The Blazersedge Mailbag: Thursday, January 28th

Note: For reaction to the Jazz game, click here for the Game Recap and here for the Media Row Report.

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Questions have been piling up in the inbox so it's time for another installment of the Blazersedge Mailbag. If you have questions you can send them to blazersub@yahoo.com.  If you'd like more immediate gratification I'll be in studio with the Morning Sports Page at 95.5 The Game this morning from 7-8 at least and perhaps into the 8:00 hour as well if they let me argue and agree with Antonio Harvey at all.  If you called in during that 7:00 hour they might let your question through.

Last year many folks said that Bayless would not develop with practice and watching from the bench, this year his jump shot is better and he is playing, but when he is not playing, folks are saying it is good for him to watch Miller from the bench.  So, should we give credit to Bayless for working hard before and after practice and in the off season, or does Miller deserve all the credit? Can players develop through coaching and practice or will they only develop with playing time and a veteran point guard to watch from the bench?  --T

It's over-simplistic to attribute a player's development to any one factor.  Players are complex human beings and not cookie cutters.  Some develop along one path, others a different one.  The take-away point is this:  when you're a young guy you have to seize every opportunity to develop no matter what the source.  If you're blessed to see playing time you'd better improve your game and earn even more.  If you play behind veterans you need to pick their brains, watch what they do against you in practice, and make every moment in their presence count.  If you sit there and passively wait for the way to clear it never will.  Somebody else will cut in front of you.  It's a hard lesson for young guys to learn because just about every one of them was the star in their own universe before they got to the league.  They got the playing time.  They knew the most and taught others.  For most of them it's back to Square One when they turn pro, except now they have to learn on the fly and produce as they do it.  How they deal with that scenario determines whether they progress quickly, slowly, or not at all.

As far as Bayless...he is clearly a better player now than we saw his first two years.  He's taken the raw ability we saw in his first Summer League and translated it to this team and these games.  Even showing that he can do so is a huge step.  Obviously he did some of it learning from the bench, in practice, and through off-season preparation.    When the in-game minutes came he was ready to show what he had and how he could contribute.  He received positive feedback there as well which seems to have spurred more confidence and further growth.  The snowball is rolling downhill for him now.  Andre Miller, being a penetrator who shapes the game around himself, probably paved the way for Jerryd...if nothing else by showing him what's possible and by expanding the definition of "point guard" on this team.

One of the huge factors that neither of you mentioned is how much Brandon Roy accepts Bayless and his style.  At first the alliance seemed tenuous but as Jerryd showed his stuff Brandon began looking for him more, trusting him more, and the two exchanged high fives and smiles.  You don't just have to prove yourself to the coach in this league.  You have to prove yourself to your peers as well.  Jerryd has started doing that.  As a result he should develop further with their aid.

There has obviously been a lot of chatter recently about LaMarcus and his deserving of that $65M contract.  Most of the discussion has centered around his lack of aggressiveness and desire to bang in the post.  Certainly that is a point of interest, but I believe it the point that has not been touched upon enough (although Quick wrote about it) is his lack of clutch play.

We all saw games last year where the game would get in his head and he would airball-but this year he has shied away from the big shot time after time.  When he does take it he looks scared.  He had 3 points against the Celtics and average less than 4 free throws a game.  He has the talent to at least get to the line late in the game.  His stats look nice and help put the Blazers in a position to win and his assist numbers are good, defense pretty good and rebounding improving-but his contract could be his curse.  He just absolutely wilts down the stretch and it is inexcusable.  --RW

As I said in a recent game recap, because Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw have dominated clutch shots for this team over the past couple of years (with Rudy Fernandez trying to ease in right behind them) LaMarcus not needing/wanting/demanding the ball late was actually something of an asset.  With everybody else in street clothes the spotlight shines on him now.  But just because the light's on you doesn't mean you can automatically change your pattern. 

My non-binding assessment of LaMarcus so far is that he's worked on certain things, namely his body and that turn-around, but that he lets a whole bunch of the game come to him in whatever manner it sees fit.  He's never been the type of guy to seize the moment by the neck and throttle it until it gives him what he wants.  That's the kind of guy you need to be if you want to win games (and crucial shots) in this league.

You also have to remember that as a power forward, LMA needs someone to give him the ball late in order to do something with it.  Yes, he's passed up shots.  But his teammates haven't pointed at him and said, "Contract Boy!  Take this and score!"  Instead Andre Miller or Jerryd Bayless have been happy to take over late.  In order to break that pattern LaMarcus himself would need to demand to be made the focal point.  He has that right, I believe.  But apparently it's not in his nature, or at least in his experience, to assert himself that way.  So the pattern continues.

I'd like to see LaMarcus more active late as well.  I'm not sure I'd love that turn-around from 15-feet as the deciding shot of the game but I'd sure love to see more fourth-quarter possessions and points for him in general.  But some guys have it and some don't.  LaMarcus may be a "don't".  I'm not sure we can turn an orange into an apple.  But the Blazers liked the orange enough to pay through the nose for it, so maybe those points in the first three quarters are valuable as well.

Again, this fourth-quarter issue blows over when the team is healthy again.

Click through for questions about trades, a new coach, Allen Iverson the All-Star, Greg Oden's pics, and more...

Is Allen Iverson starting in the All-Star game a huge travesty or what?  --PM

Of course it's silly, but a travesty?  Hardly.  It's a showcase, an exhibition for the fans.  I guess if that's what the fans want to see there's no accounting for taste.  If you really did want the best, most valuable players you'd select them a different way.   Portland fans' hands are not clean in this either.  How many of us have simply voted every Blazer who's on the ballot?  If we're going to do that, can we blame other fans for voting for their favorites instead of selecting by merit?

I'll tell you the truth...I stopped believing All-Star game honors meant anything significant the year Clyde Drexler led the game in scoring in the third period but then deferred to a returning Magic Johnson throughout the fourth to let him take home another, largely spurious, trophy so the story would be better.  At that point everything crystallized:  benefitting the home crowd's player, lack of defense, and the popular vote as well.  I mean no disrespect to the players of yore who were chosen as All-Stars.  It does mean something.  I think it used to mean more.  But nowadays worrying about things like this is worrying about a pretend vote over a pretend game, little different than fretting about Shawn Michaels versus the Undertaker in Wrestlemania.  The league already gets too close to that line in games that count for me to agonize over one that doesn't.   I would trade every All-Star honor every Blazer will ever win from now until eternity for one trip to the NBA Finals for the team.  You could crown Brandon Roy All-Star MVP this year and I'd still care more about the Blazers' next game than that trophy.  Let Iverson have his starting spot.  You want to make a good story?  Call a timeout after the first play, pull him, and don't let him back in.  Normally the coach would worry about making somebody else's All-Star angry at him but in this case I think any opposing coach would love to have Iverson try to dominate the next regular season game against him.

Give us one significant-but-realistic trade the Blazers could make to get better right now.  --GS

This discussion hearkens back to the in-studio discussion on the radio Monday wherein Dwight Jaynes, Gavin Dawson, myself, and later Antonio Harvey argued about the relative sanctity of the roster.  The three former personalities seemed to agree that, though talented, we had too much mush in the middle and not enough definition on either end of the rotation.   Harvey, with whom I agree on many things, disagreed and said that this year was a perfect example of why multiple players help and that you need to hold on to guys like Pendergraph, Howard, and Cunningham.

First things first:  you don't build your roster based on a year like this.  Nor do you change your roster based on this year.  It's like designing your house on the basis of a six-mile meteor hitting the planet.  If that happens it doesn't matter if your den is still standing.  The TV won't work anymore, the grocery store is gone, and you're done anyway.  The Blazers are in emergency mode right now and the rotation reflects that.  Pendergraph, Howard, and Cunningham are plenty good in this situation because let's face it, you're not going to the Finals anyway.  Nothing in the universe will bridge the gap between here and there so you go with what you have.  These three players also have the added benefit of being able to perform in fewer minutes when people get healthy.  A guy who can give you 8-10 good minutes per night but also can step in for 20-30 in an emergency is ideal for this roster.  These guys fit that bill.

The crucial decisions about the roster involve the players who don't fit the above description...guys who aren't going to be happy or productive with 8-10 minutes under normal circumstances...guys who aren't your proven stars but on whom you depend to get you across that championship bridge when the way is clear.   That list includes Bayless, Fernandez, Batum, Webster, Outlaw, and increasingly Aldridge.  This is the mushy middle on this roster right now and there are too many of them.  None of them are going to act, play, or accept minutes like Pendergraph will.  All of them want to play 35+.  All of them want to be involved.  Not all of them can.  Under normal circumstances you're wasting half of them.  Either that or you underplay all of them to try and keep them happy which cuts into everyone's production.  It's not going to work in the long run.

Somehow the Blazers have to bring more definition to that mushy middle, probably by acquiring or developing another player or two that are bankable stars.  To that end I'd have zero problems trading (almost) any of the above players mentioned for a guy I knew was going to be right there alongside Roy every game.  I already know I have my #1 guy.  I'm comfortable with my 9-12 players.  I need a defined #2, rock-solid 3-5, and then I can live with a little uncertainty and potential in 6, 7, and 8.  I'm not lessening the talent overall-at least not the usable talent-I'm sharpening and defining it.

To that end my dream trade right now would be Aldridge, Webster, and Bayless to Toronto for Chris Bosh.   I'd be willing to talk Outlaw instead of Webster maybe.  I've just gotten my second All-Star.  I've left myself with Fernandez as a third guard (and frankly I hope that between him, Batum, and Roy we don't need the full-time, traditional point guard in years to come), Batum as my starting small forward, Pendergraph and Cunningham backing up the forwards, and I re-sign Przybilla as insurance at center, knowing that he and Bosh make a nice duo just like Oden and Bosh do. I have the option of asking Travis to stay if I'm concerned about the forward positions.  Bosh is going to cost me a mint but will he really cost me more in the long run than retaining Aldridge, Webster, and Bayless?  And instead of guessing/worrying about three players, their minutes, and their consistency I'm banking on one that I know will come through.

Unfortunately this trade is all but impossible because LaMarcus, having just signed a contract, is poison pilled this year and BYC'ed next year.  Basically that means that for cap purposes his salary counts as $11+ million for Toronto when they accept him but only $5+ million for Portland as he's leaving.  In order to take Bosh the Blazers would have to dump an extra $6 million of salary somewhere to make the numbers balance.   That's probably not practical considering our players, their salaries, and the cap situation around the league.   Thank you again Memphis and Darius Miles.  I hope the BBQ Ribs give you awful heartburn.

This is my long-winded way of saying I don't see a trade that helps the Blazers much right now.  They're too short-handed to deal people and the difference made would be too short-term unless the guy was the absolute right fit.  Any trade you make has to be with the long-term future in mind and that will probably require healthy players to make happen.

Your take on the Oden pics?  --RR

I'm not sure it's a huge deal in this generation.  Not everybody of that certain age does such things but some people do, right or wrong.  Greg flashing people randomly on the street would be a problem.  Greg  getting burned in an indiscretion like this is embarrassing, but not fatal.  That said, it does show how woefully unprepared Oden was for the spotlight early on.  You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure out that as one of the more famous people on the planet you just shouldn't do that...that there's a huge likelihood that those pictures are going to see public disclosure.  It also doesn't take a brain scientist to figure out that the blowback is going to be harsh from some quarters, perhaps most justifiably from parents who now have to explain issues of public nudity and sexual courtship to their children when they just wanted to talk basketball.  However this might also be a great lesson to some of those kids that you shouldn't do this kind of thing unless you're willing to deal with the consequences.

I've not told this story before, mostly because I don't want it associated with me, particularly among family and friends, but when I was in my opening year here and starting to get on a roll a reader actually sent...well, it wasn't exactly a full-on Oden picture, but it left little to the imagination about certain things.  Keep in mind that this was before national and local media appearances made my life public to the extent it is now.  I'm pretty sure she had no idea I was a pastor, for instance, nor married.  Obviously it caught me off guard and honestly as soon as I realized what it was I deleted it posthaste.  It never crossed my mind to share it with anyone.  Even with a tenuous connection like the one between blogger and random reader that would have been a violation.  In my mind it's more so between people who willingly share such things.  I wouldn't recommend sending people risqué pics, but I'd also say that anyone who sends those pictures further on is in the wrong as much as, if not more than, the person in the photos.  Right or wrong of sending such a thing aside, what somebody else does shouldn't lead you into even more wrong.  Perhaps that's part of the lesson here as well if you're worried about what your kids will take away from this.  

Although I know that publicizing name of the site from which the pictures originally came was necessary as a news entity requiring verification for what it prints, I, myself will not go look at them nor will I give them a single hit nor the picture-passer-on-person any extra basis for remuneration or gratification.  I invite you to do the same.

Do you hold your breath like I do every time a player hits the floor or comes up limping?  Have you ever seen injuries happen to a team like this?  --PD

Yes.  And no.

Say you cannot keep Nate McMillan as Portland's coach beyond this year.  If you had to replace him, who would you go with?  --FV

I don't like many of the names that have been bandied about.  Jeff Van Gundy had a few years in Houston with great offensive players and never got an offense going.  Byron Scott is Nate Part 2.  I'm assuming that if we lose Nate it's because we weren't happy with what he brought.  I like Monty Williams and his energy but I don't like a young coach for this team.  It could work if the energy and chemistry are right but too many things can go awry.   This team is actually a challenge because of the depth and parity of talent on the roster and the age/experience of many of the talented players.  Truth be told, I think I'd go off the board on a crazy leap and try to get one of the better coaches from Europe over here...someone with experience coaching who has won with the Euro-style.  This team might respond to that type of system.  I'd want a couple of legit NBA assistants to help the transition though.

What makes good writing?  A good writer?  --KH

Thanks for assuming I can answer this!  Like basketball, much of it is in the fundamentals.  Grammar, definitions, the resonance of words...you have to write a while before you get a feel for it and you need the basics before you can write a while.  Beyond that you have to communicate with people.  Part of that is written, but even just having conversations with people, listening to dialogue in movies, hearing people employ different styles like speeches or stand-up comedy helps.  This not only develops your breadth of style but your sense of timing.  Obviously reading accomplishes many of these same goals.  After that, just be you and put your words out there.  At the end of the day that's the most important thing.  Without battering it on too thick, words are the clothes in which you dress your inmost being.  We've all known people with impeccable fashion sense who look great from afar but fall way short when you actually get to know them.   Your writing chops serve a purpose: to communicate something of yourself, your vision, your purpose to the world.  Make sure those things are worth the world hearing and you'll find your writing well-accepted.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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