Summer weather is hot, and so are the message boards. Dave and Ben have already been cussed, stoned, hung out to dry by some. Others have passionately defended them. Arguments, occasional swearing and no shortage of name calling has led me to the following post, because no matter our opinion, it's always helpful to see why someone else may think something different. Sometimes it's the smallest difference in expectations that makes a large difference in the outcome.
To preface the chart below, there are several points of agreement among most of the commenters I've been reading. The main one? We don't have a clear direction, even after a summer of activity. Some are arguing the Blazers have one and we just aren't aware of it, but let's assume the path is fuzzy at best. The other main point of agreement we all seem to have? The Blazers want to be a contender. Not a one All-Star first round exit team, but a true high seeded contender. It doesn't guarantee a championship, but it does at least put us in the conversation. [And no I cannot subscribe to the rosy idea that this team is a 4 seed as built. There is enough optimism in the chart below to discard that idea right now.]
For the sake of simplicity, I am going to ignore the development of CJ McCollum and Crabbe since I don't believe we will see a Lillard v2. I also am assuming Lopez is a simple stop-gap at center until Leonard is ready. In any case, 2014 is too soon to make a judgment on our rookies.
I then whittled down the important questions I had to the ones that seemed to dictate the long term direction of the team best. Depending on the answer to those questions, I guessed at the result. It's an interesting exercise for anyone to do, and I'm sure everyone will come up with different conclusions. So here is mine. It lends support to Dave's guess that ‘LMA is not in their future plans' is the most likely scenario, but it also holds out hope that if this team develops, the optimists aren't completely nuts.
A. Surround LMA/Lillard with veterans, role players, and move for contention. (Think OKC and Miami model-"winning with a superstar")
B. Trade your now growing asset pool for a third wheel, even if you have to trade the whole pool-I was thinking a Larry Sanders, Greg Monroe, Brook Lopez, etc. Get a really good player from an aging team with cap issues that isn't winning anymore and voila, there is your new core. Or you could steal a player from a cash strapped small market. (Big 3 model- think Indiana with George, Hibbert and West, or Memphis with Gasol, Randolph and Conley). EXCEPTION: If Batum and Lillard are both at an All-Star level, just trade out some of your young talent for some defensive minded veterans and make a run. Three All-Stars and some veterans will make a lot of noise.
C. Let Aldridge walk after his contract runs up. Win some playoff games before he walks. You may even have a replacement for him already on the team. Pick up a FA when he leaves with the cap space (shoot for the stars for someone like Kevin Love. Both Marc Gasol's and Brook Lopez' contracts are also up that year. Just go big.). I don't see Aldridge walking if the team is this good, however.
D. This is where it gets tricky. You have a good core, but LMA wants out in a bad way. Since the depth is poor because the youngsters also failed to develop, I say trade LMA midseason for young assets and draft picks. It resets the rebuild, but doesn't blow up the team completely. You still have some star power, but you are in need of depth and more potential.
E. Salary dump time. If LMA leaves, what are you left with? Neither Lillard or Batum has taken a significant step, LMA isn't going to be pleased. Both Batum and LMA will net 1st round picks and young players, and Matthews could probably return someone of consequence as well. Begin the youth movement and see what happens. This is the worst possible scenario. It means we saw the ceiling of our potential All-Stars last year and we no longer have the potential to pair Aldridge with the necessary tools to win.
So what do you think? Both the optimists and the pessimists can seem reasonable at times-- it's just a matter of your expectations. And while Dave's prediction might seem negative at times, based on our current knowledge it's also the most likely. However, the world is not ending yet, so happy days on the message boards and bring on the 13-14 season!!