Jayne: Time for Blazers to think about future

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

Depending upon who is doing the math, the Blazers’ chances of making the playoffs lie somewhere between the odds of a Beatles reunion and the odds of LeBron James coming through in the Finals.

Somewhere between the chances of Ashton Kutcher winning an Oscar and the chances of me climbing Mount Everest.

Somewhere north of the odds for the Mariners winning the World Series, but south of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl hopes.

In other words, there’s a chance.

There’s a chance that Portland could make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, which is the minimum qualification for an NBA franchise to be regarded as competent.

Missing the playoffs, after all, is reserved for the likes of the Bobcats and the Kings, not a proud franchise such as the Blazers.

And while you could generate a significant bar discussion over the merits of being a sacrificial first-round lamb vs. taking a shot at the draft lottery, the real quandary is which of those would be better for the long-term good of the franchise.

Build through free agency? Build through the draft? Turn over the roster through trades?

Should Portland be content with persistent mediocrity or be willing to risk a couple years of epic failure as part of the rebuilding process?

The answers can be found at the top of the standings.

Look at the Western Conference, where you’ll find the San Antonio Spurs. Of the top eight players in the Spurs’ rotation, five of them were drafted by the team, one was signed after being waived by another club, one was an undrafted free agent, and one was picked up in a trade.

Aside from Tim Duncan, who was a No. 1 overall pick 15 years ago, there was nothing magical or fortuitous about how the Spurs were assembled.

Or how about the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are essentially tied with the Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference?

The Thunder drafted their four best players (including Serge Ibaka, with the 24th pick in 2008), and made a smart trade for Kendrick Perkins. No magic involved, although landing the Nos. 2, 4, and 3 picks in the 2007-09 drafts was a bit fortuitous.

The Thunder have demonstrated a reliable way to build a contender.

Not that it’s easy.

The notion of wallowing in the draft lottery is the NBA equivalent of pushing all your belongings in a shopping cart. Nobody wants to do it, but sometimes that’s what it takes before you can get back on your feet.

Still, Blazer fans are obsessing over the upcoming free-agent market. The mantra du jour has ranged from calls for Portland to sign Deron Williams, or trade for Dwight Howard, or place Michael Jordan in a time machine set for 1992 and then lure him out of retirement -- as if Portland is the garden spot of the NBA.

But the reality of the situation recommends a much different tack.

Sure, the Blazers will have plenty of room under the salary cap, a luxury the franchise has not enjoyed in recent years.

But the truth of the matter is that Portland isn’t going to land an elite free agent.

The truth is that Deron Williams and Dwight Howard will have offers in cities they think are more attractive. And the danger is that Portland will make a panic signing like the four-year, $26 million deal Glen Davis got from Orlando last summer.

The Blazers, after all, are the same franchise that not that long ago signed Darius Miles to a six-year deal for $48 million. The same franchise that once passed on Kevin Durant and later thought Luke Babbitt was a first-round talent.

And that’s the problem when you ponder if the Blazers would be better off making the playoffs or entering the lottery. When you ponder what Portland will do with all that cap room.

After all, you know what they say about a fool and his money.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne