Blazers Are Wise Beyond Their Years
Friday, February 1, 2008
While in New Orleans last week, several members of the Portland Trail Blazers met with Mayor C. Ray Nagin to discuss politics and the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Upon their arrival at City Hall, they were greeted with a stubborn elevator.
It didn't move. Then, it buzzed and shook. Players cackled and groaned.
After finally prying open the doors, players rumbled up the stairs. When they reached the second floor, guard Brandon Roy was already there, seated and waiting.
"I wasn't messing around with that elevator," Roy said, as the players strolled toward Nagin's office.
Roy isn't one to wait.
Whether it's a stuck elevator or coping with an injured No. 1 pick, the Blazers simply follow Roy to the desired location.
Despite losing Greg Oden to surgery on his right knee last September -- and being the youngest team in the NBA and third-youngest in league history with an average age of 24.3 -- the Blazers (26-19) are just 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Utah Jazz in the Northwest Division.
"I didn't listen when people said he was going to come in and be the savior," Roy said about Oden. "I was like, 'I'm a pretty good player. We've got good players on this team. We're not going to throw the towel in.' A lot of people expected us to."
It initially appeared that Oden's injury would help the Blazers in a backhanded sense, by allowing them to get another high lottery pick. "We're not worried about that blessing," Portland General Manager Kevin Pritchard said with a laugh. "It's a blessing in disguise that . . . allowed guys to expand their games."
Roy, last year's rookie of the year, has put up big numbers and was selected as an all-star reserve yesterday. Second-year power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has proven Pritchard wise for trading Zach Randolph to the New York Knicks in a draft-day deal that also yielded Channing Frye. And two players taken straight out of high school -- Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster -- are finally beginning to show some promise. Only three of Portland's 10 regular contributors are older than 25.
"You got some young guys who have grown up fast," New Orleans Coach Byron Scott said. "They don't have a lot of veterans, but I don't feel you need a lot of veterans to win. I think you need guys who have a real good understanding of basketball and how you play the game."
The Blazers started the season 5-12, before reeling off an improbable 13 wins in a row, and 17 of 18 overall. The turnaround began when Roy approached Coach Nate McMillan and asked him to place the ball in his hands. "It made a big difference for us," starting point guard Steve Blake said.