Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge Timing, and Game-Changers

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Is Wesley Matthews a starter? Has LaMarcus Aldridge's time come? Should the parameters of the NBA game be changed? And what happened to all of Portland's sweet bench players? Answers to all this and more in today's edition of the Mailbag.

Welcome to the latest edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag!

Dave,

We need a ruling. Is Wes Matthews a quality starting wing in this league or not? I see him as at best a serviceable sixth man. In my opinion bringing in a scoring combo guard to compete with him makes sense.

Shane

Wesley Matthews is a prime example of a complementary player in the New NBA. He shoots from distance and defends, stretching the floor on one end and making it smaller on the other. If you look at the sheer number of shooting guards who fit this description nowadays you're going to find Matthews is more archetype than outcast. The days of Jordan, Drexler, and Richmond are far behind us now. When your star plays point guard or one of the forward positions, this is what you want your starting two to do.

The problem is, Matthews is a complementary player without enough teammates to complement. If and when the Blazers get a decent defensive center he's going to look better than he does now. Without a backstop his talent is wasted. He already looks plenty good as an outlet for the three. Upgrades and time to gel will make that skill even more valuable.

Is Matthews a quality starter in this league? Yes, in the right situation. Does Matthews have the right combination of skills and talent to start for the Blazers if and when they get better? That depends on his teammates. With a center and a shot-creator coming off the bench, sure. He'll be fine. Maybe more than fine. If the Blazers need a star, or even just more of an attack off the dribble, he won't be the ideal fit.

Dave,

The options you have been presenting seem to reflect that you will be surprised if the front office can pull off major moves to turn this team into a true top contender and I agree. With that said, how much do you see the perceived top heavy 2014 draft weighing on the front office?

I almost can see them giving serious consideration to trading LA for 2-3 smaller/younger pieces and/or higher draft pick this year, having a bad 13/14 year and hope to get lucky in the 2014 draft and hoping to find that #1.

Matt

It's going to be hard for the Blazers to pull off a franchise-changing series of moves this summer. You can't say it's impossible without knowing what's out there, but it's pretty clear that some unlikely circumstances will need to materialize if the Blazers are to leap into contention.

Nevertheless, why would you want to accept less-than-sterling assets this year and throw your fate to luck next year in order to move LaMarcus Aldridge? Sure, you could get draft picks for him...maybe more and/or higher than you could in any other year. But what could you get with those picks? All of the top guys in this draft come with serious questions attached. If you trade for next year's picks--a more jealously-guarded commodity--how do you know how high they'll be, especially since the team you're trading with is going to get better now that Aldridge is there? GM's who leave their fates to chance don't succeed.

Other than intentionally sabotaging the roster to possibly improve your own pick status next year--a suggestion which would probably get Neil Olshey fired, would inflame the fan base, and would further ensconce the franchise in a culture of losing--you gain nothing from moving now. It's better to take your chances trying to improve this summer and then move Aldridge next year if necessary when you know what you're getting in return for him...no luck required.

I'm not opposed to dealing Aldridge. I'm just opposed to dealing Aldridge at the wrong time for the wrong (or at least indeterminate) return.

Dave,

Much of the talk regarding using our 2013 Lottery pick surrounds an athletic 2 guard but given the options available do you think those players are better than Will Barton? Certainly the Blazers need as much talent and depth as possible but what are your thoughts?

Rudy

Most veteran wings we've discussed so far are better than Barton. It's harder to judge the guards and forwards in the draft crop. Many of those guys come with a better developed game than Barton showed last year. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll end up as better players. But certainly if you're drafting a wing in the lottery you expect him to give you more than Barton gave the Blazers last year. If C.J. McCollum or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played and performed as little as Barton did in 2012-13 they'd be considered busts.

Then again, Barton was a second-round pick. He's a value-added player, not a key part of the foundation. Everybody knew that going in. By those standards he's doing well.

The safest way to factor in Barton right now is to assume that he's not going to make any impact other than the occasional highlight-reel dunk, then give him a chance to work upwards from there. If he plays his way into a regular spot both you and he are ahead of the game. If not, you didn't lose anything. Making plans around Barton, assuming that he's going to be X or Y and passing on opportunities because of that assumption, would be a mistake. If you see a wing that you think can help the team you have to get him whether or not Barton is on your team.

Dave,

I have a couple of questions regarding who the Trailblazers should try to pick up during the off-season. First off, what is your opinion of the Blazers trying to get Paul Pierce or somebody like him to join the roster? I keep reading articles that are saying that Paul Pierce might have played his last game as a Boston Celtic and that he will most likely be bought out of his current contract with the Celtics for $5 Million, and will probably be playing for a competitor next season. If the Blazers were to try to get Pierce, how much would they have to pay him for him to come and play for them, and who would they have to give up to get him? If the Blazers can't get Paul Pierce for whatever reason, who would be a good alternative to look for/at?

Brian

The operative question in this kind of scenario is why a given player would come to Portland instead of going elsewhere. The Blazers can't overpay this kind of player because they need more help than a single grizzled veteran can provide. The money's not going to be any better here than anywhere else. The team's not in contention or even close. Good teams with mid-level exceptions could probably sell a player like Pierce on joining them far more easily than the Blazers could.

That said, if anybody gets amnestied this summer the Blazers should be examining their options. Money is not an issue in such cases as the player's getting paid by their old team. In this case the promise of playing time could trump the promise of contention for some players.

One non-amnesty option the Blazers might purse is Elton Brand. He won't play for the same $2 million he signed for last year (as an amnestied player) but you might be able to pick him up as a reasonably cheap reserve PF/C if you can't get a premier free agent.

Honestly, though, in this kind of situation it would be better for the Blazers to be over the cap and using that mid-level exception than it will be for them to be under the cap and using non-replaceable cap space. Spending $4-5 million on Pierce or Brand this summer means you're not spending it on other players. If you wait until next year and use that exception you can have your cake (in the form of this year's free agent signings) and eat it too (via the cap exception).

Dave,

Remembering the almost championship team of 99-00, 2 of my favorite guys were Greg Anthony and Brian Grant. They weren't the prolific scorers or best athletes at their positions, but they provided hustle and defense and talent . I loved seeing them come in the game. Are there any guys that compare in the free agency pool? Our core was pretty stacked last year and could have carried the team further with bench help...any bench help...at all. What are your thoughts?

Aaron - Lonely Blazer fan in Siberia

Shout out to all of our international readers, several of whom are sending in questions.

Sure, there are guys like that around. The Blazers have one in the making in Wesley Matthews. You can also look at Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, Jeff Pendergraph, Chauncey Billups, and Tiago Splitter for different variants.

People forget that Brian Grant was something of a star when he came to Portland and gradually morphed into a role-player. The Blazers could afford to pay that kind of player but not to come off the bench. They'd need to sign early Grant, not later Grant.

This is why most of the talk this summer revolves around starting centers. Except most of the centers available aren't up to Grant's quality specs when he came to Portland. Thus the Catch-22. The Blazers mustn't pay a ton of money to a guy who won't fulfill most of their needs but guys who fulfill most of their needs are too expensive or not available. The people they can afford they shouldn't pay. People they should pay they can't afford.

But all is not lost. Analogous to the veteran ex-star move above, you'll probably have to wait a year or two to see the Blazers spend money on exciting, gritty bench players. First of all they have to determine if they even need them, which means shoring up the center spot and proving that acquiring upper-tier bench guys will make a difference. Then they have to find one of those sweet bench players for the right price or the right trade.

Dave,

I'm disappointed all the talk of "improving" the NBA game seems to have disappeared and we are stuck with the status quo. It's my opinion NBA players are some of the greatest athletes on the planet and basketball is a game in which multiple skills can be demonstrated. The problem is these fantastic athletes are playing on high school sized courts. The professional courts should be longer, wider, have higher rims and larger keys, and longer free throw and 3 point lines. If the NBA is afraid all this will reduce offensive statistics, simply slightly increase the circumference of the rim. The key is a larger court will show off the athleticism of the players in so many ways and increase the advantage of skills over height to some degree. What do you think?

Jerry

Truehoop is still carrying the banner for league improvement so the talk hasn't all gone away. Maybe I'm ignorant, but I'm suspicious about the efficacy of such measures. We saw beautiful basketball in the 70's, 80's, and 90's before the Pistons, Knicks, Heat, and Rockets ground the game to a halt. The 2000's hand-checking rules opened up the game more. It's more fluid now than it was during the iso-thug heyday. It's not perfect but I don't think more extensive and specific regulation can make it so. The refs seem no fairer now than they used to be, the league office decisions no less debatable. The game still gets slowed by foul reviews and timeouts. The huge change this year was anti-flopping penalties and yet I turn on the radio after an Eastern Conference Finals game and all anybody's talking about is how much players flop. I preferred the days when players worked out most things naturally. When regulation does come I like it to be obvious and as judgment-free as possible. "Can't hand-check beyond this line" and "Can't leave the bench in an altercation" work. A weird fine system after the game if the league office decides you flopped, not so much.

Raising the rim isn't a great idea. These guys already get up high enough and pound their knees coming down. Plus their shooting stroke would suffer. The only way to do it would be gradually, starting at low levels of play, getting an entire new generation used to shooting at an 11-foot rim, then moving it up when that generation got to professional age. But kids already learn bad shooting mechanics while firing at a 10-foot hoop. Besides there's international play, not to mention six hundred billion playgrounds around the country to think of.

I'm not sure a longer court would do anything but disadvantage bigger and older players and put more miles on legs.

Longer free throws would penalize fouling less, likely not what you'd want to see.

The one change you've suggested that I could see would be widening the court. The space between the three-point arc and the sideline seems too small, especially when you're trying to run last-second shots. It's too easy to defend the corner three or to step out of bounds before you've even received the ball. A few more feet of cushion over there would make that area more than just a bail-out shot option. Players having to defend more often in the corners would also open up the middle, leading to better and prettier inside looks.

I suspect the main objection to doing this would be losing two rows of ultra-expensive seats in each arena as the sidelines moved out. A row of floor-level seats can generate tens of thousands of dollars per home game, so it's not a trivial concern.

Keep sending your Mailbag questions to the address below. Please put Mailbag in the subject line or I might not find your question when I sort.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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