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.”
The 2015-16 NFL season comes to a close Sunday with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers facing off at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA. And after having an official rooting interest the last two years by way of the Seattle Seahawks, a team owned by Paul Allen, making the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons, the Trail Blazers seem fairly ambivalent about the result this time around. Various player on Portland’s roster have acquaintances on both the Broncos and Panthers, and Gerald Henderson is probably pulling slightly for Carolina considering he spent his first six NBA seasons in Charlotte while playing for the Bobcats/Hornets, but outside of those casual ties, the preference among most of the Trail Blazers is to simply see a good game regardless of which team wins.
Outside of Terry Stotts, that is. While he’s not taking the game too seriously, if at all, Portland’s head coach would like to see the Broncos win the Super Bowl for one reason: he looks a bit like Denver quarterback and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Despite being almost 20 years older and roughly five inches taller, it’s not uncommon for Stotts to be mistaken for Manning, at least outside of Portland.
“I was sitting in Starbucks in a Vegas and a guy kept looking at me while I was drinking my Starbucks,” recalled Stotts. “As I was leaving he showed me a picture on his phone and he goes ‘Is this you?’ and it was a picture of Peyton Manning. I said ‘No, wrong guy’… And last summer I was up in Canada and somebody thought I was Peyton Manning up there, too.”
It’s not hard to see the resemblance. They share similar complexions, similar builds and just have the somewhat difficult to pinpoint look of men who have played contact sports at their highest levels for extended periods of time. Putting your body through that kind of rigor obviously takes a toll, one that can be seen in both Stotts and Manning, the most obvious example being the long, thin nose rendered permanently crooked by countless hits and multiple breaks that both men share.
But on a more obvious and less esoteric level, the two share some easy to distinguish features that make for apt comparisons. They both have narrow jaws, long faces, large foreheads and closely cropped, slightly thinning brown hair parted from left to right. Then there’s the shared facial expressions that fluctuate between aw-shucks when content and red-faced, about-to-blow when angered. Whatever is, Stotts looks enough like a Manning to get mistaken for Peyton on the regular while somehow avoiding comparisons to his younger brother Eli, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants.
One might assume Stotts would take offense at being mistaken for a Manning considering he’s built an impressive pro sports resume of his own, but apparently the flattery of the comparison more than outweighs the annoyance of being lesser known.
Said Stotts: “Saying that I look like someone who is 20 years younger than me is totally okay.”
It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,
Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.
For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.
But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.
“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”
Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.
“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”
As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.
“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.
“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”
While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.
“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”
He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.
“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”
“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”
It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.
HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.
After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.
“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”
Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.
“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”
Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.
“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”
Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.
CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.
“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.