Monday afternoon I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with the managing editor of Blazer's Edge, Dave. If you've not visited their site before I recommend it, as Blazer's Edge is one of the very best team-based websites on the entire internet. If you don't happen to follow them on twitter, I recommend it (click here). Dave was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Portland, since the Mavericks haven't seen the Blazers since November 5th, when Dallas had a winning record. That feels like a lifetime ago. Let's get right to it!
1.) The Blazers are 22-22 and sitting just outside the playoffs at the moment. What has first year coach Terry Stotts done to contribute to that record?
Statistically this probably shouldn't be happening. And with the Blazers' remaining schedule a .500 record might not be sustainable. Then again, people have been waiting for the Blazers to slump all season and for the most part it hasn't happened. Portland has played, and won, plenty of close games. That's a tribute to the talent of their starters but Stotts has also got them playing unselfishly. His trust-based offense has brought out the best in Nicolas Batum, given permission for Damian Lillard to fire his way to Rookie of the Year, and relieved LaMarcus Aldridge from the burden of carrying every possession. As the season has progressed we've seen that Portland's best games involve some weird kind of chemistry where they become more than the sum of their parts. That extra ceiling space and the permission to explore/live up to it come, at least in part, from coaching.
2.) Since we're just past the half way point, who has been the biggest surprise this season? Who has been the biggest disappointment? Feel free to include ownership, front office, or coaches along with the players.
Surprises include how much Batum has expanded his game (he's starting to become the all-around player folks envisioned when he was drafted) and just how poised and confident Lillard has been for a rookie. The guy has ice blood in his veins, intimidated by nothing. The biggest disappointment has got to be the bench, collectively. We knew they were going to struggle, but some nights you'd rather watch a movie starring Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan than see them play. You're not shocked when they score fewer than 10 points as a unit. It's that bad.
3.) Are there any trade possibilities before the deadline? It seems like depth has been an issue for Portland.
There are always possibilities but a pre-deadline deal seems unlikely for a couple reasons. The Blazers don't have anything to offer beyond their core, not even this year's draft pick which could belong to the Bobcats depending on the final standings. Trading a starter will be a lateral move at best unless the Blazers take on someone else's talented cap anchor in the process. The position in which they need the most help (and have a player available for trade) is center. Anybody offering up starting centers nowadays? Anybody? Plus any salary they took on would be salary they didn't have available to spend this summer, when they project to be under the cap. Trading away the expiring contract of J.J. Hickson plus a couple bench player to take on someone's mediocre, disposable center for a long-term $10 million cap hit doesn't make a ton of sense.
4.) If Portland is to make the playoffs, where does the team need to improve?
Depth is the huge issue. On most night the Blazers need massive minutes for their starters to stay competitive. Defense is another huge issue. How long can you keep shooting and missing a ton of threes to generate points when you're also 25th in the league in field goal percentage allowed? At some point the Law of Averages is going to catch up to you. Short of adding a sixth man super-scorer or getting a dominant defensive center, the Blazers are probably looking at a late-season slump--victims of too much mileage on the starters if not the remaining schedule itself--and a trip to lottery land.
Thanks so much! Everyone check out Blazer's Edge and be sure to look for my preview this afternoon!