Arron Afflalo was the Blazers big acquisition at the trade deadline. What is the general sense of the fans on him? How is he fitting in so far? And what is the thinking looking ahead to free agency, with Wesley Matthews a free agent and Afflalo with a player option?
I would say the general sense of the trade once fans learned of it was optimism and excitement -- Afflalo has a reputation as a guy who can get his own shot, hit threes, work within the framework of an offense and play a little defense. So far, we've seen mostly that in Portland, with a few expected -- and forgivable -- hiccups along the way on either end of the floor. Those should be smoothed out as he gets more in a groove with his new teammates in practice and games, though, so it's no reason for concern.
Afflalo has been a borderline All-Star the last couple of seasons, and Blazers GM Neil Olshey only had to give up Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver and a few future draft picks to acquire him. With all due respect, they were end-of-rotation guys at best in Portland, who may or may not have even figured into the long-term future here. Bringing in Afflalo was a no-brainer, even with the player option next year. Olshey's going to have to do some salary cap gymnastics to make things work, but he's said publicly that he and owner Paul Allen will not allow economics to be a factor in whether or not they keep the core of the team, as assembled, together. I think that means paying market value (or maybe a little more) to keep Matthews around -- $10-13 million a year might be a decent estimate at this point, all things considered.
If things go well with Afflalo this spring, and if he's as essential to a deep playoff run as many fans expect him to be, I think Olshey will do his best to re-sign him at a fair price. He's the same age as LaMarcus Aldridge, has a skillset that fits in Portland on both ends of the floor and seems to have similar championship aspirations as the Blazers' four-time All-Star. Right now, it seems like a good fit.
A lot of us have fond memories of Terry Stotts as an assistant here during the Mavs' title run. How are the fans in Portland liking him now that he's had time to get his system in place? And how is the team different than it was under Nate McMillan?
I won't speak for everyone, but I really like coach Stotts. His offense is usually effective and entertaining, he's brought the Blazers' defense to top-10 levels this year and, as far as I can tell, his players like him and like playing for him. I can see him being here long-term, and it'd be deservedly so.
McMillan was, in my opinion, the perfect fit for the Blazers when they hired him in the mid-2000s. He was known as a disciplinarian -- Zach Randolph nicknamed him "Sarge" back in the day -- and Portland was a young bunch in need of his terse methods. His offense was very Brandon Roy-centric, which was pretty understandable at the time, considering Roy's talent. But you got the feeling that by the time McMillan was let go in 2012 after seven years on the job, his main strengths as a leader were less effective in a locker room with more veterans. It was a good time to move on.
Stotts tailored his flow offense to suit the strengths of Aldridge and Lillard, while also highlighting the shooting and ball-moving abilities of Matthews and Nicolas Batum on the perimeter. The Blazers' two stars still create plenty of their own offense, but the ball moves really well when the offense is going and the role players still see plenty of open shots. It's much less predictable than McMillan's offense and will be much more difficult to gameplan against come playoff time, for sure.
Things have been fairly up and down for the Mavs since acquiring Rondo, but he had a pretty nice game against New Orleans this week. Meanwhile Damian Lillard is one of the best young guards in the league right now. What is your take on that matchup tonight? Can Rondo slow Dame down?
If Rondo has his head in the game, there's no doubt that he can make life hard for Lillard tonight. Though he's been on a tear the last few games, Lillard's been a bit hot-and-cold for weeks. With the right kind of defensive pressure, Dallas could really disrupt Lillard's ability to contribute. He's still driving hard to the basket, though, and has usually been able to get his points that way or at the free throw line if the three-pointer isn't open or isn't falling.
Rondo has so many talented shooters around him in Dallas to pass the ball to and rack up assists, so I'm a little surprised to see his lack of production with the Mavs. I saw the potential issues with Monta Ellis, considering how both like to handle the ball. Still, I figured Carlisle would find a way to make it work a little better than it has. I guess it's a lot easier to defend the pick-and-roll with Chandler when the point guard has no outside shot to speak of.
Either way, the Blazers will take it. While he has improved tremendously in the last two years, defense isn't the strong suit of Lillard, but he should be able to handle Rondo on that end for the majority of the game while Matthews and Batum stick on Ellis and Parsons, respectively. I'm sure there will be plenty of switches on the perimeter tonight. Last game against the Mavs, when they came back from double-digits to beat Portland in OT, Stotts employed a switching tactic that often saw Lillard guarding Nowitzki in single-coverage down the stretch. While I admired Lillard's tenacity, he was no match for Nowitzki as he rained in jumper after jumper over him. I hope we don't see that again tonight.
Obviously there's time for things to change, but a Blazers-Mavs first round matchup, whether 4-5 or 3-6, seems to have decent chance of happening. What is the thought around Portland about that potential matchup over 7 games? Are the Mavs a team to be worried about or does the recent turmoil maybe give you some hope of slipping by Dallas without too much trouble?
You know, I bet there's a decent-sized contingency of Blazers fans that would prefer to see Dallas in the first round, given the choice. But you could also find reasons to believe Portland would have as good of a chance against any of the other playoff contenders in the West besides Memphis, in my opinion.
The Mavs' offensive potential scares me, and if all players are firing on all cylinders, they're a team to watch out for on both ends of the floor. We saw how far they took the Spurs in the first round last year, and everyone remembers -- especially here in Portland -- how they caught fire in the spring of 2011.
But Nowitzki, while still an incredibly productive player, is another year older. Ellis has his limitations, Parsons hasn't delivered on the biggest stage and who knows what will be up with Rondo by then? I'd look forward to a matchup with Dallas in the first round as much as any other team. If nothing else, it'd be an entertaining series!