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Weekend Thoughts: The Core

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I've been thinking about it since the moment Commissioner Stern called Greg Oden's name for our team on Thursday night and I have to tell you, every way I twist and turn it I am tickled to death with the nucleus of players we have right now.

I'm not going to get into second rounders, European players, or guys still on the bubble today.  There will be plenty of time for that later and frankly it's difficult to imagine how well the kiddies will do at this level until they've been to camp (summer and training) at least.  But I am more than willing to moon over our three core players:  Oden, Aldridge, and Roy.  (I know Oden hasn't played a professional game yet either but I think he's an exceptional case, don't you?)

When you look at those three guys...wow.  All three are multi-talented players.  They're going to be able to score.  They all can defend.  They are unselfish, team players.  Already you see the rudiments of Lamarcus and Brandon doing little things right on the court and that's going to develop more as they get more experience.  I'm not putting them on pedestals.  They're not superstars (yet, at least).  But there's no aspect of their games that just embarrasses you.  There's nothing you can point at and say, "This guy is just awful at that."  Maybe the best way to put it is the minimum-production floor with all three of these guys is very high and we haven't begun to see their ceiling yet.  I absolutely guarantee you that any team in the league, bar none, would be proud to put any of these three players in their uniform.  

What intrigues me most about this trio, however, is how easy they will make it to build onto the core.  Of all the changes on draft night this was probably the biggest.  If you look at last year's squad in theory you had Zach and Joel starting at the big spots, Jarrett and Brandon at the guards, and Ime earning his way to the starting small forward position.  Lamarcus would become the #1 reserve manning either of the big positions.  Let's say we wanted to explore options at small forward...which indeed we have been tinkering with.  How do you bring somebody in and make the pieces fit?  We need offense with that lineup, but if you bring in a purely offensive guy--like a Rashard Lewis maybe--then our frontcourt defense is going to be horrible.   But if you bring in a pure defender with people already sagging off of Joel you are going to end up playing three on five.   If you stack up Lamarcus and Zach together you worry about rebounding on the defensive end so our guy better grab a few boards.  And nobody in that lineup is money from distance so it would help for him to hit a three.  Zach and Roy both need the ball so he better be able to score quickly without holding it.  But Zach and Joel are both dead-ends on offense so he has to be able to pass as well otherwise the ball will stop after our first pass every set.  Plus you have a mish-mash of styles there so the guy better be able to operate in the halfcourt or running game.  So let's see...we need a guy who's good at offense, good at defense, a decent rebounder, can shoot from range, can score without holding the ball, can pass as well, and operates equally well on the run or in the halfcourt set.  Hmmmmm...how many of those guys can you name?  And how many of those that you can name are available?  That's what happens when you rely on one or two dimensional guys that need to be covered for.  No matter who we brought in here, unless it was a hall-of-famer, it wasn't going to work.

Now look though!  Neither Brandon nor Lamarcus nor G.O. need people to cover for them anywhere.  In fact they'll be in the business of covering for others.  All three should be very good defenders which frees you from worrying so much about getting a fourth great defender.  They all can score, though none of them might turn out to be a point machine.  This might still be an area of concern.  Oden should erase a lot of rebounding worries all by himself.  We still need to worry about outside shooting just as much as ever.  We'll have to wait and see on passing and holding the ball but I don't see any indication that any of these players will become black holes.  Still it would probably be better to have someone who doesn't need to dribble it for fifteen seconds to be effective, the better to take advantage of the team offense and unselfishness.  This team will probably try to defend and run so he needs to be quick on his feet. So what do we need now in a small forward?  Probably a scorer with some range who can run in the open court and who doesn't dominate the ball too much.  THAT is a much more manageable acquisition.  But you know what?  If you brought in another defender that's probably good too.  If you brought in a rebounder that's probably good too.  In fact most anything you add to that mix only makes it better.  It's like the ice cream is all scooped and we're just waiting for the topping to give it some flavah.  It's a GM's dream.  Unless you go out and get anchovy sauce or something it's all going to be good.  Chocolate, strawberry, butterscotch, or any combination thereof will work.

In short, because we now have a core of smart, good-sized, good defending, capable scoring, rebounding, quick, unselfish guys we went from being boxed in to an impossible corner to being free as the wind.  In one night we transformed from almost-can't-win to almost-can't-lose in terms of bringing in new players.  

Although the skills of the players are obviously different we now remind me of the Isiah Thomas/Joe Dumars Pistons in their title years.  They had such a solid core that they were able to go out and add an Adrian Dantley or Mark Aguirre...guys who may not have been much more than gunners at that point in their careers, who had been semi-liabilities on other teams, but who also helped the Pistons win a ton of games because the team was built strongly enough to absorb them.

Before Thursday whenever a player was brought up as a potential acquisition for Portland there was always a laundry list of reasons it wouldn't work.  That list just got a lot shorter for almost every player in the NBA.  I suspect this will make talking about trades, draft picks, and signings a whole lot more fun from here on out.  Enjoy!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)