DALLAS – The doors to the American Airlines Center’s visiting locker room opened late Tuesday, and Portland Trail Blazers forward Gerald Wallace(notes) soon found himself crowded by reporters. After team officials said LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) would answer questions in the arena’s news conference room, the media herd then moved from Wallace to Andre Miller(notes). No one approached Brandon Roy(notes), the Blazers’ three-time All-Star guard and co-captain, who dressed quietly before slowly walking out of the locker room without a single question posed to him.
A little more than a year ago Roy was the face of the Blazers, the man Portland hoped would someday carry the franchise back to the NBA Finals. Never, however, has Roy looked so small in stature than Tuesday night, when he played just eight minutes and went scoreless in the Blazers’ 101-89 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. With the Blazers trailing the Mavericks 2-0 in the first-round series, Roy has been reduced to a bit player – a fact he’s struggling to accept.
“I always try to find positives out of situations, but this is a tough one to find something,” Roy said in the hallway outside the Blazers’ locker room.
Roy’s frustration wasn’t hard to see. His eyes looked watery. The transformation from star to role player – brought on by career-threatening knee injuries – has been an emotional one.
Named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year just five seasons ago, Roy quickly developed into one of the league’s leading guards. He made his first All-Star appearance in his second season and two more soon followed. His quick first step and explosive leaping ability made him one of the toughest players to defend.
Roy’s best days also seemed to be ahead of him. With Aldridge lining up with Roy and Greg Oden(notes) expected to do the same once he became healthy, the Blazers had the core for what looked like a future contender in the Western Conference.
That changed after Roy had arthroscopic surgery late last season to repair a cartilage tear in his right knee. He returned just eight days later to play in the Blazers’ first-round series with the Phoenix Suns, but hardly looked healed. After continuing to struggle early this season, he had surgery on both his knees in January. When Roy returned about a month later, Aldridge had cemented himself as the Blazers’ top scoring option while Roy tried to work his way back as a reserve.
“It’s a tough situation for him, going from being the face of the franchise to everybody writing him off, to now the franchise is in the hands of LaMarcus Aldridge,” Blazers center Marcus Camby(notes) said.
Roy’s minutes and production have dropped since his return. His starting job now belongs to Wesley Matthews(notes), a free-agent signee from the Utah Jazz last summer. Roy played 26 minutes in the Blazers’ Game 1 loss to the Mavericks, but missed all but one of his seven shots. In Game 2, he entered with 2:36 left in the first quarter, didn’t play in the third quarter and missed his lone shot as well as two free throws. Roy said his small role in Game 2 was “the lowest” in a long list of frustrating games since his return.
Roy said he isn’t hurt anymore, feels strong and can still provide some intangibles to the Blazers. But his lack of playing time has affected his rhythm, he said. Roy hasn’t discussed the issue with head coach Nate McMillan, who said he didn’t play Roy much in Game 2 because he thought the Blazers’ starters were performing well while Roy was struggling with the pressure the Mavericks guards were applying.
“I thought I’d get more of a chance coming back, but at the same time I’m never going to complain,” Roy said. “I’m going to try to work and just try to play.
“I’m not going to lie: It’s hard. My pride is a little scarred. It’s difficult sitting on the bench.”
Roy’s teammates have noticed.
Roy’s rapid development earned him an $82 million max contract extension from the Blazers in the summer of 2009. After this season, he still has four years and about $69 million left on the deal. While Roy, 26, has been a model citizen in Portland, he acknowledged that “some fans” have been heckling him for not being the player he once was.
“I used to always say to Greg, ‘You didn’t go out there and get hurt on purpose,’ ” Roy said. “I’m giving myself the same advice now. I’m in a situation now where people are criticizing me. It’s one thing to get criticized for how you play or how you talk to people. But I’m being criticized for being hurt?
“I’ve tried to do everything I can to help this team and organization. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do. To be criticized by a small, few people – there are still people that support me and want me to do well – but being criticized for being hurt and trying to come back and help my team is a little disappointing.”
Spending time with his wife, Tiana, and two young children has helped Roy combat the stress. His wife made the trip to Dallas to support him.
“She usually doesn’t travel, but I knew from the past road trip that I needed someone here to keep me company or I’d beat myself up,” Roy said.
Roy believes he’ll be able to regain much of his athleticism in the offseason. But if he doesn’t? Would he consider walking away?
“I can’t deal with how it’s going now next year,” Roy said. “I can’t deal with a full season of how I’m doing now. It just messes with you because it’s draining. It drains you. But again, these guys are my teammates and I got to support them.
“But mentally, it’s tough. It’s tougher then people think.”