Blazersedge Mailbag May 20th, 2011

Staying? Going? Peruse this week's edition of the Mailbag to find out.

It's Friday and that means more Blazersedge Mailbag questions sent in by you, edited down to digestible form, and answered here for your pleasure and discussion.  Feel free to chime in any answers of your own and generally further the conversation in the comment section.  Pretend like someone asked you these questions.  How would you answer?

Final Answer:  Will the Blazers keep Greg Oden?

Yes.  They can't afford not to unless something changes drastically.  Look at it this way:  Pretend the Blazers were fielding only the aging and injured Marcus Camby and young, untried Chris Johnson at center and you had a chance to trade for Oden.  Injury history and all, wouldn't you do it?  How about if you could just get him for cash considerations?  Portland fans would be plenty excited about that prospect.  Forget the last four years and pretend that's exactly the situation now.  Pay $8-12 million per year and take a flyer on the big guy.  What do you lose besides that money and the cap hit?  Where else are you going to find a better center prospect?

The Blazers had an opportunity to extend Greg Oden prior to October 31st but chose not to. Why? Their goal now is to "lock him up" even though the future is LESS certain and he's considered LESS reliable health-wise.  If a long-term deal was their goal initially, why not do it the easy way?

The situation was different then. 

As far as Oden himself goes, they expected him back and playing.  They expected more of a basis on which to gauge his play.  If he was out of this world they still had the option of offering him a maximum qualifying offer.  If not they could comfortably let him go into restricted free agency, perhaps knowing that contracts in general would be cheaper in the new CBA and they could get him for less.  Failing that he'd have to play healthy for two years if he wanted to go the unrestricted free agent route.  If he could do that, they could probably open the pocketbook for him at that time.  It was a gamble but not a horrific one.

The real game-changer here was Brandon Roy's injury and apparent non-recoverability.  Had Roy been Roy the Blazers would have been looking at an excellent team, perhaps made great by the addition of Gerald Wallace...a team which might be able to get by with a Marcus Camby and a non-secure Oden.  They'd prefer Greg but the future would still look bright with a journeyman center.  They were bargaining with Oden from a position of strength.  With Roy down for a limping eight count now they're weak.  Oden goes from an incredibly nice addition to the only hope of regaining former promise.  Now they can't afford to lose him.  None of that was true on October 31st.

Would Greg Oden have any loyalty to the team if he hit unrestricted free agency?

You'd have to ask him and he won't tell.  My bet would be no.  I mean, it would be a crappy thing to just ditch the franchise but people have done worse.  Dumping anybody is crappy but once you're over it, it seems like a good deal.  Fans in Cleveland would have sworn LeBron James was staying until the moment he made The Decision.  Now he's dancing with the pretty playoff girls in South Beach and Cavaliers fans are home watching House, crying in their beer, and hoping that they can find someone just like him (only a little more faithful) on Match.com in the draft lottery.

I assume if the Blazers paid Oden he'd be fine with staying.  That's likely what they'll have to do to retain him.

A year ago the consensus was that the Blazers' defense was subpar. At the end of this season, it seemed quite good. But in the playoffs, it was overwhelmed. How would you appraise the defense now?

Opportunistic but inefficient.

The Blazers finally started gambling for turnovers and creating pressure on opposing teams this year, something observers have been crying for year in and year out.  Along with those turnovers came a few more running opportunities, another rallying cry.  You saw the Blazers take advantage of guys like Rudy Fernandez, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum:  length, size, nose for poking away the basketball.

But check this:

Stat

League Rank

FG% Allowed

20th

2PT% Allowed

22nd

3PT% Allowed

24th

Effective FG% All.

22nd

Opp. Shooting Eff.

20th

Defensive Reb.%

25th

Defensive Eff.

15th

 

There isn't a big enough turnover margin in the world to make that defense anything more than mediocre.  The biggest issue is the defensive rebounding.  They need to shore that up not only so they can better pursue their ball-control game plan but so they can run even on possessions that aren't turnovers.  If they can rebound and shut down the middle even a hair better than they already do the Blazers should see their defensive prowess rise.

The other big issue is, of course, the pick and roll.  Portland's guards need to charge harder.  Portland's bigs need to show and retreat better.  Everybody needs to communicate better.  Theoretically even the copious switches that the Blazers (sometimes maddeningly) employ should be more effective now that most defenders are 6'7" or above, athletic, and fairly quick.  But all of that goes down the tubes if technique and effort aren't there.

Click through for questions about Brandon Roy's future, free agency, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum at shooting guard, and more.

What do you expect from Brandon Roy going forward?

More than we saw this season, less than the Blazers need.  Even the coaching staff is apparently doubting he'll ever be All-NBA caliber again.  But he can contribute.  He has to contribute.  This team needs him badly still.  I expect him to want, and get, his starting job back.  I expect him to play limited minutes.  But I expect him to average at least 15 ppg again at some point in the near future and I expect him to become one of those players that takes shots, scoring first and worrying about everything else after.  I also expect him to return to his fourth-quarter go-to status if the Blazers need one bucket to win it.  I do not expect him to last as a back-up point guard but I do look for him to play point-two, so to speak.

Will the Blazers dump Roy if there's an amnesty clause?

It'll be tempting.  Even if it was just luxury tax relief, depending on where that line is losing Roy's contract could save the Blazers $15 million next year, up to $68 million for the life of the contract.  Even if Paul Allen was able to endure that the Blazers would have to think about it seriously if there's also cap relief and the cap is low.  They'd have to wait 4 years to make the contract tradeable and even then they'd have to find $19 million in salary to make a trade work.  Meanwhile next year Roy's contract alone takes up 23% of Portland's cap burden.  He and Aldridge alone take up $30 million of whatever the cap is the year after.  Think about that.  If the owners got their $45 million hard cap (unlikely) two players would take up two-thirds of it.  You'd have $15 million to pay the rest of the team which would include Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, and probably Greg Oden.  Then you need a point guard, a bench...   Maybe those contracts get scaled down but until we see the actual numbers you have to believe that dumping Brandon is a live option. 

Was this Rudy Fernandez' last season in Portland?

I'd bet yes unless some miracle move got made with Roy.  He just isn't producing enough and the Blazers have too many shooting guards.  Rudy isn't anything but a shooting guard either.  Somebody might yet take a flyer on him in a trade, combined with other outgoing Blazers of course.

How many of the Blazers' playoff problems can be pinned on Nate? 

This is an open question.  The Blazers make other playoff teams look good.  But the Blazers are also injured.  But how long can you go with the injury excuse before you say, "This is the team we have, period, and we've got to make something of it"?  Then again, what if 48 wins is making the most out of what's there?  If you want a percentage, I'd say 25%.  Portland lost the series by more than that.

It became apparent in every moment that mattered save the fourth quarter of Game 4 that the Blazers had no punch capable of knocking the Mavericks out of this series.  In some senses the coaching mantra "We had our shots but didn't hit them" was true.   Technically I thought they had a decent plan.  But that wasn't the whole story.  Rebounding, getting to loose balls, do-or-die-trying effort...these were missing.  Some of that is coaching.  If I have a critique of Nate it's of the "too calm, too rational" variety.  You want to keep an even keel and have your team focused.  Even if you win an emotion-driven game you're going to lose the next one when you let down.  Also this team has heretofore been quite young and needed that calm, focused demeanor to play their game.  But the boys are grown up now and this was the third straight first-round playoff exit.  It was time to rally and the Blazers didn't.   It's time for these boys to become men and sometimes men need to kick a little tail.  I'd like to see them inspired to do so.  Part of that is coaching.  The emotional adjustment just wasn't there...the buttons weren't pushed at the right time.

Regardless, Nate is with the team for next season for sure and under contract for two more.  That's not a bad thing.   I'm not sure another coach would have taken the Blazers over Dallas anyway.  But we've got to see more growth this year.  The trend of being good enough or better than they should be has got to give way to actual winning, especially in the playoffs.  If that doesn't happen this team needs an overhaul and that includes the coach.

Who should Rich Cho target in Free Agency?

We're in limbo with this until we find out what the new CBA will entail.  But under the current system the Blazers would be looking at someone they could sign under a cap exception, probably a partial one.  If you're going for starting point guard you're not going to find it in free agency.  Same for any kind of promising center.  The Blazers already have plenty of shooting guards and small forwards.  They might look at a bulky, veteran power forward who could play a few minutes, maybe save a couple games for them.  Think Kurt Thomas, Chris Wilcox, Etan Thomas, maybe even Reggie Evans...that kind of thing.  People always want to talk about prize free agents like Jamal Crawford but they're way too expensive and usually not enough of a perfect fit to justify the price.  Think cheap, useful, filling specific holes and leave the team revolutionizing to trading, drafting, or just developing the players you already have.

Would Nicolas Batum succeed as a Shooting Guard?

He needs to be better at dribbling and creating his own offense. 

In retrospect, was Martell Webster for Luke Babbit a major blunder? Would Martel have had a meaningful impact on the playoff series?

The Blazers didn't need Martell Webster and Webster didn't need another season of playing spotty minutes behind Nicolas Batum and eventually losing them all to Gerald Wallace.  I doubt his confidence would have been high enough to make a decisive difference against Dallas.  People forget, but even though he is a good shooter he also used to miss wide-open threes like the current crop of Blazers do.  He wasn't reliable.

I caught plenty of grief during last year's summer league for saying that I didn't see anything distinguished about Luke Babbitt's play early on and didn't expect him to get many minutes this year.  That's how it played out.  But let me say now that you don't bury a guy who obviously wasn't ready to contribute immediately.  You let him develop, learn, see if he can earn some minutes, and then judge him.  It's too early to tell if Babbitt can develop a serviceable game.  I wouldn't have screamed if we had drafted someone else but I'm not giving up on Babbitt yet.

I wouldn't call the deal a blunder either way.

What other sports/teams do you follow?

I get asked this a lot.  You know, I used to be that guy who listened to national Sports Talk Radio all the time, could tell you anything you wanted about the sports stories of the day.  Then I had kids.  And Blazersedge became huge.  And my day job got demanding.  And most importantly of all I figured out that all of that knowledge about sports translated nowhere except the world of sports.  I was spending all my time pursuing something that was self-perpetuating and not much else.  It was like earning a college degree that was only good for teaching the subject you just learned about.  So I pretty much quit.  I still listen to Sports Radio for entertainments sometimes.  But these days I only follow what I'm passionate about and as far as sports goes, that's the Blazers and not much else.  Maybe that makes me a one-trick pony but my second trick is my kids, my third is my job, my fourth is writing, my fifth is having great relationships with friends, my sixth is cooking, my seventh is music, and so on.  I like that better than the days when I was Mr. Sports Wiz.  That's no condemnation against anyone who does follow everything.  In some ways I wish I still had those credentials.   But I just can't manage it anymore.

More mailbaggery next week.  Send questions to the e-mail address below.  Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line for ease of sorting.  If I haven't gotten to a question you've already sent, hold on.  I still have several dozen in my "to-do" file.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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