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Can the Portland Trail Blazers Improve from Within?

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Blazer's Edge readers ask about Portland's current status and their chances of growing into a contender with the current roster.

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Today's edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag deals with improving the Portland Trail Blazers from within. It's a topic that will resonate throughout the summer and maybe beyond, depending on how the trade and free agency period goes.

If you want us to discuss a Blazers-related topic, make sure and send it to blazersub@gmail.com!

Hi Dave,

If the Blazers can't bring in a big time center then what about bringing back Meyers and starting him next to Ed Davis? Davis says he wants to gain 15 lbs of muscle which will make him more effective banging and rebounding and it would also allow Meyers to play the perimeter on offense. Meyers size and Ed's toughness/smarts on defense could be effective as well. Mason and Noah have had a year to toughen up against starters, now they can come off the bench as athletic energy guys and attack other team's reserves. It's not my first choice scenario, but it could work well if all the players continue to make incremental improvements. Thanks for all your insight and analysis!

Rip City!
Blaz3rs

Right now Portland's frontcourt is like holding 3 or 4 cards to a straight. They're waiting for the draw that'll complete the hand and lock everything into place. Absent that, shuffling the order one way or another might make things look different but probably won't yield revolutionary results.

I'm curious about what will happen to Ed Davis' game if he adds that bulk you mention. He's neither a bruiser nor a stand-still defender. With modern NBA frontcourts relying on range as much as size on offense, Davis losing quickness could become a detriment even if it was accompanied by added weight and strength. As an extreme example, the Blazers already had Robin Lopez playing in an Ice Age defense. There's a reason neither he nor that scheme are here anymore. Besides, NBA centers who are big and threatening in the post can be counted on 1.5 hands. All of them are good enough that Davis probably wouldn't be able to handle them even if he put on 20 pounds.

Off-season conditioning and body-building are great but I was plenty happy with Davis' game as it was and I'm not in favor of altering his style. If the Blazers need a bulky center, they should go get one.

Meyers Leonard is a fascinating case. Most of the people I've talked to consider him the only Portland big man with exponential upward potential. Everybody in the lineup can improve, of course, but Leonard has a high ceiling when compared to past performance. Whether he'll reach that ceiling--and what kind of game the Blazers would need to feature in order to facilitate it--are up to debate. If Portland retains him, I don't think they'll be content to watch him fill spot bench minutes. Starting him again is a strong possibility. If they can squeeze 16ppg out of him while spreading the floor on offense, they'd probably be happy.

Leonard seems a far more likely starter than Davis at this point. Mason Plumlee brings passing skills to the offense that Davis can't match. Davis was at his best last year in short, intense spurts. I'm not sure he'd offer a clear advantage over Plumlee playing as a converted center in the starting lineup.

Hey Dave,

Was thinking this morning about last year's rookie class for the Blazers (Alexander, Connaughton and Montero) and was interested in your thoughts about them: How would you rank them by future contributions as Blazers, combining both their potential and team needs? Do any of them actually have a future with this team? Thanks!

Mike

Call me stupid, but I'm a Luis Montero guy. Putting that sentiment into context, this is like finding three pennies on the sidewalk and hoping one of them turns out to be rare and prized. Chances are you're now holding exactly three cents. But if any of those coins are going to net the Blazers a couple hundred bucks, it'll probably be Montero.

Cliff Alexander has wingspan and physique for days but the rhythm and explosiveness aren't there. I think he could develop into a good offensive rebounder and low-post banger but the Blazers have plenty of the former and the latter is out of style. He's a 1995 power forward trapped in a 2016 league. Thomas Robinson had more promise.

Pat Connaughton could have a future as a glue player, a jack-of-all-trades. I don't think his talent is strong enough to convert a penny into serious dough. If he makes the rotation on a regular basis, I'll be pleased. If he turns into Matt Harpring, Part II, I'll be ecstatic.

Montero has the longest path to travel, but if he gets there he could be scary. He'll be able to get his own shot and he'll have range. He's quick and even looks a little sneaky. He's the classic longshot who pays off big if he hits. Since the others are also longshots, just with lower payoffs, it makes sense to try and shoot the moon with Luis.

Dave,

Since you're a Blazer historian I thought you might appreciate this.  It seems to me we are in the same position as Clyde and Terry were before they got Buck.  One trade solidified the team and the rest is history.  Do you agree?  If so could Horford be our next Buck?

Thad

I love this question. You've warmed my heart. Therefore it makes me sad to say that, no, the two situations aren't comparable.

Here's the list of prominent Trail Blazers players in the three years leading up to the trade for Buck Williams, from 1986 to 1989:

Sam Bowie, Kenny Carr, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Duckworth, Steve Johnson, Caldwell Jones, Jerome Kersey, Jim Paxson, Terry Porter, Kiki Vandeweghe

Paxson got traded in February, 1988; Johnson and Vandeweghe got injured in the latter stretches of that three-year span. But still...wow. The firepower in that lineup was not only impressive, it kicks the bacon-covered sunshine off of today's incarnation of the Trail Blazers. Trading for Williams was absolutely critical to Portland's Finals runs, but he also joined a well-stocked team that had been angling towards greatness for years (give or take a Bowie injury or two). There's no analogous move for the 2016 Trail Blazers. They'd need a first-tier star to change their fortunes that drastically.

I do believe Al Horford could help this team take the next step, but he wouldn't be the next Buck. Even with him in tow, the Blazers would struggle to bother the elite teams in the conference. Horford would be the next logical move--maybe the most important move remaining--but not the last one.

Thanks for the questions, folks, and don't forget to send more along!

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