Posted by: Kingsguru21 | July 4, 2009

At which point does pushing become a shove? (A look at team building towards a championship)

I’ve been reading, and not writing, a lot lately. There have been 2 reasons for that. One, I have less to say this summer because now that the draft is over, and the Kings acquired Sergio Rodriguez to boot, I see less of a reason to go shopping in Free Agency to upgrade a Plugg Nickel to an actual nickel. Therefore, by stating that sentence, I have succinctly summed up my feelings toward Free Agency towards this team in 2009. (2010 is a different story.) However, with Portland recently being jilted by Hedo Turkoglu, I’ve been reading a lot of opinion on Blazers Edge (which, as you may know, there is a lot of there on anything let alone a major topic such as signing a big name Free Agent), and one of the interesting things that’s come up, and it’s fairly important to the overall health and vitality of a franchise: At what point is enough, enough?

This is the problem that Portland has at the moment, and I suspect Sacramento will have starting next off-season, and Orlando to a lesser degree (the 3 teams I probably have the most amount of interest in at the moment) right now.

*****

Let’s step this back a notch. On my daily trek to 7-11 to get my double gulp (more ice and more chill on the soda I drink–just the way I like it), I had an epiphany. I was listening to an acoustic live version of a song that is very famous and well known. Let’s just say it’s probably been played on the radio EVERY DAY since it’s been released. Maybe not on every station in every city, but somewhere in the US it’s been played at least once every day since it’s release. It’s more than 30 years old. That’s staying power. What’s the point? The point is that power has an everlasting effect on people. (I will offer a hint that the song was released the same year that the Blazers won their last championship.)

One way you can define power in professional sports is championships. Wanna know how I know this? The 1981 NBA Finals was one of the lowest watched NBA finals ever, but yet it featured an incredible team with a young Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Tiny Archibald and Cornbread Maxwell to name 5 players.

Today, they are often spoken of in reverent terms. (The first 3 names especially. I’m not sure how much eternal relevance Archibald or Maxwell–mostly Archibald–have on the conscience of Boston fans.)

How much respect do you think the Spurs will garner after the fact for winning 4 championships in 8 seasons? (Most of us are not Phil Jackson. We recognize his saying the Spurs “1/2” championship was just media posturing to get himself quoted over & over. We recognize that the Spurs won the championship in the same environment that the other 28 teams–the Hornets hadn’t left Charlotte yet and the Bobcats hadn’t been granted as an expansion franchise to replace them–were in. I have yet to see the ’95 Braves or the ’81 Dodgers get downgraded for winning a World Series in strike shortened seasons.)

This is why I think the Blazers, and probably Kevin Pritchard and Paul Allen in particular, are trying to get the Blazers to that next level.

I would suggest, if you haven’t, reading this post by Ben Golliver with all the rumors attached to it, and then read the reaction by Dave Deckard afterwards. Both, as usual, are of the highest quality. (Damn Bloggers.)

*****

Which brings me to the Magic, first. I bring them up for 3 reasons. One, they’re closer to a championship than the Kings (obviously) or Blazers (less obvious but true) are at the moment. Two, Hedo Turkoglu has a connection to all 3 teams, but his most prominent time in the NBA has been with the Magic. Three, the Magic essentially felt the same thing that Dave mentions in a comment on his post (that 3 years of Hedo vs 5 years is probably too high a cost).

Did the Magic make a bad trade with Vince Carter? In one sense, I think they took a risk. But, they took a risk that Vince Carter will be better for the next 2 seasons than Hedo Turkoglu would. Plus, the added bonus is that if this doesn’t work they will still have the expiring contract of VC will allow them to perhaps take a big contract player in the hopes of adding that final missing piece. There’s flexibility there. By signing Hedo to a long term contract that Toronto has now offered, there is less of that added flexibility.

I think that Orlando isn’t just swinging for the fences, although they are also doing that, but they saw an opportunity to take advantage of a limited market New Jersey had to dump Carter by forcing them to give up Ryan Anderson as part of the exchange for giving up Courtney Lee.

And, this is pretty simple. Orlando wasn’t very good at rebounding, and now they have a chance to improve that by getting better at 2 positions (Carter is a better rebounder than Lee; Anderson is a better rebounder than Turkoglu) while not necessarily losing any potential facilitating from Turkoglu because, again, Carter does that pretty well too.

If Orlando has a chance to get better, do it at the same cost (or possibly less), and have more flexibility to boot, what mistakes DID they make?

Frankly, other than the Spurs (because of the Jefferson trade) and Lakers (signing Artest), I think they’ve had the best off-season so far. If they also net themselves a good FA they will have a GREAT summer. They don’t have many needs, and that’s important.

They can also fill out the roster for cheap as they’ve essentially tapped out all their positions. If one of their players goes down they’re screwed. That is, and was, still true last season as well. Injuries are always that one “x” factor that matters as much as anything else.

*****

Moving on, I’d like to address something that a particular reader off Blazers Edge, Cablinasian, mentioned to me while chatting about the “pitfall” of losing out on Hedo: They didn’t really need him!

Huh?

Before I continue, let’s address what the Blazers blogfather (aka Henry Abbott) believes out of this whole thing:

Have you ever bought a house?

You know the deal. You shop around. You look at the prices, and then at some point you find the house you like.

You make an offer. The offer sounds good to the sellers. You agree to buy the house. You agree on the price, and the house comes off the market.

Then there’s that period between agreeing on the basics, and the closing. That’s the day when contracts are exchanged and you get your keys. In between there are inspections, and haggling over little things like whether or not that chandelier will be staying in the entryway.

I quoted this because Abbott goes into the actual details of why Hedo may have really left a bit later in the piece:

Toronto, as a roster and a city, offer an international flavor that Portland does not have. And with similar money, that proved more appealing than anyone had thought it would.

I think that’s it right there. So, being left at the altar is what it is. Even Henry mentions that there are worse things than this. He’s right. But, I think, he and some of Blazers Edge are missing the overall point here: The Blazers are not a championship team, YET.

It’s easy to see why anyone would believe they could have easily been a championship contender. They have a talented young supporting cast (Batum, Bayless, Fernandez, Przybilla, Webster to name 5) along with a talented core (Roy–the franchise player, and Aldridge and Oden–2 All-Star potential level players– to go with him) to boot.

So why aren’t they a championship contender? Because they aren’t ready yet.

I brought up Cablin for a reason earlier in a paragraph to state a point that I think some of his fellow brethren are not quite at yet, for whatever reason, with this Blazer team and the crossroad’s it finds itself at.

My first Question to Cablin was this:

Why do the Blazers HAVE to sign anyone?

His response:

Steve Blake isn’t winning you an NBA title as a starter. Either Bayless is the guy and we need to give him minutes or we need to go find a point guard. I don’t understand spending yet another season without finding a solution at the 1.

My response:

Neither is Derek Fisher homey. I realize this is a circular argument, but cmon man, this team has had one year together and you want to say it CAN’T work?

Cablin’s response:

He’s (Blake) going to be 30 years old. Even if he IS the answer, he’s not the answer.

(Note: I totally agree with this, nor was that my point about Blake. It’s just that there’s a difference between having an all-star and an upgrade. I’ll address this further below.)

I then ask Cablin if he thinks Blake is a solution. This is his response:

No, while I think some Blazer fans argue for him, not many NBA fans see him as the solution… Free Bayless.

Me:

That’s why the Hedo signing in TO hurts, because that was the plan.

(Note: I think this was exactly the plan. I just don’t think Pritchard and Allen, in particular, and maybe Penn along with McMillan, hadn’t thought out the whole level of what signing Hedo meant for the whole roster and the organization in the future.

I think they embraced the future thought, but hadn’t addressed the here & now of the rest of the roster. That’s a problem if you ask me.)

Cablin’s response:

I like Bayless a lot… I don’t think we actually need Turkoglu. Roy/Bayless was an effective combo at the 1/2 last year, and Bayless had nearly a 15 PER in the stretch of games when he played regular minutes.

Plus, I think Batum has the court vision to be an almost point forward.

I guess I’d rather the organization take a year and REALLY play the youngsters than spend more time with Steve Blake and Outlaw.

3 things. One, his personal like of Bayless is what’s partly driving this. I don’t think he would deny it; after all he’s the one who mentioned it. But, is that important? Not really. The Blazers executed a trade of Jarrett Jack to get him in the first place. (Note: As a Kings fan, I’d much rather have Jason Thompson and Tyreke Evans than Jerryd Bayless and Hasheem Thabeet.) I think there is plenty of doubt about Bayless’ ability to develop. But, how can you develop someone without him playing?

Two, if you think Batum has that sense to develop as a point-forward, and remember Cablin’s a fan (presumably), why not work towards that tilt to begin with? For most teams, committing to young players because the fact they won’t develop or the idea that it takes time for them to develop on that level of winning is something most coaches aren’t comfortable with. Nate McMillan, after all, is on the hook for wins & losses and has endured a stinkpot of a beginning with Portland to get where he has up to this point.

I think the point here is that McMillan and the Blazers have something unusual. They can risk playing their young players because they have talent (at various levels of impact) beyond their core players who are already making a reasonable and honest contribution.

Trust. It’s always a key issue. I wonder how much McMillan trusts Batum and Bayless in the long run to be major players in the rotation. I wonder how much Pritchard and the rest of the Blazers organization feel with regards to this particular issue.

Then again, the Blazers did bring all these guys over and play them.

Which brings me to point 3.

Let’s repeat this again in case you’ve forgotten:

I guess I’d rather the organization take a year and REALLY play the youngsters than spend more time with Steve Blake and Outlaw.

Yuh. Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw for Kirk Hinrich. That’s the trade. That’s the marquee move of the Blazers off-season. If you ask me anyway. Here’s the trade machine link.

(It would work if the Blazers just traded Outlaw or Blake by himself too. But, I think it would be wise to wrap them up in one package for the good of everyone. Simple and easy.)

Would Chicago hold out for more? Yeah, maybe. Would it be stupid? Yeah, but Chicago hasn’t always made intelligent moves either. (And, while Bulls fans who love Ben Gordon disagree with this, that doesn’t necessarily mean letting Ben Gordon walk. Life has a screwy way of working out. Unless you’re a Cubs fan.)

I do think that Kevin Pritchard needs to be willing, and maybe convince Nate McMillan along with it, that letting go of Blake & Outlaw is a worthwhile trade-off for Hinrich.

Of all the things Cablin did say, I think citing PER is a bad way to evaluate Hedo Turkoglu. Much of what he does is not necessarily seen in his statistics, and much of what statistics he does have does not reflect him well in ways that will give him a high PER.

PER is nice and useful in some contexts. In Hedo’s particular case it is not. Moving on.

The point, before I left it to go on a mini-rant about PER, is that Kevin Pritchard has a tough summer ahead emotionally, and physically, I suspect, to build the Blazers this summer. He’s not going to come out sweet smelling in all of this.

I’m going to turn back the clock one year. Remember when Elton Brand signed with the Sixers? Would you want to be the Sixers now? No? Why not?

I’m going to turn the clock back, but this time 2 years. If you’re a long time reader of Blazers Edge than you probably remember these pieces by the aforementioned Dave.

First, a satirical favorite of mine, Falsehoop. It’s a rather wonderful way of pointing out (and with far more deft writing to boot) that the Blazers won’t have 12 All-Stars and franchise players. Players, as Dave points out, have to fit together properly before they’re able to work together.

Second, read this perspective AFTER it was announced Greg Oden would have microfracture surgery in Sept 07. (Read this “Open Letter” to Oden as well.)

I bring this up for 2 reasons. Back then, Dave pointed out that the responsibility of the other players minus Greg Oden was to lift the team to respectability (which they did by winning 41 games in the 07 08 season). Last season, they won 54 games without a healthy Oden at all times.

So, what’s next? If you tell fans that you might only win 50 games because you’re committing to a new version of these players and it will take time to rebuild it correctly, than perhaps you’re setting yourself for a real buzzkill that will keep fans from wanting to maintain level of interest.

Do I think that’s really the case? Maybe that’s a small part of it, but I don’t really think that’s it. I think fans care about that previous paragraph more than the franchise does.

Here are the players I’d keep if I was Portland. Roy, Oden and Aldridge. Przybilla is another obvious. That’s 4.

That leaves Batum, Bayless, Blake, Fernandez, Pendergraph, and Webster.

That’s 10 different players. Name me the last team that won a championship with 10 guys all getting consistent rotation time. Oh, you can’t? Me either.

This is why the Hinrich for Blake/Outlaw trade makes sense. It helps Chicago with depth in the backcourt and scoring in the frontcourt plus Blake/Outlaw expire next summer. (Do I really need to explain the summer of 2010 to you?) It helps Portland by getting rid of some redundancy in the talent and improves the backcourt by bringing in Hinrich.

I would be surprised that the Blazers didn’t just end up doing this deal anyway, but they wanted to sign another player with their cap room. Hell, if you want another PF (and they probably do), why not just sign Antonio McDyess? That makes more sense to me anyway.

You can always trade for Hinrich after signing McDyess anyway.

However, I doubt the Blazers will do that. (Or, more accurately I’m not sure McDyess will come to Portland at this stage of his career.) They’re probably better off living without the perfect backup 4, or simply re-signing Channing Frye (a shocking idea) to a small reasonable contract long term so that when he gets minutes he can get them. Why not? It’s not like a ton of PF’s are out there to begin with.

It’s always natural to want big name players. But, why would Antonio McDyess really want to sign with Portland when it may take them 2-3 years to win a ring and he doesn’t have 2-3 years left?

He might not be able to play at half the level he is now in 2-3 years anyway.

Which brings me back to Kevin Pritchard and Paul Allen. Can they settle for this type of summer and live with the fact that 2 real possibilities generally exist here?

One: That the Blazers weren’t a championship team, and they need an extra year of their young players (Oden, Batum, Bayless, Webster, Frye, and possibly Pendergraph) to see what they really have before they make moves to drastically alter and remake the team.

Two: Can the fanbase not howl long enough to live with the long term ramifications of what it takes to build a championship team with young talented (impact potentially) players who bring the team a ton of (potentially) brilliant things overall?

If Kevin Pritchard, and Paul Allen, can do that, I think the Blazers can force Nate McMillan to live with that reality. He committed to it when he signed with the Blazers in ’05, and he should remain committed to in ’09. The job is hardly finished. In fact, as a NBA coach, it never is.

*****

Which brings me to the Kings. (Nearly 3000 words later, but whatever.)

You just drafted Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Jon Brockman. You traded for Sergio Rodriguez on draft day. You now have 12 players on your roster for the upcoming season, and only a need for one more to satisfy the minimum NBA requirements.

However, is that really the point of all this? Natch, it is not.

In my humble view, and I’ve said as much several times since draft day, the Kings MUST trade Beno Udrih and Andres Nocioni. Their value won’t get any higher, and you commit yourself to being stuck with either for long term if you don’t deal them now. Even if you don’t save money by doing a deal (if the money is roughly similar or a few million one way or the other), you do save yourself a real headache and possible problem that is long term by keeping Beno Udrih and Andres Nocioni with so many young players and so many real solutions elsewhere on the roster.

I think that there is 2 traps here.

The first important trap is that keeping Udrih or Nocioni by raising their value for better trade value is a red herring. The other 29 NBA teams aren’t stupid. They aren’t populated by stupid people. (Or, at least not in the context we think of as stupid.) Beno Udrih has little to no value for a lot of teams. That’s why I suggested Philly as a trade destination. It wasn’t by accident. If by some chance Philly doesn’t get Andre Miller to return (which may or may not happen), it may be that they will be looking for something to replace him until Jrue Holiday is ready. If you draft Holiday, you probably think he’s worth something. Which is why I suggest Udrih and Thomas for Dalembert and Green. It isn’t sexy, or even that enticing, but that’s exactly why I suggest those players. Philly doesn’t want those guys, and Sacramento doesn’t want Thomas and most likely Udrih.

Now, with Randolph being traded to Memphis, and with Turkoglu going to Toronto, there’s still a chance that Miller may end up in a situation that helps him. He might go to Detroit for instance if he thinks he has a chance to win. Or, somewhere else I haven’t thought of.

Maybe Miller ends up in Philly, and that would kill any reasonable chance of getting Udrih to Philly. But, this doesn’t change much for me anyway. I would rather shift this roster now and get less than get slightly more in the talent end for either Udrih or Nocioni down the road.

I think it’s time to focus on the young core. Play them. Tell them what you want. Live with their mistakes. Understand that Garcia and Martin are the 2 veterans. Live with it. You had one bad season by trying to mix & match young players with veterans. Why make the same mistake twice? This is even more true because Udrih and Nocioni have limited time before the Kings may lose out on being able to trade them. Kenny Thomas redux is not something this team needs. (Which is ironic because of the proposed Udrih trade I made includes Thomas going back to the Sixers.)

Will the Kings do it? I have no idea. As I said in my trade piece a few days ago, I don’t know what they will do. Some of what drives trades is an interest in your players. The Kings only have 2 players they really are likely interested in trading: Beno Udrih and Andres Nocioni.

The Kings, while not where the Magic are at (near a championship), or the Blazers (getting ready to knock on that door), are at a critical portion where getting into the playoffs is the first step. The Magic got that out of the way a few years ago. The Blazers (with a bang) came very close to winning the NorthWest division and possibly getting a chance to move on to the 2nd round. (I think Portland would have beaten New Orleans handily like Denver did.)

This is the 2nd trap: If the Kings screw this up by trying to pick up a player in Free Agency that they don’t really need, or doesn’t likely maintain/create value by interesting a team in his services, than what’s the point of signing him?

The Kings don’t have any great needs at any position right now. They need to EVALUATE what they have first. Outside of a Superstar (Bosh, James or Wade), what player does that for the Kings in 2010? 2011? 2012? I don’t know either. That’s why I think the whole essence of the 2010 FA game is complete horsepuckey. It’s pointless.

*****

At the top of this monstrosity, I included a moment of where I alluded to a “song” that had something in common with the Blazers. 1977. In 1977, Hotel California was the most popular song (by far), and the Blazers won their first (and only) championship. If you guessed that was the song, congratulations. (If you scrolled to the end to read and see if I told you what the song was, follow these instructions: DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT 200 DOLLARS, AND YOU CAN GO FUCK YOURSELF PROMPTLY. 🙂 )

Welcome to the hotel california
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
They livin it up at the hotel california
What a nice surprise, bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said we are all just prisoners here, of our own device
And in the masters chambers,
They gathered for the feast
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just cant kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
relax, said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave…….

Chances are you’ve heard this song many times, and many times over. You know what happens next. Don Felder and Joe Walsh play their guitars in a big solo piece and the song ends. One of the beauties of the song is that it starts and ends almost the same way: With a melancholy melody that very much is the underbelly for the song and it’s meaning (which is often interpreted incorrectly).

Which is why I used the point of the acoustic live version of the song as an analogy to this whole piece to begin with. It’s not the song, or the despair, or the confusion of what to do next. It’s really about more than that. Which is what every NBA team faces when building their teams. They face decisions, and they think about them so much to the point where they become paralyzed by their own analysis. (Mebbe.)

I leave with this. While I was walking and doing all this (arguing with the voices in my head is challenging after all), the song ended up changing to a new tune on my iPod. It became “Time after Time”, the cover version by Tracy Chapman. The next song? “Go Now” by the Moody Blues. The one after that? “Pretty Young Thing” by Michael Jackson. All of this proved one thing to me: Machines are just as screwed up as we are because we are the one’s programming the machines.

Stick that in your craw and smoke it. Happy 4th of July!

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Responses

  1. Epiphany. Hadn’t heard, hope you are feeling better.

    Came over because there’s nothing at StR and wasn’t disappointed, one of your best.

    If Z-Bo (who I thought was basically untradeable) can get traded at a ridiculous price then there maybe hope for unloading Beno and Nocs. While I believe that Nocs bring some value we are either going to take something horrible back or add something to make the trade work.

    Your premise and tie in of all the pieces at the conclusion was excellent, glad to hear the epiphany hasn’t hurt your writing at all.

    • I was feeling fine BJ. School will just take up a lot of my time. What gets dropped is StR and EC Inc. The way it goes sometimes.

      LOL @ the epiphany hasn’t hurt my writing. Thanks BJ.

  2. Hey, without knowing in which year it was released I thought “Must be Hotel California”!

    Anyway, very nice post, I enjoyed it!
    I don’t see many teams willing to trade for Beno because of his contract, but maybe we can still trade Noc, who is surely overpaid, but still a good player.
    I think that a Noc+K9EC trade could give us a good return.

    • I think if you’re going to trade a player by themselves, Beno is better coupled with K9 than Noc. Noc still has real trade value in a way because his contract is back loaded (meaning that it declines every year in terms of dollars) which means that it somewhat eases the strain of paying him the next year (not by a lot but some).

      LOL @ knowing it must be Hotel California. I hope someone would know it, but then again, I’m pretty discouraged at times of what I do see.

      • I think “Hotel California” came through my mind because I had listened to it on my mp3 something like 5 minutes before reading your post in the live acoustic version

  3. it’s just scary

  4. Took me a while, but good read. I agree with you on a lot of this, but specifically I agree with the idea that there’s just not a whole lot to be done right now.

    There’s a lot of hand-wringing and talk of free agents, but the Kings are probably going to be pretty low profile this summer. They might sign a big, and it won’t be a big splash. People will complain, life as a Kings fan will go on.

    • Yep G pretty much. But, at the same time people grumbling means they care. Even if the thought is stupid at the same time.

      Life is a big trade off after-all.


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