a coverage deal with satellite TV providers, leaving many Comcast-less rural fans in the dark. But Rice (who’s officially on the Blazer payroll, of course) gets fantastic marks for both knowing what a fauxhawk is (it’s a subtle, Pearl District kind of mohawk) and swearing to get one should the Blazers make the playoffs this year. Rice is a quality analyst and a heart-on-sleeve fan: the combination of which makes for great TV.
Blazer Dancers: We’re giving the Blazer dancers a pretty nice break with a C here, but we know they don’t get paid much (the team won’t say how much, but dancers in other cities have been known to make as little as $50 per game. So what’s the appeal, exactly?). But c’mon, ladies, we remember last year’s routines, and you’re still doing them.
Trail Breakers: Without fail, the Portland Trail Breakers—a trio of break dancers who flare and head-spin their way into fans’ hearts—get the biggest applause of all the in-game entertainment. We’ll make that an A+ if the club ponies up the cash for some old-school breaking beats (Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican” might be a good place to start).
Brandon Roy: Roy, coming off last season’s Rookie-of-the-Year season, represents the new NBA better than just about anyone. He’s an unselfish player who can put on the jets when a game demands. And as surprising as it is to see fans and media organizations fawning over his subtle, team-first approach during the Kobe era, it’s a welcome surprise indeed. Roy is a Portland kind of star, scoring 18 points in his first All-Star game last Sunday.
Jarrett Jack: The heartbreaking thing about Jack is that he’s clearly one of the hardest-working Blazers, but has yet to show consistent improvement. He’ll have to curtail his Stephon Marbury tendencies (on the court; I’m not saying he’s nuts) if he wants to be the team’s long-term answer at point guard. Keeping his feet in bounds wouldn’t hurt, either.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Heyyyy, we thought this guy could knock down shots! Aldridge’s field goal percentage might be a tad unreliable this season, but that’s to be expected now that defenders have taken note of the second-year player’s long-range shooting. But we can’t wait to see Aldridge’s game explode when Oden receives double-teams next year. Start thinking of nicknames....