Interview: Pritchard discusses the Blazers — part I
Transcript of an interview conducted Thursday with Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, Ore.
On the Blazers’ big three of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and/or Andre Miller and Greg Oden, and how Pritchard feels about the notion of a big three being necessary to winning an NBA championship:
Well, I think every team is unique, and has its own challenges and strengths and weaknesses. And as you build a team — and my job is to put the pieces in place — the rule of three has been proven out. You’ve seen how a lot of the great teams of this decade have proven it out. But I don’t necessarily feel like you have to fit that mold. You don’t have to have three. I’ve always felt like you put the 15 best players in the locker room, with a fantastic coach, and you’ve got a chance to win, because the coach and the players — because of their talent level — will rise. And you’ll find out who that three or who that four or who that eight is.
On putting the best 15 players together, rather than predetermining who your big three are going to be:
We don’t start any conversation about adding a player, unless their common denominator is that they’re a good person. And we’ve always felt that that gets us over the edge on a lot of things. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It means we’re a family. But it just means that you have good people in the locker room. Both coaches and players. So, I’m a firm believer that you add the best human beings with the best talent, and then their talent will rise to the top. And that’s the coach’s opportunity. And Nate (McMillan) is fantastic — look what he’s done with this team. We don’t have a perfect big three, right? But every single game we play hard, we’re playing together and smart. And that gives us an opportunity to win a lot of games, and we’ve won a lot of games. Now, I’ve always said this: That your bench and your depth can get you into the playoffs — and it has for us. But ultimately, your stars win in the playoffs. And this is the opportunity for LaMarcus (Aldridge) and Brandon (Roy) again to step up. And again, I don’t want to put — and this is probably the biggest point — I don’t want to put all the pressure on (them), because I believe it’s the 15 guys. I do believe that Travis Diener has an impact in what happens on the court. Because of what he does here in the practice; because of how he is; because of his attitude. But we need players to elevate the game. Because if you want to be considered one of the best in this game, you’ve got to do it in the playoffs.
On whether the organization is seeing the evolution it deems necessary from Roy and Aldridge:
They have to take a step. I’ve always felt like there’s different levels as you go through the season. There’s the preseason. And then you get sort of in this first part of the season. And then you get the middle season, and you get a little tired. And then all of a sudden, teams start ramping up for the playoffs and you start playing better. I thought LaMarcus had a great game last night; Brandon. You’ve got to ramp up to the playoffs. I don’t believe that there’s a switch that you flip on. I think you’re seeing those guys step up.
I felt like the experience we got against Houston (last season in the playoffs) will hopefully pay dividends this year. Now, we’re a completely different team than who we thought we were going to be from the beginning of the year to now. But that’s just our business. You’ve got to be willing to make adjustments, and we’ve made adjustments. Nate has found guys that are playing well and finding their roles. And the honest truth is, I’m extremely proud of this team. But I do believe that their work is not done. Our goal was to get into the playoffs, and now we’re going to compete like heck against whoever we play, just like they’re going to compete against us.
On how essential Oden is to the team’s big three and the future success of the organization:
With Greg specifically, I’ve always said to Greg — and publicly — the most important thing I care about with Greg is to control what he can control. And that’s his habits and that’s his work ethic and that’s his approach to the game, and that’s all those things sort of encompassed. And we’re as thrilled as we could be with him. Because he does everything we’ve ever asked. We’ve asked him to work extremely hard with his rehab; extremely hard with his weight; with everything. And he’s done it, eyes wide open and ready to do it full speed ahead. But — and we know this for a fact — when Greg played, we were a different team. You look at his last 20 games, and he was a really special player. He was starting to play at a level that was a top-seven, top-eight player. And that’s not just me saying, ‘Hey, he’s a top-eight, top-10 player.’ If you look at his (Player Efficiency Rating), I think he’s a top 10. I think he’s eight or seven. And that’s because in the beginning he was sort of flat, and then he started to ramp it up. If you took his last 20 games — I don’t know what it was — but it was pretty good. So, we know that he is capable. That’s the one thing we know. Our key is, we need to make sure that he does everything that he can, and everything that we can, that helps his body prepare for the 82 games that are in the season, and then into the playoffs. And that’s where we can help him, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But for us ever to be that special team, we’re going to have to him. There’s no doubt about it. Does it mean we can’t do it with other players? No. It’s possible. But our best chances are for Greg to be healthy and playing at the last 20 games of this year. Because, again, when he played, he was really special. He come in and affect the game, just himself, in a few spurts and make us completely different. Specifically on the defensive end. But as he progressed offensively, it changed us also.
We felt like we were on our way. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve still got to continually say tomorrow’s going to be better for us because we’re going to work today. If Greg takes that attitude — which he has — I see no reason why we won’t.
On whether Oden must produce at a high level for a consistent period over time. And, if he doesn’t, how that could affect the long-term prospects of the team, considering he was chosen as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft:
I guess I would answer that … we know we have a very special player. And for us to move forward at that elite level, we have to have him playing over a long period of time at his highest level. And, again, it’s amazing — I would call this season the ‘Season of Resilience.’ Something would knock us back a little bit, and we’d just move two steps forward. Then we’d get knocked back and take two steps forward. And you know what? I really believe in the long run, this makes us a better organization. I was here in the resurgence, and have been around a lot of people. I know everybody in this building today is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. And that’s what we have to be. And you’re seeing Brandon and LaMarcus; now Andre (Miller) is stepping up in a leadership role; (Marcus) Camby; Juwan (Howard). We’re seeing a lot of guys step up and embrace accountability. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing for me.
I’ve always believed this … when Nate and Andre had (an argument). … Nate and I had a long conversation, and Andre. And that could’ve taken us down, or it could’ve made us better. It’s like in a relationship. We’ve all had relationships where, you’re at this inflection point, and something happens. And you either say, ‘OK, we’re passing it up; let’s move on.’ Or ‘Let’s make it stronger and cement the relationship.’ And for me, I thought that day was the best, because we all looked around and said, ‘You know what? We either can divide or we can conquer this thing.’ And those are the defining moments that are important to an organization. If you think that’s the last one, no way. There’s no chance that that’s the last one. There’ll be 50 more — some a little bit smaller, some a little bit bigger in the evolution of the relationship and the process of leadership. But again, it’s about everybody embracing accountability. If we can be accountable for our own actions; help each other as much as we possibly can, we’ll get to where we want to get faster.
On making a decision about Oden’s contract extension:
We have exclusive rights this summer. And then he’ll play next year. And then he’ll be restricted. So, any offer that we get, we would be able to match.
We’re going to watch his development and help him as much as we can. Look, as the general manager, the best thing that I like is, going into negotiations knowing that a guy has had a great year, and that his future is as bright as it could be. I love that.
We’re evolving as a team, but we’re also — two or three years ago, we were trying to add these young pieces; young players who had a lot of upside. And now we’re moving into this different era where we’re trying to catch guys in their sweet spot; where they’re playing their best basketball over the next three or four years. And so it’s evolving. And as a manager, you have to change your thinking.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have the long-term future in my sights. Every day I’m planning. I’m looking at modeling out different things. I’m looking (at) who might be available; who is available; how does that person fit. I mean, we talk about that every day, every single day. And that’s that dichotomy of a coach and a general manager. Nate, I’ll walk into Nate(‘s office) and I’ll go, ‘Hey, what about … ?’ And he’ll go, ‘I’ve got practice.’ (Laughs) And then he’ll come in and say, ‘You know, what do you think about today?’ And I’ll go, ‘Nate, I’m thinking about the future.’ (Laughs) But the great thing is, we have an amazing amount of respect for each other. I know he’s a phenomenal coach. In my opinion, the coach of the year — but I’m biased — I think he’s done a phenomenal job. But what’s great is, I enjoy; it’s fun to work. Sometimes you have a natural barrier that a general manager and a coach speak … one’s talking today, and one’s talking in the future. But we’ve never had that. And if there’s ever been that, it’s been sort of more joking. But it’s fun.