For those who may of missed it, here's a transcript of this weekend's Blazer's Edge Podcast with Chris Lucia and Evans Clinchy, provided courtesy of Blazer's Edge reader Hailboognish. This weeks episode was all about the Portland Trail Blazers rebuild. You can hear the audio version here.
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Blazer's Edge Podcast Ep. #61
Chris: Welcome and thank you for joining us for episode #61 of the Blazer's Edge Podcast, presented to you today on blazersedge.com. I'm your weekend host Chris Lucia. If you'd like to get a hold of us at the show, you can do so anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org, and please don't forget to rate, review, and subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher.
Joining me this week on the Blazer's Edge podcast is Blazer's Edge staff writer Evans Clinchy. Evans, we're on about episode 61 right now, I believe, which means I've done about 30 of these myself, and Dave and Phil have done roughly the same amount, and I believe this is your third or fourth time, meaning that you are the featured guest on roughly ten percent of the episodes. So how does it feel to be one of the most frequent guests on the Blazer's Edge weekend podcast?
Evans: That is a tremendous honor, I had no idea! I mean, I thought you had dozens of people more important than me to talk to, but I'll take it, I'm happy.
Chris: No, you're right, you're up there with Willy Raedy and a couple of other guys, so you're in good company.
Evans: I'll absolutely take that, yeah.
Chris: So this offseason and actually during the season, you've been writing a weekly article. Generally they come out on Fridays, is that right?
Evans: Yeah, I'm the Friday morning guy.
Chris: Blazer's Edge readers can find your work every Friday morning at blazersedge.com, for those interested, and today we're actually gonna go over several of the articles that you've posted over the last couple of weeks because there's been quite a bit going on with the Blazers this offseason, as everybody knows, and there's quite a bit to think about. Evans, the Blazer's Edge readers and listeners really appreciate your thoughts on the Blazers and everything that's been going on, so let's go ahead and dig into those. You have some interesting experience, and you did write about this a few weeks ago, in regards to rebuilding and following a rebuilding team, and covering a rebuilding team, and that's because you come from Celticsblog, and you've been covering the Celtics for a number of years. Now, as I understand, after the big three that the Celtics had from 2008 to 2010, was it?
Evans: *unintelligible* until 2012, the other guys until 2013, but yeah.
Chris: So you have some experience following the big three kind of breaking up a few years ago and then bringing in a new coach and bringing in several newer, younger players, and the Boston Celtics were actually able to get themselves back into the playoffs, probably quicker than a lot of people expected. I know they're out East, so the path to the post-season is a little less treacherous than it would be for the Blazers in the Western Conference, but you were able to draw a few parallels for the Blazer's Edge readers in your article, do you wanna talk a little bit about your experience following the Boston Celtics during their recent rebuild?
Evans: Yeah, well the thing that came to mind to me first, and I wrote about this a few weeks ago, is just that when the rebuild first starts, it's really, really hard to have perspective on the whole process, because I remember the night that it first hit me, "Okay, it's over for this previous era of the Celtics", it was draft night in 2013. That was when they traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, "This is all we got? For two future Hall of Famers and a third-rate player in Terry, we get just draft picks, that's it?" The Nets are going to be a middling team in the NBA next year, they're going to pick 15th in the draft, and we're trading the legacy of our great players for these 15 overall picks, is this all? And I was really pretty angry the minute that it happened, I was wondering why in the world Danny Ainge would do this. Not just to Pierce and Garnett, who were really loyal guys to him, but also why would he do this to the fanbase? Why wouldn't he make his fans say goodbye to these players that they loved so much? In the moment, I was so angry about how everything went down, and I realize now, looking back two years later, that I was insane to be so upset, because of course he got great value for two guys who were aging and weren't going to contribute very much at all moving forward. He got an early start on rebuilding the franchise, and two years later, he's in the playoffs. He traded Pierce and Garnett in part for a trade exception that he turned into Tyler Zeller and a pick, in a trade with Cleveland, and then he turned that pick into Isaiah Thomas, and that's two starter caliber players that he got right there in that trade. And then he went out and got Jae Crowder in a trade for Rondo, he got player after player after player, and he added up assets so quickly that he turned this aging falling apart team into a really good group of young players that was able to make the playoffs this year. And I realize now that that trade to get rid of Pierce and Garnett and send them to Brooklyn was actually exactly what they needed, which is so hard to realize at the time. You know, the Celtics had been to the playoffs every single year that they had Garnett, 6 years in a row, and it was hard to say goodbye to that and embrace this team that was going to be a lottery team the following season. How do you accept that? At face value it seems really tough. But looking back now, it's like yeah, of course it's the right move, and I try to bring that perspective now to Portland and say look, it's gonna be tough in the short term. There's no Aldridge, no Batum, no Matthews, no Lopez, etc., but in the long run this is for the best. You're going to take all these young guys you're building around now, you're going to make something work. It might not take only a year, it might take two, three, four, five years, it might be a while, but in the long run you're going to build something from this, and you're going to be happy that you were able to move on from everything you had previously. I know it's different thing for Portland because the guys that you say goodbye to here in Portland are Aldridge, Batum, these are young guys. 28, 29 year-old guys who are in their primes, and it wasn't like that in Boston. But just the same, I think that this is a team that has a lot of young talent, they have young guys that you can build around, and eventually it'll work out for them. It's just hard to have perspective when you're in the moment, it's just going to take some time.
Chris: Yeah, and Dave Deckard, our managing editor over at Blazer's Edge, posted a mail-bag question for the readers to respond to where he asked: Knowing what we know now, everything that happened this offseason with the Blazers, would you go back and rather have Lamarcus, Wesley, Robin, Batum, Afflalo, everybody coming back, and then going to the third season with the same 5 starters and going in to Terry Stotts' fourth season, or knowing what we know now, would you prefer to let the chips fall as the may, and look at this exciting new, young core and see what happens? And I was kind of thinking about it, I was kind of torn at first because for the last couple years I've been saying continuity, continuity, keep this team together, allow Stotts to work with this starting five, let them build trust with each other so that things on the court become second nature in the way that Golden State's lineup has been able to develop over the years. But now it's hard to look at the core that Neil Olshey has brought in and not be excited about it. I'm hearing names from you when you're mentioning the Celtics rebuild, you're saying names like Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and I don't think it's that dissimilar to names like Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Vonleh, Ed Davis, some of the guys, Gerald Henderson, that Olshey has brought in this summer to be complementary to Damian Lillard. One big difference that I think most fans would probably notice when comparing the two teams is that the Celtics didn't have that foundational building block. I know Marcus Smart is a great player, but I don't think that the Celtics had that building block the same way that the Blazers have Lillard, is that fair to say?
Evans: Yeah, we're thinking at first that Rondo might be that guy. I think they realized after a time that he's not the kind of player you build around in the modern NBA. He can't shoot, he's a one-dimensional offensive player, he gets assists and not much else. His effort on defense has been suspect for a few years now. Rondo has a lot of talent, and there's certain things he does very well, but they realize that for a year or so, he's not exactly the kind of guy who's the centerpiece of your team. Lillard is that guy, he's an incredible scorer and playmaker offensively. I think he will get better defensively, he's so young and he's got some time to develop, but he'll get there. Lillard is a much more stable all-around guy that you can build around that Rondo isn't quite. Lillard is a great center-piece and I think you're right, they have a lot of assets, guys like Plumlee and like Aminu: players that you can build around, much like the Celtics did, and they're going to be moving in that direction. You're also correct to say though, that it is the Western Conference, it's a lot tougher, and that conference dynamic might change a little bit. Eventually, teams like Dallas are going to get older, the Spurs might get older, that balance might shift a little, but absolutely, there are a lot of teams in the Western Conference that will put up a fight, and it's going to be tough for the Blazers to get through them. I don't know if you can really ask that question: would you rather have the same starting five back or this rebuild? It's such an unfair question to ask. I think that's part of the stages of grief, right? That's bargaining, right? I don't really see the point in bargaining because it's over and done with, you can't change what's happened. Of course I don't think that Mason Plumlee is better than Aldridge, or that Henderson is better than Matthews, that's not what we're talking about. But as a fan you go through different cycles, and we had our chance in Portland to be a title contender, and we're following a different kind of team. It's a whole different trajectory, a whole different arc, but it's worth caring for all the more because it's such an interesting path that they're on now. If you don't mind watching a few losses here and there, it's going to be fun to watch because it's a really interesting story. We can ask questions like "How long does it take them to make the playoffs again? Two years or five? Is this guy a part of the rotation moving forward, or is this guy a part of it? There's a lot of interesting debates you can have, a lot of interesting conversations that go into this process. The Blazers are not winning a title in the next two or three years, that's for sure, but having said that, it's going to be really fun to watch what they can do moving forward.
Chris: I think that you mentioned the stages of grief, I think I'm probably at the acceptance phase of grieving. I have been since July 4th, since LaMarcus announced what was going down, because you heard what happens. In my opinion, there was no use wringing your hands over what happened, let's just start looking forward from this point on. So I'm excited for next season. One last question about the Celtics and we'll move on to more Blazers specific talk: In my opinion, Brad Stevens has lined himself up to be a perennial COTY candidate based on what he's been able to do in Boston the last couple seasons and based on it looks like he's going to be able to do out East with the Celtics going forward, I know a lot of pundits really appreciate his approach to the game, and I know that the players on that team really appreciate the coaching style, so if we're kind of comparing and contrasting here, what could Terry Stotts do that Brad Stevens was able to employ with that young group of players that Danny Ainge brought in for him in 2013?
Evans: I think it's tricky for Stotts, because he's going to have to kind of shift his mentality. He's used to coaching a real title contending team that he had last year, and the year before in Portland. He's going to have to change his mindset. You look at Brad Stevens, he came from Butler where he was coaching a mid-major school but couldn't compete with the Indianas and Illinois of the world for recruits. He was the underdog in every NCAA tournament he went into and when he went to the Final Four it was like who's this guy? And from what school? He's used to being the underdog and he's used to triumphing over low expectations and all that. For Stotts, it's going to take some patience because he's been through an entirely different kind of team. Coaching guys like Aldridge and Batum who were in their primes, ready to win right now, just coming to work every day the mindset is different. And now it's going to have to be a slower, more patient process. He's going to have to focus less on the day-to-day results, the wins and losses, and focus on developing players and chemistry, cohesion. It's an entirely different job, I hope he can adjust to that. We'll see.
Chris: The Celtics with Doc Rivers, I don't know if they were particularly iso-heavy with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo at the helm there, but I know when Brad Stevens came in, they were top 5 in the league last year in terms of the amount of passes per game that they made. He was able to take that young core of talent and get them to move the ball around, and to trust each other, and to put their players in position that they could succeed. If we're looking at the Blazers, do you think that's something that Stotts could employ? Cause I know that with Aldridge last year, it wasn't the most iso-heavy offense in the leauge, I think it was somewhat middle of the road in terms of passes per game, but I know that Aldridge had a 30% usage rate, and a lot of his shots came from the mid-range, but Stotts has been lauded as a Blazer coach for employing that passing offense, finding the open man, looking for the next best shot that you can possibly find. Do you think that's going to be more of a distinct possibility this year with the amount of talent that the Blazers have on the court?
Evans: It's an interesting point you raise, because that's another similarity between the two rebuilds. They both rebuilt after getting rid of a ball-stopping player. You look at Aldridge: he was kind of a ball-stopper, you throw him the ball in the post and let him do his thing even if it takes 5-8 seconds. Paul Pierce was kind of the same way; give him the ball at the elbow, he's one-on-one against a defender, and he'll try to drive that up and get fouled or step back for a jumpshot, and Pierce stopped the ball too. Superstars, established guys like that, they're going to be like that sometimes. When you lose that guy, you have to adjust the way you play. Stevens in Boston built a team that was really collaborative on both ends of the floor. They move the ball offensively. Defensively, they were so quick and so active, they help trap, it was a really active way of playing and they all worked together so well. Brad Stevens talked about how there was never any clear best player or second-best player on his teams, it was all 1-11 they were so balanced. When you have a team like that, you can't have one guy stop the ball more than everybody else, it's not supposed to work that way. So it needs to be collaborative. That's something they're going to have to do in Portland because they don't have Aldridge anymore. Lillard isn't a ball-stopping guy. He's a quick guy who makes plays within two seconds. He drives and scores quickly or passes quickly. Lillard's a superstar player, and you can absolutely have him as your cornerstone, but he's not going to hog the ball for 10 seconds. He's going to be the guy that keeps the rest of the team active and making plays quickly. When you've got a team of guys who are young athletes, which I think this next Blazers team is going to be, I think it's going to fit. Lillard and the rest of those young guys are going to fit together really well on a team that is, on both ends of the floor, really quick and active and collaborative. That's something that Stotts is going to emphasize as a coach on this team. Let's all work together and play the right way.
Chris: Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, in my opinion, on the defensive end are more effective, I would say, than a starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, so we'll see what happens on the defensive end. I'm not sure about the defensive potential of the Blazers backcourt, but they definitely have a number of bigs who are long, lengthy, athletic. Meyers Leonard, we'll talk about him more later on in the show. Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh's a guy where we don't really know what his role is going to be. Moe Harkless is a really long guy on the wings, Al-Farouq Aminu's a great individual defender and a great help defender. Gerald Henderson is an all-around solid defender as well. The parallels are kind of different in the backcourt, but in terms of the overall nucleus of talent on the defensive end, the Blazers definitely have quite a bit of potential. Not as much as the Celtics, they're trending toward the right path. Let's move on a little bit and talk about another one of your off-season articles that you put out. It's called "Could the Blazers young core be among the NBA's best". In this article, you kind of went through point by point and looked at a number of the Blazers individual players that they brought in and kind of broke down how they may be able to contribute this season. We'll just go through point by point and kick it back and forth here. The first question you raised in this story is "Is Lillard committed to being a two way player?" Do you think that Damian Lillard can and will improve on the defensive end of the court next year, and what do you think he needs to do? Do you expect any growing pains for him?
Evans: First of all, I think he really needs to. As a guy who's still young but is definitely the leader of this team now, he needs to be a guy that leads by example. And I don't think this team is gonna work hard on the defensive end unless he does. So I definitely think that with these youngsters, guys like Vonleh and Harkless and the rest of them, they're going to look to Dame to set an example. And if he can't play hard on defense, it's going to be an issue. I think he can get better, i think it's mostly an effort thing with him. He definitely has the athletic attributes that you needs: he's quick, he's fast, he's got good footwork when he needs to. I think he's got all the skills that he needs to be a good defensive player, he just needs to put it together mentally and just try harder, really. So I think he can get there, but I also think that's really hard to get motivated to do that when you're on a team that's probably not gonna win a lot of games. When it's mid-February and your team is 19-38, how do you motivate yourself to play defense every night? I don't know what to do about that. It's going to be a long process with him because he's gotta be motivated and have the entire team's ear. They've all got to be take his example and listen to him. It's going to be tough to see if he can keep that chemistry together when it's going to be a rough season win-loss wise. But I think eventually he's got to get it figured out defensively. If he doesn't, it's going to be hard to see him as the best player on a real contending team. I don't know if it happens this year or next, but I think eventually he'll get there. He has the potential to be a really good defensive player. I just don't know how long it'll take.
Chris: Yeah, I think a good example of that would be Steph Curry. He was probably a below average defender for the first 3 or 4 seasons of his career, and then that 5th and 6th year he became... I don't know that you'd consider him a strength of Golden State's defense, but he became not a weak link in that defense. For Lillard, a big thing would be him being able to handle screens better, particularly in the pick and roll, and bringing in these younger, more mobile athletic guys, like a Leonard, like an Ed Davis, like a Plumlee, that's going to allow them to help out more on his screens. They're going to be able to hedge a little harder. show a little bit more in the screen and roll so that Lillard's not hung out to dry so much going over the top of screens on the perimeter. Moving forward though, one question you raised in this article was "Can Al-Farouq Aminu learn to shoot?" We know that his first five seasons of his career, he shot 31%, 28%, 21%, 27%, and again 27% from beyond the 3-point line. In an offense like Stotts', that's not going to cut it for a small forward if the Blazers want to score as much as they were able to last year. It's curious to me that he played for Rick Carlisle in Dallas the last season and half, two seasons? and was putting up those numbers because you would think that if he had the potential to be a good 3-point shooter in anybody's offense, it would be under Rick Carlisle, right?
Evans: Yeah, you would think so. Dallas was not a very deep team, especially after they traded for Rondo (coming full circle here). They traded their whole bench: they traded Crowder, they traded Brandan Wright to Boston for Rondo, they were forced to give Aminu a bunch of minutes. He was really their best bench guy left. It's hard to have a guy on the perimeter like that that can't shoot, because that just means that there's one more defender who can not bother to close out on you when that's a guy that could be close in on the paint. There were a lot of situation last year where Dame would attack the basket and guys who were playing on the perimeter couldn't collapse on him because if they left a shooter open like Batum, they were dead meat. But if you're guarding Aminu next year and Lillard drives to the basket, you can double Dame with no sweat. You're just not worried about Aminu hitting a jumper on you. That's going to be a problem, and I don't know how the Blazers adjust their play to account for that. I don't know if there's way you can use Aminu in a non-shooting role. Just have him set screens and be a decoy or something, but I don't know. It's really hard to be a perimeter player in the NBA today if you can't shoot. The game has been trending in this direction for a decade now, where teams want to have all 5 guys on the floor that can shoot at once, and when you're Aminu it's hard to fit in. I don't know how he plays into this offense that Stotts is going to have next year in Portland, I really don't.
Chris: Yeah, I'm curious. I think the best way to do it would be to put him in position to where he can hit open three-pointers. By that you probably have to have him on the floor with guys who can penetrate and kick out like Damian, like CJ, other guys who can take some of the pressure off of him on the perimeter like Meyers, who can maybe pull Aminu's defender in the corner off of him and allow Aminu to get more wide-open threes. But if he's taking three-pointers that aren't wide open, I don't specifically see him being able to improve much on that kind of 28%-29% clip that he's been shooting at for the majority of his career. Moving on, you mentioned in the story Noah Vonleh and Moe Harkless. I think these are two of the guys... Vonleh in particular, that Blazer fans saw very little of. There's such a small sample size, but those couple summer league games that Vonleh played, he showed his physical abilities, he showed a face-up game, he showed the ability to stretch the floor from that position. He's got good size for his position, he's young, I think he just turned 20 or he's about to. Boatloads of potential. I think Harkless has had an up and down career with the Magic, I believe he's only 22 or 23 years old, his minutes were limited last season, and his 3rd year was the worst season of his career. He had a bad year shooting from outside. What do we make of Noah Vonleh and Moe Harkless at this point from what we know?
Evans: I'm a lot more optimistic about Vonleh than about Harkless. Vonleh is so young and so untried in the NBA that we really can't conclude much about him yet. He was in Charlotte last year. He slipped in the draft, a lot of people said he was the best power forward in a LOADED 2014 draft class. They said he was better than Aaron Gordon, better than a lot of guys. He ended up slipping because of some minor injury concerns, slipped in the draft and got picked 9th by Charlotte. Charlotte stashed him on the bench as the backup to Al Jefferson who's an all-NBA caliber guy. I think it was like 230 minutes that Vonleh played the entire season, that's not enough time to really find your rhythm in the NBA. He was sitting on the bench for weeks at a time with 0 minutes, and I don't think we can really judge him because he looked like a guy who didn't really have fine-tuned NBA instincts yet. He would get the ball in his hands and he would try to go to the rim every single time, even if there is a top rim-protecting center like Deandre Jordan at the rim right there, he would still try to attack the basket and score. He just didn't really have the right instincts for when to pass, when to pull-up for a jumpshot, when to do something different rather than do something other than just attack the basket. I think those instincts will develop more with time. He just needs to get more NBA reps, he's got to get used to the strength and speed of the players he's playing against. He was playing at a high-school in New Hampshire then he was playing in Indiana for one season as a freshman. He was used to being the biggest, toughest player on the floor, but now that he's in the NBA it's going to level the opponents he's playing against. He needs to get used to that. 230 minutes is not enough time to conclude anything about where he's at, and it'll take some time. With Harkless, I'm less sure about him. He's been in the NBA for three years now. Picked in 2012, he had three years with Orlando which was... The Magic was not the Hornets. The Hornets made the playoffs in 2014. The Magic have been a young, rebuilding team all along. Moe Harkless is exactly the kind of guy who's supposed to thrive on a team like the Orlando Magic and yet he didn't, and that kind of worries me. The Magic traded Harkless to the Blazers for a second-round pick that was heavily protected, I believe. It's 56 or lower protected. So they basically traded him for nothing. When a young, rebuilding team trades Harkless for nothing, it kinda makes me wonder what are the Blazers seeing in him that Orlando didn't? And I don't really have an answer for you right now. You look at his numbers, he's kind of a so-so shooter, so-so defender, there's nothing that he's really plus at. Maybe there's a hidden skill that he's got that Stotts is going to bring out that nobody else has yet, but I gotta admit I don't know what it is. We'll see if he gets more minutes in Portland this season and he gets a chance to show what he can do, but right now I'm not sure what he can do.
Chris: I believe they maxed out Tobias Harris this offseason, if not paid him a great deal of money to be their starting small forward of the future, the Orlando Magic, and I believe that they moved Aaron Gordon to that 3/4 role where he's backing up Harris because Channing Frye starts in the front court with Vucevic. Always is a struggle to pronounce some of the foreign players on other teams that you don't hear all the time. At any rate, they have a great, young front court that they are pushing to get more minutes, and I can see why Harkless was squeezed out. We don't really know if his agent asked for a trade, or what the circumstances were leading ot that, we don't necessarily know that Orlando was super low on him. But we do know that they gave him up for a very heavily protected second-rounder, so it's basically table scraps, so it absolutely make you wonder, but you have to like his elite length that he has from the small forward position. He can get out on the run, and he can finish at the rim a little bit, so it'll be interesting to see where he fits in there at that small forward role with Aminu, Gerald Henderson might slide over to the 3, Allen Crabbe, definitely a dog-fight for minutes at the 3 for Harkless. Speaking of wings, we can move on and talk about CJ McCollum because you brought up an interesting point, wondering if he can get more efficient offensively. Where do you see CJ McCollum improving this season and what do you think he needs to do to become a more efficient, more complete scorer, distributor and player for the Blazers?
Evans: I don't want to sound like I'm bashing CJ because I love CJ. So much fun to watch, really likable guy and a likable player. You watch him and you want him to be great, and then you look at the numbers and they're not really satisfying. The Blazers scored 105.3/100 posessions, 109.1 with him out. Better team with him off the floor, which is understandable because he's backing up Wesley Matthews, a very good offensive player for a lot of the season, and Afflalo too. You dig deeper into the numbers and he's not a very good scorer at the rim, misses a lot of shots at the rim. He's not a great long-range two point jump shooter, he takes too many of those long 2s. There's just certain spots on the floor where he shoots to much and doesn't make a high enough percentage of them, and I think he'll come with a little more experience in the league and a little more self-awareness of where he's good and where he's not on the floor scoring the ball, and I think that's a really important skill for any player in the NBA, self-awareness of where you can score and where you can't. CJ is a good shooter from just outside the point, 9 feet away, good shooter from 3, there's some shots that he hits very well and some that he doesn't, and if he can find a balance between taking the right shots and passing up others, that'll be a big plus for him. I think that's the main thing. Aside from that, it's reducing his turnovers, taking care of the basketball, making sure that every possession you get a good shot. That's pretty much all it is. I think McCollum's a really talented guy, and just mentally he's got a couple of things to figure out but he'll get there.
Chris: Yeah, he does have some pretty insane handles and it's kind of interesting because I believe it was Neil Olshey in the press conference, discussing the Aldridge fallout or Terry Stotts around that time, I remember one of the Blazers staff mentioning that CJ is likely to play a combo-guard role off the bench, to where he would be handling the ball a lot more in offensive sets, setting up the offense. That's definitely going to be interesting to see because the Blazers also have Tim Frazier and Phil Pressey who are going to be fighting for roster spots come this fall in training camp, so I'm definitely interested to see where CJ gets the majority of his minutes, if that's going to be at the off-guard position in catch and shoot scenarios or creating for himself, or he's going to be of a distributor and using his penetration to create for his teammates. That's definitely something that Blazers fans can really look forward to next year, because as I mentioned, he definitely has an above-average handle, and it is fun to watch him play. He has kind of a jerky-jerky game, the way that a lot of Blazer fans remember Brandon Roy having. I'm not by any means saying that CJ is the next Brandon Roy, but you definitely see that deceptive athleticism that he has, so it'll be interesting to see if it's going to be creating offense for himself mostly, or for his teammates. Moving on, the last point that you made in your article that's discussing the new core that the Blazers have, you asked: "Can the relatively old guys also contribute long-term?" And so if we're looking at the team, you have Chris Kaman, who is 33 years old, and Gerald Henderson, the next oldest guy at 27. Ed Davis is 26, Plumlee is 25, Lillard is 25, Aminu is 24, about to turn 25 maybe. So who exactly would you even consider an old guy on this team?
Evans: First of all, Chris Kaman is not relatively old, he's actually old. The other three though, Davis, Plumlee, Henderson, those guys are in the 25 to 27 range. If you're Ed Davis, for example, do you want to stick around for 4 years and be part of a long-term rebuilding process? If you're 26 now, you're going to be 30 at the end of that process. You're saying goodbye to 4 prime years of your career. That's asking a lot. It's a question of where do you put the cut-off point, right? What age is too old to be part of a rebuild like this? If you're Davis or Plumlee, are you happy being part of this or would you rather play your prime years for a contender? How long did they sign Davis year, 2 years?
Chris: 4 years.
Evans: Oh, it's 4, okay good. So Davis will be around. You gotta start thinking about windows. What year are the Blazers going to be really good? Is it four years from now that they're going to be a really strong contending team again, and if that's the case, is Davis going to be a really strong contending team contributor at 30? Maybe the answer is yes, maybe not. Gerald Henderson is another example, he's already 27. What if Henderson is 30, 31, 32 by the time the Blazers are good again. Does he still have the skills at that age to contribute? He's a guy that relies on his quickness to get to positions, to get around screens, to get his 3-point shots. Can he still do those things in four or five years? These are tough questions, and we don't have to answer them because maybe they go through a whole lot of trades over the next few years and move all these guys. Four years from now we're not talking about any of them except Lillard and one or two other guys. I don't know the answers, I just think they're interesting conversation prompts. There are so many moving pieces on this roster, and it's so hard to predict who stays and who goes over the next few years. That's the way these rebuilds work. The Celtics had so many guys on their roster that were decent young players worth building around, guys like Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, these are really solid players that you can build a team around, but you also don't have to. You can move them, and you can get assets back. It's a really flexible process when you have 10-12 solid rotation guys on your roster, who do you keep, who do you move on from? It's a really fluid conversation and I don't know where we're going to go in Portland.
Chris: Yeah, if you look at a lot of the long-term prospects for some of these front-court players, and you're considering Meyers Leonard, Ed DAvis, Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, it makes one wonder that whether or not the Blazers are going to be able to keep all four of those guys if they all either produce at the rates that they have for the majority of their careers. Like Ed Davis, he's a pretty solid player at the age of 26, and guys like Leonard, Vonleh, if they progress the way we expect them to, that's going to be a crowded front court for Terry Stotts to work out and figure out and dole out minutes to everybody. I would assume that one or two of these guys won't be with the Blazers long-term. Whether that's Davis, Plumlee, Leonard, or Vonleh, we're going to have to wait for this to shake out and see how they play for the Blazers, but I would be surprised if we're looking 2-3 years down the road and all four of those guys are with the Blazers. One of those guys who most Blazer fans originally, early on in his career, didn't think his first two and half seasons would be a long-term piece for the Blazers. I know that a number of people were wondering why his option got picked last summer and Thomas Robinson's didnt, let's talk about Meyers Leonard. You wrote about Meyers today, because late in the season last year he kind of came on strong, and in that series against Memphis in the first round, he actually became a bit of a secret weapon and alongside CJ McCollum were pretty much the only puncher's chance that the Blazers had of impacting the Grizzlies to maybe turn the tide of that series. We saw how it ended up, obviously the Blazers didn't do so hot in that series, but Meyers was a bit of a breakout player, at least for Portland fans, so let's talk a little bit about Leonard's season last year and talk about him going forward.
Evans: The key words you just used were secret weapon. He was really, really a secret. I don't think teams were expecting him to be as good as he was, I don't think they were game-planning for him. Because teams weren't prepared he got a lot of opportunities he might not have gotten otherwise. If you put Leonard in Aldridge's shoes and had teams gunning for him every night, he's not going to get the same numbers that he did. Having said that, his numbers were fantastic last year. His shooting numbers were incredible: 51% from the field, 42% from three, 93.8% free-throws. He was 50/40/90, he's in that elite company with guys like Dirk and Larry Bird and Steve Nash, one of the best shooters ever if he sustains that for his whole career. Having said THAT, a lot of his shots were wide open because a guy like Lillard would drive to the basket and the whole defense would collapse and leave Meyers wide open because they didn't know better, they didn't know Meyers could shoot 42% from three, so they figured why bother guarding this guy? Give him another year, give him more experience, give him more teams watching him and studying him, and people will figure out that you can't leave him wide open, he's too good a shooter for that. Defensively he was the same way, he was an incredibly good rim-protector. He doesn't look like a good rim-protector, he looks like a kind of scrawny, nervous guy, but he actually held opposing shooters to 42.3% shooting at the rim, which is incredibly hard to do. Very few guys in the NBA that did that last year, you're talking about Gobert, Hibbert, a couple of other guys and Meyers, it sounds crazy to hear me say that but the numbers are true. Again, that's because teams weren't ready for what Meyers could do. I had a clip in the article of Harden driving right to the basket like Leonard wasn't even there, because he didn't even care about Meyers, and Meyers stuffed him. I don't think plays like that are going to happen as often next year and the year after, and I think other teams are going to figure out that they have to take him seriously. IT's going to be interesting to see if Meyers can take the same productivity that he gave us this year and sustain it next year. He's going to get more minutes, more attention from opposing teams, he's going to have a much bigger burden being a potential starter. He's going to play more minutes and have more a role, definitely. So can he handle that bigger role and be just as good now as he was last year, that's the question.
Chris: How do you suspect Coach Stotts could find ways to get Meyers open three-point shots?
Evans: What they did last year was a lot of drive and kick, because Lillard is an incredible slasher, he gets to the rim so quickly, and when he does, defenses collapse on him. A lot of the plays last year where he would drive, the defense would collapse, and then Dame would kick the ball out to someone on the perimeter, maybe Batum, then Batum would make a second pass to Leonard and he'd hit a three. So it was drive, kick kick kick and then shoot. So plays like that were really effective. It's going to be tough for next year because there's less shooting on the roster than there was. If you try to go drive kick kick shoot and that first kick is to Aminu? We've already talked about that, defenses are going to stay off him. So it's going to be tough because there's fewer guys on the roster now who are offensive weapons in the same way that Batum and Matthews and Aldridge were last year. IT's going to be tougher, but you do have on your roster right now, a lot of guys who are young and athletic and can slash to the basket really well. Lillard, CJ, you have guys who can drive and kick really well, and Leonard is going to be a really good perimeter shooter in that role, drive and kick. A good pick and pop big man, you can run a pick and pop with Meyers and it's going to be great. There are ways to get him shots, it's just going to be tougher because defense are going to plan for him. No matter what Terry cooks up, there are going to be coaches out there that it's going to be tough for Meyers to get his open threes.
Chris: Let's wrap talking about Meyers Leonard on the defensive end, because I see him as being that key piece, or not necessarily the key piece but among the key pieces that's going to determine the success that the Blazers have on the court next season, because I think that he's going to be playing big minutes and it's for this reason: Terry Stotts has said this summer that he doesn't plan on really changing his defensive philosophies. We know that he's going to have to leverage that talent and that athleticism that he has in some way in order to make that defense work, but if we're looking at maintaing the same philosophies, that's going to mean dropping that big back in pick and rolls and having a rim protector there. On the offensive end of the floor, Meyers Leonard's going to be really important for floor-spacing purposes, so he's going to have to get big minutes for offensive reasons, but defensively, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, I know Chris Kaman can fill this role, but I don't know how many minutes Stotts is going to give to him in favor of taking minutes away from the younger guys who, in a rebuilding project, you generally try to get the young guys minutes, so I know that Kaman can play that rim-protecting role fairly well, but I don't know how many minutes he's going to get. So of that front court rotation that we mentioned, doesn't Meyers seem to be the most logical rim-protector if the defensive philosophies don't really change that much?
Evans: Yeah, he's one of them, and I think Plumlee's really good in that role too. It's going to be interesting to see what kind of lineups Stotts uses. Does he do a lot of playing Plumlee and Leonard together, I'm not sure. Does he think that Meyers is more of a 4 or 5? Because you can start Ed Davis at 4 and Leonard at 5, you can start Leonard at 4 and Plumlee at 5, there's a lot of combinations you can go with, and I think that Leonard's going to have to be a versatile guy that can play a couple of different roles. When you have a young rebuilding team like this, you can do a little more experimenting in playing guys in roles they might not be comfortable with, and I think Stotts will do a lot of experimenting with Meyers Leonard because he's such a flexible player who can do a lot of different things. I think he probably has the quickness to close out on stretch fours as well as he can defend the rim. If you have him do a little bit of both, that'll be really interesting. You have such a malleable roster, you're going to try him in both roles. It's kind of crazy though that Stotts is saying he's not going to change his defensive philosophies from last year, because when you're entire roster gets flipped the way this one has, you kind of have to adjust the way you play, right? The Blazers defensively last year were not a very aggressive team at all, they didn't double team guys, trap guys, try to force turnovers, that wasn't their game plan. They were pretty conservative, staying back on pick and rolls, just kind of played their man one on one pretty consistently. Well-spaced, it wasn't an aggressive defense because they didn't have the young bodies that they have now. They might be a little more aggressive once they get in training camp and start seeing what they have. Maybe Stotts changes his mind, maybe he makes his team more aggressive in trapping guys and double-teaming, we'll see. But I think that Leonard is a talented enough guy that he can bend to whatever system he needs to play in, I don't think he's pigeon-holed into any one role. He's not just a rim protector, he's not just a 4 who guards other 4s, he'll fit nicely into whatever the Blazers have planned.
Chris: Yeah, I agree, and I kind of mentioned I do think that, and this is crazy to say as I've mentioned a number of times before, if you'd have told me this a year ago that I'd be saying this in August of 2015 I'd have called you crazy, but I do think Leonard, along with Lillard, is a key piece going forward for the Blazers. The way he develops in both ends of the court is really going to determine the success that the Blazers have this season and going forward. Evans, we're going to wrap here. I definitely want to thank you though for coming on to the podcast for the third or fourth time, you're one of the most frequent guests, so thank you again for joining me on the podcast, you're welcome back anytime. Let the Blazer's Edge listeners know where they can find your work on Blazer's Edge and where they can find you on Twitter.
Evans: On Twitter, my handle is evansclinchy, posting all sorts of articles and links there, little bit slower in the offseason because there's not a lot ot talk about. Definitely next season I'll be live-tweeting games, if you can handle a mix of Blazers and Celtics content both, give me a follow over there. Every Friday morning, I've got an extensive column.
Chris: Alright, so keep an eye out for Evans Clinchy every Friday on Blazer's Edge. Evans, thanks again or stopping by!