Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Improving Meyers, Defense, Trading the Core, Omer Asik

USA TODAY Sports

Blazer's Edge readers ask about making Meyers Leonard fully functional, Terry Stotts' commitment to defense, whether some of Portland's Core Four might be up for trade consideration, and more!

Dave,

Joel Przybilla seemed to improve tremendously as a defensive player after a summer of boxing training. (I only know this from some newspaper article years ago.) Since foot movement and balance is so important for big guys, I'm wondering if Myers Leonard would also benefit in some significant ways from similar training. Do you agree or not?

Jerry

Before we talk about this, let me take a second to acknowledge Jerry. Blazer's Edge covers a wide area and each section has its own stalwart heroes. Some folks are Fanpost kings, others Junk Drawer stars. Some live in the comment section while others rule the Jersey Contest. Jerry is Mr. Mailbag, an unheralded but important position.

I started the Mailbag way back when because a dozen or so people had asked questions that I could make posts out of. The Mailbag was a quick way to cover them all. But other than those original dozen questions, I had no backlog. I invited people to join in with more questions but I didn't know if the feature would go anywhere.

Then came Jerry.

Jerry started asking questions early and often, keeping the Mailbag well-stocked. Then over the years he found the knack of asking different questions than most and asking them in a clear, concise manner that made them easy to respond to. Now we're years on and I couldn't keep up with the Mailbag questions if I tried, but Jerry's still here and still getting his questions answered.

I enjoy these Mailbags more than anything else I do here. You have no idea how much easier it is to thumb through 100 questions to answer than it was in the early years when I had to fill the off-season with 130 self-created posts. If you enjoy the Mailbag too, take a moment to give thanks to Jerry and all the people like him who send in great questions.

As far as this one, my friend, I'm not sure we know what Meyers Leonard needs yet. He has so many areas to develop. Boxing, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, or tap and ballet...I don't care what he does as long as he does something. The first battlefield for any developing player is between the ears. As long as Meyers Leonard realizes he has things to work on and puts in the determined effort over the summer he'll be fine even if his game isn't a work of art entering his second season. If we see he's made significant strides in even 1 or 2 areas next fall then we can assume that over the years he'll develop the rest...at least enough for him to play in this league. If he shows up in September saying, "Well, OK...guess it's time to get working on something" then you can throw up your hands and start covertly picking up the Batphone and dialing other GM's.

For those worried about Meyers I'll say again: he's going to be a good offensive player in this league. One, solid go-to move will anchor his offense and provide a base to support all of those other nifty shots he's already putting up. He should be able to make a modest living in the NBA even getting that far. The big questions will be whether his defense and rebounding will develop enough to justify his minutes on the floor. If they do, he will make a really good living for a long time. He could easily be playing at 35 if he learns a few things. The question: is he self-aware enough to realize that and dedicated enough to follow through?

Dave,

It seems like back when the Blazers had their runs in the Drexler era, there were a bunch of bench guys who could really play, and often multiple positions. I'm thinking of Bryant, Robinson, Ainge, Young, etc. Maybe my memory's faulty, but it seemed like most of at least the playoff teams routinely had several guys like that, where the bench just didn't fall off that much. It seems like, looking around at the league now, that's not so true. Sure there are individual guys who stand out as strong bench players, but in general benches seem weaker to me.

Do you agree? If so, how do you account for it?

Shawn

We have to adjust the impression a little. Danny Ainge and Cliff Robinson were multi-faceted, multi-position players. Mark Bryant was a power forward and Danny Young was a point guard. They don't belong in the same category. Also keep in mind that the Blazers had those players because the Blazers were making a championship run. Had the Blazers been in the shape they are now in 1991 they wouldn't have been trading for Ainge and both he and Robinson would have been starting, not playing off the bench.

I think you can find analogies around the league today. Jason Terry in Boston, Andre Blatche in Brooklyn, Vince Carter in Dallas, Wilson Chandler and Andre Miller in Denver, Jarrett Jack in Golden State, Danny Granger in Indiana, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford in L.A., Shane Battier and Ray Allen in Miami, J.J. Redick in Milwaukee, J.R. Smith and Marcus Camby in New York, Kevin Martin in OKC, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw in San Antonio all come to mind. They're talented, many of them wise veterans, many of them capable of filling multiple holes.

The combination of expansion and concentration of talent in a few super-teams has contributed to the impression of a thinner league. Then again, I remember the Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Lakers looking pretty stacked when the Blazers came up against them in the Drexler years. Less memorably the Blazers also played some horrible teams. Who recalls the Clippers or Timberwolves back in those days? The league looked pretty thin on those nights too.

There do seem to be plenty of teams now with a single 18 ppg scorer and a bunch of guys who don't clear 13 but I'm not sure if that's accurate or just my own impression.

As far as the multi-position thing, the league has become less position-dependent in the last few years. Everybody becomes a multi-position guy in an era when half the centers are power forwards. Who knows what a shooting guard is nowadays? In today's league you have a point guard and then mix and match everybody else. Plus centers are far more mobile, wings shoot farther outside, and nobody's playing iso ball anymore. Houston's Olajuwon-Barkley-Pippen offense would be an anachronism. I'm not sure it's possible to compare the two eras when the positions the players are filling don't function the same. I suspect that if you transported the athletic players from today's era back to the '90's they'd lack some fundamental skill but they'd be considered more multi-positional than most of the players in that era.

Dave,

You've written a lot in your mail bag segments about what types of players the Blazers need to get in order to improve. However, it seems to me you're falling into the quagmire that the Blazers have stumbled into for decades: trying to go for that badly needed piece of the puzzle instead of drafting the BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE. Why isn't this your mantra consistently??

Gary

You're conflating two separate questions: what this team needs and what they're going to be able to get.

When discussing needs you have a center, a wing, a few other possibilities, and you have a list of available folks who might fill those positions. That's one question, one discussion. Fin.

But when asked who the Blazers should actually acquire or whether they need a center or shooting guard more, my answer has been the same in all venues since the season ended. The Blazers need assets, talent, period. If the most talented player they can get their hands on is a small forward or point guard, so be it. Get that guy and look to make trades later. The Blazers are so thin with so many needs that they can't afford to be choosy.

The answer you get depends on the question you ask. If you ask me which centers are available I'm not going to list J.J. Redick even though he might be a fine target by BPA standards.

Dave,

I'm a strong believer of defense being the key to success. Look at how Indiana and Memphis were built and how those teams are able to quiet the superstars without any "Lebron" of their own. When it comes to Coach Stotts, do you really buy his comments about commitment to defense? This past season, our defense wasn't bad, it was atrocious...even on the perimeter. And that also goes for the starters who I expected a lot more out of defensively. So regardless of player acquisitions, do you believe Stotts is serious about defense? Can he ever push LA into actually guarding the paint? Can he properly utilize Wes and Nic's defensive talents?

Jon

We have no way of knowing the answer to this based on this year's data set. Here's what we do know:

1. Stotts was not a great defensive coach at his other stops.

2. Stotts was dealt a lousy defensive hand this year.

3. If the Blazers have their way he'll be tested and required to make a newly-reconstructed team defensively competent next year.

If the defensive performance doesn't improve--whether because he's not serious about it or not capable or even if they just don't get him the right players--it'll be his downfall. The Blazers will then begin to sniff and see if, say, Memphis is tired of Lionel Hollins after being bridesmaids for years but never brides. If Stotts can't get this team to play defense the front office won't wait around. Portland's next coach will be experienced, defensive-minded, and unlike Stotts will be expected to take the helm of an experienced, fully-formed team.

Hey Dave,

I got a couple questions that I have been arguing about with people on basketball forums, and wanted to get your opinion. Do you think in this offseason, we should trade Nic Batum AT ALL, whether to get a centre or another wing. I think his play in the first half of the season was unreal, he was the second best SF in the west, candidate for MIP, a 5x5, two triple doubles in three games, but post injury, not so great. Do you think we should trade him, or keep him and hope he improves upon his great opening to the season. Second question, Lamarcus Aldridge. He's my favourite player so I'm biased, but I don't think there's any situation in which we should trade him. What about you? And finally, If the rockets pursue Dwight Howard, should we offer our 10th pick and maybe a couple 2nd rounder or bench players for Asik and a rotation player?

Karan

Wait...there are basketball forums other than this one???

Taking your questions in order:

Nicolas Batum may have been the second best small forward in the West for a couple months this season but look how many qualifiers you have to put on that sentence to get him to look distinguished. I count four: second best, small forward, West, for a couple months. The Blazers shouldn't dismiss what Batum has accomplished, nor will they. If anything they seem to over-value him. But if you have a chance to trade him for a guy who's (ahem) less "qualified" you do have to consider it. How many players in the league are better than the second best small forward in the West for a couple months? That's your pool of potential trade partners. You have no reason to give up on him but you can't afford to make him untouchable either.

LaMarcus Aldridge, on the other hand, is as close to untouchable as you get on this roster. The scenarios in which trading him this summer makes sense are far fewer and all improbable. Theoretically the Blazers should be listening to ALL offers that come their way but practically speaking you don't have to worry about Aldridge moving until next year. If he's traded before then either something went gloriously right or tragically wrong.

Yes on the Asik deal. When his name came up among several centers last year I said he'd be the most likely of the crop to help the Blazers but also speculated that he wouldn't make enough of a difference to justify his cost. Clearly I underestimated him. You also have to consider Portland's situation. Last year they were able to preserve cap space. The question was, "Could you potentially do better than Asik either this summer, mid-season, or next year?" The answer was a probable yes. Now the clock is expiring and nobody better has come along. The Blazers have to chug their beer, put on those closing-time goggles, and make their move. Are you going to get anybody better than Asik with the 10th pick and some cap space you can't save? Unless that better offer comes up right now the answer is no.

Then again that's not just true of Asik but of any center Dwight Howard might displace if he leaves the Lakers. That's why I said yesterday that the Blazers would circle his movement like a seagull circling a crab-digger on the beach. Wherever he stops, they're going to see if they can pick up the remains by facilitating the signing, taking the excess center off of Howard's new team's hands.

The questions keep rolling in. If you want to submit yours, write to the e-mail address below and put "Mailbag" in the subject line.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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