By Todd Dybas, NW sports writer covering baseball, football and basketball for SI.com, CSNNW.com and sportspressnw.com
Exasperated on the other end of the phone, an NBA coach was asked if he can have his team ready in a 30-day window.
I have no choice, he told me.
That was during the first snow of commissioner David Sterns nuclear winter. Now, its reality for the Trail Blazers, and the rest of the league.
While players, representatives and minions dawdled in New York for months, NBA teams were assembling contingency plans.
They spent time guessing at the length of the season. What the new collective bargaining agreement may look like. How they could finish the roster around the few answers each had.
Now that the abhorrent lockout is over, no club is in more flux than Portland.
Its not just the Blazers roster that is in question, but who will be responsible for filling it. After suspending the general manager search, its assumed interim GM Chad Buchanan will be the face of decisions influenced by many others in the organization.
Those core decisions -- what they do with Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, specifically -- will represent what the Blazers brass believes this club is.
Keep them for multiple years and youre saying they -- plus an already locked up LaMarcus Aldridge -- are the core.
Minimizing their deals is an admission of disbelief in each.
But that would be the best scenario for Portland. One that could occur because of pervasive desperation to get everything started.
That means Oden cant wait to play. Subsequently, he takes the qualifying offer and the Blazers get, at long last, a legit look at him with no strings attached.
Then the Blazers can use the amnesty clause reportedly in the new CBA on Roy next year, avoiding that cap hit. That would allow them to assess then possibly discard his albatross contract. It would also bump them to within shouting distance of the new expected salary cap range.
Those moves enable Portland to have a season-long look at the group. The results would provide a baseline for the subsequent general manager -- assuming there ever is one -- to assess from. Then he can finally answer the question, just who are theses guys?
The Blazers had the second-smallest point differential among Western Conference playoff teams last season, a scant plus-1.5.
So, is this a middling 48-win team that was five games from being out of the playoffs last season?
Or is it a team that needs a moderate bump to join the upper tier in the Western Conference?
As constituted, the latter seems unlikely. If not directly because of the roster, then because of the competition.
Memphis is in line to leap Portland. San Antonio, Dallas, the Lakers, and Oklahoma City will remain the iron of the conference.
Injury history suggests Roy and Oden cant be relied on. Common sense suggests not having a general manager is a bad idea.
Without Oden, there is no suitable backup for the fragile Marcus Camby.
Without Roys craftsmanship, the bench immediately thins.
Without leadership, there is ruin.
Blended together, the winter may not be nuclear powered since there will actually be a season. But next summer may be post-apocalyptic in Portland if Roy and Oden cant perform.