Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Group Potential, Leonard at Forward, Aldridge's Importance

USA TODAY Sports

Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge fields questions about the importance of LaMarcus Aldridge, experimenting with Meyers Leonard, the potential of the Trail Blazers roster, and more!

Mailbag day!

Dave,

Long time reader, first time poser (of questions, or so I hope)....

1) If all our new acquisitions 'stick to the wall', do you see enough potential with this group to seriously compete in 2 to 3 years, after they develop a collective identity?

2) If not, which position(s) do you view as requiring an upgrade, even if the players there do reach their potential?  (Ouch....now if that isn't a dangerous question to field!)

Marcus

Marcus,

Long time blogger, first time answerer of your questions!  Good to meet you.

Your first question is great, as it details some of the challenges facing this team.

Critical new pieces include C.J. McCollum, Robin Lopez, and Thomas Robinson.  Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and Allen Crabbe factor in to a lesser extent.  The first assumption (or "if") in your question is all of them "sticking to the wall".  I assume by this you mean they turn out talented and productive enough to merit significant time in the regular rotation.  Even just taking the most critical three, what are the odds of that happening?  One or two maybe, but all three?  The Blazers would be pretty fortunate to see that happen.

Then there's your qualification of collective identity or chemistry.  Not only do these players have to develop, they have to fit with each other in skill and sacrifice, plus with the returning players, many of whom carry a degree of uncertainty themselves.  (See also:  Every big man besides LMA.)

Assuming that individual and corporate development both go near-perfectly, only then can we ask whether the team has any chance at contending.  In other words, we're not even at the point of asking whether they can be in contention.  We're at the point of asking whether we can even get to the point of asking whether they can be in contention.  This highlights the difference between the Blazers and, say, the Warriors right now.  Folks are speculating that if things break right there might be only 3-4 spaces between them in the standings.  Those 3-4 spaces hide a gulf bigger than the potential finishing order indicates.

IF every single developmental stitch goes perfectly and IF the Blazers manage to keep Aldridge in the process then yes, they can probably field a deep enough team to crack the bottom part of the upper half of the Western Conference playoff bracket in a couple years.  That's depending pretty heavily on Lopez and Robinson turning out huge and Meyers Leonard being at least decent (compared to their current statuses).  Maybe then you reach current Warriors level.  But you're still looking up at teams with dominant superstars and decent supporting casts.  You're still looking at defensive questions too.  There are enough holes and enough of a talent gap between the Blazers and the league's truly elite teams that you can't really see real contention, meaning NBA Finals appearances, from here.  That's not to say it's impossible, rather that the cast will probably look different if it does happen.

As far as upgrades, mostly you're looking at big men.  Lopez would be a fine reserve.  We don't know what Meyers Leonard will be.  Aldridge probably won't stay.  Robinson is the ultimate wild card.  Whatever hopes you place in Damian Lillard becoming a complete player, Nicolas Batum prospering, and Wesley Matthews keeping his nose to the grindstone, those three and assorted bench players can't make up for the massive uncertainty surrounding Portland's bigs right now.  I realize that your second question still assumed that every one of those players excelled, but that's where suspension of disbelief fails for me.  Uncertainty is inherent in the choices the Blazers have made this summer, so assuming that they all make good is kind of like saying, "If I put all my chips on boxcars at the craps table and then roll double-sixes, will I make a bunch of money?"  Well...yes, BUT...

The other alternative would be bolstering the shooting guard position if every single big man pans out.  That's about all I can think of right now.

Hi Dave,

With the Blazers roster in flux, the future uncertain, and no chance of a competitive playoff run, does our whole season come down to what we do with LMA?  There are a couple of young guards that we can watch develop but if LMA splits they can't win alone, and whatever assets come back from LMA in trade will determine whether those young guards are the best players on a bottom-feeder team or the leaders of a franchise on the upswing. Do you think wins and losses matter this season, or is it all secondary to what we do with our roster in the next 12 months?

Jonathan(PDX)

Wins and losses are never secondary until the team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  But you're right that Aldridge moving is a weightier issue in the near-term future.  35 or 40 or 43 wins will make a difference this season but unless the total goes below 30 or above 47, Aldridge holds the next couple years in his hands.

The good news: the development of Damian Lillard and some of the other young players is beginning to trump Aldridge in the long term view.  There's no substitute for Aldridge over the next couple years.  But 3-4 years down the road LMA will be on the high side of 30, we'll have seen his best ball, and further upward mobility will depend on players just coming into their prime.

Dave,

Another Meyers Leonard question here.  Dirk is 7 feet tall, so is Tim Duncan.  By most accounts KG is also a 7 footer.  LA is only a half inch short.  You probably see where I'm going.  All of these guys have played most of their careers at the 4.  How come one extra inch makes Meyers required to be a 5.  It seems to me his skill set is much better suited both offensively and defensively to the PF position.  What is your thought on this and could he be the future replacement for LA more than for Lopez?

JD

Eh...could happen I suppose with the right center.  But the players you're citing are three of the best in the league the last decade, Hall-of-Famers and League MVPs.  Height's not an issue.  Nowitzki, Duncan, and Garnett can do lots of things Meyers Leonard will never, ever do.

In my view a modern power forward needs to have one or more of the following qualities:  skilled scorer, huge rebounder, super quick and smooth, hyper-athletic, super strong and tough.  None of those things describe Leonard.  The closest he comes is quick, but that's measured against other centers.  Move him down a position and I bet he gets run around, pushed around, and scored around with regularity.  He doesn't have the point production power to make up the difference.  Nor does he have the shooting touch of a Ryan Anderson stretch four.  In short, he doesn't seem to fit at forward any better than he does at center.  The only differences are that his defensive impotence will get shown up against a much higher quality of scorer at the four than it usually does at the five and being farther out on the floor on defense won't help his rebounding or shot-blocking numbers.

Nowadays you have a lot more leeway to hide an experimental guy at center than at power forward.  It's probably going to behoove the Blazers to let young Master Leonard learn the center position and take his lumps there before experimenting with him in less orthodox fashion.

Dave,

I have a different question for you.  My girlfriend gives me "the look" whenever I start talking serious about sports or even mentioning Blazers Edge.  This is a problem because I'm addicted to the site and the conversation!  She's one of those people who thinks sports is dumb and beneath serious discussion, like it's an artificial creation of society.  I guess she thinks I should be reading literature or watching ballet or doing something more important with my life.  What can I say?  She's hot and not annoying in most ways.  Except this one.  Anyways, you seem like a smart guy and your posts are like literature sometimes.  How do you handle this in your life?  Smart guys can like sports too!

Call Me Eli

I used to run into people like this often, especially in college.  Somehow everybody knows everything in college.  I might have even believed some of it myself once upon a time.  As I experienced more of life my view became more nuanced.

Passions are passions.  People gather around them for good or ill.  One's exact passion eventually becomes less important than the quality of discourse and human interaction shared around it.  Windsurfing, jazz, and Tolstoy all have adherents.  Some of them are probably jerks.  Others build relationships that sustain their community for a lifetime.  Take away the central, passionate focus and you lose the common language which unites the group.  But in the end, it's what we do with the language that determines its benefit or detriment, and thus its value.

Literature and ballet--by the way, both "artificial creations of society"--aren't inherently more noble or integral than sports.  They're more esoteric, or at least arcane, in our culture.  It's more rare to see people invested deeply in them than it is to see people invested in the local sports team.  When you reach that level of investment in the arts you're going to be in a more select crowd than you'll be in as a Blazers fan.  But that doesn't make that crowd better or smarter or even more productive.  I can't tell you the number of cultural and intellectual snobs I've known.  They know their stuff but they've also made their pursuits all about them...as if the breathtaking ballet was created solely for the purpose of allowing them to say, "I'm better than everyone else!"  This kind of shortsighted snobbery also happens in sports circles.

I've also seen artistic and intellectual folks create dynamic, inspiring, fulfilling atmospheres, the gravity of which pulls you into a new world.  It doesn't even have to involve a grand production.  Some local book circles are amazing.  Whatever books they read come alive in their hands and find life in the space between them.  This kind of horizon-expanding communal adventure also happens in sports circles.

It's just as possible to ennoble sport as any other pursuit.  It's also possible to just casually have fun with it, which is fine too.  It's also possible to make an ass of yourself.  But all of that has more to do with you than with anything inherent in sports themselves.  The point being, you don't have to hang your head about what you love as long as that love does something decent in your life and/or the lives of others.  So yeah, you can be a totally intellectual guy or gal and still root for your team obsessively.

Final thought:  Which do you find more offensive, folks who love sports and turn them into an intellectual and cultural pursuit or folks who take "higher" subjects like politics or religion and degrade them into a sport?  Turn on the radio or television for five seconds and you'll see innumerable examples of the latter.  If you're going to rail against something, rail against folks who take the things that are supposed to unite, grow, and guide us and transform them into an exercise of "us vs. them" for the purposes of entertainment and their own self-aggrandizement.  People look down at sports fanatics because they supposedly follow baser instincts and turn the imaginary into something real.  Maybe that's true, but at least we're usually aware it's an escape.  Look around at the number of real-life issues being reduced into the worst sporting terms yet they're still credited as real and important.  I've heard the radio.  I've seen cable news.  I'd venture to say that the average Blazer's Edge conversation is more intellectual, noble, and integral than that.

Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below, marked with "Mailbag" in the subject line if you please!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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