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Organizing the Roster

I've gotten a few mailbag questions lately that deserve to be in a post of their own either because of importance or answer length.  This one is probably both, plus it reflects a bunch of other questions that people are asking, so here you go:


The Marcus Camby trade looks like a step in the right direction organizing the roster.  How will the Blazers sort out the lineup in the next year?  What do they need to be successful?

Knowing what we know now, assuming neither has a career-ending injury, Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla are the centers of the immediate future.  I know Marcus Camby just arrived but I've stated before I don't think he signs here long-term.  If it makes you feel better positing that the Blazers let Joel hang around one more year and plan on using Camby for the next 2-3 then by all means throw his name in.  The caveats are that Marcus is in his mid-30's already and that you're looking at investing $20-25 million next year on those three centers, which is pretty expensive.  For that reason alone Jeff Pendergraph is a much more likely option in that third center role.  In any case, you're set at this position, if nothing else because nobody better is going to be available to you at a reasonable price.

With the recent trade power forward is locked up as well.  LaMarcus Aldridge isn't going anywhere as a Base Year Compensation player.  He's going to eat enough of the minutes that you don't mind running Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph, or even one of your other forwards out there to back him up.

Since his defensive ability became evident last season I've felt that Nicolas Batum is destined for the starting role.  His emerging offensive confidence strengthens that impression. He's going to be one of those guys the Blazers will regret having off the court for any length of time.  He's going to blend well with everybody else and will produce without automatically having to score.  I don't think Martell Webster stays happy as a back-up.  He's cheap so the Blazers won't mind having him around but I've heard from decent sources that he's desired by more than one team.  I assume eventually the Blazers will take somebody up on the offer, replacing him with a steady vet or a draftee (either one of which makes a natural reserve).  In the meantime Martell plays behind Batum, perhaps becoming part of a smaller, scoring-oriented lineup as well.  Maybe the Blazers dream up another use for him.  What to do with Martell is one of the more perplexing questions facing the Blazers at the moment.

Obviously Brandon Roy is the starter at shooting guard.  No question about that.  But this is where it becomes more interesting.  You're looking at three names clogging the smaller positions:  Andre Miller, Jerryd Bayless, and Rudy Fernandez.

I don't believe Miller lasts beyond the second year of his contract.  I guess the third year getting picked up is a possibility but that's the outer edge of his tenure here.  He was never intended to be a permanent solution.  That leaves two names, a single position up for grabs, and one key question:  Do you believe that either Bayless or Fernandez can play point guard alongside Roy and Batum?

If you're looking for the traditional, one-stop-shopping playmaker the answer to that question is no, at least from what we've seen.  However I'm not entirely convinced Roy and Batum need a complete point guard, provided Nic can eventually bring the ball up the court a little.  Could the Blazers go point-guard-less, playing three guys with OK-to-good handling ability and passing sense?  If so then both Bayless and Fernandez are candidates for that third guy.  Rudy needs the ball less, has way more range on his shot, and is a more versatile passer.  The problem with Rudy is that he can't defend NBA point guards.  In reality he might not be able to defend NBA guards period.  You'd have to switch matchups to hide him defensively.  Or maybe you posit that an Oden-Przybilla-Aldridge-Cunningham-Batum frontcourt can cover those bases.  Bayless can probably learn to defend point guards but he needs the ball and his style of play to flourish on offense.  Neither one is a perfect fit as a starter.  Either one would do well as a third guard, depending on what you want.  I expect next fall we'll start seeing more experimenting along these lines.

The longer-short-term solution might well involve packaging Webster and whichever of the Bayless/Fernandez duo you like less as that third guard for a starting point guard who fits well...someone to become the heir apparent to (perhaps usurper of) Andre Miller's position.  That would leave Oden and Przybilla at center, Aldridge and Batum at forward with Cunningham and either that rook or vet backing them up, Roy and New PG at guard with either Bayless or Fernandez as your third.  Pick up an emergency third point guard, develop Jeff Pendergraph a little as a PF/C reserve and you have a solid lineup there.  The problem, as always, will be finding the point guard you want at that price.  You won't be getting an All-Star but if they can find their clear starter I don't think the Blazers would mind.

Click through to read about the critical extra ingredient the Blazers will need to be successful.

Here's the thing, though...none of this will make a bit of difference unless the Blazers also develop a key factor they've been missing:  a clear pecking order on the team.  Every great team, every great lineup, has one.  If you're a 90's-era Blazer you better make sure Clyde and Terry are copacetic with what you're doing before you go jacking up 20 shots (which basically means you better be really hot that night).  If you're a 70's-era Blazer you find out how you fit in around Walton and Lucas, not over the top of them.  No matter who the L*kers pick up--Odom, Artest, Andrew Bynum--you know who's in charge of that team.  If you don't know you're going to get smacked down.  More to the point, you're not going to get the ball even if you do see the court.  Tony Parker wanted to be a star in San Antonio long before Coach Popovich and Tim Duncan let him.  He had to understand whose team this was before he emerged fully.  It's no accident he emerged fully as Duncan hit his apex and slowly declined.  And by the way, when Michael Finley and Richard Jefferson came in there, stars or Olympians or not, they were distant third place.

One of the main issues with the recent roster is multiple guys like Webster, Outlaw, Bayless, and Fernandez who are considered quasi-stars in the making, who in essence say, "Give me 20 shots a game and I'll become your next big guy."  The problem is, a lot of NBA guys can say that same thing.  Only the best of the best actually get 20 shots per game and those positions are almost always hard-earned.  The worth of most NBA players is determined precisely by what they do when they don't get 20 they fit in alongside the guys who do. 

On this team you have two crystal-clear main scorers in Roy and Aldridge.  Maybe you could argue they need one more...maybe.  They certainly don't need multiples.  On a normal team the one or two guys in the lead--your Bryants, LeBrons, Garnett and Pierces, Duncan and Parkers--would have thumped the Potential Insurrection Brigade into shape.  But this team was constructed almost whole cloth out of young players who are either learning how to do that or learning how to take that.  I know Brandon Roy is a leader on and off the court.  I wonder, though, how many times Brandon has looked a teammate in the eye and said, "If you take that shot again instead of me I'm going to make sure you don't see the ball for a month."  I wonder how well some guys would take to hearing that...whether they'd consider Portland a fit anymore under those circumstances.

This is one of the reasons we've been arguing for more veterans for a while now even if that means slighting some of the young guys.  Players like Juwan Howard and (presumably) Marcus Camby are solid gold in this situation because they can contribute fully without disrupting the order of the team a bit.  Is this ever going to be Howard's team?  Is it ever going to be Howard's night?  How many times is it even going to be Howard's shot?  Those days are a decade past him.  But when you look up at the end of the season Howard, Camby, and non-52-point version of Andre Miller will have won as many games for this team as the four players mentioned above.  They don't have to ask about the pecking order. Roy doesn't have to tell them a thing.  They get it, they know where they fit, and they know how to get the most out of their games within that framework.

This is also an argument for smart consolidation of the younger part of the roster.  If you can trade a couple of those guys for a definitive starter (as mentioned above) you not only clarify roles you allow more of a chance for the players who remain.  Bigger and more consistent opportunities translate into players staying happier, less ambiguity and discontent surrounding your stars, and thus less need for the stars to crack the whip.

Having Jerryd Bayless dominate a couple games, Rudy Fernandez set a rookie record for threes, Martell Webster churn out awe-inspiring quarters, and Travis Outlaw hit buzzer-beaters certainly makes the team more exciting.  In the long run having it all happen on the same team, a team which lacks consistent performances from any of said players, probably doesn't make the team better.  Eventually we need fewer guys to get excited about (that kind of excited, anyway) and more guys to depend on.  Clockwork predictable .700 ball beats randomly exciting .550 ball every time.

Until this roster gets a few chemistry calluses and truly becomes Roy's and Aldridge's team from top to bottom they're not going to find the rhythm and sustained success they need in order to go deep in the playoffs.  If it doesn't happen, no matter who we bring in here, we're going to see Roy and Aldridge continue to be the main guys but everybody else ebbing and flowing intermittently.  With enough talent you can still get wins that way but you won't win long or clearly enough to beat the teams where everybody knows who they are and has committed to same.

--Dave (