Long time reader, (very) occasional commenter and first time fan poster. I read this site fairly regularly, so I hope this post is not a regurgitation of something already written. If so, sorry.
I was prompted to write this after the Yahoo article on Miller and JQuick’s article concerning McMillan’s pep talk to Roy, assuring him that he and Aldridge will get their touches and the offense will settle down to a more familiar flow (read: Roy and LMA will get theirs). It coalesced a feeling of unease I have had about this team since it became clear Webster was coming back and Miller was added to the fold.
There has been a lot of talk about this team having too much talent and not enough minutes to go around. It is self explanatory as to why this could become an issue and potentially lead to some chemistry-destroying incidences. Yet, the more I have read about the team since training camp has begun, I feel the more likely cause of disunity could arise from a slightly different take on this line of thought: there is simply too much talent that is not differentiated enough so as to delineate a clear positional and overall pecking order.
If you look at the shooting guard position, this is an example of two talented players at the same position, but a clear pecking order. You have two talented players that both deserve time, but one is clearly the superior player and has definitely earned the starter role and this fact is undisputed by either player (along with everyone else on the team). This does not mean that Rudy will be happy playing second fiddle to Roy forever, but he likely knows that there is no way that Roy should play second fiddle to him. He may grumble and complain to his agent, but it won’t be about issues of fairness or favoritism or what have you. Worse case, he will bide his time and wait to be traded, but he won’t blow up the team, because he knows the truth of his place in the pecking order at his particular position (if not on the team as a whole - more on this later). .
The point guard position is a case where this is not so clear and I think emphasizes the potential for problems where there is not a clear delineation of the pecking order. I have seen strong arguments on this site for starting both Miller and Blake. Many argue that Miller is the better pure point guard and has the career resume backing it up. Yet, it seems just as many argue that may be all fine and well that Miller is the "better" point guard, but he’s not the "better" point guard to start alongside Roy. It seems to be intimated in this JQuick article that Roy has a preference, or at a minimum, a level of comfort with starting alongside Blake as opposed to Miller. Obviously, this may change as the preseason rolls on, but I don’t think that is a forgone conclusion. If Nate is having to reassure Roy and Aldridge that they will in fact get their "touches", it makes me think Roy may not be too jacked about starting with a point guard that is used to getting his as well (not to mention that Roy and Aldridge were not getting "theirs" in the Sacramento games because the team was feeding Oden in the post…so what does that mean as regards Oden starting or seeing touches if he is in the starting lineup?). It is also equally clear that Miller has a "preference" as to who should start, as he stated emphatically in the Yahoo article. At the end of the preseason, either Miller or Blake will be starting, that much we know. But, I don’t think there will be a clear pecking order established at that position by then, especially if Blake becomes the starter. If Blake starts, I think Miller will think the inferior player is starting before him. If Miller starts, it could lead to a slow simmering frustration on Roy’s part as he, the bona fide star on the team is forced to adjust his role, which may lead to a slight diminishing of said role.
The team may be able to cope with one of these types of situations. Roy is a mature player for his age and Blake and Miller have always conducted themselves as professionals. But it is one thing to handle or deal with an unpleasant or uncomfortable situation and something else to feel that situation had a good or correct resolution. The difference being that the former requires you to be mature and\or professional enough to not let it get the best of you, but it does not necessarily mean you no longer feel resentful about it. The problem is that this scenario has the possibility to play out at a number of different positions on this team and can even play out in the overall pecking order of the team. Will Greg be happy if he plays in the second unit simply because there are not enough touches for him with Roy and Aldridge in the first unit or he fits better playing with that second unit? How long will Batum\Webster be content to play behind Webster\Batum and will either be happy getting only 24 minutes? This can also play out in the overall pecking order as well. Will Rudy be happy if his minutes go down somewhat so that Batum or Webster or Outlaw can get more run? If Rudy feels he is better than those guys, he probably thinks he deserves a bigger role. Thus, it may not be a single incident, but many smaller ones that lead to problems: death by a thousand cuts, so to speak.
To me, the underlying commonality of the examples listed above is that after Roy, the pecking order is not clear or set enough on this team. Yes, Aldridge is second, but for how long if Greg is putting up decent points and strong rebounding numbers and playing great defense? Who is third, fourth, fifth? When I think back to the Blazers of the early 90s, most of us would probably agree as to the pecking order on that team or be pretty close through the first seven players. At a minimum, there was no doubt as to who the starting five should be. I recently saw a poll on this site that had umpteen different starting lineups listed. If a poll like that was published back then, we would have laughed at it.
If there is any consolation, it is that McMillan seems to be aware of this potential problem. At least, to my mind, it helps explains why he so emphatically stresses that the players need to give themselves over to the team at the expense of their individual desires (e.g. minutes, starting, fame, fortune, etc.). I vaguely remember an article by Quick (or an interview with him…) where McMillan discussed this and Quick asked him how he planned to make that work. McMillan was caught speechless for a moment and then said, it just had to work. I for one hope he has come up with a better answer to that question by now…