Talk to me about our point guard situation. Lillard starts but the lineups a little thin after don't you think? Should/will we go out and get another point guard? Maybe a veteran to replace Steve Blake?
If the Portland Trail Blazers were looking to advance through the playoffs this year they'd be worried about this kind of thing. Right now it's a lower priority. They could well bring in an Earl Watson type as a mentor. They've done this before. But that's what it would be...a mentoring role rather than a significant roster boost.
Right now the point guard depth chart looks like this:
1. Damian Lillard's star turn.
2. Give CJ McCollum every chance to be a two-position guard.
3. See what Tim Frazier can do.
Short of somebody getting injured, I don't think the Blazers will make any move to alter that priority list. Nor should they. Giving McCollum a chance to run the offense and Frazier the chance to prove he can shoot a little and curb his turnovers will pay more dividends than any short-term veteran depth.
I was just writing to pick your brain regarding your thoughts on the talent and potential of Noah Vonleh. From what I've seen thus far during his stint in summer league, he seems to have a fantastic feel for the game. At such a young age, his body already appears NBA ready, with lots of mobility and a soft touch around the basket. He also seems very coach-able and willing to learn..I'm a bit surprised more people aren't talking about his possible bright future with the blazers. Care to comment?
Yup. There's a reason he was drafted 9th in 2014. Mobility has always been part of the package with Vonleh, which makes him look good in Summer League where many bigs suffer from a lack thereof. We had the good fortune to see him be able to strut his stuff this year.
As you know, the look changes when you get to the big leagues where mobility among big men is common. Vonleh should still be able to bring rebounding and energy, but his offense is still a work in progress. I don't expect him to take the league, or even the team, by storm this season. He's a longer-term project.
The "coachability" that you reference plus his tender age (just about to turn 20) indicate he's a solid gamble. I'm betting that the Blazers make something out of him. Whether that something ends up being a star, a starter, or a good backup remains to be seen.
This may be long for a mailbag but feel free to chop it up. I assume you are working on some ideas and looking forward to your recommendations for Terry Stotts for the season. Not long ago you talked about the various stages of building a franchise. At the time we were considering making a run, but currently I'm afraid that the majority of fans and the media are missing the big picture.
I am admittedly an idealist. I've always understood and assumed that you don't ever give up on a pro sports team during training camp. I think a head coach should always be aiming for greatness or find a new career. I know I'm not alone but I'm getting tired of people talking about our next lottery draft when I know we have lottery draft picks on the current roster.
An NBA team is lucky to have one all star, and Dame might not make the ballot he is as good as any of them. But he's exceeded expectations for two and a half years, before he got beaten and hit a wall, in February. Why are fans even talking about tanking in July? If he was Paul Westbrook people would be dancing in the streets. Lillard has to listen to the radio and tweets and it just seems rude to suggest that he should "take it easy" as if that's an option.
Wow. That's about 4 questions crammed into one!
On the stages of building a franchise...the Blazers have tried to dis-invest and re-invest all at once. They've done a fine job of the former. The latter has worked as far as it's gone. They're certainly stocked with young players. Their problems henceforth will be two:
1. Can they find anybody to invest cap space in?
2. Do they have enough draft picks and/or young talent to compete against other teams who have been stockpiling the same?
We've talked about the first issue already. It doesn't do any good to bring $1000 to the candy store if all they stock is various forms of 69-cent Hershey's Bars. Other teams have grabbed the high-end merchandise, leaving the Blazers to sift through experimental flavors. That's fine for now but if it continues, their chances to make a serious leap diminish.
Portland isn't in a horrible position, but when you look at teams like the Sixers, Celtics, Timberwolves, and maybe even the Jazz you realize that plenty of franchises can make that claim. They've all got young players and/or the means to acquire same and they all have a head start on Portland.
Being good enough or one of the crowd won't cut it in the NBA. You have to distinguish yourself. The Blazers haven't done that for a while and they have their work cut out for them to do it in the future. John Canzano alluded to this in an article a couple weeks ago. If there was something great about this franchise's brand, it's not there anymore. (Remember we're talking national perspective and not local favor.) Part of the current "rebuild" will be rehabbing that reputation.
People don't understand what being a small-market team means. Operating in a small market doesn't cap your ceiling. Some smaller-market franchises have had great success. It increases the consequences of not reaching that ceiling, though. If you don't succeed--building a great reputation in the process--you have nothing to fall back on. It doesn't matter if you stink our you're just mediocre; functionally it ends up the same. There's no reason for players to go there and little reason to stay there, beyond the money.
Teams with Portland's profile either distinguish themselves or they fail...not necessarily sinking to the bottom, but slogging through a non-distinguished muck of mediocrity. If the Blazers hope to escape that fate (indeed, if they haven't fallen to it already) this turn-around needs to work.
Moving on to the tanking issue, the label doesn't fit comfortably. "Tanking" has the connotation of purposely losing in order to improve one's position. It implies collaboration throughout the organization. That's not happening here.
It is fair to say that this team has been assembled with priorities other than winning every single game possible in the short term. It'd be easy to spend excess cap money on B-level veterans who would provide a few more wins but not help long-term. The Blazers are going a different direction, sacrificing victories in the process. But that's a little different than tanking even if this year's win-loss record makes that difference seem razor-thin.
Throwing Coach Stotts into the question provides another interesting wrinkle. The job of any coach is to wring the most wins possible out of his team. Terry Stotts will continue to do that. That win total won't be high in 2015-16. But let's not equate lack of wins with bad coaching. When Stotts had the players, his teams met expectations. He's not going to have the players this year. That's the difference.
You use the term "aiming for greatness". Every coach should do that and encourage the same in his or her players. Acknowledging this motivation, we still have to distinguish between a coach who's been given a NASA Rocket and told to shoot for the moon and the coach who's been given a BB Gun...or in Portland's case 4 parts of a 10-part BB Gun Kit. The BB Gun coach may actually have better aim than Rocket Guy, but even if that pellet is dead on target it's not going to escape gravity.
Stotts won't morph from a 50-win coach to a 30-win coach overnight because he got stupid. It'll happen because the material he's working with is too raw to make more of it at this time.
We have several more Mailbag questions in the hopper so don't worry if you don't see yours here yet. We welcome all questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.