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Zach's Fate

One of the most intriguing questions in the Blazers' post-resurrection world is how the uber-pick affects the future of Zach Randolph.  It's not a clear-cut matter.  People are fond of listing lineups that look great if you're just adding talent as if this were NBA 2K7 or something.  In real life that talent has to fit together.  Just saying Jack/Roy/Durant/Zach/Przybilla or Jack/Roy/Aldridge/Zach/Oden makes your spine tingle but that doesn't necessarily make those lineups work.

Of course any definitive answer to Zach's fate would depend on who we selected with the pick.  For purposes of these discussions I'm going to go out on an oversimplified limb and say if we select Kevin Durant then Zach's future with the team is probably short...not necessarily this-summer-short but within-a-year short.  Though the combination of Randolph and Durant makes more intuitive sense as far as a post-perimeter combination both are going to be massive scorers and both are probably going to want the ball in their hands.  You probably can't play them both on the strong side together which means one or the other has to sit across the court away from the ball.  That basically nullifies the reason for each of them being out there.  Maybe Zach could get some offensive rebounds that way (though I suspect a reasonable percentage of his come off of his own misses) but he's enough of a defensive liability that we really need him to score if he's going to play.  Also Durant may flourish more in an up-tempo game.  I'm not one who believes that Zach can't play up-tempo but I am one who believes he won't score like he did this year if he does (and we may not either since he's hardly a master at keying the break).  Plus unless KD turns out to be a great defender we're still going to have trouble winning consistently with a Zach/Durant tandem no matter how much we score.  In short, while it could work for a season while Durant learns the ropes eventually the two are going to end up at loggerheads and (presumably) Zach is going to be moved for a piece that fits better.

The far more intriguing question comes if we select Oden.  The sticking point is that both players will want space in the post to score.  But my assumption is that at least at first Oden's stellar contributions will come at the defensive end.  That makes you wonder if he isn't exactly the tonic to Randolph's gin, much the way Ben Wallace would be in Chicago.  If he grabs a ton of defensive rebounds and patrols the paint against the enemy with effectiveness he immediately camouflages a decent portion of Zach's weaknesses.  Meanwhile Zach's scoring takes the pressure off of Oden to be the savior on both ends of the floor early on.  Oden would have no trouble playing off the weak side and could be pretty nasty setting picks over there for secondary scorers.  If having Oden also dictates playing more of a halfcourt style (I'm not sure that this is the case, but if) then Zach's contributions become exponentially more valuable, perhaps even more so than Lamarcus'.  (His role would then become a big question for another day.)  As long as Oden doesn't have to have the ball in his hands to be effective I could see that combination working for a long time...more so than the Durant/Randolph pairing anyway.

I think this is counter-intuitive to some folks who just see positions and say, "small forward equals keep Zach but big guy makes Zach expendable".  It might not exactly work that way.

If I had to guess, I'd say the lottery prize strengthened whatever way the Blazers were already leaning.  If, as Jason Quick has suggested, Zach was already on the way out of town on a bullet train either Durant's scoring or Oden's size will make the train that much quicker to depart.  The obvious (and I think likely) scenario would be to draft Oden and try to ship Zach away for the now-expendable Rashard Lewis either directly or through Chicago.  I don't think the Blazers would worry too much about a Lewis/Aldridge/Oden front line.  They'd just have to make sure Oden could indeed initiate the running game.  (Anybody seen him outlet pass much?)  On the other hand if there was hesitation about moving Zach this pick should lengthen the pause a beat or two, especially if Oden is in our sights.  The timetable for getting good just moved up a season or two and that makes trading away an asset like Zach with such distinctive skills that much harder.  I suspect I'd want to see what the various frontline combinations could do before I made a move that might set us back on our original (slower) schedule.

Since I'm more inclined to believe that hesitation was part of the original package anyway my gut feeling says this pick and the corresponding greed for success are going to earn Zach a stay of execution unless someone makes us an offer we can't refuse.  (Lewis may be one of those depending on how in love Nate and KP are with him.  Oden and Aldridge can cover Rashard's shortcomings pretty much as well as Zach's.)  However I also believe than unless an Oden/Randolph combo becomes the next version of peanut butter and jelly Zach is still the most obvious frontcourt candidate on the chopping block.  I don't think you can keep Zach, Oden, and Lamarcus together forever and I presume the front office will remain in love with Lamarcus for a long time.  My original estimated window for seeing Zach traded was a year.  I'm not sure how much that's lengthened but I think at the least you'll see the timetable shift farther towards the end of that window than the beginning.

--Dave (