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Why the Blazers Can't Stand Pat

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Like ying follows yang and yang follows ying there's an immutable law that every Blazers trade proposal (and there are plenty in the off-season) is followed by the suggestion that the team stand pat and every list of individual players' strengths must be followed by speculation over their potential trade value.  Between all of the teetering and tottering it's hard to figure out where the correct landing point is.

On one hand I empathize with the stand-pat folks.  This team is young enough, talented enough, and now successful enough to be considered near-experimental.  We've not had many precedents.  We aren't sure where this ride will end up.  It would be a shame to derail it early and watch it grind to a halt.

I also have great empathy, though somewhat less affinity, for the argument that the players are so likeable that it would be a shame to see them go.  My lack of affinity is not because I dislike the players.  That's where the great empathy comes from.  I love these guys. It always hurts to see a Blazer leave, even if it's a guy like Juan Dixon who was only here a couple years.  Once a Blazer, always a Blazer.  As soon as someone puts on the uniform they become one of my guys and they stay that way.

Rather the lack of affinity comes from the understanding that this business isn't necessarily about liking people.  It's about giving people the best chance to succeed.  That's what's fairest for the players, the sport, and the bulk of the fans.  It also comes precisely from knowing that I'll continue to like the players after they're gone and from knowing that I'll soon like the new players just as much.  There's enough "like" to go around.  There aren't enough wins.  No matter how my heart aches when a player leaves, sometimes your heart has to hurt in order to grow.

Despite that, I would submit that this team is closer to standing pat than it's been at any time since Clyde Drexler was traded.  The Whitsitt years were never about standing pat.  Portland hasn't been good enough since until this very year to make standing pat even a faint consideration.  We might not have 12 players locked in but I bet you if you polled fans and management alike they'd agree on 3-5 guys who are staying no matter what.  Remember a couple years ago when nobody could come to a consensus on whether Zach Randolph, our clear star, should stay or go?  We're a lot more settled than we once were.

Nevertheless, though my heart aches for a complete pat-standing roster, my brain says we're not there yet.  And my brain is on more solid ground here than my heart is.  I can give you a couple solid reasons why.

1.  You cannot have LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, Martell Webster, and Nicolas Batum on the same team for long.  Last year we got bailed out by Webster's injury.  Even then Channing Frye got completely shafted.  There just wasn't room for all of those young forwards to get playing time on the same floor.  It was Aldridge, Outlaw, and Batum and that was it.  I wasn't necessarily happy with Channing rotting because he's got more skill and potential than that.  But I understood it.  It was completely predictable.

Channing is almost certainly going to be released without receiving anything in return for him.  That's an unfortunate situation too but again necessary and predictable.

But here's the question:  With Martell returning who's your candidate to get the shaft this year?  It's not going to be Aldridge.  Do you sit Outlaw?  Webster?  Batum?  Which one gets less than 750 minutes of playing time the entire season so the other two can play?

The correct answer is "none of the above".

You can't do that to any of these players.  It would be an utter waste not only of their talents but of their value.  I'm not saying having four forwards on the roster is a bad thing.  One of those forwards, though, needs to be a dependable, veteran role player who signed up for that spot-position.  You can't take three guys who are young, have talent, and need development and stash one away.  That guy isn't going to be ready when you need him.  He's going to be wilted when you need him.  He's going to be demoralized.  His game is going to break down.  His agent is going to be upset because he's not proving value for his next contract.  Splitting the time equally between the three doesn't make the situation better.  It compounds it three-fold.  Now nobody is getting fully-utilized, developing a rhythm, or blossoming.  Plus every coach in the universe would rather play one reliable guy than shuffle three sporadic wild-cards.

Keeping all of them is good for nobody, including them.  That's why somebody needs to be moved.

2.  You cannot come back with Blake, Rodriguez, and Bayless as your point guard group.  There's too little reliability there and too many holes.  Most people love Blake.  Most people also foresee someone else leading this team into the next decade as the starting point guard.  Many folks love Jerryd.  Most would admit he's not ready to start.  Sergio barely raises an eyebrow anymore even though his game has improved.  Yet he still got the backup minutes over Bayless.

This is a hot mess.  The position needs definition.  The position needs a pecking order that everybody can see.   The position needs a plan.

That plan isn't as simple as "Just start Bayless!" or "Let Sergio get his time!"   On a winning team you cannot give significant time to a guy just to develop him.  Everybody knows what's going on when you do that.  Everybody knows that there's a player ahead of that guy who is more productive, more polished, more able to help the team win now.  Everybody also knows that you're sitting that guy in favor of this other player who hasn't shown those qualities in the hopes that he will someday.  The guy you benched for Mr. Training Wheels is now upset.  The team now knows that other agendas are in play besides just winning.  This opens the door to all kinds of yuckiness.

Is Steve Blake the starting point guard for this team for the next few years?  If so, discussion over.  Sign him up and let's go.  If not, who is?  Where is that guy?  How do we get him?  Blake's contract has more value right now than it would at almost any other time in history.  You have to at least look at taking advantage of that.

How much potential do you see in our back-up point guards?   Competing with each other is all well and good but we've seen that for a year now.  Is Sergio your future?  If so, Jerryd has value on the open market.  Is Jerryd the more likely candidate?  If so, you need to clear Sergio out of the way.  As with the forwards both are young and both need to play at some point.  You need to carry three point guards but again one of those has to be fit for that third-guard role.

3.  You may eventually have other positional conflicts in Roy and Fernandez and in Oden and Przybilla.  These aren't as immediate because there are only two players at each position.  But if the value of any of those players is significantly higher now than it will be if they're forced to sit on the bench for 36-38 minutes per game down the road you have to at least test the market.

I'm pretty comfortable that Oden and Przybilla can make a team for the foreseeable future.  Rudy and Roy will have to jump positions in order to make it work.  That's fine if it works, but if so the pressure to move one of the players at the position they're going to occupy increases.

Even if you set aside all of the arguments about needing veterans, about defense, about needing a talent upgrade or two the fact remains that this roster is not balanced and is not set up to lock into place fully yet.  We talk about young talent morphing into greatness a couple years down the road but some of that talent won't have opportunity to become great on this team.  Even if every single one of our youngsters became great they'll never get the chance to show it if the roster remains the same.  It would be foolish not to take some of that overlapping potential greatness and use it to fill positions where we don't have as much production right now or promise in the future.

You can keep some of these young players.  You cannot keep them all.  That's why you're going to see moves made in the near future.  The question isn't so much whether or not to make them, it's how to make the smart ones.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)