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Can the Trail Blazers Save Their Season?

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Also, what about the league-wide changes suggested by Commissioner Adam Silver? Good or not?

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Portland Trail Blazers save their season after injuries to Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic have left them with a huge hole in the frontcourt? How about all those pesky changes NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is proposing to spice up the Association? Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag is a catch-all for some of the nagging issues on your mind.

If you have a Mailbag question, send it in to blazersub@gmail.com or DM me @DaveDeckard on Twitter!

Davo my man,

How serious do you take the injury to Zach Collins? With Nurk out, its pretty bad. How bad do you think this destroyed the season and is there any way to still salvage it?

Connor

I don’t think we’re asking the right questions here. Whether the Blazers will be better with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins healthy is not in question. Of course they will.

This team spent all summer underlining their upward mobility, citing their appearance in last season’s Western Conference Finals as evidence of their forward potential. The Blazers are currently spending more money on their roster than anybody in the NBA. In that light, the real question is whether re-inserting Nurkic and Collins will make the difference between a 6-12 record and competing for an NBA title. That’s a tall order, even for two tall guys. I don’t see it right now. I don’t think many do.

Because of that, the Blazers have got to shift focus from salvaging this season to making decisions about the next few years. This is their last shot at making a run with Damian Lillard in his prime. There’s no more wait and see. There are no more speculative junctures down the road. They either make a mid-season trade with expiring contracts, trade significant current contracts over the summer revolutionize the lineup, or they hope they can draw an impact free agent with cap space in July. One of them has to be the answer or the Blazers have to admit that mediocrity was good enough for them while Lillard reigned and start building towards a new future with draft picks and young players.

Either way, unless you forecast the Blazers rebounding all the way to the Conference Finals or beyond, making decisions to save this season won’t yield enough results to matter.

Dave,

A couple of hot topics for you that I haven’t heard you talk about yet. 1. The midseason tournament Adam Silver is suggesting? Is playing less games that important and is that the way to do it?

I could easily see eliminating games from the schedule. Every team has at least a half-dozen contests that don’t need to be played, the kind where even hardcore analysts are going, “I can’t believe I have to watch this.” The trick is eliminating the games you want to disappear without losing the ones you actually want to see. Kicking the Cavaliers out of the league would be one solution, but I don’t think it’s a live option. How does the league reduce games without reducing quality? That’s the live question.

The way I understand it, the proposed mid-season tournament is patterned after European soccer leagues, who have employed the tactic with great success. I don’t see it working in the NBA for a simple reason. The attraction in Europe is that teams from different leagues come together under one umbrella for bragging rights and a cup. Aside from a friendly or two, fans don’t normally get to see these teams compete against each other. European Soccer tournaments combine dream matchups with a yardstick to gauge club progress, all with a dash of bragging rights thrown in.

NBA teams play each other all the time already, Their regular-season records already provide a measuring stick for progress. There’s no novelty and nothing to discover. Fans would tune into the first tournament night only to discover that this is just Grizzlies-Hawks on a mid-season Tuesday night. Wheeee...thud.

On top of that, what is there to play for? I don’t see the prestige earned from becoming mid-season “tournament champion” as much more significant than the infamous Summer League Championship. I certainly don’t see it making the difference between tuning in and not for the fans, nor between being excited to play in the tourney versus resting for the players.

How about play in games for the playoffs? Does 9 seed against 8 seed provide enough excitement to matter, especially since either one is getting hosed by the 1 seed right after?

I’d be cool with tiebreaker games (including play-in) for any teams tied exiting the regular season. To prevent chaos in the event of three-way ties, they might want to make play-ins the final tiebreaker, subordinate to other significant ones. I could see playoffs seeding determined like this:

  1. Overall record
  2. If tied, head-to-head-record
  3. If still tied, screw it…play each other in a single game for the higher seed.
  4. If multiple teams are somehow all tied head-to-head-to-head, use wins against +.500 opponents or other criteria to winnow it down to a pair or pairs who can face off.

This would be preferable to the mush they have as the lower-echelon tiebreakers now.

I would not favor any automatic play-in system for teams that finished with different records. To my mind, either you earned it or you didn’t. The league wouldn’t be buying more importance by instituting an automatic play-in game between seeds 8 and 9. They’d be robbing importance from Games 80-82 of the regular season that determines definitively who’s in and who’s out in these scenarios right now.

Also load management. What do you suggest? Thanks for listening to all these. I’m ok if you don’t get to them all.

—Steve

The raft of injuries early in this season (and late in last) has been disturbing. As I said above, I’m fine with reducing the overall number of games. Because of the revenue loss they’d incur, I don’t think the league will reduce enough to make a difference.

I have mixed feelings about load management in its current form. Players are human beings. They are the primary custodians of their own health and they have a right to work on a given night or not based on physical condition. Nothing should infringe upon that.

At the same time, I do empathize with fans who bought tickets to see players who won’t take the court. It’s still a fun experience, but let’s face it: the NBA hasn’t marketed itself by names on the front of the uniforms, but names on the back. If you show up to see the Warriors play and Steph Curry isn’t there, chances are you’ll perceive that you’re not getting the same experience, or your full money’s worth.

That aspect shouldn’t be ignored entirely. How many home games do the Pelicans have to host where the opposing superstar is taking a night off before their fans figure out they’re more or less a B-level destination? That’s going to set a dangerous precedent and leave everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.

If I had to suggest something different, I’d offer the possibility of limiting minutes played rather than games played. They always say plenty of lower-tier NBA players and fringe hopefuls could make an impact in this league given the right opportunities. Why not expand rosters to 16 players (more if needed), then set a strict limit of 25-30 minutes for each player on a given night, period? No averaging, no stockpiling…no player sees more court time than the designated max during a game.

All players would be subject to this limitation from their rookie season, eliminating early, chronic wear and tear.

The restriction would be lifted entirely during the playoffs, where rotations would shorten and a team’s best players could play as much as is practical in pursuit of that year’s championship.

I find this scenario more pleasing that the “games off” strategy. It’s equal and balanced for all 30 teams, it would put more emphasis on depth instead of just having three superstars, and more basketball players would get a chance to earn a living.

Thanks for all the questions! Anybody can send them in to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to get to as many as we can!

Don’t forget to help us send a couple thousand kids to see the Blazers play the Minnesota Timberwolves in March (and maybe pick up a cool pair of socks besides)!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com