The evolution that has allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to go from one of the worst teams in the NBA to playoff contenders in just a few short years has been multifaceted.
There’s the continued and accelerated maturation of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. The out-of-nowhere emergence of Nicolas Batum. The veteran presences of Joel Przybilla, Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw. The chemistry and playmaking ability of Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez. The shear size and intimidation that is Greg Oden. And of course, there’s Nate McMillan and his staff guiding all of it with aplomb.
And during that evolution we’ve seen the Trail Blazers go from young and inexperienced to … young and slightly less inexperienced. Nevertheless, they’ve managed to successfully traverse a talent-laden Western Conference thanks to a gang of hard work, a surprising level of consistency, a rowdy home court and a little bit of swagger, or swag for short.
All of the good teams have swagger. It’s one thing to be humble and unassuming, but through the course of an 82 game season, you’ve got to be able to get your swag on. You need that confidence, that unwavering self-assurance, to play night in, night out against some of the best athletes in the world. Some nights, your legs just aren’t going to be there. You’ll get sick. You’ll be tired. You’ll miss your family and your own bed and home cooked food. You’ll go down 18 points to a team with 22 wins. You’ll go down 19 to a team with 50 wins.
That’s when you break out the swag.
But what exactly is swagger, you ask? Turns out, there are varying definitions.
“It’s not like a kind or a thing,” said LaMarcus Aldridge of swagger. “You just have it. I have it when I do certain things on the court or the way you carry yourself and the way you play with confidence. That’s having a swagger.”
While Aldridge considers swagger somewhat undefinable, Brandon Roy has a much more definitive idea of what swagger means to him.
“Swag is attitude to me,” said Roy.”If I could put it in one word, it’s attitude. That doesn’t mean you’re mean; it’s just the way you carry yourself.”
And according to the players and coaches, everybody has it. Different guys show it in different ways and to varying degrees, but make no mistake, this team is laden with swag, and it starts with team leaders Aldridge and Roy.
“LA, his swag got a lot more demeanor to it, like he walk high,” said Travis Outlaw. “Don’t get me wrong, great person, but you get him on the court and it be like, he thinks he’s everything. That’s a good swag to have.”
“Brandon try to give you that cool, I’m calm look, you know?” continued Outlaw. “That’s kind of his swag.”
“Brandon got cool man swag because he’s never out of control,” said Channing Frye. “He’s always cool about everything. Even when he had 50 I think he showed a little bit of emotion right there at the end but other than that, just cool man swag.”
Besides being cool, part of Roy’s swag is knowing he has swag.
“I ain’t going to pick no one,” joked Roy when asked which Trail Blazers have swagger. “Me, I got all the swag.
“Honestly, in their own way, everybody has a swagger about themselves. Joel be swaggin’, Bayless be swaggin’. I think some guys who don’t really have it. Trav is kind of real low-key. He don’t be swaggin’. LA be swaggin.’ Blake every once in a while, but not really. Sergio, not really. Sometimes he puts those little tight jackets on.”
The idea that clothing plays a role when it comes to swagger, typified by Roy’s mention of Rodriguez’s “little tight jackets,” was echoed by a few of the players. Clothes, as the saying goes, may make the man, but they also make the swag.
“Nic got some French swag,” said Frye. “He don’t really say much, but he’ll hit you with the French words. Nic is a cool cat, man. He’s a little young right now. I think you’re going to see Nic’s swag come out a little bit. With his little chains, his little watch and stuff. You know, Nic got a lot of swag to him, it’s just quiet swag.”
Despite being the quietest guy in the locker room, Batum was singled out by nearly all of his teammates when it comes to swagger, proving that swag transcends languages and cultures.
“Nicolas Batum, Mr. Smooth,” said Outlaw. “You see him, when he block a shot or something, he look out at the crowd. And I’m like, ‘OK Nic, swag on out on ‘em!’ He just Mr. Smooth, the kid from France.”
“Nic definitely has swagger,” said Aldridge. “When he dunked on Pau he put up two (fingers). That’s a swagger.”
Batum wasn’t the only rookie on the Trail Blazers roster singled out for swagger. In fact, the young bucks seem just as willing to swag as their veteran counterparts.
“Jerryd Bayless is just a high energy swag,” said Outlaw. “He scream on everything! He hit a jump shot, he’ll scream. He’s just a motivator. He’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m good, I’m good. Look at me.”’
“Rudy kind of has the rockstar swagger,” said Frye. “He just goes from the gut at all times. It’s like he just goes on instincts. It’s exciting. He might make one mistake, but that’s not going to deter him from that next one.”
The opposite of the rock star swag is the the laid back swag. It’s reserved, a bit tougher to notice, but it’s there.
“Myself, I got I-am-who-I-am swag,” said Frye. “I think that’s just based on me being who I am all the time. Like screw it, if it works it works, if it doesn’t, I’ll just try something else.”
Finally, for all his talk of swagger, Outlaw was the only player to downplay his own swag.
“I’m about the only one who ain’t got swag,” said Outlaw. "This is me, happy go lucky. If I hit like three shots in a row, you’ll see me start smiling. That’s about my swag.”