Where Does Portland Go From Here?
The epic question for the Blazers heading into the ’10-11 off-season.
In ceremonious fashion, the Portland Trail Blazers were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs last week. It’s not that I’m surprised or disappointed by this, considering all of the injuries the Blazers have had to grudgingly accept during the course of the entire season. I’m not even sure there’s really a problem that Portland got bounced out, because they weren’t equipped with the personnel to really make a run in the first place, but I have to admit that it must be unsettling for the team to be a winning group of losers. That’s really the reality of the situation. I say this not because I loathe the Trail Blazers; on the contrary, I like the team, and though I’ve had various issues with a few Blazers throughout the season, I like them and I believe in what they want to accomplish. The keyword there is want.
The Portland Trail Blazers, as constructed, aren’t a roster made to truly win. Sure, they’ll win enough to make the Playoffs and possibly go into the second round, but they aren’t made for championship contention, even with all the healthy guys. The kiddies (many of which are my age, in their early-to-mid-20s) are very nice. They play well and they’re tough and competitive, but they’re somewhat tame and pedestrian. When Kobe Bryant was asked about Brandon Roy as a player in a Yahoo! piece in March, KB24 said Roy was the only player he knows other than himself who had “no weaknesses,” but in the context of that same column, Roy’s aggressiveness was questioned as his only possible weak point. To Roy’s credit, he may really just be a point guard (given his inclination to facilitate offense) and he’s also an All-Star and an elite player when healthy, but even that’s iffy (it was iffy back in June 2006, too–when he was drafted).
But in reality, Roy’s the tipping point for Portland. From top to bottom, with the team is such a state of flux, with players still not in peak playing form and the free agency bonanza on schedule to commence on July 1, the organization really has to ask itself, “Where do we go from here?” Obviously, they can be a winning team with what they have, but they have to really ask themselves how much they want to win. If they want to win a Playoff series (maybe), they can stick with the same Roy-LaMarcus Aldridge duo; if Portland really wants to go somewhere, they’ll have to consider all of their options and potentially parting with certain pieces to get where they ultimately want to be–on the championship stage. Let’s ponder a few questions from a faux-Portland community’s perspective for a few moments…
With major free agents-to-be like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and maybe Dirk Nowitzki becoming available in the summer, should that put Brandon Roy in play as a sign-and-trade option?
If I were your team, Blazers of Trails, I’d certainly be looking to trade Roy for one of those players. It’s clear No. 7 is a great player, but he does not have the fiery temperament or the history of good health with him. He’s looking to be an excellent second option or an “option 1-B)” sort of player, but may not have the ability to guide a team any further than he has being the primary player. If you can convince King James or Wade to come to Nike’s homebase for five years, by all means make such a hypothetical trade. It only helps.
What about LaMarcus Aldridge?
If BRoy were to be in play to acquire a better player, you’d almost have to believe LA would be. It’s not because he’s bad player, but considering what he does and his style of play, he’s more of a middle-class man’s Dirk Nowitzki/Kevin Garnett-hybrid, and neither one of those players at their absolute primes were bringing banners to their respective arenas (KG, for all of his accomplishments and great success in Boston needed every bit of outside-of-their-primes Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to get his ring as he was beginning the downward slope of his peak–it’s not a condemnation of him, I’m just saying). In reality, big men need more time, so there’s decent hope in the idea that LaSmooth may diversify his on-court portfolio, and he’d pair nicely with a burly, low-post scoring big man, so keeping him may be slightly more important than keeping Roy. We’ll see what comes of his presence in the following year.
If Roy (or Martell Webster or Nicolas Batum) were to go, should we give Rudy Fernandez an opportunity to be the star player that he was in Spain (if he’s not traded himself)?
Rudy, Rudy, Rudy…the problems and issues that circulate around our Spanish friend are multi-fold and none of them have easy solutions. Those who know the game and have followed Mr. Fernandez know he is a special player, and was probably worth a lottery pick selection had he not been drafted and traded to Portland in the late first-round of the 2006 NBA Draft. He was like Brandon Roy in Spain, the same way Mickael Pietrus was called “Air France” in his native country (after his idol Michael Jordan). There were a lot of high expectations for him coming over and he was expecting to get some good time on Portland’s floor…but Nate McMillan’s iron hand has kept him on the bench and he has struggled with keeping his emotions in right standing, because of his desire to contribute and be the star that he has been in the recent past.
Another aspect of this is that the golden boy of the team (Roy) handles the ball a lot, and Rudy is a dynamic playmaker who also requires touches to be what’s he known for being–a superstar wing player who can shoot, pass and slash in split seconds. That No. 7 is basically a point guard and with Andre Miller now firmly holding the title of the team’s primary ball-handler keeps Rudy at bay from doing what he would like to do, because Rudy also can play point guard with relative ease. The best thing for Portland to do is to really see where it wants to go with Roy, because Nicolas Batum being the small forward and Dre being the point man is a lock, with BRoy at two-guard; Fernandez won’t likely break that lineup if everyone’s healthy. Fernandez probably deserves more court time, but McMillan will really be gnashing his teeth if he gets Rudy out there in the starting lineup.
How do we go about the development of Jerryd Bayless? Should we push to make him a “pure” point guard or should we help to rear him according to his natural scoring instincts?
In my opinion, Jerryd should work out with Gary Payton, Terrell Brandon and/or Tim Hardaway, or even Isiah Thomas to gain some real structure as a scoring point guard, because those men were all great, Hall of Fame-worthy point guards (it’s a push for TB) who knew how to score and run an offense, very, very well, I might add. “Changing” Jerryd into some sort of grand myth of a “true” point guard will not only maim him from a talent perspective, but it will also cut his confidence down, and he is a player who plays his absolute best when he’s empowered by his own play and his team. He has the potential to be very special because of his ability to score, and he’s very clever and deadly-quick. If he can gain more knowledge and wisdom in running an efficient offense while also playing to his strengths as a scorer, he can be a rich man’s Gilbert Arenas or even some sort of version of Chris Paul (also a scorer).
Even though Nate McMillan seems to overachieve with the Blazers, doesn’t he deserve to be evaluated for his stylistic philosophies (i.e. playing half-court ball with personnel that athletically favors uptempo pace)?
Yes, he deserves some evaluation, but it shouldn’t be a long look. He’s done a lot to change the franchise and reinvent the team’s play, but all who follow the Blazers know he runs a pedestrian offense for a top-flight team, and I believe it hurts them. I understand teaching young players to be well-learned in the art of playing half-court NBA ball, but it may cap their potential if they don’t go up and down the floor more. He’s won’t be fired because he’s done nothing but overachieve with an inconsistent, young group of talented players (when you factor in the injuries and varying learning curves), but he’s not exactly what I would call a “great” coach, either. He’s good, and McSonic is still learning; he probably needs a really great associate head coach with exceptional offensive talent to get the absolute most out of what he has.
Are we any closer to obtaining any of our foreign players overseas like Joel Freeland and Victor Claver?
I have no idea what Portland is doing with those guys; Petteri Koponen was a talented first-round selection a few years ago, but was caught in a numbers game with all the point guards Portland has had over the past three seasons. Claver is thought to have Pau Gasol-like ability and is very versatile in the frontcourt, able to play all three positions up there (not unlike Pau back in Spain). I don’t know the status on Freeland, but considering that both of those young men are also talented frontcourt prospects, it would certainly be in Portland’s favor to see about their availability.
In the end, the Trail Blazers will have to determine what’s in their best interests on the court. The front office issues with Kevin Pritchard and the like are already disturbing enough, but the team has to make sure it’s in it to win it, because keeping the team stocked full of good, young guys is great, but when that same group starts to go stale in winning lower seeds in the Western Conference, they’ll start to look like the early & mid-1990s pre-”Jail Blazers”–good, but not good enough to go all the way.
But still…where do the Portland Trail Blazers go from here?
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist and fitness enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (for real). You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Facebook, Associated Content and Twitter.