Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blazers' "Diamond" takes shape

Taking a page from the Celtics' successful plan from last season, the Blazers are building around their version of "The Big Three" with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden.

Coach Nate McMillan's version of the Big Three is what he calls "The Diamond" -- "to symbolize the connection that needs to be established among Roy, Aldridge, Oden and 'Coach Mac.'"

At a dinner recently at Coach McMillan's home, "they all vowed to communicate, recognize and help when one of the trio is struggling. They talked about scenarios where jealousy could arise, and how they would handle it. They talked about what each player needs from the others. They talked about what they value in one another."

Says Aldridge:

"I thought it was a great start to building a chemistry, to building a bond with those two guys. And I think it was important, because I think in order for us to be a good team, that triangle has to be real tight. When things go down, or things get tense, we have to be the three who step up."

Coach McMillan frequently looks for ways to bring his players together away from basketball, putting together bowling nights and holiday parties at his home.

However, "this gathering was different, because it centered on individuals, not team -- a concept that goes against everything McMillan preaches. But sensing the rising expectations of the fan base, and acknowledging his inclinations that this could be a breakthrough season, McMillan extended his invitations."

Says Coach McMillan:

"They have a chance to build something very special here. And I've seen it happen before. But I've also seen it where egos can't work together and they break up and separate. So I wanted to get it all out there. More than anything, I just wanted us to talk.

I knew they were relaxed when they started opening up my refrigerator without asking to get a pop. And I knew they were comfortable when they were going into my cabinets to get spices. I was like 'OK.. This is good. It's working.'"

Before the meeting, Coach McMillan "devised a discussion format where he would serve as a moderator providing the topics."

"They talked about each player's place on the team, particularly Aldridge's. Everyone knew Roy as the All-Star and rookie of the year. And Oden as the No. 1 overall pick. But how did Aldridge feel about being the one rarely talked about? And did the other two take time to think about Aldridge's feelings regarding the attention?"

The following is an excellent excerpt from the article in the Portland paper:

McMillan also presented a possible scenario: Because of knee surgeries to Roy and Oden, he might rest the two for certain practices. Not because of star treatment, but to keep the knees rested.

Aldridge, always a tireless worker, was asked how he felt about that. And Roy and Oden were cautioned that if that scenario does arise, they should respect and acknowledge that Aldridge is practicing.

They spoke to Oden, telling him that even though it was his rookie season, they wanted to see his ego. They wanted to see some attitude.

They talked about the flow of games, explaining to Oden that he shouldn't feel left out if Roy and Aldridge get in a groove and start playing off each other. And they talked about slumps, and how to be prepared if others start calling the team "Brandon's and Greg's" or "LaMarcus and Brandon's."

Then, they took turns talking about the other players.

Roy would tell Aldridge what he liked about his game, and Aldridge would tell Oden how he makes the game easier for him. Oden would reveal how Roy and Aldridge can help him through his rookie season.

"That was a good moment," Roy said. "Because we all know we are all talented players, but to hear what each had to say -- the stuff like, 'I feel like I can take on anybody when I've got you two beside me' -- that was just energizing. And Coach butted in and said, 'That's what we have to bring. That confidence right there.'"

Oden said he felt a little out of place at the meeting and therefore didn't say much.

"They were a bit more vocal than me," Oden said. "I was sitting there thinking, 'I haven't even played yet; I don't even know what it's about.' I didn't know what I could say, because I don't know exactly what it was we were talking about."

Aldridge said the biggest thing he took from the night was a feeling that he indeed belonged in the discussion of the team's Big Three.

"I was coming into this year with the mind-set that it was Brandon and Greg's team, and that I was going to have to do whatever I needed to do to fit in," Aldridge said. "But that night kind of brought me back in and made me realize we need all three of us."

[Thanks to Chris McCabe for passing along the story!]