Here's this week's edition of the Blazersedge Mailbag. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions. I'm slowly working my way through the batch. If you'd like to add one, include "Mailbag" in the title and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you think the Blazers would sit players to try and massage they playoff matchup they want?
Questions like this are always difficult because you have to get in the minds of decision-makers in order to answer definitively, but in general I'd say no. For one thing, all the matchups are going to be bad this year. You're simply picking the lesser of a bunch of evils. Second, I can't think of a clearer way to say, "We're not going anywhere in the post-season." You want to enter the playoffs ready to take on anyone, willing to go over them, through them, or any direction you need to in order to advance. Losing intentionally to avoid a team is a clear admission that you don't think you can beat them. You're making that admission to the only people who matter: yourself and your players. I can't imagine that would sit well.
Let's say you were a rising exec in some company, that you'd done a magnificent job turning around profits, that you'd struggled against incredible odds and remained on target, and that you had both the aspirations and tools to rise to the very top someday. How would you feel if your boss came to you and said, "I know you've done well but this account is still a little advanced for you, junior...we're taking it out of your hands"? It also seems jarring to consider such a thing in a year when the only focus has been winning against incredible odds. How do you take the lessons you've built from that and just flush them away by saying, "Well, sometimes losing is winning"? How do you then reverse direction and try to start winning again? Plus it just doesn't seem congruent with what Nate has espoused all of these years. Finally, and most convincingly, how the heck would you sort out the matchups with the race this tight? I guess maybe if it came down to one game at the end of the season and your players were fatigued anyway I could see some guys resting with the quiet understanding that a loss wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. But I'd cross that bridge when I came to it. It doesn't seem like something the organization would plan out as a guiding strategy.
Last season we heard quite a bit about the Blazers' sleep schedule dictating their travel itinerary. It was lauded as a reason the team was rested and poised, and other teams like Boston were following suit. I believe there was even an interview post with the sleep specialist the blazers consulted. But then I read things like this: "[I]t's tough enough playing in [Denver] without getting into your hotel at 3:30 the morning of the game." from Mike Barrett's blog. Clearly the Blazers have returned to the old ways of managing travel. Any insight or comments from Blazers staff about the change of its impact on the team? Sure looked like they ran out of gas midway through the third against Denver.
In this specific case the game was the second in a back-to-back. Unless the coaching staff can invent more hours in a day (I know we expect a lot of them, but still...) there was no choice in the matter. The team can't wait until the next day to travel. Even if it were athletically feasible to get off a plane and immediately play a game you'd still be forced to get in as early as possible to compensate for potential travel delays. No-showing a game because you got stuck in weather or with mechanical problems would be...inconvenient. Also from what I recall of that article the majority of the sleep-change focus was on East Coast swings with drastic time changes, not a short-hop to the Rockies.
In the more general sense I think people read too much into things like this. If the sleep situation were the be-all and end-all it would be set in stone. It's a potential factor...sometimes. Maybe it does give you an edge. But if you can't overcome disruption in your sleep schedule and still perform you can't win in this league. I guarantee you a good playoff opponent is going to do a lot worse to you than wake you up earlier than you want. Besides, by this point in the season everyone is going to be fatigued and sore no matter how much sleep they did or didn't get. Athletes learn to adjust or not.
Andre Miller has been quoted saying that Los Angeles isn't a good first-round opponent because of league marketing. Is it really possible that the NBA, like pro wrestling, is not a fair game? Or is this just another "player superstition"?
It's a little of both. The star system is long-entrenched in the league and its officiating. It's probably less pronounced now than it was a decade ago but it's still there. Stars are made more easily in big cities than small so the marquee franchises are always going to have an advantage there. But this doesn't determine fate. LeBron James doesn't play in a huge, sexy market. The Knicks have failed for years. San Antonio succeeded for years. Outcomes aren't pre-determined. You just have to realize your road may be steeper than that of some others...especially people who have demonstrated star power. The key is not whining when your road isn't the same as theirs. Eventually you can make them comparable. You just have to beat the star opponents now and continue winning in order to do it. Clyde Drexler ended up getting all kinds of calls after the Blazers went deep in the playoffs. Steve Smith got an amazing number of favorable whistles in a Blazer uniform. It can happen.
If you're matched up against a team with Kobe Bryant or LeBron James you have to realize that beating them isn't going to be enough. For better or worse the burden of proof is on you to trounce them. You have to clearly knock the king off of the mountain in order to advance. Come in prepared to do anything less and you're going to lose. If you play L.A. and you let the refs influence the outcome they probably will. But occasional jarring Sacramento Kings tragedies aside, they're not going to be able to stuff you in a box and keep you quiet if you clearly play better and earn the win.
The reality is that the Blazers are not capable of doing that against L.A. at this point. I'm not sure anybody in the West is. So I wouldn't want them in the first round either. Someday soon, hopefully...
Click through for questions about catching the Thunder, cap plans, building without Oden, Roy's effect on the offense, Dante out of the rotation, long-term Blazers, Outlaw vs. Blake in the playoffs, and more...
Can the Blazers realistically catch the Thunder?
Sure. The important thing to remember is that if Portland wins the final faceoff next Monday then the Blazers own the tiebreaker. Right now the Blazers are 2 behind in the loss column. With that win (and OKC defeat) they'd only need to register one less loss than the Thunder in order to end up tied and thus, by virtue of the tiebreaker, ahead for seeding purposes. Besides the Thunder the Blazers play at the Clippers, vs. Dallas, at the L*kers, and vs. Golden State. Let's assume a worse-ish case scenario where Portland goes 2-2 in those 4 games. That means the Thunder would need to tally 3 losses in their remaining games: at Utah, vs. Denver, vs. Phoenix, at Golden State, vs. Memphis. It's not inconceivable that even in this worst-case scenario OKC could go 2-3. If Portland puts the pressure on by going 3-1 then OKC is only allowed 2 losses. If Portland drops an unexpected game, though, catching the Thunder will be plenty tough. If Portland loses against the Thunder on Monday it'll be near-impossible. If you asked me if the Blazers catching them was probable I'd say no by a hair, simply because Portland has less of a cushion than the Thunder do. But it's still quite possible.
We'll be over the cap next year, and so our only exception is our MLE correct? Do you expect that we will use it? On whom?
There are a couple minor details, but essentially you're correct. I believe any exceptions will start fairly low on the priority list, behind re-signing players and trades. However should those other moves not work out then cap exceptions could become important back-up plans. I would guess that the Blazers would prefer not to use exceptions if they can help it though. More money is more money. Without knowing how those prior moves shake out it's nearly impossible to speculate about who could be picked up.
At what does Portland start building a team that doesn't need Greg Oden to get to the next level? The next serious injury? Ever? I assume Aldridge would have to go in such a scheme. But how would the Blazers restructure a team that didn't rely on Oden? And finally, is building that team possible?
I assume the team is always building to get better but I think the next serious injury would make them re-assess their dependence on him, figuring him as more of a bonus than a cornerstone. That's not an easy transition though. While we speculated Portland would be very good even before Oden arrived the true championship talk didn't start until we won that lottery pick. How would Cleveland plan without LeBron? How would Orlando plan without Dwight Howard? Granted Oden isn't near the level of either of those players yet, but they were both first overall picks and the problem is similar: you just can't replace the boost that he (theoretically) gives you. In that sense I think it would be hard to build for a championship without him. I think you're right that LaMarcusbecomes a fulcrum should Greg not be able to go. His weaknesses get accentuated in the absence of a big, rebounding, low-post-oriented, defending center. But trading him wouldn't be automatic. You'd have to decide whether you could get more star punch at another position and still find a serviceable guy at the four. That's a tough move. Who do you get? Chris Paul would certainly be a shift in direction but he's probably a pipe dream. Would Danny Granger help more than LaMarcus? The decisions in this situation are complex.
Assuming that Kevin Pritchard is just a sitting duck for the rest of the season, and will be axed this off season. If at all possible how deep would you say the Blazers have to go into the playoffs for Pritchard to keep his job? Are we talking Championship? Finals? WCF?
Pritchard's job will not depend on how far the team does or doesn't go but on the perception of him among the Blazers' higher-ups. The coaching staff is far more likely to be held directly responsible for the team's performance. If KP's superiors feel that they had as much influence over the team's construction as he did success is likely to heighten, not dim, that perception. If they feel like he's burned bridges around the league getting to the Conference Finals won't change that. I'm not saying either of those are accurate, rather that whatever issues the team might or might not have with him are not tied to number of wins.
Who are the biggest recipients' of Brandon Roy's assists? You pointed out in the last mailbag that it is not likely to be LMA but I was just curious to who's getting the rock from Roy.
I haven't had time to research this one out but my knee-jerk reaction points to the small forwards. Roy generally gets assists by penetrating and/or creating enough pressure to draw the double-team and then finding an open guy. Those guys are usually on the perimeter, which spells small forward in our offense. Rudy is another possibility. Cutters are another option. Part of the reason Roy and Aldridge don't connect more is that they set up on opposite sides of the floor. This is by design. You generally don't want to put your best offensive players in the same spot because the defense is then free to focus on that side of the court. But Roy can create opportunities for LMA indirectly by shifting the defense to his side and then reversing the ball to the other side. Brandon wouldn't get an assist in this scenario because the ball would go to somebody else before getting to LaMarcus but his presence would ensure that LMA gets only single-coverage, making it easier for him to score. In some ways assists are overrated. Roy's influence on his teammates' offense goes well beyond them.
What happened to Dante Cunningham's role in the rotation? He seems like heady, intelligent player that can space the floor. Do we really get that much more from Juwan?
In those four minutes Dante plays? No. Over the long haul? Maybe. One of the things to remember about young guys is that the longer you leave them out there the more their weaknesses can get exposed. In his Portland tenure Sergio Rodriguez could be spectacular on any given three plays. Sergio Rodriguez as your primary back-up at point guard not so much. It's not just a player's direct production either. Missed rotations, unfamiliarity with teammates, understanding of positioning, spacing, how and when and where to defend a particular opponent, clock management and game situations...all of these factor in. I would guess the Blazer coaching staff understands that Dante can make more of an immediate impact than Juwan. Obviously the organization will see Dante as a more critical part of Portland's future than Juwan. But in most games the coaching staff probably figures that neither guy is going to make the difference between a win and a loss. That's still the domain of guys like Roy, Aldridge, and Miller. In that case you don't necessarily go with the guy who has the chance to give you the most incremental gain. You go with the guy who has the potential to hurt you the least, in effect staying out of the way of the other guys while still doing his job. Right now that's Howard. Put another way: if you have three kinds of syrup, chocolate sprinkles, a cherry, a banana, and whip cream already you don't really need to take a risk on getting super-chunky-butter-ripple-surprise for your ice cream scoop. You just want vanilla so the other flavors can shine. This is true even though in isolation the ripple-surprise would be the more interesting, and perhaps rewarding, choice. Don't worry. This is going to change as Cunningham progresses.
Quick, dirty gut instinct: most likely long-term Blazers from the current roster.
Roy, Oden, Batum, Cunningham, slightly less of a nod to Aldridge but he's around for the near future anyway and probably for the long-term. But long term is relative in this league. Four years can be an eternity.
Which will we miss more in the playoffs, Outlaw or Blake?
It depends on the matchup. The rotation has already tightened andit's not like reserves will be getting huge swaths of minutes in the post-season. But if Miller or Aldridge have to sit because of ineffectiveness or foul trouble their replacements will be under the gun. Right now I'm marginally more comfortable with Howard and Cunningham covering behind LaMarcus than I am with Bayless as the lone option behind Miller. I suppose Rudy and Roy can slide over but opponents play a more knowledgeable, targeted game in the playoffs and I fear they're going to look to exploit everyone who steps in for 'Dre. I should add that I don't think Jerryd is a worse player than Howard or Cunningham. He's having a tough time right now though and it's a position that's hard to disguise. I wouldn't feel as comfortable throwing Jerryd out there for 30 minutes and saying, "Go!" as I would having to go with Juwan for that long.
On the other hand Outlaw had more potential for dramatic impact than did Blake and we might miss that more if you just look at it from the perspective of what we lost instead of what we retained.
The best answer, though, is that Marcus Camby will have more of an impact than both current Clippers would have had combined.
Thanks again for the conversation. Send questions to email@example.com if you wish.