Interviews: Pritchard, Roy, Aldridge, McMillan on Blazers’ big three
Transcripts of recent interviews with the Portland Trail Blazers’ Kevin Pritchard, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nate McMillan concerning the Blazers’ big three and issues affecting Portland’s attempt to win an NBA championship.
On adjusting to being the franchise player:
I think this year, the biggest adjustment wasn’t dealing with the contract or being a franchise player, it was more changing the way I played this year compared to the way I played in the first three years. It’s almost like in the past years, I was asked to do more with a less contract. I’m not asked to do less this year, but (my role) has changed a lot.
On comparing his game to other franchise players:
I look at my game to where I’m different than Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron (James) and those guys, but I think we’re similar in the sense that they don’t create off the ball. You don’t see LeBron running the floor and spotting up; you don’t see him coming off screens. I feel like that’s where my role’s changed a little bit to where — or even Dwayne Wade. Those guys, when they make plays, they make a play with the ball. Where this year, I’ve been more in a situation where I have to adjust to playing off the ball a little bit more. It is because of Andre; he’s a guy who can create. I had to adjust going throughout the season, and figuring out how can I adjust enough to make this team the best that it can be. Some of it’s been an adjustment because I played this style more when I was in college, but I wasn’t the best player. I thought I was, but I wasn’t considered the best; I wasn’t considered the guy. It’s just a matter of, I’m learning that each year sometimes can be different. And this, I think, a good learning experience for me. Being in my fourth year, where, there’s not much more that people can surprise me with going forward. It’s been a learning adjustment. I’m still trying to figure it out. Even last night (against Dallas), they were double teaming, and I hadn’t played with the ball that much this year. So, I was kind of like, ‘Wow.’ And I think our team isn’t as used to playing through me. Where last year, we went through that in November, December. ‘Oh, they’re doubling Brandon, we know what to do.’ Where this year, we’ve gotten away from it so much, that when they hit us with it, we didn’t know what to do. They were double-teaming, and we were like, ‘We haven’t really played through Brandon like that.’ So, I think it was somewhat of a — I’m even still learning this year to continue to play, and my teammates are trying to figure it out, too. Even in good games, it’s like we’re playing well, but we’re still trying to learn. Camby’s still trying to figure out where to be. Last night, there were situations where you could tell he had never played in our system like that. So, we’re still learning. And I always think, as long as you play this game — Juwan will tell you: he’s still learning things.
On how close the Blazers are to being where they need to be to compete for a championship:
I think we’re close. I think me and LaMarcus, of course, are going to have to continue to step up. The Lakers won a championship and added pieces. So, I think you’re always going to look to add pieces. The biggest thing is going through it. Dallas, Lakers, Denver — Carmelo (Anthony) didn’t get out of the first round for a number of years. And I’m not saying that we’re not going to get out of the first round. But what I’m saying is, you have to go through it. So many people want it now, now, now. But I think some of it is, we just have to continue to go through it. I remember when I was younger, my (Amateur Athletic Union) coach would always say, ‘Stay the course.’ Even on a bad night, he’d say, ‘Stay the course.’ And I think that’s something that the good teams and the good organizations do: they stay the course. (Post-Shaquille O’Neal) Kobe couldn’t get out of the first round. LeBron still hasn’t won it. I think the important thing is, you’ve got to stay the course. New Orleans was — my second year, they were looking like the new thing. It’s important to stay with it. I know this is a league where guys get traded because of something, or guys get fired because of something. But I just think it’s important to be patient and stick with it. … Only won team can win it. You’ve got to go for it. But at the same time, you’ve got to be patient and understand that it’s something that we’ve got to go through. … I think it’s important that we go through it. I think that’s why the organization made the move for Camby; they wanted us to keep playing and capitalize. You want to keep playing in playoff series. And not to say we wouldn’t have made it with those other guys, but who knows? So, I just think it’s important that you keep playing in playoff series and you keep getting that experience.
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.
On him and Roy being the two key parts as the franchise attempts to win a championship:
That was the plan, bringing Brandon and myself in. And that was the plan when they traded Zach (Randolph). I thought they felt like they had (a No.) 1, 2 of guys and Greg (Oden). I think they felt like they had three guys they could build around and win championships with.
On playing with Roy:
As time goes on, we see things, like, we trust each other more. I think (with) him being out and me playing, having to be the first option, gave him more confidence in me. And he kind of gave me more trust, and when I said I was going to do something, I always did. Just getting older and maturing, and seeing that we need each other — whatever we say to each other, we should do it.
On this season:
We proved that with all the injuries we can still make the playoffs. And I think now, it’s going to be an even bigger challenge — and even more fun — to prove that with team we’ve got here, we can make the second round. No matter who we play, we feel like we have the right pieces here that we can win with.
On the playoffs:
Just being in it. Just being in it and knowing how physical it is. I’ve done seen every double team known to man. I think the playoffs last year, the first game here, (Houston) really tried to take me out and they kept me off balance. I think to this point now, I’ve seen every defense, every double team, every way possible. So, I think as you get older and can play more, they can’t really surprise me no more. Whoever we play, I’m going to be ready.
On Portland’s third piece:
Greg Oden. That’s the third guy that is in place, that we have and we’ll see next season. But we have that guy. It’s just a matter of those guys playing together.
On how Roy and Aldridge have evolved:
It’s very similar to the last couple years, where we’ve had Greg in place and we’ve had to make some adjustments because guys have been out. Brandon has been out some. LaMarcus has had to be the go-to guy at times. Brandon has had to be the guy some. Early this season, they had to learn how to play off of each other. And now Andre, you throw Andre into that mix. So, they’ve been good. They are slowly maturing and understanding how to be a franchise-type of player. And they’ll get their second opportunity at the playoffs, to get into the playoffs this year and see what they can do there.
On whether Roy and Aldridge are evolving at the rate the organization deems necessary:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We’re back in the playoffs again. We’ll get an opportunity to test ourselves again in the playoffs, with somewhat of a different group; a different position. But the goal is going to be the same: to try and win it this year with our guys.
On playoff basketball:
Last year going into the playoffs, LaMarcus saw double teams during the regular season. So, in the playoffs, sometimes you make it bigger than it is. You just have to take the same approach and be calm in situations like that. You’re a little nervous in situations like that. So, us going through that last year hopefully was good for us. Where, this year, we’re going in there with more confidence. We’ve been there. We know … there’s going to be a lot of energy, and you’re going to playing against the best. Learn from last year, as far as what your weaknesses were last year, and make sure that, this year, they’re not.
On making changes:
We want to see how we finish before we talk about what we need and what we want to do as far as this free agency period this summer.
We are. The playoffs will give us a clearer picture of what we have and where we need to go. So, we were able to accomplish one of our goals, which was, certainly, getting into the playoffs. And now we can focus on finishing the season strong. And once we get into the playoffs with the guys we have, we’ll have to look at that during the offseason. We have some free agents that we have to talk about and think about what we’re going to do there. But it’s really too early to say we need to add a third piece to this group of guys.