Blazersedge Mailbag: January 8th, 2010

OK, so needing a couple questions to fill out the Mailbag today, we got 49.  Yikes!  Thanks to all who wrote in.  I've tried to consolidate some of the duplicate topics down into one.  If your question isn't in here check to see if there's something close.  If not, I'll catch you another time soon.

You talked about clock management last game so riddle me this.  Why don't the Blazers go for the 2-for-1 when it's available at the end of a quarter?  They always take it down, burn clock, and leave the other team 6-8 seconds to score.  --JH

This is another philosophical/stylistic choice.  The 2-for-1 is great when you can get a good shot, force the opponent into a bad one, and get another opportunity yourself.  But too many times you see players going for the 2-for-1 for its own sake, taking any old shot the first time just to get one up while still leaving themselves an extremely short clock at the other end to get the second shot up.  In that case you're exchanging two bad shots for one good one, which is not a good trade.  The Blazers take a long time to get into their offense under normal circumstances.  You almost never see them shooting in the first 6-8 seconds of the clock unless they're on the break.  So for them both shots are going to be outside of their norm.  Also they don't have the pressure defense to hurry the opponent and give themselves more of a cushion for the second shot.  I would guess that the thought process is to just get a shot you're comfortable with, in the process draining off enough of the clock that your opponent has to hurry their last shot.

Is Brandon Roy not getting the same type of calls as he did last year? Regardless of the Memphis incident, he doesn't seem to be getting the call when he goes in for layups like I'm used to. If you agree, care to speculate on why? Is it that the NBA hates Portland and doesn't want a league full of team-oriented guys that don't pimp their jerseys and sneakers hard enough?  --MB

Last year in 78 games Roy averaged 6.5 free throw attempts in 37.2  minutes per outing.  This year through 36 games he's averaging 6.6 attempts in 39 minutes.  There's a small drop there but not enough that you'd notice it consistently.  I think the perception could have a number of causes:

1.  Earlier in the season Brandon didn't appear to be driving as consistently as he did before, possibly because of Oden, possibly because he was sharing the ball more.  This is simply from observation...I could be wrong about his frequency.  It could have just appeared that he was driving less often.  But that would also account for the appearance of him getting fewer fouls called on those drives.

2.  This is also observational but I am more sure of it.  Lately Brandon hasn't been driving as hard or finishing as strong as we're used to seeing.  It may be fatigue, the hamstring, or something else entirely.  Mind you, he's still plenty effective on the drive.  But his forays into the lane don't have the same "wow" factor as we're accustomed to.  Strong, decisive finishes tend to draw more calls.

3.  With the injuries and the season going askew the Blazers are scrapping for every point and every win they can get right now.  They need Brandon to get a ton of foul shots.  And when you need something the natural tendency is to notice more when it doesn't happen.

4.  Roy himself has had less and less patience with the refs as his career has progressed.  His complaining makes it seem bad.  It also may be wearing thin among the refs.

5.  I like and respect our home announcers and wouldn't trade them for the world.  They've been great friends to us over the years.  But watching League Pass I will tell you that Mike and Mike tend to notice more missed calls than most announcing teams.  I'm not saying they're wrong, necessarily.  They just tend to notice.  I think factor #3 figures in here as well.

Myself, I haven't noticed that the calls have been fewer or worse than in past years.  Every team has incidents that disadvantage them.  You either overcome them or lose because of them.  The former is the better option.  Brandon has to get as tough as he needs to be to draw the fouls he wants and finish when they don't get called.

I've heard people asserting that the Blazers shouldn't have given LMA that huge contract because he doesn't seem to be trying hard or placing a lot of effort.  While I don't necessarily agree with those people, it does bring up the question of how do you incent someone to try harder and continue to improve if there motivations are financial and they have received a huge payday.  --MM

It's a valid question.  No matter how hard you try it's human nature to look at the world differently once you've had your desires fulfilled.  You have to find new motivation.  That's not automatic and it does take adjustment.  Nobody can find it but you, though.  You can talk until you're blue in the face but unless LaMarcus wants something more than the contract it won't do any good.  He has to find his own incentives.  You can offer up a menu of choices but he has to select one.

That said, I don't believe that's what's up with LaMarcus.  Or at least that's not all that's up with LaMarcus.  If I had to bet I'd wager a couple years' salary that LaMarcus Aldridge is not at all a happy camper right now and that's affecting his play and the interaction of his teammates with him.

LaMarcus began his career by stepping in for Zach Randolph and then giving the team incentive to trade him.  He claimed a prime scoring position from the start.  The last two years he's been Option #1A right beside Roy.  The two had friction early but they worked it out on and off the court and got LaMarcus his touches and his numbers.  Aldridge started out as a semi-perimeter player then was asked to post more once Greg Oden went down with his initial injury.  When Oden came back he was expected to move back to the perimeter without a complaint.  He was also expected to cede shots to Greg along with that floor space.  He watched a guy who had beat out nobody inherit something he had worked for.  He watched everybody praise the guy, ooh and ahh over the guy, give the guy a standing ovation when LaMarcus himself had performed better for longer and hardly ever received the same.  Now he's stuck out on the perimeter getting fewer shots because Greg is in there and everyone is calling him soft for doing exactly that.  Then Oden goes down and once again they want him to pick up the slack?   We made a joke in the comment section a week or so ago about Shavlik Randolph being the front office's booty call.  The real booty call--the friend that you want something from but aren't willing to commit to--is LaMarcus.  It's a sure bet that from his perception he's far too high class and valuable to get caught up in that kind of relationship.  If you like it then you better put a ring on it, and in the NBA the ring equals touches, shots, publicity, and respect.

And speaking of touches and shots, Aldridge now has to put up with a raft of guards trying to find their own shots instead of feeding him.  Roy obviously needs to get his but Miller and Bayless are proprietary about their own offense far more than Steve Blake is.  It's bad enough when your 7-foot, franchise-saving, #1 overall pick (with no offensive game) bogarts your shots but when guys 6'2" who didn't get a thimbleful of playing time before this season start doing so, the tea kettle really starts to whistle.

I am not saying that all of this has to cause problems.  I'm saying you can see where it would and could.  And I believe it is.  Aldridge is averaging 2 fewer shots per game this year on a team with no front line to speak of anymore.  Getting 6 shots in 31 minutes against Orlando on the 19th was a huge red flag.  That should never happen.  I don't think it was accidental that he got 23 shots the night after.  I'm also guessing that he'd be happier and feel better used if he got 20 shots per game like some other NBA stars do.  Again he gets 8 shots in 41 minutes against Memphis in the last outing.  Something is wrong there.  It may be something wrong with LaMarcus and the way he's approaching the game.  It may be something wrong with his teammates or the coaching staff and how they're looking for him (or not).  It's probably some of both as they tend to feed each other.  But any way you slice it, there's a storm cloud brewing here both in the general environment surrounding him and in LaMarcus himself.  You can write this down:  if Aldridge doesn't blow up, shut down, or otherwise express some significant dissatisfaction with his situation and this team within the next year I will be shocked.

I think you're seeing some of this already in terms of intermittent games, intermittent injuries, intermittent shots.  I'm not necessarily dogging LaMarcus nor accusing him of subverting the team.  Rather I'm saying it's hard to find the incentive you're talking about with all of this going on and it shows.  I'm not sure he's in a position right now, given his age, contract, talent, and desires to bridge the distance between what he expects to be and how he's being used right now.

We're not done yet!  Click through to see questions about Andre Miller, Dante Cunningham, Jerryd Bayless, and more!

Does the heady and steady play of Dante Cunningham especially defensively pretty much make Travis outlaw expendable? Taking into consideration his price, contract and His skill set, that is.  --DG

Before this year I would have said Outlaw was gone after the season no matter what.  There just aren't enough minutes and shots to justify keeping him with LMA in front of him.  But a couple of things have happened to change that, neither one of them having anything to do with Dante.  First, this raft of injuries may well make the Blazers gun-shy.  One of their problems right now is the lack of an extra person in the frontcourt to create their own shot.  Travis is that guy.  They need a third scorer.  Travis is that guy.  On a full roster they can do without him but looking back they'll see the cupboard more empty than full.  Second, read what I said about LaMarcus just above.  If his situation isn't stable he'll be under prime consideration for a trade.  And LaMarcus plus another young talent from this team could pull a significant player in return.  In that case, you're going to need a power forward, right?  It can't be a post-up power forward if he's going to play with Oden.  Portland might just look and decide that their non-post-up, non-Aldridge PF is sitting on their roster already.  That might make them take another look at re-signing him as long as the price is reasonable.

As far as Dante, he's not ready yet to be figured into a regular rotation under normal circumstances.  I'd like to see more from him the rest of the year.  But yes, I'm intrigued for a couple reasons.  First, I like his skill set.  Second, I think he brings the kind of energy and desire that you want in a reserve player...the ability to go out there and affect the game in short bursts whether you get shots or not, while still being able to hit the shots you do get.  I'm also intrigued by Pendergraph for the same reason.  But again we need to see more from each before we can bank on either.

Is Miller really a good fit on the Blazers and the offense?  --T

It all depends on the situation and what you're looking for.  Right now with a decimated roster Miller brings scoring and the ability to make plays for people who can't make their own.  Both of those are in short supply.  In the last week we've seen that he can contribute to this team.  But if you step back and look at the big picture it might not be so rosy.

The ideal for Miller was simple:  provide veteran leadership on the court, push the tempo, set other people up, and give Portland the pure, playmaking point guard they need without taking up too much offensive space.

The potential liabilities of Miller were clear:  he's not the defender that Portland needs next to Roy, he's not the steady perimeter shooter that the offense needs as an outlet, he needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and he's not willing to give up his scoring entirely.  In fact his most effective games are usually the ones where he does handle the ball and score a lot.

So far, for whatever reasons (and it could be injuries, coaching, Miller himself, or all of the above) we've seen the liabilities stand out far stronger than the ideals.  Yesterday's blow-up between Miller and McMillan wasn't as big of a deal as it seems.  Stuff like that happens all the time, especially when you have an ultra-veteran, ultra-independent point guard trying to assimilate to a new team.  But the fact that it is happening shows that Miller's not on the same page with the coach.  That makes any kind of leadership difficult.  To this point Portland's tempo can only be pushed so far and certainly Andre's running capabilities are being wasted here.  His offensive footprint makes the mesh with Roy a work in progress.  What the Blazers envisioned and reality are turning out to be different things where Andre is concerned.

Is he a good fit?  Not right now he isn't.  That's not all his fault.  The ideal fit for the Blazers at point right now would probably be a young Nate McMillan.  But he's not available.  Andre ain't that, nor is Blake, nor is Bayless.  The criteria for the position may need to loosen some.  But I'm not sure that Andre's the guy even if the position does change.  I'm thinking he'll be traded before his contract option comes up.  There are just too many things they need that he can't give them and too many things he gives them that they can't make use of right now.

How far along is Bayless, what's his ceiling, can/will the Blazers keep him, is he a good fit with Roy? --Combining various questions into one set

Jerryd Bayless has taken the next step in his progression to playing regularly in the NBA.  He had to bide his time up until the last month.  You didn't hear much from him and he kept working hard at his craft.  That was perfect.  Then when the call came he was ready.  I think everybody got caught up in the mammoth performances versus the Suns and Spurs.  It's not unusual for a player getting his first doses of real playing time to spike like that.  When you're evaluating such a guy you should probably take the figure skating approach to scoring and throw out his top 2-3 and bottom 2-3 performances.  Forget scoring 29 and 31 because that's obviously not going to happen with regularity.  Bayless would do well to forget them too, as they set up a false definition of success.  Obviously he can score but just as obviously he's not going to be the Dominant Superstar on this team, at least not right now.  I think we saw him pushing a little too hard after those Herculean efforts, trying to do too much, which in itself is another step in a young guy's evolution.  In the last game we saw him calm down a little, take good shots, and make a good, all-around effort to contribute like the team needs him to.

The thing is, this is all a learning process and there's no way to know what the player will come out like on the other side until he actually goes through it.  Obviously Bayless has great potential.  But many guys in this league have that.  He's going to have to learn to manage expectations, minutes, roles, defenses, bad nights, and a ton of other things before we'll know if he's a 25-30 minute a night guy with this team or maybe even someone we should consider for more.  We have an instant fan culture nowadays and this is not in any way an instant process.  If they want to see what's really going on people would be well-served to be patient and stop jumping at every good or bad game, or even good or bad week.

Jerryd's eventual role in this league is probably as an instant-offense guard, likely in a prime bench position.  The one thing that's undeniably real about him is that he provides that Bayless Spark when he gets rolling.  Some team (might even be Portland) is going to love that.  He's not likely to be a standard point or off guard because of skill/mindset and height respectively, but coming off the bench for major minutes he can fill both roles and have far more freedom.  In those minutes and in that role he can be the Superstar without his liabilities showing as much.

The worst-case scenario for Bayless is that he goes down the road than many other hybrid, scoring-oriented guards have taken:  not enough vision or court sense to make plays for others, too dependent on scoring in order to justify his game, you already know what he's going to do on the offensive end and you already know to exploit his height on the defensive end.  He can still make a fine career in the league that way.  Many guards do.  But he'll have trouble finding a permanent home, especially on a great team.

I think it's likely the Blazers keep Bayless for a while unless somebody makes an offer that knocks their socks off.  They can afford to bring him along and frankly they don't have a ton of long-term options at the point guard position right now.  His long-term future with the team rests on a couple of things:  continuing to hit the spot-up jumper and defending.  The first is necessary for any guard or small forward in this system.  The second is the magic element that would make him indispensible to the club.  If he can become a good defender he becomes intriguing as a potential starter even, providing Roy can share some of the point guard duties.

Which brings up the last issue:  fit with Brandon.  Right now it's not a natural fit.  Just as it's hard to have two low-post players in the same lineup it's hard to have two guards who both like to operate with the ball on the drive.  Usually what you want with a dominant star shooting guard is a point guard who is well-rounded and not at all dependent on territory or touches to affect the game or feel successful.  Derek Fisher has always been the guy for Kobe Bryant.  Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter made it work successfully because Terry was multi-faceted, smart, worked well on the weak side, and knew when to give the ball to Clyde and when to take it himself.  The right chemistry and fit are hard to find.  They usually don't include that second guy being a score-first, score-best player.  Jerryd has shown some serious sizzle.  But Jerryd is no Terry Porter and doesn't envision himself as Terry Porter either, let alone Derek Fisher.

It's certainly possible that Bayless and Roy could evolve into a cohesive unit, each giving a little while learning how to play together.  But Bayless hasn't learned his own game yet, let alone how to accommodate Brandon's and vice versa.  He just doesn't have that much of the picture yet.  Brandon himself may not either, as much as he's done in this league.  He still struggles game to game with how to involve himself and his teammates.  If this does become a match it's almost certain to take a while and involve bumps and bruises along the way.  In order for the two guards and the team as a whole to take that route they're going to have to be sure the time and effort invested will bear fruit at the end.    

Considering the fluidity of today's NBA players and coaches and society in general, do you think there will ever be another real dynasty?  --DD

Sure.  Society may be more fluid but there are still only 30 teams to play for and only a few of those have legitimate championship chances and the right front office people to take advantage of them.  I consider the Spurs a dynasty of sorts, winning every other year.  They're modern.  If you mean like the Red Auerbach Celtics I doubt any team will do it, but then the Celtics only did it once themselves and they never repeated it.  I could easily envision a team winning as much as the Showtime L*kers or the Bird-led Boston clubs...maybe even coming close to Jordan's Bulls under the right circumstances.  If you play long enough, almost anything will happen.

How many good players does a team need?  --KP

It depends on how you define "good".  Technically all a team's players should be good, just at different things.  A good 10th man is different than a good 6th man who is different than a good superstar.  The Blazers have plenty of offensive talent in Roy, Aldridge, and Oden backed by Fernandez, Outlaw, and perhaps Bayless.  They probably don't need another standout scoring star unless they trade one of those guys for him.  But they do need guys like Batum and Przybilla who don't need touches.  They could use a point guard who combines some of the skills of the current crop into one player.  They'll be happy if Cunningham or Pendergraph can bring energy in an 8th-10th man role.  What they don't need is guys who see their primary role as being scorers rotting on the bench behind better (or more well-rounded) players and then coming in and either jacking up shots like crazy in 10 minutes of time or sulking and not contributing.  That's not real depth any more than Rod Strickland was depth behind Damon Stoudamire back in the day.

In short, there's no set answer to that question.  One just has to be flexible with the definition of "good" because too many players who are good in the exact same ways don't make a good team.

People complain about coaches a lot.  How important are they?  --FS

We've been through this before so I'll be brief.  Coaches can't substitute for talent.  Take away Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson looks far more ordinary.  Give Del Harris those same guys and he looks more brilliant than usual.  95% or more of the time the players, not the coaches, will decide games.  The best coaches realize this and:

A.  Know how to mesh their personalities with their players, or at least their key players.

B.  Know how to get other players to accept roles around the players they consider key.

C.  Know how to motivate their players to give a consistent, professional effort.  And...

D.  Know how to keep the message alive over multiple seasons.

Most of the time when you see coaching break down it's because one of these things has fallen through. 

There are a ton of technical aspects to in-game coaching but basically they boil down to getting your best players out there, keeping them fresh, exploiting whatever mismatches you have, and covering for the opponent's mismatches.  This is where a head coach's staff comes in handy, as most benches include technical wizards specializing in these different areas.

The best way to judge coaching is from the big perspective and with a long-term view.  On any given night plenty of things beyond the coach's control can affect the game.  A star has a bad night, injuries force a bad chemistry mix, the refs stink, the opponent pulls an unexpected move, or just random dumb luck.  But if these things happen repeatedly over the course of months and seasons you either figure that the coordination isn't there or the coach is the most unlucky, cursed guy in the universe.  Either way you don't want him running your team.

In the short term just about any coach with technical expertise and a whiteboard can pilot a team.  It's the long run that separates the wheat from the chaff.  How important is a coach to this particular game?  Usually not very...or at least not more important than the players involved.  How important is the coach to your season, though?  That's another matter entirely.

I saw your response to prezofdeath in yesterday's Junk Drawer.  Any chance of taking more relationship questions?  And have you met Prez in person?  Is he really that hot that he should worry about being someone's Boy Toy?  --AA

Ha!  I don't even have time to do the things I do already and still see my wife and child.  If I were to open up a relationship forum (provided I even thought I had the expertise to do that) I'd probably end up losing my own!  Thanks though.

And yes, I have met Prez.  Forget Boy Toy status.  He's so hot they should make an HBO series about him.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com

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