Dreaming: What Happens if the Blazers Get Healthy?

A couple of people have written with variations on the questions, "How far could this team go if it ever gets healthy?" and "How much production do the Blazers need from Brandon Roy and/or Greg Oden to make it big?"  It's an interesting topic because the acquisition of Gerald Wallace is at once a boost to the Blazers' chances of regaining their formerly-brilliant promise and a tacit admission that Oden and Roy weren't going to regain enough health to return the Blazers there on their own.  Nobody can predict the future of course, but I don't feel comfortable relying on, or even speculating on, Portland fielding their current lineup plus a two-years-ago Roy and a two-years-from-now-Oden.  I'm going to assume that neither player will be 100% healthy again.  How much of them does Portland need to achieve greatness?  My thought:  not so much that the idea is completely out of reach.

In order for Brandon Roy to contribute he's going to have to re-shape his game into more of a Rip Hamilton mode.  With Wallace on the roster alongside (perhaps) a driving point guard plus Oden and Aldridge competing for low block space the Blazers don't necessarily need a constant penetrator at off-guard.  Penetration was the most obvious thing Roy's empty knees stole from him.  As we've seen the last few games, though, the jumper looks just fine even when an escape dribble or jab/step-back is required.  Obviously Roy has to be able to drive a little or that step-back won't work, but he doesn't have to score 25 per game by making every defender he faces look stupid.  18-20 per game on well-timed jumpers would work just fine.  Brandon has shown the ability to get better at most anything he puts his mind to.  I'm thinking he could put his mind to becoming that dead-eye catch-and-shoot three-point guy that the Blazers are sorely missing right now.  We're already seeing just with Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Miller how wide open Portland's distance shooters get.  We're also seeing them miss too many of those shots.  Roy has the ability to develop that range and the swagger not to miss, even to kill the opponent from out there.  If he can keep his on-ball mid-range game while developing an off-ball distance shot the Blazers would be plenty well taken care of.

The expectations for Greg Oden have changed as well. I've always said that the Blazers didn't need him to be a franchise savior.  Before Wallace it looked like that had changed.  Absent GW the Blazers would need him to be a huge force on both ends of the court in order to reach the promised land and the chance of him becoming that huge, all-around force looked slim considering he couldn't even stay healthy.  An Aldridge-Wallace-Roy lineup can generate plenty of offense, though, especially when you consider LaMarcus' advent plus the players you're pushing to the bench who can also score.  Oden's offense could be limited to offensive rebounds plus maybe a weak-side half-hook from the baseline and Portland wouldn't need much more.  Oden can do that.  Center size, defense, and particularly defensive rebounding are concerns even with Portland's new Big Three.  Oden does all three of those things.  If his teammates could depend on him to get most rebounds and outlet quickly neither he nor Roy would have to sprint down the court.  The other three players could easily fast break, waiting for the slower guys if the easy score isn't there.  Plus an Oden-Aldridge-Wallace frontcourt instantly makes the Blazers terrifying on defense.  Nobody in the universe would want to face that lineup no matter who was in the backcourt.  And this is with Greg playing only at the level he was at when he re-injured his knee, plus a little more seasoning. 

I honestly doubt that the Blazers can spend long with Andre Miller at point, Marcus Camby splitting time with Oden, plus Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench.  Let's just pretend that could happen for a couple years, though.  The first half season would be an adjustment period for everyone.  The second half of that first season would probably see the Blazers get on a roll.  Portland would easily make the playoffs, perhaps with a semi-high seed, but probably wouldn't have the mojo or confidence to go all the way.  That second season, though, would be dangerous for everyone not wearing Portland's uniform.  As long as the chemistry was right and the health was there Portland would become one of the best teams in the league even with an adjusted Roy and a non-savior Oden.  If Greg could give the Blazers even two injury-free years, there's a possibility.

I guess my answer would be yes, that dream is still alive, albeit blunted as yet by health concerns, chemistry concerns, and a host of "ifs".  We need to see more from this team before and after adjustments and health situations change.  People are all excited now but seriously, you can't judge much on two weeks.  Everybody assumes these are the "real" Blazers whereas the team that was losing just a couple weeks ago was a fluke.  We don't know that.  We won't know that until we've seen these guys play together more.  But providing this isn't a temporary thing, that Portland can find some level of success this season, I feel comfortable saying that the Blazers still have the tools on their roster to build greatness without expecting unreasonably much of any of those tools, including the injured ones.  Whether that will pan out--particularly in the case of Oden's body--remains to be seen but it's not crazy to keep hope alive.  Or at least it's a lot less crazy than it was before the Wallace deal got done.  It's a dream, but not an impossible one.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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