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Bench Roy?

Could we see this guy in a reserve role soon?  Not likely.
Could we see this guy in a reserve role soon? Not likely.

The Grinch's pre-epiphany heart wouldn't fit through the space between the various Brandon Roy arguments around Blazer Nation.  Watching the once-soul of the franchise suddenly evaporate  will mess with your head.  Mostly I've stayed out of the fray, as there's little that can be done about it at this point.  Roy's combination of contract and cartilage makes trading him nigh impossible.  He's ill-suited for any role but the one he's got.  He doesn't seem able to give more than we're seeing at this point.  Either that or he's sandbagging like he owned a trailer on the Mississippi.  Whatever it is, it doesn't seem likely to change.

Despite that, I want to address one of the more persistent arguments...that the Blazers would be better off with Roy coming off the bench.  This has picked up momentum in the last couple of weeks.  The question of whether they'd look better is open.  The question of whether it would work isn't.  No matter what the gains you'd see from a production perspective they wouldn't be enough to raise the Blazers game above middling.  Absent Roy, Portland just doesn't have the personnel to dominate no matter what alignment you set them in.  And if it didn't pay immediate and striking dividends it would create an irresolvable chemistry problem that would eventually force the Blazers to switch back, probably worse for the wear in the locker room.

An Andre Miller-Wesley Matthews-Nicolas Batum-LaMarcus Aldridge-Marcus Camby lineup has a couple intriguing benefits.  Defense is the most obvious.  Matthews is more active than Roy and Batum is a more skilled defender.  Both are more mobile than Roy.  With Camby in tow the defense runs deep, Miller being the only potential liability.  The offensive flow chart is also clearer.  Everything starts with Miller.  With every other player perimeter-oriented and in need of being set up he's free to drive and dominate the ball to his heart's content.  (Theoretically the driving part should work out with the hobbled Roy on the court too, as he often goes 30 minutes without taking a step towards the hoop, but it hasn't because of that whole struggle over whose ball it is.)  But the strength of that lineup also becomes a weakness.  Miller and Aldridge are the only guys who can get their own shot and you can see Aldridge's moves coming from a mile away even when they're effective.  That means the only thing you have to worry about is Miller putting the ball on the floor.  Inhibit that and you've neutered the offense.  Opponents will let 'Dre shoot all he wants.  Opponents will live with any other guy in that lineup trying to create...only really worrying about a hot Aldridge.  Andre would have to score 10 points in a quarter before the enemy would even think about doubling him and freeing anyone else.  So your basic game plan would be Miller trying to force drives against packed defense in order to prove he's worth extra attention.  That's not a solid routine for him or for your offense.

But let's say it would work, just for the sake of argument.  How much better would the team be?  Even with Matthews' fine scoring as a starter in the current lineup it's hard to imagine him reaching a classic-Roy level of impact.  It's equally impossible to forecast the mercurial Batum doing so.  And the Blazers--sans Greg Oden--needed that level of impact just to post 50 wins and make the first round of the playoffs (and bow out )the last couple of years.  There's no way the team gets back on track for the second round or conference finals with this move alone.  It'd probably take them a while just to get used to the process.

And here's the kicker:  that's a while they wouldn't have.  Even if the move would eventually send Portland hurtling towards a playoff seed again it's unlikely it would last long enough for them or us to realize that outcome.  In order to make a move like that the star has to be willing.  Roy is not willing.  Even if he were to come out in public tomorrow and say, "I'll do whatever it takes to help this team even if that means going to the bench" I would not believe Roy was willing.  He has been a special player because of his confidence and mindset as much as any athletic ability.  Switching off that confidence and certainty won't be natural to him...maybe shouldn't be natural to him.  It's not likely we'd see anything approaching acceptable output without it.  The Brandon Roy you'd get coming off the bench would be the same Roy you see when he faces supreme moments of self-doubt:  hobbled, lost, ineffective, and not happy about it.

That alone might not be a problem if you had sure-fire, instant, mega-success with the starters.  But even a small amount of adjustment time would be enough of a crack for doubt to seep in.  Weird things happen when the supposedly best players don't have the prime positions.  Each time the team struggles or, heaven forbid, loses the first question on the minds of the press, the fans, and even the coaches and players themselves will be, "Is this working?"  Every time Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews miss a shot they and Roy and everyone in the building will wonder if Roy would have made it.  And no matter what, they miss at least 50% of their shots.  After the game microphones will be shoved in Roy's face and he'll be asked over and over again, "The team struggled out there.  How do you feel about coming off the bench?  Could you help this team better as a starter?"  He'll respond by saying he doesn't know but the media will read encyclopedic volumes into every raised eyebrow and change of pitch in his voice.  Then they'll do the same to Nate McMillan.  Meanwhile the guys who did start will be over in a corner, unable to fix the situation.  It doesn't matter if the sub-par (or even good-but-not-quite-excellent) play would have still happened with Roy in there.  Everyone will say that's the reason...that they're the reason.  How much will their games prosper in that scenario?  What's more, some people in the locker room will take Roy's side while others won't.  The players themselves will begin to question whether the coaches really are playing the best players or whether they have another agenda.  All of this controversy will take the focus off of the game and put it squarely onto this rift and the fact that something has gone wrong.  This is not a recipe for success.

The eventual outcome will be that after the third or fourth loss the coach will give up and put Roy back in the lineup, if not bowing to pressure at least to help clean up the mess because losing the old way was better than losing with this extra stress.  The players that did get to start will feel like they failed and begin to question whether they are starters, or just whether the team appreciates them.  They'll feel like they have to defend their play instead of celebrating it.  The multiple fractures caused by the experiment won't heal overnight.  Some may never heal.  At best everybody will throw up their hands and say, "We don't know how to fix this's just broken."  At worst it will be broken further.

As we said, the only way out of this situation is the new starting lineup producing demonstrably more wins than they would have otherwise.  (Whatever that's subjective in itself.)  But here's the last nut to crack:  Even if that were to happen, what would you do with Brandon?  He's going to languish on the bench.  He's in the first year of a max-contract.  I suppose you could bank on next year's lockout to take the edge off, but other than that you're now the proud owner of a very expensive, very grumpy, very ineffective player.  How good would the team have to get to make the Blazers willing to deal with that, or even contemplate dealing with that?  The only way it makes sense is if they've completely given up on Roy, don't think he can be productive ever again, and/or don't think they need him.  That would be a monumental leap from their stance of few, short months ago.  I don't see the franchise making that leap in the near future.

Neither do I see them bringing Roy off the bench, at least not to ultimate success.  It could be tried as a desperation move in a season otherwise lost.  If so, it's mostly likely to come under the guise of "giving his knee some time to rest" and leaving him inactive for entire games.  But it's not likely to keep the season from falling apart.  Instead it'll be one of a long list of things blamed for making the season fall apart.  And if there's one thing the Blazers don't need, it's another excuse for under-performing.

--Dave (