It has been a season of change for the Trail Blazers, both on and off the court. The upgrades to the roster seem to be paying dividends early, as the team currently has one of the best records in the NBA and is playing a brand of basketball that is more exciting than what we’ve seen in recent years.
And while the off court changes don’t rival the excitement of an overtime victory against the Raptors or a come-from-behind win in Brooklyn, there are changes, some interesting, others mundane, being considered that Trail Blazers fans that are worth reviewing.
So here are some details provided by Dewayne Hankins, Trail Blazers Vice President of Marketing and Digital, about a number of potential changes and upgrades the team is considering, including changes to the team uniform and court. Keep in mind that many of these discussions taking place are exploratory in nature and are in no way guaranteed to occur for any number of reasons, be it feedback from fans to general infeasibility.
· It was recently reported on Blazersedge.com that the team sent out a survey to gauge fan response regarding potentially changing the team’s uniforms. If the team does decide to tweak the jerseys, it will be just that, a tweak, as the team has already heard from fans that a drastic departure from their current uniforms would be frowned upon. And of course, it’s possible that no changes are made.
“We honestly don’t know to what extent we’ll make changes at this point if any,” Hankins wrote in an email. “We just want to gauge the temperature of the fans for these kinds of changes … We’ve had the same uniforms for more than a decade so it is at least worth asking the question. What we do know from the research we’ve already done, is that we have a pretty good thing going here and the fans don’t want to see a drastic departure from the current look.”
One possibility is that the team will look to a more retro feel, as preliminary feedback has been positive regarding throwback uniforms. Moving away from the tradition red, black and white colors the team has used since its founding unlikely, but Hankins notes that at this stage in the process, nothing is even close to decided.
“The idea of vintage uniforms is a popular look around the NBA,” wrote Hankins. “In fact, we are blessed as an organization to have so many good uniforms in our past to look at as inspiration and much of the feedback we’ve seen so far indicates that fans would like us to at least look in that direction. While we haven’t even started the process of imagining what new uniforms will look like and won’t until we get results back from this most recent survey, you can guarantee that we will make the fan’s voices a part of the process.”
· Chris Haynes at CSNNW reported a few weeks back that the team is looking at potentially moving away from replacing the one tone court the team currently has with a two tone court used by various teams around the NBA. Hankins said that there will in fact be a new court but that the color scheme may remain the same.
“The court is need of replacement since it’s reached the end of its life,” Hankins wrote. “It has been reported that we’re looking at the two-tone court, but we’re also looking at the possibility of a one-tone court.”
But there’s also other interesting court aesthetics being considered, including wood products that are native to Oregon and sustainably harvested.
“Again, at this point we haven’t reached the design phase on this but from a foundational standpoint, I can tell you that we want to make sure that there’s a story behind the wood that we choose for the court that’s unique to Oregon,” wrote Hankins. “For instance, it makes sense for the Moda Center, in all of its LEED Gold-Certified glory, to look at FSC certified wood and, potentially, use trees that are unique to Oregon. That’s important to people here and we want the court to reflect a story that goes beyond the design on the court.”
A new court made out of trees like Douglas Fir, Oregon White Oak or Bigleaf Maple? It’s at least being considered.
· As for the Pinwheel, the team’s primary logo which was designed by the cousin of Harry Glickman, one of the founders of the team, Hankins says there are no plans to make any changes noting that it is “one of the most recognizable logos in all of sports and has stood the test of time for more than 40 years.” However, the team is considering changes to what Hankins describes as the “parallelogram-shaped mark” seen here that is technically the Trail Blazers’ primary mark, though you probably wouldn’t know it by how infrequently it gets used.
“It doesn’t have many practical applications and not one you see us use very often,” said Hankins via email. “We’d love to have other ‘go-to’ marks to add to our arsenal, but only if they make sense.”
· The team added multiple local food options at the Moda Center this season, including Portland-grown restaurants such as Fire On The Mountain wings, Bunk Sandwiches and Killer Burger. Those changes, as well as changes made to the existing concessions, have gone over well thus far on game nights.
“Based on our brand audit and all of the questions we’ve asked of fans, they wanted the arena and the games to feel more like Portland and Oregon,” wrote Hankins. “There really isn’t an easier way to do that than to provide them with the great food of Portland in the arena. All of the credit has to go to Chris McGowan, Chris Oxley and Levy Restaurants, whose our new arena concessionaire, to get creative and make this happen with local food vendors. However, even in concession stands that don’t carry the names of familiar Portland restaurants, we’ve made a concerted effort to re-brand those and up the game at what we provide there as well. If you walk around the concourse in the Moda Center, you’ll definitely notice a new look and feel across all of our stands.”
As for the changing of the 100-point promotion from Taco Bell chalupas to McDonald’s McMuffins, Hankins says the reluctance of fans (if that’s what it actually is) to chant something other than “CHA-LU-PA” has not been unexpected.
“We knew that after 14 years of chanting the same thing, something that was created by the fans, there would be resistance to chanting something new,” wrote Hankins.
· When it comes to the in-arena experience during games, which has been more subdued in an effort to make sure the focus is on the on-court product, Hankins said the changes have been generally well-received and were made, again, at the behest of fans via the expansive brand survey the team conducted before the start of the season.
“I’m glad people are noticing the changes in our in-game entertainment,” wrote Hankins. “We’ve made a concerted effort to focus more on the basketball and less on the ‘everything else’ that we were doing that took your eyes off the product on the court. I think the more we can focus on the basketball and the flow of the game, the more people are going to feel like they can contribute to the in-arena atmosphere. Our main goal is to make sure the fans feel included, since that’s so tough to measure, we hope that’s the case.”
Hankins said the team received similar feedback about the in-game experience as they did about the concessions in that fans wanted more of a local and authentic feel.
Said Hankins: “A lot of things came out of the post-season survey, but the one comment that struck a chord with me was that fans were asking for our games to feel unique to Portland and unique to Oregon. I think you see that we¹ve started to build that with special nights built out for the Winterhawks and Timbers, the pre-game spoof we do with Portlandia and the music we play in the arena. I think we’ll only continue to grow that as the season goes on and as fans give us their feedback.”
· There have also been changes for fans following Trail Blazers games from home. The team decided to discontinue the CoverItLive chats that were the centerpiece of in-game coverage on Trailblazers.com, replacing it with new digital experiences that cater to various forms of content consumption.
“I put a lot of stock into doing everything we can to provide fans with the best possible second-screen experience,” Hankins wrote. “Unlike any other form of media, live sports is the one place where you can hold the attention of a massive amount of people for a two-hour period. It’s why we’ve invested in providing a mobile and tablet app that can pull up shot charts, statistics and highlights at the palm of your hand. It’s why we’ve invested in SportStream to provide a desktop experience unlike any other that shows both great statistics and crowdsources a narrative of the game based on the most influential people on Twitter and it’s why we’ve invested money with Livefyre, a company who truly understands how to curate a social conversation in the live chats we do on Forward / Center. Not to mention, our recent partnership with Rip City Two and the flurry of activity that goes on during their game threads.
While much of Trailblazers.com was redesigned to bring the website more in line with what the majority of other NBA teams, using products like SportStream and Livefyre still sets the Trail Blazers in-game digital experience apart from how most teams handle live, second-screen action during games.
“I don’t think a ‘one-size, fits all’ approach would necessarily work here and that’s why we strive to provide a bunch of different options,” wrote Hankins. “It’s also why we put most of our efforts on the digital side around the game itself.”
The Trail Blazers are also unique in that they continue to offer a live streaming video service for fans who are unable to subscribe to Comcast SportsNet Northwest. New carriage agreements with cable providers on the Oregon coast alleviated some of the need for the streaming service, which has resulted in fewer signups than in previous seasons, but the decision to offer a way for fans who cannot watch on cable, despite various obstacles, has always been more about making the games available for anyone who wants to watch than making a profit.
“It’s not a money-making proposition for us, it’s about ensuring that fans still have the possibility of having a connection with us by being able to watch games they couldn’t normally receive,” wrote Hankins. “As with all rural areas, using IP address for location detection and overall internet speed are big issues, but we think providing streaming with these challenges is a better move for the organization than not providing it at all. We hope customers are satisfied with what we are able to provide to them, but we fully understand that this doesn’t solve the overall issues with our broadcast deal.”
· So why all the changes? Hankins says that there was a general feeling that many facets of the business needed to be “freshened” and “drastically improved.” In the ever changing landscape of professional sports, the new leadership felt like there was no choice but to forge a new path.
“The organization has made a lot of changes, out of necessity, to ensure that we can compete with all of the forces that exist that keep fans from coming to our games, watching our games on TV and following the team in general,” wrote Hankins. “For a fan base that has dealt with a ton of change over the past several years, my hope is that they’ll see all of these changes as part of a greater process of trying to create a better product for our fans.”
While the success of the organization will always hinge in large part on the the performance of the team itself, the goal of most of the changes has been to ensure that, even in the lean times, there’s still a sense that the Moda Center is the place to be on game nights.
“For those of us on the business side, we don’t have the luxury of being able to rely solely on the product on the court to get people to our games,” wrote Hankins. “We have to do an exceptional job of building the right foundation through our business practices and taking advantage of that foundation so that when the team is excelling, we can capitalize on it.”
With Portland’s playoff run now over, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard now has some free time on his hands to pursue his off-court interests. He’s already hit up Oak’s Park for some late-night rollerskating, attended a Portland Thorns game at Providence Park and welcomed his old buddy Tim Frazier back to town. And today, we know he’s back in the studio making music.
In a re-launch of the “Music Monday” feature that he started last offseason on his Soundcloud page, Lillard, or to be most specific, “Dame DOLLA,” has posted a new track entitled “Talk To Em” featuring V.I.P and Bozzle (who I think are Lillard’s cousins)…
One of Dame’s verses…
They glorifying goofballs, I’m salty as Utah
When you real they uncomfortable, plotting for you to fall
Man I’m changing up the game, forget about the politics
I stick my neck out for my loved ones, I’m like an ostrich
A lot of love around me you haters keep doing opposite
I’m really incompetent to taking many compliments
That sounds about right. Previous “Music Monday” releases from last year include “Soldier In The Game,” “Full Stomach,” “Why?” “Free Bands” and “The Villains.” Then there’s non-Music Monday releases such as “I Wish I Could Tell You,” “Heatwave,” and “They Sleep,” which, like “Talk To Em” was produced by Jahlil Beats, who also produced, among other things, the Rick Ross/Meek Mill hit “Ima Boss” and that Bobby Shmurda song whose name I can’t put on this blog. And of course, there’s “Bigger Than Us,” the video for which currently has roughly 750,000 views on YouTube.
A happy Friday the 13th to all of you loyal podcast listeners. Before everyone goes their separate ways now that the offseason is here, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio one last time to record a season-ending edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we attempt recap the series versus the Warriors, which ended in five games with a 125-121 loss at Oracle Arena Wednesday night, and the season in general, discuss the lasting effects of the playoff run and the respect that they earned from around the league due to their performance and look forward to some of the questions the Blazers will have to answer in the offseason, particularly in regard to free agency. And as always, we finish up by answering your Twitter-submitted questions on topics such as the culture the Trail Blazers have developed, (more) free agency, exit interviews and favorite moments from the just-completed season. It’s been a fun one.
Less than 12 hours after being eliminated from the postseason, the Trail Blazers returned to their practice facility in Tualatin to meet with the coaches to discuss offseason plans, clean out their lockers and take questions from the media one last time before starting their vacations.
Here’s the audio and a few quotes from Terry Stotts and the players from today’s exit interviews…
On the 2015-16 season…
“Like I said last night, this has been a special season. This group of players, what they were able to do individually and collectively, our chemistry was really good. We had good guys, they got along, players and coaches. It means a lot and it goes both ways. It was a joy. I think players enjoyed coming to work every day and I know the coaches and staff did, too.”
On whether this was his most rewarding season as a head coach…
“No question. This was an extremely rewarding season because it kind of played out the way we wanted it to. And we’re not talking about the record or the playoffs, everything was about growth, improvement, getting better throughout the season and being better at the end of the season. I think we did that individually and collectively and from a coaching standpoint, that’s as pure as it gets. That’s what coaching is about. You don’t get to experience that very much at the NBA level.”
On whether he expects anyone on his staff to be interviewed for various open head coaching positions…
“I hope so. I can’t say enough about how good my staff is. I think Jay Triano and Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool are all ready to be considering for head coaching jobs. I think they’re all prepared to do a great job as a head coach depending on whatever a team is looking for. I hope they get consideration because they’re all very deserving.
On many of his teammates deciding to stay in Portland during the offseason…
“That means a lot because I stay here every summer. I’m used to coming in here like ‘I wonder when everybody else coming back to town,’ you know what I mean? The trainers are here, the coaches are here and it’s an empty gym. And even after the game last night, on the plane, I started getting worried already. I was sitting on the plane like ‘Man, we had some success this year, it was unexpected it was no pressure. Next year people gonna expect a little bit more’ and I started to get worried about too many pats on the back. ‘They weren’t supposed to do this but they did that.’ I started getting worried, but we don’t have those kind of guys. We’ve got hungry guys, we’ve got humble guys that work hard. We had a taste this season as a young group of how well we could do and what it takes. We lost to a really experienced, championship team. That makes me happy to hear that so many guys are going to be here working out in the summer because that lets me know that they see how close we are and they see how important it’s going to be going forward.”
On free agency and having a say in the process…
“I’m pretty sure they’ll communicate what the plans are with me, but like I’ve said in the past, my job is to be a good teammate, to make sure I put in my time and become a better player and that’s what I’ll do. They ask me my opinion on something, I’ll give them my honest opinion, but I love all the guys that we have on our roster now. I think going forward, if we continue to grow together, we’ll be a good team. Obviously it’s a business and rosters change, players make decisions for themselves, so when that time comes, we’ll see what happens. But when they come to me ask for my opinion or what I think about something, I’ll tell them what I think.”
On what he’s looking for as a restricted free agent…
“Any pay raise is going to be significantly higher than what I’m making now. But like I said earlier, it’s just situation really for me. It doesn’t make sense to make a lot of money and go to a team that, if you don’t fit that system, then get paid a lot of money to be frustrated? That doesn’t make sense to me. The culture here, it’s great. I know this organization well, I know the system, know the coaches, players. It’s just real comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind being here, I really wouldn’t. It’s really just coming down to situation and how I can continue to improve as a basketball player.”
On head coach Terry Stotts…
“Definitely think he should get an extension. I feel like everybody here knows that he should get an extension. He’s done a great job with this team. It’s really hard to put into words what he did with this group because nobody expected us to do what we did. Even from Day One, even through the games where we were 11-20, seven-game losing streak, he never folded and he always told us it’s all about trusting the process and we stuck with that throughout this whole year.”
On spending time in Portland this offseason…
“I think, for one, it doesn’t rain a lot in the summer, so that helps. Just being around the facility, 24 hour access, you’re able to get a lot of things done without a distraction. You go home, you go to certain cities, you either got to pay to get in the gym or you’ve got to worry about people interrupting you while you workout. I go back to my high school but sometimes I’ve got to just like lock the door so I can just workout and not have to worry about certain interruptions because you can’t get through a full workout when people are coming in, talk to you. It’s meant to be a compliment to you, it’s hard. So I think it helps that here, you just come in, the doors are locked, you’ve got your finger scan, you workout when you want, the weather is nice. You’re paying rent here anyway, so it makes sense.”
On the camaraderie of the roster and the changes that might be in store…
“I think we had a really unique group. They did a great job of putting together like minds, young guys who are easy to talk to. Nobody is really arrogant or overly cocky. We’ve got some ignorant guys on the team that you guys guys know who’s outlandish with his statements. I won’t put him out there, he knows who he is. Besides that, we all got along well, everybody spoke their minds, nobody was afraid to say certain things. If somebody played bad, if somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, you could address it and nobody would frown or look at you the wrong way. So I like the way our team is put together, I like the work ethic everybody had. This is one of the rare teams where you could hang out with players off the court. Everybody’s got their friends, but I could hang out with any one of the 15 guys off the court and be perfectly comfortable, eat dinner, et cetera… We’ve got a really good unit and a lot of guys made themselves some money this year, a lot of guy’s prices went up. Hopefully we can rekindle the flame, but if not, we had a good run, we had a good year together collectively and wish everybody the best of luck in the free agency process.
On how he’s approaching restricted free agency…
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a real concrete conversation with my agent about this. I wanted it to be, right now, about my rehab and about supporting the guys, being there however I could, I guess more from an emotional standpoint, for the team. I certainly wish I could have been out there. With that being said, I’m sure we’ll talk within the next couple of days about how we’re going to really approach this, the timing of things, I suppose what teams are interested, what teams would maybe like to meet in person. I don’t have a concrete plan at this point. Restricted free agency, it gets a little hairy, it takes time, teams maybe don’t want to tie their money up. I honestly don’t know all the ins and outs of it. Like I said before the season when I didn’t accept an extension, I’m confident in where I’m at. It’s my agent’s job to present whatever he has on his mind and what’s on my plate from that side of things. My job right now is simply to rehab my shoulder, continue to work on my leg strength, which is a huge focus of mine for this summer, and just figure out different way in the weight room or out here, even simple things as ball handling, just trying to improve as a player and as a man.”
On why he’s going to spend much of the offseason in Portland…
“I’m coming back to Portland just because went through all that rain, got to enjoy some of the sun. I like it here. I’m renting a spot, so I’m just going to stay here. I like Todd (Forcier) and BK (Ben Kenyon) and those guys, so definitely going to put a lot of work in in the weight room. It’s always good vibes here so I don’t think guys want to get away. Some teams, you want to get away just because you don’t like certain people. It’s not like that here. I enjoyed being here so that’s why I’m going to stick around and do most of my training out here.”
On the realities of keeping a roster with multiple free agents together…
“It’s going to be tricky with all the salary cap stuff going on. I think a lot of the guys who are free agents definitely raised their value. I think everyone did. You never know. I hope all those guys get paid well, I think they will. They deserve it. You just never know with free agency, who they go after and things like that, but I hope everybody comes back, but that’s not really realistic. It doesn’t really work like that in the league. I just tried to enjoy that time yesterday because I’ve been around a little bit and I know how the business side of things work.”
On his mindset going into the offseason…
“This summer is big for me, become more of a scoring threat. I think there’s a lot to be added. I look forward, if the opportunity is there, to come back to have some stability from a staff perspective. I would look forward to coming back to a similar situation from one season to the next. I’ve played for three coaches in three years, so I think that would be something I’d look forward to as well… Once you’ve been traded, you never know.”
On being a restricted free agent…
“Free agency is something I haven’t really thought about. I’ve tried not to think about it during the season and we just finished yesterday, so it hasn’t really been on my mind yet. It’s something that we’ll have to think about soon.”
On his first season in Portland…
I loved it. It was by far the most fun season I’ve had. These guys here are great, the organization is great. I really, really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens this summer.”
On his first season in Portland…
“It’s the most fun year I think I’ve had as a pro. We had a great group of guys, high character guys, silly guys and it was a fun year. That’s without even being on the court. On the court, we had a special group. We came together halfway through, really made it a special year all the way until last night when we’re playing against the champions, gave them all we had. Played a tough series, obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but it’s a year we’re all proud of.”
His thoughts on entering free agency and what he’s looking for…
This is my second time doing it and it’ll be a little different than the first time. I think getting a taste of what this year and this postseason was like and how much fun, how competitive it is, I think, number one, being on a team that’s a winning team. It’s obviously tough to get on one of the elite elite teams, but that could be a possibility. That could easily be a possibility here. Being on a team that is about winning and that’s a good fit for me.
On his first season with the Trail Blazers…
“It was an amazing journey of growth. We grew a lot throughout the season, personally and as a team. It was just fun to be a part of it.”
How he looks back on the season in terms of enjoyment…
The season was great. Any time you have guys that are the same age, it just makes it a lot easier to get along. It’s easy to have relatable points, different things like that. A lot of us are going through similar things in our careers so you get to relate on that note. When it came to comfortably in that sense, it was just unbelievable. And then I think that’s why the chemistry was there as well. Even our vets and the older guys like Chris Kaman, they were a joy to be around as well. From top to bottom, everybody was kind of in that same wavelength of what they were trying to do. It just made it easy to get along.