Time for another edition of the mailbag, wherein I do my best to answer whatever questions are on your mind, as submitted to my e-mail account at firstname.lastname@example.org. We always welcome submissions, though the crunched early-year schedule has made them hard to get to in a timely fashion. Please put "Mailbag" somewhere in the subject line to make it easy on me.
Questions may be edited and/or paraphrased for length, clarity, or because multiple people asked the same thing.
Answer thine own question, sir. Will Nate McMillan be the coach after this season?
At the beginning of the season I opined that if the Blazers didn't make it past the first round of the playoffs Nate's tenure would end. That was from a team perspective. With the rash of injuries now looking like a permanent condition, the landscape has changed. Not necessarily the outcome, though.
Never forget that Nate came to the Blazers after a long and shake-filled battle with the Sonics about the direction of their team and their respect for him. He is not above leaving if the situation doesn't feel right. Before this we talked about the team's choice, but what if it's Nate's choice that matters? The grass may look greener elsewhere, especially since he's put in more than his fair share of time and gotten more than his fair share of wins out of this organization. What if he's offered the chance for a ring in L.A. or a fresh start in the Carolinas? His stock isn't going to get any higher in Portland and his contract is not going to get any shorter. I believe he'll go.
Now look at it again from Portland's perspective. If you believe you have the makings of a championship team you have to ask whether that progress is stalled right now and how much more time you can spend figuring it out. If you're a little more reasonable and think that this team is not headed for glory unless major changes are made, you have to ask whether you're getting your money's worth out of your coach during that transition time. As much as you like Nate, his contract is expensive. If you're going to rebuild, could you get roughly the same level of results out of a younger, cheaper coach? Either way, there's an argument for letting Coach McMillan go.
Nobody but the primary players in this drama can say for sure, but if I were a betting man I'd wager that both sides come to a mutual and amicable parting of the ways this off-season.
If Nate leaves, who replaces him?
No big-name coach is going to come to Portland at this stage. If everyone were healthy and the team was perceived as underachieving you might get an established star coach to come in and pluck the low-hanging fruit. Nobody is healthy and Coach McMillan is perceived around the league as having done about the best job possible with the tools at hand. The fruit is not only high in the tree, it's obscure. That's not going to draw major interest. Therefore my money would be on a young coach or a complete retread, leaning towards the young guy. One name I've mentioned before is Erik Spoelstra, assuming the Heat don't win a title and he shoulders the public blame. He has local connections, is a likable guy, and probably wouldn't cost a fortune.
LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love?
Love is the superior statistical player. I would not begrudge Timberwolves fans--or anyone for that matter--for championing him over Aldridge. For this team I'm still partial to Aldridge, though. He's more versatile defensively and does enough rebounding to keep his side happy most nights. Plus he's turned into a legit offensive threat. If you hold out hope that the team will ever play intact, Aldridge is a great fit. Plus Aldridge has been producing for a winning team, while Love's franchise is mostly without alternatives apart from him. I want to see Love lead his team to wins in addition to the All-Star stats. However if you think the Blazers are going to be blown up and start over again, Love would be a fine option.
Click through for questions about LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony and Nicolas Batum, Andre Miller, Greg Oden, player blogs, stealth advertising, and everything you never wanted to know about Dave.
My co-worker has a recurring theme to his commentary about the Blazers - Andre Miller is bad for us. He says that Andre dribbles too much, hanging out at the top of the key, dribble-dribble-dribble, no one wants to cut because they are not sure if Andre will make a drive to the basket, and that Andre is, in essence, decreasing the movement of other players with his style of play. He goes on to say that the Blazers (pre-Miller) were better at motion, cutting, slashing, etc. I think it was more about Brandon when our motion was good, and less about Andre's influence or control. If you have a chance, please provide some of your thoughts on whether this is true in your opinion.
Your co-worker may have had an argument a year ago. Even then, though, what he was observing was just 'Dre being 'Dre. You can't fault him for playing hard or believing he's a key to this team winning, because the Blazers need both from him.
Even at its worst the phenomenon was a chicken and egg thing. Generally speaking when Miller takes over it's because no other options are working. By definition that's bad for the team. Miller's play alone usually isn't sufficient to weave victory out of defeat, so you'll often observe a Blazer loss during games when he obviously takes over. But that doesn't mean the Blazers would have won if he didn't dominate the play. They may well have lost by a larger margin. Either way, you can't yell at him him for trying. Plus you have to admit that if his teammates were playing better he probably wouldn't have to, so you can't pin the blame solely on him.
This year the phenomenon has been almost completely absent, particularly since Brandon Roy went down. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum provide nice defensive support for Miller so the team is better able to live with what he gives defensively. The offense is spread farther and moves more so his point guard skills don't go to waste every second play. 4 out of 5 times the Blazers go nowhere when Miller leaves the game. He is THE point guard for this team and quietly among its most valuable players. Nor does he stick out like a sore thumb anymore. His productive games are in the flow and his less productive games are covered by everyone else. I can count the number of times I've seen the old Andre phenomenon on one hand.
In short, your friend is beating a worn drum when the song's already changed.
What are the chances of the blazers not keeping Oden? Do you think they should/shouldn't? I can't think of 1 team, not 1, that wouldn't take a chance on Oden in the off-season if the price is right. Wouldn't it be foolish to let him go. I remind my friends all the time of players like A. McDyess, Grant Hill, Kenyon Martin, and Camby & Pryz who've all had devastating injuries over a period of their respective careers and have been able to come back and have meaningful careers.
You're describing two different situations in your first sentences. You ask if the Blazers should keep Oden and then you're suggesting other teams picking him up "if the price is right". The simple answer here is that the Blazers will keep Oden if the price is right. The complex issue is that it may not be. Assuming it's not, how to the Blazers play their hand?
There are a couple ways to look at this financially. Oden hasn't given anything near his contract value so far and signing him to any kind of increased contract is a huge risk. If you're looking at bald dollars and cents, perhaps trying to get the team to turn a profit, you have to be careful how much and for how long you commit to this guy. On the other hand (assuming they keep at least a couple of their current players surrounding the Big Three) the Blazers are so gummed up financially for the next few years that it almost doesn't matter in basketball terms. If all you care about are cap and tax, you're not going to get a player outside the organization with more potential than Oden has for the money you'll be able to offer.
There's a huge difference between all the returned players you named and Greg Oden. Every one of them was established--usually well established, some at a high star level--when their devastating injuries took them out. Oden came into the league with his and has never shaken them. We don't know an injury-free Oden, nor do we know if such a thing is possible. For that reason alone he's far more of a gamble. It's one thing to spend a lot of money restoring an old classic car. It's another altogether to restore a car that never worked in the first place.
Even with that, though, what options do the Blazers have? They can be decent without Oden but they'll still only be great with him. In the end I think that will win out and they'll do their best to re-sign him...at that elusive "right price" you suggest. The only way I see that not happening is if they've seen the knees and know there's zero hope.
Still, it's hard to avoid the impression that this is like watching The Matrix. There was a ton of promise at the beginning so you keep watching, believing that it's got to get better, right? It has to, right? Right?
Would you trade Nicolas Batum as the primary guy in a package for Carmelo Anthony if the Blazers could work that deal directly now that Denver-New Jersey is dead?
Of course. A year ago you might have quibbled about whether Portland needed Anthony or whether a good defensive player with some offensive upside like Batum wasn't more valuable in addition to being a better fit. But now there's nothing for Batum to fit into and he doesn't seem like the guy to rise up and seize the game by the throat himself. People will say, "What about Aldridge's improvement?" but LaMarcus was putting up consistently good numbers long before this recent dominant stretch. He's got a lot more to work with. Batum is tantalizing and undoubtedly valuable but he hasn't strung it together like LMA did even in his worst times. On the other hand the Blazers would get a huge shot in the arm from Anthony now. He wouldn't have to fit in. People would fit in around him.
It's a moot point, though. Denver wouldn't do it.
What do you think of player blogs like Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum have?
As a consumer and an online media source I love them. The more views out there the better we see the team and the easier it is to cover. When guys represent their country as Fernandez and Batum do there's a real plus-side for all of their home folks. I don't think it's accidental that two of the most prominent and frequently-updated blogs belong to those two.
As far as the good they do, I'm in the middle. I'm not sure players do themselves favors by putting their thoughts out there, particularly when they're trying to establish themselves. The locker room code and the social habits of Millennials don't always mesh. Frankly we don't always need to hear from players who haven't established themselves in their craft. It'd be like a greenhorn on one of those crab boats telling you all about fishing and how hard it is. Sometimes you just want to say, "Shut up and play."
Overall, though, I'm pro-disclosure.
At a recent game a woman in a blazer jersey sitting about 2 rows behind the announcer held up a large sign saying something about "maniacs are forever." Thinking that sign over (I saw her hold it up a couple of times), I decided to myself it referred to "blazermaniacs" and sounded remarably like a marketing message.
In the second half, I saw her hold up a different sign twice, written in the same style with big red letters that said something like, "Lighten up, Canzano." I think this was in reference to his column in Friday's paper on how the blazers were offering discounted tickets in order to maintain the sell out streak. He tied this to the upcoming March season ticket renewal campaign.
I hate conspiracy theories and try to resist their appeal, but this seemed like marketing "guerrilla" warfare. Are Blazers fans just pawns in the game?
Since people sitting in those front rows pay a fortune for the tickets, it stands to reason that any of them that aren't corporately-compensated are likely huge fans of the team. While sign distribution has a long and glorious history in the realm of sports and entertainment, I'd be surprised if this woman was a plant. The Canzano sign, especially, would raise eyebrows if corporately engineered. The Blazers have kept their feet out of that muck for at least half a decade now. One would hope they had the sense to remain above the fray.
That said, you don't have to move to underground tactics to feel the marketing arm of the team. Every slogan and press release you see indicates spin, from "Rise With Us" to the packaging of Greg Oden to the decision to have Brandon Roy interview live on TV during a game. Naturally the team will put its best foot forward. Just as naturally that foot will not bear the whole story. The team knows and expects that some fans will buy into the message wholeheartedly, hopes that as many as possible will. In that sense, yes, we are all pawns in a game. But the game is far more sophisticated than it was back in '04 when Steve Patterson and company were running the show and we were treated to doughnut deliveries and constantly-spun, behavior-excusing press conferences. Witness the advent of the Blazers' own social media efforts, the greater access to the locker room and its players, and the team's efforts to improve the community in consistent and public ways. Pawns must be kept closer nowadays. That affords a more intimate view of the team than we used to get. I think it's a fair exchange. Besides, nothing says you have to be a pawn. It's perfectly possible to balance the Blazers' promotional efforts and access with information from other sources. That's part of the reason this site exists, after all.
What do you do when you're not blogging?
I get this from time to time. I'm a pastor, father of a three-year old and a three-month old, pied piper for a lot of kids in the community, I have a band which is having its biggest concert ever in three months, and I blog. A typical day looks like get up for work, work in morning, play briefly with three-year old, exercise at lunch, work in afternoon, visit with kids after school, come home, cook dinner, play with my own children after dinner, give three-year old a bath, tuck him in, either watch game and recap or research and write other piece, go next door and practice music on my own for a couple hours, come back and put finishing touches on blog and/or blog-related correspondence, go to sleep between 2 and 3 a.m. Don't even talk to me about weekends. Throw in the occasional 7:00 a.m. radio interview, evening movie with the community kids, and Bible Study and you pretty much get the picture.
Seen any good movies lately?
The older youth and I really liked Inception. Except maybe for the hackneyed final three seconds of the film.
Who are your favorite authors?
Right now Ben Golliver and occasionally Timmay!
What's your favorite classic Star Trek episode?
Definitely the one with the hippies and their groovy music. I'm going to get a bunch of college friends and head to a convention in diaphanous gowns playing bad folk music, making triangle signs with our hands, and asking people, "Do you reach?" Hardcore, man.
Are you tired of random questions yet?
Nope. They're more pleasant to contemplate than gimpy knees and bloated salaries!
Send any questions you have to the e-mail address below.