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Mailbag Questions

Three major mailbag questions today.

Do you think the new luxury tax system will succeed in restoring competitive balance to the league?

Restore?  I suppose you'd have to go back to the 70's to find anything resembling a competitively-balanced NBA.  The league-changing windfall from the Lakers-Celtics battles of the 80's pretty much put an end to that.  Considering that the 70's were pre-Stern and that TV ratings were abysmal, I'm not sure anybody in the league really wants a truly balanced league...or at least it's safe to say they'd be nervous about it.

To answer your question more truly, I believe that the new system will succeed in evening out spending for most of the league.  Whether that will bring better competition is more doubtful.

The problem is that the NBA is a star-driven enterprise.  In most cases ultra-elite talent succeeds.  There are only a handful of those super players to go around.  No team will have a problem affording one of these guys if they can get their hands on them.   What about the other teams in the league though?  They can't create players out of nothing.  They'll be forced to cobble together rosters from what's left over.

The traditional answer if you can't get a superstar is to build a team of very good players and try to win as a unit.  The Rasheed Wallace-Chauncey Billups Pistons were one example, as were the Wallace-led Blazer teams at the turn of the century.  Assembling such a team under this new system is going to be difficult.  As team success increases very good players tend to get valued (and paid) as stars and stars get valued (and paid) as superstars.  Obviously the Pippen-Smith-Wallace-Grant-Stoudamire-Sabonis-Davis-Kemp incarnations of the Blazers would be prohibitively expensive under the new rules.  That's not a problem.  The problem is, so would those Detroit teams be, or any team that tried to emulate them.  Up until now the ideal for the current Blazers has been a healthy Roy, Oden, and Aldridge dominating with guys like Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez becoming diamonds outside of the rough, a key acquisition like Gerald Wallace providing the boost into elite status, and a veteran point guard leading them all.  The harsh reality now is that even had all of that happened the Blazers would never be able to afford that team.  No matter how many league giants it challenged or NBA Finals trips it earned, that roster would send the franchise into luxury tax oblivion.  Maybe the Lakers with their obnoxious local TV revenue could afford such a lineup but Portland never could.  Had everything gone right, Portland would even now be looking to dump players over the next couple of years.  Even with things going horribly wrong health-wise, Portland is probably still going to be forced to dump a player or two.  I'm not sure how that helps them challenge the league elite.

While this system certainly manages costs around the league, it could also have the unintended consequence of depriving "have-nots" of their traditional recourse when challenging the "haves".  I wouldn't be surprised if you see 6-8 teams fielding legitimate superstars and a bunch of muddling mediocrity from the 22-24 teams behind them. You've made the lesser teams more competitive with each other but not with the big dogs.  Whether that's an improvement, or even a change, in competitive balance is up to you.

What do you think of Jamal Crawford coming to the Blazers?  Or if not him, who else do you think the Blazers could get in the upcoming free agent period.  It's going to be crazy!

Crazy it may be, but not likely for the Blazers.  Jamal Crawford coming to Portland?  For what?  If the Blazers use their amnesty option on Brandon Roy they're still nudging the cap line, meaning they'll have only a $5 million-ish mid-level exception to use to snag a free agent.  If they decide to wait on that decision they're over and have a $3 million mini-exception.  I'm having a hard time imagining a major free agent signing in Portland for that kind of money when every other team in the league can offer the same or more.  Crawford isn't playing for $3 million for sure.  If he'd consider $5 million it'd only be because he wanted to play with his buddy Roy who would no longer be a Blazer under that scenario.

As usual the Blazers are going to have to do some fast-talking to get their hands on a quality guy.  I imagine they'll talk.  I have a hard time seeing them making a big splash. 

The real question for the Blazers won't be who they can pick up in the next few weeks.  It'll be who they can afford to keep over the next couple of years.  Does any free agent on the market make the impact that Gerald Wallace does?  Yet the Blazers may end up losing Wallace for financial reasons if nothing else.  That's the bigger issue here.

We keep hearing this, that, and the other about Greg Oden.  Why doesn't somebody just clear up his status?  Can he play or not?  When are we going to see him again?  We can do microscopic heart surgery but nobody can figure out how far away this guy's knee is?

LOL...nice point at the end there.  But you've got two levels operating here:  what's actually going on with him and what people want to show about what's going on with him.  The question isn't how Greg is, but what we know about how Greg is.

Going extreme, if Greg Oden were 100% healthy and capable of dunking through 20-foot hoops, would we know about it?  What incentive do his agents or the Blazers have to demonstrate his ability on the court until he has a signed contract?   His entourage would be scared witless that he'd get injured again without guaranteed money forthcoming.  The Blazers don't want to drive up his value until he's under contract to them.   Nobody would let him near a court at this point.  I don't believe he's in that kind of shape right now, but the principle holds even if he's short of 100%.

Frankly the information shroud fits in perfectly with the Blazers' historic treatment of Oden and his injuries.  The very first time he went down the team was comparatively forthcoming on his progress.  Remember the stories about bike rides, leg lifts, eventually running?  They were happy to build the drama for his return.  When he went down again after that the disappointment was crushing.  Ever since the safer course has been to let Greg rehab at his own speed and keep the updates infrequent and muted.  After all, what are you going to do with daily, accurate progress reports?  If they're not good you'll just be frustrated.  If they are good you'd probably take a grain of salt, wait-and-see approach anyway.  Either way the proof (and happiness) will only come if and when Oden actually plays again.  Anything prior to that is wasted air from a PR perspective.

How is Greg really doing?  I'm not sure.  And right now that's the way he, his staff, and the team all want it.

Send questions to if you wish!

--Dave (