We've covered today's Mailbag question before but it keeps cropping up, perhaps more than any other single question in my inbox so far this season. So let's have at it again. And remember, if you have Portland Trail Blazers questions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Hope the holidays treated you well. Quick mailbag question for you:
For me the biggest revelation of the season so far has been CJ McCollum. His improvement over last season is quite remarkable. He and Damian Lillard have found ways to coexist offensively and light up the scoreboard together. However, if the goal the Blazers front office is to build a championship contender, I'm not sure this back court is it. Yes, they're as good as any duo offensively, but they've also got a lot of duplicate skills. And were their defense a boat, there's no way you'd get in it because its so leaky - you're likely to sink.
First question - do you think Dame and C.J. are a legit backcourt on a title contending team?
If not, the Blazers aren't trading Dame, so would it make sense to trade C.J. before the trade deadline? His stellar play means his stock has never been higher and he'd likely return a young SF or PF of his caliber in return. What say you?
You made the first question harder on me by saying, "Title Contending Team" instead of "Championship Team". For the sake of this argument I'm going to define "Title Contending" as finishing with a Top 4 playoff seed in either conference. By that criterion, I do think Lillard and McCollum could start for a title contender. The days of needing a 6'7" shooting guard are gone. Half the league is going with two point guards in the backcourt. Quick players who can dribble and score are able to exploit the league's defensive loopholes. When those players can also pass, offenses become more complex. A team can run action from both sides of the floor. All of us who grew up thinking of offenses in terms of "strong side/weak side" get confounded by these newfangled kids. Dual point guard sets have played a part in that evolution.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can score as prolifically as anyone. Their escape dribbles are so effective they might as well be named Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough. They're both smart and they have chemistry with each other and teammates. They're not the best guard tandem in the league but they'd be in everybody's Top 8.
When we elevate the bar from title contender to NBA Champion, the theory falls apart. Defense is the main culprit. Claiming a title requires 28 wins over four of the league's best teams. Under those conditions the duo will always find someone able to exploit them. Odds are they'll also encounter at least one opponent able to rein in one or the other. At that point they'll carry all their liabilities for half the gain.
When this becomes an issue for the Blazers they'll want to think about trading one or the other. There's zero chance that trade will happen before this year's deadline. Consider:
1. Lillard and McCollum are franchise darlings. They're the heart of the roster. Moving either one would be a public relations disaster unless the return was overwhelming. Nobody the Blazers bring in will provide substantially more victories, short of LeBron James or Anthony Davis. The franchise isn't trading in wins right now, but hope. Who provides more hope than McCollum and Lillard do? The right move isn't out there yet.
2. Neither guard has reached full flower yet. Trading a major player with untapped potential isn't done often. That's how GM's get burned. At minimum the Blazers would like to see them play another full season (separately and together) so they can see what they've got (and eventually which one to trade or build around).
3. With this nascent roster, there's no telling what the Blazers would need in return. Teams seldom trade young talent for same. They're either seeking draft picks or veteran stars. Portland's so far from contention right now that they couldn't pin down the skills or ages of the players they might need when they get there. Making a move right now would be trading promise for guesswork. Both are speculative but promise wins awards while guesswork ruins careers.
The Blazers will consider making a move with their guards when the time is right, but they're a year or three early in the process yet. Give McCollum and Lillard until the summer of 2017 and see what happens.
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