Time to dig into another edition of the Mailbag!
With Damian Roy winning ROY unanimously the obvious comparison is to Portland's other recent Roy. LaMarcus Aldridge has given the nod to Dame over Brandon. How do you think the two compare? Has Damian eclipsed BRoy already?
It's a little too soon for that. Their two Rookie of the Year seasons are intertwined statistically...quite comparable with each leading certain categories. But Roy's rookie season was nowhere near his apex. Then again, Roy's apex didn't last long.
I'd say that one of two things will need to happen before we can officially declare that Lillard has joined Roy in the pantheon:
1. He needs to have a single season approaching Roy's 2008-09 year. OR...
2. He simply needs to play as well as he played this season for several years.
If Lillard combines good play with long endurance or spikes up to great play with even a little bit of endurance we can then begin to talk about him in the same breath as Brandon. I'm pretty confident that by the time his career is finished his effect on the team will be greater than Brandon's was. But until that happens--until Lillard gets a handful of years under his belt--you still have to point to Brandon's transcendent performances and say that Lillard hasn't gotten there yet.
In other words...not yet, but someday yes.
I recently read Jason Quick's piece about the Blazers' offseason plans, specifically trading the 10 pick for an established center. He threw out Noah, Gortat, Varejao, and DeAndre Jordan as potential targets. Do you think an uneven trade like this is the best way for the team to utilize their cap space? It seems with the struggles we have bringing in free agents this might be the most efficient route to take. Also, out of the candidates listed, who do you see as the most likely? Best for the team?
If you want a center and you can't sign Dwight Howard, this would be the way to go. The free agent center crop ranges from the mediocre to the restricted. There's no clear candidate to become the long-term starter for the Blazers in the bunch...at least none whose offers can't be matched by their current teams.
Of the four players you listed the best would be Joakim Noah. He's young, he rebounds, he's a good defender, and he's got playoff experience. We'd have to spend the next few years watching that ugly jumper go in, but that'd be a small price to pay for his talent and combination of skills. Noah has only played 80 games in a season once in his 6-year career...his biggest downside. He's also on an expiring contract in the coming season. But the Blazers would probably risk those factors because he's everything they need. It's going to take some serious tectonic shifting and cap wizardry to make his departure from Chicago make sense though.
After that you go with DeAndre Jordan. He's not as heady as Noah but he's quicker and just as young. He blocks shots, rebounds, and makes the most of his offensive ability. You really have to run to see his best game but the Blazers might be willing to do that. The Clippers wouldn't let him go easily either but if they're thinking about pursuing Dwight Howard or another qualified center I could see it. Because of his limitations and Blake Griffin's, that frontcourt duo doesn't make the most sustainable pair. They're exciting but the Clippers might prefer a more dependable halfcourt player next to Griffin. That guy has to be good to convince them to part with Jordan.
Andersen Varejao is a terrific rebounder and a good defender...total quality. His biggest assets may be his motor and willingness to do whatever his team needs. All the things you loved about J.J. Hickson's performances this year you'd love even more about Varejao's because he plays on both ends. Had he been a Blazer all these years he'd be a cult hero, franchise icon. His big question marks: he's 30 and he hasn't played more than 31 games in any season since 2009-10...only 81 total games in the last three years. Also he's not a shot-blocker at all. He's more energetic than intimidating. On the other hand his contract isn't bad at $9 million next year and $9.7 (non-guaranteed) the following. Plus the Cavaliers will be looking to deal him, though their asking price will be high. If the Blazers swing and hit here this would be a great pick-up. If he remains injured, though, they'll not be able to make up the cap space opportunity later.
I describe Marcin Gortat as OK at pretty much everything, great at nothing. Rebounding is probably his strong suit. He's an adequate defender...better than anybody Portland has at the position by far. His offense is mixed. He takes too many jumpers and he's not that good at them. He's crafty and opportunistic inside but not dominating. He's 28 years old and has averaged about 61 games over the last three seasons. His injury concerns aren't as grave as Varejao's but it's a potential issue. If they get him Portland's argument will be that Gortat was quite good when playing alongside good players but that Phoenix was too fractured and depended on him too much this season. I'm not entirely convinced.
Any of these four players would upgrade Portland's center position exponentially. The biggest question to ask is, "It is possible?" We're not talking minor maneuvers here. In each case you're prying a starting center from a team that going to value same. You'll have to outbid other teams. No doubt the Blazers would like to pull off such a deal but wanting to and being able to are two different things.
I was wondering if there is anything at all fans can do to prevent the Rose Garden from being re-named? Short of coughing up the money ourselves via bake sale. It may seem silly but this is a big deal to me.
I understand. I'm not a huge fan of the Phillips' Milk of Magnesia Palace either. There's something aesthetically pleasing about the plain, old Rose Garden. But if you've ever been married, had children, or played Japanese Role-Playing Games you'll know that you have to pick your battles.
You probably should be hoping that some company comes along and pays about 20 bajillion dollars for the naming rights for the Rose Garden. The better the books balance in the short-term the more comfortable the franchise can be spending extra dollars towards improving the on-court product. They don't want to go in the red. Anything that brings the break-even point closer is good, even if it's an awkward corporate sponsorship.
That truth holds doubly in the long term. Love him or hate him, Paul Allen's money has kept this team in Portland despite the balances on the ledger. If and when he sells the team you can't expect the new owner to hold that line. Every dollar the Blazers earn is another argument that they can survive here. Naming rights won't be the make-or-break issue. A new arena is the likelier sticking point. But when those arguments start you want the numbers looking as favorable as possible. I don't care if it's the Gummi Bear Fun Time Arena if it gives me more reasons to feel my team can stay in town.
What's your final take on the Sacramento-Seattle non-move?
I think it's crappy that two devoted small-town markets were pitted against each other. Though I still object to the Sonics leaving Seattle in the first place I feel slightly more empathy for Sacramento in this situation because they're a one-sport town. At least our brethren to the north have a couple other franchises to follow. [Insert Mariners jokes here.] But my ultimate solution to the situation remains the same. Moving the Lakers instead of the Kings would raise the average level of NBA basketball in L.A. and Seattle both. Win-Win.
This is kind of a personal question. I've always been interested in the intersection between Blazer's Edge and your job as a minister. You don't mention religion much here but every time you do I'm fascinated. How much do your two, er, callings intersect? Do you find much conflict between the two? If so do you regret not talking about faith more at Blazer's Edge or do you find yourself biting your tongue much? Just curious. I understand if you don't want to answer
Not at all. Though it's more rare than the "Who should Portland draft?" question, you're not the only person to ask. I once had an ESPN producer interested in doing a story on just this subject. If I didn't live so far out in the sticks there's a chance you would have seen your answer on TV already.
I don't talk about faith overtly here because that's not the purpose of this blog. To me, though, faith isn't a separate entity, a possession like motor oil or potpourri. Faith is a process. Faith doesn't replace the other things you do in life, it informs how you pursue the other things you do in life. One of the stupidest, most self-centered things the church has ever done is sit people down in a classroom to teach them about "God stuff" as opposed to the rest of the "ordinary stuff" they do, drawing lines between secular and sacred, holy and unholy, assuming God is only (or even mostly) with them. The side effect has been to contain God and make him a possession of the few instead of witnessing him in a living relationship with many.
To my way of thinking, I don't start out my day doing holy church stuff and end up my day doing secular blog stuff. It's all holy stuff. My faith certainly informs how I do things here, the care I put into the work, the eye I try to have towards the people I work with and cover, the way I ask people to care about and respect each other's opinions. For me, faithfully talking about the Blazers reflects the more general faith. The better and more conscientiously I pursue Blazers coverage the better I'm reflecting what I'm supposed to do. In this sense, changing the topic around here from basketball to overt faith wouldn't be more faithful, but less. Besides, if you can't sense it in what I do anyway, what good would explaining it do? I'd just be explaining something that isn't happening. But if I am doing it well and you sense that, then I don't have to explain it. It's already shown itself.
When I started here I was relatively anonymous. As the site grew that became impossible. I remember the day somebody asked at the site if I was a minister. I was braced for the reaction because we have people of all ages, backgrounds, some of faith and some actively against it. I wondered if there would be a total crap storm. The reaction was summed up by somebody's wonderful comment: "I didn't know that, but now that I think about it, that makes sense." And that was it. I figured at that point I was doing something right.
I find almost no conflict between my jobs save competing for my energy sometimes. The two faiths overlap heavily. At their heart sports are about coming together around a common process that's bigger than any of us. We have little or no control over that process and yet a wealth of data and experience invites us to ponder, debate, explore it together. It's ongoing and there's always something more to learn, even and especially for the leaders in the community. No one person has the final answer but everybody adds a little piece to the puzzle. You live in hope that there's something amazing at the end of the journey (just one more title before I die, please?) but you're never sure. But that endpoint isn't the whole story, just the reason you're on the journey. As you're traveling toward it you get the chance to meet fascinating people, share that common bond, and become more than you were.
Everything I just said describes the way sports works at its best, the way a web community works at its best, and the way a church works at its best. The only difference is the focus.
Not everything works perfectly, of course. In each venue we run into people who want to make the process all about them, their opinions...who want to take the central focus away from the common bond. I've run into my share of trolls in church and online both. This has been a great growth process for me. Sometimes I'll be hearing something at church and think, "This sounds familiar..." Then it'll hit me that the speaker is doing the church equivalent of telling everybody else to shut up because assists per minute prove that Sergio Rodriguez is the greatest point guard ever, end of discussion, anybody who doesn't agree with me is an ignorant fool. I've learned to process such things with a better sense of humor than I used to have. I've also learned to act more decisively for the sake of the people around that speaker, just as I sometimes act decisively for the sake of the community here. That's a huge deal and it's made me a better pastor (though admittedly less popular in some circles).
In each venue you also run into people who sound like they know what they're talking about but actually have no clue. In sports circles that sets you up for a national media job. In churches it sets you up to be a pastor. This is why I often find both annoying, I suppose.
(That's tongue in cheek, but only halfway.)
You also run into people who say, "The Drexler Era was the best and today's guys can't come close" or "Amazing Grace is the only hymn that should ever be sung". It's a natural impulse but following it leads to the same conclusion: OK, we're done I guess. Nothing more to do!
I could go on forever with the parallels, good and bad. It could be its own doctoral thesis probably. Suffice it to say I don't have to conduct myself much differently here than I do at church or vice versa. There are complexities, distinctions, and variations in each place but if we're being reasonably graceful to each other while pursuing a common goal then we're doing good in the world whether or not we put particular labels on it.
When people say, "I can't stand the church!" I tend to agree with them because I can't stand the kind of church they're talking about either. That's why we try not to do church that way. Many intelligent (and even some faithful) people say, "I can't stand internet discourse!" or "I can't stand the media!" I tend to agree with them too because I can't stand the invalidating, self-centered way many places conduct their business. That's why we try not to do the website that way either. In the end good community is good community. Nobody's going to get it perfect, but I take the responsibility quite seriously and strive to do the best I can here, at church, and everywhere I interact with people.
I guess I should admit, though, that these two endeavors of basketball and church won't be separate forever. I'll say without shame that just as some might suspect, this whole thing is a big, extended faith-based recruiting scheme. Once the Blazers become a regular playoff presence again and we have some evidence to back it up I plan to convert all those church folks into being Blazer fans, just as they should be. Some of them may be walking in darkness now. Some of the kids may have even been led astray by the world into being L*ker fans. But a little bit of the Gospel of Lillard and Olshey plus a recounting of the Miracle of the Dallas Comeback ought to straighten them right up.
Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below! Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line if you want me to find your question.