In the midst of the unfortunate situation involving Rudy, the questions being asked about Oden's status, and calls from some fans to land an all-star point guard at all cost, two key cogs in the Blazer wheel continue to pound away and prepare for training camp.
The two original pillars of the rebuilding process in Portland, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, are working as if camp opens tomorrow. For all that is cloudy, the status of "the big two" is as clear as a bell.
Roy has spent almost the entire off season in Portland, and this week continued his workout schedule at the team's practice facility in Tualatin. Five days on, and two days (the weekend) off. I watched him work every corner of the weight room for a couple of hours, and then hit the court for various shooting drills. He wrapped up this particular day by hitting 49 of 50 free throws (and was furious that he missed the one).
Last summer Roy took some time off, and said he felt that resting his body would do him the most good. Apparently, that plan was scrapped this summer. Just days after the Blazers were eliminated by Phoenix in the playoffs, Roy was bouncing around the gym shooting jumpers. He hasn't stopped. Roy has cut weight, and as Nate McMillan commented recently, "looks like he's 15 years old." Yes, that's a good thing, at least as Brandon sees it.
After thinking at times in the past that bulking up might help him better navigate the brutal 82-game schedule, Roy now tells me, "lighter is better." He wants to be quicker, and stronger.
Aldridge has spent most of the summer in his hometown of Dallas. But, it hasn't been a vacation. Outwardly disappointed that last season ended so abruptly, Aldridge hasn't necessarily adopted the "lighter is better" philosophy. He has added muscle, and bulk, and new offensive moves.
Blazer assistant coach Bill Bayno, who is as good as they come in the player-development game, spends his summers flying from city to city, beating on Portland players and helping them prepare their bodies and minds. His latest report will be music to any Blazer fan's ears. Thursday, he was a guest on Wheels at Work, on 95.5 The Game in Portland.
"L.A. called me a few weeks back, and asked if I could come to Dallas," says Bayno. In his typical style, Bayno was on the next flight. Bayno can be very complimentary to the players he works with, but usually doesn't gush unless he totally impressed with what he sees and hears.
"I can't say enough about how good LaMarcus looks," says Bayno. "He hired a personal trainer in Dallas, a guy who works with a bunch of the Dallas Cowboys. He did that totally on his own. He's up to about 260, maybe 262 (Aldridge was listed at 240 before last season). He's stronger and bigger, and hasn't lost any of his quickness."
Aldridge continues to work on his outside shot, but is now determined to fix the things that don't necessarily come naturally, or easy, to him.
"L.A. gets doubled so much by opposing defenses," says Bayno. "I've been using my pads (his trademark over-sized boxing gloves) to pound on him, and force him baseline, force him to his left hand, and to work with him on finishing after contact. We've been doing over 100 possessions a day, where I'm just cracking him with the pads. As bad as that sounds, I'm actually the one taking the beating."
The fade-away jumper, most of the time, has been Aldridge's answer to defensive pressure. Bayno has simply been out to load the toolbox with much more.
"I want him to be physical and use his body," Bayno continues. "I want him to step into the defense and really put his butt and hips into the defender to get him either to react or commit, one way or the other. Teams try so hard to just crowd him. I've been working with him on facing up and attacking. I want him to drive and deliver the contact. Once he's done that, we've worked on his one-dribble, pull-up jumper, and going hard with his left hand."
Aldridge went into last season with the goal of being an all-star in the west. His bristled at the notion that he is simply built to be an outside-in power forward. In Bayno's opinion, the change has to be as much mental as physical.
"For him to call me up and want me to come down and beat on him tells me he's ready. He's ready to evolve and take his game to the next level," says Bayno. "He's openly talking with me about his role, and his desires, including the all-star goal. I think at times last year he might have lost his focus at times. But, we've really talked about it, and he's ready."
Haven't we heard this before, about these summer workouts with various players? What carries over, and what doesn't? The fact that it's coming from Bayno, should be enough for Blazer fans to get excited.
"I know this is going to transfer over to camp and the season," says Bayno. "He's coming to Portland, to stay, in two weeks. He's going to go nuts in September, getting ready. He's adding things to his game, that quite frankly, I don't think defenses are going to be ready for. They're not going to be able to double him as much this year, and attack him in the same way. His work this summer is going to pay huge dividends.
"He wants to be an all-star, and I wouldn't bet against him this year."