Blazersedge Mailbag Thursday June 30th, 2011 (Semi-Cranky Edition)

We're catching up on mailbag questions today.  We had several pre-draft submissions asking about the draft which I never got to.  For the record my answer to all of those is that the Blazers will skip over Kenneth Faried and instead select combo guard Nolan Smith from Duke and probably pull off some kind of Andre Miller trade.  As far as the non-draft and post-draft questions, read on...

Why are you so negative about the team all of a sudden?

Sigh...  I hate this kind of thing.  When you say something that goes against the grain to the positive people call you a homer fan optimist.  When you say something that goes against the grain the other way people call you a negative-Nelly pessimist.  Trying to attribute statements you don't agree with to somebody's emotional state or slapping them with a broad (and untrue) label just seems...silly. 

Here's the deal:  When Charlotte had Raymond Felton I figured he was a serviceable guard but did not go gaga over his contributions or where he led the team.  Neither did Charlotte, as they allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent and sign with New York.  When New York got Raymond Felton I did not think he was going to lift them to the next level.  He did well there, but ultimately the Knicks agreed because they traded him to Denver.  When Felton came to Denver I did not think he was going to revolutionize their roster and style of play.  Neither did they, as they traded him to Portland.  Now that he's come to Portland my assessment of him is supposed to change, just because he's a Blazer now?  He's the same guy he always was: a good, not great, point guard with some legit skills and equally legit flaws.  How is that any more negative of an assessment than I had six months ago, other than not automatically buying into the company line that the Blazers have finally found their PGOTF...rather needing to see it happen on the court first?  In fact it's not that much more of a negative assessment than I had of Andre Miller's future in Portland, which I deemed short despite his generally good play and plenty of protests to the contrary.

Continuing:   If the Sacramento Kings were sporting a Top 8 of Aldridge, Wallace, Matthews, Felton, Camby, Batum, Roy, and Oden my assessment would be that they could be scary if they ever got fully healthy but that was probably not going to happen so they'll be a nice enough team that probably will bow out in the early playoff rounds again.  I'd probably opine that to change their fate they either needed a recovery miracle or a solid kick in the pants roster-wise.  None of the moves on draft day would qualify as a kick in the pants.  Again...I'm supposed to change that assessment just because the uniforms say "Portland" and not "Sacramento"?  That would be disingenuous.  Nor is it that negative of an evaluation given the circumstances.  Nobody said the Blazers would stink.  They just didn't make enough of a move to change their probable destiny, leaving themselves relying on Roy and Oden again.

Why don't you like Nolan Smith?

OK, you can stop now.  Really.  

Nobody dislikes Nolan Smith.  Before anointing him as the Next Great Get (or even a solid rotation player) we need to see how Smith is different than Sebastian Telfair, Jarrett Jack, Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez, Petteri Koponen, and perhaps Elliot Williams...all of whom were first-round point or combo-guard picks and none of whom have stuck with the team (or in the case of Williams, played for the team) so far.  This organization has a history of picking point guards who don't pan out.  The onus is on them and Smith to show that this time is different.

You really think this team should scrap everything and start from scratch?  You're crazy!

Nowhere have I suggested that the Blazers should start over.  In fact I don't think they can without suffering major losses.  They'd have to cut Roy through an amnesty clause, not re-sign Greg Oden after next year, and probably lose Camby and Felton as well.  Given that multiple teams will be looking to dump salary in the coming year they'd have a hard time trading any of those players for the cap space or small contracts necessary to rebuild, so they'd pretty much be stuck dropping them for nothing.  That's just not feasible.  The Blazers have one course forward:  keep this roster basically intact, look for another advantageous trade involving Camby, Batum, or maybe eventually Felton, and pray that Greg Oden re-ups with the team long term and stays healthy for a while.  I'm not sure what that next trade would be but the Blazers need to have their ear to the ground for it.

What happens to Greg Oden now?

Best guess:  He explores restricted free agency, finds no offers high enough to make him leap, then accepts the one-year qualifying offer and becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.  Portland is praying for him to get a lowball multi-year offer from somewhere for them to match.

Do the Blazers have a chance at Chris Paul?

Props to Shibo, one of our Blazersedge readers from China, for this question.  Short answer:  No.  Longer answer:  Nooooooo.

Click through for questions about draft alternatives, international hostages, possible point guards, Portland's youngsters, trading Brandon Roy, and more.

Could the Blazers have made a different move in the draft, perhaps getting an established point guard or center by packaging #21, #51, Miller, Fernandez, and/or Batum?

Of those Batum is the only asset of real interest.  I can understand the Blazers not wanting to move him for anything less than a sure thing, as he's the only thing standing between them and having zero depth beyond their starting five.  Point guard and center are highly valued positions around the league and that collection of players, particularly withholding Batum, wasn't going to get much done.  People talk about salary dumps but teams are notoriously reluctant to drop rare players for salary relief alone.  Fan bases tend to object...strenuously.

The recent Koponen quote about feeling like a hostage motivates this question:  Are USA players and international players treated differently.  It was my understanding that an American player could sit out for 2 years (or so) and then be redrafted if he so chose; is that correct?  Is an international player drafted for life?  By holding his rights and preventing him from trying out for an NBA team aren't the Blazers looking like the greedy and bad guys in this?  

According to the famous Larry Coon, a team retains the rights to any player who plays with a non-NBA team until one year after that player's obligation to the non-NBA team ends.  In other words an international player would have to stop playing basketball for a year to divorce himself from the team who drafted him.  Or, you know, he could take the traditional route:  just play well enough to get called over.

The Koponen situation didn't make the Blazers look any more greedy than any other team who drafts a player but doesn't put him on the roster immediately.  In order to play in this league you have to impress a specific team or, at minimum, impress another team enough that they'll trade for your rights.  If you can't do that your prospective slot is going to go to someone who can.

What do you think of Mario Chalmers as a possible addition to the Blazers?

Aside from his overall shooting percentage and the fact that he hasn't been the primary ball-handler on his own team, he's not bad, assuming you were considering him for a reserve player.  He's not the definitive move that the Blazers need, though, and he'd probably cost too much to acquire as a back-up.

I hope the blazers hold on to Chris Johnson, I think this guy can learn a lot from Camby and would you say that he is better then the centers available in this draft? I would be really interested to hear what you have to say about Portland's 2010 draft picks as well: Williams,Babbitt and Johnson, seems to me they did not fare as well as the 2009 crop.

They didn't.  There's some hope for both Johnsons yet.  The Blazers have opted to retain Williams and Babbitt.  The name missing in there is Patty Mills who so far has made more impact than any of them.  But overall it's not a promising crop.  The centers available in the 2011 draft wouldn't have been any more promising.  The Blazers are pretty empty as far as young guys to bring into the rotation.  They have some potential but few bankable assets.

It would be impressive to hear your impressions in synthesis on why Blazer fans in particular, are SO passionate about our team (as was pointed out by many personalities during the playoffs) and how we are connected to one another so tightly through a professional sports team which should not have such a hold on the emotions of rational adults the way that it does.    

It's a complex question, one which I might tackle in a separate post this summer.  Here's my short, generalized guess.  Initially the Blazers captured the imagination of the city by giving Portland an identity and national status.  The underdog made good.  The Blazers made all of Portland's citizens world champions.  The resulting bond and civic pride elevated that generation and became part of Portland's DNA.  Those genes have long since dispersed and the Blazers no longer fill that role or bind people as strongly.  However modern communication (read: the internet) allows those disparate folks with even a shred of the DNA to gather and grow it.  The Blazers are no longer constant bus stop conversation but the discussion here will never stop as long as there's a team.  The perception of passion that results from that conversation makes it seem important and thus re-ignites that old passion for others as well.

I love basketball, but I see headlines like "Union: Players, owners $7 billion apart" and like every other good proletariat, it really turns me off. How do I avoid being bitter and cynical about the economics of sports?    

Roll your eyes, plug your ears for the next six months, and poke your head out again when the games start.  Where there's money there will be greed and there's plenty of money in sports.  I don't think it's worse than politics or any corporate endeavor.  If Blazersedge made $1 billion annually our formerly-gracious (and irreplaceable) mods would soon be demanding $10 million salaries.   If you're going to get mad at someone, though, get mad at the owners until they show evidence of clear and drastic revenue sharing amongst each other.  To my mind they have to do everything they can internally to solve the problem before laying it at the feet of their employees.  They haven't so far.

Drafting yet another combo guard...should we take this as a sign that the Blazers are either going to use the amnesty clause on Roy or are planning on trading one of our many, many guards?    

No.  Nolan Smith is not on the same planet as even an injured Brandon Roy.  The decision to keep or cut Roy will be made irrespective of Smith's presence.  I'm not sure any of those many, many other guards have much trade value.  The drafting of Smith is more indicative that those other guards aren't working out and some of them will be cut.

 If we are, in fact, one injury to a big man away from total disaster, how is it that much different than the Spurs (who happened to end up with the #1 pick- Tim Duncan) when David Robinson wasn't completely healthy?  I realize that we had that lightning in a bottle once and drafted Greg Oden, which has yet to work out injury-free but a season-ending (non career threatening) injury to Aldridge would likely leave the Blazers a very high pick again but still with the franchise player on the roster, assumption being made that he is healthy enough to finish out his career the following year.    

Answering your question as is, the chances of getting the #1 overall pick, let alone that pick being a guy of Tim Duncan's caliber, are small enough that the situation cannot be considered analogous.

Correcting a little, I think you're misunderstanding the Blazers' injury issues.  The threat isn't a catastrophic injury destroying Portland's season.  This isn't a matter of future speculation, rather dealing with present reality.  Brandon Roy can't play a whole season even if he participates in all 82 games.  Greg Oden won't play for much more than half a season.  Marcus Camby is wearing down and Gerald Wallace routinely misses 10 games per year.  Plus, due to lack of return on draft picks and the recent consolidation trades, Portland has nobody reliable in the hopper to replace those players' minutes.  That leaves incredible pressure on the remaining four rotation players to play huge minutes.  That's going to result in fatigue and perhaps more nagging injuries, either of which would bring their production below 100%...something the Blazers can't afford.

It'd be great if the Blazers could move Camby for someone younger and more reliable, relieving at least one of the pressure points.  That may be easier said than done if you're trying to do it without losing even more depth.

There seems to be plenty of talk about dumping Roy and/or picking up a big man in a trade or as a free agent.  One name that I haven't heard thrown out there (and I haven't looked too much into his injury) is Antawn Jamison (besides the Cavs just drafted a PF at #4 and have JJ Hickson).  Why wouldn't that be a place to send a Brandon Roy who may have some decent years left, if one is so inclined to dump him?     

Nobody but nobody is going to want to pick up Roy's contract.  There's a new cap number coming and it's going to be small.  Brandon Roy's contract is going to be a millstone around the neck.  Non-contending teams are going to be scrambling to get as low under the cap as they can, both for the sake of flexibility and picking up any amnesty clause cast-offs that might be available.

You can send questions to blazersub@yahoo.com if you wish.  Please be patient for them to be answered.  Also please put "Mailbag" in the subject line to make them easier to sort out.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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