Time to open up the Mailbag!
A couple online rankings (e.g. SBnation and the NBA.com MVP ladder) now have Damian Lillard above LaMarcus Aldridge on their MVP rankings. Personally, I think it's a result of Damian's flashy play, especially in the fourth quarter, receiving a disproportionate amount of attention relative to LA's steady consistency. Since this is a mailbag, I'll keep it short, and just point out that while Damian has certainly won several games in the last 5 minutes, the Blazers were only in position to win those games because of LA's play in the previous 3 quarters.
My question for you: Who do you think is the team's MVP? LA or Damian?
And a quick follow-up: Damian is now receiving WAY more media attention than Aldridge. Do you think the fact that some now see this as "Damian's team", despite the fact that he hasn't been here as long going, is going to be an issue for Aldridge and could it affect his willingness to re-sign this Summer? We saw during the Roy era that Aldridge was displeased to be taking a back set to Roy and Oden, after all.
Asking who the Blazers' MVP is, Aldridge or Lillard, is like asking which is more a part of the mountain, the base or the peak. You notice the peak more; it's the part everyone aspires to climb to. But if the base erodes even a little bit, that peak comes sliding down and can't stand as tall anymore.
That's the relationship between Aldridge and Lillard. Aldridge is the base: wider, more solid, the part that holds up the mountain. Take him away and you're left with a really pretty lump. Lillard owes part of his ascendance to the defensive attention Aldridge draws, the unselfishness Aldridge displays with the game on the line, and the offense that's built squarely around #12. Lillard doesn't cover the surface area Aldridge does yet but he reaches high, standing in part on LaMarcus' shoulder. That height draws attention to the mountain. If Everest were 3000 feet shorter, fewer people would be climbing it and taking pictures. The attention benefits Aldridge and Lillard both.
The Trail Blazers sit at 30 wins as we speak. Take away either of Portland's stars and they're 8-10 shy of that...still a playoff team maybe, but a lower-level one. They're fortunate to have each other and the Blazers are fortunate to have both.
I doubt Lillard's publicity will impact Aldridge's decision to re-sign. If he wanted to, he could hold a closed-door meeting and demand the ball throughout the fourth quarter regardless of situation. They'd have to give it to him. If he harbors that kind of jealousy, we haven't seen any sign of it.
Keep in mind Aldridge's situation with Lillard is far different than his situation with Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Back then he perceived himself as a third wheel. He was young, fighting for respect and dollars in this league. Without distinguishing himself he couldn't get minutes and couldn't get paid. Today he's the #1 option on one of the best teams in the league. If he desires, he'll have suitors beating down his door this summer. He'll get paid tens of millions of dollars without blinking. If he can't get a shoe deal equaling Lillard's, well...seniority dictates that Damian's contract won't equal LaMarcus' for a while either. Even if Lillard ends up grossing more, Aldridge can buy a couple thousand spun gold hankies to cry into and get on with supporting himself and his family for the rest of eternity on what he's earning. Absent personal resentment or a desire for their childhood homes, LaMarcus and Damian have millions of reasons to work together and almost none to split up.
Like most of your readers, I'm feeling pretty optimistic this year about the team's performance. But I'm getting nervous that our fans aren't ready for the playoffs.
From where I'm sitting (1000 miles away, deep in enemy Laker territory, avidly watching on NBA League Pass), it seems like the crowd rarely gets on its feet during runs, rarely starts serious defense chants when the going gets tough, and seems to basically only get excited when the audio system tells it to.
Is my impression right? Didn't we used to have a better crowd? Are we ready for playoff basketball?
I'm sure some of our In-Arena Report correspondents will weigh in on this one. And by the way, we're looking for more season ticket holders to join that group. If you'd like to spend 5-6 games relaying the spirit of the Blazers crowd to our readers, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, a couple forces are at work here.
Though I, too, remember raucous crowds and the amazing buzz at the Memorial Coliseum and Rose Garden, both your memory and mine are suffering from rear-window parallax. My standout in-person season was 1990-91. I saw a metric crap-ton of games live that year. The Blazers went 63-18, the franchise record to this day. Their home record was 36-5. You had Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, Danny Ainge, Cliff Robinson, Buck Williams, and Kevin Duckworth. You had the Perfect First Quarter versus San Antonio, a 15-game winning streak to close the year, beating Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in a critical playoff-preview game in April. It was everything a fan could have dreamed of. But I've also just recounted everything that stands out in my mind: the players, the record, and a half-dozen memorable moments from a handful of games. The Blazers played 41 games at home that year. I can't remember the January 5th contest versus the soggy-biscuit Miami Heat. That means both the crowd and I were probably sitting on our hands, muted, waiting for something exciting to happen during that game. That's true 80% of the time no matter what the season, no matter what the opponent. You see this year's 80% because you're right on top of it. We've all forgotten the 80% from 20 years ago.
But I don't want to dismiss your question entirely because there is some truth to it...and that's a good thing. This year's draft stirred less buzz than any in the last 15 years. Obviously a big part of it was the Blazers having no first-round pick, but even had they selected 24th, the reaction would have been more shrug than celebration. Pre-season didn't hold the same verve either. Why? Because the Blazers have tasted real winning now. Anticipation and the charity that goes with it are taking a back seat in the minds of fans to actual results. Three years ago a single nice play could get the crowd excited. (Maybe the team was learning something!) Now we expect a dozen nice plays before the 6:00 mark of the first and are angry when we don't see them.
This is part of the evolution of any good franchise. It happened in the early 90's with Drexler's teams. It happened in reverse when Bill Walton went down in the late 70's too. That doesn't mean the fan base has turned rotten. It means the team is good enough to generate real results instead of all of us getting over-excited about the possibilities we have to generate in our own heads about a team that isn't performing that well on the court.
Ask a Spurs fan how critical and exciting the regular season is...not just pre-January games but the whole regular season. They'll tell you it's all just a set up for the playoffs. Blazers fans were once like that too. We haven't reached that level again, but we're getting closer. Wait until the post-season starts and you're going to see every bit of excitement and hear all the decibels you're accustomed to...and not just from the scoreboard.
At the beginning of the trade season I read that Luol Deng could be had. I haven't heard any mention of him in talks but he would seem to be an addition to put us in a competitive mix with anybody. With the draft picks we have and bodies available what do you think.
Well, he's a better scorer than most of Portland's bench players. I'll give you that. But I don't trust his shiny three-point percentage this year and his defense has gone farther south than Miami. The Blazers might be able to get him for a salary-match package including Thomas Robinson. (He makes $9.7 million this year, $10.2 million on a player option next.) But if they wanted a forward, Jeff Green would have been my choice over Deng. I wouldn't dislike trading for him but I wouldn't jump over the moon either.
me and my wife are trying to come up with a name for our unborn child. my last name is Johnson she is in love with the name wesley I told her we can only name the kid that if wesley Johnson gets traded before we have the kid in april as i dont want to name are kid after a L*ker. she thinks i am crazy. is she right are am i just a loyal fan. any good suggest on names
With a last name of Johnson, you have to be very careful about associating yourself with any Lakers names. I share your concern. Stay away from Wesley Johnson.
If you'd like a Trail Blazers connotation to the name, Steve is the obvious choice. The guy was voted to the All-Star team as a Blazer, after all. Failing that, you could also go with Clemon Johnson, Ollie Johnson, John, Ken, Chris, Armon, or even Dave Johnson.
If none of those serve and you're enamored with Wesley, you also have solutions available. The simplest would be to get down to the courthouse and change your last name to "Matthews". Problem solved. We'd also accept a name-change to "Money", although you might have to call your son "Wes" to make that sing. (It can still say "Wesley" on the birth certificate.) Or if you want to be the coolest of the cool, switch your last name to Threeball. That would rule. As a matter of fact, you might be able to get away with the original "Wesley Johnson" if "Threeball" were his middle name. And if you do that, I promise we at Blazer's Edge will send you some nice baby gifts and make sure he has a ball and hoop when he gets old enough.
Let us know how it turns out.
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--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge