It's All-You-Can-Eat Wing Day in the Blazer's Edge Mailbag! But before we get to that, one more center question...
Wondering what your thoughts are about Jermaine O'Neal and how he would fit on the team. I know he would probably take minutes away from Leonard, but I think he would be a solid backup on the cheap and possibly be able to teach Meyers a thing or two.
We did a piece on free agency in January. Of all the free agents, restricted and unrestricted, Jermaine O'Neal was at the top of the list for inexpensive, productive, experienced reserves. I think the Blazers could convince him to come here. I think he would play for a reasonable price. They couldn't do better and neither could he. Bring the kid home.
Now, let's talk about the part of your question that wasn't really the question. Meyers Leonard has no minutes to be taken away. This is true in a practical sense, as Leonard only got sustained playing time through injury to other players or the season spiraling beyond redemption. It's also true in a theoretical sense. Ever since the Blazers rebooted in 2006 people have been clamoring for "development minutes" for young players, as if they're granted an allotment just by putting on the uniform. That's not how it works, at least on good teams. You get minutes by earning them. You earn minutes by beating out the other guys at your position, producing, and playing nice with your teammates. Do that long and well enough and you can be said to "get minutes", but that's only because it's obvious you've earned them. Only two current players have reached that status so far: LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Both of them have more minutes than they can use. Everybody else has to fight for time.
Everybody in the NBA could benefit from a little extra floor time. This isn't charity. This isn't school. It's a job. These players are professionals. If they're worried about floor time then they need to outwork the next guy so they can demonstrate success on the court. Coaches usually don't sit players who produce consistently. In fact playing well will all but force a coach to play you even if he hates your guts. But a guy who lets another player take "his minutes" is also going to let an opponent take the ball, take the lane, take the rebound, take the game, and take his chance at a title. Last time I checked, they don't award those for looking like you have potential. If you can't earn it you don't get it. That pattern shapes everything that happens between the lines.
The Blazers should have no qualms about bringing in any center. If he pushed out Leonard, that's the way it goes. Meyers should be home every day this summer training his butt off so that he'll be the one pushing other guys out. Ideally both guys will play so well that you're forced to find minutes for each. But that doesn't happen if one of them is sitting home counting his minutes before they're played.
You've talked plenty about centers but less about wings. Let's suppose the Blazers fail in landing a marquee C talent. I struggle to identify any appealing targets. Some people have said Iguodala, but meh. The best counter-argument I've heard to that idea is that he's getting older and should be in for a Gerald Wallace career arc pretty soon. We've been down that road with an aging uber athletic defensive swingman with an iffy jumper.
You don't have to wait for Iguodala's production to go down. It already has. That's part of the problem. He's only 29. He should be at the apex of his career. That happened 4-5 years ago. He's a really good player but he's not the glittering star his upward arc once promised.
Even if you could live with Iguodala's three-point shooting--which I agree would be a concern in Portland's system--he's not drawing fouls anywhere near the rate he used to. The Blazers already have a two-point-scoring, no-foul producing stalwart in LaMarcus Aldridge. They'd need some sneaky extra points from a scoring small forward and Iggy's not that guy. His assists, rebounds, and steals are nice but Nicolas Batum's aren't that far behind and Batum is 5 years younger. Plus Batum shoots the long ball, has a much higher true shooting percentage, has about the same PER. I don't see enough of an upgrade there to counter the possible downward slide.
Iguodala is probably going to opt out of the $16 million final year on his contract this summer. Likely he'll sign a longer-term deal with the Nuggets. I'm guessing he'll go for less money per year but a longer term. He's not going to give up money though. The Blazers would need to make a substantial offer to lure him away. He's definitely your main free-agent signing. As a stand-alone move it's not enough.
The only exciting part of the equation would be seeing what you could trade Batum or Wesley Matthews for once you had signed Iguodala. If you'd like to speculate that Iguodala becomes the starting small forward while Batum and Matthews get traded away for an upgraded shooting guard plus another player of need (backcourt, mediocre center) then I'm listening.
Your partner Ben has been saying O.J. Mayo belongs with the Blazers next year. Thoughts?
I can't believe you haven't mentioned the obvious summer signing, Tyreke Evans! This guy would look sweet in a Blazer uni!
Things I Like About Mayo: He's young. He can create off the dribble. He can pass. He's shown a nice three-point stroke this year. He'd be a good fit offensively.
Things I Don't Like About Mayo: For all the dribbling skills, 80% of his attempts are still jumpers. (He shot a higher ratio of jumpers to other shots than Wesley Matthews did this year.) His drives are nice but he doesn't favor them. His defense is spottier than a Dalmatian. He's good when he wants to be but he doesn't always want to be. While individual parts of his game have improved over the last five years he still hasn't broken out or even made huge steps forward. He's not a great scorer, only recently became a great shooter, not a great defender. The repeating pattern: some nights, when he's into the game, he's really good. He's just not into the game enough nights.
Things I Like About Evans: He's young. He takes the ball to the hole, draws fouls, and can score. He's big. He can pass. He rebounds. Once upon a time he was one of the most exciting young players in the league.
Things I Don't Like About Evans: He works best with the ball in his hands. His three-point shooting tends towards poor and his jumper in general is a thing of ugly. He's not a good catch-and-shoot guy. Combined that's going to turn Damian Lillard into more of a jump-shooter and less of a driver-creator. His defense is poor. Like Mayo, he's kind of muddled around in the not-quite-star but not-quite-dispensable category, although injury played a large role in his decline.
Common to Both: I don't trust them and I don't like buying high on either. Each had a promising rookie season. Each drifted through a couple years of decline. Each has surged back in the past year, not to their original heights but enough to get noticed and get paid. Each has frustrated his current team, likely making them available if you're willing to pay the price.
Granted the Blazers wouldn't be depending on either player as a savior--a horrible mistake--but each would be projected as the starting shooting guard (sooner or later) and the key improvement over the summer. I don't see the mentality on Mayo's part or the fit on Evans' part to make me completely comfortable with that. If either came at a discount I'd consider it. I won't scream if the Blazers pick up either. But personally if I have to pay them main guy money I'm passing. My gut says these are not the droids we're looking for.
Earlier in the year you said you were high on J.J. Redick for the Blazers. He didn't look very good in Milwaukee. Are you still high on him? What do you like?
It's funny. I did not like Redick when he first came into the league. Didn't like his game. Didn't like how he carried himself. Just not a fan. But he's grown on me.
Here's what I don't like now: his defense has improved but still isn't anything to write home about and he's going to be expensive. Not Evans-level expensive but he'll cost you plenty for a reserve.
I like that he's become more well-rounded over the years while keeping his main skill--three-point shooting--at a high level. I like that he can score without dribbling or dominating the ball, but can still dribble, drive, and pass. I like his playoff experience. I like the effort he puts in night to night.
Most of all, I like how he'd fit into Portland's system. Mind you, he's not going to change or expand the system the way Evans would, or even Mayo. Instead he'd epitomize what the Blazers are already trying to do: move the ball, score efficiently, favor the three. He'd have so many minutes, shots, and open triples in front of him with this team that he'd threaten for sixth man of the year. These guys would pass him the ball and he'd make it pay off instantly. He'd play off the bench and not make you sad when Matthews needed a rest. Redick, Stotts, and these players are a match made in heaven.
I'm not worried about Redick's Milwaukee performance because the Bucks have no idea how to use him properly with those chuck-tastic guards and plenty of non-scorers around him. But you do have to worry about spending significant money on a guy who's not going to bring a new wrinkle, rather make your old wrinkles look really smooth. Redick's a more natural fit than any guard we've mentioned, but does this team need a natural fit or a supernatural infusion of talent?
Getting Evans, or to a lesser extent Mayo, would be like getting a high-end sports car that'll make you stand out from the crowd. But it'll be a bear to maintain, will likely break down and need to be repaired, and you might not be able to drive it everywhere comfortably. When you're cruising the strip you'll look amazing but it's no good for getting groceries. Getting Redick would be like investing nearly the same money in a fancy luxury car or S.U.V. It's going to blend in more but you can take it more places, depend on it, and it's going to be one heck of a comfy ride.
Which you prefer is a matter of taste and aim.
Discuss that and any other wings you wish in the comment section below. Keep the questions coming to the e-mail address and put "Mailbag" in the subject line.