Time for a full-fledged edition of the mailbag. As always you can submit your questions to email@example.com. I'll catch up with as many as I can here.
My question is regarding the possibility of the Blazers, or any other small market team, ever becoming a true power player in the NBA (I would define that as a 5-7 year period in serious contention for a title). I used to think that the overwhelming success of the larger cities was a result of the officiating, but I've lately been leaning more towards the fact that the big players gravitate, or somehow end up, in those cities. Is there any way that a small market team can break through the barriers of free agency, officiating, and lopsided trades (see Gasol)? The NBA seems to do a great job at getting the bigger markets and matchups that it wants in the finals, while somehow keeping the small markets (and the rest of the league) happy, buying tickets, and watching TV. 40% of the teams in the NBA haven't made the finals even once in the last 31 years....80% haven't won a championship (incidentally these are way higher percentages than in baseball and football) Are we (and all of the other small markets) simply playing the role of the Washington Generals? What keeps you motivated to put your time, energy and money into this team? Is the hope that we can be the next San Antonio the motivation?
I'm waiting to see what the new CBA brings because it's going to herald a seismic shift in the way business is done in this league. My guess is that it'll make the situation worse for small-market teams, not better. While limiting salaries sounds like a relief to franchises without torrential revenue streams it could make it harder for those teams to retain their true star players. If two teams can pay a guy $20 million per year he could really go either way. Who couldn't live off of that? Cut that in half and he starts looking to make up the difference with endorsements, an area where bigger markets hold an advantage. Lowering salary also gives extra weight to quality of living. To a 35-year old with kids that would spell Portland all the way. But for a 24-year old NBA superstar big lights might make a big difference. I'll be curious to see if they try to give teams added leverage in retaining their players...an outcome against which the players would battle almost as hard as they'll battle against lower salaries.
Back to the original question...San Antonio shows that it can be done. If it can be done you have to try and do it no matter what the odds or obstacles. If you wait for someone else to level the path for you, you probably won't be in shape to traverse it after they do. If there is an element of big-city favoritism in the David Stern era the Blazers need to stuff that right back up the snoots of anyone who gets in their way. You have to control what you can control and leave the rest alone. Seeing how long it takes this young team to learn that lesson is one of the things that keeps me watching. Besides, I'll be more ready to have this conversation when the Blazers get ousted from the Conference or NBA Finals than when they're losing in the first round. For Blazer fans it's a moot point right now.
Finally...the more I hear about the Pau Gasol trade the more I think it's a red herring. Nobody forced the Grizz to trade him. They had their objectives, which they fulfilled, as did the L*kers. It's sick that he went to the "haves" when some of the "have nots" would have loved to acquire him but that was within the rights of both teams and perfectly legal. It seems like sour grapes on our parts (though I munch them too) much more than an example of big-city teams having an unfair advantage.
What do you think of the Blazers getting Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Kirk Hinrich or even Mo Williams?
Parker is too expensive to acquire, Arenas is too expensive to keep and an ill chemistry fit, the ship has sailed on Hinrich, and Williams doesn't do enough things well and probably looked better playing beside LeBron James than he would playing in Portland.
Do the Blazers need a low-post scorer to win?
Yup. See also: Greg Oden in two years. That's the hope anyway. If he's healthy and playing the Blazers don't really have room for another post player except for a reserve power forward perhaps. That's not to say Oden will be a superstar scorer in the post, but he will occupy tons of space and hopefully score well enough down there to threaten. By the way, is anyone else ready to see a ferocious Oden put-back jam again? I sure am.
Our bread-and-butter play is high P&R. It's also how Roy starts his offense mostly. Against a good and well-prepared defense, however, it's amazing how it is so easy to defend: They just swarm Roy and leave Aldridge open for long 2 pointer. That's because Roy is poor at handling the trap and Aldridge never rolls. P&R can't free Roy and that usually makes him have to work 1-on-1 to free himself. I believe that's where pretty much all of the stagnancy, predictability and ISO-reliance of our offense come from. It's not just Roy, Miller and Bayless are defended in the same way. How do we solve this? Is it possible to expect Aldridge to learn how to roll or find a new PF to be the rolling guy? More realistic solution seems to be Oden, but how can I be optimistic after what he's gone thru? Maybe a new coach would help Roy & Aldridge to step out of their comfort zone and expand their games?
You're right as far as you've gone, but you're discounting the depleted roster that ran these plays last season. Prior to that the high pick and roll was a great play for Portland. Taking Oden out of the equation and putting in Juwan Howard or even Joel Przybilla allows another defender to shade the play. It also takes away a massive offensive rebounding threat. (Though Przy certainly grabs offensive boards he's not a danger to score right after like Oden.) This is also why the coaching staff values outside shooting, to spread the floor and get defenders out of the way. When you see more functional players on the court this, and most every, play will look better. You have a good point about Aldridge and picks though. He doesn't set them particularly well nor play off of them. I suspect the Blazers will try alternate approaches to that play this year.
I'm wondering why the Blazers (and other NBA teams) don't bring over European prospects and place them in the "D" league. Wouldn't the NBA team still hold their draft rights even if they were signed by the D league team? Young players in Europe often get little playing time (seniority system?) and some have trouble adjusting to the USA. It would seem a couple years of "seasoning" in the D league playing USA ball would enhance their development much more than staying in Europe. In this draft, Alexey Shved from Russia would be a good example, not to mention previous Blazer draft picks.
That prospect has to agree to come over first and few of them would do so if the D-League was their fate. Also the D-League suffers in a couple key areas: the players defending you, the players you have to defend, and strong, physical, quick bodies of the type you see in the NBA. It won't prepare you for the Big Show in those ways, which are also the ways many Euro players fall short. Players get better competition in high-level Europe than in Albany.
I understand the opportunity to trade Joel and his large, expiring contract at the trade deadline is great opportunity to acquire some great talent. However, how about just keeping Joel? And then re-signing him to continue on with the Blazers even after the 2010-2011 season? If we exclusively used Oden, Aldridge, Camby, and Przybilla at the power forward/center position for 2010-2011, the minutes break down would be like this: Oden 35 Aldridge 35 Camby 22 Przybilla 16. And you know that injuries are to going to occur, and people would get more minutes at times. Also, can you imagine the matchup problems that the four headed PF/C combo would give opposing teams in the playoffs? I say keep Joel around. When Camby retires, Joel will still be in his early 30's. He will still be a serviceable backup to Oden.
If Przybilla is injured there's no reason to keep him around. If he's not injured he's going to want more than 16 minutes per game and more money than you'd want to pay your third-string center, especially with the other expensive players on this team. Camby will also want more than 22 minutes. Matchup problems wouldn't be that pronounced because you can only play two of these guys at a time. I can see an argument for depth, but again that's pretty expensive depth.
How do we grade this year's draft? It feels like we brought in players who all have similar skill sets to players already on the roster. We replaced a shooter with shooter, then brought in a couple of guards that, on paper, look to have a lot of similarities to our current bench guards. How do you find minutes for all these guys, and what does this say about Cunningham and Pendergraph by passing on all of the big men still on the board?
It depends on how you look at it. The team did not get better with this draft. Martell Webster alone is a better player right now than any of the three draftees. Jerryd Bayless will play well enough to keep the new point guards on the bench. The very similarities you cite allowed the Blazers to move one more expensive player for a cheaper version who will eventually produce (hopefully). They may make another such move down the road. This already allowed them to make a move for Wesley Matthews whom they feel is a better fit in reserve than Webster was, which I believe was the plan. They're banking on their starters growing enough individually and as a unit to make immediate bench depth less crucial. They're also replacing the fuzzy, "on-paper" depth that guys like Outlaw and Webster brought with honest bench players with targeted skills. The future will judge the strategy. It's precarious but it could work. At the very least you can say the Blazers weren't going to be able to get the most out of the guys they've traded away anyway so paying them to be disappointed and under-produce wasn't a sound tactic.
Is there any reason that the Blazers did not address their most glaring need with a PG this off-season. Luke Ridenour and Jordan Farmar are Point Guards who could have been a good piece for this team and are both under 30. With a point guard who can hit threes it helps spread out our offense so Roy can do his damage and LA may get some space to work as well without double teams as we saw in the post season. What is your take on the point guard situation are the Blazers sold Mills, Johnson or Williams is the future at the position.
The off-season isn't over yet. Besides, the first move the Blazers will make is trying to address their starting point guard position for the future. Until they're comfortable there they won't want to trade pieces and make commitments for reserves, which the two guards you mentioned probably would be. The Blazers are not sold on any point guard on their team at this point though they're not unhappy with them either. You'll know the PG the Blazers are sold on when they acquire him.
Looking forward I can see a lot of benefits of not making a trade right now. Look what we did with two other expiring contracts (Outlaw and Blake) last season and got tremendous value in Camby which in my mind kept our fingers on the cliff in terms of our season's success. With injuries being part of the game isn't it nice to have a little insurance policy in case something unforeseen happens, what way a team won't be completely derailed? I think the Blazers should know that just as well as about anybody else in the league (except for the Warriors of course). Its hard to see what might happen and who may get hurt but lets just go through the starters. What kind of moves would you want to see if the Blazers lost Miller, Batum, Roy, or LA for the whole year? Of course things will change and values will go up and down, but who would you pick right now to replace them that is attainable with our assets or would you just play with our roster and hope for the best or a lottery pick?
As to your first point, there may well be benefit in waiting until later in the season to make a trade, particularly in the case of the Przybilla contract, for instance. I don't think the Blazers will rush any moves. I don't believe Blazer fans should be disappointed to enter the season with the current roster nor do I think such an eventuality would mean that the Blazers were satisfied with that roster.
Your second point is true to a point. A team needs to have enough depth to see it through the bumps, bruises, fatigue, and off-nights of a normal season. But there's no way to make up for losing a key starter for a year. If Roy or Aldridge go down for the season nobody the Blazers could get could make up for it. You have to make your moves knowing that things won't go perfectly but planning for them to go normally. You can't defend against a disaster scenario. It's a little like saying, "I want my 42nd floor condo insulated against a nuclear detonation!" Okaaaaay... We can do that but the money you spend trying to protect against that scenario should be spent living a better life in the meantime. Every move involves comparing risk and reward. The reward of disaster-protection, floor-raising depth isn't always as great as the reward from trading some of that depth in a timely move to make your normal ceiling higher.
In my mind the worst thing that happened last season, excluding injuries, was Miller not starting at PG from training camp on. If he shows up (somewhat) out of shape and fails Nate's fitness test again, do you think he will end up in Nate's doghouse again and could this result in a slow start to the season? In a larger sense, is there any agreement among fitness experts on the issues of "wear and tear" from constant workouts (contributing to injuries) or the value of complete rest for a period of time?
Saying "the worst thing that happened last season, excluding injuries, was X" is like saying, "the worst thing that happened to me today, excluding having a fully-loaded dump truck dropped on my head, was getting a hangnail".
One of the changes between a youth-laden squad (of the type Nate has coached since his arrival in Portland) and a mature team (which the Blazers are trying to become) is understanding exceptions. When everybody is young and finding their way it's important to toe the line from top to bottom. When guys already know what they're doing they can assume responsibility for themselves and define their own lines. As long as they produce there should be no argument. The greenhorns still have to run laps while the vets sit and hobnob because the vets know how to play.
Miller should be ready to play during pre-season and ready to produce fully in Game 1. If he's not, both the fans and the coach should have an issue with that. He should pay for it in minutes and perhaps in ridicule. If that's simply his M.O. and the Blazers can't hang with that he should be traded. If he is ready when the ball tips, however he got ready should be fine with everyone, including the coach.
It's worth noting that ending up in Nate's doghouse was not due to Miller's conditioning alone. The two found a rhythm together as the season progressed and I assume they'll pick up that rhythm this year.
WHY DID THE BLAZERS SIGN WESLEY MATTHEWS?! He is providing the same things Martell provided (defense, 3-pt shooting), at a higher cost, with a longer contract. I was under the impression the whole point of the Webster-Minnesota trade was to get aplayer that filled martell's role for a fraction of the cost. But then they turn around and do THIS!
They think Matthews can play two positions whereas Martell could only defend one. They think Matthews will become a better defender than Martell. They think Matthews will be a better chemistry fit. They think Matthews will be able to perform more consistently with fewer minutes.
Any reason that the blazer's haven't been giving updates, even if only tangential updates, about Oden's rehabilitation? Is he going to be able to start the season?
Part of the reason is that they, themselves are waiting to see how this plays out. Also they're in a no-win situation with Oden and publicity. If they report positive progress everybody will say, "Humph. We've heard that before. The proof is in the pudding." If they report negative progress everyone will freak out. Silence is probably the wisest option. Let the play do the talking.
A couple of blog-related questions (which are fine too):
How much do you and Ben coordinate and plan what you do together? For instance do you just make sure you're not bringing up the same topic in essay form, or do you edit for each other, brainstorm or throw concepts around together, whatever? I'm very curious how it works.
We try not to post enormous pieces right on top of each other so as not to waste content or tax your eyes, but other than that we generally complement each other. Ben handles most of the news across the internet and from Portland's practices, games, and press conferences. I handle most of the analysis, reflection, and many of the discussion aspects. As such even when we do post about the same issue we employ different approaches and broaden the view rather than duplicating it. Sometimes we brainstorm how to handle a story or topic, often so we can work off of each other effectively. But generally we just post and it works.
I'm sure you've seen the Deadspin/ESPN/LeBron story: link (The piece chronicles LeBron James' evening holding court at a Las Vegas night club.) If you had the opportunity to publish a similar story and situation, only with a Blazer would you write a post about it? If Ben wrote a similar story about a Blazers player and the Blazers asked you to take it down, would you?
It's an interesting question, as it's getting harder and harder to define "newsworthy" in this all-encompassing media culture. In general I believe players are entitled to private lives and down time. We get plenty of e-mails about people seeing so-and-so out on the town. While I'm sure those stories are true, we don't print them. Nor would we probably run a piece where we witnessed a player out on the town unless his activity involved something patently illegal. If a player specifically invited us along to one of his outings and said, "Write this down in your blog" that's an offer we might take, not only because of the specific permission but because (intentionally or unintentionally) it gives insight into who the player thinks he is and what he wants known. But there the story is less what he's doing and more that he's the kind of guy who invites the media to watch and write about what he's doing. Even then, it's not the kind of thing we'd run twice. In this case I assume the reporter was invited along and given permission to write. Under those circumstances, even though the most scandalous thing James did was eat a tray full of endangered fish, I could see this being a story.
As far as taking things down, in the early days we went through some bumps and bruises trying to figure out what was printable and what was fair. Now we've got it down fairly well. We consult over any gray areas. We are scrupulous in defining what's on and off the record with the people we interview. If a story impacts the team we give them a chance to give us their take on the situation before we run it. That's NOT their take on whether the story should be run, but whether they have any comment or useful information to add when the story is run to make the picture more complete. For instance if a story covers Person X we will give Person X a chance to respond and include their comments where appropriate along with the rest of the piece. After following all of those steps we have a policy that when a story is run, it's run. We may add comments or print clarifications, but we won't remove it. We have removed a couple of things deep in our past but those were long ago, for decent reasons, and didn't have any lasting impact on the site or significant stories. Our process is far superior now so we've not had that kind of discussion for years. Had we run that LeBron piece (and we would have had Ben been invited to his table in Vegas) the story would still be up.
I am a relatively new Trailblazers fan. My question is two-fold:1) Are there any books I should read, videos I should watch, sites I should visit, etc so I am primed to intelligently watch basketball.2) Which sites, columnists, etc. do you particularly respect and visit regularly to keep up with the Trailblazers and the NBA?
The books and basketball primer sites are numerous and cover everything from basic plays to advanced statistics, so it really depends on your flavor. You need to know the following online:
Plus you need to check out Ben's links each week. The three linked sites will give you the rudiments of the league and the discussion surrounding it. Other sites will show you those rudiments in practice. As for the rest of the question, I'm going to throw it open to our readership, who surely will have some great suggestions for you.
Keep those questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org! Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line.