Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Coaching Changes, Trading Down, Superstars, RFA's, and the Draft

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Blazer's Edge readers ask about coaching changes, trading down for more picks, why people like this draft, going after restricted free agents, expanding the draft process, and more!

Mailbags are fun!

Dave,

Should the Blazers fire Terry Stotts and replace him with Lionel Hollins or George Karl?

Adam

I didn't expect Hollins to come available for another couple years, so I'm not prepared for this question! Then again, neither are the Blazers.

Let's get Karl out of the way first. I don't think at this point in his career he's going to want a rebuilding job. Plus Portland has a new General Manager who probably won't be interested in sharing power, meaning Karl would be expected to just coach without sticking his fingers in the personnel pie. That's not appealing, if nothing else because he's too old for that stuff. So count him out.

When considering a guy like Hollins, whom I've thought could become a Blazers coach before, I want to ask these questions:

1. Bring him in to coach what, exactly? If you don't have enough talent coaching won't matter much. The Blazers don't yet have enough to justify a coaching change.

2. Do the players fit his system and strengths? I'd say somewhat yes, but again the holes in the roster prevent us from answering the question completely at this point.

3. What's the ancillary cost? These moves don't happen in a vacuum. And in this case the cost would be high.

Hollins would be Portland's third coach in the last 15 months. That's not even counting Kaleb Canales' tenure as interim head coach, which would make it fourth. This is in addition to the famous GM carousel. At what point do the players--and all the rest of us--say, "Enough"? Whiplash is a bad organizational trait. How do you explain to LaMarcus Aldridge why he's learning yet another system? How do you tell Damian Lillard you're removing the guy who help him to Rookie of the Year honors? How do you throw more instability towards a crew that's still struggling to get stable? That chaos would undermine Hollins' efforts no matter how good they are. What's more, can you guarantee that he's the right fit and that you wouldn't be doing this again in another year or two? At that point you're Clippers North, and not in a good way.

The better question here is whether Coach Stotts did a good enough job to merit further consideration. If the answer is yes (and I think it is) then pulling the rug out from under him isn't going to serve anyone. Even if your prospective new coach would be right, the timing and effect would be all wrong.

Dave,

What do you think about the Blazers trading down with Atlanta for the number 17 and 18 picks?

Daniel

This is a good draft to trade down, the talent curve remaining fairly flat throughout the mid-first-round picks. The Blazers need bodies. It makes some sense.

The Blazers also need contributors. That's an issue even at #10. Adding two iffy young guys instead of one doesn't address the problem.

The better solution is asking Atlanta to absorb Joel Freeland's contract in addition to the #10 pick. That would clear $3 million in extra cap space in July to sign or trade for known players. The Hawks probably wouldn't give up both 17 and 18 for a package of 10 and Freeland, but you could maybe convince them to trade one of those picks.

Dave,

I know the odds of us getting Nerlens Noel are astronomical. I am okay with that.

What I don't get is all of the press.

The kid is 206 lbs. 206 lbs. Not sure if you saw that but.... 206 lbs. He is a center. Another news flash is he has a torn acl. Wont be ready to play an NBA game till what... November?

When he recovers from this ACL tear, will he be able to put on weight? Would it be safe to have him put on weight after a knee issue like that? GO say's no.

What are your thoughts?

Jeff

Chris Rock did a classic routine called "No Sex in the Champagne Room". [NSFBE and not quite safe for gender relations class either, obviously.] The basic premise: no matter how privileged you feel getting invited into the V.I.P. part of the strip club, no matter how tantalizing it seems from the outside, no matter how many drinks you buy and how many girls you look at, there will be no sex happening. It's carefully-packaged build up without the big payoff.

People need to be humming that little phrase all throughout the 2013 draft. Picks will look exclusive. Players will parade. Money will be spent. Team officials will talk gamely about excitement at hitting their targets. But at the end of the night no General Manager will be walking home arm in arm with a franchise-transforming superstar.

Nerlens Noel is a good player. He'll be a nice piece of somebody's puzzle. But even at #1, there's still no sex in the Champagne Room.

It'll be important to remember that. Every year as the draft approaches people start falling in love with the process instead of the product. Draft picks are worthless and drafting a useless endeavor apart from the talent of the players involved. If you get a player who'll help you've succeeded whether the pick number read 9, 19, or 49. If you didn't, it doesn't matter even if your pick was the first overall. You have to fall in love with who you can get, not the act of picking itself. If you can't fall in love with that player you either need to move around until you find a relationship you're comfortable with or just get out.

Dave,

If you were playing GM for the blazers, would you repeat last year's idea/failure by going after restrictive agent Nikola Pekovic, by offering him a max contract? He is a legit 7 footer who takes up space in the middle and eats rebounds for breakfast, but is surprisingly mobile. We haven't brought him up yet, for obvious reasons because of last years attempt at Hibbert, and this be swinging for the fences once again. The Wolves big 3 (Pekovic, Love, and Rubio) all will demand a large salary in the coming years. Also, Andrei Kirilenko has a player option of $10.2 million.

Colby

That depends on a couple things:

1. Timing.

2. How many other center targets I had.

3. What else I was spending money on.

If, for instance, I drafted C.J. McCollum as a wing bench player, was comfortable with that, and had my remaining space to blow on a center, then yeah...making a max run at a RFA like Pekovic could make sense. But if I was looking at multiple free agents and had several center targets, throwing all my eggs in that basket wouldn't add up.

Pekovic would be an interesting fit but he's neither the best nor only fit. Plus I suspect Minnesota matches no matter what. Therefore I'd pass on the privilege of bidding for his services.

Dave,

Do you think we are placing to much emphasis on a starting veteran Center? They are expensive and there really aren't that many great centers... I think we just need TALENT! Why not trade Wes Mathews, Joel Freeland, all three 2nd round picks (or convert all three 2nd rounders into a late 1st) cash and/or rights to Kostas Papanikolaou to Indiana Pacers for Danny Granger? Go after Tyreke Evans, Jermaine O'neal and Elton Brand in free agency

Denny

There are many ways to fill the center gap. The veteran center option is the most sure, which is why it receives the most attention. But you've pointed out the possibility of filling in with a couple of cheaper, older guys for a while (O'Neal and Brand). Others favor going for a draftee and waiting a couple years. Those are more risky but less expensive options.

The point of "less expensive", as you say, is to spend that money elsewhere. The problem with Danny Granger is his $14 million contract and his recent injuries. Even trading away the $10+ million you suggest in Matthews and Freeland (and by the way, that package probably isn't enough to get Granger) the Blazers would lose cap space in the deal. There's no way they'd be able to sign all the players you named with their remaining room. Plus Granger is on a one-year deal, bumps Nicolas Batum out of the small forward position, and doesn't improve a defense which you also haven't improved by upgrading your center position.hough the specific suggestion doesn't work that well, your general theory is sound. If the Blazers can't swing a deal for a proven starting center, or at least a cheap facsimile, acquiring talent at other positions is a legit strategy.

Dave,

After considering the NBA draft for awhile I think that the NBA should look at some of the rules that MLB has implemented.

1. MLB allows prospects to jump straight from high school, but if they choose to go to school they have to wait until their junior year or until they are 21. Why doesn't the NBA look at this kind of scheme? If the NBA thinks that they are protecting high schoolers, it doesn't seem necessary. 28 out of 39 players drafted from 1995-2005 are still in the league right now, a rate I'm willing to guess is higher than the overall rate from the NBA draft in that era. Players like Andrew Wiggins or Nerlens Noel don't have to spend a year risking injury to be somewhere they will just leave in a year. Harrison Barnes lost money from getting picked later, his game was apparently much more applicable for the NBA, but his poor play in college dropped him down a few slots. This would also help stability in NCAA basketball, there would actually be names that people would remember beyond a year. Part of my problem right now with college basketball is it is hard to get invested in paying attention because I expect the best players to jump ship immediately. I don't see how the current one and done policy is superior to this sort of format.

2. Increase the number of rounds in the draft. MLB has an absurd number, but for the NBA it could just move up to four or five rounds. My main thinking here is if NBA teams are serious about getting a farm system started up they actually need some players to put on their D-League teams. Obviously once you start getting that far out into the talent pool things dry up a little bit, but I think fans would still be interested enough to see if those players could develop. After a few years the D-League teams would be full of players that both teams and fans would be invested in, and more players would get an opportunity as well.

Chris

Lots of good stuff here.

I think the current one-year college rule is silly...the kind of compromise solution that attempts to tie several threads together and end up resolving none of them.

If the goal is to help the college game, I'm not convinced it's working. We've created a two-tier system of players who actually want to play college ball and players who are stopping by for a year before bouncing to the NBA. Those higher-profile names do add some zip to the marquee but in the long run the draw of college basketball is the team. It's about the tournament, legacies, coaching systems, and uniform colors more than the big star. Who outside of Louisiana really remembers that Shaq went to LSU? How often is Michael Jordan's North Carolina tenure feted compared to his Bulls career? (And he won a championship there!) Is the perceived level of play really that much higher, are these programs that much richer, because of the one-and-done players populating the landscape? If anything, I perceive the reverse happening. The NCAA is better off playing to its program-oriented strengths than serving as a pit stop for NBA hopefuls.

If the goal is to help the kids, I'm not sure they're getting that either. They're recruited, pampered, made de facto stars of their schools when everybody knows they're not going to be there longer than a single season. How much is this really altering the course of their lives or changing their habits? The well-grounded kids will get something from it, but then those kids probably would have been well-grounded in the NBA as well. Guys headed for disaster aren't going to alter that trajectory because of a brief layover during which the school's aim is to keep them happy and producing on the court.

If the goal is to help the game, I don't see young guys that much more prepared with fundamentals than they used to be. Some are, some aren't. That's the way it'll always be. Teams still make potential-based draft selections. Some hit the jackpot, others are disappointed. A year in college isn't changing any of these things.

This "neither fish nor fowl" solution doesn't help. You either need to set a minimum age limit (assuming players will spend the intervening time working on their craft in college) or just lift the restrictions and let the chips fall where they may. Since the former will never happen, I'm in favor of the latter. You'll always get some major failure stories when 18-year-olds are drafted but those are going to happen anyway. The guys who can make it that early should be allowed to while everyone else learns from the folks who didn't succeed.

As far as more rounds, the limited number of spots on an NBA roster speaks against that. Teams who draft players own the rights to them, meaning those players can't seek employment with other organizations. Football rosters are four times the size of basketball rosters. Baseball teams have 25 guys in the majors and at least three levels organized, team-affiliated ball below that. Under those circumstances drafting 7 rounds (NFL) or 40 rounds (MLB) makes sense.

An NBA team has 15 roster spots, period. Most of those are filled by veterans. If you draft 7 guys you're going to cut 5-6 of them each year. You'd be keeping all those players from seeking employment with other teams while you were waiting to cut them. That's not good for the players, the player's union, or even the teams. Why would teams want to draft 5 guys in the 3rd-7th rounds when they can just claim the top 2, then pick and choose from the entire pool of guys who otherwise would have been lower-round picks? If I want to bring in Shecky Gruberman for a tryout why should I have to wait until Atlanta cuts him just because they drafted him in the 6th round?

One thing that Major League Baseball has that the NBA doesn't is an incredibly developed minor league system. It'd be easier to stomach 18-year-olds declaring for the draft if you knew the guys who weren't ready had a legit place to play with a salary and structure safety net. The D-League isn't bad but it doesn't perform that function. Your instinct to build it up is probably a good one.

If and when the D-League gets stronger, aligned on a one-to-one basis with NBA teams, focused on teaching and developing players, you might be able to consider adding more rounds to the draft. But you have to set up the system first, then draft the players. Otherwise you're just pouring people into the system for no purpose. That's not good for anybody.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to the address below!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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