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Do the Trail Blazers Need a Third Star?

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With all the talk surrounding the Courtship of Carmelo, we might be missing a more basic question.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony and the Trail Blazers: every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in again. Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question isn’t strictly wed to the New York Knicks star and Portland’s flirtation with him, but close enough. Do the Trail Blazers need a third star? If so, what kind? Here we go.

Dear Dave,

All summer long it’s been Carmelo Carmelo Carmelo. I know you’ve talked about it before but answer me this. Do the Blazers NEED another star? Sometimes I get excited but sometimes I think it’s just a blind reflexive reaction. I’m not sure what we really need or whether we really need HIM despite all the words.

Jack

That’s actually pretty perceptive. The answer to the question depends on perspective and goals. I’m going to land on the side of “reflexive reaction”, with a caveat or two.

The disconnect between perception and reality trips people up. The Dallas Mavericks were a relatively unknown team when they won the NBA championship in 2011. Their ascendancy led to an intermittent drizzle of expectation in Portland that the Blazers could be next. Claims that the Blazers didn’t field a championship-caliber team yet were met with the assertion that since Dallas was an unknown and the Blazers were an unknown, Portland’s title hopes were realistic. But the Mavericks didn’t win because they kept a low profile, they won because the had a prime-level Dirk Nowitzki surrounded by accomplished veterans Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler. It wasn’t about an abstract plan or condition as much as embodied talent and action.

A similar theme, though less pronounced, is running through the NBA these days. The Golden State Warriors field three stars. Plenty of folks are speculating that three stars will be needed to oppose them. The Blazers have two in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Adding Anthony would help them conform to Golden State’s pattern.

But the Warriors aren’t winning because they have three stars. They’re winning because of their particular stars, namely two with overwhelming talent. The Blazers don’t need to add a third star to compete with Golden State; they need to add Kevin Durant himself. If that’s not possible—if Portland can’t snag a player of similar quality and effect—then adding that third name is just a glorified PR move. They might get better, but they won’t get into serious contention.

A Lillard-McCollum-Anthony trio does not put Portland at the same level as the Warriors. The interest level surrounding the team would rise significantly if Carmelo came on board, at least for the first few months, but the story would end the same. That provides all the answer required about the Blazers “needing” Carmelo or any third star they could reasonably acquire.

That said, the Blazers aren’t bereft of hope. Steph Curry has a sketchy health history. Golden State is still a great team without him, but the Grand Canyon between them and the rest of the league becomes a treacherous, yet fordable, stream in his absence. Plus Portland has big hopes for Jusuf Nurkic and internal development. Their problem may not revolve around acquiring a third star as much as the shaky infrastructure beneath their best players. Sorting out the supporting cast would be a better use of time and resources than chasing ‘Melo.

Then again, where are the Blazers going (realistically) without Carmelo? That’s the big caveat. If you’re willing to stow the harpoon and admit that the white whale of a championship in the Lillard-McCollum era is beyond reach, a Portland team with Anthony in tow will generate far more interest than one without. It’d be more fun to have him, the same way it’s more fun to party to Gangnam Style than Mozart. There’s no question which is more important and enduring, but if you’re going to bide time until you blow it up, might as well do it at the maximum volume possible.

Do the Blazers need a third star? They same way you need that 15th Skylander figurine. You can get through the game just fine with the 14 you have. The purchase would be a luxury, not a necessity. But if you’re not going to do anything else with that money...why not?

Thanks, Jack! Keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com.

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