Courtesy of Joe Freeman
What were your impressions of the first practice?
“I think you saw great energy out there. I think we’ve obviously had an influx of new talent and I’m really optimistic about this year. And I think you can feel that atmosphere here in the gym.”
In light of how many lucrative contracts you OK’d this offseason, was there any apprehension about investing so much in the team?
“Well, Neil (Olshey) and I go over all those things closely, I think. One of the big decisions was when we discussed signing Evan (Turner) and that worked out. And to get Meyers (Leonard) and Moe (Harkless) back, they were all very deliberate decisions we evaluated. The financial consequences are significant, but that’s because we believe in this group of guys. They showed what they can do last year.”
What do you like about the roster?
“I think we have the potential to be an extremely good passing team. That’s what Evan can help bring to our roster to help out CJ (McCollum) and Dame (Lillard) with ball-handling. So passing, shooting, we’re pretty darn good in those areas. I think that’s going to be one of our hallmarks. And I think we’re athletic enough that we can run more. And I think that’s going to be something you’ll hopefully see something more of this year, too.”
What are your expectations for the season?
“I always try not to make, as you know — I think we’ve done this for a while — I don’t make particular predictions on the number of wins and losses. But I think we have a chance to be significantly better than last year. And I think everybody was really encouraged to see how the team came together last year, how well the coaching meshed with the talent. And the guys that Neil brought in, I think, exceeded everybody’s expectations. So that was a very encouraging year last year and hopefully we’ll build on that.”
How would you describe how the business side of the Blazers is doing?
“Good. Good. We had a very good year last year. Obviously, we’re increasing our payroll. But all the media numbers and everything go up, too. So we’re going to be spending more this year, but we think it’s justified.”
How would you describe the job Stotts has done?
“I think he’s done an excellent job. I think it’s pretty unique to see a coach adjust to the talent he has and maximize the abilities of the players he has and help them keep growing. You have to realize, we’re a very, very young team. I was kidding Neil earlier, I said, ‘Well, there’s other teams that seem to try to perfect the art of using older players to their maximum, whereas our approach is to bring in young talent, in some cases unproven talent, and try to take that talent to another level.’ And I think you saw that in terms of player development last year. So both in terms of development and execution, obviously, and making it out of the first round last year and giving Golden State a real run for their money, that was all extremely encouraging.”
What was the most encouraging thing you saw at practice today?
“I think just the energy. And I think the emphasis — I don’t know if you guys could see it out there — our ability to pass the ball and get guys open shots, use our athleticism to get to the rim, either in running or lobs or whatever, those things you’re going to see more of that this year than you have.”
What gives you optimism that the league can avoid another lockout when the NBA CBA negotiations begin?
“As individual owners, we’re not supposed to speak about CBA negotiations. So I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to say that, given the economics that are in play here, I think it’s in everybody’s — the players and the owner’s — best interest to work something out. So I’m optimistic.”
What’s your opinion about the advertising patches that are going to be added to the uniforms next year?
“I’m a member of the committee that reviewed those things for the league. I think that additional revenue makes the league healthier. So the challenge for us, depending on the size of the market, is to sell those patches to somebody that’s going to also well represent the team and those sorts of things. So I think you’ll see that evolve over the next few years. You already see it in other sports, whether it’s soccer or basketball in other places. So I think we’ll all get very used to it quickly.”
You don’t think it’ll be weird to see an ad on a Blazers jersey?
“Well it’s definitely going to be a change. But, again, I think additional revenues help teams and so we’ll all get used to it in the end.”
With so much of the core of this team locked up for years, are you prepared to pay the luxury tax?
“That darn luxury tax is pretty painful. You have to make those decisions. As you know, at one point, I believe I had the record for the highest luxury tax payments. In the end, that didn’t make sense. So that’s something we’ll have to look at very carefully. Sometimes you can go into the tax for a year or something and then come out of it if it makes sense as you’re transitioning through different player contracts. So it’s something Neil and I will evaluate very carefully.”