Time for another edition of the mailbag. This one is hot on the heels of last week's but even consolidating similar questions I'm still getting to less than 1 in 3. I try to balance newer, topical ones with older queries that have been sitting around a while. If you've submitted a question and it hasn't been answered, go ahead and submit it again.
The address is firstname.lastname@example.org (at the bottom of every post I write as well). It would help if you would use the word "Mailbag" in the title.
On to the questions, starting with a few about the Big Fella...
Where is Greg Oden at with rehab?
Last I heard he was doing some basketball stuff but it was extremely light, nowhere near a game-ready regimen. That means his knee is getting there but I'd still be surprised to see him back before next fall.
Does it make sense to play Oden for the last few remaining games and the playoffs this season rather than wait until next season? If I were in KP's shoes, I would want to know if Oden truly is a bust and if so I would then use the draft to find another big guy.
Whether Greg plays or not will be a matter of his health and the relative risk to his knee. It won't have much to do with strategy. If he's healthy he'll suit up, if not, not. However it would be unreasonable to expect him to contribute as he was earlier in the season even if he were healthy enough to play. He was playing better as the year progressed but still learning on the job. Now he's going to be in worse shape, he won't have played competitive basketball for months, and he'll be nursing an injury or the memory of it. What, exactly, would Greg give you? Yes, the live body would help, especially since he's huge. But the chances of him coming back and turning around a playoff series are remote. We're probably talking 12 minutes, 5 fouls, a couple dunks, and a handful of rebounds.
I can't even tell you all the things that are wrong with the second part of the question. The Blazers won't be able to tell anything more about Oden from a couple games at the end of the season than they knew already. In addition to everything I just mentioned the evaluation window is just too short. Even if they did determine he was a bust how are they going to replace him with a big guy in the draft considering they'll be drafting in the middle of the pack?
Is it reasonable to expect Greg Oden to become an offensive threat like he was turning into last year?
It depends on what you mean by "threat". He's always going to be a massive weapon on the offensive boards. As he learns to establish position and a little bit more footwork he's going to give you shots at the rim as well. He'll command attention down there. He may require constant double-teaming someday which would be a huge benefit to the Portland offense. Even now you can tell defenders are glancing sideways at him even when they're not directly assigned to him. Given his offensive repertoire I'd be surprised if he ever shot under 50%. However I don't see Greg becoming a guy you feed for 18 shots and 22 points per game. His offense isn't going to be diverse enough and he's not going to have the Shaq mentality to dominate on that end. Plus feeding him will slow the Blazer attack even more. In the final tally his superstar potential still rests on the defensive end.
One of the big keys to Greg becoming more of a point producer is his free throw percentage. He's going to get fouled a lot. I'll be encouraged if that keeps improving.
Click through for questions about the OKC Thunder, Juwan Howard, Portland's financial future, Batum's killer instinct, firing KP, Roy's championship potential, and more!
Do you get the feeling that very soon the Thunder are going to be a force to be reckoned with? I have got a gut feeling that once Kobe finishes up, if ever, that if the Blazers ever reach max potential that there are going to be a lot of slugfests between OKC and Portland.
It's as plausible of a scenario as any. The rivalry is already budding...technically continuing from the Seattle days, I suppose. Oklahoma City is going to gain some playoff experience this year and will be riding a wave of confidence into the future. There's a long way to go for both teams but they're both on the short list of potential conference finalists in a few years.
Here's an important take-away point from the Thunder story. How did they go from being an occasionally-exciting group of young talent to a bona fide playoff squad? Sure Durant blossomed but he was already pretty good and they weren't winning at nearly this rate. Hint: It was their defense. Wait, that wasn't a hint. That was the answer. Last year they sat at a semi-miserable 106.9 defensive efficiency rating, 21st in the league. This year they're at 100.4, tied for 5th. Granted their offensive efficiency also went from bottom of the barrel to mediocre, but some of that resulted from them not having to take the ball out of the net to start every possession. The Thunder are succeeding because their defense is making enough space to allow their offensive to make a difference.
It's quite possible for the Blazers, fielding roughly the roster they already have (healthy, of course), to become one of the premier defensive teams in the league for reasons other than just pace. When that happens Portland's offensive woes will look less egregious. That's a surer road to success than the one teams like Toronto and Sacramento have tried to take.
Half the fans/columnists praise Juwan Howard for keeping the Blazers from oblivion, the other half seem to believe he's the worst (sometimes) starter in the NBA, losing games for the Blazers on a regular basis. What's your take?
Simple. What did you pay for the guy? He's making $1.3 million on a veteran's minimum contract for a year and was brought in to be a decent influence on your young bigs. Anything more you get out of him is gravy. And he's given you enough gravy to fill Rosie O'Donnell's hot tub. He appears to be slowing down some as the season wears on but he's 37 years old and has tallied 1390 minutes. He played 825 minutes in the last two years combined. Plus he's averaging a career high in field goal percentage and is tied for his 5th best year in rebounds per minute. What more do you want out of the guy considering you signed Juwan Howard and not, say, Kevin Garnett?
Complaining about Howard at this point is like having your car break down, on the spur of the moment grabbing the used junker from your backyard that you paid $100 for, driving it across country both ways, watching it take you up mountains without overheating, through snowstorms while staying on the road, never needing repair or extra oil, you even got lucky in the back seat once or twice, then you get it home 7000 miles later and moan that the upholstery is looking a little dingy and it didn't handle like a Mercedes. Really?
People are already questioning why Howard continues to play with Camby on board. Besides him already being familiar with the minutes and the team sometimes you just need that experienced, trustworthy hand out there even if somebody else has the potential to do better in the long run. Back in the Drexler days Rick Adelman got an enormous amount of run out of Danny Young as a back-up point guard. He'd be barbequed for that nowadays with people screaming for Drazen Petrovic or Byron Irvin at point guard even though neither one was suited for, or as reliable in, the position at the time.
Do you see the Blazers potentially hamstrung financially in the future and thus possibly trading away younger assets or do you feel Mr. Allen will open his wallet?
It's a complex question. Mr. Allen has entrusted himself to the guidance of the business folks at Vulcan. They want the Blazers to turn a profit. That's not going to change. That will mean staying out of the luxury tax or at least requiring surety that a championship is one move away and the expense of that move can be covered by the added publicity and goodwill of winning it all. You're not going to see the Blazers shelling out $80 million for an unproven, young roster.
On the other hand the new CBA may ensure that nobody has to shell out that much money. We'll need to wait and see what terms are agreed to before we speculate too much.
On the third hand (don't ask...it's a blogger thing) we're seeing some of these young players not reach star-level production by the time their contracts expire, making them cheaper to retain.
Are the Blazers going to be able to retain every player that lights our eyes in the blossom of their youth? No. But that probably wouldn't happen even if they were to throw all the money in the world at those players. There's just not enough room for them all to develop and stay happy. The Blazers will certainly be able to keep 4-5 key players and form the rest of the roster around them though. That's the important thing. Provided, of course, you can determine which 4-5 are key.
How much cap room will the Blazers have? Are they already gridlocked? Have they missed their window?
It's important to understand that with the signing of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to long-term deals the cap flexibility paradigm shifted for this team. Up until this year the mantra was "Flexibility through Cap Space". That's done. There won't be any more. But the Blazers still have the same flexibility every capped-out team has: the ability to make deals within 25%+$100,000 of the contracts in play. The new CBA may change those margins, but something will be in there to allow teams over the cap to make deals. The key for Portland now is "Flexibility through Reasonable Compensation". In other words the Blazers want their contracts to be within shouting distance of market value given a player's level of production and talent. As long as that happens then the player in question is easy to trade. This is one of the reasons you're going to see the Blazers practice frugality with the players they re-sign. As long as they can accomplish this they're not gridlocked at all.
Ironically enough in the cap space window that just closed the Blazers may have had too many cheap contracts plus a super-expensive one in Raef LaFrentz. They couldn't make the numbers line up with the talent both ways in order to make a trade. Even now they'd be hard-pressed to do a deal for a guy making $9 million per season. They only have a couple players they can offer before they have to start throwing in multiple young guys who remain on cheap contracts. When you start talking Martell Webster AND Jerryd Bayless AND Rudy Fernandez for a single guy a match is hard to find. Once over the cap they might find trading easier with a more normal range of contracts on board.
I like what you said in your recent mailbag about fans thinking some of our young talent is the next big thing. Do you feel this is the same for BRoy and do you think if he is considered our #1 guy, he can he lead us to a championship?
As for the first part, Roy has always been different than the other young, talented guys on the team. From the moment you first saw him at Summer League you knew it. Nothing has come close. The way he moved, his shot, his vision, his confidence...his ascent was written all over him. The only guy comparable was Aldridge but that was in different ways. You knew LMA was going to be good, maybe more. You knew Brandon was going to be great. (And not "had a chance to be"...was going to be.) His playing time, production, and effect on the game and the franchise have borne that out since. In a twist of irony Roy is now the guy we tend to take for granted while chanting for other players who, while good, don't have the chops to come to the fore in the manner he did.
I do believe Roy can lead this team to a championship as long as you realize that he's not LeBron James or Kobe Bryant...guys who are going to give you a chance automatically. You have to build around him a little. The great hope (necessity) for the Blazers is building a strong defensive frontcourt to alleviate the defensive pressure on Brandon, as that's not his strong suit. You also need at least one other scorer and a legit shooter because Roy isn't going to take the ball to the hole himself 25 times per game 82 games a year. But the attention that Roy commands due to his ability to score and pass keys the production of the offense. Without him the Blazers become far easier to guard. Without him they don't have a chance at going deep.
Why wasn't Nicolas Batum on your list of killer-edge players the other day?
I did mention Nic as a surgical player who will cause harm to the opponent. One of the problematic things about rating players by a specific category is that if you don't list a guy at the top of that category people take that as you don't think the guy is any good at all. That's certainly not the case with Batum. In fact once he started showing that defensive prowess I was plenty excited about his prospects and have never stopped being excited. I wouldn't trade him for anything short of a miracle offer at this point. However I didn't include Nic on the highest rung of the killer edge ladder because he yet has a tendency to fade on the court, a propensity he's carried with him since before he was drafted. I need to see more consistent aggression, even if it's quiet aggression, and the ability to impose his will on every game before I'm sold on him being one of those guys.
Do you think there's any chance the Blazers fire Kevin Pritchard?
Like they did Penn? No. Should that unlikely parting ever occur KP will either serve out his contract or step away. He won't be fired. It's worth noting that the article that mentioned the possibility of Pritchard being let go also drew on information generated by his agent, who is also Tom Penn's agent. Draw your own conclusions there. The article did bring up a good point: that one has to be careful assuming that just because relationship between KP and Blazer fans runs on near-unbridled passion they are equally unbridled between him and the organization. This is a business. Plenty of things go wrong in business. Most of them involved bridles. This is especially tricky when the person in question has walked an unusual path, as Pritchard has being a young GM with a magic touch and a huge impact on his organization. He's an invaluable guy whose value will have to be defined in practical terms when his contract comes up. That's always a risky situation. It'll be as interesting to see where things go from there as it will be to see where things go with some of our young players.
It's hard to believe you have been with Blazersedge for 4 years. How do you stay so dedicated? Is it ever hard or frustrating?
August 22nd of this year will be my 4th anniversary. In some ways the years have flown by. In other ways it's hard to remember not doing this. The evolution of the site has been striking. I never could have imagined putting this much time and energy into it or having it seem this important when I first started. When you look back to those early, humble posts with a dozen comments and no sidebar section and you look today with Ben and the Fanposts/Fanshots and the media connections and team connections and thrice-daily posts and hundreds of comments and hundreds of thousands of hits...yeesh.
How do I stay dedicated? I don't suppose there's much to it. I love the team and the sport. I love talking and hearing about them. I love reading your comments. I love it when something excellent comes through the sidebar. When that love sometimes falters under weariness I do what everybody does...just keep doing it until things get better. It's either that or quit and I need to be able to post about a championship before I even consider quitting. I want to type out that headline. I want to hit "post". I want to read several thousand comments after. That'll be the moment of my dreams and the payoff will be a million times greater because I'll be able to experience it with you on this site.
It does get frustrating sometimes, both in the specific and meta-senses. It's never fun reading silly, accusatory comments from people who use the space and attention you've helped nurture without regard for others, as if their opinion were the be-all and end-all. The more accusation you have to throw into a comment the less substance, truth, and confidence it usually has. Some folks learn that slower than others. But this is the world we live in, I suppose. That's probably the most discouraging on-site thing. Even so, I think we get less of that here than most any community of our size. I'd certainly rather read the comment section here most days than watch talking heads arguing on your average cable news channel.
As much as I try to avoid it, I do spend less time with my family than I might be able to otherwise because I do this. Or rather I don't always have the same energy left in the time I do get to spend. Blazersedge tends to be a cruel, time-sucking mistress. Writing or researching until 2 or 3 a.m. is not unusual. That facet is discouraging sometimes. But I do believe Blazersedge makes a positive difference in the world...or at least in this little Blazer fandom world. I hope when my son grows up he'll have a firsthand legacy of what his dad tried to do, promote, and stand up for. Maybe that'll make up for those "exhausted dad" times when he was two. Kudos to Ben, too, for the amount of work he puts in and to everyone who keeps our sidebar up to date and interesting.
Thanks for the time! Send your burning questions to email@example.com