Portland Trail Blazers: Re-Signing Mo Williams, Trading CJ McCollum, Rotations, and More

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The Blazer's Edge Mailbag tackles question on Mo Williams as a long-term option, the viability of trading C.J. McCollum, changing rotations, success or failure by quarter, and more.

The long break gives us extra time to tackle Mailbag questions today.

Dave,

Do you think the Blazers re-sign Mo Williams?

Daniel

I love this question because so many factors play into it.

I've already registered where I stand on the Great Mo Debate but I'll recap briefly for those who missed it.  People who say Williams is substandard based on statistical production and defense have a strong point.  Of the six Blazers who play regularly he's the least efficient by far.  His defense is nothing to write home about...unless the letter says, "AUGGGHHH!"  He dribbles more than anybody else on the team.  He holds the ball more than anybody save Damian Lillard.  On a roster full of unselfish players he looks for his own shot plenty.  Only Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge attempt more shots per minute than Mo does.

And all of this is exactly what the Blazers need right now...or close enough that they can make do.  For all the chemistry and cerebral play, the Blazers still end up looking like nice, self-aware guys out on the court sometimes.  When things start going wrong they go into introspective mode.  "Should I take this shot?  Maybe someone else would like to go first.  Is this the correct play?"  It's like watching a bunch of really nice guys in a pick-up bar.  Sure, you'd want your daughter to marry them but that doesn't mean they're getting anywhere tonight.

Mo is that one guy in the group who just doesn't care.  He'll go up to that girl at the bar and break the ice when all of his friends are still worrying about what to say and if they'll match up to her standards and whether they should even be in this bar to begin with.  His dribble-fest jumpers are the equivalent of, "Hey, baby...I'm Mo!  So did you just fall down from heaven or have you been waiting here for me all this time?"  Maybe that's not Mensa-level repartee but it's appropriate for the moment and, more importantly, it helps his friends loosen up and engage.  After all, whatever opening line they were debating can't be worse than that, right?  Every time Mo's jumper swishes you should hear the pretty girl at the bar giggling.  Even if it only happens 3 times in 10 it was worth it, especially since Williams often seems to key Portland runs.

But note that the benefits of this relationship are contextual, environment-dependent.  At work, in class, whenever you're trying to do something serious Mr. "Who Gives a Fig, Bro?" becomes something of a detriment, just as Mo sometimes shoots (and misses) or turns over the ball at inopportune times.  Add in defense and you get a guy who thinks outrageous statements are twice as funny when punctuated by loud flatulence.  You can argue that every group needs one of those guys.  It's true!  But you probably don't want to become besties with him, list him as a job reference, or (God forbid) marry him.

The question for the Blazers isn't just whether Mo helps.  He does.  The question is whether Mo helps in ways that you're going to value highly for the next 3-4 years at an increased contractual price while living with his deficiencies.

The Blazers' situation is likely to change over the next few years even if personnel turnover remains low.  The roster will either come into its own or crash.  I'm not sure Williams will be a determining factor one way or the other.  Most of the bench is young yet.  At what point do you anticipate those younger players taking over Mo's role and minutes?  (Keep in mind you cannot swing a pygmy mouse around Portland's locker room without hitting a half-dozen potential shooting or combo guards.)  The likelihood of Williams retaining 100% of his current value to the Blazers seems small.  The likelihood of his weaknesses remaining seems certain.  The Blazers will have to pay him more in order to discover how the two shuffle out.

As of January 15th, 2014 the verdict is, "Love what Mo does for the team right now, glad he's here, but nervous about giving him a longer-term deal until we see what the rest of the roster looks like."  But the story could change by the end of the year.  If the Blazers make a triumphant march to the NBA Finals and Williams provides a timely lift (a la Herm Gilliam in 1977) the estimation goes up.  If the Blazers get ousted in the first round, not so much.

Dave,

You've mentioned possible trades to improve the team this year.  Would you approve of making CJ McCollum part of a deal?

Phyllis

Obviously that depends on the deal.  But in general yes, for several reasons.

When you have a chance to do something special you have to take advantage of it.  Not only is a bird in the hand better than two in the bush, in the NBA those two in the bush are just as likely to fly over your head and take a dump on you.

The Blazers are doing something special right now.  They also have several players whose timeline reads 4-5 years from now.  That's as it should be.  A team shouldn't swing completely one way or the other.  But every player you're waiting on has the opportunity cost of a player who could be helping immediately.  Since immediate help is more valuable to Portland right now than speculative help 4-5 years down the road, they should be willing to deal some of their young players for the right price.

McCollum is a current darling on the roster, as might be expected of a rookie lottery pick who broke the 20-point barrier in D-League appearances.  But the D-League is short on "D" and that lottery pick came 10th in a relatively weak draft.  Plus McCollum is one of those shooting guards or combo guards we just talked about.  You can't fall in love with every player on your roster.  On a good-to-great team 4-6 guys are set and the rest are moving pieces.  The Blazers already have a set starting lineup.  At some point they're going to have to choose between Williams, McCollum, Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, and Wesley Matthews.  3 of those 5 guys won't be playing much.  If you can trade them for a guy who will play more at a different position, why wouldn't you consider it?  The higher value player you're willing to trade out the higher you get back.

McCollum may be tantalizing but he's not part of the current core.  The question isn't just whether he's more valuable than another player in trade talent-for-talent but whether he will give the Blazers more utility than the guy who would replace him at reserve SG and the guy (or guys) coming in via trade.  By those criteria I could see several scenarios under which trading McCollum for a player at another position at or near his prime would make sense even if CJ might be a better talent 5 years from now.  Unless you think he'll be an All-Star-level talent you have to at least consider that kind of deal.  5 years is an eternity in the NBA.  Few rosters stay intact that long unless they succeed in the meantime.

Hey Dave,

I was wondering what you think about all of the rotation changes Coach Stotts has made over the last few weeks? When you start the season 22-4 and lighting up the league don't you have to subscribe to the theory, "If it ain't broke don't fix it"?

Nathan

You have to play the bench sometime.  With McCollum back, Dorell Wright playing as Mr. Invisible, plus Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson out-dueling each other to see which can be the more mercurial, Stotts now has a buffet of options.  The problem isn't that he's exploring them as much as none of the options are all that great.   It's more like nobody on top really satisfying enough to keep the position than the underneath guys playing so well that they're earning minutes.  That's not a coaching issue as much as a roster issue.  Again...a little timely veteran help could go a long way for this team.

Dave,

It seems to me that this Blazers team is among the best in the fourth quarter but below average in the first. What's up with that?

Mike

Wouldn't be a Mailbag without a Mike!

You're somewhat right but haven't hit the correct quarter.

The Blazers are actually 10th in the league in 1st Quarter margin, averaging +1.0 points with 26.5 points scored and 25.5. given up.  They're 7th in 4th quarter margin at +1.4, 27.1 scored and 25.7 given up.

The real motion quarters are the 2nd and 3rd.  Portland plummets to 19th in the league in 2nd quarter margin, 26.2 scored and 27.0 given up...the only period they lose on average.  But they more than make up for it with their 2nd-best margin in the third period, 28.1 scored and 24.0 given up for a +4.2 advantage.  (Numbers are rounded.)  Only Indiana does better in the third period.  The Blazers lead the league in both 3rd and 4th period scoring.

My best guess in that the bench tells the story here.  The reserves are willing but their defensive technique is weak and their offense sputters.  Thus the second quarter becomes a crapshoot (in multiple senses).  The Blazers adjust at halftime, build a lead in the third, then cruise home for the win.  If they're not cruising through the fourth they're limiting bench minutes, playing their starters extra time in order to secure the victory.Dave,

Dave,

After watching our last 10 games or so it seems like the NBA is catching on to our offensive schemes and finding it easier to stop what was once a prolific offensive attack. We're still scoring points but something is amiss.

I am seeking your analysis on what changes the defenses we are facing have made to make our offense suddenly appear so mundane (in comparison to early season)

All educated fans knew our good luck would change and our jump shooting offense will have off nights but are NBA defenses catching on to us?

Adam

I suspect other teams have always known what the Blazers want to do.  Portland isn't a team that does 92 things well or relies on an overpowering matchup to bail them out on nights when they stink otherwise.  The Blazers do 3-4 things really well and produce them nearly every night.  That's not hard to read.  It is hard to stop.

Part of what you're seeing is a change in how seriously opponents take the Blazers.  The other part is familiarity.  Opponents don't usually have multiple days to prepare for you.  When a team has an outlying system as Portland does they're not going to change their entire defensive scheme for a single game.  Until, that is, you prove your system works.  Then they start to pay attention.  Playing an opponent multiple times helps as well.  In the first matchup of the season you get surprised.  By the second you've settled in and on the third or fourth matchup it's war.

So yes, opponents are catching up to the Blazers and taking them more seriously.  The Blazers will have to adjust to that, thinking a couple steps ahead.  We see this in microcosm during games when Portland defends differently after the break than they did in the first half.  The whole season will be like that.  If the Blazers can throw in a couple new wrinkles after the All-Star break they should be able to keep enough opponents off-balance that their seeding run will be interesting.  If they expect the second half of the season to be just like the first they may be in for a surprise.

The real test will be the playoffs, as the opponent has nobody to prepare for but you.  But there are plenty of games to enjoy before then,

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to the address below and don't forget to put Mailbag in the subject line so I can find them.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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