Monday night was a big night for the Trail Blazers for a number of reasons. For the second home game in a row LaMarcus Aldridge hit or broke the 40-point barrier, setting career highs in scoring both times, and his team yet again knocked off a highly touted, likely Conference Finals participant led by an All-Star. Monday night’s events, though, were almost overshadowed by a piece of news that dropped pregame, and has stirred up the fan base and the media quite a bit over the last few days.
That news, of course: Brandon Roy is coming back, and he’s coming back soon. Like really soon.
As of today, the time frame has been rolled back some, from this weekend to possibly as early as next week’s home game against the New Orleans Hornets, and the expectations have been rightly tempered, he’ll be coming off the bench and very likely play only a limited roll in restricted minutes. Because we’re still two days out from Portland’s next game, and everyone else is weighing in, I thought I would add my two cents to this discussion.
So here’s what I think. I think Brandon coming back might actually be a good thing. I say might, because of course there are two things that would make his coming back a really, really bad thing.
First: he gets hurt again. That would be bad. Who knows how many times this guy can come back and then get hurt before it becomes too much to handle for the team, the fans, the front office, and most importantly the knees of Brandon Roy.
Second: he makes the team completely stall out. Since ascending to the role of go-to-guy, Brandon has been the complete focus of Portland’s offense. Many times throughout his career, Brandon’s teammates have basically handed him the ball and said, “Do your thing.” At times, like the entire 2008-09 season, it worked. At the beginning of this most recent season, however, it was when relying only on the offense of Roy that the Blazers looked their worst. It’s a return to that form that has the people most riled up. I agree with that assessment. The worst thing that could happen with Brandon returning would be to see the Portland offense revert to their old ways.
So those are the bad things that could happen, and that hopefully Portland can avoid, but here are the good things that Brandon Roy brings to the table, and why I think that they outweigh the bad.
Beginning with the offense. As Roy has stated, and Coach Nate McMillan has confirmed, Brandon will begin his return by coming off the bench, and will be just a part of the Blazers’ offense, not the centerpiece. I believe both Nate and Brandon are going to stick to that plan, and I believe including Roy in the second unit will have a positive impact. Portland’s second unit has been streaky, to say the least, and downright frustrating at times. Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills have been dazzling at home, and mostly non-existent on the road. Adding Brandon to the second team should hopefully inject a little offensive consistency.
But there’s more. LaMarcus Aldridge often plays big minutes with the second unit on the floor. Because of the overall lack of offensive pop on the second unit, it is much easier for opposing teams to bring hard double teams on LaMarcus. With Brandon on the floor, it won’t be as easy. Brandon is a much better mid range shooter than Rudy or Patty. His ability to attack the rim might be limited, but he is still going to be a guy you can’t ignore when he’s on the court. One more positive about Brandon’s being in the second unit, he’ll get his runs in against second unit defenders. Although the talent drop-off in the NBA from starters to subs isn’t enormous, Brandon won’t have to begin what is essentially a rehab assignment being guarded by the best wing players in the league.
Just as many people are speculating that Brandon might have a negative effect on the offense, there have been plenty of questions surrounding what Roy’s return will do to Portland’s team chemistry. There’s a sense that Brandon might undue all the good work that’s been done since LaMarcus stepped up way back in December. It upsets me a little how much people have been coming down on Brandon Roy. He’s been the center of the franchise, along with the leader of the team since basically the middle of his rookie year. To a man, every Blazer respects Brandon, and feeds off his leadership. To me, claiming that Brandon is going to somehow hurt the Blazers, or to insinuate that Brandon’s desire to play has something to do with his ego, is ludicrous.
I believe, in fact, that the opposite is true. Brandon’s return might actually be good for the team’s chemistry. Brandon deferring to LaMarcus, both on offense and from a leadership stand point, will solidify LA leadership role both in his eyes, and in the eyes of his teammates. Portland is a close group of guys, follow Patty Mills on twitter if you want proof, bringing their leader back into the mix is not going to change that.
Finally, I think Brandon needs to come back now, simply because there’s no time like the present. I was there listening to Brandon speak in the locker room when the question on everybody’s mind was whether or not his career was over. I followed the story when it seemed to dip into the realm of science fiction, with cadaverous cartilage being floated as a solution, and I must say, through all of it I did not expect to see Brandon back on the court this season. That being said, though, if he’s cleared by the doctors to play, which he clearly is, I don’t see why he shouldn’t play.
Brandon’s body isn’t going to be what it was, but it hasn’t broken down quite yet. Brandon’s still a young man, and an incredibly smart basketball player. If he needs to adjust his game to what he is now capable of doing, there’s no reason he shouldn’t start doing it right now. Portland is locked in to a long-term deal with Brandon for big money. He is going to have to play eventually; you don’t spend that kind of money on a dude that sits on the bench every night. If the Blazers want to see what their big ticket item is going to be worth in the long run, it’s going to start with getting out and seeing what he can do
The real truth is, bringing Brandon back is a win-win for the Blazers, or at least not as big as a risk as it might seem. If he comes back and excels in a reserve or limited role it might be enough to bump Portland a spot or two in the playoff ladder. If his return is less positive, like he gets hurt or derails what’s left of 2010-11, the solution is simple: shut him down, again. These Blazers can play without Brandon, they’ve shown us that much.