After a long hiatus we return to one of the most-requested features of the site, the Blazersedge Mailbag. I've been saving up your questions over the last few months and we'll answer a smattering of them here. If you don't see something addressed you can always send a question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include "Mailbag" somewhere in the subject line to make it easy for me to sort.
For the sake of clarity and because some topics are requested by multiple people, I've distilled questions down to their essences in many cases.
Is Wesley Matthews the answer for what ails the Blazers?
Matthews is certainly an answer. You can't ignore his stellar play early this season. People were expecting contributions, but 30-point games are above and beyond the call of duty. Several things keep me from proclaiming him from the answer, though.
As I've mentioned a few times before, Matthews tends towards the brilliant when properly set up, towards the mediocre when he has to get his own shot, particularly when putting the ball on the floor. He's a fantastic spoke off of the main hub, but he's not capable at this point of being the main hub itself. Defense is one of his strongest calling cards but it tends to suffer in games where he's score-heavy. He needs to put together both ends consistently before reaching true star status. He also spends too many games with points but little else in the stat line. Finally, he seems to take a while to adjust to a given situation. Once he's comfortable he's golden but he seems to flag under pressure. I worry about that trait in a Finals run where you only get once chance and every moment becomes critical. Not that I'd mind Matthews in the lineup at all, but as the key figure? That would worry me a little.
Is Nicolas Batum the Next Big Thing?
He generates loads and loads of buzz around the league. When talking about the Blazers the "insiders" I talk with are far more likely to mention Batum than LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, or Greg Oden. That's probably not because he's better, but it does indicate his potential. He has amazing, transcendent moments on the court too. His defense can be inspiring. When his shot is falling he's as unstoppable as anyone on the team.
The transition to Next Big Thing(tm) status involves a realization simple to conceive but tricky to enact: what you do every night outweighs what you do on certain nights. Winning is not supposed to happen on your best days alone. If you want to be great in this league, you contribute as an individual even on your worst nights, allowing your team to win on its worst. Batum still disappears from the game far too often...and we're talking invisible. It's hard to anoint a guy when you can't depend on him. The field is wide open for him this year. So far his improvement has been more incremental than revolutionary.
Click through for questions about LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills, trade talk, Brandon Roy's health and re-assimilation, and more!
Which of the recently-proposed trades would you be most inclined to make? Would you move Nicolas Batum?
None of them seem appealing at face value. I would be willing to move Batum for a proven, consistent prime small forward with scoring potential and either defense or rebounding but so far all of those are slated for other teams in the proposed deals. If the Bobcats were willing to wave D.J. Augustin and Gerald Wallace (even though the latter looks shaky this year) that's the kind of deal the Blazers would have to think about. If they move Batum they need something to revolutionize the team. I haven't seen a revolutionary deal come across the table yet.
Will there be a lockout in 2011-12? How will it affect the Blazers?
I don't think "if" is a question at this point. It's "how long?"
Once upon a time this would have been a disaster for Portland, robbing the team of one of its prime years. At this point, however, a year off would almost be a blessing. Brandon Roy and Greg Oden would have a long, long rest for their knees. The team could regroup and re-evaluate, coming back together again focused on their present potential instead of recent failures. Stepping back from the grind could also help the coaching staff (old or new) and management. If there was ever a team in need of the reset button, it's this one. Admit it...were this a video game you would have restarted as soon as Oden's and Roy's injuries hit this year. Hopefully the lockout will be the equivalent.
What would you do with Rudy Fernandez if you had to make the decision?
Arrrgh. This is a a tougher call this year than at any time in the past. Before this my personal opinion has been that Fernandez, while an exciting enough player, ultimately hasn't mattered much. But the Blazers are so darn thin this year that Rudy looks like an oasis in the desert. He's played a couple of truly inspired games. But that .341 three-point percentage is hard to overlook. The Blazers need people who are fish or fowl. True starters (even if they have warts) and consistent, dependable bench producers (even if their ceilings aren't high) are the name of the game. Rudy is neither. For that reason, if an offer came up for either, I'd move him.
What does Patty Mills' future hold?
This is going to be riotously unpopular in some circles, but I still think Mills is a short-term player with the team. He had too many holes in his game, particularly on the defensive end. He's under a one-year contract. Is he going to sit around during the lockout and hope to return to the Blazers or will he go play somewhere else? And if he's really all that when playing somewhere else, would the Blazers be able to make him a competitive offer to come back? Wouldn't there be interest in the NBA and abroad? I'm enjoying his good games but I think he'll be one of those fondly-remembered comets streaking through Portland's sky.
Will the Blazers trade Andre Miller or Marcus Camby?
I think Miller would be moved if they could get Devin Harris or somebody clearly superior at the position (obviously including other players in that deal). Otherwise they better not move either guy unless they're just giving up on the season. Perhaps you move Miller if you could get amazing picks in return, but I don't see that happening. Even though he's not going to be with the team beyond this year, I don't see how they'd get value--present or future--equivalent to what he's giving right now. I don't see how they move Camby, period. That would ruin LaMarcus Aldridge's season and mean big minutes for Sean Marks and Dante Cunningham. Either of those eventualities is "gulp!"-worthy at the moment.
Is LaMarcus for real?
I don't see why he shouldn't be. It's not like he rented muscle that has to be returned to the store in the next few weeks. The biggest changes have been in confidence, attitude, and opportunity. The first two shouldn't depart. The last depends on who else the team gets. I do believe Aldridge can play this same style of game with Brandon Roy on the court should both desire it. Brandon certainly won't interfere with his defense or rebounding and the ball's big enough to share between those two. Brandon needed to depart in order for LaMarcus to show how good he can be, but now that we've seen it Brandon's presence shouldn't blunt it. Greg Oden could be a different story. If the Blazers trade for a scoring small forward or point guard they'll have to adjust as well.
All of this said, we shouldn't confuse even the new LaMarcus with a guy who can carry a team to a title all by himself. I got a chance to see plenty of Kevin Garnett up close and personal when he was at the same stage as Aldridge. Garnett was far more dominant and became even more so as he hit his prime. Yet he never got close to taking Minnesota to the promised land. LMA's current performance is magnified by the team's situation. LaMarcus will need players around him in order for the team to reach the highest levels.
Can the Blazers bank on Brandon Roy coming back at anything close to full strength?
I don't know. I wish I did. My heart says yes. My gut says no. My brain refuses to take a position, apparently preferring to hum the theme song from Thomas the Train.
If Brandon Roy were healthy enough to play later this season, do you think he could function without being the team's #1 option?
Since he's watched the team function without him, I would guess he knows he'd have to ease himself back in. At the same time he'd be easing himself back into a .500 team, so it's not like he risks wrecking the chemistry of a contender. I think the scenario would be the same as before: Brandon and LaMarcus as co-#1 options, but LaMarcus being more of a true co-#1 instead of #1a. Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum (and Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills) would likely get squeezed out a little more to make room, not Aldridge. Even now finishing games isn't LMA's strong suit, so Brandon would have no trouble taking over there again.
Does your research for the previews consist more of watching the teams in question or looking at the stats, or even just recycling what you know about coaches/players/styles?
Honestly it will depend on the opponent and on how much time I have to spend on it. Ideally the preview process goes like this:
- Watch 5-6 of the opponent's games.
- Go over the stats, records, and players spotting positions and trends.
- Occasionally talk to scouts when I have connections. I can't usually relay that information directly because they and their bosses are rather proprietary about it, but sometimes I can get generalities in safely. Sometimes it will change the feeling I have about the potential outcome of the game too.
- Read the opponent's SBN blog to come up with current hot-button issues and concerns.
In reality I sometimes only catch a couple games. I also find myself leaning on the stats and recent record because they're the truest indication of the team's standing. 80% of the time knowing the team's statistical positioning tells you everything you need to know about the strengths and weaknesses and Portland's potential game plan (and ease or difficulty of success) against them. That other 20% isn't essential compared to the time it takes to garner when I'm against a deadline. So it's hit and miss sometimes as far as the routine goes. If I know a team well I tend to rely on my own observations more, obviously. Also some previews I like to take a break and go lighter, particularly if it's a mismatch either way. I'm less likely to give you minutiae about the Cavaliers or the Heat and more likely to set up the story of the game, i.e. the long odds either way and the consequences of winning or losing.
Which NBA player do you hate more than any other? LeBron? Kobe?
I don't really "hate" any of them. I think we all have to understand that today's NBA players are less athlete-heroes than celebrities. In the personality and non-athletic public performance aspects of their careers, I regard them about the same as I'd regard Miley Cyrus. They're in a bubble. They're rich. They do what they do whether it makes sense to anyone else and they're free to do just that. I don't expect the wisdom of Ghandi from them any more than I expect to take life lessons from Paris Hilton.
When LeBron James mocks somebody on the court it's far closer to Triple H doing so than Mickey Mantle. Let him be the heel, I suppose. It's good for business. But if you get too wrapped up in it, perspective is probably in order. As long as the guy is playing basketball well enough, people get their money's worth.
This modern-celebrity phenomenon does make me appreciate the admirable guys in the league, of which there are many. The majority of players are just guys doing their job and living their lives much like any of us would in their shoes. But those players don't make headlines. I still appreciate them. I guess that means I function by emphasizing the admirable and ignoring the annoying.
Thanks to everybody who wrote! We won't wait so long before the next Mailbag, so send in those questions to the address below.
P.S. Let this serve as the Blazer Chatter thread for today. There are enough seed topics here to fill a farm.