Mail call! Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag answers a couple of “realistic” questions about the Portland Trail Blazers. Buckle up.
I have been tossing this question around in my head since '93 I think.
My question is this...
I absolute LOVE Portland and my Blazers. I have been with them through the excitement....and the pain. I will support them the rest of my life.
With that said, given Portland's demographics, location, climate, market size, etc... Do you ever see Portland landing the "one or two" to get us over the hump?
It seems that more and more top players these days are only chasing a instant ring or a huge paycheck...that is not something Portland can offer right now and with the money spent this year, it's seems unlikely that we could offer a big name contract for years to come.
Don't get me wrong, I think Dame and CJ have, and will continue to do wonders for Rip City...Mo seems to be Wesley reincarnated and Mason makes RoLo look like a rookie most nights...it just seems that we are always 1 piece short of a full pinwheel pie..
Anyway, I just wanted your thoughts.
Randy -a Central Oregon Blazer Fan for Life
Ha! You wrote that Mason Plumlee vs. Robin Lopez line before the Jusuf Nurkic trade. Wonder what Nurk will make RoLo look like?
To answer your basic question: yes, the Trail Blazers can win a championship. San Antonio did it. Golden State did it. Cleveland did it. Dallas did it. These are not traditional NBA powerhouses. If they can do it, Portland can too.
Here’s the first and biggest trick to landing the “one or two to get us over the hump”: the one or two players you need can’t be superstars. It’s possible to land a mega-star because of track record (Warriors) or hometown favoritism (Cavaliers), but 29 other teams are all looking for those same guys. You can’t just have a case why they should join your squad, you have to have THE case, like Pulp Fiction level. It’s hard to imagine Portland producing that kind of sales pitch.
If you can do what the Spurs and Mavericks did—draft an anchor superstar, add a couple good players around him, then switch out other roster parts at need—you can win. The first step is the hardest. After that shrewd roster and cap manipulation is the key. It’s easier said than done; a single bit of bad timing or ill luck can ruin the plan. (Think Raef LaFrentz’s expiring contract or the Brandon Roy/Greg Oden injuries.) But magic does happen and increasingly it’s happening to smart, non-traditional teams.
I think your claim about superstars chasing a ring might be a tad overblown. Kevin Durant might be, although he also might just want to play great basketball. LeBron James doesn’t chase rings, he carries title runs in his back pocket. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were drafted by their team. Even the ‘09 and ‘10 Lakers were centered around Kobe Bryant, who spent his life in that uniform.
That doesn’t change your assessment that the Blazers are a piece short of the pie. Right now they’re several pieces shy. The closest they got to a complete roster after the Roy era was 2014-15 when they fielded LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Lopez, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Will Barton, Tim Frazier, and Meyers Leonard. Had they kept that roster, give or take an injured Matthews, adding inexpensive players like Mason Plumlee and Moe Harkless might have pulled them through to the next level. For perspective, check out the depth chart:
The only thing standing between them and that roster would have been the Orlando Magic taking back a little salary in return for Harkless. Otherwise they already had the pieces in hand with the same trade available with the Brooklyn Nets for Plumlee.
I’m not sure that’s a title team given the rise of the Warriors in the West but it would have been a formidable one. The Blazers were that close to mattering, getting a chance to fulfill your criteria. Given that, we’re safe saying it’s theoretically possible.
Now that the Blazers have traded Mason Plumlee and can, at best, finish 8th in the Western Conference standings it’s safe to say that this year’s preseason goals (54 wins?!) are kaput. Under these circumstances what would qualify as success over the last third of the season?
See, I tried to break us out of Realism Day with that prospective lineup and you thrust us right back in the muck. Thanks, BB.
Here’s the problem: even the 8th seed isn’t really success for the Blazers right now, though it could masquerade as such considering they’d need to win a few games to accomplish it. When Portland wasn’t making the playoffs at all, just getting there was a feather in their cap. It allowed people to pretend that the difference of a couple games in the standings placed the Blazers far above middling-to-bad conference teams like the Nuggets and Timberwolves. As it turns out, the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets can now lay claim to that distinction, with interest. (Mileage may vary on how long it’ll last for Houston.) Portland’s not even close. If the Blazers do sneak into the 8th spot, will anybody think their fortunes have changed?
It’s tempting to go the other way, cynically claiming a high lottery pick would equal “success” for the Blazers. This doesn’t ring true. Losing is not succeeding. That shiny new draftee would suit up next to a dozen other players, all of whom would be carrying the stigma and latent self-doubt of a disastrous campaign. Plus there’s the monkey on the back of the elephant in the corner: a lottery pick wouldn’t solve the Blazers’ abysmal cap situation.
This leaves us with just a few options to find success.
- Make a miracle trade at the deadline.
- Duck and cover for two months, then mind bleach this year out of existence. (Which, as we just said, is not really success.)
- Ducking and bleaching followed by a massive retooling in the off-season. This would almost certainly include dumping salary for low-value assets and spending the following year at the bottom of a rebuild crater.
The first possibility is difficult to the point that we can probably dismiss it. Over the last few weeks the realization has dawned across Blazers Nation that the second option is becoming a near certainty and the third is not only possible, but may be the only way out. Defining success as “blowing it up” is odd, but a successful demolition would probably be welcomed by most, including the penny-counters at Vulcan, Inc. who have to be aghast at the dollars-to-win ratio of the team right now.
Personally I don’t like that option. It’s dissatisfying. It wasn’t supposed to happen. It screws over Portland’s starting guards. But I fear now, as I have for a while, that opportunities to correct course have passed over the last few summers without much result. We’ve now reached the point where recycling the roster may be the best move. That sucks, but there you go.
Arrrgh! Enough realism for one day! Keep those Mailbag questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org and next time we’ll talk about happier things!