MEMPHIS – At age 25, Travis Outlaw is an NBA veteran, a Portland Trail Blazer veteran at the very least.
Outlaw was drafted 23rd overall in the 2003 NBA Draft straight out of Starkville High School. He’s been out West ever since, as a starter and as a spark.
For the first time in his tenure, Portland seems to be on the right track. Last season, the Blazers finished above .500 for the first time in his tenure (54-28) and made the playoffs for the first time (first round loss).
“We’re asking him to score, defend, rebound, but be a spark,” Portland coach Nate McMillian said, “make something happen and he has played that role, done a good job the last four years for me.”
McMillian’s wishes will have to resume in mid-January. That’s how long a stress fracture in Outlaw’s foot is expected to sideline him. Outlaw, who has averaged 9.9 points and 3.5 boards throughout his career, injured the foot in a win at Charlotte on Saturday.
In Memphis to face the Grizzles last week, Outlaw is projected by many insiders to be on the market in 2010, a free agent after the end of the three-year contract he signed in July 2007.
He says he’s not looking ahead to what the offseason brings just yet.
“I really don’t know. That’s the future,” Outlaw said. “I ain’t trying to look into it as of now. It’s going good. I’ve been here for a while, great people in Oregon. It’s just fun being there. I have fun playing there. It’s great.”
If he does go, before then, Outlaw would obviously like a shot at an NBA title. This year’s team has the best chance to make a run of any team he’s been a part of in a short career.
Guys like Greg Oden, the first pick of the 2007 Draft and 2006 top six picks Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, helped the Blazers to an 8-3 start and an early lead in the Western Conference’s Northwest Division.
“I think we’re shaping up,” Outlaw said. “It does take a little time. We’re still trying to figure each other out. I feel like anything’s possible.
It didn’t take fellow first rounder Oden to see the 25-year-old team elder Outlaw’s spark.
“He’s definitely a vet for us,” Oden said. “He comes off the bench and definitely brings that instant spark, something that every team should have.”
Oden, the brunt of jokes that he looks older than some NBA coaches, draws some pretty good words from Outlaw as well, even if they come with a spirited jab. Outlaw, who jokingly said Oden was actually 37-years-old instead of the 21-years-old he’s listed as in the program, said the seven-footer has a bright future.
“I see a lot of great things in his future,” Outlaw said. “He’s putting in the work during the summer. He’s coming out showing what he’s worked on on the court and I see a lot of good things coming from him.”
Outlaw had plenty of local support in Memphis last week. Approximately 45 – 50 family and friends made the trip.
He only gets two tickets for road games so vocal groups from Starkville sat three rows behind him and all throughout the Fedex Forum.
Mother Markedta was seated three rows above the Portland bench with probably 10 others while dad John sat courtside, all wearing Portland red, some in his replica jerseys.
“Its exciting. When he’s in Memphis, we try to come here every time,” she said.
Family also makes the trips to Atlanta and New Orleans to see Outlaw play, seeing two or three games in the South each season and going to Portland during Christmas to see a few home games.
Markedta said having her teenage son as far west as the NBA allows was a little nerve-wracking, but now that he’s 25, she’s gotten used to his traveling lifestyle. So has he.
“He’s 25 now, but at 18 it was kind of tough,” Markedta said. “We had to call him and keep up with him. But now it’s pretty normal, but when he was younger, just out of high school, we’d try to call and check up on him then.”
The soft-spoken forward adapted just fine and has pretty much seen the entire country. The Starkville native though would probably be just as pleased if he were still back home with a basketball on a backyard dirt court.
“It’s ok,” said Outlaw, scheduled to make $4 million this season. “My first couple of years I think I was kind of like homesick a lot, but now I’ve done gotten used to it. It’s not that bad.”
Now a big boy, literally at 6-foot-9, he will get through a day without his mother checking up on him.
He and McMillian hope she’ll still be watching though, well after the regular season ends.
“Both he and Joe (Przybilla) have been here longer than anybody,” McMillian said. “He’s been through some bad and now he’s getting a taste of a better situation and he’s been a big part of that.”