Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Jefferson, Hickson, Guards, Refs, and More.

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Dave gets down and dirty with questions about big men, big worries, and a certain big loss that's still grating.

Since we have a day between games, here's a batch of questions from the inbox!

Dave,

You seem to be positive about JJ Hickson even though you talk about his weaknesses too. You got to love the guy for what he brings, right? Under what conditions should/would the Blazers resign him?

Another Dave

Simple. The Blazers renounce him to get out of his cap hold, making him an unrestricted free agent. They dump off Joel Freeland and $2.9 million to cover his salary for a second round pick, freeing up that much extra cap space. They lose their first round pick to Charlotte or trade it for magic beans. (Future, really magic beans if possible.) Now they're closer to $18 million in cap space than $13.5. Sign Samuel Delambert or Timofey Mozgov or Jermaine O'Neal or some combination thereof totaling no more than $5 million. Try to get a good wing scorer for $8 million or so. Offer Hickson the remaining $4.5-5 million to back up power forward and center. Maybe he likes it enough here to take it. Or maybe he just doesn't get any better offers.

Then again, you have to ask yourself if that's the best use of $18 million. I'm not so sure.

Dave,

Has there been any response from the NBA or other journalists regard the officiating of the recent Lakers/Blazers game? It's not often that BE will comment on that sort of thing, and I've been surprised that I haven't seen any mention of it elsewhere!

Thanks,

Alex

Not that I've seen. I think they mentioned it in passing on the SportsCenter recap or something? But this isn't surprising. As I said in the recap of the game, it's pretty simple to issue a statement saying a ref blew a single block/charge call at the end of a game. They'd have to issue a manifesto on this result. It's easier just to ignore it and adopt a UFO-weather balloon defense if it's brought up. If this had been Lakers-Knicks on network TV they'd have to explain it. But how many people tuned into that broadcast to see anything but the Lakers? Or how many tuned in period? Silence is the correct option from the league here. Any attempt at justification would draw more attention than the original infraction. "The competition committee has determined that Batum's shot was not a three-pointer, the officials followed the correct procedure on the Batum out-of-bounds play, Howard did not foul Matthews in any way, Kobe did not step out of bounds, Aldridge's 5th foul involved no actual contact but was instead prompted by an illicit passing of gas by LaMarcus in the direction of his defender (the infamous Fragrant 2 foul), Kobe Bryant throwing his shoulder into a defender to clear space on the drive is indeed a foul on the defender, and until Damian Lillard gets more respect in the league (read: becomes a Laker) his body is available for any kind of abuse as he drives without infraction up to and including extra-terrestrial probing."

In the absence of such a statement, what's the media going to do? Nobody's going to accuse the league of being fixed over something like this, half because it's probably not true and half because nobody watched it. Even those who think the Blazers got jobbed will perceive the only penalty as Portland losing one game...hardly a rare occurrence this season. People expected the Lakers to win that game. They won that game. There's no story there except for Kobe scoring 40 in the process, which they all mentioned.

Dave,

If you could bring back one Blazer from recent teams to add to Portland's lineup who would it be? Health is still a factor so no asking for a healthy Greg Oden! Personally I think Travis Outlaw would be fun with this year's Blazers.

Stuart

Rudy Fernandez. The Blazers are playing his style now and he has that deadly three-point shot. Or had it anyway. His combination of passing and shooting would make him look as good in the Stotts system as he did his rookie year. His experience would put him over the top. And how much more could his defense hurt this team, really? You can't take away nothing from nothing.

Dave,

I know you just addressed this but I don't feel closure. I'm not sure if I even need a good answer. I might just need someone to listen.

The blazers are a mediocre team right now. They are young so there is hope but for some reason I just can't see this team competing with OKC, Miami, or even teams like Houston in the future. This mix doesn't seem to have the potential to grow into a contender as is.

It seems that the plan at this point is to add one or two good bench players. I still can't see this making a big impact. our starters play 80% or more of the game any way so how does adding JJ Redick or Tiago Splitter help if we are losing Hickson anyway?

Keenan

This is probably where the Blazers will end up. They're just not going to come to that conclusion this summer. In fact they'll point to the start of the season and speculate that they're closer to contention than they thought they were. It'll take a year or two of experimentation to figure out the definitive path forward.

In the meantime there's no harm in acquiring good assets. One of the things hamstringing the Blazers right now is the utter lack of anybody to trade away outside of their Core Four. If the Blazers want to rebuild in a couple years they'll be in a better place to do it if they have assets in hand instead of staring at an empty cupboard save for Aldridge.

Dave,

Do you see Wesley Matthews in the long-term future for this team? He's been a real difference maker this year and it is apparent when he is not on the court.

Michael

This goes in the "Yes, but..." category. Matthews brings a unique flavor to the current core. Aldridge is talented but smooth and fairly emotion-free. Batum is devastating at times but doesn't have the killer instinct outside of those turn-around, buzzer-beating threes. Lillard is star material but he's inexperienced. Matthews brings a hard nose, guts, and an element of "That's cold..." to the equation. As I said in the recent Denver game recap, he's the king of, "You think we're done now? WHAM! Eat a three! We ain't done." I've noticed him imploring his teammates to step up while he's been on the bench too. The Blazers need some of that right now. He's also a reliable shooter and not a bad defender. Those things never go out of style.

If the Blazers do have to end up improving via trade as opposed to the draft or free agency, though, they're going to have to tab Matthews and Batum as prime candidates to move. If they want a star coming in return they might have to trade both of them. I respect what both guys do but at some point the Blazers might have to wonder if a 20-point scorer at small forward and a defensive-specialist shooting guard couldn't do just as much, plus provide more pop.

So the answer is, "Yes...on his own merits (and salary level) Matthews should be with this team long term. But that depends on the Blazers being able to build around him successfully."

Dave,

I haven't heard any talk about Al Jefferson coming to the Trail Blazers. He's a solid, young unrestricted free agent center and I don't know about his defense but he seems fine after the ACL tear in 09'. Can you please give some thoughts on Jefferson and if you think he would fit? I haven't seen anyone mention it and although he's expensive I think I see room for a four year deal at the expense of ever getting a bench again.

David

Props to all the Daves and Davids coming out of the woodwork today! They did a survey of SBNation bloggers once and I think 40% of them were actually named Dave so you're in good company.

I like Al Jefferson. I think he'd make a nice combination with Aldridge on the front line. He's been a good scorer for years. His rebounding has been steady. He's even learned to defend a little, though he's hardly the defensive stalwart the Blazers would need in the middle. Still, you'd hope that Portland could just start outscoring people if Jefferson played big minutes in the lineup. From a talent-skill perspective this would be a good move.

I have two and a half concerns.

1. He's paid like a big-time player. He's making $15 million this year and, while he might accept a modest pay cut in the new NBA economy, he's not going to be looking to halve his salary or anything. That would make Jefferson THE move for the Blazers this off-season, perhaps requiring them to divest themselves of other assets (the aforementioned pick or Freeland) to make it work.

2. I'm not entirely sure Jefferson actually is a big-time player. He's good but he's in the second tier of stars at best. You could certainly understand his inclusion in the Minnesota-Boston trade for Kevin Garnett. He looked like a bright star. That's what Minnesota was hoping for. And yet they traded him. Now Utah has him. They're not in contention. They need talent, a big star or two. And they're not re-signing him either? He's been to the playoffs only twice in the 8 years prior to this one. Folks will say, "That's about the teams he was on!" True, but isn't he supposed to make those teams good enough to get to an 8th seed at least? If not, is he really the guy the Blazers want to commit themselves to...committing to the extent that this is pretty much their only signing this season and their only non-mid-level-exception signing for years to come? It's an open question, I suppose, but it requires thought. This isn't an automatic "Yes".

2.5 I'm not sure Jefferson is entirely a center. Unless the guy is really well-rounded I fear committing that much money to a converted power forward when the Blazers already feature an All-Star power forward. I've talked about Tiago Splitter and he's a converted power forward as well but he does a few more things (though Jefferson has greater offensive skills), has played for a committed winner, and in my scenario I envision getting Splitter for considerably less than Jefferson would require, allowing for another major signing. I wouldn't pay $15 million for Splitter either.

If the Blazers got Jefferson I wouldn't scream. I'd be happy if they got him for a discount. But I don't think that's possible so I don't think I'll have the occasion to look on the bright side of this kind of move.

Dave,

What do you think of Matt Moore's take that Damian Lillard hasn't been phenomenal as a rookie? Come on! Rookie of the Year and leading in all the major stat categories means nothing? Rip him a new one for us Dave!

Truman

I think Mr. Moore's take was that this year's rookie crop hasn't been phenomenal, so leading them does not automatically put Lillard in the phenomenal category himself. It's a fair point. Lillard leads those per-game stat categories because he's being ridden like the last horse on earth. As anybody who has ever listened to Slipknot knows, volume is not necessarily indicative of quality.

It's also possible to go the other way. Inevitably people will try to look hipster-smart by categorizing Lillard as just average or slightly above. There's a reason opposing commentators--former NBA players--are drooling over this kid. He's got the right combination of poise, skill, talent, and big-time chutzpah to become a bona fide star. He'll not cut into LeBron's market share any but he's going to be a killer scoring point guard in this league.

The best way to put it is that Lillard is phenomenal for the Blazers right now and is going to be great for years to come. If you want to stack him up against the Kevin Durants and Chris Pauls of the world you're expecting too much. But as far as young point guards go, there are only a couple you might want to have instead of Lillard. Those are debatable in some fashion or other. More importantly, the Blazers can't get any of those other players so they're plenty happy to have Lillard in the fold.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to the address below. Put "Mailbag" in the subject line please. If you've submitted a question and it hasn't been answered yet, feel free to re-submit, especially if it's a few months old.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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