Everybody slap on your safety goggles because today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag deals with chemistry. If you have a Portland Trail Blazers related question send it along to email@example.com and we’ll try to answer!
Merry Christmas! In your last mailbag answer you said, “If Portland’s culture isn’t strong enough to absorb, withstand, or reform one questionable apple, it’s too fragile.” Can you elaborate? Do you think they’ve paid too much attention to chemistry and not enough to winning? Would you look for that “questionable apple” now?
That’s overstating it. I don’t believe the Trail Blazers have sacrificed wins for chemistry. I believe they see chemistry as an intrinsic ingredient in high-level winning. I agree with that stance. Nor would I look for a “questionable apple” just because he’s questionable. If all other things are equal, get the player who will fit in every way, including chemistry.
Consider chemistry as a binding or leavening agent in cooking. Without it, nothing sticks. You can still taste the ingredients but they won’t come together to accent each other the way a perfect recipe is supposed to. An overabundance of binding agent doesn’t help, though. There’s only so far those ingredients can melt into each other. After that, it’s all about how good they are.
The thrust of my statement was that the Blazers are probably at a stage where they don’t have to worry quite as much about chemistry because they’ve created their culture in sound fashion. Their young guys are starting to become veterans. Their superstar is well-established as a leader and he gets along famously with the second guy on the team. What more could you want in that department?
The whole point of having a strong culture is that you indoctrinate new people into it instead of drifting at the mercy of every outside influence you encounter. If your culture isn’t affecting and transforming people, it’s just preserving. Preserving isn’t growing and it’s sure not winning. The San Antonio Spurs had the strongest culture in the league throughout the Tim Duncan era. They had a core of Duncan, David Robinson, and later Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but how many players did they swing through the other 10-12 roster spots during two decades? Their culture helped them get the best out of most of the guys who wore their uniform.
The Blazers should be approaching the stage where they, like the Spurs, say, “We’re going to affect this new guy with our great habits far more than he will affect us with any bad ones.” They don’t need to worry about disruption as much as they need to worry about lack of talent.
When talking chemistry we should also differentiate between on-court blend and personal/locker room affinity. It’s cool that Portland’s players appear to hang out together and enjoy each other, but it’s hardly necessary. In every workplace team I’ve participated in there have been people I loved and people who annoyed the holy heaving bejeezus out of me. Acceptance and annoyance had little to do with productivity, personal or as a team. Complacency often follows when the members of any unit gets completely comfortable with each other. Sometimes the annoying oddball keeps everybody on their toes because he or she sees things differently and refuses to be shy about it.
Portland’s vaunted chemistry certainly didn’t help them cover for each other on defense during the first couple months of the season. The team doesn’t need another guy who will hang with everybody in their off-hours. They need to fill holes and adjust the frontcourt-backcourt imbalance. As long as any new player does that, they’ll fit.
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