I'm trying to do more of these Q&A sessions with other team bloggers. I find it incredibly helpful to get this in depth information from the guys that know the team best. I hope you agree.
To that end I sat down with Dave from Blazersedge (well, I virtually sat down with him; we weren't like at my dining table or anything, but I was sitting as I wrote emails and I assume he was sitting as well). In case you are not aware, Blazersedge is one of the most popular NBA blogs on the entire interwebs; it's the blog Clips Nation wants to be when it grows up. So Dave must know something, right? Turns out he knows a lot. I asked him five questions, then tossed him a sixth when LaMarcus Aldridge twisted his ankle. He asked me some questions as well, the answers to which you can read over there.
ClipperSteve: I love Nic Batum -- think he's a big time talent. But he seems to be odd man out in Portland, with two All Stars at the forward spots and Wes Matthews firmly entrenched at the two. What is the future for Batum in Portland? He's in the final year of his rookie deal and will be an RFA this summer -- will the Blazers try to trade him now, or hang onto him and assume they can get something good for him later, even if they have to re-sign him as a backup?
BlazerDave: There are several issues here. He may be a big-time talent but night to night his performance is more modest. Granted, nobody's ever tossed him the ball and said, "It's your team, Nicolas" but he hasn't played consistently or aggressively enough to warrant that either. Nobody throws you that ball, you have to take it. Batum never takes it for long. So "big-time" may be a misnomer at this point. He's valuable. He's skilled. He's not a star.
The players around Batum aren't in as solid of a position as you'd think either. Matthews is having a lackluster year, inducing as many groans as cheers from Portland fans. If Batum can play shooting guard, odds are he'll get a chance before the year is out. Even at small forward, Gerald Wallace isn't the lock you'd think he is. He's brilliant on the run. His energy is unmatched when he's healthy and whole. This year hasn't left him in great condition though. His performance is intermittent. He's looking at a possible opt-out clause at the end of the season. He's also pushing 30.
There are two ways Portland can go here. If they plan to win now they're going to need more help. In that case you sacrifice the long-term view and Batum becomes a trade possibility. The problems with that approach are that it's bloody expensive-incoming vets likely being high-salary types-and it's not likely to work. The Blazers aren't just a player or two away from contending...at least not a player they could get. If there's a trade this season Wallace is the much more likely candidate, bringing in young players and picks instead of losing them. In that case the way is clear for Batum as the small forward of the future.
There was no advantage to Batum to sign an extension early, so he didn't. But as you point out, he'll be a restricted free agent this summer. The Blazers will likely match any offer he gets and he and LaMarcus Aldridge will form their forward tandem of the future.
ClipperSteve: The Blazers were 7-2 after their win over the Clippers back on January 10. They're 9-12 since then, with only two of those wins coming against teams with winning records. Obviously, playing a lot of road games in that stretch had something to do with that. But what else is different with the team now versus the first two weeks of the season?
BlazerDave: The Blazers are capable of great games when everything goes well. They have talent at every position, a couple of nice players off the bench, plus Aldridge, of course. You like this team in most situations. But the team has basic flaws. Nobody can get to the rim off the dribble and finish. Almost every player in the rotation is most comfortable working for the same kind of shot: the mid-range jumper. That's the least efficient shot in basketball. The only true low post player they have is Craig Smith. Their three-point shooting is streaky. Aldridge and Batum have stepped up on defense but they still rely heavily on Marcus Camby to watch the interior and rebound. He's good for 25 minutes per night when healthy. If you play him more his legs are shot the next game. Wallace, has trouble performing on the road and is playing below the rim in almost every situation. If you know Gerald Wallace at all then "below the rim" is going to make you shake your head. The guard defense is spotty and the Blazers have zero reliable point guard options outside of Raymond Felton.
Then you have to factor in that, while talented, this team runs at most 8 deep right now. Start doing the math on 8 players with back-to-backs and road travel and you start seeing fatigue, loss of focus, inability to impose their will physically. This team will start out great and then fade throughout the game. Or vice versa, they'll start out horribly and scramble to make it up in the late third and fourth. Either way, playing only 27 good minutes in a 48-minute game is a recipe for a spotty record. Being at home provides rest and an emotional lift from the crowd, but on the road this team looks tired before the ball tips.
The Blazers-Clippers matchup being Portland's third game in three nights, you're likely to see some of this demonstrated in person. Let both teams be fresh and I promise you I'll relish a Blazers-Clippers matchup. That's going to be a great battle. But in game three of three I'm just praying not to get blown out of the building.
ClipperSteve: Jamal Crawford. Man. The guy can get buckets; at times he seems almost unstoppable. But dude is shooting 39% on the season, and doesn't do a lot other than score to help teams win games. Where do you stand on Jamal? Love him or hate him?
BlazerDave: Neither. Crawford is Crawford. From the moment Portland signed him you went, "This was undoubtedly the best free agent they could pick up at this price but still..." He's brilliant with the ball. He also over-dribbles. He's the best Blazer by far at getting his own shot off, but he doesn't look natural doing anything else. Portland's actually playing him at point guard for part of the game. It's great when it works, which is to say when the offense is simple. He actually racks up nice assist numbers. But throw a pick at him or try to get a whole offense running around him and it's a no-go.
Here's the deal, though. The Blazers desperately need scoring, confidence, and experience off that bench. Who's behind Crawford? Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, Armon Johnson...you haven't heard of any of these guys. They're rookies, newbs, lost out there, not ready for minutes. This is kind of like dating a girl that you know has problems but she's pretty hot and you have enough of a good time when she's in fun mode to balance the crazy bad times. There's nothing wrong with that kind of relationship. You just know that you're not going to take her home to mother and when it's over, it'll be for good reason. We're not married to Crawford but dang, the booty calls would get pretty desperate without him.
ClipperSteve: The Clippers played Charlotte last week, and that team is bad. The Blazers took their best player Gerald Wallace last February, sending them a collection of expiring contracts and two middling first round picks in return. So tell the truth: don't you feel guilty? Gerald Wallace is a stud, and your enjoyment is part and parcel of the misery of millions of basketball fans in Carolina.
BlazerDave: ...says the guy whose team sent broken parts to 18% win-rate New Orleans for their all-time franchise superstar.
But listen, my friend. Forgetting your bus pass on the way to work is bad. Charlotte is something else. Take your older brother's dirty gym sock, use it as an elephant prophylactic, dip it in anti-freeze, then ram it down your throat with a hockey stick. THAT'S Charlotte-level bad. Maybe.
Either way, you're not going to make Blazer fans feel remorse. Misery? Our All-NBA shooting guard is fishing instead of playing ball, a victim of jelly-free knees and the amnesty clause. This guy would have challenged Clyde Drexler for the title of best Blazer of all time and his career got cut short after five seasons, the last two as a shadow of himself. Misery? Take a look at Greg Oden's medical file. You want to talk about misery to a Portland fan? Go teach Guinness how to make beer, or Scotty how to fix the Enterprise, or George Lucas how to milk a franchise into the ground until everybody is bored with it, or Anne Hathaway how to make my toes tingle without even trying. Mmmmm...wait, now what was the question again?
ClipperSteve: The Blazers still don't have a GM. What's up with that? That seems a little, I dunno, weird.
BlazerDave: Hypothetical question: A bus falls off a cliff. It's a big cliff, so it'll take about 20 minutes to hit bottom. Does the bus need a driver in the interim or should the occupants just party it up and do what seems good to them instead of turning the wheel?
Yeah...the Blazers need a GM, especially since they draft about as well as a monkey throwing poop at a dartboard. But the lack of one isn't going to make a huge difference right now. I don't see any practical move that makes them a true contender this year, GM or not. They just need to get some clear direction and a passionate, committed vision before they head forward from here.
ClipperSteve: Sorry about LaMarcus. If Aldridge is out for awhile, what does that do to the Blazers? Or do I already know the answer to that one?
BlazerDave: The Blazers are so dependent on Aldridge right now that it's hard to imagine them succeeding in his absence. This team has two true big men: Aldridge and Camby. Camby, as we said above, is a part-time player. Without Aldridge the Blazers would be fielding a lineup whose tallest reliable player was Gerald Wallace at 6'7". No full-time players would have a back-to-the-basket game. No full-time players would be comfortable anywhere near the key in the halfcourt. No full-time players would command consistent double-teams. Only Jamal Crawford could credibly get his own shot...and we've discussed the ups and downs of that above. Without Aldridge the Blazers become so much easier to defend it doesn't even look like the same team anymore.
Let's put it another way. I was tongue-in-cheek whining about the loss of Oden and Roy above, but step back for a minute and compare. What if the Boston Celtics--the good Celtics of a year or two ago--lost Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo permanently. The next season they come out with Paul Pierce and crew and play a little bit above .500. What would happen if Pierce then got injured? I mean, they still have Ray Allen (and back then Kendrick Perkins) but what would you have expected from them? You'd consider it a miracle if they could stay anywhere near .500. That's about what you'd expect of the Blazers if Aldridge goes down, looking at the big picture. It's going to be a nightmare. If they win, it'll be on sheer guts plus the other team being either bereft of talent or wholly overconfident.
Thanks to Dave for providing such insightful answers. I'm hoping that "Booty Call" catches on as Jamal Crawford's new nickname. I'll be doing my part. Remember to visit Blazersedge, but not only to read my answers to Dave's questions.