The Portland Trail Blazers made no moves at last week’s NBA trade deadline, which was head scratching. But what if there were more options, beyond this season, and not just in the future? We asked two of our writers to discuss if they would change the current Blazers’ lineup if they could alter the fate of the franchise by re-rolling the dice on the selections the team held in the 2007 and 2012 drafts. To make matters more interesting, we made them choose between redrafting 2007 or 2012, although an ideal reality would likely lie somewhere between. What follows is the discussion between Ryan Chase (noted as RC) and Casey Mabbott (noted as CM).
Which Draft Would You Change, And What’s Your Reasoning?
RC – I chose 2007 because of the massive swing in organizations caused by the Blazers selecting Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Seattle/Oklahoma City became a near instant NBA Finals contender while Portland watched an open window with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge slam shut with Oden's injuries.
CM – I chose 2012 as the current Blazers team needs a piece or two and they are right there with the top title contenders in either conference. Re-drafting the 2007 draft more than likely improves their potential to be better than they are today and down the road, but there’s no guarantee replacing current starters with new players makes them as good or any better. Replacing chemistry is not easy, and almost impossible to predict. It’s not glamorous but adding a reserve with starting talent would keep today’s team intact and give them some much needed depth.
1. What picks are you keeping, what are you changing, and who do the Blazers get now?
RC– The obvious choice is to swap Greg Oden at number one with Kevin Durant. Even though the Blazers had just drafted LaMarcus Aldridge the previous season and wanted a true center, the benefit of hindsight makes this move too compelling to ignore. The Blazers second-round pick in Josh McRoberts (number 37) should be swapped for Marc Gasol (number 48). While Gasol did not play in the US in his first season, between him, Durant, Aldridge and Brandon Roy the Blazers would have been one of the most dangerous teams in the Western Conference until Roy's knee injuries ended his Blazers career. Durant would also provide a fallback for Aldridge's injuries.
CM– I’m Keeping Damian Lillard at #6, there just isn’t a better player on the board after that, and may not be a better player on the board period as he has outperformed everyone taken ahead of him through his rookie campaign and halfway through his second year. With knowledge that the team can pick up a more than serviceable center in Robin Lopez via free agency in the summer of 2013, I’m dropping the Meyers Leonard pick at #11, and going after John Henson. Henson, while frequently banged up, has proven he is much more prepared to be a backup forward or center (compared to Leonard’s general lack of performance or consistent contributions) and can contribute starter’s numbers when given the opportunity. With his height and length and defensive abilities, Henson could even prove to be a potential replacement for Aldridge when the time comes or continue to serve as the first man off the bench in the frontcourt. After that the draft lacks any real stars or a player more along in their development than Will Barton, so I’ll keep that pick at #40 and keep the cash to trade Tyshon Taylor to Brooklyn at #41.
2. How do these moves alter the team’s current look, starting lineup, and depth?
RC– With the amount of money it would have taken to keep Aldridge and Durant in Portland, it is hard to imagine the Blazers would signed the offer sheet from the Jazz to acquire Wesley Matthews, nor would the Blazers match the offer for Nicolas Batum sent by the Timberwolves. The real issue is that Portland would have extended Brandon Roy after his All-Star 2009-2010 season, leaving very little spending room for when Gasol exploded. Aldridge or Gasol may have been moved for a point guard like Brandon Jennings. Finally, with a competitive team like that, Portland would not have had a high enough pick to secure Damian Lillard, resulting in a lineup of:
PG: Brandon Jennings
SG: Steve Blake
SF: Rudy Fernandez
PF: Kevin Durant
C: Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge
CM – The only real difference made to the current team’s lineup would be trading Henson for Leonard. Henson has almost no weight to throw around with the bigger centers in the league but uses his length to his advantage to block shots and grab rebounds. This will provide a fill-in starter at forward or center if Lopez or Aldridge are injured, as well as boost their depth when all starters are healthy. Henson’s offensive numbers won’t wow you, but his production in rebounds and blocks cannot be ignored and alongside Joel Freeland and Thomas Robinson could serve as a very reliable second unit.
3. Does that make the current team better or worse?
RC – Hard to say. A lineup eating that much salary would leave a bench fairly bare, and it is likely this team would have the exact same problems the current Blazers have. But the potential of a Durant/Gasol or Durant/Aldridge lineup is staggering. I can definitely see Portland making the NBA Finals at least once before Roy's body fell apart.
CM – Absolutely improves the team. Leonard is unreliable at best, and at worst is in foul trouble or dealing with nagging injuries. He has the youth and energy, but not the production. If the team wants to win now, they need a starting caliber player to come off the bench for both the frontcourt and the backcourt. With Mo Williams already spelling both guard positions admirably, the time is now for Henson to come in and make sure the Blazers do more on the defensive side whenever Aldridge or Lopez need a break.
4. With these alterations, do the Blazers win the title in 2014?
RC – No. Their depth (or lack thereof) would leave them exposed in either the Western Conference finals or the NBA Championship, especially in the Western Conference. Hard to see where the other teams would be (Oklahoma City would be much different, the Lakers would not have acquired Pau Gasol, they may have possibly gotten a different superstar to play alongside Kobe Bryant, etc) but the bench depth would be low for Portland.
CM – Sadly, no. They could probably make it to the Conference or NBA Finals with a boost off the bench and fresh legs in the frontcourt in Henson, but the team lacks a center with size to plug the middle, and Henson actually makes them smaller as he gives up 2” in height and 25lbs in weight (compared to Leonard). As good as Lopez is in the post, he could impress everyone further and effectively defend Durant in the Western Conference Finals, but he only outweighs LeBron by 5lbs and has 4” more height to stretch it over, giving LeBron an overall muscle and strength advantage, so it would be tough consider the idea that Lopez is going to be able to stand firm to LeBron driving and leaping to the hoop, and tell the tale from on top of his feet or without getting in to foul trouble.
5. Does this increase or decrease (vs the current lineup) the team’s title chances long-term?
RC – Increases their chances. Durant and Gasol playing together would invoke images of Tim Duncan and David Robinson. The Blazers would only be a piece or two away from multiple rings. While the current roster is supremely talented, until the salary issues get resolved, they will not be able to give their starters much more help.
CM – Increases their chances but without a prototypical center with size and length, which the team has been missing since Marcus Camby (or Arvydas Sabonis if you didn’t buy Camby as a true center and more of a misplaced PF) left in 2012, it will be an uphill climb the Blazers are sure to have trouble trying to make. With a relatively young core of Aldridge (28), Batum (25), Lillard (23), Matthews (27), Lopez (25) and Henson (23), the team would have anywhere from a 2-5 year window to get a title but would need to bring in low-cost free agents or draft exceptionally well along the way to boost depth and get bigger in the middle without losing productivity. Tough but not impossible expectations.
Closing Arguments: Knowing what you know now, would you keep your changes, swap for the alternate draft’s changes, or keep the current roster as is?
RC – While the current idea of a current contender is nice with Henson, a tandem of Roy/Aldridge/Durant and later Durant/Gasol is too tempting not to lean towards.
CM – I really wish I could say that today’s team plus John Henson would make the Blazers better than a team featuring players acquired as a result of a redo of the 2007 draft, but Ryan’s drafting of Marc Gasol in the second round in addition to taking Kevin Durant over Greg Oden to plug in to a lineup with second year players Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge is immensely appealing. A starting five on the court consisting of Gasol-Aldridge-Durant-Roy/Batum (When Roy gets knee issues)-Andre Miller would be tough to beat in any era as long as they maintain a solid bench of reserves, while the 2012 redraft sadly does not give the team much hope for a title now or in the next couple of years. With everyone but Roy drafted in 2007 still in their primes for at least another year or two from now, it would be possible to see Portland win anywhere from one to a few titles between 2008-2015 assuming no players get seriously hurt or greedy with their contracts and the team manages drafts and free agents as well as possible.