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How Important is Chemistry to the Portland Trail Blazers?

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A Blazer's Edge reader wants to discuss chemistry. How important of a factor is it in game play, trades, and signings?

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody ready for a chemistry test? Here's the Mailbag.

Dave:

The trade deadline still looms and with all the names mentioned previously, I'm sure N.O. and coach Stotts will consider how well a player will fit into the Blazer system and locker room. But how do we fans get information on a player's style and reputation? So fitting into the current Blazer team could certainly mean shooting treys, but should personality and social traits matter as well? Where does N.O. go to get the "gossip" on potential trade targets?

Cheers, Jerry

How do we fans get information on a player's style and reputation? If by "style" you mean playing style, we can get a pretty good approximation with video analysis and stats. If you're not sure, you can certainly ask at Blazer's Edge. We're as good as anybody I know at that kind of analysis. We can set Willy Raedy on it and you'll have a 3000-word answer with video illustrations by Monday.

Off-court reputation is another matter. For the most part we know only what the media tells us. Sometimes that has more to do with how cozy a player is with the media than with his actual attitude. Teams don't like news about their problem children getting out either, so stories sometimes get suppressed or tabled for lack of on-record testimony. In most cases, trying to gauge attitude is like trying to figure out a blind date's personality based on descriptions from a friend of a friend.

This isn't as much of a problem for GM's. Most of them have worked or played in the league for a while. The community is elite and tight-knit. Word gets around and it's easier to tell who's who from the inside. Failing that, a GM can always ask. He might not get the full story from his counterpart, but few GM's like to burn bridges by lying outright. You might want to deal with the guy again down the road. Plus even if a guy did lie, you'd think an executive at that level would have nose enough to detect something was up. I'm sure GM's get surprised from time to time, but I suspect more of them know what they're getting into when they take on a socially-risky player. They just decide the risk is worth it.

Whether off-court reputation matters is an open question. To some teams more than others, I suspect. If you've got LeBron James in your frontcourt you might be able to look at basketball skill alone. The King creates his own chemistry. Portland depends on mix a little bit more. Even then, they could probably absorb someone on the far end of the social spectrum if the on-court chemistry was right. They'd probably look at the new guy as "the crazy one" and leave it at that.

Off-court reputation does matter with some fan bases more than others. The fishbowl of Portland provides one extreme. You can get away with more in New York and Los Angeles.  Not that you won't be seen; it won't be interpreted the same way. If a Trail Blazer shows up at a local watering hole with 3 girls on his arm and some mostly-legal-now leaves in his pocket, that's a gossip-worthy event. If a socially-promiscuous Lakers player does the same thing, that's a Tuesday in L.A.

My homespun wisdom says that there are advantages and disadvantages to having ultra-tight off-court chemistry the way the Trail Blazers seem to. It allows for a level of teamwork that most franchises can't touch. You end up trusting and caring about each other and the team. We've already seen how together these players are more than the sum of their parts. (Take one of them away and watch what happens.)

If that chemistry never evolves, though--if it gets associated with a group of specific people rather than a common purpose uniting the franchise--it can become insular. At that point you can't welcome new people even if you need them. Also the oddballs in your group usually push you farther than you thought you could go, especially in adversity. Insulated groups usually perform well when they're in their comfort zone but have little recourse when forced outside of it. In NBA terms, some really nice teams post great regular seasons but end up falling off the rails when somebody smacks them in the face in the playoffs.

When the Los Angeles Lakers pushed the Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the 1977 Conference Finals, 1-on-1 specialist Herm Gilliam--who didn't fit the Jack Ramsay system well--ended up going on a rampage and winning the game for Portland. When the Philadelphia 76'ers were bullying Portland in the first 2 games of the NBA Finals that year, Maurice Lucas suddenly turned not-so-nice and started throwing punches. Chemistry should bond, but it shouldn't make you so comfortable that you can't find "crazy" when you need it.

This is one of the lessons the Trail Blazers have yet to learn...or at least haven't been tested completely in yet. To win an NBA title you have to be a little bit mean, a little bit selfish, a little bit ruthless, and totally determined that nobody will stand in your way no matter what you have to do in order to move them. The San Antonio Spurs are the nicest team in league history but there's a reason Gregg Popovich turns from normal-looking bearded dude to James Bond villain in the blink of an eye. As the Blazers found out last year, if you threaten them, they will destroy you. They'll shake your hand after removing their Size 13 sneakers from your posterior, but only after.

If you ask me, the Blazers' crazy meter may read a bit low right now. Their mean meter too maybe. I'd be OK absorbing a guy who was counter-cultural to the team in the right ways...nobody who's going to destroy the chemistry but a guy who makes his teammates go, "Wait, we can do that???" Yeah, you can do that and anything you need to in order to win that trophy. An early-career Ron Artest would be too much, but a later-career version might just fit better than you think.

In any case, chemistry does matter on the court, matters less off the court, matters more in Portland than most places, but is still open to negotiation even here. I don't think the Blazers are chasing anybody who will rock the boat, but if they do make that kind of move someday, a few waves might be just what the team needs.

Speaking of chemistry and karma, it'd do yours good to help underprivileged youth, children, and chaperons see Portland's March 30th game against the Phoenix Suns as you contribute tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here. Please help with a ticket or two (or 10!) if you can.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge