Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard at All-Star Weekend, Centers, and Rotations

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazer's Edge Mailbag tackles questions about Damian Lillard participating in every All-Star Weekend event, Portland's never-ending center conundrum, and Terry Stotts' rotations.

Here are a few Mailbag questions burning up the inbox!

Hey Guys,

I feel the obvious hole on the Blazers is the back up center. I feel like there are players available on weak teams which would gladly take young talent (The only thing we have to offer). One name I haven't heard mentioned by anyone is Zaza Pachulia. Potentially a starting center but on the worst team in the league (but still seemingly rather attainable). Plays a very similar style to Lopez. Even Reggie Evans or Chris Kaman fit that build. I feel that Freeland would benefit greatly by being played beside a true center. Slot Freeland at power forward and I think he is even more improved from what he has shown so far (only reliable big man off the bench).

Jordan

You're right about this mostly.  The Blazers could use another reserve big man...territory well-covered here.  Joel Freeland could find minutes at power forward if the new big were a center, though the Blazers would have to adjust sets because Freeland wouldn't be the same offensive hub at power forward that LaMarcus Aldridge is.  Most of the bench scoring comes from the smaller positions anyway so they'd probably adjust.  Bonus points if they traded for a big guy who could also score a little.

We have mentioned Zaza Pachulia here before, albeit less so than other candidates.  His offense is a little bit of an eyesore.  Rebounding checks out OK, defense...meh.  He at least knows what he's doing, which would make him an upgrade over some of Portland's current bench bigs.

But Pachulia is 29, heading towards 30.  That wouldn't be an issue if you saw him as a long-term piece instead of a stopgap.  He's not, though.  His contract runs longer than his usefulness would.  If you read the tea leaves surrounding the Blazers' public proclamations so far this year they're definitely not looking at a short-term fix, especially not a less-than-ideal and moderately-expensive one.  LaMarcus Aldridge just told us that he thinks the team can "go far this year and even further next year". Paul Allen cautioned not to expect "blockbuster" deals at the deadline.  The Blazers are telegraphing a multi-year process even if that means sacrificing a better run this year.

The only kind of deal that would change their mind (presumably) would be a guy who helped this year and in the long-term vision.  Ideally you're looking at reasonably-priced, decent players in the 25-28 year old range, assuming that no team would trade younger players in return for the younger players the Blazers could offer in return.  Even with the way he fits, Pachulia doesn't qualify.

Hi Dave,

Why is Damian Lillard planning to participate in EVERY event at All Star Weekend. They do call it a break for a reason, and if anybody needs the break, its the portland starters. I understand the All Star Game itself but competing in every other event just doesnt make much sense to me when you play some of the most mintues in the league, its the All Star BREAK for a reason.

Skyler

Let's make this simple.  Lillard may end up fatigued from the All-Star weekend hubbub.  We don't know.  That may end up impacting the second half of the season for the Trail Blazers.  We don't know.  Here's what we do know:

When the NBA knocks on your door and offers to put your name on the lips of every media representative covering, and every fan watching, the All-Star weekend proceedings--read: when the NBA knocks on your door and potentially offers to make you a star and one of the faces of the league--you do not say no.

By virtue of competing in five events--instead of, say, the three he'd be best at--Lillard will be known as "Mr. All-Star".  It won't matter how much he plays in Sunday's game or if he wins the game MVP.  Even showing his face on the floor will cap off a huge weekend for him.  In subsequent All-Star weekends he'll be able to pick and choose, having made a name for himself as Blake Griffin has.  Griffin is still an awesome dunker.  Is he participating in the Dunk Contest?  No.  He doesn't need to anymore.  The NBA is looking to put that kind of stamp on Lillard and Damian cannot turn that down even if it makes the spring a tougher go for him.

He'd be crazy to tell them no.  How else will he get endorsements?  Where else can he get that much instant recognition all in one swoop?  Or heck, where else can he get any recognition?  Nothing he does in Portland for the rest of the year, save perhaps a string of 50-point performances in the NBA Finals, would get him that kind of value.  It's a unique opportunity for him personally, one that will prove far more valuable to his career than a weekend off and a fresh start in mid-February.

These developments might affect Portland's end-season run.  But if you're Lillard and his handling team you can't afford to think about that.  You figure you're 23 years old, you're physically healthy and up to the challenge, and you have an entire career ahead of you to solidify your place and make playoff runs.  The NBA is not going to ask twice to make you one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.  Everything else you worry about later.

Besides, if the league is going to this much trouble to feature you, you've gotta believe there will be people leaning towards you in events that are judged and you're going to get more respect (and probably more touches) from your peers in the actual game.  The chances of Lillard putting in a good showing over the weekend while competing in all the events might be greater than his chances if he only accepted a couple of the invitations.

Also, why is Terry Stotts so afraid to use more then 9 guys a night? Last night he played Dorell Wright instead of CJ, and Meyers instead of Robinson. The starters all played 35+ minutes while two rotation guys didnt see the court. If they all get in for at least 10 minutes each then the starters only play maybe 30-32 minutes. Those guys are not going to be able to average that many minutes a night and have legs for the playoffs. Your thoughts?

Skyler

If Terry Stotts had more than 6-7 guys who could play on a regular basis he wouldn't be reticent to play more than 9.  This isn't a coaching issue, it's a roster issue.  It's been foreseen for a while and absent a mid-season trade it wont' change.

In a Mailbag a couple months ago I posed the question, "Which players on Portland's bench do you trust?"  The only real answer was Mo Williams, and if you find yourself with Williams as your most trustworthy bench player you may just have an issue.  I like Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, and C.J. McCollum.  I enjoy watching them play.  But if you're going to have me select a team to be my proxy while I'm betting my mortgage or my life, those guys aren't going to be anywhere near the floor.  That's exactly what Stotts is facing.  He's betting his job and the success of his team on who he plays, night to night.  The fact that you keep seeing the bottom end of the rotation switch is a pretty good indicator that there's no right answer down there.  As Joshua told us in WarGames, the only winning move is not to play.  Stotts keeps his rotations tight because, oddly enough, he prefers winning.

One can argue, as you have, that this strategy brings diminishing returns as the season progresses.  That's accurate.  But what's the alternative?  Lose games early so you have a chance at winning a couple more late?  That's an even bet at best.  If I were coaching I'd do exactly what Stotts has: ride the horses that would carry me to victory as long as they could keep their legs under them, then worry about the rest when we get there.

I'd also be looking at my GM and saying, "Love these guys, but if you want to sustain the winning percentage we've built so far we need more help."

Keep those questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com!

If you want to help send underprivileged kids to the March 20th game against the Washington Wizards you're down to your last few days.  Details can be found HERE.  Tickets are only $5 or $11 each and you can donate online.  Just follow that link and make a the year of a young Blazer fan brighter!

If you aren't following on Twitter @DaveDeckard what are you thinking, man?  Even if you're not a Twitter person you'll get gems and insights that won't fit in the regular site material.  Speaking of, you can keep up with all that regular site material @Blazersedge.

A personal note: people where I live are undergoing a severe struggle with the flu, including one friend in very serious condition because it struck here when her system was vulnerable.  This isn't your garden-variety sniffles and fever.  Please be careful and check with your doctor to see whether a flu shot would benefit you.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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