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Why The Portland Trail Blazers Don't Need Veterans

A Blazer's Edge reader asks whether the Blazers would have been better off blending their old and new lineups. We answer.

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It's been a while since we've done a Mailbag, so let's start this Friday off right! If you have a Portland Trail Blazers question, send it to blazersub@gmail.com.

Dave,

The media narrative is that the Blazers "lost" 4 starters from last year's team, but the truth is they only lost one, and the other three were deliberately let go.

With the surprise success this year, in hindsight would the franchise have been better off holding onto, for example, Batum and Lopez instead of acquiring Aminu, Henderson, & Vonleh? They could still have made the Davis, Harkless, & Plumlee acquisitions in this scenario (or any combination thereof). Would they have had a better team and still enough cap space to pursue a max FA, as they do now?

-Brian, AKA Reasonable Approximation

I've seen the "only lost one" argument circling around. I guess you could play with semantics and try to make the description some kind of slight to the team, but it's a stretch.

First, I don't think the media is responsible for creating a "Portland lost four starters" narrative. Seeing as how the Blazers actually lost four starters from last year's team, most common folks would describe it that way. It makes sense mathematically. It's also more accurate in terms of cause and effect.

Let's say you were going to throw a swanky dinner party for 100 of your closest friends. The lobster's ready, the champagne's on ice, and the dulcet sounds of Steely Dan are flowing through your property-wide audio setup when the house catches on fire. You call up all your friends and say, "House is on fire! Another time, maybe?"

At work on Monday morning the guy in the cubicle next to you says, "Shame about your house. On the weekend of the big party too! Life's sometimes out of your control like that, eh? You just never know."

Then you respond with, "Oh yeah, the house thing was a total tragedy. But I chose to cancel the party."

Technically you're correct. You made a conscious decision to call off the party. But you only chose that because your house burned down. That you had to come to a conclusion in your brain before making the call doesn't divorce the decision from the original cause that was beyond your control. One can assume that had your house not burned, you would have held the party. One may also assume that you'd have preferred it that way. Therefore saying you lost both your house and the party due to the fire is legitimate and sensible.

When LaMarcus Aldridge left keeping Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez made little sense. OK, technically the Blazers "chose" to let them go, but after the LaMarcus Blaze gutted the old roster they didn't have many sensible options left to build on. You can't hang portraits after the stud has fallen. You have to scrap the plan and start over. Not pounding nails into crumbling drywall isn't really a choice, just common sense.

At this point that's all water under the bridge, though. Just because last year's supporting cast was once Plan A doesn't mean that they remain so.

People in Charlotte are quite happy with Batum. He's having a nice year. More power to him and them. Other than taking on a more direct ball-handling role (which he wouldn't likely do in Portland with their current lineup) and driving more often, I don't see a ton of difference between 2016 Batum and his decent years in Portland. He wouldn't be a bad pick-up but he's hardly a revolutionary one. He'd still delight and frustrate in measure.

Matthews has struggled in Dallas because of injuries. All the same, he's the type of player anyone would love. With CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Gerald Henderson hanging around he's not a necessity for Portland anymore.

Robin Lopez is still doing what Robin Lopez does. He's a decent center who'll give you 10-11 points and 7-8 rebounds per game. His bulk proved useful in the lane for the Blazers and would again, but the Blazers also had to design their defensive scheme to keep Lopez home. He doesn't have the maneuverability of Portland's current centers and their current defense wouldn't suit him. Nor does Lopez possess the passing acumen of Mason Plumlee, a trait the Blazers rely on (for better or worse) when their offense gets in trouble. Robin would be great on the offensive boards and his personality certainly fits Portland but otherwise he wouldn't be a huge improvement.

You already mentioned the hitch in the giddyup with all three of these guys: money. Lopez signed for $13 million last summer, Matthews $16 million headed to $17 million in 2016-17. Batum remains on his old contract but that'll create a $20 million cap hold in July. The Blazers could have kept one or all of these players. They could even take one back now and, with a few shenanigans, maybe clear room for a max offer depending on what level "max" we're talking about. Either way, it wouldn't matter.

Neither Batum nor Matthews nor Lopez nor any combination of the three would have turned the Blazers from a 45-win team into World Champions this season. The Blazers would have been better (or at least deeper) with them on the roster but the Blazers would have also had less cap space to spare this summer, limiting their options going forward. What happens in July will determine the future of the franchise far more than anything that happened in December or anything that's about to happen in April. Shaving off $13-20 million of cap room for any of these three players--let alone $50 million for all of them--would make zero sense. The Blazers can't afford to spend that money on players who would be nice, but ultimately luxuries. They need to build a foundation on which their young players can not only grow, but succeed. They need more than any of their former players (outside of Aldridge) can give, individually or collectively.

The Blazers just made the playoffs. They'll almost certainly earn a mid-bracket seed which will place them against an opponent that they have at least some chance of beating in the first round. It's feel-good time in Portland. Enjoy every second of it and credit all the hard work that brought them to this point.

At the same time, there's a difference between "feels good" and "is good". Portland will not have a first-round pick this year; most of their competitors will. The Blazers have to hear the footsteps of Minnesota and Utah behind them. They might also have to deal with the reality of a 2016-17 season without devastating injuries to the Jazz, Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Suns. That's not even counting major free-agent moves that could bolster (or destroy) other Western Conference opponents, or the presumed dominance of Golden State at the very top of the heap. This summer's free agency period offers the most immediate chance of offsetting all of those things, making the other teams fear Portland instead of vice-versa. Don't lament any move that's given the Blazers a better chance to make noise during that critical time.

Portland's former players will do just fine in their new homes. The Blazers will carry holes in their roster, as all rebuilding teams do. Even so, the road forward lies forward. Being thankful for the past doesn't require returning to it.

Don't forget to send those questions to blazersub@gmail.com!

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge /

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