Mailbag week concludes with some doozies!
Do you think the Piston's acquisition of Josh Smith makes a LA-for-Drummond+parts trade more likely? I was thinking that it not only looks like Detroit is in more of a win-now mode than Id expected with their young bigs, but also that Monroe-LA-Smith would fix a lot of the problems (particularly shooting) that a Monroe-Drummond-Smith frontcourt has. It does leave them without a great post defender, but it's pretty damn good if they want to contend.
This would be one of the hopes for Portland. I'm not sure how much sense it makes for Detroit. I'm pretty sure they'll not jump at something like that now. But they are trying to get more experienced and spring into playoff relevance. Personally I don't think their current experiment will bring them there. In time, they may be more interested in trading for a veteran All-Star than in keeping both of their young bigs. Whether Aldridge is that guy...that's a harder sell. The Blazers may have to over-pay to get a deal like that done, sending over a guard or small forward too. Drummond would be the harder get in any case. I could see them parting with Monroe down the road. Keep it in the back of your mind.
Plenty of LaMarcus Aldridge trade talk out there. I've heard Houston, Minnesota, Chicago. I don't like any of them. Give me an alternative I haven't considered if the Blazers are going to trade him.
Well, if all you're looking for is draft picks there's a team down I-5 who's going to have a down year but will be looking for another star to pair with their returning Hall-of-Famer next season. They'll also have cap space next summer to absorb an uneven trade. They won't have a lot of young talent to trade back but you could ask for their 2014 lottery pick and maybe one farther down the road after that superstar finally retires...
What would you see as decent value for Lamarcus if he were to be traded?
That's the magic question, isn't it? At this point you have to look at talented young guys and picks. Anything that gets the Blazers in the lottery next year has to be attractive. You also look at imbalanced trades, sending out more salary than you take in. The Blazers could easily absorb a young player and a pick for LaMarcus and still walk away with tons more cap space next year or in 2015.
You don't want veterans in return for Aldridge because with him gone, there's not enough immediate talent for a veteran to bolster. The talent you're building around will mature 2-3 years in the future. So you look for future talent to ride that wave and perpetuate it.
Whenever I see references to how poorly the Blazers did during the days when Paul Allen was trying to "buy" a championship team, I have to think we either have amnesia, or we are drinking too much of the corporate Kool Aid they are serving us today. The Blazers of the days that we tend to remember with so much disdain brought us several conference titles and a team that was a just few calls (and minutes) away from making it to the NBA finals against Indiana (which we would have probably won too, btw). Yes, there were character issues, but that has nothing to do with spending. So which one is it? Amnesia or Kool Aid?
Yes and no on the "nothing to do with spending" thing.
In the early days of that era the big contracts were Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Arvydas Sabonis, and Scottie Pippen. Few people were complaining about those four at that point. It's also worth noting that the Blazers re-signed the first three to their big numbers. They were already Blazers when they made big, not free agent or trade pick-ups. (OK, Stoudamire was barely a Blazer, but still...)
Shawn Kemp was the shining example of a bloated, unnecessary contract. And boy was it huge when you factor in luxury tax! But other than that, your Derek Andersons and Bonzi Wellses didn't stray from the $6-8 million range even at their worst. Other than Kemp, the eight-digit salary guys actually performed OK for the Blazers. Portland's problem as the era evolved was spending seven digits on guys who didn't fit, couldn't produce, or didn't have the right attitude. They learned pretty quickly that when another team is willing to part with a player, there's usually a reason. Seeming sweetheart deals and lucky finds aren't always so sweet or lucky.
So no, the issues weren't just dollar-related. The real issue was choosing to spend those dollars on the wrong people as they tried to save their core from decline.
As far as selective amnesia, that happens quite a bit with this franchise. I suspect it has something to do with the Blazers' first blush with greatness becoming legendary even in its own time. We tend to value the legend (or story) more than the event. Thus you get chemistry as the primary reason the '77 team won ignoring the All-World center and All-League power forward who anchored the team. Guys like Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe get forgotten even though they were great players because there was no great story attached. Then you get the Drexler teams being labeled as purely "home grown" even though Buck Williams, Danny Ainge, and technically Kevin Duckworth were all products of trades.
The 'Sheed era is now painted as wholly "JailBlazer" and his behavior characterized as reprehensible even though he was a fan favorite for years and led the team to good showings...a team that included notorious good guys Steve Smith and Brian Grant plus Hall-of-Famers Pippen and Sabonis. Bob Whitsitt was a "terrible GM" even though he was nearly canonized as a saint up until that last, tragic Jailblazer run.
Only a couple years on we're already hearing the former potential of the Roy-Oden-Aldridge era get swept under the rug. You also have Blazers broadcasting trumpeting players when they wear the uniform then talking about their weaknesses after they're done with the franchise.
Some of this is natural. Most is harmless. But it does skew perspective. When everything new is "great"--when the current team has "great potential" and every young draftee or free agent signing is the next "great" thing--you lose sight of what greatness really is. We saw it right in front of us in three eras: Walton, Drexler, and early Wallace. I'm not sure we recognize it anymore, nor the qualities that lead to it.
There are excuses/explanations and then there's greatness. Everything that people worry about happening to modern teams and players also happened to those truly great teams. They overcame it, won 50+, and got deep into the playoffs anyway. That's what made them great. In that sense I think the lack of memory and/or subtle shifting of the stories misleads us. We substitute adjectives and explanations for effort, perseverance, and real results. Creating stories about things that never were and more things we hope might be have their place, but when the line between them and reality gets blurred, important stuff gets lost.
What questions about this team are you most looking forward to being answered (if only in part) in the first month of the season?
It's a little bit of a deceptive question. Almost all of the major questions this year revolve around fit and growth curves. As we've documented, the Blazers have a ton of young players, a ton of new players. Every one of the non-core guys has to grow (plus Damian Lillard from the core as well) and then they have to grow together. Therefore very little will actually be answered in the first month of the season. That's going to be experiment time for the Blazers and for the rest of the league in dealing with the Blazers. My guess is that it's going to take two years (and maybe beyond if Aldridge gets traded) before we really know what this team can do. One month won't cut it.
If you limit the time frame to the first month of the season you're probably looking at evaluating systemic weaknesses. Those tend to jump out early. Strengths come with an asterisk because you don't know if opponents will eventually key in on them and take them away from you, but early flaws tend to turn chronic.
Extend the window a little longer and I'm wondering what most others are: how well C.J. McCollum can produce, whether Lillard has yet another gear, how the defense will change, whether the Blazers can rebound.
Do you see Portland's contract realignment towards 2015 foreshadowing an attempt to sell the team around that time?
The great Justin Bieber taught us to never say never, but I doubt that was the main purpose of the moves. That possibility is always present. The timing would be right with salaries low. One wonders if Allen has the emotional stamina for another rebuild if that becomes necessary. But I don't think that's on the table right now.
Has the recent scramble for teams to perform poorly to hit the 2014 lottery changed your opinion at all? You'll remember my proposal was for all 30 teams to have an equal shot, just pull out of the hat. I feel like we could be in for some epically bad basketball this season, which could end up hurting the NBA. I wish the system was designed to always encourage winning, not tanking to hit a Duncan.
I still don't like that system. However I'm still toying with the idea of multi-year records determining ping-pong ball chances. I think that's solid ground, especially since the league will resist changing the system too much.
At this point my line of thought is:
1. Keep the ping pong balls and odds as they are. I've generally advocated favoring the worst teams more and I'll continue to push that, but...baby steps. I'll just say that this system would allow you to weight the odds towards the struggling teams without losing integrity.
2. Also keep the 14 non-playoff teams as the lottery drawing recipients. No changes there. (Do not confuse the stuff in the next step with this qualification. The non-playoff teams are STILL the lottery teams, no matter what.)
3. However once those 14 teams are set, their order for ping-pong ball odds is determined not just by the past year's record, but by the cumulative record of the last three years. This would make it more difficult for teams like L.A. and Boston to receive a huge bonus for timing their rebuilds fortuitously. This year's record may stink but the three-year cumulative total would keep them in the 12th-14th spots in the next lottery. Teams that have been suffering for years, on the other hand, would have a better chance of drawing higher. But if the Lakers and Celtics stunk for a second year, their odds go up.
Summary: The 14 non-playoff teams make the lottery. You seed the initial order 1-14 based on three-year cumulative record, then draw for the top three spots as usual. You benefit teams that are legitimately struggling and prevent the one-year-tank phenomenon.
Some will argue philosophically that teams who are perpetually bad don't deserve a better chance at the top picks, but that's what the lottery is designed to do. We're just redefining how long you have to struggle in order to be called "bad". Also, as a practical point, a high-picking team has to blow draft after draft to remain that bad for multiple years. If that's happening, having them pick high isn't hurting the rest of the teams. They're just sucking up the chaff, leaving behind more wheat for everyone else. Yes, I'm looking at you, Sacramento.
We'll continue fielding questions as the days roll along. I still have quite a backlog but you can get yours in too via the e-mail address below. Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line.