So here we are. We finally seem to have found our PGOTF, players we're mostly happy with at the 2, 3, and 4, and a bench with actual NBA players on it. Heck, we even have a decent coach who hasn't been around long enough for the village to go all torches-and-pitchforks on him. Yet, we're still trying to fill the Oden-sized void the Oden calamity left at the 5. Nothing against RoLo, but he ain't the long term answer unless we either see a huge leap from him (which pretty much no one is expecting to happen) or else major upgrades at the 2 and 3 (I'm talking major upgrades as in "elite player" major) to where he can play goalkeeper and little else. We're "developing" prospective "big" commodities (Leonard and TRob), but both can be deemed far from a guarantee at this point. Needless to say, we appear to be looking for our 5OTF (trademark pending) again/still.
And as you mentioned in your Portland Trail Blazers 2013-14 Preview, the team is post-deficient and jump shooter heavy (even if they all end up being above average shooters, yikes! I can already hear Sir Charles ranting during Inside The NBA that we never get any close, easy shots. Of course, this will come after TNT has cut off the first 8 minutes of the Blazer game to show the end of the early games' 30 point blowout, but I digress). Centers are obviously a tough piece to get. Who could or should we target? And what is a reasonable package to acquire that player?
My take: I'd like Pau Gasol. He's on the last year of his contract, and while he's no spring chicken, his game seems perfectly suited for what this team is otherwise built to do (underrated digging-deeper info: he is represented by Arn Tellen, the same agent LMA and BRoy got max deals with, so surely Paul Allen knows him well.). Sort of hard to make it work on ESPN's Trade Machine given his contract, but it does approve a Gasol-for-RoLo/Matthews/Crabbe/Barton deal, a deal worth thinking about. Given our lack of cap space next summer and what he is likely to demand, that's probably not happening.
Curious what you think about him and others.
The long and short of Gasol is that his contract is impossible to absorb right now. $19 million with a 15% trade kicker makes less than zero sense for a 33-year-old. Part of Gasol's decline has come from injuries and being misused in L.A., but it's not like the guy has five years of All-Star play left. You'd be paying Rolls Royce prices for a Mustang. Mustangs are great, but dang! A Lopez-Matthews-Crabbe-Barton package would rip a hole in your wing corps and lose you plenty of youth, plus Gasol would have to play huge minutes at center.
If you wanted Gasol your choices this year would have been using all your cap space in an unbalanced trade with L.A. to get him over the summer (taking only Mo Williams in addition) or trading way too much for him. Neither is palatable.
Gasol is on the last year of his contract. The Blazers have no cap space available next summer to make a run at him in free agency, but I suppose they could offer a sign-and-trade. He won't be making $19 million again. Maybe his salary will come within Portland's means. This would be the only viable option if he's the guy you have to have.
This question really comes down to how much extra center you need. Gasol would be nifty, but at that price he's overkill. You could probably make an argument that--as long as you didn't lose Robin Lopez in the process--one basic, starting-level center would make the 5-spot deep for Portland. Dallas got Samuel Dalembert for $3.7 million this summer, probably the pinnacle example of such a move. Jermaine O'Neal is another example...less impact, less salary, but still counts. Personally I don't like Spencer Hawes but if that's your style, he counts too.
If you have to have a center to trump Lopez, Omer Asik is probably your guy. Houston cannot say no to LaMarcus Aldridge. Then again, it'll cost you LaMarcus Aldridge. You might be able to get Asik and Chandler Parsons in such a deal. Or Asik, cap slush, and draft picks far enough out that you'd anticipate the Rockets being in decline when they came due...unprotected, of course. The Rockets are getting the better end of the swap now but you get young assets and look to find a power forward, a far more solvable problem than trying to find a center.
Drafting a center is also a possibility, though the Blazers don't need to depend on any more untried bigs at this point.
Since none of these options materialized and the ones yet available all come with asterisks, the best answer to this question is that if solving the missing center conundrum was easy, every team would do it and nobody would be missing centers.
While highly improbable, what do you think of Carmelo in a Blazers uniform?
Jeepers! We're shopping in the high rent district today. Anthony makes over $24 million. For that kind of money you're hoping for a title from that player. Depending on the trade package you sent out for him, 'Melo would make the Blazers better. But I think we've seen that he has a ceiling and it's short of a championship. He inhales the ball, leaving scraps for everyone else. I could see him coexisting with Aldridge but you'd be reducing Damian Lillard to a weak-side three-point shooter. Since the Blazers appear to believe in Lillard above all things, this probably wouldn't fit their plan. Plus 'Melo sells plenty of tickets for the Knicks--more than any sensible return package would--so they'd not let him go this year, nor do I see a viable Blazers sign and trade deal for him when he enters free agency.
Assume you're right and Robin Lopez kinda sucks. Does it really matter? How many teams have dominant centers? The answer is very few. That includes every NBA champion in the last decade.
At no point did I say Robin Lopez "sucks". Let's get my position clear once and for all. Robin Lopez is Robin Lopez. He has some good parts to his game (size, play near the rim) and some lacking parts (speed/agility, play away from the rim) all of which will have consequences. None of that adds up to "suck". It adds up to an NBA player. The critique I've offered surrounding Lopez is that he's not going to be able to fulfill everything the Blazers will ask of him. That's a critique of the Blazers, not of Lopez. I see Lopez as being a potentially decent piece if he gets some help and his responsibilities are limited to those things he does best but as an inadequate move in isolation.
Moving to the heart of your question, the logic you're invoking about centers doesn't cover Portland's need at that position. There's probably an official name for that kind of explanation--I know I've heard it used to explain several things about the team--but personally I think of it as the "Who needs the sun?" fallacy.
Let's say in the course of describing life on earth someone offers the observation, "We need the sun."
Then someone else pops up with, "Well there are five planets in the solar system farther from the sun than we are. Maybe six if you count Pluto. Not every planet requires as much sunlight!"
"Yeah, and two planets are closer to the sun than we are. How much life flourishes on Mercury and Venus? It's not helping them."
"How about Alaska? People there go without the sun for six months a year. They just use heaters and electric blankets."
"The sun gives light. We have a street lamp and a spotlight. We got it covered!"
"The sun is also big and orange. I have an orange hot-air balloon which, when inflated, can actually eclipse the sun in the sky."
Notice that every one of these statements is true on the surface...can't argue with that. But no matter how many comparisons or substitutions you make--no matter how many assertions you throw in to lead farther down the path--not a one of them invalidates the original statement. In order to live on the earth we need the sun.
Isolating a characteristic and then drawing a parallel to something that also has that particular characteristic does not make the second thing equivalent to the first in effect or importance. Pointing out counter-examples from a completely different environmental context without also pointing out the unique quality of that context does not make the counter-example transferable to one's current situation.
Plenty of teams around the league don't have dominant centers. Plenty of teams around the league are also not very good. Since the idea is to actually get good, comparing oneself to folks who aren't very good isn't really helpful.
Among the teams that are good in the absence of a center--including those title teams from the last decade you mention--almost all of them have dominant, MVP-level talent: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant. The Blazers don't have that so those comparisons don't even get off the launching pad.
The closest and most oft-cited counters to that trend are Dallas in 2010 and Detroit in 2004. Dallas had Dirk Nowitzki, a wheelbarrow full of the most accomplished veterans in the league, and one of the league's most prized defensive centers in Tyson Chandler. Detroit made do with simply the accomplished veterans--Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace--plus rookie Tayshaun Prince and one of the league's most prized defensive centers in Ben Wallace. The young, experimental Blazers don't have the same qualities as either of those two title teams. But even if they did, those two teams had all-league-level centers plus depth behind them (Elden Campbell, Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi). Centers mattered to those teams.
Saying, "Those other teams don't have a great center either!" doesn't make the Blazers any better. Nor does it counter the assertion that Portland would be better with more depth and talent at that position.
The Blazers are coming off a 33-win season in which they had several major issues. They ranked dead last in the league in points in the paint allowed per game. They were 26th out of 30 teams in fastbreak points allowed per game. They ranked 29th in field goal percentage allowed, 26th in effective field goal percentage allowed, 25th in true shooting percentage allowed. On offense the came in 28th in points in the paint per game, 25th in fast break points per game. They were 23rd in offensive rebounding percentage, 20th in defensive rebounding percentage.
How many of those things will Robin Lopez--or even Lopez and frontcourt mate Thomas Robinson--be able to fix? Points in the paint allowed, sure, but to what extent? Finishing 30th leaves you a long way to rise. Rebounding is another possibility. Hopefully there's some effect on the shooting percentages allowed as a result. But cleaning up the entire slate, even to the point of getting the Blazers to average in all these categories, is an awfully big ask.
So you're right...Miami doesn't need a center. Oklahoma City and San Antonio might not need great centers. They're not starting from the same position as the Blazers are. Considering Portland's current state, considering that center is still the thinnest and most speculative position on their roster, and considering that (absent a total rebuild) the model they're following for success depends on a complete team more than an individual All-World superstar...yeah, the Blazers could use more at center. They need Robin Lopez to do amazing things. Getting him help would lessen that burden. Either way, it does matter.
If you could be any player on the current Blazer's roster, who would you be and why? Think 13 Going on 30 style. Dave Deckard's brain in Meyers Leonard's body is a scary thought.
Like everybody else on the planet, I used to think this would be cool. Not so much replacing the brain of another guy but playing for my favorite team. As I've aged, though, I've found my own niche and I'm happy with it.
First off, taking over somebody else's brain would be insulting to that player. Meyers Leonard knows more about playing basketball than I could write about in a month. I can tell you what Leonard is doing right and wrong from a birds-eye view but put my brain down on that court in his body and I'd be going, "Wait...where do my feet go again?" Knowing and doing are two different things.
The more palatable option of displacing a player due to some magically-bestowed ability to never miss a three-pointer has more attraction, but is also flawed and demeaning. Every guy in that training camp worked his whole life to get there, dedicated the hours, sacrificed for the opportunity. In the abstract, sure, I'd love to come in there and take a spot. Who wouldn't want to wear the uniform they grew up loving? But when I had to look in the eyes of a player whose dream I just killed without putting in the work, my conscience would get the best of me. I'd rather take that magical ability to never miss a three and bestow it on Will Barton or Victor Claver. It's still cheating, but at least they made the journey anyway.
Finally, who else gets to do what I do? I have a pair of jobs that I love. I've had considerable success in both, becoming a unique voice in different ways in each field. I manage to do both while still getting to spend time with my kids, time which would be robbed by an NBA career. NBA guys have more money and more fame. They live in a different world. But if you peeled back the cover on that world and took a hard look at it, I doubt I'd find it more attractive than the one I inhabit even if the money would be nice.
See, this is what age does to you. The answer to this question should have been two words: "Damian Lillard!" But thought and reflection sneak up on you and you realize that you're glad that Damian is who he is and you are who you are. It's not a satisfying Mailbag answer but it's true nonetheless.
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