The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround Monday morning at American Airlines Arena in preparation for tonight’s game against the Heat in Miami (tipoff scheduled for 4:30 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM). Some notes …
— Monday night’s game marks the first time the Trail Blazers will play against center Greg Oden, who the team selected with the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Oden’s career with the Trail Blazers, which was hindered by multiple microfracture surgeries on his knees and a fractured left patella, ended in March of 2012 when the team waived the 7-0 center out of Ohio State. A little more than a year later, Oden signed a one year contract with the Heat and has been gradually working his way back into form ever since.
Oden, averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 8.9 minutes, will get this fifth start of the season and the 65th of his career Monday night against the Trail Blazers. He, along with Heat coach Erik Spoelestra, Blazers coach Terry Stotts and former teammates Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, spoke with the media about his playing against his former team.
How are you feeling about where you’re at and getting the start tonight?
Greg Oden: “It just helps me out getting in the rhythm of the game. But there’s still a lot of work to do, a lot of rhythm to get back, a lot of stuff to work on.”
How would you describe your emotions facing your former team tonight?
Greg Oden: “It’s a game we need to win. We’ve been up and down. It’s just about this team and us getting a win right now.”
There’s nothing personal for you to kind of get back out there?
Greg Oden: “I would like to win.”
Have you circled this date?
Greg Oden: “No. Every game I play is basically a circled date. I’m not trying to look at any team just because I used to play for them. I’m happy just to be out there playing against anybody.”
Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you’d come back?
Greg Oden: “A little bit. I’d be a liar if I said their wasn’t. But it’s been some ups and downs, but I’m here now.”
Where are you at physically? How do you feel?
Greg Oden: “I’m playing. That’s all that matters.”
Spoelstra approached you the other day and told you about the start. Were you caught off guard about getting the start?
Greg Oden: “Yeah, I thought I did something. I’m happy I get to do that and, like I said, it just helps me out with getting a better rhythm. I get to get in the rhythm of the game as everybody else gets in the rhythm of the game instead of coming in when everybody has played about 45 minutes of basketball and then I’m coming in cold trying to catch up even though I’m already a little behind anyway. I like it.”
Have you thought about how different the Trail Blazers look since you left? There’s only Nic and LaMarcus around from when you were on the roster.
Greg Oden: “Nic, LaMarcus and Wesley.”
Have you thought about how much time has passed?
Greg Oden: “I think it’s been two years since I was there. Guys move on. It’s a business like that. I’m happy those guys are still there and doing their thing. Especially happy for LaMarcus, who’s an all-star. Got to move on.”
You said you’d be lying if you said you didn’t have doubts. What was your motivation in coming back?
Greg Oden: “I just wanted to play. I was sitting at home last year watching everybody else. I wanted to come back and definitely give it a shot and show that I can still play this game.”
Thoughts on playing against Oden for the first time?
Wesley Matthews: “It’s cool to see him be able to play. They ruled him out of being able to play again, he had tough first years in the NBA. For him to be able to play and start and contribute to a team, that’s cool. Hope he doesn’t do so tonight.”
On seeing him return after so many injuries …
Wesley Matthews: “This whole NBA thing is a family, it’s a brotherhood, it’s a fraternity. To see Greg be able to overcome the obstacles that he had and to play, from his health and all of that stuff, it’s cool.”
Thoughts on seeing Oden return to the court …
Nicolas Batum: “I’m very happy for him. He’s been through a lot. A lot. I was with him a couple of years. When I broke my shoulder I did my rehab with him so we talked a lot. I’m just happy for him. I know people get mad about him, but he had no luck. If it was up to him he would be on the court for the last four or five years. He worked hard to be back, to get back and he’s done it. He’s been pretty good so far. I wish him the best and wish him to stay healthy right now and do well with Miami. Not tonight. If he can wait until the next game, that would be cool for us. But seriously, really happy for him and proud of him because I don’t think many people could go through that and be back and keep playing. I don’t think a lot of guys could do it.”
“I don’t know if I could do the same. When you’re the No. 1 pick, you’re everywhere, there’s a huge expectation around you for the last 10 years almost. To go through that, to
come to another team, get a minimum contract, that’s huge. He do it. I always said that to him, ‘You’re going to do it.’ I always tell people, ‘Don’t sleep on Greg.’ Trust me. I’ve been saying that a lot. He’ll be okay. Greg is good. He’s not a flop, he’s good. He had some bad injuries but he’ll be okay. He deserves it. He worked hard for that, so i’m glad he’s back.”
Whether he ever thinks about what could have been if Oden and others hadn’t suffered injuries …
Nicolas Batum: “No more. I’ve thought about it. The first year we didn’t make the playoffs, I thought, “What if? What if?’ Last year was different. It was a new era, so we got new guys, new coaches. The year that B.Roy retired and Greg left, I’m like, year. I remember my first season, my rookie season, we got like 54 wins. My second year when we had Greg, LA, B.Roy, Dre, I’m like, we could be a very good team. But it didn’t happen. I can’t stay in the past and think, ‘What if?’ I thought about it a little bit a couple years ago, but I don’t think about it anymore.”
On Oden starting …
Erik Spoelstra: “It’s special for him. This has been a four year journey for him just to get to this point. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes. We couldn’t be happier for him to get to this point. The word that we never used with him is fast track, the word we’ve used is patience. This has been a very slow, methodical process where it’s taken an incredible fortitude and patience, on his part, and commitment to do all the work behind the scenes. And now he’s able to contribute, virtually on an every night basis. We’re not playing him on back-to-backs right now but every other night he’s available, and i think that’s the biggest victory of all.”
What do you like most about what he’s been able to give you on the court?
Erik Spoelstra: “He’s a big-time talent. When you have somebody that talented, what usually comes with that is not only the god-given basketball abilities, but the competitiveness, the size, but also a very intelligent player. I think all of those qualities, once you start to get to know him, you realize why he was such a highly regarded player coming out of college. He’s been unfortunate to deal with something most players have never had to deal with, but in the end, he’s show incredible resilience with that. His strength is something that we’ve needed and he’s been able to provide it in short bursts.”
On what Oden provides for the Heat …
Terry Stotts: “To state the obvious, he’s a big presences inside. I think he buys them some minutes with a big man in the middle. Their defense has been so much predicated on creating turnovers and using their athleticism and closing out. (Oden), along with (Chris) Anderson, give them more of a traditional defensive look.”
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”