We’re counting down the days till the start of the new season, and it’s about time for everyone to be making predictions. This year, instead of just doing one prediction, I decided to go out and interview one blogger for every NBA team.
The bloggers whose opinions we will be graced with over the next few weeks are the best of the best, as all of them have featured in Yahoos Ball Don’t Lie basketball blog’s Blog Association, where Kelly Dwyer has been profiling the best team-centric NBA blogs out there. If you have any inclination of increasing your knowledge about the NBA, these are the blogs you need to read and subscribe to. (I know I will be!)
Today, we are honored to interview Couper and SJ from Rip City Project, home to the most luminous and scintillating analysis on the Blazers ever known to man. Couper and SJ were gracious enough to lay down the truth about the Lakers and the Blazers.
Jonny: Out on a limb, although backing it up with solid reasoning would be cool too, what do you think the ball park for the Blazer’s 08-09 regular season record will be, and how do you feel they will place in the Pacific/West?
Rip City Project: Out on a limb like when Garth Brooks had an alter ego. This is my least favorite type of prediction. But here goes. I keep my expectations with this Blazer team very realistic. The talent is there but they haven’t even played a game yet so there will be absolutely no championship talk from me. 41-41 last year without Oden, Rudy or Bayless on the team. Add those three guys and I’d say that the very least those guys are good for 4-5 more wins. And as I read that I feel like I’m low-balling but I think a ballpark of 45-48 wins is very, very, very realistic. They have the talent to get to 50 but it is going to take some time for everyone to hit on all cylinders. Staying with the realism, the Blazers aren’t finishing any higher than 7th or 8th. The West is too tough to go much higher. Look at it. The top 5 aren’t going anywhere (LA, NO, SA, Utah, Houston) especially considering the fact that Houston improved to a championship threat. And in October I must still put Phoenix over the Blazers right now. So realistically, this season the Blazers will be fighting for the 7/8 spots along with Dallas, the Clippers and the Warriors. I see them taking 2nd in the Northwest, contending for a while with the Jazz but eventually watching them pull away. They’ll overtake the Nuggets that’s for sure.
Jonny: Again, out on the said limb, what do you think the ball park for the Laker’s 08-09 regular season record will be, and how do you feel they will place in the Pacific/West?
RCP: With the talent they have and coming off the year they had, the Lakers could break 60 wins. That’s assuming no injuries and everyone can continue to mesh well together. It’s almost sad entering a year knowing that Kobe is going to trust his teammates off the bat… I miss the Laker drama. Everyone knows their record with Pau is stupid. Bringing Bynum back to the fold with Kobe as a team player and the underrated depth should get them the #1 seed in the West. They’re taking the Pacific with ease – the Suns, while somewhat slept on, can’t keep up with the Purple & Gold anymore. The Lakers have the tools to get to the Finals again but it’s all about who they draw in the playoffs.
Jonny: how do you feel the Blazers match up with the Lakers over a 7-game series?
RCP: While we’re on this comfy little limb, I’ll go ahead and say I think it’s entirely possible for the Blazers to win a seven game series with L.A. Obviously, home court advantage would play a huge role, as the Rose Garden fans possessed by the spirit of that 1977 crowd that rushed the court and mobbed a shirtless Bill Walton whenever the Lakers are in town. I’m sure there will be dissenters, but we give our crowd the edge, despite the Laker lurkers that get made fun of on the jumbotron.
In the backcourt, Lakers get the edge just because of Kobe. Fisher with the nod over Steve Blake, too, but if Jerryd Bayless plays himself into the starting lineup, then this could be a different story come April. Small Forward, you give it to Odom, because he’s the paper talent over Martell/Outlaw. But that brings us to the crux of the argument, do the Lakers come together as a team enough? We’ve certainly seen them do it, but they also folded like the mid 90′s Arsenio Hall Show far too often. If we can tell you one thing about the Blazers, it’s that they are going to play as a team. Back to matchups: Pau gets the nod over Aldridge, but that also could change now that LMA is bigger, and meaner. LMA isn’t the passer Gasol is, but you wonder if he can push him around like the Celtics big-man-conglomerate did in the Finals. Oden gets the edge at Center until further notice, because, according to LaMarcus, he favors dunking on people’s faces. Seriously though, we’ll get to that matchup later, but we’ve got faith in G.O. Depth-wise, Portland takes the contest. Ariza is a nice piece, and you’ve got your Euro-shooters, but the Blazers have a true buffet of goodness off the bench, ready for any matchup. Travis, Rudy, Jerryd, they can all go off for points in handfuls (just our projections on Rudy and Bayless), Big Joel might be the best backup center in the league and will anchor the gambling D of the perimeter guys, and we can either go hustle-big with Ike Diogu or have Channing take guys outside.
But it all comes back to Kobe. If Kobe wants, he can make life miserable for Roy. If he wants, he can demolish us, like when he dropped 65 on us two years ago. But we saw a, what’s the right word, weird Kobe in the playoffs at times last year. Still, if the Lakers have home court, you have to give them the series in 6, but we can guarantee you it won’t be the same as playing the Nuggets in the first round.
Jonny: Lakers fans are split down the middle on Odom; some love his versatility, others hate his inconsistency. As an opposing fan, how do you rate Odom?
RCP: Lamar Odom = Public Enemy #1 in Portland. I swear the guy turns his swagger up 1000 notches when he sees the Blazers. There seems to be a general consensus around the league that Odom is one of those guys who’s great to have a lead with, but not to play from behind. He made some strides toward changing this thinking against Utah in the playoffs, but he’s still the big X-Factor for the Lakers solely based on his inconsistency.
By going into a Laker game you know Kobe’s going to do damage and you generally know what Pau is going to do give or take a few points and rebounds. Odom is up and down and all around. The good news for Laker fans is that he’ll have even less responsibility with Bynum and Gasol finally playing together. And the rumors are that he’ll turn into the Lakers super-sub which is somewhat scary because Phil could get him to buy into that and come in super aggressive. And when he’s aggressive he’s at his best. When he’s passive he becomes a regular guy. A regular Odom scares no one.
Jonny: What do you think of Kobe’s decisions to put-off surgery on his injured pinky?
RCP: A couple thoughts: One is that he obviously wants to win right now. And I mean right now. He doesn’t want to risk anything. Secondly, I speculate that maybe the pinky may not be quite as mangled as we believed. Either that or he’s just found a way to manage it. Or he’s just a mindfreak. I’m guessing he said ‘I’ve gone this far without it getting significantly worse, I can keep pushing it’ and I can’t blame him. The mini Kobe-hater inside me thinks he’s trying to add to his legacy by playing on 4 fingers for a year plus . . . just saying. It’s just the type of thing sportswriters would reference for decades though.
Editors Note: that would actually make sense, as Jordan never won with 9 fingers. . hmmm
Jonny: What is your perception on Bynum? Lakers fans have him pegged as the next *insert hall-of-fame center*, yet the rest of the league doesn’t seem to hold him in such a high regard.
RCP: Bynum’s an interesting case. He’s obviously on the second tier of big men in the Western Conference. Duncan, Yao, Amare, Boozer and a host of others are ahead of him. Not saying that’s bad but I believe Laker fans overrate him. And I think it showed when the Lakers took off with the addition of Pau. Anytime your team can make it to the Western Conference Finals without you, no matter what additions it speaks volumes. That said, having Pau there will be perfect for him. I wouldn’t put him as a Hall of Famer, because we don’t know if he’s got the same drive as the best bigs had, but he can make a fine living with his jump hook a rebounding, and the Lakers shouldn’t need much more than that.
Jonny: Your thoughts on Bynum and Oden? both are coming off of season ending injury and subsequent rehab. do you feel they’ll be able to live up to the hype? who do you think is better/will have the better 08/09 campaign? Career?
RCP: Oden will be able to live up to the hype. It’s become a media cliché to under rank him because of how little we’ve seen, which is fine for now, but having followed every single report on him, there’s never been a reason to doubt. It may seem like a small thing, but he’s even added a mid-range jumper to his arsenal, which says a lot about the type of worker he is. I don’t think it will be immediate but he just has too many weapons to not at least be good. The word bust shouldn’t be even thought about with his name. Of course, expectations for Oden went way down after least year. During the great winning streak of last year…in my mind I rationalized being able to get to the playoffs without Oden. 41-41 with Pryzbilla as our starter. Even at his worst, Oden is better than Pryzbilla… so in my mind the sky is the limit. He’s too good not too.
As for Bynum…I feel like people wrote him off and then he killed last year and there just isn’t much hype for him anymore. Laker fans are expecting greatness but I think for the most part a lot of fans see him as good but not great. He could be an All-Star…he could not be, it wouldn’t surprise too many people either way. I say Bynum has the better year…Oden will have the typical rookie peaks and valleys but I think Oden will ultimately have the better career. It’s also worth noting that the Lakers’ core (meaning Kobe) is going to be gone before the Blazers are broken up, so Bynum’s future in terms of wins is a little more in doubt.
Jonny:The Blazers are nothing if not really young and even more talented. do you feel that the Blazers will be able to keep this core together once the players start asking for that big second contract? whats your best case/worst case predictions for the Blazers long term?
RCP: A piece or two will have to go but I believe the main core will be around for the long haul. Martell and Travis, one of those two will eventually be out of a Blazer uniform, but Coup thinks they only go for prime value – they are both too valuable to let go for salary concerns. Sergio Rodriguez won’t be there much longer and it will come down to Channing or Ike. So the team is going to change but it will be subtle changes. Oden, Roy and LaMarcus aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. That’s the Big 3. Bayless and Rudy should be around for a while and the rest…we’ll see.
Jonny: What are your thoughts on the “player exodus” from the NBA to Europe? do you think a Kobe or a Lebron would ever seriously consider leaving the NBA?
RCP: I think a superstar could consider leaving the NBA. I don’t see it happening. It would take 10 boatloads of money…and I just don’t see it happening. I don’t see a team who can financially afford the major league dollars it would take to get a super, duper star over to the NBA. So far the player exodus has consisted of restricted free agents or free agents who just were not going to get that kind of money in the States. If anything it’s exposed how great of an option Europe truly is. People have overlooked the money that can be made over there, almost thumbing their nose and obviously that’s changed now thanks to Mr. Childress.
Jonny: What got you into blogging? how do you feel about it as a news medium?
RCP: I feel like we got into blogging because we were just tired of hearing the same things over and over again. Back when we started there was just a lot of lazy reporting and dumb things being said by mainstream broadcasters and writers. I know myself I was just tired of ESPN’s coverage of the NBA. They were driving me nuts. Having to listen to Legler, Stephen A. and co. just spout nonsense was hurting my brain. And it just felt like the same things over and over again, so we just wanted to get a different voice out of there. We’ve had ups and downs and we’re still learning but at the end of the day we feel like we’re finding our voice. As a news medium I think it’s great when used responsibly. There are so many good blogs you can read out there, and while over saturation may be a small concern, it keeps you honest and it keeps you thinking, especially as a writer.
It was sad to see that Buzz Bissinger/Will Leitch episode of Costas Now earlier in the year, because it just showed how ill-perceived blogs are. Sure, there are blogs hardly worth the D in Damn, but you can say the same thing about some people actually working in the industry. Really, a blog is just what you want it to be, and if you handle yourself with integrity, take accountability with your writing and have meaningful things to say, well, then you deserve to be listened to.
And finally, THIS , should be played at high volume, and preferably, in a residential area.
See you in the playoffs.
To see my corresponding interview with Rip City Project, Click here
Thanks again to Couper and SJ for their time and Insights.. Please DO NOT troll Rip City Project, even if you think their ideas are totally off base (which you shouldn’t). Remember, on the Internet, you and I represent Lakers fans everywhere. Lets try to give ourselves a good name.