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More Thoughts

A couple of nuances from yesterday’s topic...

One of the things that got a little lost in the cap explanation was the literal sense of the post’s title ("Why You Will See Blazers Traded This Year") and its intent.  The post was not really meant to be prescriptive, that the Blazers should trade one or more of the Webster/Frye/Jack trio, nor that they must.  Indeed if they don’t want to, from their perspective at least it’s a fairly simple process:  get those players signed to contracts before next summer comes around.  Rather the post was descriptive, literally an explanation of WHY you will see them traded this year, provided they are.  This is informative, I think, because heretofore most of the conversation surrounding possible trades of these players has focused on issues like talent, loyalty, youth, and potential.  (e.g. “These guys are too young to give up on” or “Martell is going to be a great player someday” or “Our players are Blazers, not just bargaining chips.”)  All of those issues are valid and many of those assertions are true.  The cap issue simply helps explain why a team might find it necessary or prudent to trade away a guy that is talented, young, and full of potential whom they really liked. 

Again, if a trade goes down it might not be because anything is wrong with the player (lack of talent, lack of potential) or disloyalty on the team’s part.  It may be situational.  It’s not a matter of whether Martell, Channing, and Jarrett are good or fit the team.  It’s whether they are good enough and fit well enough to overcome the potential uncertainty and cap problems their contract status causes.  They don’t have to fit, they have to really fit.  Youthful potential might not be enough to outweigh the momentum towards a trade, but that doesn’t mean the potential is unreal or unimportant.  It just might weigh less in the Blazers big picture than other things…especially certainty.  If the Blazers can get another player of whose talent they are certain who fits well with the team and who carries a contract that meshes with next summer’s plans they might well pull the trigger on that deal even if the player they trade away has a lot of things going for him.  This is the reality of the NBA.  Every player is good or they wouldn’t be there.  But you don’t get to keep them all.

A second thing I found interesting about yesterday’s discussion was the seemingly-common conviction that Martell, Channing, and Jarrett would all be on board for signing reasonably-priced, longer-term deals with the Blazers if offered.  I will say here that I have only talked to Channing and Martell once and I’ve never had the pleasure of talking to Jarrett Jack so I have no insight into their minds.  It’s perfectly possible that all three are terribly excited about being Blazers for the rest of their careers and will do anything to make that happen.  It’s more likely, though, that we fans see loyalty as a deeper value than the players do, and that we are looking at this situation more from a fan’s perspective than from a professional’s.

I am not slighting the players’ loyalty here, nor their love for, passion for, or commitment to their team.  But the reality is their perspective is different--and has to be different--than ours.  To us the Blazers equal basketball.  Our loyalty, love, and tunnel vision will last as long as we and the team occupy the same planet.  The time scale is different for the players.  Their experience of basketball at this level lasts ten, maybe fifteen years at most.  They don’t have the luxury of thinking in terms of a lifetime commitment.  They were not in the same relationship with the Blazers before they came here.  They will not be after they leave either.  For them, basketball goes beyond just Portland.  They can play for the Blazers, love the Blazers, and give their all for the Blazers, but the Blazers are still part of their professional career arc.  It’s their job to be prepared to play for, love, and give their all to another team if that ends up being their path.  In the context of their brief careers they have to do what’s best for their success when they have the chance--even if that’s playing for another team--just as the organization will do what’s best for it’s success…including trading them if advantageous.

I am not an NBA player by any means, but I think I understand a little bit of this from my own non-blogging profession.  As a pastor I end up being a prominent, visible, integral part of a community-based organization which has a long history, with which people identify strongly, and about which people are very passionate.  At the same time I come from outside that organization.  I have not grown up in the area.  I have not spent multiple decades in the organization itself.  My church experience is not localized in the same way theirs is.   In many ways I am more deeply immersed than even the most seasoned community member, just as a player is more involved in the team than even the longest-term fan.  In other ways I belong the least of anybody, as I will never have the same roots or all-encompassing relationship with the organization that the community does. 

What this ends up looking like is me throwing my entire heart and soul into the community for as long as I am there.  In this way I am very much like the community members.  On the other hand when it’s time for me to go then I can rightfully, and with a clear conscience, move along to do the same in another community.  This doesn’t mean I love the first less or that I am disloyal.  Rather it means I am being called elsewhere in order to do other good things.  The measure of my success and integrity isn’t really staying in one place my whole life, it’s how much and how fully I give in each place to which I am called.

Understanding this I try to put myself in Martell’s or Channing’s or Jarrett’s shoes.  Laying aside modesty for a second, I’d say I’m pretty good at my job.  I’d certainly say I have potential for growth.  I’m also eager to contribute.  I see myself doing meaningful things with my life.  Now let’s pretend that right out of seminary I got called to a great big church.  This church is wonderful, exciting, and really seems to be headed in the right direction.  I enjoy my time there and I’m doing a decent job.  But here’s the thing…they called me as a visitation pastor to spend time with the elderly and people in hospitals.  I am also in a preaching rotation along with all the other pastors and it ends up I get to preach about once every six weeks.  I am really good at all of this and I love it as far as it goes, but I find myself wishing I could preach more often.  Also I know I’m gifted at leading Bible Study and working with youth and I’d flourish in those ministries, but they’ve got pastors doing that already.  The church people love those pastors, they're doing an excellent job, and they’re not going anywhere.  As long as I stay here I’m not going to be able to do those other ministries except on an emergency substitute basis.

When I was called I agreed to serve this church for four years before I would consider anything else.  We’re now in year three and headed down the home stretch.  Next summer I will have the opportunity to look elsewhere should I desire...for the first time in my career.  It’s not like I’m chomping at the bit to leave.  There are a lot of good reasons to stay here.  On the other hand there might be broader opportunities for career advancement elsewhere.  One day the president of the church council comes to me and says, “Dave, we really like the job you’ve done here.  We’d like you to continue with us as our Visitation Pastor and not look anywhere else this summer.  We’d like you to stay for at least three more years.  We’re going to give you pretty much the standard raises commensurate with your years of experience as you go along.  It might end up being a little less than you could otherwise get on the open market but we hope you’ll agree to it because we have building and expansion plans, we need to hire new staff to work alongside you, and our money is limited.”

Tell me, what would you advise I do?

I would say basic, human nature would require a few questions be asked.  Is there ever going to be a chance for me to teach Bible Study here?  Do you see me getting a more frequent spot in the preaching rotation?  Am I going to be able to explore my gifts fully?  And if not, is there sufficient compensation to make that sacrifice worth my while?  These are questions that anybody would ask.  Then you have to add the fact that I’m young, I’ve not yet had the chance to stretch my wings fully, and I’m brimming with confidence, truly believing I could be good at these other things I’m not getting a chance to do right now.

What is the most likely response in this situation?  It’s probably not flat rejection or acceptance.  I’d probably say that I appreciate the offer, that I do have interest in working here, but I owe it to myself to at least check out the possibilities this summer in case something more fitting (and silently to myself, better paying) comes available.  I don’t want to lose this job without having another one, but I don’t want to commit to this position without knowing what other possibilities are out there.

Do you get the feeling that at least a couple of our three young amigos might be thinking along these lines?  Consider that the opportunities for players to be in control of their own destiny come seldom in the NBA.  A guy might get three, maybe four chances to make such choices in his entire career.  If everything else is ideal of course you’ll pass up the chance to window shop in favor of a decent paycheck.  But if things aren’t ideal and the money is probably equal either way, you’re not going to pass up the opportunity lightly.

I’m not saying this is the way things are.  As I said before, I don’t know how the players are thinking.  But I’d say it’s possible that one or more of the players at issue are going through this exact thought process.  If they are then free agency, even the restricted variety, may hold attractions and it may not be that easy, or cheap, to talk them into a new deal. 

--Dave (