Blazersedge Mailbag: June 2nd, 2010

Time to do more mailbag catching up!  As always submit your questions to blazersub@yahoo.com.  I read every one and do my best to get all I can onto the main page here.  Please put "Mailbag" somewhere in the subject line to make it easy for me.

Hopefully our big men all come back healthy. Oden, Przybilla, and Camby are all among the league leaders in rebounding. Aldridge isn't as effective rebounding, but brings more offense. With the history of injuries to our big men, I would like to see Portlandeither pick up another top level rebounder, or either teach Aldridge the art of rebounding or trade him and assets for a power forward that brings both offense and tenacious rebounding. We have had an edge as for rebounding, however if we become even better, that will put the pressure on other teams and also keep us in games when our offense isn't being effective. I feel the key to a championship stars with domination inside. Your thoughts?    

Inside dominance, particularly on the boards, is one of the paths to success in this league...a path that until the disastrous mid-2000's was a Blazer hallmark.  It's been nice to see a resurgence in the current era, though that has been blunted by injuries to some of the big men you mentioned.  I'd say great rebounding raises your floor more than your ceiling.  Rebounding alone isn't enough to take you to the highest echelon.  But if you are a great rebounding team there are only so many bad things that can happen to you.  The extra points you get on the offensive boards and the points you deny the opponent on the other end tend to even out parts of your game that aren't working on a given night.  You have to be pretty bad in other aspects of the game to ruin great rebounding.

I look at the roster situation a little differently than you've laid out.  If the Blazers can get at least two of those centers operational (particularly if one is Oden) they are free to go with a more new-age, diverse power forward and perhaps skimp on rebounding at some other positions.  Having Oden, Przybilla, and Camby allows you to absorb Aldridge and to take advantage of his strengths without worrying if he's a little shy in the rebounding department.  To get another power rebounder would almost be overkill, especially since those guys traditionally work in the low post on offense.  If your entrée is sweet already you don't want to prepare a sweet orange sauce to pour over it then add a sweet herb like basil and serve caramelized onions right next to it.  You need some saltiness, some sourness, other things to complement the dish.  At a certain point you won't even taste that extra sweet thing you added.  That's what adding a monster rebounder would do to this lineup, provided the centers are healthy.  I would like to see Portland cultivate a tough, bulky, rebounding power forward off the bench.  It would add a different look.  Plus that back-up center situation isn't going to remain the same forever.  Perhaps Cunningham or Pendergraph could fill the bill?

Which of the following would most likely to happen?    

1 Lebron sign and trade with Portland...  If so, what players should be included?

2 Trade for #3 pick along with Devin Harris for future picks, current picks... LMA,Rudy and fillers? then draft favors....

3 Swap PFs and filler with Toronto for bosh...?

 This is a little like asking which of the following would be most likely:

1.  Scientists discover the moon really is made of cheese.  We send a giant magnifying glass into orbit, build a space elevator, manufacture giant skinny forks, and all have fondue.

2.  David Stern admits that NBA results are a predetermined hoax propagated by ex-deputy Commissioner Russ Granik who took over the entire league office with his powers of mind control and unbearable charisma.

3.  I become a L*kers blogger.  After actually killing Sasha Vujacic, Kobe Bryant invites me to join the team.  I hit the series-winning shot in the Finals, Phil Jackson is so impressed he backs out of the picture so I can marry Jeanie Buss, and I carry Luke Walton's love child to term...a fine lad whom we name Pookie Walton-Deckard III.  

Since you asked me to choose the most likely I'd have to say #2 but you have to get rid of Portland getting the third pick.  I think the Blazers could manufacture ways to get Harris easier than they could get either of the superstars.  But now that New Jersey is not getting Wall I don't really think that's likely.  Sign and trades are always a wild card but it's not likely that Portland is on LeBron's or Bosh's radar.

Portland doesn't have to make this kind of deal to get better, though.  Were a bona fide, productive star available you could start talking about Aldridge's prospects for growth and his worth to the team.  But anything short of a money-in-the-bank player wouldn't get Portland to move any of their Big Four.  If hay is to be made it's in looking at the Rudys, the Baylesses, the Websters, the Przybillas of the world and asking what those assets could bring in return.  Could you get a really good player who is just now starting to decline, a guy who will give you 4-5 good years a la Buck Williams back in the late 80's?  Could you reset some of those contracts into nice rookies?  Could you turn two or three promising young players into one really promising one that you know fits?  Four of your five starting positions are already locked up so you're talking a starting point guard or a really nice reserve player or two...a killer sixth man maybe.

Even more likely is a minor move involving one of those players for a tune-up acquisition.  How much better would the Blazers be if either reserve guard position were locked down?  This team could get better by obtaining a player that could both back up and fill in for Brandon Roy while manning both ends of the floor.  Of course some would argue that Fernandez or Bayless will be that guy, and maybe they're right.  But if you're going to see a move chances are it'll be in this vein.

The point is, the Blazers don't need to blow up the ship and rebuild at this point.  They just need to nudge the rudder a little.  Everyone loves the idea of an ultra-name player coming onboard but when you count the cost, aiming for a targeted, smart move with less flash keeps the team more on course.

It seems fairly clear that we do not currently have our "point guard of the future". Andre Miller seems to be doing well, and is finding a way to fit in along side Brandon, but he's too old to be our long term solution. We also have Bayless, but he isn't yet showing that he can be the starting point guard we need in the near future, or at least soon enough to replace Miller. What do you see us doing at the point guard position, and urgent do you think that situation is?    

One of the main bonuses of having Miller onboard is that he buys the Blazers time to answer this very question.  The question is pressing but not urgent.  If Portland goes another year, perhaps even two, with 'Dre at the helm they'll be OK.  Not having to make an immediate move gives the Blazers more options.

Portland seems determined to solve this issue via the draft, as they acquire a point guard prospect each year.  Exactly zero of those have worked out so far, though obviously a couple experiments are ongoing.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them continue this tack but I've grown cynical enough to wish they wouldn't.  The Blazers don't have five years to wait for a guy to develop.  OK...technically they do but they will have short-changed a couple of early opportunities in their growth curve by doing so.

Another option will be looking at the players the Blazers already have.  Bayless, Fernandez, Mills, Koponen, and the no-true-PG lineup are all options.  This option depends not only on the skills of the prospective point guards but on the players that surround them.  We just talked about not needing as much rebounding from LaMarcus Aldridge because we have centers to handle it.  What do we really need from a point guard?  That depends on what Roy and Batum can handle.  It could also depend on the Oden effect.  We don't know the answers to those questions yet.  We don't even know if we need a true point guard.  However I will say that if we do need one the potential of the current roster is dicey.  It's not a basket in which I'd be comfortable resting all my eggs. 

The opposite tactic to the draft would be finding a ready-made, high-level point guard.  (Andre Miller is one of those but as you mentioned he's a short-timer.)  With half the roster out it's hard to gauge the entire effect but in general the team played more consistently with a guy like Miller at the helm than in previous seasons with less experienced or less talented point guards.  As we mentioned with rebounding above, maybe the ceiling wasn't that much higher but the floor was.  The problems with this approach are three.  These kind of guards usually aren't available at an age to make them the long-term answer here.  It's a guard-oriented league right now and they're prized.  When they are available they cost you a pretty penny in trade.  They also carry hefty contracts, which makes them a hard sell financially.  As much as I'd like to find a high-level guy just entering his prime who can be acquired cheaply and paid reasonably I just don't see it happening.  

I could see the Blazers replacing Miller with another career-finishing point guard every 2-3 years, particularly if the other players develop a solid identity as a unit.  Very few teams have five players remain the same for entire eras.  Usually there are 3-4 stalwarts and other players rotate in and out.  Maybe point guard isn't as crucial as we think and a veteran guy with skill and enough minutes left in him to start is enough.

The last option is the one I find most likely:  using some of your current assets to bet on an guy who could become a starter but would also make a fine back-up...probably because he's somebody's back-up or borderline starter now.  At a minimum you solidify the position behind Miller and you're still able to employ any of the above tactics.  But maybe the promise you see will blossom.  You could also get guys closer to their primes on this basis.  We're talking about players like Beno Udrih or Jarrett Jack who could be acquired reasonably and don't put any more pressure on the books than an MLE player would.  If you're looking for a true long-term solution, it's probably going to come from this category.

As a old Duck and a Portlander, I have a sentimental attachment to having players with Portland and Oregon (and not just UO) connections here -- Ime, Dickau, Jones, Jackson etc. I always wanted the Blazers to pick up Terrell Brandon and AC Greene, for example. Do you think the Rockets would be interested in say, Fernandez and Bayless for Aaron Brooks? Would he even work in Nate's system? I know he and Brandon go way back but do they get along? Would the salary numbers work out? Do you think that's an option worth pursuing? he's become more of a scorer than an assists guy lately; could he and Roy co exist in the backcourt? How's his defense?  Shoot, maybe we should just go after all the Seattle guys; like that story in Sports Illustrated (was it?) showed, there's quite a lot of Seattle talent around the league. Too bad they don't have an NBA team anymore.    

There are so many layers to this question!  I'll try to cover it.

I applaud your loyalty to the local guys.  I like to see Oregon players do well too.  I loved everything Terrell Brandon did because he went to my high school and led us to the State Championship.  WOOT!  However I am not in favor of acquiring local guys per se, be it through the draft or trade.  People argue it will sell tickets but my guess is that winning sells tickets and everything else is a distant second.  (Which is different than saying I'd sacrifice anything just to win, so let's not go there.)  If the non-local guy is better, get the non-local guy and personally recommend the local guy to the other GM.  The other thing--and this is also true when people say that they wouldn't like the team as much if we traded for LeBron James--is that once a guy puts on a Blazers uniform he becomes local.  Once King James suited up in crimson and black, threw down a dunk, scored 40, and won a game or two he'd be one of the most beloved Blazers of all time.  Think of all of the iconic figures from Blazer lore:  Clyde Drexler, Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Terry Porter, Kiki Vandeweghe, Jack Ramsay, even the Schonz himself.  These guy ARE Portland, even more than the players you mentioned.  All of them started somewhere else first, though.  None of them grew up in Oregon.

As far as the Brooks thing, I don't think the Rockets deal him for that package unless they definitively determine that they don't like him and Kevin Martin on the same roster.  That'll probably take another year at least.  Even then, would they really think Rudy and/or Jerryd fit better with Martin?

If the Blazers wanted Brooks they should have drafted him.  They went with Rudy instead.  Brooks has some of the same issues as Nate Robinson, who we discussed in the last mailbag.  He's a smaller guard.  His defense is suspect and has become more so as he's played a bigger role.  He likes scoring, as you mentioned.  I would infinitely prefer Brooks to Robinson but I don't think he's the right fit at the right cost.  He is still on his rookie deal, which makes his cap imprint tiny for now.  But it's likely that in addition to talent the Rockets would make you take a contract back in return to get him.   If you did acquire him you'd need to play to his strengths which brings up the very valid Roy-Brooks question you mentioned.  I believe the Blazers want to speed up anyway so theoretically it's not an insurmountable issue but it would sure take some juggling to figure out a happy middle ground where both could touch the ball and play at the tempo they prefer.

If we got an all-Seattle team I'd speculate that the Blazers should just fire their entire scouting crew and stick to guys that Paul Allen has scouted personally.

I've been thinking about Blake and Outlaw and wondering what type of contract offers they will receive.  As the Blazers struggled in some games to score points, especially the "second" unit, I fondly remembered Outlaw creating his own shot and making key baskets in the fourth quarter and Blake hitting some key 3's.  Two questions:  where do you think Blake and Outlaw fit into the free agent sphere this summer, and would the Blazers consider bringing either of them back?

(These questions are especially prompted by my noticing how several of the playoff teams (teams Blazers must beat in future playoffs) have fairly dynamic scorers and/or defenders coming off the bench and playing important roles/i.e., "game-changers").    

Both Blake and Outlaw will be playing in the league next year.  I don't see either getting huge raises.  Blake made $4 million this season which will be about his max.  Outlaw made $3.6 million.  I can see a team going higher than that but I don't see him as more than an MLE-level player at this point.  Likely someone will consider him a cheap gamble.

In neither case would I favor a return to the Blazers, at least not unless the landscape changes dramatically.  The future of this team is forward, not back.  I would deem Blake the more likely candidate but only if Bayless is traded.  Portland definitely doesn't need that three-PG mush we witnessed last year.  Jerryd has played well enough to be the second point guard until it's shown his skills don't fit or will be valued more elsewhere.  Blake isn't good enough to supplant him and isn't bad enough to play behind him (in essence not playing).  If Jerryd goes and Rudy isn't capable of backing up Miller we can talk.  Until then Blake just makes a mess.

While I can see the argument for Travis as a reserve power forward and shot self-creator he's getting expensive to play behind a guy who rightfully should hog almost all the minutes at the position.  There's no room at center or small forward to sneak in other minutes either.  But even if there were, I'm of the belief that the Travis experiment is done in Portland.  The Blazers had him for six years.   He was healthy the majority of that time.  He grew, of course, but he never achieved the level of reliable contributor.  The Blazers don't need more unreliability.  

This is also my answer to the "game-changer" assertion.  Blake could change games very occasionally.  Outlaw probably earned the full "occasionally" designation, maybe a smidgen more.  But neither one would change the game every night.  That's the kind of player Portland needs more of, in the post-season or otherwise. Fernandez and Bayless, Batum and Webster, Aldridge and Oden...all of these guys can change games here and there.  The Blazers are waiting for all of them to get more consistent.  Nicolas and LaMarcus are close.  None of the others are.  Throwing another random player in the mix like Outlaw--a guy who won't get enough minutes to work out of that randomness and who hasn't shown that much less randomness no matter how many minutes he's gotten--isn't a prescription for success.

Keep those questions coming to blazersub@yahoo.com!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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