Yesterday we ran a discussion question asking whether Brandon Roy is getting a fair shake among Portland Trail Blazers fans. I promised to weigh in with my thoughts so here you go.
I've seen a couple broad approaches to Brandon Roy amongst Portland's fan base. One says that Roy deserves every benefit of the doubt in appreciation for what he's done for the franchise. It's typified by phrases like "how quickly they forget". People cite the Game 4 comeback during this year's playoff series as an example of what Roy is capable of, presumably now and in the future both. People are still willing to hitch their wagon to the guy and ride as far as he will take them.
The second approach not only paints Roy as washed up, but assaults the canon of Saint Brandon by pointing out that his isolation-oriented offensive game isn't good for the team and probably never was. The presumptions here are that Roy is somewhat self-centered, unable to adapt, and that his ascension kept other players in his shadow and the team's offense crippled. The current citations supporting the point revolve around Roy's performances outside of Game 4...performances during which he appeared slow and out of sync.
My take: there's truth on both sides but each goes too far.
Let's start with the obvious. Today's Brandon Roy is nowhere close to his All-NBA form. Residual appreciation for past performances is fine but said appreciation does not ameliorate today's grim reality. Asserting that the Blazers should do X, Y, or Z with (or for) Brandon because of what he did three years ago is like arguing that the Lakers should reacquire Shaq because he once won them titles. Strip away the emotion and the rooting and this guy is less than a shell of himself.
Nevertheless, that somewhat brutal assessment does not call for revising history. The descriptions "slow, not-adaptable, self-centered, isolationist" are colored by the lenses of today. When Roy had good knees that same game was both brilliant and a lifeline for this team. Roy was never a guy to demand the ball for 48 minutes. In fact he often let his teammates control the offense for too much of the game, only stepping up late. He took most of the shots and scored more points than anybody else because that's exactly what this team needed. Here's a list of his teammates during 2008-09 when his scoring average peaked:
LaMarcus Aldridge (sophomore), Nicolas Batum (rookie), Jerryd Bayless (rookie), Ike Diogu, Rudy Fernandez, Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw, Joel Przybilla, Shavlik Randolph, Sergio Rodriguez, Michael Ruffin, and a duo of Greg Oden and Martlell Webster playing 5 minutes all season between them.
Aldridge scored 18.1 points per game during that season taking 1.6 fewer shots per game than Roy did. (By comparison LMA averaged
19.8 21.8 this season, his own peak.) Name me any other person on that team in whose hands you would trust the ball when scoring was required. Most haven't prospered since regardless of teammates or environment. Of those who have they're either not primary scorers like Frye and Blake or still aren't ready even two years on like Batum and Bayless.
People want to paint Roy as some kind of isolation hound but the truth is he played on teams that never gave him alternatives. Even with that he still averaged 5 assists, took but 17 shots per game, and averaged nearly 48% on those shots. That's hardly Allen Iverson's shooting territory. And the team won 54 games with Roy playing his game.
In a nutshell: The team suffers when Brandon Roy tries to play his old role with his new knees. The offense looks slow, isolated, jumper-and-dribble-heavy now because of Roy's utter lack of mobility. If this is all he's capable of he's going to be a millstone around the team's neck for more reasons than just his contract. But the franchise would give its left eyeball (or left anything) to have Roy back playing exactly the way he did in 2008-09 because not only was he better, the team was better for it. Furthermore Roy has not really been tested playing with high-level teammates other than perhaps Aldridge, whom he's already shown he can support. There's no reason to assume a healthy Roy's game would disadvantage anyone else who deserves to be advantaged even though an unhealthy Roy trying to exceed his ability surely does.
If Roy can't approach his old level of play the Blazers are in a dark spot. If there's any way he can, though, they have to leave that possibility open and give him the chance. Both of those assertions stem from the same reason: he's a transformational player of the kind that can't be casually replaced. There is no "next Brandon Roy" on this roster. In some ways the Blazers are trying to make hamburger in the absence of ground beef. No matter how nice the pickles and lettuce are, something is missing.
We all need to understand that this is not the Brandon Roy of old, which means he shouldn't carry the same role nor playing time as he once did...at least until he's shown he can handle them. The burden of proof is on him to show he can contribute. But that doesn't mean we should forget what a good-to-go Brandon Roy does for this team nor assume that he'll never be able to contribute in a productive way. If there's any...any...hope at all both the franchise and its fans need to take a wait and see attitude laced with a little hope and prayer. The team won't be the same without him. That's true whether he suits up and plays or not.