With all the hubbub of signings and trades we haven't been able to keep up with the Mailbag traffic. Here are a few burning questions and soothing answers.
The obvious question to ask is what do you think about the Dorell Wright signing? I like him...
Yup! Me too. He's a good three-point shooting small forward, decent defender...OK all around, really. He's got experience, is paid at the right level, and is both suited and willing to play the position, style, and minutes Portland will ask of him. The only real mark against him was having a down year in Philly last season, but who didn't? He was a good pick-up for the Blazers.
Earl Watson? Really? Has it come to this?
What do you want out of your third-string point guard? Watson is not the scorer he once wasn't, nor has he ever been a defender. But he's got 12 seasons under his belt, impressive assist totals, and he knows enough to have made a fine living in this league despite never being anybody's first option for a point guard. Maybe that craftiness, perseverance, and know-how will rub off on Portland's young guards. He'll also be fine with the ball in his hands for limited minutes. You probably don't want him to become your second-string point guard at this stage of his career, but for what it was this signing was also good.
Last year I was worried about the Blazers getting any production off the bench at all. After this summer I'm worried we'll be too deep! How do you find playing time for all these players? It's a great problem to have IMO!
I'm not sure the problem is all that serious.
You should never compare a normal NBA bench to last year's bench for the Blazers. It was comically bad. Any random group of players will look deeper by comparison. But true depth should not be confused with either untried potential or just having a bunch of mediocre players. Even after their recent moves the Blazers have a long way to go, and need plenty of things to go right, before they're considered "deep". Consider...
Center: The Blazers start Robin Lopez who, even though he started 82 games last season, played only 26 minutes. That was the most responsibility he's had by far. Behind him are second-year man Meyers Leonard who struggled to earn minutes behind an imperfect center last season and second-year man Joel Freeland who's not really a center.
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge is his own depth chart so the Blazers are well-stocked here, but nobody has any idea what Thomas Robinson will do except maybe rebound and Freeland is the third reserve at this position as well.
Small Forward: I'm the last person to depend overly much on Nicolas Batum but he is a legit starter. Dorell Wright is a good back-up. Victor Claver is a good third-stringer. The Blazers are pretty deep here.
Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews starts...no problem there. But C.J. McCollum is untried, Allen Crabbe is an untried second-rounder, and Will Barton needed way more seasoning last time we saw him. There's nobody dependable behind Matthews.
Point Guard: Damian Lillard absorbed more minutes than anybody in the NBA last season. McCollum is his main substitute and is just as untried at point guard as he is at the two. Earl Watson is OK but you don't want to rely on him too much.
The Blazers have real depth at one position. The rest of the roster ranges from unproven to shaky. That's going to be true of any team depending on this many first- and second-year players. Finding minutes won't be as much of a problem as figuring out whether you can trust the players you have with the minutes you have to give them.
I think the story about LaMarcus Aldridge wanting to leave Portland was the most shameful thing. I can understand why national media wouldn't care about hurting the Blazers but how can local media perpetuate such awfulness? Why do they want to tear down the team? What's wrong with media "professionals" today?
I have several questions about media stuff in the inbox. I'll do a separate post on that topic somewhere after Summer League but before pre-season. For now, though, the most interesting part of your question is the assumption that the Aldridge mobility talk hurts the Blazers. Not that I believe there's any intention on the part of the media to wound the franchise. There isn't. But have you considered that the effects of those stories might not be all negative?
Let's say the Blazers knew that they had over-promised and were going to under-deliver this summer. Or if you prefer, let's say they've run a long-term analysis and figured out that an Aldridge-led team is never going to get them where they want to be. Or if you prefer a more salacious version, let's say that Aldridge and management are at odds for whatever reason. Whichever version you take, unless a miracle happens, rebuilding becomes the long-range plan.
How do you sell that plan to your fan base, though? Keep in mind that you said last summer that you were not picking up free agents or making trades to make your team better specifically so you could make a significant splash this year. Fans endured a year of sub-optimal play courtesy of a poorly-constructed team just so they could get to this payoff. And now you tell them the payoff is...[drum roll]...rebuilding. And not just rebuilding, rebuilding by trading away your best player, the only All-Star on the squad, in their minds the best power forward in the league. That's the "big plan" everybody sacrificed for.
I don't know about you, but I'm figuring that the fan base is going to greet that announcement with torches and pitchforks. They're going to drag your name through the mud, burn you in effigy, assault your customer service reps with profane phone calls, and dump their season tickets in droves.
But let's say somewhere along the line the story changes. A national guy or two gets wind that your power forward is "discontented", wants to play for a contender. The local media guy follows up with a quick report about how the All-Star finds your town too "small" and "boring". Now where's the focus? Now who's the enemy?
You make the same incremental, non-needle-moving moves. You walk down the same path to a rebuild. But now when it comes time to trade your star people aren't railing against you, they're saying "good riddance" to the guy who "doesn't want to be here". They rally around his replacements, eager to prove that they can do just fine without him. If talent can't put butts in the seats, maybe provincialism will. Either way, you avoid the angry mob and buy yourself a couple more years to rebuild in relative peace.
I'm not suggesting any of this was orchestrated. I am saying that depending on the team's course, the fallout from the recent Aldridge stories isn't automatically negative. It could have beneficial side-effects from the franchise's point of view. You can't automatically assume awfulness, let alone untruthfulness, just because it's not what you wanted to hear at the moment.
Do you think that with these moves the Blazers have made the best use of their resources and cap space? Do you think that further moves will be made to get another big man on the roster? Do you think the moves the Blazers have made this summer will put them in the playoffs?
1. I do not. They seemed to be building around Aldridge in terms of getting untried or so-so players based on need but they did not do a good enough job to ensure Aldridge would stay. If he departs, the leftovers will not look so good. If they were rebuilding or adding assets, a single asset with greater value would have been preferable. If they were trying to convince LaMarcus they could build a contender, they needed to do a better job.
Let's put it this way. If you had heard that any other team but the Blazers had picked up Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, and Earl Watson would that cause you to upgrade their status or would you just say, "Maybe it's interesting but plenty of other teams did better"? Chances are, if we're being truthful, most of us wouldn't even notice if the Bucks or Sixers had made the moves Portland has this summer.
2. A further trade for a big man would be nice. It'd be interesting to see what resources they could summon to do so.
3. If these moves do put the Blazers in the playoffs, it'll be more because of the vagaries of the middle-Western-conference and less because the Blazers are a clear-cut playoff team.
What are the possibilities of the Blazers signing and trading J.J. Hickson? Maybe for Asik? Can we dream?
Afraid not. I assume people are thinking that the Blazers can do all their other business, then sign Hickson using Bird Rights and go over the cap while trading him for Asik. It doesn't work that way.
Let's talk rough numbers to make the math easier. We'll be off by a couple hundred thousand but the point holds.
J.J. Hickson's cap hold eats around $7.5 million out of Portland's cap space until he's renounced. The Blazers have only $12 million-ish in space total. That leaves them roughly $4.5 million in available space while Hickson remains on the roster.
The combined salary obligation that the Blazers are taking on from Robinson, Lopez, and Wright totals somewhere north of $11.5 million.
Obviously you cannot fit $11.5 million in signing and unbalanced trades into $4.5 million of cap space. The Blazers will have to renounce Hickson, ridding themselves of his cap hold, before they can take on Lopez, Robinson, and Wright.
If they go the other route, signing and trading Hickson before consummating those other deals, then Asik's incoming salary would count against the cap. Asik makes around $8.5 million, leaving the Blazers only $3.5 million of space to take on Lopez, Robinson, and Wright. That won't work either. Wright's signing alone would take up all that space. There's none left to take on the other two.
Note that the Blazers are trading only unsigned second-round picks for Lopez and Robinson. Those picks count as $0 against the cap, which is just what the Pelicans and Rockets want in return...no immediate salary obligation. The Blazers are absorbing $8.5 million in salary while sending out $0. This can't be done if the Blazers are at or over the cap limit as they don't fit the salary-matching rules for over-the-cap trades.
If the Blazers renounce Hickson to clear his cap hold and absorb the three incoming players first they lose his Bird Rights because of the renouncement. They cannot then "unrenounce" him to get his Bird Rights back and sign him to an over-the-cap deal.
Summation: The Blazers can't sign and trade Hickson or keep his rights while still absorbing Lopez, Wright, and Robinson. But if they renounce Hickson to make room for those three they can't then sign and trade him.
Aaaaand now he's gone to Denver. Nevermind.
One thing I have noticed about our FA signings, every one has their contract expiring at the end of the 2014-15 season. Actually, assuming we don't take on any new big contracts after Dorell, we have only 1 person under contract for the 2015-2016 season (Nic). Every one else is either expiring (Robin, Dorell, LA, Wes) or has a team option/qualifying offer as free agent. This would also be the season in which we could extend Dame and Myers without letting them become RFAs. It is hard to believe this is just a coincidence and seems like part of even a bigger plan. Am I reading too much into this, or is there even something bigger coming down the road.
Yup. I don't know if you'd call it "bigger" as much as "the next try".
There's little doubt now that the Blazers' plan contains healthy doses of rebuilding. The only question is when and how they'll admit it, or how long they'll stick to the party line that they're "close" or "on track" and just need one or two players to get where they want to go.
Keep those Mailbag questions coming to the e-mail address below, marked "Mailbag" in the subject line if you please.