There has been quite a wide spectrum of opinions about the Blazers and their recent off-season moves. Even though most of us who visit this forum seem to want the same thing (a legitimate contender) for "our team", sometimes the line gets blurred between myopic fanatic support and relentless unreasonable skepticism. The purpose of this post is to provide a solid glass-half-full argument that the Blazers are a spectacularly improved and competitive Western Conference playoff team. I will support said argument with both empirical data and reasonable deductions and I will simultaneously squash the petty and unreasonable glass-half-empty claims to the contrary.
The Blazers need to trade LMA for "assets" and/or cap flexibility and/or draft picks. The Blazers did not get a top tier player and will therefore not make the playoffs. The Blazers' current roster cannot compete with Western Conference playoff contenders. If any other team had our off-season, nobody would care therefore we did not have an extraordinary off-season....These are many of the arguments that the skeptics make. I think they like it because if their pessimistic - or as they often put it..."realistic" - predictions are wrong, then their team will be successful and deep down they can be happy but if they are right, well then they can say they were right. So....I've got some good news for them - they're wrong on all counts. False, false, false and false.
Bottom line: the Blazer starters can play with anyone. Most of you would agree that pts/reb/asst/stl/blk are the primary stat categories that are most relevant. If you were to take the average of all of those categories last season and assign them to the starters of each "contender" in the Western Conference and compare them ALL to the Portland Trail Blazers' starters, who do you think would have the best numbers? Yes....the Blazers. That includes OKC, SAS, LAC, MEM and GSW. I realize that does not automatically equate to a WCF victory and that it is not time just yet to pop the champagne bottles but it is certainly slightly relevant...and it further exposes the Blazers' weakness: the bench.
Now, if you were the GM and were equipped with the aforementioned knowledge, would you go out and trade your best starter? Probably not. Would you trade any of your starters? Probably not. You would address your weakness which is the bench....and that is exactly what NO did. Moreover, he crafted almost all of the contracts in a way that expire in a short period of time that...oh, ehemmm....just happen to correspond with the time that the team's ROY's contract is up for renewal. NO also made an adjustment at Center which resulted in a taller and similarly priced player.
Nearly every player on the current Blazer roster has a short term contract or one that expires soon. That = cap flexibility. Also, we have a very unique combination of young but experienced players (i.e. Batum, Wes, Lopez, LMA). Moreover, we currently have two top 5 overall picks, two additional top 10 overall picks and two more top 15 overall picks on the team. Can we agree that there are plenty of "picks" on the current roster and that there is no urgent need to trade for more picks (especially our best player)?
And what about that top tier player? Hmmm....like who? LeBron, KD, Howard, Kobe and the like are not coming here so, who??? Honestly, there weren't that many players in this year's FA class worthy of their contracts. In fact, the Blazers have many players who compare quite nicely to their OVERPAID counterparts. Trading or overpaying for a slight upgrade at any current starting position is not wise and the Blazers certainly do not need to do so to be competitive.
I actually really like the notion that nobody would care if any other team made our moves over the off-season but, despite my appreciation for this concept, I don't think that it is true. I think that if the Knicks, Lakers, Bulls or Heat landed the 6th overall pick this year and then traded relative scraps for the 5th overall pick last year and a fairly solid 7-foot center and then signed a veteran SF who is 6-9 and who can play in addition to completing the rest of the draft in a way that got the attention of the national media...all with remaining cap space and flexible contracts...that there would be some attention given to those teams.
In sum, statistics show that the Blazers' starters should be very competitive in the West. Moreover, there is no evidence that trading LMA would bring equal or better value. The Blazer bench has been much improved. Most of the team's contract obligations are short-term and are thereby flexible. Finally, our off-season moves would probably attract more attention in a larger market but - even if under the radar - they gave the team exactly what they needed: bench replenishment not "superstar" overpayment.
With all of that said, I submit that there should be more discussions about how we can make small modifications to our current roster to be serious contenders in the West as opposed to discussions about how we need to trade one of the top players in the NBA for top draft picks (that we already have) and/or cap flexibility (which we already have) and/or ??? Maybe...just maybe... it is okay to admit that slight adjustments to the roster would suit us better than total reconstruction and that proud predictions of success are actually more accurate that shameful forecasts of failure.
What say you?