Time for a another Blazer's Edge Mailbag! If you have Portland Trail Blazers questions, send them to email@example.com and we'll do our best to answer!
We've all been dreaming about Larry Sanders coming out of retirement and bringing his talents to the Land of Ports. How real is this shot? I get that, in many ways, this is a great roster for him, but has there been even a hint that he's noticed that? He seems to be living and musicing in LA, where he'd have two local teams likely interested, and then there are the Warriors a short flight away.... I can't seem to coax any very current news from the interwebs. Do you have any leads?
No leads. This is one of those "nobody really knows except Larry Sanders...and maybe not even him" things. Naturally this makes it all the more tantalizing to talk about, so let's break it down.
Will Larry Sanders ever come back to the league?
I think so. Even if his heart wasn't in it entirely the first time around, he has talent. He's also had time to reflect on his many options in life. The NBA is unique among them for a couple reasons:
1. Unlike music or most anything else, it can only be pursued when he's young. He has decades after his playing career to devote himself to whatever he wishes. The clock's running if he wants to use his God-given basketball talent and that opportunity won't come back again.
2. Unless he's the love child of Pharrell and Eminem, his music career isn't going to pay him $6-8 million per year or more. You don't have to think too hard before you figure out that the rest of your musical life will be way more fun after earning $30-40 million over 5 years to spend on a lifetime of studio equipment and your own record label. Conversely it'll be way less fun spending those years (and all the ones after) as a struggling young artist with a dwindling bank account.
If Sanders absolutely hates basketball, that's another story. But short of that, another run in the league is probably in him no matter what his life goals are.
Would he consider coming to Portland?
I can't for the life of me see why not. I know another young NBA player who is developing quite the reputation in the rap world working from Portland, Oregon. Nowadays location matters less than being able to surround yourself with the right equipment (quite possible in Portland) and staying connected with the right people (technically possible from anywhere). It's a mobile world. Sanders knows this.
As far as staying in L.A., I guess I could see the marketing attraction but the basketball draw is almost nil. The Clippers are already married to a very expensive DeAndre Jordan who plays the same role and position as Sanders. Given the debacle in Milwaukee, I doubt Sanders wants to head to a team where he's expected to be a savior, but having nothing distinctive to contribute isn't attractive either. As far as that other L.A. team...if Sanders wants to join the absolute spitshow that the Lakers have become his taste and perception are beyond redeeming.
If Sanders does want to stay within shouting distance his L.A. base, he probably wouldn't want to head to another time zone. Sacramento already has a center. Denver is in chaos. Golden State would be attractive for obvious reasons. The Phoenix Suns could be another super-strong candidate. But the Trail Blazers would be right up there. Neil Olshey could look Sanders in the eye and say, "We have both room and need for you, but we won't rely on you to be the plan, just be a part of the plan." Since signing Sanders wouldn't cost the Blazers any players (financially or in trade), Olshey could point out all the current Portland bigs who do similar things to Sanders but wouldn't necessarily edge him out for minutes. The system's already in place to take advantage of his strengths. He'd have plenty of help but still be able to earn all the minutes he wanted. That's a nice pitch to a guy on the fence.
Would the Blazers want him?
The end of the preceding paragraph makes this a no-brainer. If they wished, the Blazers could still retain Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, or any combination thereof. If they ended up having to cut Sanders, they'd be no worse off save the contract money. If Sanders worked out well, they'd have gotten an All-NBA defensive center for free...an incredible asset. Plus they still have all those other players off the bench.
I know I mention this every time Sanders comes up, but it's just hanging out there. With Sanders in tow the Blazers should go HARD after Al Horford as a free agent this summer. They should call him, his mom, his agent, his agent's mom, their cats...anybody who can get in Horford's ear. The Blazers could sell a league-best defensive frontcourt along with a near-league-best offensive backcourt. This is one of the few scenarios in which Portland could keep Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum together without worrying about defensive concerns. The backcourt duo also wouldn't impede Horford's shooting and scoring the way they might an offense-only free agent. 75% of Horford's shots are assisted and he can shoot the three. He wouldn't be competition for Lillard and McCollum, but a fantastic target.
Portland wouldn't be able to retain all their big men in that scenario but they could take their pick of at least two. How does Larry Sanders, Mason Plumlee, Al Horford, and Ed Davis sound as a big man quartet? Al-Farouq Aminu remains at small forward with Lillard, McCollum, and Crabbe as the suddenly-free-from-worry backcourt. The Blazers would only need a score-first small forward with reasonable range coming off the bench (or Gerald Henderson if you like) to become rock-solid and full of versatility.
Winning in the NBA is never easy, but getting to the 41-45 win level is far easier than making the leap between .500 and truly contending. Almost every alternative plan to get the Blazers into the conference elite involves major trades or wishful signings. Sanders is an ultra-rare wildcard...a chance to shortcut that process essentially for free. That never happens. Not only should the Blazers be thinking about this possibility, they should be pursuing it.
And yes, I think this has a reasonable chance of happening compared to other potential "big" moves. In fact it's probably the most reasonable of the lot. No such deal is ever likely; "reasonable chance" does not mean "good chance". But it's as logical and possible of a move to hope for as any. With the caveat that Sanders' frame of mind and desire to play basketball are still in question, a swing at Sanders and Horford makes perfect sense. The players are right, the talent is evident, skill sets and positions match perfectly, the sales pitches are strong and sensible. What more could you ask for?
Kevin Durant to the Warriors? Do you see it happening? Would it create a superteam or a supermess?
The Warriors could make a strong case for nearly any free agent at this point. It could happen. I'm not sure it's a good idea.
Durant would blow away the near-perfect balance of that team. It wouldn't be intentional, but you can't take on a player of that magnitude without a major mental/emotional shift. If your squad has a nice, Durant-shaped divot in it already (need more talent, need more scoring, need a #1 or #1a option, need to take a stab at a title) his weight will cause everything to shift into place. But if your sphere is balanced already, throwing that much mass on one side of it is going to cause it to roll. Plus the Warriors would lose other players, shifting the balance even more.
It's not like the basketball X's and O's read against the move, nor that chemistry would become a huge problem if Durant joined Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. It's more subtle. Now when Curry's launching a 35-foot triple, he has to think, "Is this really the best shot or have I gotten enough touches to KD?" If Durant takes 20 shots and scores 24, is that a positive or is he taking away opportunities from one of the best backcourts in history? Who's going to do the dirty work on defense? Is Durant going to go all-out, doing the hundred little things that Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green do in support of their stars?
The move doesn't make a ton of sense for Durant either. What does he add to that team? It's one thing to form a super-team in order to win a title. You're the hero then. It's quite another to be a superstar joining a team that's already won one (or two). There's no upside. You're either an appendage or the goat.
Durant would have to worry whether the Warriors need him to be Kevin Durant or something else. Other people are supposed to shift around him, not vice-versa. Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Wolfgang Puck are all great chefs. Put them in a kitchen with a competent staff under them and you're going to end up with great food. Put them in the kitchen with each other and you're going to end up with a mess.
Durant should also get nervous about shots and shot selection. The Warriors are smart. They'd do everything they could for him. But there's no getting around it. Draymond Green is the third offensive option for Golden State right now. He takes 10.2 shots a game. Durant takes 19. Here's Green's shot chart, courtesy of our friends at Vorped:
We don't need a stats specialist. Grover could tell you at a glance that one of these things is not like the other. Even if you assume Durant would suck up all Harrison Barnes' shots as well (he fires more from the mid-range) you've taken away all shot attempts from their starting forwards. That won't happen. The Warriors don't have many shots to give off the bench either. The only likely outcome is that Durant would begin siphoning off shots from Curry and Thompson. Golden State would need to change their offensive scheme and outlook to make that happen. It's not an easy recipe to get right.
This is also why I have a hard time imagining Durant come to Portland if Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum stay in the backcourt together. He'd add, but some of it would be zero-sum as Lillard and McCollum diminished because of his presence. Durant could easily play in a system with one great offensive guard (obviously) but two is a stretch, especially if those guards don't bring multiple skills to the table.
The one, golden scenario in which Durant becoming a Warrior makes sense is if they are quietly looking at Steph Curry's injury issues and thinking, "We are one small snap away from mediocre." That's happened to franchises before. (cough, Blazers fans) If they're confident in Curry's health, though, they should either keep things the same or go after players who won't mandate such a huge diversion of focus. If they weren't already perfect the story would be different, but a World Title and record-challenging run in the season after put them in a unique circumstance. Not even Kevin Durant can trump that.
Remember to send those burning questions to firstname.lastname@example.org! For those who haven't heard, info about my just-published first book is in my signature just below. Thanks!