Time to dip into the inbox for a Blazer's Edge Mailbag. Keep your questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org Please indicate "Mailbag" in the subject line to make things easier for me.
I feel like the Blazers have started on the road to success again after years of heading backwards. How far do they have to go? And the most important question, in your heart of hearts, do you think they will make it?
I agree with your assessment of the new road. I think most Blazer fans would. Whatever is happening now, this is different than what came before. Has anyone else noticed that even LaMarcus Aldridge--the most known, established, and quantifiable guy on the team--seems somehow different this year? New variables surround everybody, for good or ill.
How far they have to go depends on how you define "success". My definition is pretty narrow: winning a championship or at least seriously contending for a title over multiple years. If you're not playing for that goal, for what are you playing? Therefore my list of successful teams is short: Heat, Lakers, Mavericks, Spurs, Celtics...and I think I'm comfortable putting the Thunder in that mix based on their age and level of achievement. Orlando was there too before Dwight Howard left. Chicago will make it if they rebound to their pre-Rose-injury form. But that's it.
It's plenty hard to crack that half-dozen team group. You can't just get to the second round for a year and call it good.
Cracking the second round of the playoffs, even for a year, would be beyond the wildest dreams of success for the current Blazers squad. Judge how much distance remains between them and the elite accordingly.
I do think the Blazers have advantages on their way forward. Ownership is interested in winning, not just in selling tickets. No matter what the setbacks, including the JailBlazer era and the Injury Era, the team has kept fighting forward. They'll get to that elite level again at some point. It's just a matter of waiting them out.
Is Damian Lillard athletic or not? Seems like the opinion on him is split 50/50 depending on where you look.
Again we're talking definitions here. Is Lillard athletic in the drop-dead-first-instant way that Jerryd Bayless was when he came to this team? No. He's not going to bull his way to the bucket over two defenders. He's not sure how to finish in NBA traffic yet even. But Lillard has that same kind of applied athleticism that Brandon Roy had coming out of college. Somehow his brain and grace combine with his athletic gifts to make him appear quicker. I'm watching how Lillard goes left and right off the dribble or how he can step back and still shoot accurately and I'm thinking, "That's NICE!" He doesn't have to get open versus a measuring tape number. Getting a shot off against human defenders is plenty good.
Lillard needs to develop three areas of his game to show he has enough athleticism to be effective in this league. The first I just mentioned: finding a way to finish accurately at the rim in traffic. The second flows along with that: developing a stop-and-pop jumper off the drive to keep defenders unbalanced. If he can't do these things his drives will be ineffective, not just because he isn't scoring but because defenses will play him for the pass off the dribble. We all saw the brilliant passing ability of Sergio Rodriguez come to naught when this happened to him. Lillard has a better game than Sergio did, but he won't be immune to defensive shading if he can't finish inside of 15 feet. Finally, we need to see Lillard's athleticism come into play more on the defensive end.
If Damian can manage two and a half of those three things he's going to be a really good point guard in this league for a long time. What better way is there to define "athlete"?
LaMarcus Aldridge has struggled offensively in two pre-season games now. Is this an adjustment issue or just pre-season? Is it too soon to worry?
Three games now, but yes, it's too soon to worry. It's not too soon to notice, however.
There's a 90% chance that this is just pre-season, post-surgery working off the rust time for Aldridge. How much does Kobe Bryant play in the pre-season? How much does he show? These games aren't indicative of much, particularly when it comes to stars. Chances are everybody's going to be happy come Game 1 and Aldridge will be back to his All-Star self, or so close you won't notice the difference.
The other 10% says "new system, new coach, new point guard messing with the old Aldridge". People often complained that former coach Nate McMillan's sets were too basic. How often did we see LMA down on that low block, particularly after Brandon Roy's game collapsed? Boring as paste, right? But the NBA isn't about doing 16 different things well, as if this were a video game. It's about doing that thing you do in unstoppable and oft-repeated fashion. Hakeem Olajuwon leaned on the Dream Shake during the latter half of his career and Michael Jordan cranked out step-back fade-aways in assembly line fashion. They both won titles that way. If Aldridge low on the left side gets him 20+ points a game then that's where he belongs and that's where the ball should go first.
If LaMarcus is having a hard time adjusting the coaching staff and his teammates are going to have to change the plan. You can't have your only bona fide star suffering out there. Everybody keys off of him. Defenses only respect you because of him. If Aldridge isn't his old self this year the Blazers are going to get a rude awakening no matter what system they run. That locker room is going to get ugly too. This will be pinned as a coaching issue. This team can't survive that. They don't have the individual talent to bail themselves out if they're divided in any way.
It's way too early to go down that road, however. Until we see LMA struggling when the games count, assuming that this is just is just typical pre-season stuff is the way to go.
A couple of blog-related and/or personal questions we'd better get to before the season starts...
What kind of reputation does Blazer's Edge have with the team itself? Do Blazers people read the blog? How much do you hear from them and how much inside info do you get? Does anyone we know comment on B.E. under an assumed name?
I imagine mileage varies by individual. I don't usually go around to the people I know and say, "Hey, tell me about my website!" Overall we are well-respected. Ben does a great job for us as media correspondent. Multiple people inside the organization have commented on the site, so yes, they do read here.
As far as "inside" information, I'm not sure what would qualify. We're often in contact with folks inside and outside of Portland. I've benefited enormously from the wisdom that folks around the league have shared. The on-record stuff usually comes through Ben's channels, though. When I talk to people it's more about systems and impressions...less quotable and less immediate. Those folks help shape my impressions and analysis, but usually they're reacting to something I have said instead of something I'm going to say. It's not like I have super-secret info I'm not sharing, if that's what you mean.
As far as people commenting under assumed names, who knows? I doubt the most recognizable faces of the organization would do so. They don't have time, for one thing. You also have to remember that no matter what anybody else says, the stupidest comment made towards you in a given day is the one you'll remember. If 92 people say, "Good morning, nice to see you!" and one says, "Your armpits smell like a rotting squid," which comment will you be thinking about as you go to sleep that night? Therefore I imagine the famous people we talk about regularly shy away from the comment section and many (unfortunately) stop reading media altogether. This is one of the many reasons we like conversational standards around here to remain higher than average.
How many hours a week do you devote to Blazer's Edge and how do you manage it?
Ron from Vancouver
It's impossible to quantify and depends on the time of year. In-season or in busy weeks during the summer it's a ton. I still have nightmares about last year's lockout-shortened campaign. In the dog days I get to take a break. But if you count writing, research, sourcing, watching games (Portland's and upcoming opponents), responding to mail, and general site sprucing it ends up being a whole 'nother job most weeks. If you consider how much planning goes into a given piece it grows again by half. I'm thinking most of the day about what I'm going to write in the coming nights.
That's how I manage it too. I do everything else during the day, then write and research and watch DVR games as long as it takes at night. Everybody around me makes some sacrifices, including you guys when other things press me outside of the website. But in general I won't let my family or day job suffer. I just do without as much sleep as is necessary to get the job done well.
Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below.