What we have here is failure to communicate

TUALATIN, Ore. — The issue is communication — and Nate McMillan doesn’t like it.

The Trail Blazers coach doesn’t like the way his team is communicating on the court.

He doesn’t like how at least one player is communicating to the media.

And he doesn’t like how his 18-19 record is communicating to the rest of the league.

Portland dropped its third consecutive game Saturday and dipped to below .500 for the first time all year. The loss had the Blazers locker room spitting out the same motifs it’s been spewing for most the year — about how everyone needs “to get it together” and “turn this thing around.”

The dialogue continued internally at practice Sunday, as players vented and tried to answer McMillan’s questions as to why they weren’t playing together properly. And, well, as point guard
Raymond Felton said “I wouldn’t necessarily say they were good answers.”

In this particular case, Felton was referring to defensive communication, one of the wrinkles McMillan feels is in most dire need of ironing. Against the Timberwolves Saturday, there were several moments in which simple talking could have prevented easy buckets, including an out-of-bounds play in which Minnesota forward Michael Beasley got an open dunk to end the half.

“You hear them talking on the bus, you hear them talking in the locker room, but on the floor there is not a lot of communication,” McMillan said. The No. 1 thing you have to do is communicate and we have not been doing that well.”

McMillan didn’t say there was a specific breakthrough in terms of his team understanding something they didn’t earlier, instead indicating that Monday’s game would be more telling of the comprehension. The question is: Do all of his players share similar motivation?

A report in the Oregonian Sunday cited a “Blazers veteran” who said that “some guys just want the season to be over.”
McMillan said that he wasn’t “reading minds” and that his job is continue to try and motivate while asserting that a win tends to change attitudes rather quickly.

Felton, meanwhile, dismissed the notion that some of his teammates had checked out, saying “it’s way too early for that.”
He did, however, say that McMillan addressed the report during practice and urged his players to try and keep any discontent within the team rather than vent it to the media.

“That can tear a team apart,” Felton said. “What goes on our circle needs to stay in our circle. If you need to call someone out, call him out within the team, don’t call him out in the media.”

Felton said at the beginning of the year that he thought the Blazers locker room had a “special” vibe, one he didn’t experience with other teams so early in the season. But he admitted Sunday that “the vibe changes” when you’re not winning games.

What also may change soon is Felton’s role with the team.
The point guard was removed from the starting lineup last month after spending the first 31 games of the season as a member of the first unit. The Blazers a 1-3 since the change, their lone win coming against a San Antonio team playing without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Felton said he and McMillan spoke during practice and that his return to the starting lineup was pending, although it might not necessarily take place Monday against New Orleans.

“I’ve been a starter my whole life,” said Felton, when asked if he was more effective in that role. “I know at some point, it’s going to change. You have to understand that at one point, you’re going to be in a backup role, but I’m not ready to accept that.”

Kurt Thomas, who has missed the past two games for the Blazers due to a concussion, walked through certain drills at practice Monday. Marcus Camby, who needed eight stitches for the chin he lacerated when it hit the floor vs. the Timberwolves, practiced and will play Monday.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com

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