Blazers Offseason To-and-Fro

The following exchange is a series of emails between SJ and Coup. It’s unedited, but words are spelled correctly.

by Bill Watterson

Coup: Clearly, the topic du-jour on a national level is LeBron James‘ “B-Rabbit in the first rap battle of 8-Mile” against the Celtics last night which, while not having anything to do with the Blazers, is interesting from the standpoint of how we react to certain players.

I’ve watched the game twice now, and you’re not going to convince me it was simply a bad game, as James implied with his post-game quotes. There’s a difference between having a bad shooting night — and it was colossally awful, elbow issues or not — and making an overall impact on the game more familiar to Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster, give or take some first-quarter assists. The play that stuck out most to me was late in the game, when it was comeback-now-or-perish time, when LeBron literally sat in the corner for 15 seconds while Mo Williams ran the offense, generating an awful shot.

Still, some of the all-encompassing reactions on Twitter have been overzealous. It was only a section of LeBron’s book, and how he performs in Game 6 will decide whether it’s a chapter or a paragraph. But there’s no blaming it on a poor supporting cast, nor on LeBron having spoiled the rest of the basketball watching world. People know better, and last night wasn’t a disappointment because of inappropriate expectations.

Funny thing is, Brandon Roy wasn’t all that better or different from LeBron in Game 5 and 6 of the Phoenix series, but he obviously had an asterisk bigger than an elbow hanging over his head like a black cloud, and as great as Roy is, nobody expects the same sort of all-around dominance from him, no matter how reasonable the expectations, do they?

SJ: You’re correct. I could forgive LeBron if he just had a bad shooting night, I mean no matter how great you are sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in the basket. It was his effort that had me scratching my head and disappointing. As a player you can always leave an imprint on the game with your energy and effort. It’s one of the few things you can control on the court at all times. There were so many possessions where as you said LeBron was just standing around, or at some points even hiding. Kevin Arnovitz‘s video on TrueHoop puts him on blast, both offensively and defensively. I mean some of the things he did were just head-shakingly bad. There was a time where he ran down and set one of those double-screens that don’t exist in the offense but walk-ons tend to do from time to time to look busy.

I will admit that people have gone a bit too far but a lot of the criticism is deserved. The majority of it is well deserved, but there are always those who push it too far. Let’s keep this in perspective because if LeBron kills the next 2 games we won’t remember this now will we? Just like his game-winner against Orlando that got called ‘one of the best playoff shots of all-time’ except they lost the series and it ended up meaning nothing. Also, let’s remember that really great players have had really bad moments in big games.

Think about the game when Magic Johnson earned his ‘Tragic’ Johnson moniker. It happens. I’m more disappointed with him just letting it happen. And his reaction. You think MJ, the a-hole of all a-holes would have gone with ‘I spoil people’ or ’3 bad games’. It just comes off as holier than thou, it’s hard to give him a pass with such a laissez-faire attitude.

The supporting cast argument is ridiculous, this is as deep of a team as LeBron has ever played with. Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker, Delonte West, Shaq, Varejao…this team is deep and has been all year. I blame Mike Brown like I have since they made the Finals a few years back. That 1 v 5 offense can’t win you a championship. Every playoff for Cleveland has had a game where their offense just falters and it feels like a re-run.

It’s funny you bring up Roy and I find it funny that people called his playoff performance ‘disappointing’. Maybe it’s because I had no expectations for him that I can’t see it, I just feel like anything he gave us was a bonus. Also interesting because a lot of people criticize Roy’s iso’s, but they are nowhere near as bad as some of the possessions Cleveland has had over the years.

Coup: I hardly expected anything from Roy either, but what if LeBron had actually had elbow surgery ten days ago, would that make things any better? I’m not sure it would, especially if his legs are perfectly intact. If Nurse Ratched had ordered a pre-game lobotomy, that’s one thing, but if the mind and legs are there, there’s no way to explain how passive he was.

With all the isolations the Cavaliers run, one thing that’s stood out is just how inefficient they are. If LeBron wants to get to the rim, he’s probably going to get there or draw a foul no matter what the defender does, despite how predictable he can be when he backs up to mid-court and gets that running start. But the Cavs make it more difficult with some terrible spacing, making it very simple for Boston’s excellent help defense to be half-doubling LeBron everywhere inside the arc.

Contrast this with the 1-4 spread the Blazers run for Roy and how consistently Roy can get a good shot out of it and you appreciate Nate McMillan at least moving his pieces into places that maximize Roy’s talents, however conservative the offensive movement is.

The problem for Cleveland is they don’t have any pick-and-pop players to keep the defense honest. Anderson Varejao, Shaq, JJ Hickson, they’re all rolling to the hoop the vast majority of the time, so the Celtics can just force the pass with a double and hope Rondo or Tony Allen can create a turnover in the passing lane. While we would all like LaMarcus Aldridge to cut to the rim more, he shot allows for that spacing, and in theory should balance with Greg Oden‘s more consistent rim-diving. That’s probably why Mike Brown went back to Ilgauskas yesterday, except he couldn’t stop a door from closing much less anyone on the Celtics.

On that subject, we’ve been talking about offseason work for the Blazers, but is there anything you’ve seen from other teams in the playoffs that you think could be incorporated into Portland’s system. I think we both agree Nate shouldn’t be going anywhere, but the system can always be improving.

SJ: Oh, you brought the elbow into this. I’ve never been into this story not one bit. I mean how do you shoot a perfect free throw and hold the form and then shoot a lefty. If he had made it no way he grimaces. Also, when Kobe is playing with about 6-7 fingers and who else knows what and Roy came back from knee surgery in 8 days…it’s a little hard to worry about an elbow. The problem for Cleveland is they have Mike Brown, and unless they tie him up or LeBron drops 65 they are in trouble.

I don’t really see anything that could be incorporated into Portland’s system because it’s all geared towards specific personnel. I would say more movement if anything, sometimes Portland can be a little too stagnant. Also I just want to see Portland not get bogged down and have to shoot those ‘hail mary/hot potato’ shots at the end of the shot clock. We all know how poorly Portland is when that happens.

Let’s talk Blazers, let’s talk the Draft. I think we’re in agreement the only way that Portland can go is a wing/perimeter player. Absolutely no need for a big right this second, and no need for a PG. That leaves a 2 or a 3. Ideally Portland needs an aggressive scorer or someone to not act like Martell and Rudy. This is correct right?

Coup: Yeah, ball movement is the clear theme of success in these playoffs, from Boston’s inside-out game to Los Angeles hitting their big men with high passes on the move. But Orlando, aside from its dominance, sticks out for how perfectly things run around Dwight Howard. Whether some fans like it or not, Oden is with this team for the long haul, and he’s the key. The Blazers would do well do emulate some aspects of Orlando’s offense, particularly their timing with hitting Howard as soon as he gets deep position.

But more to do with the offseason, the Blazers might be a shooter short, at least as long as Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless are the poing guards. Granted, Oden might make life, and shooting, easier on the Rudy-Martell combo, but the loss of Blake and Outlaw does leave Portland a little short of dependable spot-up shooters.

That said, I’m not sure there’s going to be a ton of value shooting at the No. 22 pick. This draft seems light on point guards and heavy on power forwards, project centers and combo/tweener players. We’ve talked about Chad Ford’s projected pick of Kenneth Faried, but he’s going back to school. If Kevin Pritchard wants go with another international player, Kevin Seraphim seems to be the guy. Avery Bradley from Texas could be a good complimentary shooter to Roy and Oden, but I’m not sure he could earn enough playing time to make an impact with those guys. Still, he could be Nate’s type of guy as a defensive player.

NCAA Basketball: BIG EAST TOURNAMENT-University of South Flordia vs Georgetown MAR 10

Our current mock pick for Portland, Dominique Jones. Looks solidly built, no? (Source: Yarbarker.com)

Our guy right now is Dominique Jones out of USF, who is getting a little buzz as a sleeper, compared to Marcus Thornton by ESPN’s David Thorpe. A lot of people might think of Jones as too similar in skillset to Jerryd Bayless, and they might be correct. He can play both guard positions, he’s working on his jumper, he puts in the defensive effort and has that special gene for getting to the free-throw line. So, for this year and possibly the next, he might not be the best fit, even though he could end up being the best value at that draft position. But a year or two down the line, when Miller is gone and Bayless is the starting point guard — I’m hypothesizing here — then the bench is going to need a playmaker.

It’s really tough to project the bench down the line like that, but realistically the Blazers aren’t drafting for their starting lineup anymore and the best way to ensure your depth is taking the best talent available late in the draft and working from there.

SJ: I would argue this with your Portland-should-emulate-Orlando argument, they should improve on the preexisting model. Orlando doesn’t always do a good job of hitting Howard as soon as he has great position. As a matter of fact in the Charlotte series tjhey did a terrible job and he ended up getting offensive fouls because of it. Also, we need big guys to get great position, not naming any names *ahem*ODEN*ahem* but it’s easier to throw it in when someone posts up. I would like to see more post-ups, maybe even getting Roy the ball in the mid-post a little bit.

Portland does need a shooter and sadly I think we’ve been saying this since James Jones left. Martell and Rudy were supposed to be that…but they just didn’t make the shots. There is no way Portland should go international again, we have enough prospects stashed over there to last a while. Avery Bradley intrigues me but my biggest question is what position is he? Isn’t he just a better shooting Bayless?

I like Jones mainly because his skillset is the opposite of Martell and Rudy from last year. He might not be able to shoot like them but he is constantly in attack mode. He can create his own shot, they can’t and that second unit needs someone like that. Also, it provides flexibility if Portland wants to…you know…make a trade. Yeah, I said it. It’s not like I see Jones being depended on in the future but it would help down the line and that’s how you have to think right now.

Coup: Orlando isn’t perfect, but I think it’s fair to say that their intentions regarding getting Dwight the ball are much closer to where the Blazers should be than what Portland was this year. That said, the ball movement was improving in the two weeks before Oden went down.

As for Bradley, I’m not sure he’s a better shooting Bayless. Perhaps a more consistent shooting Martell? Nothing I’ve read or seen concerning Bradley says he is as good attacking the basket off the dribble.

Well, you brought up trades, we might as well lower the bucket into that well. While the trade value of the bench players has certainly fluctuated, the Blazers certainly still have the pieces to be a player in the trade market in the coming years, what with Andre Miller, Joel Przybilla and Marcus Camby all on short, movable contracts that will each expire in the next few seasons.

Dave over at Blazersedge brought up trades last night in a post titled “Would you do something crazy” and his featured trade idea involved a sign-and-trade deal with Aldridge and Joe Johnson. While I, and I’m sure you as well, think old JJ would be a horrific option at the money he’s going to want — really, he could be Top 5 worst contract in the league within two seasons — Dave’s intention seemed to be to explore the idea of trading a more established guy like Aldridge rather than focus on Johnson.

How crazy would you get? Every Blazer fan’s pipe dream is a sign-and-trade with Aldridge for Bosh being the centerpiece, and that seems more than reasonable, though it will never happen. But as highly as I think of Aldridge, I can’t say he’s an untouchable player. That said, I doubt Kevin Pritchard really considers moving him before seeing the Aldridge-Oden tandem for more than (hopefully) a month. But other than Roy, Batum and Oden, everyone else is in the discussion. What types of moves do you think are worth exploring? Trying to pry Darren Collison away? Hoping some of these cap-space teams panic when they miss out on LeBron and Wade?

The whole world might be overrating how crazy this summer will be, but it shouldn’t be any less active than last summer. And that’s one of the main reasons I hope the team doesn’t get rid of Pritchard, apart from his existing record. With so many teams looking to make massive, and quick, roster moves, you don’t want to be left out in the mud because you fired your GM and the front office is in transition.

SJ: As far as Bradley goes, he’s a 6-3 explosive scorer, and actually my mistake, he doesn’t have range. That’s what I meant in the comparison between the two. Why get the same guy?

Portland has plenty of moveable pieces to make a trade, the question is why would they make one? Sorry Dave and sorry Asher Roth but there is no way I would ‘do something crazy’ at this point. This team went through everything you would imagine for a ‘worst-case scenario’…and some…and still won 50 games. I could understand if this was year 3-4 of a ‘failure’ with the championship window closing, but it is not. You don’t move Aldridge. Period.

Also, while we’re on the subject of Joe Johnson. Other than Raymond Felton, I’m not sure there’s a FA out there that did more harm to themselves than Joe. Now, that being said he’s still going to get PAID but he certainly showed that he is not a MAX kind of guy. It reminds me of Rashard Lewis, who by the way is getting the MAX, and when he got it he didn’t even expect to get it. If a team gets Joe AND someone watch out. But expecting Joe to take you to a title is a bit much.

Back to my point, I disagree with you, LaMarcus is ‘untouchable’ unless it is a home run. If you can get Bosh…you have to think about it. But there is no need to rush to trade him, he’s shown that he can do work and be depended on. This is all assuming he grows from the playoffs and does not regress. If you can get a Collison or a shooter or an aggressive wing than you have to try. Portland should just sit and wait for once, if a deal happens it’s going to come to them. KP doesn’t have to be as aggressive for once.

This summer is going to be bananas on paper, simply because of the superstars involved. I mean this isn’t last year where we’re freaking out over Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap and David Lee. We’re talking about the league possibly being shifted, teams being crushed in a matter of hours. I can’t recall an off-season with the potential ramifications of this one. I don’t think Portland has to be super-active, they shouldn’t turn their cell phones off, but they can relax. For once.

Tags: Basketball Brandon Roy Dominique Jones Dwight Howard Greg Oden LaMarcus Aldridge LeBron James Nate McMillan Nba Draft Orlando Magic Portland Trail Blazers Usf

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