It's a little-known fact, but between the question sorting, research, and writing these mailbags usually take multiple hours to complete. Today we're embarking on an experiment...a very special episode of the Mailbag. I have one hour...count it...one hour to get through this post from start to finish, beginning......now. So today I'm randomly grabbing any questions I can find, throwing out stream-of-consciousness answers, and giving you the results: the first-ever Speed Edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag. Here we go.
I'm a Chinese Blazers fan who recently read your article "Clyde Drexler, Brandon Roy, and the What Ifs of Trail Blazers Lore" at the http://www.blazersedge.com/. But unfortunately I'm poor in English.(Actually I love to learn English) So here's my problems while reading.
1. I don't quite understand the meaning of the sentence "you are shooting way too low!", which was the beginning of your reply. Would you please explain me some other words? (Is it some kind of idiomatic English? I can't find it in dictionaries.)
2. What do you think about Damian Lillard？ Will he become the next Brandon Roy？ And which one could be the better leader of the Blazers between Diamian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge?
As always, we love international readers! I'll go out of my way to make sure you have a good time at Blazer's Edge because I love that we're multi-cultural and cross international lines. There's something cool about that. Besides, I secretly hope that if I visit your country someday you'll pick me up at the airport, show me all the good places to eat, and let me sleep on your couch for free! So don't be afraid to send in your questions and thoughts if you're outside the U.S.
1. I use idioms and analogies frequently. They're my favorite part of the English language. I bet they're confusing sometimes. I shudder to think what Google Translate does to my metaphors. "Purchasing a bovine is the sorry idea for men if milk reaches a marketplace free of normal price constraints." (Ugh. That's a horrible saying anyway.)
In this case I actually relayed the idiom in the wrong form. I should have said the man and his friends were aiming too low or setting their sights too low. (Or maybe I did and Google Translate blew it. I only have an hour. I don't have time to go back and look.) They were fantasizing about the benefit of the Blazers winning a Conference Championship over the Lakers in 1991. My point was that they should have fantasized about the Blazers winning a World Championship that year had they gotten past the Lakers. They aimed too low. They could have dreamed bigger.
2. Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard play quite differently on the court but they do have things in common. They flourish with the ball in their hands, they believe that the big shot in any game belongs to them, and they have the "it" factor to be stars. Lillard has a ways to go before equaling Brandon's accomplishments but signs point to him being the next big star for the Blazers.
As far as leadership, it depends on how you define it. LaMarcus Aldridge is the center of Portland's attack right now. He's the more complete, knowledgeable player. He'll remain the #1 option as long as he's with the team (which may or may not be past the next two years). As the point guard, Damian Lillard will run the offense. He will be a more vocal leader. He'll also have more cameras in front of his face and more interview requests than Aldridge will. He'll be the public face of the team going forward.
Because Lillard's offensive ability is also impressive, eventually he's going to take over LaMarcus' on-court role as well and everybody will call him the leader of the team. That'll happen instantly if and when Aldridge departs. That doesn't mean he'll be a better leader than LaMarcus. Leaders don't always get chosen by qualification. (Wesley Matthews may be a better locker room leader than either.) Lillard has the personality, position, and enough offensive talent to fit the description, so he's going to be "it".
We have heard some talk about about LA moving out to the 3pt line. What impact will that have the team's offense? How will that work with what you know of Lopez's ability? How does that alter the responsibilities and opportunities of the other players in the starting five compared to their roles last season?
With all the other three-point shooters on the team I don't believe we'll see a radical shift to the perimeter for Aldridge. How many guys can you send out there? Unless the Blazers decided they can post Matthews or Nicolas Batum with regularity, there should be plenty of room for Aldridge to operate in his mid-range comfort zone. You may see an uptick in three pointers from him, but he's not going to turn into a tall shooting guard.
Lopez does best around the bucket. Portland's three-point ability should allow him to operate with as much freedom as possible. But I don't anticipate the Blazers running many iso post sets for him. The only way he would conflict with Aldridge would be both of them trying to post on the same side of the floor and I guarantee that's not in the game plan.
As far as the other starters, keep in mind that their roles are limited by ability. Any game plan has to account for that. Matthews and Batum have trouble on the dribble drive. You can't devise an offense that depends on penetration from them with the ball. Their roles should remain relatively stable. Lopez has his own limitations. That leaves Aldridge and Lillard to monkey with. As your #1 option and All-Star, you want to keep LMA in his favored spots. You design the offense around making him happy and effective. So now you're down to Lillard. I expect the main developments in Portland's offense this year to center around him: use of picks, decisions to drive or shoot, exploring passing/cutting options. We're going to see how much junk he's carrying in that trunk, how pointy of a point guard he is. Having the floor spread by shooters should give him room. What will he do with it?
A friend and I were having a discussion about OKC and their strategy of building through the draft, then adding pieces -- a strategy a great many small markets have come to emulate.
My contention was this: if you're trying for a championship, following OKCs example is folly. If we examine the list of past contenders for championships to find people who made good primarily through the draft OKC shows up once (and loses), Cleveland shows up once (and loses) and maybe you'd count Orlando (who also lost).
It's kind of depressing for a small market team like ours, which is why it probably doesn't get talked about much, but looking historically what would you say the most successful strategy has been? Was I right in my thesis with my friend?
Nowadays "strategy" is less about how you build than around whom you build. Not to be flip, but give me LeBron James or Kevin Durant and chances are my strategy is going to work better than that of most teams who don't have those players. They are the geese laying golden eggs. The problem, Jack, is how you're gonna get them.
Seldom do such players move via trade unless they're in the final year of their contract or make a huge fuss in their current home. Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard were all traded, but this kind of event is distinctive enough that you can't build a strategy around it, per se. You can't plan for someone to be discontented two years down the road.
You can plan to acquire superstars through the draft, as Oklahoma City did, or via free agency as Miami and Houston did with LeBron and Dwight Howard. The draft is generally assumed to be the small-market route, as it's independent of financial resources or player desire.
I'm not sure how true that perception is, though. Marquee teams with near-unlimited budgets (thanks, local TV deals!) appear to have an advantage in signing mega-star free agents but who's the last franchise-defining superstar you can recall signing with the Lakers or Knicks? You pretty much have to go back to Shaquille O'Neal in 1996. Most of the salary cap in New York and L.A. actually goes towards highly-paid supporting players, trying to surround Kobe (traded for on his draft day, though he forced that trade) and Carmelo with enough talent to go for a ring.
It appears superstar free agents are interested in good opportunities as much as name value. LeBron joined Dwyane Wade in Miami even though that's not a huge market. Houston is a large market for Dwight Howard but hardly a mecca. More likely their position as a team on the rise and their overwhelming desire for him tipped the balance. Granted we don't see teams like Milwaukee or Minnesota nabbing superstars off the market but we also don't know if this is the chicken or the egg. They're not good enough to entice those players on opportunity alone and not famous enough to give them ancillary reasons to come. If they got in that kind of position, brimming with cap space and potential at the same time, it'd be interesting to see if they could draw a prize free agent.
Short of that, the draft still offers the best hope for those small-market teams. But even if a small-market team bags that franchise-level guy on draft day, they still face challenges.
There's the Cleveland Conundrum: "Can you build around him?" You have 5-7 years to send your superstar to the Finals before he thinks about giving up on you and going somewhere he can get a ring. If he's any good you can forget about high draft picks after the first year or two.
Then there's the OKC Question: "Even if you're wildly successful building around him, can you then afford to keep that roster over the long haul?" Rookie contracts turn into expensive contracts after 4-5 years. A couple of those blossoming into near-max deals plus a few highly-paid supporting players puts you in Lakers-Knicks salary cap territory without the Lakers-Knicks revenue streams. The Rockets benefited from the Thunder's inability or unwillingness to retain James Harden last year. Does anyone now doubt that keeping Harden would have been better for OKC? The bottom line wouldn't support it and that could cost them a chance at the ultimate prize. This is where big market teams have a clear advantage, though it's worth noting that they have to get themselves into that position to begin with for it to make a difference.
I wouldn't say small markets are fatally crippled compared to their big-market, or marquee, counterparts. Bigger teams have an advantage, but it can be overcome. In the end, the biggest limiting factor isn't attractiveness, but the fact that only 3-5 superstars in any generation make that kind of difference. No strategy you devise can make more franchise-changing players. The most salient question might be what the other 27 teams are supposed to do while they're waiting for lightning to strike? The current answer seems to be keep flexibility, pitch hope, and tap dance your way to as many ticket sales as possible while waiting for your moment via draft, trade, or signing.
Looks like a good year for teams to go that route in case things are going wrong by the end of January. And it seems like the Blazers are in position to take that kind of decision.
At first glance I'm a little confused by this one. The Blazers aren't carrying any expiring contracts to dangle in front of other teams. The Blazers don't have cap space left themselves to facilitate an imbalanced trade. The Blazers do have a young, talented player in Damian Lillard but the likelihood of them swapping him in any such move approaches zero. None of the other young guys on the roster is that attractive...certainly not players you'd forecast building your future around if you're trading away a Gasol-level star.
Without promising talent or cap relief in the offing the only permutation of this scenario I can see working (perhaps it's the one you're implying) is that a team might be willing to trade away a good player for the sole purpose of tanking this season and improving their draft position. I would not put that past some organizations if they had no further use for said player. But I can't believe Portland's summer game plan was to acquire players cheap and bad enough to be attractive to potential tankers out there. I've questioned the eventual effectiveness of this summer's moves but that seems incredible to me. If people around the league are going, "We need players who are going to make us as bad as possible right away! Quick, call Portland!" then the Blazers have troubles beyond what one such move could fix.
Ding! OK, I went 12 minutes over. Close enough. Keep sending your questions to the address below!