Blazersedge Mailbag: May 26th, 2010

We haven't done a mailbag since before the playoffs which means the backlog of questions is enormous.  I'm going to try and work through them, balancing out some older ones with the topical.  If you submitted a question a month ago and it isn't answered here, please be patient.  Either that or go ahead and re-submit to blazersub@yahoo.com, which is where all mailbag questions should go.  Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line of the e-mail to make it easier for me.

Do you think the Blazers should bring Victor Claver over this year?

The two main factors are his readiness and room on the roster.  I bow to the folks who have superior knowledge about the former but from what I've gathered he probably isn't ready to come in and make an impact yet.  That's problematic because Portland also has a surfeit of young forwards and a guy who isn't ready to make an impact isn't going to get to play.

The old-school theory said that you get a guy on your roster as soon as possible because developing on an NBA bench is better than playing anywhere else.  With the quality of the modern Euro leagues and coaching that's not nearly as true anymore.  Plus I think we're finding a different mentality among today's European players.  A guy who has come up in the U.S. college system has always aimed for the NBA.  For him there's no alternative.  If he gets drafted and stuck on the end of the bench, tough.  He knows it's either break into the rotation or go home, ending the dream.  The Euro player, by contrast, left another contract behind to come to the NBA.  Some of those contracts are bigger than the NBA offers.  It's a little harder to develop the same tolerance for getting buried and having to play scrub minutes or go home when going home means tripling your salary and being adored by legions of fans for playing the same game you're not getting to play right now.  It's starting to make more sense for NBA teams to leave their guys in Europe until they're reasonably sure they fit.  Naturally you can't wait too long or those Euro salaries will so outstrip the CBA-mandated rookie NBA scale that you'll never get the guy to come over.  But I don't think that's an issue yet for Claver.

For those reasons I think I'd let Victor stay where he is unless trades opened up the roster dramatically.

Is the lack of competition for the starting spots the reason why Rudy and Martell didn't do as well this year as last year?    

Rudy didn't have much chance at starting either year.  I believe starting and playing major minutes are high on his "to do" list.  Perhaps disappointment at not being able to achieve a more prominent role is affecting his outlook.  Martell clearly prospered when he was able to start and play a more significant role in the offense.  His season hit the skids when Batum returned definitively.  So in a sense they answer is "yes".

However this is a total chicken and egg situation.  Unless you're an ultra-high draft pick and projected superstar you don't get handed a prominent role in this league and get to grow into it.  You have to earn those minutes.  Your job is simple:  make the coach keep you on the floor by virtue of your consistently excellent play.  If your play isn't consistently excellent you can't grumble.  You have to prove it, not just once but over and over.  They write you a paycheck full of zeros every month for just that reason.

If either guy wants a shot at the starting lineup they have to outplay the people who are already there.  No situation or circumstance absolves them of that basic responsibility.  The gulf may look impossible, particularly for Rudy, but you don't bridge impossible gulfs by standing still or falling apart.  You have to do everything you can and then wait for your break.  This year's injuries show that those breaks do come.  Even without the injuries there were times this year when the Blazers were begging for someone to step up, including both of these guys.  Neither one answered the call enough to lay claim to a promotion.  That's the bottom line.

Why didn't you start the game countdown clock for this year's playoffs?  Or a magic number for Portland?

It was different when the Blazers hadn't made it since 2003.  Reaching the post-season again was a big milestone.  This year they were expected to make it.  Even accounting for the early- and mid-season injuries it would have been a crushing blow for Portland not to make it by the time mid-March came around.  The first time you get into the endzone you jump around a lot.  Once you've been there, act like you've done it before, right?  The next big celebration comes when Portland wins a playoff series.  It's hard to put a specific day on that.  (Though we do know it'll happen next year.)

My question is regarding Darius miles. I realize that the subject was covered in great detail last year, but seeing as he is not playing basketball anymore, I was wondering if the blazers have any grounds to file a new complaint to the league that their findings were indeed accurate seeing as how he isn't playing professional basketball anymore.

   It's water under the bridge, I'm afraid.  Paul Allen's wallet aside, the tangible effect of the Miles situation was costing the Blazers $9 million in cap space last summer.  Even if the league were to rule something was hinky (which they wouldn't, as the situation conformed to their rules) they can't reset everything to the summer of 2009 and have a do-over.  Unless you have a time machine and a sympathetic NBA exec on hand, it's done.  And if you have that, ditch the exec, zip back in time, and tell Sandra Bullock and Elin Nordegren to stay single.  They'll thank you for it eventually and that would be some thanks!

How disappointing is it to see our best players struggle with health?  After a point it's just hard to be excited about the young team with potential, and talk about how bright the future is.  I think about how hard the start of the season was, and how long it took for everything to finally click, and I wonder if I'll ever actually get to enjoy Pritchard's roster playing comfortable team basketball together.  I guess it's just frustrating to see all the other "up and coming teams" like the Thunder with their best players healthy and ready to learn from the playoffs, or at least moving forward while we're still stuck in the starting gate.

This is totally understandable.  I think every Blazer fan shares that sentiment.  I love how other teams' fans are eager to describe it as a Portland condition as well, the same way everyone immediately blames parents for school tragedies so they can safely assume it'll never happen to them (the good parents with their good kids).  Last I checked plenty of teams this year suffered injuries to huge stars.  If this is something that teams are doing wrong, a lot of them are doing it.

That said, you obviously have to be concerned about the long-term health of Oden and Roy as both have repeated sojourns to the injured list.  You have to lament the time that could have been spent learning each other and expanding the system but instead was spent just getting by.  The learning curve isn't prohibitively steep for this team but it still has some upward grade to it.  The Blazers aren't likely to just show up and click.

Injuries aren't the only factor that make Pritchard's ultimate dream less likely to become reality though.  Because of rookie scale contracts expiring and multiple young players trying to grow into the same positions the Blazers were always on the clock as far as deciding the final shape of the roster.  Realistically there was never a scenario that would see all of these guys as 7th-10th year players together.  Portland had a couple of golden years when everyone was young and cheap to play around in the sandbox before the judges would come around to grade the progress.  The real tragedy of the injuries is that they ate those golden years.  Now decision time looms and the Blazers haven't shown nearly as much as we hoped.  But that doesn't push the deadline back any farther.  If the Blazers want to push it they can spend maybe one more year getting things together, but one wonders whether that year can be spent bolstering the play of Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless, figuring out the balance between Batum and Webster, finding whether Dante Cunningham can be a contributor, and meshing Oden, Roy, and Aldridge...all of this at the same time.  My gut tells me we're going to get to the end of next season with some of these things still unresolved.  For this reason I find it plausible that some of these players will be traded before that point.   That will be the end of the cake baking dream that blossomed after the Roy/Aldridge and Oden drafts.  Hopefully it'll be the start of something else wonderful (and more predictably good) though.

Should the Blazers consider Brandon to be injury prone, and would a feasible approach be to decrease his minutes during the regular season to 20--25 per game?  With the remaining time we could placate/develop the second stringer (Rudy or Jerryd).      

You can't do this with a guy who is so prominent and at the heart of the team, especially when that guy hasn't even hit his prime yet.  You'd pretty much be waving a flag saying, "Brandon Roy is not going to have any kind of NBA career."  I know the Spurs try that with Tim Duncan but he's 102 years old, they've played together forever, and besides they're just treading water at this point.  The Blazers wouldn't adjust well at all to Roy being in and out like that and neither would Brandon.  He's not the instant impact, 20 points in 20 minutes kind of guy.  Besides so much of the offense keys off of him it'd be like they were playing two separate games.   Portland needs a fully functional, reliable Brandon Roy or Portland needs to make a major shift in plans.   Before I'd go with that limited of a schedule for Roy I'd try to trade him, seeing if another team had more hope in him and someone nifty to give in return.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the Blazers struggle against physical teams. We also don't score any fast break points. So if we can't play physical AND we don't run well, why don't we suck? How did we get 50 wins?    

These are overstatements.  The Blazers can handle physical backcourts.  Physical big men give them problems.  Denver's frontcourt had their way with Oden and Aldridge a couple years ago.  But experience has closed the gap somewhat.  Once Oden is back and rolling I think you'll see Portland give as much as it takes.  Guys like Howard, Camby, and Miller who know how to reject guff have helped as well.  It's true Portland doesn't run much but the Blazers don't get run on much either.  In fact one of the more impressive facets of this disaster of a season was how the Blazers got back against opponents no matter what the lineup.  Their transition defense this year was as consistent as I've seen it in this era.  I think Portland matches up fairly well against teams that have to score on the run.  They'll only get better as they learn to score a little more themselves while still containing the opponent.

Is LaMarcus Aldridge overpaid by the Trailblazers?  I think LMA is a fine player and I am happy enough to have him on the team, but I am concerned that for the amount of salary cap space he takes up, that he is not providing enough value to the team.  For instance, if he were making what Andre Miller was....I might be less harsh to pass to judgment on him. 

As detailed in his season review LaMarcus had fairly similar seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10.  He gave us LaMarcus this year, no more and no less.  Criticism could be leveled for a couple of reasons.  His improvement should be ongoing as he isn't a complete player, let alone bona fide star, yet.  Also the Blazers needed more from him this year because of the injuries.  He wasn't able to seize the added opportunities afforded him.  But neither of those criticisms has anything to do with salary.  If we were grumpy about him this year we should have been over the moon in his previous years when he was on rookie scale.  Technically we should have been ecstatic this year too as his extension doesn't kick in until July.  We still got quite a bargain.

Ultimately, though, a player's worth isn't based on metrics...at least not in isolation.  The market determines value.  LaMarcus did have some leverage in these negotiations and he got a nice deal.  Would anyone else have paid him similarly?  Yes.  That alone is enough to justify the numbers.  The contract wasn't a mistake.  From the front end anyway it wasn't even that bad of a deal.

Whether the contract ends up looking bad in the end is up to LaMarcus.  If he stagnates at this level you start to wonder.  It wouldn't be a disaster but it wouldn't be what he or the Blazers were hoping (and/or paying) for.  If he grows into his role and produces higher numbers nobody will question the money.  The time to judge this isn't here yet, though.  All you can ask is whether it was the right move when you made it.  I'm comfortable that it was.  Thus I don't begrudge Aldridge his raise nor fault the team for giving it to him.

With all of the injuries and an uncertain future, what path do you see the Blazers taking next year?  They could go the Hornets route and get extra veterans.  But New Orleans was plagued by injuries again and their mix was bad.  They could make like the Jazz and stand pat.  Utah recovered nicely from their injuries and did well enough, though they ultimately fell short.  Which route do you see the Blazers taking?

Somewhere in the middle I think.  The Hornets made a major change at center.  Their fortunes also rest ultimately on one guy.  I don't see the Blazers moving anyone in the starting lineup unless a sweetheart deal (probably at point guard) becomes available so their mix isn't as much at risk.  The Blazers don't rely on any one player as much as the Hornets rely on CP3.  Plus you have to remember that major cornerstones of that New Orleans team are getting old and unreliable, a situation which certainly doesn't apply in Portland.

On the other hand I don't see the Blazers standing pat completely either.  Their roster isn't set as nicely as that of the Jazz.  Even with everyone free from injury there are too many question marks among the younger players and too many of them needing the same time and positions to make it work.  Plus, as we mentioned above, they aren't going to be able to pay all of these players long-term.   Plus they can't go another season without cracking the second round of the playoffs lest they call the viability of the entire roster into question.  For these reasons somewhere in the next year, whether during the summer or before the trading deadline, I think a couple players will be moved to bring a more bankable look to the bench...not as dramatic as the Hornets' moves, not as placid as the Jazz.

 

I could do about five more of these right off the bat with the questions already in the hopper but I'd also welcome more, especially if they're current.  Send them to blazersub@yahoo.com.  Thanks to everyone who sent these questions in!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)  

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