Catching up on more Mailbag questions!
You've discussed several potential centers for the Blazers. What are your thoughts on Kendrick Perkins? He seems to be in the doghouse in OKC. I'm wondering if a change of scenery to Portland would be beneficial, but I'm not sure exactly why he's not playing and it might not do any good if his attitude stinks.
I think you've hit on one of the few starting centers in the league I'd run from. Hard.
How complicated can being Oklahoma City's center be? Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant take care of all the scoring. Serge Ibaka is a reasonably good rebounder and Nick Collison comes off the bench in relief. The defense around you is pretty decent. What, exactly do you have to do? Grab a few rebounds, cherry pick some shots when defenders cover the stars, don't ruin your own defensive sets, then sit back and collect a multi-million dollar paycheck while people fete your amazing team.
When a guy can't even manage that much, when he's the only real center in town and still earns only 25 minutes per game for a squad that made Hasheem Thabeet look decent (for Pete's sake!) something is...wrong. Not just kind of wrong, but "the smell coming off that thing is so bad you better throw it in the garbage and wash your hands right now or the Zombie Apocalypse might happen today" wrong.
$9 million per year isn't a bad price for a starting center but Perkins may not be fit to be a starting center. Rebounding, scoring, shooting percentages, efficiency are all in the toilet and the guy's not a shot blocker. This is not the droid you're looking for.
It seems to me the Blazers competed very well for many years due to the fact we had an owner who was willing to spend to get good players. Since Allen had a change of heart (after the JailBlazer era), it seems Portland really lost its ability to differentiate from other market teams with cap space and lure in attractive free agents. Money used to be that differentiation in Portland, but not anymore. We also currently lack the top coach or high caliber players that would attract other top notch players to come and join us. If winning is the ultimate goal for Allen, wouldn't money put us back in the map faster than any other thing (ie praying for good lottery picks)? Do you see Allen ever willing to over spend in order to sign the right player(s)?
The Blazers got more fiscally sensible in the mid-2000's. They stopped overpaying every B-level free agent that came on the market. No matter what you thought of chemistry or character, stocking the team with fairly talented players all those years kept the bottom end of Portland's success range fairly high. The problem was, they wouldn't really succeed. They'd just remain not too bad, a B- team with A-level salaries.
Luxury tax territory mandates great results, not just "not too bad". Therefore the cutbacks made sense for reasons independent of the off-court problems of the players involved. A conservative cap approach makes even more sense today under the new CBA which penalizes tax offenders harshly, not just financially but restricting their ability to make further moves. You really don't want to tread that tax threshold unless you're a Finals contender. Mediocre and taxed is the kiss of death.
Even with their new sensibility, however, the Blazers have opened the coffers for players who deserved money. Brandon Roy got a max contract. LaMarcus Aldridge was close. Greg Oden would have been paid full fare, Nicolas Batum is making
six eight digits, and Wesley Matthews got the highest contract offered a second-year player ever. In between there the Blazers still managed to afford vets like Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford, and Raymond Felton.
One could argue that the combination of injuries, under-performing veterans, and questionable drafting has absolved Portland from luxury tax consideration. They've never had enough players succeeding at once to call the question. If and when that happens, I'd expect senior management and Paul Allen would calculate the value of adding an extra piece or two and crossing the line. If they're one piece away from a title shot my guess is they'd bite the bullet and pay. But they can't afford to take a chance on multiple, expensive players who might or might not produce the desired results. Chances are they wouldn't work out. Then you're leaking money and handcuffed to your woes.
Keep in mind, too, that the team is bound by CBA rules. The Blazers can't go out right now and spend themselves into tax land. Their major spending will be cut off at the cap limit this year. In years to come they can add salary incrementally by trades and in larger chunks through cap exceptions not available to them this summer. That's when we'll find out how close to contention they think they are and how much they're willing to spend to get there.
In any case, the days of Portland as perpetual ATM are done, and rightfully so. How's it working out for the Knicks or the Dodgers?
I keep hearing about the "core four." Does the fact that you only have four decent players on your roster necessarily make them your core four? Especially when two of those four have skill sets that are so similar?
As we look to the future, I only see a "core two."
I coined the term as a shorthand way of identifying the players the team can trust enough to build around: Aldridge, Lillard, Batum, Matthews. By virtue of salary, youth, or talent nobody else on the team fit the description. Those four are clearly a class apart. When you hear Blazer folks say things like, "We're closer than you think..." they almost certainly mean that they're comfortable with those four guys and just need to add a couple pieces to succeed. Either way, it's not often you see such a gap between four guys and the whole rest of the team, so the designation is a valuable time-saver at this point. When someone says, "I'd trade anybody outside of the Core Four" everybody in the universe knows what they mean.
When you start to tweak that definition the number changes. If you want to talk about players the Blazers consider near-untouchable right now you're probably talking about a Core Three (or at least 2.5). If you want to talk about players everybody would assess as untouchable it's a Core Two. If you ask for players you're certain will be Trail Blazers four years from now you have a Core One.
The discussion about LA's future and recent discussion about his value leads me to believe his greatest contribution to the long-term viability of the team lies in his trade value. I was listening to the radio as they were discussing the needs of the NY Knicks - that they need another "major" player to go along with ‘Melo. It was discussed that they might be willing to package Chandler, Shumpert and draft picks to make that happen. Do you think LA would fit their definition of "major" and would they be willing to offer that package to us? Seems like a nearly ideal for us - a D-minded center, athletic wing and assets for the future. Is that the ideal package? Any other teams out there that would offer a similar package and have interest in LA?
Sorry, can't do it. I hate calling him LA. I know he prefers it and it saves a syllable for the broadcasters but...ugh. Just ugh.
The Knicks would love to get their hands on LaMarcus. They might even swing that deal to do it.
Here's what you have to remember from a Blazers perspective. You can talk about needs of the team with certainty right now because the core is pretty well defined. The Blazers need a shot-blocking, rebounding big man right now because they've got scoring and shooting elsewhere and Aldridge doesn't fit that bill. But as soon as you trade Aldridge you hit the reset button on the team. Now the needs are different. You can get your defensive big man and extra wing help off the bench but that was last year's, Aldridge-based need. You know what you need now? An All-Star 20+ point-scoring #1 option. Without that your new big man and bench guy don't lift you above your previous level. And by the way, guess which is harder to find between a serviceable defensive center and a All-NBA-level star?
If you trade Aldridge it has to be for tomorrow's need, not today's or yesterday's. Adding on a sun porch and extra bedroom to a house you just ripped the foundation out from under doesn't make sense. Move him for the next foundation or not at all.
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