Time to catch up with the mailbag again. Fortunately I don't watch Lost so I had the free hours tonight. I appreciate all of the questions. If you have one you can e-mail it to email@example.com, the same address at the bottom of all of my posts.
We start this week with some questions about my self-perception as a fan/blog-writer and continue on through the hot topics of the week. Where questions have been longer I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing.
Do you consider yourself an expert, a fan, a media personality? What do you call yourself? --JT
Answering this properly would entail fairly precise definitions of "expert" and "media". Rather than delve into that discussion I think I'd term myself a "professional fan". I'm probably too close to the action and have too much responsibility in reporting/analyzing it to claim being "just" a fan anymore. Certainly my perceptions have been shaped by the last four years of work. (See the next question...) But I'm not that far from my roots and there are tangible differences between what I do and what mainstream journalists, radio folks, and other media members do. Together we're kind of in a new in-between zone here, made possible by the advent of the internet and this medium. You could spend months studying and debating that transformation and what it has entailed. But it appears that the world was ready for a bridge between traditional sources and fans. That's pretty much the role we fill.
I do think the information and analysis you get here is as good as you'll find anywhere. If you sift through the whole site and not just the main page posts you'll really get a more complete view of the team than you can find from any other single source by virtue of hundreds of well-studied fans dissecting topics every day. In that sense if we're not "experts" at least we fill certain functions of experts and can do so with heads held high. I am always careful to give credence and weight to what the true experts say, though, even when I don't agree with it. Coaches, basketball management, guys who have played in the league...ignore them or disparage them at your peril. They may not be right all the time but even their wrong assertions are probably more informed and knowledgeable than our best ones. If nothing else you can learn from the way these guys think and how they see/interpret the game even if you can't get on board with their conclusions.
If you think of yourself as something other than a fan is there anything you miss about your pure fan days? What advantages do you have now? --JT
Personally I'd say that games are far more interesting now but less fun in certain ways. The complexities of the game and the challenges of understanding and interpreting them have opened up a whole new world. I loved it the moment I realized it was there and I've never stopped learning since. At the same time those complexities and the task of interpreting them can become like a millstone. I enjoy the games and I root hard for the Blazers but I'm seldom free to abandon myself in the moment anymore like I used to. When part of me wants to get up and scream the other part is looking at the situation dispassionately, wondering where another angle is and how to explain it. I can analyze the heck out of a ref's wrong call, tell you why it's wrong, tell you why it probably looked right to the ref or made sense in the greater whole, tell you whether and why the players involved are prone to such things, and take a stab at how it's affecting the game as a whole. But except on the rarest of rare occasions I don't even consider standing up and lobbing a profanity bomb at the ref, or even at the TV, the way I would have 10 years ago. Sometimes it would be nice to get lost in it like that again. On the flip side I probably enjoy a great play more than I used to because I understand more about what makes it great and how difficult it really was to do that. Also I make absolutely zero promises if and when the Blazers make it to the Finals again, let alone win it all. I suspect in those moments, at least the closing moments of a victory, all of this repressed fan stuff is going to volcano out. It still does sometimes anyway. You can see it in game recaps now and again. But that's a shade of a shadow of what's really there.
Anything fans do that annoy you? Did you used to do them? --JT
I try not to get annoyed. Usually I succeed. I guess the most annoying thing is when people are just out-and-out stupid, like when they lash out at anyone who disagrees with them instead of trying to broaden their horizons and learn more about the game. But that has little to do with fandom and everything to do with lifestyles and personalities.
I think some tendencies can keep you from understanding fully how the system works. I can name a couple for you.
1. When looking at trades, most folks wait until a guy starts performing poorly and then look to trade him. Conversely as soon as a guy shows some promise he's an untouchable keeper. Opposing GM's aren't stupid. You can't make a trade with nothing and you can't make a trade based on a guy's ideal assessment when you're interested in making that trade precisely because he's not living up to that ideal. If you're going to make a trade for anyone of value you also have to offer value in return...probably not value that's declining. In other words, you don't start trade scenarios by asking who you don't want anymore. You start by asking which valuable players don't automatically belong with your core, what would benefit your team more (talent, position, age, skills, what have you), and who might value your guy while having the perfect spare part to send back. If you're going to make a successful, significant trade at least 8 times out of 10 you're going to have to part with someone you didn't want to part with.
2. People tend to hold on to generalities without accounting for specifics that modify those generalities. For instance when I talked about not being entirely satisfied with Jerryd Bayless taking the last shot against New Orleans a few weeks ago one of the comments I read was that Bayless is good at getting his own shot. This is true. In general terms Jerryd was clearly the player most capable of getting off a shot among the five out there at the time. But Jerryd is also right-hand dominant on the drive, both in dribbling and finishing. With 3.8 seconds left and needing a score to win the game the Blazers were inbounding on the left hand side of the court. That meant when Bayless caught the ball and faced the basket his right hand would lie towards the middle of the court, right where the defender would sit on it. Any kind of forward dribble would be right into the defender's body. Trying to dribble left towards the near sideline would not bring him towards the basket and would force him to switch the ball back to his right hand at the last second and attempt a shot in that same defender's face, probably while drifting left. Therefore when he caught the ball his only option was to dribble to the right, horizontally and not towards the basket. The Hornets had that figured out and sent a second man to shadow him as he moved. Also it took him at least 2 of the 3.8 seconds just to get to the right side of the court, leaving him no time once he got there to do anything but heave that fade-away. Unless the Hornets completely fell asleep that shot was all but foreordained the moment Jerryd caught it in that position at that time. In this case the general truth about him being able to get his own shot didn't matter as much as the specific reality that the shot he was destined to get was going to be a difficult one despite his athleticism...a jumper at the least and probably a covered one.
3. People tend to overvalue youth and to expect things to happen instantaneously. I think of a guy like Jerome Kersey, a second-round pick who really got three full years to grow up and find his way in the league. A few people sensed early on that he could be special. He certainly had some thrilling moments. But he spent 228 of his first 238 games coming off the bench, averaging fewer than 16 minutes per game his first two years, playing behind Kiki Vandeweghe, seldom if ever getting a play called for him despite shooting 50% from the field and dazzling with his dunks. Fans would be up in arms about that today, Kiki or no Kiki in front of him. But Kersey got the chance to learn what playing in this league meant. When he did get the full-time call he was ready and he produced night in and night out. At least in the court of public opinion young players never get that chance today. They're either God's gift to basketball or a bust after their first sniff of playing time.
I used to do 1 and 2 all the time. I've never been a big fan of 3.
Click through for questions about Nicolas Batum, finances, players on short-term contracts, playoff prospects, and more.
It's the question on everyone's lips lately. What's the ceiling for Batum? Is he the next Pippen? Would you start him over Martell? --HN
As far as Batum starting, I'd be surprised if it didn't happen by the game after the All-Star break and it'll probably be sooner. Remember that Nate is the guy who went with him in the starting lineup to begin with. Yes it was because of Martell's foot injury but there were other options had Batum stunk. Nate knows who he is. Nate helped him develop who he is. It may not be happening yet because of continuity. It may not be happening yet because Nate wants more second unit punch or because Batum is more versatile than Webster coming off the bench. In fact it may simply be Nate knowing that he can get 100% from Batum in a reserve role while still getting production from Martell whereas Martell would wilt if sent to the bench. In any case, Nic will start again, my guess would be soon. Don't read much into it not happening instantly.
Mike Rice made the Pippen comparisons last year and more people have come on board with his recent performances. I have always been high on Nic but he has impressed me even more with his offensive confidence since returning. Everything we said we wanted to see from him coming out of the summer he's shown...at least for this stretch. I believe he will continue to produce at a high level and will become one of the most reliable Blazers overall. It's too early for me to go with the Pippen comparisons yet. I'm comfortable with him just being Nic. Scottie hung around 20ppg in his prime. I'm not sure it's in the cards for Batum to do that. Scottie also played with a cleverness that set him apart. We'll see if Nic can pick some of that up. At the end of the day we're talking about one of the Top 50 NBA players of all time though. I don't know if we're sure Brandon Roy accomplishes that. It's too soon to put it on Batum. I could see a Tayshaun Prince comparison maybe. In general, though, I'm just enjoying watching the kid without worrying who he's like. Besides, more important than anything he does individually is how he fits in with the team. Not all of our youngsters inspire confidence in that area. I don't think we're ever going to have to worry about Batum being able to play alongside anybody on this roster. His defense alone makes everybody better.
Everyone talks about the Blazers acquiring another star. Would they want to pay for one? The players they have are going to be pretty expensive. --B
I'm not sure "everyone" is at this point, but your question is apt. The financial angle is under-considered when you talk about roster-building. But the flaw in your angle is that some of those expensive future players would be traded away in order to get said star. And in this case such a move could make financial sense as well as improving play on the court.
For the sake of argument let's say you want to trade for a guy who's making around $13 million now but who will command $18 million per year on his next contract. That's a major commitment. But in the Blazers' case it's reasonable to assume that you'll be trading guys who are young and full of potential in order to get this guy. It may take three of those players to match this star's talent and $13 million salary now. But what happens on those player's next contracts? One guy's making $8 million now and he wants $10 because he's young and full of potential. The other guys are more reasonable. They just ask for $6 million each, up from $2 million. Now that other team is shelling out $22 million a year for those three players as opposed to $18 million for the star. More to the point, the Blazers cut $4 million off of their books by trading them and got a proven commodity in return instead of having to worry about making three potential players work out in order to succeed.
Obviously this situation is hypothetical but it's pretty likely that at some point the Blazers will face this possibility in some permutation or other. It would have to be the right guy coming in and the right guys going out, but if those criteria are met I don't see them hesitating because of money. This young, potential-filled lineup is going to cost a mint and a half in a few years if they don't make any moves...and that's probably without all of the players reaching their full potential.
Outlaw, Blake, Przybilla, Miller. Chances of staying with Portland beyond their current contracts? --SC
One of the sad things about the injuries this year is that we were supposed to have semi-definitive answers to this kind of question by now. Everything feels up in the air still. It depends on what the Blazers learned about the players surrounding these four, which would tell you how well these four would fit in and therefore how potentially valuable they could be to the organization compared to their value on the market. This is another lesson to learn about the evolving Blazers: it's not just about individual talent and skills, it's about how well you fit and how much we need what you bring.
I don't believe Blake will stay beyond this year. I think the organization will always value what he brings and won't ever be sad to have him as part of the team. But I'm not sure they can guarantee Blake even a strong backup role anymore and there might be another franchise that will. If Steve gets that offer he has to take it. If they did think about keeping him my guess is the Blazers will want to bargain basement his contract and again, he's got to look at offers elsewhere if that happens. The cure for no money is either a championship or lots of playing time. At this point the Blazers can't promise Blake either.
Travis is a hard call. At the beginning of the year I thought he was gone but the broken roster and his own injuries have thrown his situation into turmoil. Are the Blazers frightened enough by what happened this year to want to keep him? Have his injury and the resulting lack of exposure lowered his value in the minds of other teams?
Travis is going to want money. He's far enough along in his career that his agent won't let him sign for a penny less than he thinks he's worth, at least without thoroughly examining the market. This is especially true since Outlaw has already signed one interim contract. He's also going to want playing time and perhaps a starting role. As with Blake, the Blazers can't promise him either. LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be next to impossible to move in the short term even were the Blazers interested in doing so. Travis is not going to start over, nor take minutes away from, LaMarcus. Portland has two centers and two capable small forwards right now. Portland has Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham to fill spot minutes. Where does Travis fit?
In the abstract I think Portland would be fine welcoming Travis back. When you consider specifics I don't think it's going to work unless his injury keeps him out all year and he gets no good offers elsewhere because of that. The only two contingencies I can think of are if management loves him immeasurably and will pay any price to retain him or if management has plans for Aldridge down the line. I guess a third one would be management knowing that Joel Przybilla was going to be out of the picture one way or another, therefore planning to play Aldridge more at center and Outlaw at power forward. Some will say Travis loves Portland too much to leave but I'm not buying that until I see it.
With Greg Oden's injuries I think the Blazers will make the move to secure Przybilla. I don't know if Joel opts out of his contract this year or rides it out until it expires. There are arguments for both. He might get better offers if he is able to play well next year, especially since knee ligaments are hard to heal from and will cause suspicion until full recovery is proven. On the other hand there's money available around the league this summer and besides, how much better is his track record going to get? He's already incredibly well-respected and had been putting up nice numbers before the knee. He might not get as much opportunity next year. And if he knows he'll get an offer from Portland anyway, what does he have to lose? In either case I believe the Blazers will try and keep him.
I have a hard time imagining the Blazers solving their long-term point guard questions this year or next so I believe Miller will stay around at least until next year's trading deadline and probably until the end of his second year here. If Portland gets a clear starting point guard besides Miller the scenario changes, of course. I just don't judge that likely. I don't believe Miller's third year will be picked up. At that point he'll be 34 going on 35 and $7 million may be expensive relative to their plans for him and his contributions.
Do the Blazers make the playoffs? Can they win a series? --W
Yes they make the playoffs. They don't advance unless they get Oden back, have him in shape and producing, and get a favorable matchup. The odds of that are tiny. The odds of them going past the second round are non-existent. This is the one aspect of the injuries that you can't get over no matter how many gutsy wins you get. It's a lost season in terms of playoff standards and progress.
What has surprised you most about the season so far? --LM
1. How the Blazers still seem to win more than they should. Seriously, that bench was a Ghost Town for the better part of a month. Despite the tumbleweeds blowing past the scorer's table the Blazers held firm.
2. How quickly 50 games have gone. I guess the roller coaster aspect of the season will do that.
Any Oscar picks? --RM
Rudy Fernandez for "Ouch! You Hit My Face!", Nate McMillan for "I'm Not Thinking About Starting Batum Yet", and TominHawaii for the Andre Miller series.