Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Contending, Lopez Injuries, Heartbreak

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Dave tackles tough questions about contending, injuries, and Portland Trail Blazers theology.

Monday mail call ahead!

Dave,

I know some people have called you gloomy or worse this off-season, and I'm an exhausted Blazers fan whose attitude isn't dissimilar to yours. I'll watch the games and go to some, and enjoy the players and the team, but my attitude will be doubtful, even if we reach the 8th seed. It's really easy to picture the ways in which this team is an early playoff exiter for the next couple years and beyond--and to be honest, if gloomy, that just doesn't do much for me at this point. For my own sake, if not for yours, can you give me a possible scenario or two where this team becomes, or is on a clear path to be, a championship contender in the next two or three years? Call it fan fiction.

Ryan (a.k.a. Eeyore)

Fan fiction, eh?  OK.

Kirk looked at Spock with smoldering eyes.  The science officer's cool outward demeanor gave no indication of the flutter in his formerly-impregnable Vulcan heart.  Captain...friend...maybe more?  Spock's second eyelid gave an involuntary spasm as unexpected adrenalin mixed with the green blood pumping through his veins.  "Sensors show no change...Captain."  Vulcans could not lie, but they could skirt around the truth with the best of them.  But for how long?

Oh wait, not THAT kind of fan fiction.  You wanted something more Blazers-oriented and...errr...safe for B.E.

So look, "gloomy" is just a bad description.  It's either an indicator of internal feeling or a measure of perception about someone's outlook relative to your own.

The first doesn't apply here.  I'm not feeling bad or depressed about Portland's outlook.  It'll be interesting to see how they chart a way forward from here.  I'm not buying the story that getting into contention will be easy, let alone a foregone conclusion.  I'm not buying that grand promises have already been fulfilled.  But neither of those things equate to gloom.  The Blazers are where they are, and personally I'm fine with that...watching to see what happens along with everybody else.

The second definition has held more force this summer.  I haven't predicted the Blazers to go backwards.  I've guessed a 5-8 game improvement, maybe a couple more if things go just right, with the possibility of grabbing a low playoff seed depending on how the rest of the West shakes out.  It may be one of those years where everybody beats up on everybody else and a relatively modest win total gets you in.  The Blazers have a shot at that just like everybody else in their peer group.  That's not a bad thing.  The "gloomy" label has come largely from folks whose expectations exceed that mark.  That doesn't make those expectations right or wrong.  But in our day and age it's easier--maybe even customary--to dismiss divergent viewpoints with a label.  Thus "gloom" rears its head.

You're right that, barring major changes, the most likely course over the next couple years is for the Blazers to remain in the middle of the conference, a low lottery or low playoff team.  I can't conceive of any permutation that vaults the Blazers into contention during that time span.  The bar is too high, the window too short.  The best hope would be a Hail Mary trade for another prominent player to put alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.  Your Fan Fiction scenario probable involves moving one of Portland's remaining three starters plus a couple of cheap bench players for such a guy, then hoping that your Oklahoma Citys, Houstons, San Antonios, and Clipperses aren't too far ahead.

But there's another option, taking longer but also potentially exciting.  As we've said, one of the by-products of not moving forward dramatically could be a looming Aldridge trade.  What if the Blazers turned over Aldridge in the summer of 2014 for a young player and/or future draft picks?  They'd suffer in the short term, but if they weren't excelling in the short term anyway the pain is just a matter of degree.  But you still have a young roster left and cap space to add to the assets gleaned from an Aldridge trade.  If there's a new horizon to be found, that's the more likely (and least fictional) route.

Dave,

Given Robin Lopez's injury history, what do you see as the Blazer's best lineup strategy should he go down for a significant part of the season? Does Meyers Leonard become the presumptive starter or does LaMarcus move to the 5? We have plenty of established depth in the backcourt, not so much in the frontcourt. With Lopez's history with injuries and LaMarcus' aversion to playing the center position, seems like this is a hypothetical situation worth discussing.

Ari

It's true that Lopez has only played two near-complete seasons in his five-year career.  But those also happen to be his last two seasons.  (Lopez played 64 games out of 66 in 2011-12, 82 games out of 82 last year.)  Therefore I'm knocking on every piece of wood available in the hopes that his injuries are behind him.

The simplest answer to your question is that there is no best lineup if Lopez goes down.  Absent further evidence, this is a serious weak spot in Portland's rotation.  Neither Meyers Leonard nor Thomas Robinson are ready for big-time minutes in the middle.  Aldridge could slide over but then you're looking at Robinson playing big minutes at power forward or running with a small-ball lineup for large swaths of each game.  Both of those options can be solved by opponents.  Plus you're making LaMarcus uncomfortable.

This may be a hypothetical situation worth discussing but it's also one of 2-3 nightmare scenarios with the potential to scuttle the season.  Personally I prefer to dodge it--fingers in my ears and singing, "La La La!"--unless the Blazers are forced to deal with it.

Dave,

Training camp has just started and we have 6 injuries so far. You're a preacher. Does God hate the Blazers?

Bill

Oh Dear Olshey, no!  I talk to the guy every day and I can assure you that God is the biggest Blazers fan ever.  That has not changed nor will it.  Ever read the story about that fateful day on the cross?  Red blood...sky turns black...white shroud...you think that color scheme was coincidence?  And remember the temple curtain ripped in two on that day.  Color: purple, held by gold rings.  I rest my case.

Unfortunately (but who am I to argue?) God also has this sacrificial thing going on.  It's that deal where you give up what you want/need in order to uplift and serve your neighbor?  That makes having him as your biggest fan a mixed blessing.  Sure, he could make Portland win 92 championships in a row.  He'd be happy and so would we!  But that's just hogging all the glory and goodness without sharing.  Have you ever been to Oklahoma City?  Have you tried to spend more than two days in Miami except on vacation?  Let's not even talk about the massive pit of emptiness in the Lakers fan's soul.  These folks need the help.  So he gives us rose gardens, Voodoo Doughnuts, a scenic and uncrowded coastline and asks us to be understanding if we have to sacrifice a few of the multiple championships which are our due as the best team the universe has ever known.  That doesn't make us any less amazing.  It just makes us super amazing and charitable as well.

Dear Dave,

What Blazers related story breaks your heart the most? Have you ever cried because of the Blazers?

Thanks, Tom

Yeah.  I cried when Portland got eliminated from the playoffs in '78 after the Walton injury.  I was just a kid.  I had only started following the team the year before--the championship season--and I thought the Blazers would win it every year.

I was close to crying in '91 when the Blazers lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and didn't win the title in their best season ever.  That was the first year I had attended multiple games in person and I knew that team like the back of my hand.  Being older, though, I covered the crying by swearing instead.  If I have to name one heartbreak forever beyond repair, that would be it.

But if you're talking recent history, the moment I realized Brandon Roy's knees would never be whole again eclipses all others.  Oden was hard, but at a certain point you just sighed and said, "It figures" with that.  But we had seen how special Roy was.  That was the shake-your-fist-at-the-heavens, "It shouldn't have happened that way" event of this generation.

We should also note, however, that these sad occasions have carved out a deep crater inside which is now waiting to be filled by Portland's next title.  I don't suspect basketball-related bad luck would cause me to cry anymore.  But from the beginning I have openly admitted that if and when the Blazers win the championship again, I'm going to jump in the air, scream my fool head off, and then sit down on my couch and start crying.  Those will be tears of joy, but also tears in memory of all the moments that fell short...proof that despite everything, good does still prevail in the end.

Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below and PLEASE put "Mailbag" in the subject line.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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