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Which Trail Blazers Frontcourt Players Are Keepers?

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A reader asks us to thin Portland's frontcourt to a manageable level. Here's who we'd keep.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Today's Blazer's Edge Mailbag covers the logjam in the Portland Trail Blazers frontcourt. A reader is forcing us to thin the field. Would you answer the same way?

Hey Dave,

I just wanted to say thanks for what you've created at Blazer's Edge. I'm not gonna lie, I read blazer articles from oth*r sites as well. But there's a problem. I like reading comments about articles to get the collective thought and opinion, but I can't do that anywhere besides BE. Comments sections are full of guys saying how terrible the writer is, or how dumb his ideas are (when neither are bad) and how stupid all the other commenters are. I've even seen similar things at other SB NATION sites. But not BE. I see people here disagree ALL THE TIME (try: would you rather keep Leonard or Harkless?), but it's always intelligent and good natured and even backed up with stats!!! Sure, people get heated about stuff, but they still show respect for the others they are interacting with (except Mort, but he usually forgets to turn off the sarcasm font, so it's ok). Anyhow, what I'm trying to get at is this: thank you for creating a space where we can truly discuss things about the Blazers while being kind to each other. There's not too many places on the internet that happens. You've created a wonderful little corner for us.

Now, since this is a mailbag, here's a question for you...

You're the GM. Your logjam is as follows:
PF: Aminu, Vonleh, Davis, Leonard
C: Ezeli, Plumlee, Leonard, Davis

You just had a talk with Allen, and you're only allowed to keep 4 of the above players. Who do you trade? Let's assume you're getting draft picks back, so no need to consider the players coming in.

Personally, I'd roll with
PF: Aminu, Vonleh
C: Ezeli, Leonard
Trade: Plumlee, Davis (or maybe Vonleh instead of Davis)

Mostly, I'd love to see Leonard get significant minutes at the 5 and watch the team roll out 5 3 point shooters sometimes.

Thanks,

Charlie

Waaaahhhh! Daddy just got us a bunch of cool Lego sets for Christmas and now we can only keep four??? I know none of them were the super-sized Death Star but I was looking forward to mixing and matching them!

(sigh)

OK, since dad is mean like that, I'll take a stab at it.

My first question is whether you'd allow me to slide Al-Farouq Aminu back to small forward. If so, I want to hide him there to make the process easier. In the spirit of the problem you've constructed I'm going to keep him at power forward exclusively, but be aware that small-forwarding him is my first answer.

Second, your question came in concurrently with Mo Harkless re-signing. I'm going to add him to the power forward roll call, making the question:

Keep two of Aminu, Harkless, Davis, Leonard, and Vonleh at power forward, two of Plumlee, Ezeli, Leonard, and Davis at center.

At power forward I'm going to keep Aminu and Ed Davis. Nobody currently on the roster plays defense like Aminu, plus even though I'm keeping him as a power forward, I have the option to play him at the three, adding depth without taking up an extra roster spot. I don't believe he'll be a Trail Blazer for life. If Portland's backcourt were stronger defensively I might consider him expendable now. As it stands, I can't replace what he brings for anything near the same cost.

I want to keep Davis...well...just because I like him? He's neither an all-around wonder nor the prototypical next-generation NBA power forward but he's incredibly efficient at the things he does well. He's also a professional in every sense of the word. He'll play off the bench but the Blazers could also start him. He's a locker room guy. Nobody would be worse off for having Ed Davis on their team.

I let go of Moe Harkless because he has many of the same things going for him as Aminu, plus some of the same weaknesses. His new contract costs more than Aminu's and runs a year longer. That'd be a good thing if we were sure the Blazers would need either of them for sure in four years. That's not certain, so I like the cheaper, more flexible option.

I've often mentioned "flashes of brilliance" from Noah Vonleh but they've come too seldom and have been surrounded by too much mediocrity (or sometimes worse) to hold on. Statistically speaking the two best reasons to retain Vonleh are that he's really young and really cheap. Those would recommend him as a no-fault keeper in the abstract. This exercise pits him against his teammates directly and all of them outpace him by a mile.

Moving to center, I suspect the Blazers might answer differently than I on this question but I want to keep Meyers Leonard. This is less hope that he'll emerge as a star and more assurance that his skill set will always be welcome. Also he provides a change of pace from the interior-bound big men around him. Meyers Leonard on the floor with Lillard and CJ McCollum gives a whole different look than Davis and Aminu. I like the potential to spread the floor and I'm nervous about all Portland's distance shooting prowess being confined to basically two positions. Leonard addresses all of that. Plus he, like Aminu, can slide into two positions, giving the roster extra depth in a single player.

I'm also going to keep Mason Plumlee over Festus Ezeli. Plumlee is a little underrated by the general fan base at this point. He still has room to grow and his passing ability is unique among Portland's bigs. He played all 82 games last year, shot a great percentage from the field, and was great on the offensive glass.

Ezeli has the potential to impact the game defensively more than Plumlee does but his health is in question and, as explained here, his contract makes him difficult for Portland to retain if he excels. Their best hope is to see him play solidly this season, then dangle him as potential trade bait over the summer. Given that Plumlee's future in Portland stretches farther, he's a better deal than Ezeli.

That makes my final four Aminu, Davis, Leonard, and Plumlee. Which players would you choose? Create your quartet of keepers in the comment section and keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com!