Friday’s double OT loss to the defending national champion Dallas Mavericks was Portland’s third straight loss to that team, and birthed a healthy debate as to just what exactly it is that ails these Blazers.
There were plenty of things to point to and discuss—guard play that has been decent on its best night and abhorrent on its worst, the continuingly unsolvable puzzle that is the road—but nothing got quite as much attention as Raymond Felton.
The feelings about Raymond seem to be thus: his play has been downright terrible, and it’s time for him to find some pine and think about what he’s done. The feelings also seem to be thus: Portland has no other point guard, and a struggling point guard who can’t shoot, turns the ball over, and can’t defend is better than none at all.
My feelings are somewhere in the middle. I fully agree that Raymond has been bad, and bad play needs to labeled as such and, for lack of a better term, “punished.” But I also agree that swapping Felton for Jamal Crawford, or digging deeper into the bench and promoting Nolan Smith, equates to solving a problem with a problem.
Overall Jamal has been better than Raymond. His consistency isn’t where it needs to be (case in point 10-of-16 from the floor for 31 points one night and 6-of-23 from the floor for 19 points the next), but he’s had some nice nights. Felton has had at least one good game, but not many more.
The problem with putting Jamal at the starting PG spot is that it’s not really his position. Crawford is a scorer. When he handles the ball a lot and looks to get other people involved his scoring sometimes falls by the wayside. What’s worse is when he tries to be both a scorer and a distributor and winds up being neither. Dallas was an example of that.
But it’s not Jamal’s fault he’s not a point guard, and he’s not the choice to replace Raymond in the starting five because he’s better at that position. Crawford takes Felton’s starting spot only because there isn’t anybody else. And that’s a problem.
I’m only for benching Felton because he needs motivation to play better. I’m not accusing Raymond of being lazy or complacent, I’m just saying that he knows he’s going to play no matter what. In a league that’s as competitive within teams as it is to get on teams, knowing that your spot is there for you regardless of how you play can take the edge off anybody.
Letting Raymond know that his minutes won’t always be there for him if he doesn’t start playing better could have an overall positive effect. Is it a long-term fix? Absolutely not. And because it’s not a long-term fix, and this team should probably be thinking long-term, there might be something else in order.
Something like a trade. The Blazers aren’t going to be able to put Felton on the block and expect to get anything of equal value in return. But they have pieces; pieces that some teams might be interested in. Elliot Williams is the kind of highlight producer that a lot of young teams looking to rebuild might be interested in having on their roster. He needs room to grow against NBA competition—his dunks in pregame matches with Armon Johnson, Chris Johnson, Luke Babbitt, and Nolan are pretty but that’s about it—and he isn’t likely to get that with the Blazers.
Portland doesn’t lose much putting together a two for one (or a three for one in the case of brining back an All-Star from Phoenix by way of Vancouver Island and Jo’burg, RSA) that includes any of its end-of-the-benchers. The risk you run with a trade, of course, is giving up key guys to get a guy that doesn’t stay. You don’t trade your best prospects to rent somebody for two and half months; there will be no trade for Steve Nash if it includes Nicolas Batum.
There’s another problem with a trade too. If you trade your only point guard to bring in a point guard, you’re still left with only one point guard. How about we split the difference? Make a two for one deal that doesn’t include Felton or Batum and lands the Blazers a back-up PG. Sounds easy enough. I’m sure there are plenty of back-up ones just hanging around waiting to be traded for.
And maybe that’s what is at the heart of all of this. Portland needs something better. Blazer fans want something better. But something better just might not be out there. We have to deal with what we’ve got, and hope that it doesn’t get worse.
If the play of Jeremy Lin has proven anything to me at all—beyond the ability to inspire both some great writing and some apology-inducing race baiting—the combination of a good point guard and the right system leads to wins. The Knicks needed a savior. At this point it hasn’t reached critical mass for Portland. Wins can resolve the Blazers’ point guard issues. That’s the bottom line. It really doesn’t matter where they come from, or who’s running the show.
Raymond Felton can do himself a favor by playing better, and being the guy that helps Portland win. But if the Blazers don’t get wins, and Felton doesn’t get better, at the very least management has a scapegoat.
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