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Mailbag: Moda Center,Trail Blazers Defense, Scoring, Coaching, and the Stepien Rule

Dave Deckard of answers reader-submitted questions about Portland's new arena name, defense, scoring potential, Coach Terry Stotts, and the awesome power of the Stepien Rule.


Today we're catching up on Mailbag questions, old and new!


Moda Center?  Ugh.


Congratulations!  You've set a new record for shortest Mailbag question ever.  At just three words, that record will probably never be broken.

Despite the assurances of Trail Blazers President Chris McGowan, "Moda Center" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.  But hey, four million bucks is four million bucks.  Either way I'm probably not going to call it the "Moda Center" outside of formal necessity.  If announcers do so a couple times per game, so be it.  It won't affect my experience that much.

I tend to be in the camp of "whatever makes money for the Blazers makes the franchise more viable".  Naming rights are not uncommon in sports nowadays.  It's not like the Blazers are going out on a limb here.  If that money makes management more comfortable, ownership more solvent, the bottom line more palatable, go for it.

Obviously "Rose Garden" was a far more appropriate name for the arena.  The Blazers are running square into Portland's provincial, quirky culture with the backlash against changing it.  But preserving quirky culture costs money.  If 400 Portland residents were willing to fork over $10,000 per year to keep the old name the Blazers might have gone for that.  But I doubt you could find 2 people who would find it important enough to put that kind of money behind.  That kind of puts perspective on the whole controversy.

I wish things were different too.  The world would be a slightly better place if the official name of the arena remained unique and home grown.  But that slight bit of improvement isn't enough to tip my feelings towards the franchise or the building.  There are more important things to worry about.


[Joshua Riddell] wrote a post on the limitations of Robin Lopez's defense.  You've expressed similar concerns.  How much of an issue will this be?  If Lopez doesn't improve the defense who will?


I'm not so concerned about Lopez in isolation.  He'll not be a brilliant game-changer on defense but he'll not be incompetent either.  He'll do his job.

My concern is the enormous pressure the Blazers will be putting on Lopez. Outside of Wright--and even sometimes with him--you can generally assume that the more the Blazers play any of the non-Lopez new acquisitions the worse the defense will be.  Lopez is the only corrective. Even if he's competent, he's not built to handle that. It's like buying a wheelbarrow at Wal-Mart and then using it at a professional construction site.  There's nothing wrong with that wheelbarrow.  It might even work for a while.  But over time the system is going to break down because you're putting too much of a load on a garden-variety implement.

The other issue with Lopez, as Riddell pointed out quite aptly, is that his lack of lateral quickness will force the Blazers to keep him in the vicinity of the basket.  That's not a horrible thing in itself, but it puts added responsibility on the perimeter defenders.  Unless all those guys are rock solid (an unlikely outcome) Lopez will feel like he just turned north on the southbound freeway.  Drivers will be coming at him in droves at lightning speed.  That's a recipe for fouls and frustration.

The first part of the assertion, that Lopez himself is a problem on defense, doesn't reflect my least not compared to other Blazers.  But the final question remains valid.  If Lopez doesn't improve the defense that much--and he probably won't--then who will?  That'll be one of the big issues facing the Blazers as the season starts.


Whatever is right or wrong with the team, you can't argue they have more scoring power now.  Personally I'm looking forward to a season of running up the score!  It will be fun, don't you think?


It'll be interesting to watch them develop, that's for sure.  But I wouldn't describe it exactly as you have.

Technically the Blazers didn't really add that many more scorers.  They didn't get a third guy to carry a big offensive load.  They're still relying on the same people they were last year to bear the burden of the offense:  Aldridge and Lillard, followed by Batum and Matthews from the perimeter.

Mo Williams knows how to put the ball in the hoop but you don't project him playing huge minutes.  Most of the minutes he gets will come in place of Lillard, not in addition.  In other words, you're taking one of your two big scorers off the court just to get Mo on.  C.J. McCollum could become a scorer but he probably needs time to develop.  If you put either Mo or C.J. next to Lillard to add scoring punch you start to worry about the defense big-time.  So yeah, they added a couple of potential scorers in their small guards but that comes with an asterisk or two.

The Blazers DID add a ton of shooters.  Of the 7 guards and small forwards projected to see decent minutes, 6 would be considered good to very good three-point marksmen.  They're not putting anybody out there who can't hit from distance.  That will be the most interesting offensive wrinkle, the thing to watch.  Folks are always talking about the three-point shot being more efficient than the two under most circumstances.  This year we may see whether that statistical observation can survive heavy usage in real-game situations.

The caveats to all of this as far as "fun factor" are two:

1.  Offense is fun to watch up until it becomes apparent that your defense isn't good enough to produce wins no matter how much you score.  Then offense just becomes ironic.  I'm not saying the Blazers are at that point before the season even starts, but it's a possibility.

2.  Copy and paste for rebounding.


This season will be a litmus test for [Coach Terry] Stotts.  If the defense, offense, and win total don't get better he's got to be on the hot seat.  He has to design a system to win with these players or we need to find somebody who can.  Agree?


Agree whether he will be on the hot seat or should be on the hot seat?

Practically speaking, he could be on that perilous perch if things don't go well this year.  But that doesn't mean it's right.  People are overrating the impact of the talent Portland acquired and overestimating the chances of it all gelling together.  The highest upper limits of probability have become the assumed norm.  That's a dangerous situation for a coach.  If the season disappoints people are more willing to say the coach isn't doing his job with these "perfectly good" players than to modify their initial assumptions about talent level.

Honestly I'm looking at that backcourt and wondering how any system that doesn't involve a super-dominant, super-mobile defensive center will coax good defense out of them.  I'm also looking at a team that will, perforce, rely on jump shots for offense.  Unless Aldridge abandons the elbow and heads back inside everything's coming over the top.  No matter how good the shooters are, it's tough to generate 48 minutes of production that way.  Offensive rebounds should be good but defensive rebounding could be a major hole.  Plus the roster is populated with all kinds of young guys.  This isn't to disparage the team.  Rather I'm pointing out that any system Stotts tries to construct is going to be less like building a concrete foundation and more like building a sandcastle.  Certain parts will look good at certain times, but ultimately the fickleness of the building material and the incessant waves of opposition will erode progress.  No matter how good of an architect Stotts is, you can't fault him for not building your dream house under these circumstances.


The draft is past now but here's one more question.  Could you explain the consecutive draft picks thing.  For instance Denver traded away first round pick Rudy Gobert in this draft.  Can they trade next year's pick now?


Yes, they can.

The Stepien Rule is pretty easy.  It says you can't trade away consecutive future first-round picks.  Denver can't trade their 2014 and 2015 picks without receiving a first-rounder in one of those years in return.

The Stepien Rule only cares about the future.  It doesn't see what you did in the past.  What Denver did with their 2013 pick has no bearing on what they do with next year's.  Stepien only counts ahead.

Also the Stepien Rule doesn't care about what you do with players after you draft them, only that you do draft them.  Let's back up to June, 2013 before the draft.  Let's say Denver had already traded away their 2014 pick and that they had no other first-rounders coming in.  The Stepien Rule would have prevented them from also trading away their 2013 pick prior to the draft, as that would have left them without picks in consecutive years (2013 and 2014).  But the Nuggets would have been perfectly free to do what they actually did: draft Gobert themselves and then trade him away.  The Stepien Rule only cares about the first part of that equation, that Denver themselves drafted Gobert.  Once that happens the rule is satisfied, restrictions go away, and the Nuggets can do whatever they please with the player they just drafted.  There's no requirement to keep him, even for a second.  The only requirement is that they execute a pick.

Keep those questions coming to the address below!  We'll have another edition tomorrow.

--Dave (