Where do the Blazers go from here? We keep hearing that the team is "close" but that's coming from team reps and broadcasters. How close are they and what do they need to do to get there?
Close to what? Getting into the playoffs? I'll buy that they're a couple players away. Contending in the playoffs will take plenty more than that. The team's self-assessment appears a tad optimistic.. Then again, that's for public consumption. What else are they going to say?
The list of needs is long: starting center, interior defense, slashing/scoring wing, reserve point guard, an entire bench. The Blazers have cap space, a lottery pick, and a small cap exception once their signings are done to fill those needs. They're going to have to pick and choose. If they're committed to a starting center they're probably going to have to compromise on his skill set and give up on acquiring the wing player. If they get a fancy wing they're going to have to make do with a journeyman center. It's hard to see them heading into fall with every need met.
At this point the Blazers should be in asset acquisition mode. The relevant question: "How much talent can I get for my money/picks?" That's it. Period. They may need a starting center more than a shooting guard but if the same $10 million will buy a mediocre center or a star-level guard, they need to go with the guard. Their problem right now isn't just lack of talent, it's lack of anybody to trade in order to get talent at the right spots. Outside of the Core Four the cupboard is empty. That makes any trade involving those mostly-talented core players into a lateral move. If they have another shooting guard or small forward to fill minutes, trading one of their current starters helps the team instead of moving it sideways.
Remember how the Drexler-era Blazers found their final form? They got a great (unexpected) bonus trading Walter Berry to San Antonio for Kevin Duckworth, snagging their starting center. This freed up Sam Bowie for the Buck Williams-New Jersey trade, Cap space isn't the only way of maintaining flexibility. Cap room and draft picks are the best way to get from bad to good, but getting from good to great often means stockpiling enough talent to be a player on the trade market. The Blazers don't have to fulfill every need this summer. If they put enough decent players in the uniform they can always make a targeted deal later. If they get a couple "good enough" stiffs just to fulfill their positional needs they don't get that much better now and they rob themselves of the chance to improve later.
The baseline template for judging Portland's off-season moves: two good players with the cap space, a good draft selection, and a critical veteran to fill a roster need with the $2 million "room" exception.
If they can replace any or all of those with one great player or one good long-term starting center, so be it. They might be hoping to do that by absorbing somebody's current starter as they make a run at Dwight Howard. The Clippers seem an obvious target and there could be others.
If the Blazers come out of the summer with less than that they're going to be in a world of hurt. They can't keep playing their core players an obnoxious number of minutes. The cap space isn't going to regenerate. They have to make a move forward this summer even if they can't target the acquisitions to their positional needs. This isn't chess or poker anymore. It's Hungry, Hungry Hippos. The Blazers better start wailing on that button before all the marbles drift by,
We'll take a look at specific players over the next couple weeks.
They didn't say Davis had a better season than Lillard. They said he had a more efficient season than Lillard. In other words, Davis contributed more per minute on the floor than Lillard did. And they're right. I wouldn't even argue against Davis being a more significant player than Lillard down the road. I don't think it's a foregone conclusion, but I can see where you'd make that argument.
We have to separate that stuff from Rookie of the Year voting, however. R.O.Y. isn't an efficiency award, nor is it a projection of future greatness. It's the equivalent of the M.V.P. award for first-year players. Those awards have always been about cumulative stats, big numbers, glitzy performances. It's a popularity contest. Making it otherwise would take the spark out of the experience. You may be able to make a spreadsheet of logical reasons you should go with Horace to prom instead of Johnny, but if Johnny's cute and your heart leads towards him, that's the guy you should take. We're not talking marriage here. It's the prom! Same with Rookie of the Year. That's the way it works. It'd be cheap to change it now when a Trail Blazer selected with the 6th pick gets a chance to be prom queen for a day.
There are solid reasons not to value efficiency over sustained production in cases like these too. One of the main values of efficiency is projection. "This guy didn't actually play as many minutes as the the other but if he had, he would have blown the doors off of him." Maybe that's true, but maybe it's not. Perhaps the lesser minute guy wasn't durable enough to play as many minutes. Maybe he didn't fit in as well with his team. Who's to say that his production would have stayed at the same level if those extra minutes had been required of him? Did he have to battle fatigue in the same way? Did he have to shoulder the burden of his team depending on him night in and night out? Did he have to face the variety of defenses and legion of defenders scheming against him personally, the bullseye on his back for game after grueling game? For these reasons and more efficiency doesn't always translate when minutes increase. Therefore I have no problem giving the award to the guy who actually played the minutes instead of to the guy who looked better in projected minutes. I also have no problem pointing out that the second guy may turn out to be the more valuable player in the long run.
What were your biggest surprises and disappointments of the season player-wise?
We knew Lillard was going to be good, but this good? I think he showed the most above expectations during the year. J.J. Hickson did a lot better job at center than I feared he might, so he's in the positive surprise category too.
It wasn't that surprising to me, but I think many expected Joel Freeland to produce more. Granted he was playing out of position but the Blazers desperately needed bigs and he couldn't even get on the floor.
What was your impression of Terry Stotts and the coaching staff? How would you rate their performance this season?
Now that;s funny. But no, it's not THE Terry.
I'd rate them pretty highly. They were working with half a roster. Half of their guys were first-year players and another 2-3 were youngsters who had never made it anywhere in the league. Yes, they relied on their core players getting big minutes but they also got the most out of their key contributors...Hickson and Lillard especially. They managed to integrate Lillard without hurting LaMarcus Aldridge. They kept the team unified through a tough year. They got off to a great start. The team fell apart at the end of the year but still only dropped to right where we thought they'd be when the season began. At worst that's average, right? Plus they implemented a new style of play that their players were able to understand and take to right away. It was as seamless as a transition as could be imagined. You can always argue with individual decisions but I have no real complaints. I'm interested to see how it goes with a better roster.
Now you can whine because the Lakers got into 7th and get to play the Spurs and might make the second round now. Go ahead, let's here some more Laker hating. Whine about the refs some more too. Enjoy your early offseason Blazer fan. Tweet! Hit the showers.
I think you're under a mistaken impression here. I hated the '91 Lakers team when Magic Johnson eliminated Clyde Drexler's Blazers in the Western Conference Finals after the Blazers had the best regular season record in the league that year. I thought the Blazers would be champs. I hate the Lakers for dumping the Blazers because the Lakers were good in that series. They found Portland's weaknesses and Portland couldn't quite make it up. That's the good kind of hate...the kind everybody should have for some kind of rival.
I don't hate the 2012-13 Lakers. They don't generate anything but the proverbial "wrong kind of heat". The 2012-13 Lakers started out with inflated expectations from an off-season signing of the least charismatic superstar in the league, somehow managing to eclipse LeBron "The Decision" James, turning him into a good guy. They also signed a ball-intensive point guard. Neither of those players was going to mesh with Kobe Bryant. They rode a wave of inflated expectations into the season as (some) media pundits declared them heirs apparent to a championship. They had the wrong coach but at least he had the decency to tell everybody the team needed time to mesh. They fired him after 5 games and managed to hire an even worse fit. They proceeded to play the worst defense I've ever seen played by a team claiming any kind of credibility in this league. They never got their acts together, making fools out of themselves on multiple occasions. They got bailed out by referees in a tight playoff race with a smaller-market team who did nothing wrong but play their butts off, yet got disadvantaged by those same refs anyway. And now they're dragging their artificially propped-up, disjointed, and overrated butts into the playoffs happy and relieved to get the 7th seed. Sorry, but I can't bring myself to hate that. It's kind of pathetic...not at all representative of what good basketball is supposed to be. I think most knowledgeable observers realize that. You think you're still the NBA version of Robert DeNiro. You're actually closer to Snooki now. You won't be getting any Oscars. The consolation: you'll still show up plenty on E! News. That's not hate-worthy, just sad...especially when you can't tell the difference.
I will actually enjoy the off-season. Hope you enjoy the playoffs. You've got the matchup that most favors you. Let's see if you can do anything with it.
Keep those Mailbag questions coming to the address below. Please mark "Mailbag" in the subject line. We'll be answering the backlog as the summer gets into swing!