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Portland Trail Blazers: Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Omer Asik Trades Revisited

The Summer Mailbag series concludes with questions about Portland Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams, forward Thomas Robinson, a discussion of the best power forwards in the league, and further exploration of Omer Asik trade possibilities.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Wowzers.  Tomorrow is the Blazers' final pre-season game.  Monday and Tuesday will be devoted to a season preview.  The season opens on Wednesday night.  That means we have come to the end of the Summer Mailbags.  We'll still do them upon occasion, but the opportunities are more rare during the season.  Thanks to everyone who sent in questions this summer.  Keep them coming and we'll keep up as much as possible!


You haven't talked much about Mo Williams.  You liked him when he was signed.  I think he was a major building block for this team.  Can you talk about his impact?


Mo Williams was a great signing for the money.  You cannot argue with a 30-year-old competent veteran carrying playoff experience and tons of confidence for $2.5 million per year.  He's a nice upgrade over Eric Maynor last season.

Things you like about Mo:  He can play as many minutes as you want.  His shooting percentages are good.  He's got three-point range.  His passing ability has been proven over the course of his career.  He knows what the heck he's doing...a rarity among Portland's recent bench players.

Things about Mo that make you itchy:  His defense isn't good.  He has a tendency to "Go Mo", taking over the ball and the game, firing shots that probably shouldn't be taken.  You can't argue with his percentages but timing also matters.  His turnovers swing high sometimes.  You also wonder who he'll be playing for, on a low-dollar contract with a player option next season.  He'll want to prove he's worth good money again.  Whether that ends up good or bad for the Blazers this season remains to be seen.

Notice that the positives are fairly proven while (outside of defense) the negatives are more situation-oriented.  That makes him skew even more positive.  Given the status and needs of the Blazers, this was as close to a no-brainer as it gets.


What about using T-Rob on pick and roll lob or off a high post back door lob like they used to do with Andre Miller? With point guards like Dame or Mo you have to respect and defend for the outside shot leaving the lob pass at the rim open!


That would be a decent idea.  Really, though, Robinson needs to develop a couple of scoring moves--including a bankable go-to move--to become a major part of the offense.  You can run a play like this with some success, but if the defense knows there's only one way you can score they're going to play you accordingly and shut it down.

This is one of the things that people miss when they talk cavalierly about development, as if it's a foregone conclusion.  Consider Damian Lillard.  He came into the league packed with offensive goodness and skill.  He began scoring right away.  But remember the dips and valleys he traversed along the way.  He watched people shut off the lane on him, got shunted into the step-back three as his main weapon for a while.  Then defenders started pressuring his dribble early, forcing him to the sideline or making him dump the ball.  He went through a slump, partially due to the rookie wall but partially due to the league adjusting to him.  Finally he came out the other side with better moves and better decisions than before.  And all this happened to one of the most talented offensive players we've seen in the last decade.

Thomas Robinson hasn't even developed his first move yet.  He's miles behind where Lillard was when Damian started.  Lillard has progressed even farther since in order to remain effective.  You can do a couple things to make it easier on T-Rob but no matter what the journey will be long.  Proponents, detractors, and neutral observers will all need to have patience.


Do you agree with the NBA GMs' poll which slated LaMarcus Aldridge as the league's fourth best PF (tied with Blake Griffin and trailing Tim Duncan, Kevin Love, and LeBron)? Granted, it's tough to have all involved parties share a definition of "best" and ultimately we're talking about opinions. My thoughts when I read that were as follows...

1) If you consider Duncan a PF then sure, LaMarcus probably wouldn't finish first based on their teams' respective records and Duncan's achievement of distracting Father Time. If LaMarcus isn't the best traditional PF in the game then it would be Duncan.

2) LeBron is inserted at the 4 spot because his team is small, though he does rebound with the best of them. But no one would seriously call him a PF above any other position.

3) Kevin Love, when healthy (key words here), is a great rebounder and can knock down threes -- both areas where he outperforms LaMarcus. His defense is questionable at best. Did I mention he has health issues? If the ranking system is more of a prediction then I understand, and I realize it's always been a close call between Love and Aldridge. But if winning is a factor in ranking the "best" like I suggested with Duncan, then Aldridge should get the edge.

Given LaMarcus' complete offensive/defensive game, low post ability, consistency, and reliability health-wise, I would have thought he'd do better than fourth. He's not as entertaining as Griffin or LeBron and isn't as revered as Duncan, so I can see why most fans would rank him lower. But we're talking about NBA GMs here, guys who should know the game better than the average fan who is swayed by highlight reels. Admittedly, if I didn't have a bias towards the Blazers I'd probably think nothing of this ranking. But I've always thought LaMarcus has been underrated in this context because he plays in Portland, doesn't make waves and isn't flashy. Thoughts?


The most interesting thing to pull out of this is the distance between the best and everybody else.  Setting aside the accuracy of the power forward designation for a second, you're talking about Duncan, Love, Aldridge, and LeBron.  As Sesame Street used to tell us, one of these thing is not like the other.  Put Love, Duncan, or Aldridge on the Blazers and we're talking about fighting for a low playoff seed.  Put LeBron on the Blazers and we're talking about fighting for the Finals.  To me, arguing about whether you like Love or Aldridge better is a matter of taste, as is the debate about an old Duncan versus his younger counterparts.  LeBron transcends the taste and hometown pride debate, making superiority a clear reality.

Keep this in mind when you're considering value.  The NBA universe features a couple supernaturally blinding lights and then a large clump of other stars.  LaMarcus Aldridge is underrated in many circles, but not to the point that he's one of those mega-superstars.  As long as folks put him in the neighborhood, it shouldn't matter too much what house he lives in relative to others.

You also have to be careful when throwing around terms like "Best Power Forward in the League" which I, myself, have occasionally appended to Aldridge's name.  That may be true but the distance between the best power forward and the next 2-3 power forwards is relatively small.  The distance between the best power forward and the best players in the league is great.  Having Aldridge ranked somewhere between 1-4 on the power forward scale still leaves him in the 12-20 range overall.  Somewhere around half of the league's teams center around a player as good as--or better than--yours.  That's the most important perspective when considering how good this actually make you.


You mentioned an Aldridge for [Omer] Asik trade.  Would you seriously do that?


Depends on what they offer, doesn't it?

The possibilities aren't strong.  Aldridge has more talent than anybody the Rockets would give up in order to get him.  However the Blazers do have one advantage:  the Rockets can't very well refuse Aldridge, can they?  They're trying to win a title now.  They've converted their former center to a power forward, which may not be a happy situation.  Aldridge's offense would fit in well with Houston.  Aldridge would be returning to his home state, to a strong contender.  They have every reason to believe he'd be with them long-term and that an Aldridge-Dwight Howard-James Harden core could put them in contention for the next few years.

If the Blazers could take advantage of that need to win now, they could set themselves up for the future...not an instant or easy path but a viable one with some patience.

Moving Aldridge for Asik and two forwards--Terrence Jones (18th pick in 2012) and Donatas Motiejunas (20th pick in 2011)--works under cap rules.  The talent imbalance there is severe.  The Rockets would be trading every power forward they have for Aldridge and it would be way worth it for them.  But the Blazers could extract draft picks as well.  Seven years is the limit for future draft picks.  I'm looking at unprotected first-rounders five and seven years out.  The Rockets sacrifice nothing now, dearly later just as the Blazers sacrifice dearly now.  Houston just benefited from Oklahoma City being unwilling to go all-out to win a title when it was within their grasp.  They should know that when you're close, you do whatever you have to in order to get over the top.

From Portland's point of view, Asik is a serviceable center and you get a couple more young power forwards on rookie contracts to try out.  But the real benefit is the picks.  Portland gets worse this year, no doubt making the lottery.  That in itself is like an extra draft pick, considering the Blazers owe Charlotte their 2014 pick if it's lower than 12th.  The next draft is purported to be strong too.  The Blazers also bank on Howard being injured or less effective by 2018 and both Howard and Aldridge getting old by 2020.  It's a calculated risk but not an unreasonable one.

Between now and 2018 you do what you've been doing:  build incrementally, draft well, construct a team around Damian Lillard and your youngsters.  You are not limited at all between now and then.  The Blazers would be tasked with building the best team possible in the interim, making the playoffs in the process.  Lillard will be 28 and seasoned by then, C.J. McCollum and Thomas Robinson 27, Meyers Leonard 26.  If you can build a playoff team out of them plus cap space plus intervening draft picks, those extra selections from Houston could provide the boost (or trade fodder) to take you to the next level.

Houston has to bite the bullet and make a 5-for-1 deal for Aldridge, a mirror of the Scottie Pippen trade in days of yore.  The Blazers have to wait, refocus the timeline into the future instead of the present.  But the Rockets get a few serious title shots and the Blazers avoid Aldridge-gate and add plenty of "assets".

In truth, this might not be a good idea.  It's not a likely idea because most GM's will figure that accumulating draft picks 5 and 7 years out is accumulating them for another GM; they, themselves will likely lose their job before they can execute those picks.  But it does illustrate that alternatives are out there.  If you feared losing Aldridge next year and someone offered you Asik, two young forwards, and two unprotected first-rounders you'd have to at least discuss that.

There you have it.  Enjoy tonight's pre-season finale and tomorrow's recap discussion, then away we go!  As we cruise along, send any burning Mailbag questions to the address below.

--Dave (