It was a barrel of fun doing the podcast yesterday with Gavin and Casey. (The link is one post below this one.) It’s amazing how a little back and forth can spur thoughts and analysis. In that spirit, I’d like to explore and clarify one of the things I said on the topic of the Travis Outlaw and #13 for Mike Miller trade. At some point in the conversation I observed that one of Miller’s drawbacks was his age. I doubted we’d be thrilled about trading young Mr. Outlaw and a first-rounder for a guy who was 28. It wouldn’t surprise me if this caused some folks to scratch their heads a little because…
A. 28 isn’t old, it’s right fat in the NBA prime. And…
B. I’ve said repeatedly that the Blazers should be interested in acquiring some veterans.
One might be forgiven for thinking, “Wait a minute! Are you suggesting that the age range for trades is that limited? Should we only look to acquire players between the ages of 25 and 26? You’re off in Loopytown, Blogger Boy.”
Indeed that is correct. I am off in Loopytown, as any reasonably long-term reader could tell you. Nevertheless that is not what I’m suggesting. The age argument is more nuanced than a simple choice between older and younger.
The Blazers do need veterans. Mike Miller is a skilled, athletic veteran and would be a great asset to this team. Nevertheless he is too old to be in the sweet spot of our wheelhouse. Why? Because of his position. Miller is a small forward. Most NBA small forwards have a pretty simple job description: 1. Jump out of the gym. 2. Score like crazy. Indeed Miller’s primary value is offensive and his surprising athleticism is second only to his sweet stroke in his admittedly impressive toolkit. But athleticism is the first thing to fade with age. I’m not suggesting Miller won’t be in the league when he’s 31. I am suggesting he won’t be quite the same Mike Miller when he’s 31. Unless you believe he is the piece that accelerates us into championship mode immediately, that means our window even with him at small forward still opens 3-4 years down the road. You’d love what the 28-year-old Miller did for this team now, but would you take the 31-32-year-old Miller as a starter on your championship team? What’s more, would you prefer him making the run with you for the half-decade beyond or would you prefer the then 26-27-year-old Travis Outlaw? Given the requirements of the position, I’d pick the latter, especially when you consider we’d also be losing a mid-range rookie pick in the deal.
On the other hand, last week I said it might be worth taking a look at Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich is 27 years old, only 11 months younger than Miller. I’m not being inconsistent. It’s not the 11 months that makes the difference, it’s the position. Good point guards generally age well. Their job description lends itself more to veteran status. If you think Hinrich is a helpful asset (and I’m not necessarily saying I’d want him, but if you did) you could be reasonably comfortable with the 30-year old Hinrich as well. You wouldn’t necessarily toss out the 35-year-old version in the thick of a championship battle either.
The point of all of this is simple: The Blazers don’t just need veterans, they need the right veterans at the right positions. It’s not just a matter of glomming a couple of guys in their prime onto the roster. Especially if you’re looking at adding starters you don’t want those guys to come back and bite you later by expiring before you’re through with them. Because of cap restrictions and mediocre draft rank it’s going to be much harder for the Blazers to acquire talent on a grand scale four years from now than it is today with a lottery pick and a ton of young, cheap, talented players on hand. Ideally whatever pieces we add shouldn’t just be more experienced, they should be more experienced yet capable well into the future. Hinrich would have a good chance of fulfilling that condition compared to some of the talent or contracts we’d have to trade to get him. Miller not so much.
This brings up an even larger philosophical point: this business makes sense--maybe even sometimes what you’d call common sense--but that sense isn’t always as simple as it seems. We’re tempted to reduce the issue to one sentence: “We need veteran help.” It’s not quite that easy, as not every veteran helps.
In that spirit, the discussion item I’m throwing out today is this: We can think of a hundred one-sentence truisms spouted by armchair GM’s about prospering in this league. We’ve all uttered some ourselves. I’d argue that 99% of those one-sentence truisms are going to fall apart under the relative complexity of actually negotiating the environment. Which ones belong to that other 1%? Name me a one-sentence statement--one you’ve heard or even one you’ve invented--that accurately describes a truth about the NBA. No complex, compound sentences with six clauses containing built-in exceptions either. Just give us a short, sweet statement under a dozen words or so describing an almost-always-accurate truth about the league…something we can rely on year in and year out. You can make it Blazer-specific or league-wide, whichever you choose.