May 18, 2011
The Portland Trail Blazers aren't a bag of bones. They're a very good collection of pretty good players, that had a strong enough run to end the regular season that most of us thought they would down a Dallas Mavericks team in the first round that is three wins away from the finals. Instead, Dallas won in six, the Blazers face an uncertain future as they continue to try to figure out just what sort of team it is.
It was supposed to be a well-rounded outfit, with bigs like Greg Oden(notes) and Joel Przybilla(notes) guarding the rim, LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) scoring from down low, Brandon Roy(notes) slashing and scoring, and Andre Miller(notes) running a sane show. Instead, injuries have taken those centers out of the mix. Aldridge turned his career around in 2010-11, but he reverted to merely acting as part of the action in the playoffs. Roy's explosiveness was dimmed considerably due to injury, and only Miller seems able to rise above and win games on his own.
Worse, Miller's a free agent, and he and Roy often chafe at playing alongside each other.
"I think there are a lot of questions that we have to answer," McMillan said. "The first thing is to balance the roster. The combination of the twos that we have — with Wesley [Matthews], Rudy [Fernandez] and Brandon [Roy] — that combination is just… really… there's no way we can play the three of those guys.
"Our backup point guard, our guard position. I played Brandon at that spot most of the second half of the season. We've got to look at the point guard position.
"And Brandon Roy. How did he come out of the season and what [is] his role going to be?
"There's a number of things I think we have to address. Backup center. Is Greg [Oden]… when will he be ready to go next season?"
After listing off questions concerning both guard positions, the center position and the small forward position, McMillan concluded: "All of those things we will have to look at here before the draft and, if possible, if it is possible to make some moves to improve the team, we've certainly got to do that."
He's not wrong. Fernandez and Matthews have their moments, but they're limited at times. The older Gerald Wallace makes Batum superfluous, on paper at least, but can Portland ignore Wallace's age and injury history? Will Greg Oden ever play? And that's not even getting into either Miller's permanence, or his role on the team.
It is still the coach's job to squeeze a result greater than the sum of its parts from his team, but hasn't McMillan already done that? And with the draft approaching and the window in which teams can wheel and deal shutting down for an underdetermined amount of time due to the lockout, McMillan's got to be feeling the itch. It's not that he doesn't like these guys, far from it, he just knows that this particular combination has gone about as far as it can go. And even that was a result of an impressive batch of hard work on McMillan's end. I know Paul Allen's money is nice, but could you imagine having to coach this team?
And, depressingly, this is a warning shot of sorts to the Denver Nuggets, who also went out in the first round. You need a focus. You need a star, in this league, to advance. Just merely rolling out 48 minutes of "really good" really isn't going to cut it, and Portland only looked like something more than first-round fodder when Brandon Roy was acting like a star this season.
That's an increasingly rare sight, though, as he struggles with knee injuries that will never improve. Portland was right to get geeked up over its Trail Blazers this time last month, but from ownership on down to the rooter on his couch, this team has some tough decisions to make.