How do you build an NBA champion?
Start with two, maybe three heavy doses of superstars.
Add a pinch of a veteran who used to be a star.
Mix in with three to five slightly aged veteran players minced, spread over a crust of past their prime big men and wings and a smattering of hopeful and youthful players who are just happy to be there.
Place in oven, let bake for 82 regular season games, and hope that the basketball gods deem your culinary offering good enough not to smite your team and decimate them with injuries (or uncontrollable limbs).
In a roundabout way this is how things have worked in the modern NBA. However, there's a key ingredient in there that quite often gets overlooked. A pinch of absolute bat-guano crazy has been on every title winning team in recent memory. The question you should be asking yourself right now is simple, do the Portland Trail Blazers have that player on their roster right now?
The answer is no.
The Blazers have had "fun-crazy" on their team in recent memory. Fan favorites like Robin Lopez, with his Sideshow Bob hair, and lovable quirks endeared him to Portland fans. Endearing to fans does not translate into menacing on the court.
Then there's the Will Barton types, incredibly fun, and wildly unpredictable, but in the most harmless way possible. You never expected Barton to wind up and punch another man in the unmentionables when he tried to dunk on you.
Ron Artest famously thanked his psychiatrist after winning the 2010 NBA Finals and you immediately knew that the doctor had put some hours in. This is the same guy who two years later nearly took James Harden's head off his shoulders. To say that he brings a certain level of "edginess" to a team is probably an understatement.
The last time the Trail Blazers had real crazy on the team, they had too much of it. The 2011-12 roster had Gerald Wallace (definitely crazy) a man known for throwing his body everywhere at anytime for any reason. Kurt Thomas looks like he may or may not have killed a man, and while I'm sure he's the nicest of human beings he scared me to death, that has to count for something right? Then of course there was the "Vanilla Gorilla" Joel Przybilla, who once (in)famously told Carlos Boozer of the Chicago Bulls to "Meet me after! Meet me after...!" following a fracas.
Predictably this team blew apart at the seams. You just can't have that much crazy on one roster, particularly one loaded with so many young players. Crazy on a team is like ghost pepper sauce. One drop to a barrel of Sriracha sauce? Totally doable. Start dumping in bottles of the stuff and it goes full blown nuclear and melts people's faces. Or induces heavy cupcake eating.
Let's take a look at the NBA champion since the turn of the century:
While some want to include some others, while removing some from this list - this feels like a pretty comprehensive roster full of attitude. For those who want to immediately question how crazy Robert "Big Shot Bob" Horry was, I present item 1a.
Moving on now, aside from bringing a quantifiable basketball skill or skills to the table each one of these players brought or continue to bring a certain attitude. A swagger in modern parlance. If you look up and down the Trail Blazers roster today, that guy just doesn't exist. The closest thing they have right is Ed Davis.
Ed Davis isn't crazy. He's hard-nosed, angry at times even. But crazy? Nope.
Now, this isn't to say that the Blazers don't have a tough player on their roster, they just don't have someone who other teams fear in a psychological sense. When teams gear up to play the Warriors, coaches are telling their players not to get into mind games with Draymond Green because he's better at them than they are. It's just not worth it. Yet, night after night he baits players into it and that plays right into his game plan. The last Trail Blazer to pull Jedi-mind tricks on a Draymond-esque level was Przybilla, who once got Tyson Chandler ejected from three straight trips to the Rose Garden.
The thing about crazy is, you need to find a certain type that fits with your roster but also the right amount of it. Too much and you become the New York Knicks, constant dysfunction, and circling the drain of mediocrity on a yearly basis. Not enough of it and you get walked over on a nightly basis as teams consistently drive the paint, intimidate you out of theirs and physically push you around for 48 minutes.
So the question that arises now, what kind of crazy do the Blazers need? How much of it should they sign and is it readily available?
While the Blazers don't put forward the image of a soft or finesse team, they also don't project as the Detroit Bad Boys. It feels like a good place to start is down in the trenches by signing a big man that is known to lay a tone setting foul for any would-be lane drivers early in a game.
So who's available that could fill this role you might ask? I just so happen to have a list of free agents, sorted by position who meet the "on a first name basis with crazy" moniker:
Hassan Whiteside & Full Size Crazy
Of the big man who could be this tone-setting, intimidating, interior presence there's actually a few to choose from. Hassan Whiteside definitely fits firmly in this category. Not only does he have documented attitude issues according to his Miami Heat teammates (which, is actually kind of good in this particular case) but he's also intimidating in both a physical and a basketball sense.
Whiteside is a shot-blocking, smack-talking, rebounding machine that, apparently doesn't like Kelly Olynk:
That's okay, I don't know anyone who likes Kelly Olynk. While I would never "encourage" a cheap shot, having said player on your roster with a history of losing his collective mind in short spurts tends to keep opponents from getting out of line. Also, did I mention he blocks shots?
First of all, I have to thank Peter Sampson for breaking the Psycho-T ice for me - thanks Peter!. The myth of Hansbrough started at the University of North Carolina where current free agent guard and recent Trail Blazer Gerald Henderson of Duke University got tangled up with Hansbrough.
When you get bloodied up that badly and you come back out, you've got the kind of crazy we're looking for here. While Hansbrough doesn't bring nearly as much in a basketball sense as Whiteside would, he'd come at the fraction of the cost and you only have to let him off the bench every now and then to remind opposing NBA teams you're not afraid to unleash him.
Noah has become the proverbial troll of the NBA. When healthy he baits opponents into stupid mistakes, and instigates them into basketball "fights" generating momentum for the Bulls and the fans while also getting opposing players off their game. He's the perfect, "when he's on your team you love him, when he's facing you, you want to see him thrown in jail" kind of player. Not sure? Come to a different conclusion after watching this singular clip:
I rest my case. Beyond his world-class trolling he also subscribes to the "no lay-ups" mindset brought forth by the late 80s and early 90s era Pistons, Knicks and (insert team playing Michael Jordan's Bulls) as seen here.
All of this comes at a cost, one that appears to be a real physical toll it would seem. Noah has been a frequent target of retaliatory strikes. A simple Youtube search reveals video after video of opposing players taking their pound of flesh from the Bulls big man. In a reap what you sow world, one could say he had it coming. But still, he definitely presents a nice addition to this Blazers roster as Troll in Chief, not to mention his rebounding, shot blocking and passing abilities. Also, he'll probably be cheap (relatively.)
As you work your way down the positions, the crazy starts to change from physical violence to unpredictable and enigmatic - as capable of gravity-defying feats as they are of taking/making the worst possible basketball decisions imaginable.
At the core, this type of player has a ton of actual basketball talent. Typically, they're a hyper-athlete with one or two abilities that when properly harnessed places them in the top of the NBA in that area. Problem is, trying to harness this talent and potential is like trying to catch a meteor entering Earth's atmosphere with a fishnet. It's really nice that you're trying and all, but this just isn't going to work.
This kind of player is typically harder to integrate than the big who delivers with brute force. The enigmatic chucker/dunker/slasher types have real basketball skill that vacillates from amazing to mind-bendingly stupid, so it requires a solid team core with veteran leadership to reign it in when and if possible
Conveniently enough, the players who best meet this criteria are also free agents this year, so let's take a look at what's out there.
Why would you put up with Gerald Green's antics? Hold tight... let me just... ah there it is!
Seriously, having someone on your roster who can literally dunk on five people at once is just plain fun. Outside of Mason Plumlee, who really gets up and dunks on anyone for the Blazers? Put more simply, the Blazers need MOAR DUNKS?! In small doses Green has the ability to be a real spark plug off the bench, both in actual basketball production (points and such) as well as emotional production. If you're willing to put up with a couple dozen terrible shots per season so that you might get a chance to get an in-game 720 dunk, he's your man.
Fresh off his NBA Finals-clinching Game 7 win over the Golden State Warriors, Smith and the Cavaliers made a stop off in Las Vegas before heading home to Cleveland. Smith took off his shirt at some point and still has yet to put it back on four days later. That's JR Smith in a nutshell. He's always marched to his own beat, but he's also one of maybe 10 people in the entirety of the NBA who can instantly get hot from the field and drop 15 points in the span of five minutes.
This of course has to be balanced in the basketball universe, the Yin to the ridiculous Yang that is JR Smith. Let's just assume that shot selection is a subject that has never once been broached with Smith. Like, ever.
While he has appeared to mellow out the last couple of seasons, he can definitely be a wildcard on a team marching towards the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Matt Barnes & Metta World Peace
No. There's not enough veteran leadership, front office savvy, and/or emotionally supportive teammates to keep either of these two on your roster for anything longer than single season. If you're desperately in need of crazy, you can rent one of these mercenaries for a single season with the thought that opposing teams see you as willingly hiring basketball assassins, and willing to use them. The mere threat of them on your bench is enough to sway opponents away from taking that cheap shot they may or may not have thought about. This can physically manifest itself on the floor as simply as that half wind up that turns into a "I better not do this" and instead turns into a back scratch. This is followed by a subtle nod from the bench by Barnes or World Peace as they knowingly just watched a man save his own life.
So, we've covered some different levels of crazy here. While there's certainly more out there to pick from, this is the baseline list from which the Blazers will be able to select from come July. Do you see the right kind and perfect amount of crazy here that the Blazers should snatch up? Or is there someone currently on the Blazers roster that could fill this role? Do the Portland Trail Blazers have enough crazy on their roster, or do they need some heavy doses?
Let us know below in the comments!