Yes, the title of this post may have been ripped off (in a very corny fashion) from the UPS commercials. However, in my opinion, the question is very valid. What can Outlaw do for us? What can Travis Outlaw do for the Portland Trail Blazers this season? Reading his twitter updates he seems incredibly focused and ready to go to work. This is great news for Blazer fans. What’s the source of this motivation? The fan in me wants to think after failing somewhat miserably as the X-Factor in the playoffs, he never wants to feel that type of feeling again. The hoop knowledge in me says that Mr. Outlaw knows that this is THAT year for him: the contract year. As Ben from Blazer’s Edge so aptly pointed out, Outlaw wants that Beastie Boys, Intergalactic money. And he knows this is his year to do it. Even though the free agent market may not be as lucrative as it would have been, this is his chance for security.
And that’s where my inner debate begins. Is having Travis Outlaw in a contract year a good or bad thing for this team? This is a question I’ve gone back and forth with in my head for a while now. On one hand, he’s an expiring contract and in this day and age those are always valuable. Add the fact that he’s a talented player with an expiring contract and my friends you have an asset. Although let me be honest for a second and take a guess that many GMs have been offered him so many times that they scoff at the mention of his name. And that may be half of the reason why he’s still a Blazer. Again, just an assumption but you know you wouldn’t be THAT surprised if it was true. (Also, capitalizing the word THAT is my new thing for this year). Portland fans, when we bring up the name Travis Outlaw…we know exactly what we’re getting with him. We know he can score, we know he’ll play hard and we know he’s about the team. We know he can get that jumper off whenever he wants. We know the difference between Good Travis and Bad Travis. We know almost exactly what to expect of him. I’m not trying to overrate him or anything because he’s been around for a while….but without him last season, Portland doesn’t win 54 games. I don’t think there is a soul on this earth who would disagree with that. However, in the playoffs he showed us all something we had thought existed but weren’t quite sure. He showed that he may not be the answer as the #3 scoring option. He showed his expendability by failing to show up when he was needed. And as he enters into his contract year he’s locked into a potential deathmatch at both positions he plays:
SF: Batum. Webster.
PF: Pendergraph. Cunningham.
You see, not to downgrade Outlaw…but while he was partying hard in Vegas, Batum was putting in work overseas. We know that after being forced to sit out for a year, Martell Webster (should) be coming back with a vengeance. Looking at this team, both Batum and Webster are quote unquote ‘better fits’ for this team at the 3 than Outlaw. If Batum can just get a little more aggression offensively, he’s great. Webster’s skill set (aka doing more than just shooting three’s and taking what other people create for him) is arguably the prototype for this team. Outlaw….he works and he works well, but he has his flaws. He’s averaging as many 3 point attempts as free throw attempts a game. This summer has shown that both Cunningham and Pendergraph have the potential to fill the hole at the 4 spot. It’s known that Outlaw can play the 4 and give the opposing team fits. It also looks like with the return of Webster, he may have to get the majority of his minutes at that same 4 spot. However, in the playoffs…what 4 man can he guard? It becomes a disadvantage. Isn’t the goal of this team to make noise in the playoffs. If we’re putting Outlaw at the backup 4 come Spring-time, we’ll be singing as soft as Sarah McLachlan. So Blazer fans, we face the prospects of having Travis Outlaw in his contract year with diminished minutes. Am I the only one a bit scared by these prospects? Outlaw loves to shoot. In his career, nearly every year his average of FGA’s is up and around his average of PPG. It’s going to be hard to pencil him in for 26-27 minutes a game this year. In my opinion, it’s clear he can’t start on this team. He can play in the 4th quarter with B-Roy and LMA, but it’s clear he’s just not a starter for this organization. Coming into this season, will he still be the #3 scoring option? Or will someone emerge?
Another question surrounding Travis: is this as good as it gets? Does Travis Outlaw have one more leap left in him? The Outlaw of the past two years compared to the first few of his careers…crazy stupid different. If he has one more leap left in him, there’s no question that he should stick around. Portland is going to have to make a difficult decision shortly and it looks as if Outlaw will be the odd man out. Portland’s committed to Martell Webster long-term. There’s also no chance they let Batum slip out of their grasps.
Speaking of Webster, one thing I believe that Outlaw can and will do for this team: allow Portland to bring Martell Webster back slowly. Thanks to Outlaw’s play and the emergence of Batum, there is no need to rush Martell Webster back to the court. It’s obvious he will be ready to play this season and that will cause quite the headache. However, he does not have to step into a 20-24 minute a game role immediately.
My question is how on earth is this going to work? That’s Nate’s challenge for this year. Last year it was juggling three PG’s and 3 PF’s. This year he’s going to have to juggle 3 PG’s and 3 SF’s. Make no mistake about it, Travis Outlaw is a talented player. He’s a great weapon for this team to have and he proved that last season. If he’s gotten better, this team will only get better. But at the end of the day, just how much can he provide for this team? Again, I ask….what can Outlaw do for us?