Column: Diener revels in laughter, lightens up the Blazers
He’s gone head to head with the $82-million face of the franchise, answering every collegiate rivalry-based insult with sharp wit and a sharper tongue.
He’s muscled and warred against Portland Trail Blazers assistant coaches, wearing them down with a quick, zigzagging dribble, then springing off the ground to sink a fall-away 18-footer that is serenaded with a shout of “No talk!” as soon as the net sways.
Thursday, he was on the court before anyone, swishing a never-ending series of jump shots, showing off an NBA-ready game that is always waiting, but few ever see.
And once practice was over, Travis Diener really go to work.
The fifth-year guard out of Marquette cracked a joke that absolutely made it impossible for the supremely reserved Andre Miller not to smile, laugh and shake his head.
Diener was just getting started.
As rookie Patty Mills matched up against a Portland assistant, Diener watched every move. As soon as Mills released the ball, Diener took the stage.
“Come on, Patty. Big shot!” said Diener, at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, Ore.
Mills’ attempt rang true.
“Yeah!” Diener said.
Then the wild-haired wonder from Fond du Lac, Wis., ran over to fellow point guard Jerryd Bayless. For Bayless, there’s rarely ever an in between — it’s either a smile or a straight-faced frown. So, Diener quickly morphed into an 8-year-old, playfully stealing the ball from Bayless’ hands. No more straight face for Bayless; it was all teeth and excited eyes.
Next, Diener and Bayless teamed up, turning the table and play-boxing Blazers assistant coach Bill Bayno. The duo quickly got the best of their boss, and so Diener moved on. And on. And on. Searching out new victims, discovering new ways to bring a little humor to the working-day crowd.
“He keeps the fun in the game, and that’s what it’s all about,” Miller said.
By gosh, has he.
Burned out on pro-sport primadonnas? Turned off by troubled billionaires who play a game for a living, and then spend their lives justifying their philandering, insanely egocentric ways?
Try Travis Diener.
Don’t look in the box score, though. Definitely don’t search the stat sheet. Diener’s rarely ever there. And he probably won’t be this season.
Since filling out the Blazers’ 15th and final roster spot March 3, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Diener has racked up just 13 minutes of legitimate court time in 15 games. He’s only taken the floor in four of those contests, averaging 0.8 points per outing.
But while others would — and do — grumble, mumble, mope and complain, Diener has said nary a word. Rather than whine, he’s taken on the role of an all-hustle, all-the-time jokester.
“I just try to just be friendly with everybody,” Diener, 28, said. “Crack jokes, and maybe bring a different personality that this group didn’t have when I got here.”
During a chaotic season in which there has at times been very little to laugh or smile about, a well-placed joke or two — or ten — can go a long, long way. Heck, if you can get the professional-is-as-professional-does Miller to break out mid-practice in laughter, you’re definitely doing something right.
“He’s been a class act,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “Guys like him.”
It’s mutual, man: Diener digs the Blazers.
He said his new team is as well-run and well-organized as any he’s ever played on. Assistant coaches ball with their disciples.
Practices are characterized by preparation and focus, while personalities are characterized by inner peace and privacy. And while Brandon Roy might soon rake in 82 million clams, the only thing The Natural will openly brag about is his beloved Washington Huskies.
All of which makes the humble-but-still-hungry-enough-to-chirp Diener something of an odd man out — in the best possible way.
When Travis Outlaw was traded, the Blazers didn’t just lose their best sixth man; they lost their chief comedian.
Now, there’s a new Travis in town. And he’s fitting in just fine.
“You can take not playing a couple different ways,” Diener said. “You can get frustrated and pout and not bring positive energy to the team. But … I’ve been around enough basketball to see that that just destroys teams. Even if a guy’s not playing, that can infiltrate the team.
“You don’t want that. So, my main thing is, I’m just going to be positive. And whether I’m playing or not, I’m going to come to work everyday and be happy to be here.”
Diener definitely is. And the Blazers are better off for it.
Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter
Interview: Check the Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter for a transcription of an interview with Diener
Pritchard speaks: Check the Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter for a transcription of an exclusive interview with Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard.
Mavericks vs. Blazers, 7 p.m. at Rose Garden
TV: CSN (37), NBATV
Radio: 95.5 FM
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Andre Miller 6-2 14.1
G Brandon Roy 6-6 22
F Nicolas Batum 6-8 10.3
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 17.7
C Marcus Camby 6-11 6
G Jason Kidd 6-4 10.3
G DeShawn Stevenson 6-5 1.6
F Caron Butler 6-7 14.9
F Dirk Nowitzki 7-0 24.7
C Erick Dampier 6-11 6.1