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Kelly Dwyer

Travis Outlaw wants to start, but he's not complaining

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Some of these sorts of athlete confessionals, yeah, you have to wonder if the fans have read anything more than the headline and a pull-quote before deciding to slam a particular player for perceived selfishness and/or hubris.

Usually the damning quote in question has an athlete confirming that he thinks he could be an All-Star, or the best in his league at his position, or that he thinks his team can take on all comers in the year that's about to commence.

And there's nothing wrong with those. Unless the guy is absolutely deluded ("I think I should have been an All-Star last year," when there were 15 better candidates ahead of him who were snubbed), it's usually a generic display of the sort of confidence you'd like to see in a player.

On the other hand, there are some confessionals that outright infuriate. Always blustery, always out of touch, they come off as more preening and whining as opposed to hopeful and encouraging.

I think Travis Outlaw's latest batch of quotes sort of falls right down the middle of these two. Actually, scratch that. Closer to the former. It's still worth going over, but it wouldn't be correct to think that this guy is a half-step away from demanding to start.

To begin, his thoughts come from an absolute must-read piece from Jason Quick, who followed Outlaw all over a recent visit to his Starkville, Mississippi home, while giving us a perfect example of the not-as-heralded-athlete-who-finally-gets-a-forum-all-to-his-not-as-heralded-self. Terrific reporting from Jason, here.

In it, Outlaw comes off as optimistic about Portland's chances over the next few years, while alternately hesitant, frustrated, resigned to his role in a good way, and encouraged about his future.

Outlaw turns 24 later this month, he's been around the NBA for a while now but that age is significant. He's years and years and years away from his prime, and though Travis is an average player now in just about every way, continued growth at the rate he's shown should have him turn into a real special piece in four or five years.

Probably not worthy of an All-Star spot, but you wouldn't think twice about his role as a starter on a championship-worthy team. Provided that team has some real franchise talents already in the starting lineup. And Portland, with Brandon Roy leading the show and Greg Oden in the wings, appears to have those talents in place. Along with alarming (for the rest of the league) depth and impending cap space.

That doesn't mean Outlaw, in the beginning of a column that sees his mood shift all over the place, doesn't have reservations. He's got them. Party of one.

"We have a really good team. But I don't know if they are going to be able to keep us together."

Now, that makes no sense. This comes across as Travis feeling sorry for himself.

Portland owner Paul Allen would pay triple luxury tax for a winner, whatever that means. He's pay whatever it took, and the Trail Blazers have a championship-level core. He'll be able to keep things together, unless Outlaw is so unhappy with is role that he's willing to take less money to play elsewhere. Travis doesn't have a guaranteed contract with the Blazers in 2009-10, but come on.

"I don't want to be a sixth man forever."

This, I don't have a problem with. I don't see this as complaining about his role. I love my gig here at Yahoo!, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't want to run, say, CBS. Cancel every show, keep David Letterman fat and sassy and maybe placed in primetime, and just run a Barney Miller marathon until I figure out what the rest of my lineup is going to look like. That's my first week. Easy-peezy.

The problem is, would Outlaw help as a starter? Travis was Portland's go-to shooter down the stretch of some games last year. And he certainly was big at the ends of quarters, where the Blazers would isolate Outlaw long enough for him to pull off that hard-dribble and pull-up 20 footer that he likes so much.

Starting Martell Webster, who is not as good but also two years younger and the better three-point shooter, seems the best route. He doesn't need shots, he spreads the floor, while Outlaw needs the ball to contribute. And with Roy, rookies Rudy Fernandez, Greg Oden and Jerryd Bayless on the floor with LaMarcus Aldridge, shots are going to be hard to come by. Those players are all more efficient scorers (or, Bayless will be eventually enough) than Outlaw.

Didn't Travis out-shoot Webster from long range last year?

Yes, but Webster hit three times as many three-pointers, at about the same percentage (38.8 to 40 percent), and shooting percentages have a way of being the flukiest stat around. Webster's long-range shooting has gotten steadily better as he's been in the league. Outlaw's was pretty crummy until one hot year in 2007-08. Always beware the one hot year, because it could come crashing down back to the previous averages before you know it. Hopefully it won't, but I'm just pointing this out.

There are other encouraging signs. Outlaw was a pretty crummy rebounder until last year, and while his 4.6 boards in 26.7 minutes may not seem like a lot, he is getting better. His rebounding rate put him right around Caron Butler, James Posey, and Luol Deng last year. Not good, especially for someone with his length and athletic gifts, but average enough and improving.

He blocks shots, and he hits that 20-footer of his. I'm not a fan of it in big bunches, though, and neither is Portland coach Nate McMillan, who'd prefer that Outlaw mix it up. Outlaw is not a fan of Nate not being a fan.

"Now, Carmelo, he's doing 360 (degree) fades, and George Karl is over there (he claps his hands) 'That's all right.' Let me get a light like that. I be trying some stuff."

Yeah, well, George Karl's trying to keep his job. The best way to do that is to get the franchise player on your side.

And the best coaching run of Karl's Denver career came when he inspired the Nuggets to a 32-8 record after taking over midway in 2004-05, while insisting that Carmelo Anthony not try that ridiculous fadeaway or face-up jumper. During that spell, Carmelo averaged right at 9.99 free throws per 36 minutes, as the Nuggets romped.

Last year, for Melo? 7.6 per 36. Horrible for a player who is three years older and should be living at the line. And Outlaw? 4.1 per 36.

Nate's right. Get to the line. Don't be trying some stuff.

That doesn't mean that Travis, eventually, doesn't get it. A double-negative meaning a positive.

"I look at myself and I might be that floating piece, you know? When you need something, you be like, we just put him in right there. Maybe that's it. I feel like I'm that guy that if they need anything -- a spark or something -- they will call on me. I feel like I can change the game sometimes."

That sort of sounds like the perfect guy you want coming off the bench. Someone who can score when the play breaks down, and the backup point guard doesn't know what to do, and you need an isolation scorer. A great shot-blocker. An improving rebounder. A 24 year-old with hops and room to grow.

"I don't want people to think I'm satisfied with coming off the bench all the time. I want to start ... I feel like I have earned it. But it makes sense for me to come off the bench."

Nobody thinks you're stealing money, Travis, and everyone wants to start. And, right now, you are better than the player in front of you at small forward.

But, yeah, it does make sense for you to come off the bench.

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