It's hard work being a Portland Trail Blazers fan. It's even harder when you know absolutely nothing about the team. Aren't they supposed to be a bunch of thugs with joints dangling from their agape maws? They lose every game, correct? And that Greg Oden guy—he's like Sam Bowie, if Bowie had been run over by a produce truck, right? Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
The current crop of Blazers are better than all that. Currently at the mid-season mark and flirting with first place, this team is most likely playoff bound, so you better climb back onboard that Rip City bandwagon while there's still room. We won't judge you for your fair weather fandom, in fact, we're here to help. Let this be your primer in better understanding this team; a handy guide to who's who, who does what, and who the hell is Ike Diogu.
Barring freakish injury, diabolic maneuvering by the team's kazillionaire owner (Paul Allen), or the evil hauntings of Kevin Duckworth's ghost, everyone knows the Portland Trail Blazers are barreling toward the playoffs this year. And while it's still too early to be sizing yourself for a championship ring, it's still our journalistic duty to assist you—uninformed sports fan eager to hop aboard the Blazers bandwagon to Kickass Championshipville (Population: You!)—in deciphering the complicated workings of the '08-'09 Blazers, player by player:
More ink has been spilled on Oden—the former number one pick who missed his initial season with a bum knee—than any other player wearing red and black. As unstable on his feet as he is emotional, Oden has the rare ability to appear both absolutely dominating and completely inept at the same exact moment. At his best, Oden lumbers about, leaving a violent pile of opposing players scattered in his messy wake. At his worst, he's like a drunken toddler, unsure of his footing and completely foreign to the very concept of putting a round ball through a netted hoop. He might be the worst player right now, and the best player come tomorrow. Lord only knows.
With a plaintive blue-collar work ethic, Przybilla's rigid height—in a game of giants, he looms larger and moodier than his peers—meshes perfectly with his limited range of emotions: anger, disapproval, or quiet gratification. Never varying from the three, the Vanilla Gorilla (or Albino Godzilla, or Ashen Chinchilla, or just make up your own) is the bruiser imprisoned underneath the basket, unafraid to angrily introduce his elbow to someone else's grill with a boring, workmanlike delivery. The disapproval setting on Przybilla's emotional pendulum is reserved for young teammates who slip up on court, and it's delivered via a condemning glare akin to a dissatisfied father mercilessly grilling his daughter's potential suitor. Your best intentions be damned; you anger Przybilla and the man will kill you with his eyes. His final mood—if you can call it that—is his muted gratification. A soft smile when all goes well, Przybilla displays a downright indifference to the politics of the game and all the baggage towed along with it. He just wants to win; on the court, on the bench, or with his elbows buried in the soft skeletal tissue of another man's face—it doesn't matter.
Spanish sensation that the Blazers acquired on draft night two years ago, Rudy Fernández has developed into a crowd favorite despite a shot selection that ranges from wild to batshitfuckingcrazy. While his methods will trigger coronaries in traditional NBA followers, Rudy manages to produce on the court at will. Also, he's the only Blazers player you secretly want to date your sister. Or yourself.
Hands down the greatest Blazer ever—just not at the sport of basketball. In fact, behind his rah-rah attitude about Portland, blogging skills, and media presence, the game of hoops might be Frye's worst asset. He currently sits so far off the team's depth charts that he is behind journeyman Ike Diogu, cripple Raef LaFrentz, banished malcontent Darius Miles, former oaf Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje, and furry mascot Blaze the Trail Cat. All of those humans—and mascots—are more likely to see court time than Frye.
Resembling that kid from Gummo, Blake carries the burden of constantly being on the cusp of unemployment—yet he never actually does anything wrong. Since his initial run with Portland in 2005, Blake has repeatedly battled inferior players for the starting point guard role. And as Sebastian Telfair, Juan Dixon, Jarrett Jack, and Sergio Rodríguez have all come to realize, Blake has no intention of being handed a pink slip.
The jury is still out on Bayless. While his tenacious pit bull demeanor is commendable, he's still an awkward puppy trying to harness his skill set. But when he's ready, the Blazers' most recent first round pick will, without a doubt, gnaw his way onto the Blazers' starting lineup. Unless he gets ringworm and Mom has to put him to sleep. (Although she'll tell you he ran away to a nice family two towns over. God, I hate Mom so much right now.)
The face of the franchise, Roy is the team's anchor. If he plays, more than likely Portland wins. If he doesn't, they should probably just not bothering showing up. Spends more time falling to the floor than my grandma with her bad hip—but don't let his boring façade and deliberate methods fool you: Roy is a beast on court and can do absolutely no wrong. Up close, he smells like cinnamon and little cartoon birds perch on his shoulder and whistle him a tune. He's that good.
If Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button have taught us anything, it's that slow-talking Southerners can change lives and teach us valuable life lessons. A product of Starkville, Mississippi, Travis Outlaw has taught Portland that points can come off the bench and his unorthodox jumpshots are knocked back smoother than the tallest glass of sweet tea. Bonus: Outlaw drives a ridiculous custom car that can best be described as somewhere between a '70s blaxploitation pimp mobile and the type of brash vehicle a rental clown might drive to a child's birthday party. Pimps and clowns.
With a starting job awaiting him, Webster shaved his dome and bulked up before the season, primed to have a breakout year. Instead, because of a foot injury (it was mauled in a bear trap or something) Webster has played all of five minutes this year. Plus, those five minutes took place during a road game in Toronto, Canada—so technically they aren't American minutes, and thus not really worth counting.
Big and Texan, Aldridge has shed the tag of "soft" (a basketball label for weak players not named Joel Przybilla) and assumed the role of a modern-day Rasheed Wallace—sans the whole "technical fouls and berating the officials" thing.
If turnovers could talk, they'd speak Spanish and play like Rodríguez. It's hard to tell if Sergio is the future of the franchise, trade bait, or... I'm sorry. I got distracted when Rodríguez turned the ball over again. What was I saying?
A French teenager acquired deep in the dregs of the draft, Batum was supposed to be the fourth best rookie of the Blazers, but instead his lanky frame and outside jumper have earned him a starting job. Little known fact: Every night he jams a needle into the foot of a Martell Webster voodoo doll, then laughs maniacally.
Seldom-used muscle off the bench, Diogu hasn't played enough minutes to rightfully garner his very own "I Like Ike" promotional campaign. "I'm Indifferent to Ike," perhaps? Because, after all, "like" is such a strong word.
Other than an excuse for you not to toss your Zach Randolph replica jerseys, Shavlik Randolph's main role is to keep the Blazers' bench nice and warm. But not too warm, since Shavlik will never live down a comment from his pre-Blazers days regarding his open-minded attitude toward gay athletes: "As long as you don't bring your gayness on me."