Brandon Roy and Ricky Rubio: Good Fit or Not?

Dave,

Brandon Roy played his best basketball with a "stand in the corner and don't ask questions" point guard (Steve Blake), and showed real diva potential when asked to play with a creative passing, poor shooting point guard (Andre Miller). While a lot of the blame for the Blazers' molasses-like play was placed on Nate McMillian, I think Roy no doubt played a part. Do you remember a single Brandon Roy fast break? Probably not.

In light of all this, how does Minnesota imagine Roy fitting in? Is it simply a matter of low risk, high (potential) reward? Assuming he's able to stay healthy, how do you see Roy fitting in with the Minnesota roster?

Stephen

This is a complex question, mostly because we need to unpack a host of assumptions and recollections surrounding Brandon Roy's Blazer tenure to get to the root of it. When discussing these things people often cite what happened around Brandon Roy without giving enough weight to what happened to Brandon Roy.

Brandon Roy was a superstar his first three years with this team. It's no accident he won Rookie of the Year. Nor was his All-NBA status (let alone All-Star status) happenstance. This guy was amazing. During those years there was no mention of ball hogging or selfishness. Portland's pace was slow but the play was good. People complained that they needed to get faster but few people tagged Roy as the issue, because he wasn't. Had the Blazers opened up more the players around him could well have scored on the break. He, himself could have scored easily via the secondary break. In other words, life was good. Roy wasn't a diva, he was the franchise centerpiece.

Then his knees turned to sawdust.

An advice columnist was once asked by a reader whether it was ever kosher to hit on a waitress. The reader wanted to ask her out but he was afraid of putting her under pressure, the burden of the customer-server relationship, etc. He assumed that most waitresses would find such advances a pain rather than a joy. He didn't want to be unfair, nor (one assumes) to be rejected.

The columnist gave a genius-level answer, honest and simple. He asked, "Are you attractive?" (Understanding that the definition can vary.) It's true that servers generally don't want to get asked out by customers...until they meet the customer they wish would ask them. If the waitress finds you attractive she's going to feel flattered, intrigued, and react positively despite the employee-client thing. If she doesn't then your advance is going to be a burden, awkward, painful, unwelcome. The situation doesn't matter as much as you matter.

Blazer fans went through the same thing with Brandon Roy. Initially his advances had us in a tizzy. That guy was GOOD LOOKING. We melted. We cooed. We applauded his every move. Then he got injured. He went from James Dean cool to the sixth best looking guy in accountant class. With moves like molasses and offense restricted to step-back jumpers, his formerly-attractive tendencies seemed repulsive. Domination became monopolizing the ball. Confidence became selfishness. Leading teammates turned into ignoring them. Every bucket he scored seemed to prove the point. If he puts up points he's selfish. If he doesn't he's useless. Like an ugly guy asking out a waitress, he couldn't win.

Yes, point guards changed around Roy during the injury transition but in a way that was circumstantial. Roy could have played well with any point guard before his knees went. Steve Blake looked good with his outlet jumper. Andre Miller also would have looked good next to a fully-operational Roy. Both of them liked the ball and the lane but they would have managed. Miller would have taken control for the first three quarters, keeping Roy warm with a few shots and ensuring everybody else stayed involved. If the team was behind he would have fed Roy earlier. But no matter what else happened when the fourth quarter came Miller would have ceded the rock to Roy, saying, "It's your show." Brandon would have averaged 20. Miller would have notched plenty of assists and enough points to keep him happy. Everybody comes out ahead.

Conversely, no point guard was going to look good next to Roy in the post-injury era. Blake's secondary offensive role would have been interpreted as passiveness and inability to create. Miller ended up looking impotent in an offense that stalled because every Roy possession took 8 dribbles and 10 seconds off the clock, shot attempt or no. Nobody came out ahead.

This doesn't mean Brandon was an offense-killing point guard eater by nature. He was simply filling the role for which he was born and drafted--superstar--but without the requisite ability anymore. His body has changed but his outlook had not.

Unfortunately Brandon was never going to be able to make the transition from his former superstar status to a new, injury-induced support role while remaining a Trail Blazer. He had owned center stage in that uniform. He was paid like a king to be THE Brandon Roy. Who could adapt to the kind of change mandated? It would be like telling the late Steve Jobs of Apple that he was slowing down and could he please accept the Assistant Vice President of Marketing title. You know what? Even if he had lost a step...no way. He'd rather quit.

Roy did quit, of course. And now he's coming back to a different team with a different set of internal and external expectations. The situation won't be the same. That means the assessment of him alongside Ricky Rubio differs from any assessment of him alongside Blake or Miller.

If Roy comes into Minnesota saying, "I'm going to be the dominating superstar I was at the beginning of my career" then yes, he's going to step all over the toes of Rubio and the Timberwolves offense. But nobody expects that of him now...not even him. It'll take some adjustment, but he might well end up making Rubio look good by providing another solid, confident outlet. The lack of pressure and history in Minnesota will allow him to be the player he is instead of a hollow shell of the player he was.

Blazer fans need not fear too much, though. Aside from occasional possible outbursts resembling his famed playoff explosion versus Dallas (now notched against Portland, naturally) Roy is not going to return to pre-injury status. He'll still be closer to the Brandon Roy who left here than the Brandon Roy who came here. That'll be fine for the Timberwolves. It wouldn't have been fine for the Blazers.

Portland fans should accept, applaud, and let go. It does no more good to label the post-injury Roy as a "ball-hog" than it does to complain about your ex-girlfriend because the break-up was long and hard. There was a reason you got together with her in the first place. In any five-year relationship you'll find plenty of good. Roy was not just good, he was superb. That should be his legacy in Portland...his 3-4 years of brilliance rather than his final 1+ years of grief. Yes, he'll go out with other teams. Yes, he'll probably be effective...more effective than he was during his final season as a Blazer even. But he'll never have a run like he had with us, nor will he ever be so well loved.

That is, if we can retain a collective memory longer than 600 days or so.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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